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My 1992 AT Journal
March 14 - October 25
A Hike Of 2,162 Miles
--By David Mauldin
My AT Video at YouTube
My interest in backpacking began when I was a small child, before I even knew that the sport of backpacking existed (calling it a "sport" seems odd to me, since on the trail it became a way of life). I can remember trying to figure out how to get everything I needed into a pack, then daydreaming about walking to beautiful places in nature and camping out.
My first glimpse of the Appalachian Trail came when I was 9 years old. My aunt, Dorothy Mauldin ("Ankle Express"), asked me to accompany her on a week-end hiking trip in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. She pointed out the Appalachian Trail and said, "That trail starts in Georgia and goes all the way to Maine". I asked her, "Has anyone ever walked all of it?". She said that only a few people had ever hiked its entire length, but that it had been done. As the car we were riding in went around a curve and the trail disappeared, I watched through the rear window as long as I could. I remember thinking "Someday…."
"Someday" came to be March 14, 1992, the date I began my hike at the trail's southern terminus at Springer Mountain in Georgia. I had left my career in 1988 and truthfully could have hiked the trail in 1989, 1990 or 1991. However, by that time I had enough life and hiking experience to have an idea of what I would be up against. I knew that hiking over 2,100 miles with a fully loaded backpack at age 44 through 14 states and across some of the roughest terrain in north America would not be easy.
I also knew that the rewards of such an undertaking would be monumental, but so would the effort required and the discomforts endured. I had to be able, in my own mind, to make a commitment to finish the trail before I took the first step. Romanticism may have worked for others, but I needed to reach a mindset of "whatever it takes" before I started, otherwise I wouldn't finish.
I was not mentally prepared for this undertaking until 1992. Of course, I was "mentally prepared" only if one accepts the concept that a rational decision can be made to do something that amounts to total insanity.
On the trail, virtually all AT thru-hikers select a trail name, otherwise one is selected for them. Trail names are essential for identification purposes. There are many hikers named Bob, John, Sue and Frank, but only one Crazy Sweed, Tabasco, Shortcake and IOWA (Idiot Out Walking Around). In the pages that follow, I refer to most of my fellow hikers by their trail names. For most of them, I knew them by no other name. Real names were used rarely, and usually were quickly forgotten.
Mar 14 - Spent a very restless night at home, slept less than 2 hours. Met my aunt, Dorothy Mauldin, at the Wagon Wheel Restaurant in Dahlonega. Took my first step on the AT at Springer Mountain at 11:53 a.m. Hiked 8 miles to Hawk Mtn Shelter. It will be very cold tonight, probably about 18 degrees. It's hard to believe that my dream of a lifetime is actually underway. So far, so good.
Mar 15 - Hiked about 9 miles to Gooch Gap Shelter. Justus Creek area very nice with many large trees. Weather still very cold and windy. Wind has been 20 - 30 mph since leaving Springer. Had some snow flurries several hours ago. Temperature tonight will be in the 20's. Surprisingly, have several blisters on toes.
Mar 16 - Last night was wild with howling 30 mph winds and a temperature of 18 degrees. Wind chill could have been dangerous if wind had been blowing into the shelter, thankfully it wasn't. Spent a restless night and awoke to a frozen water bag. Couldn't empty it, had to carry it outside my pack stiff as a board. Day was bright, sunny and cold. Hiked 13 miles to Blood Mtn Shelter. Now sitting on sun-warmed rocks outside the shelter. Views are spectacular, can see all the way back to Springer.
Mar 17 - Another beautiful day. Saw several deer when leaving the shelter this morning. Arrived at the store at Neel's Gap about 10:30, met Jeff, the owner. Resupplied and hiked to Whitley Gap Shelter, about 10 miles in all. Views were fantastic. Temperature may not go below freezing tonight for the first time since I began my hike.
Mar 18 - Hiked about 12 miles to Blue Mtn Shelter, descents were very hard on the knees. Hiked mainly in rain and across many sharp and slippery rocks. Got water from a spring where I worked with the Georgia AT Club in 1988. A very long and hard day, but feel good except have some pain in left Achilles tendon.
Mar 19 - Spent a surprisingly restful night at crowded Blue Mtn Shelter, had 7 people in all. It rained all night and everyone and their gear got soaked, thanks to the short overhang in front. Crossed the highway at Unicoi Gap and soon after got into a severe lightning and hail storm. Tabasco (I gave him his trail name) helped me out after I started looking for the shelter in the wrong place. I thought I'd missed it and had begun backtracking. This is very rough, but rewarding.
Mar 20 - Awoke at Tray Mtn Shelter to wind, iced trees, 24 degrees and then snow. Will never forget the beauty I encountered while descending Tray Mtn. There was ice on the trees, snow on the ground, clear blue sky, sunshine, and fog burning off as it traveled up the mountainside. Left heel hurting badly, afraid its tendinitis. Arrived at beautiful Deep Gap Shelter late in the afternoon. Didn't stop eating until I went to bed. Its been colder than this on the trail, but this got to me for some reason. Others at the shelter were Jungle Jim, Tabasco, Kestrel, Lucky Pierre and Featherhead. Jungle Jim is about 60, has had many back operations and has 2 metal rods that have been surgically implanted on both sides of his spine. He's determined to make it to Maine. By prearrangement, I'm getting off the trail tomorrow and going home for the night. Hopefully, a friend will meet me at the highway at Dick's Creek Gap tomorrow morning.
Mar 21 - Hiked 4 miles to Hwy 76 at Dick's Creek Gap amid beautiful sunshine, rhododendron and a cascading mountain stream. Carolyn Rush arrived right on time, and drove me home to Clayton for the night. Now at home, and its very, very, good to be here. Lucky Pierre and Tabasco came with me. Jungle Jim and Featherhead are staying at a motel in Clayton.
Mar 22 - We were rushed all morning, but we finally made it back to Clayton about 11:30. We grocery shopped, and Carolyn shuttled everyone and their gear back to Dick's Creek Gap about 2:00. With rain, being late and having a very painful Achilles tendon, I decided not to hike. With my emotions going back and forth between disappointment and relief, Carolyn brought me back home. I'll hike another day.
Mar 23 - Getting good rest and some welcome solitude at home. Very cold weather continues, 22 degrees is forecast for tonight. Ankle is better but still painful. Feel sort of in limbo; enjoying home, but feel that I belong on the trail.
Mar 24 - Decided to go back to the AT and Kevin Feldman took me back to Dick's Creek Gap for one of the most painful days of backpacking I've ever endured. Hiked 9 miles to Bly Gap and I am presently camped by a small spring about 200 feet north of the Georgia-North Carolina state line. Hip belt has rubbed an area raw on my right leg and left ankle is very painful in and around the Achilles tendon. Is Maine a 'blowin in the wind?
Mar 25 - Hiked a long 7 miles to Standing Indian Shelter. Snow started just after Bly Gap and continued most of the day, but now rain is melting it. A woman at Muskrat Creek Shelter wrote that her blisters were drying up, but her toe nails were falling off and she was running out of duct tape. She also said that she was having a ball. Ankle is worse.
Mar 26 - Last night was memorable for having a skunk climb up my leg while I was sleeping in my bag. I moved just enough to see what it was, then laid very still. It soon jumped off onto another hiker and I don't believe he ever woke up to realize what was happening. Left shelter in bitter cold and arrived at the summit of Standing Indian Mtn to find it beautifully covered by fog and snow. Hiked alone all day. Ankle showed promise after Beech Gap, but I barely made it out of Mooney Gap. Hiked 15 miles to Big Spring Gap. Looks like it will be me, the mice and the cold tonight. I know that I must get off the trail tomorrow at Wallace Gap and go home, I can barely walk. I have no idea how I'll get home; the best way I can, I suppose.
Mar 27 - Cold front must have passed through during the night, heard rain and then the wind picked up to about 40 mph. Awoke to another sub-freezing morning to find that I can't walk, at least not with my boots on. While I was brushing my teeth, the water in my cup iced over. Want only to get warm and for ankle pain to go away, nothing else matters. Decided that the only way I was going to be able to walk was to cut the heel out of my $90 pair of hiking boots. Carefully cut away the portion of the boot that came into contact with the Achilles tendon. The boots had hurt me so much that I was actually more concerned with the knife blade than the boots. Limped painfully 7 miles to Rainbow Springs Campground. I was surprised by the warm reception I received from the other thru-hikers who were there. I called Kevin Feldman in Clayton and he picked me up and brought me home. From a register - "Kids gone, wife gone, job gone, dog gone and doggone, I'm gone, too."
Mar 28 - A day of pain and rest. Managed to sprain my back limping into Wallace Gap yesterday. Also have an infected cut on my left thumb and can't use it. Finally sliced open the cut with a razor blade to get the infection out and some medicine in. Ankle is just there, seemingly daring me to put on pack and boots and try it again. Abrasions on right leg from hip belt are healing nicely. I can walk, but its painful and much easier not to. As banged up and disappointed as I am about the AT hike so far, I'm determined to go back. Spent a nice day at home, napped in the warm sunshine coming through by bedroom window, have some money, no one is bothering me and I don't have to work. Things have been worse in my life; this beats the heck out of dodging incoming Viet Cong mortar rounds in the mud at 3:00 a.m.
Mar 29 - Apr 17 were spent recuperating at home. Despite a severe case of tendinitis in my left ankle, I was determined to return to the trail, and I finally found a doctor who would help me. The fact that I was able to resume my hike was due in large part to the efforts of Dr. Bart Flick in Clayton, GA. He believed in me, and gave me a crash course in tendinitis.
Apr 18 - Carolyn Rush put me on the trail at Wallace Gap about 9:30 a.m. and LEFT. Here we go again. Regardless of how far I hike, feel like I've won a victory just by being able to come back. Hiked 7 miles to Siler Bald Shelter. Ankle pain was mostly minor, mobile and consistent. Weather very warm and there is some greenery and wildflowers, even songbirds. A lot has changed since I left the trail 3 weeks ago. Met George and Dorothy Sayre at the shelter. This is also her first day back on the trail after losing 2 weeks with Achilles tendinitis.
Apr 19 - Nearly full moon last night was very nice, so were the lights of Franklin, NC in the distance. Slept very well. Hiked 12 miles ( Dr. Flick would not be happy ) to Cold Springs Shelter. Got some blisters, including a "quarter" size one on the bottom of left heel. Feel good, but out of shape, hopefully its temporary.
Apr 20 - It rained all night. Had a hard hike down to Wesser, NC and I do mean down, all 12 miles of it. Now at the hostel at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. Achilles tendon somewhat painful and swollen, but not any worse than I expected at this point. Old jogging shoes I'm now hiking in seem to be helping. Dr. Flick said it could be weeks or months before I can wear hiking boots again.
Apr 21 - Stayed another day at the Nantahala Outdoor Center. Its nice being here. Weather is warm, there's lots of pink and white dogwood blossoms, trees are budding out and the NOC employees are fine companions. I could stay here for a long, long time.
Apr 22 - Had a nice breakfast at the café at a table overlooking the river. Got back on the trail about 8:15 and "ascended steeply" about 7 miles and 3,000 feet to Sassafras Gap Shelter. Best day of hiking since leaving Springer. What a beautiful day of early spring, sunshine, blooms, blossoms, butterflies and freedom! From a register - "A job is an evil, dastardly thing."
Apr 23 - Last night was fun with a shelter full of good people. Could never get a rhythm going today. Don't really know where I camped, but it’s a pretty gap about 12 miles south of Fontana. There's a nice little spring with lots of wildflowers around it. Yogi-ed a cola and fruit at Stecoah Gap. Climb out of there was unlike any hiking I've ever done. It was so steep, I could almost touch the trail in front of me without bending.
Apr 24 - Area just south of Fontana Dam is overrun with beautiful and fragrant wildflowers and spring fauna. Arrived at the "Fontana Hilton" (shelter) and couldn't help but notice the pair of crutches that some thru-hiker had left near the hiker box. There was definitely a message there. Got a warm shower at the dam, then hitched a ride into Fontana Village. Had to walk several miles back to the shelter in the dark. Altogether, hiked about 17 miles. Blisters bad.
Apr 25 - Went back to Fontana Village for a few things I couldn't get last night and to have another restaurant meal. Later, hiked short but tough 5 miles to Birch Spring Shelter after entering Great Smoky Mtns Natl Park. Had nice views of the park and Fontana Lake at Shuckstack fire tower. Ran into Bigfoot (Lynne Whelden) at the shelter. He is thru-hiking, and is the producer of "Five Million Steps", the trail video I purchased shortly before beginning my AT hike.
Apr 26 - Looks like its Winter Wonderland time in the Smokies. Hiked 9 miles in snow and sleet to Spence Field Shelter. There's just over an inch of snow on the ground now and probably will be more by morning.
Apr 27 - Hiked a tough 12 miles in near freezing temperatures, stepping in mud and ice water with each step. The jogging shoes I'm wearing provide absolutely no insulation or protection from water or cold. Managed to keep feeling in my toes by not stopping for long periods of time. Now at Siler's Bald Shelter and sharing it with 6 high school senior girls and their teacher. They are from Wisconsin, and very much surprised by spring in the "sunny south". Even though they are from the north, they don't seem well prepared for the cold. One of the girls was in the early stages of hypothermia, and the teacher didn't know it until I brought it to his attention. This is as pretty winter scenery as I've ever seen, but the cold and wet conditions are taking their toll.
Apr 28 - Got a late start. Fresh snow had fallen during the night and the pace was slow. There was about a foot of snow on the north side of Clingman's Dome. Walked alone most of the day on fresh snow. Hiked 8 miles to Mt. Collins Shelter, temperature is below freezing and my feet have been wet for several days.
Apr 29 - Awoke to a wilderness winter scene that was unbelievably cold, crisp, clear and beautiful. Shoes were frozen solid for second straight morning. All water frozen, too. Continued to use melted snow for cooking and drinking. Walked 5 miles to Newfound Gap in bright sunshine and warming temperatures. Snow is melting and footing is beyond treacherous. I have an opportunity to go home for a few days, and I'm going to take it. Cleaned up in the restrooms at Newfound Gap and started hitch-hiking. It took several hours, but I was finally picked up by a Native American named Hank who took me to Cherokee. While I was hitch-hiking on the side of the road, I remembered that Newfound Gap was the place where I'd first glimpsed the Appalachian Trail 36 years earlier. From Cherokee, called a friend in Franklin, NC and she picked me up and took me home. I feel comfortable at home, but "misplaced". Feel changed by the last few days. It has something to do with making a transition, of feeling at home in the woods. Civilization no longer feels like my native environment.
Apr 30 - May 2 were spent resting and recuperating at home.
May 3 - A friend picked me up at home and took me back to Newfound Gap. Hiked 3 miles to Ice Water Spring Shelter. A skunk appeared from under the bunks and a few of the week-end hikers were frightened by it. They were yelling and running around and making the skunk nervous; I tried to calm them down, while distracting the skunk by feeding it some gorp. I hope I get out of here tomorrow morning without one of these folks getting us all sprayed. Snow is completely gone, but the trail is very muddy and eroded.
May 4 - Encountered Charlie's Bunion in clear, cold and very windy weather. Scenery is beautiful, and I'm seeing this section of the park for the very first time. However, I've about had it with cold and I'm anxious to get to Davenport Gap. Hiked 12 miles to Tri-Corner Knob Shelter and will share it tonight with Marcie and Barb, nurses from St. Petersburg, FL. Surprised that there are still some nice stands of Douglas Fir in the area. Most of these magnificent trees have been weakened by acid rain, then finished off by aphids.
May 5 - It snowed again last night. I decided that was it; I'm getting out of the Smokies. Hiked 15 miles to Davenport Gap Shelter and probably beat up my Achilles tendon in the process, but its what I'm going to have to start doing just about every day if I expect to finish by October. Its actually warm, and it feels good to be back in spring hardwood greenery.
May 6 - Hiked about 10 miles to Deep Gap. How many "Deep Gaps" are there on the AT, anyway? I believe this is the third one. Trail is very well graded, and blazing is back to normal. Blazing in the Smokies is only about one blaze per half-mile, whether you need it or not. Hiked alone and in rain most of the day; there were beautiful cascades just before I-40.
May 7 - It snowed last night and most of the day. There was nearly 2 feet of snow on the summit of Max Patch Mtn. A strong wind was blowing it in every direction, and effectively created a white-out. It was really a strange sensation not being able to distinguish the horizon from the ground and it gave me a kind of nausea and vertigo. Visibility was less than 10 feet and I quickly became completely disoriented and lost. The small compass on my watchband helped me out of what could have been a bad situation. I knew that the trail ran almost due north and also knew that I was probably west of it, so I set a northeasterly course. I judged that it would take several hours for my footprints to fill with snow and knew that if it came to it, that I could retrace my steps and get down the same route that I came up. Mine were the only footprints on the mountain, suppose everyone else had better sense than to be there. After about 20 minutes of dead reckoning with my compass, I found the trail again. In all, hiked about 12 miles to Roaring Fork Shelter. Feel like I'm running some kind of gauntlet with snow, bent and broken limbs, slippery mud and cold weather taking shots at me. Every time I feel that the trail has thrown everything it can at me, it serves up something else. However, today was quite an adventuresome day that seemed to eclipse reality. I'm glad I'm here. I expected a lot of unusual things on the AT; however, encountering a blizzard in NC in May was not one of them.
May 8 - Hiked from winter to spring. There was over a foot of snow on Bluff Mtn and it snowed more this morning. A half hour after going over the summit, however, I was hiking among beat up wildflowers in a spring green forest with streams, waterfalls and blooming Dogwoods. Hiked 12 miles to Deer Park Mtn Shelter.
May 9 - Hiked 3 miles to Hot Springs and stopped at the Jesuit Hostel, which in my estimation was a very welcome sight and a very poor hostel. Its unheated, and the operators wouldn't even leave the hot water on long enough for me to get a hot shower. Eventually, I found the switch for the hot water heater, and then had all the hot water I wanted. The Asheville, NC newspaper said that Mt. Pisgah, near here, had a record 60 inches of snow. I managed to get shin splints, so I'll have to take a few days off.
May 10 - Moved from the Jesuit Hostel to The Inn At Hot Springs. I couldn't help but notice that even though it took me years to leave my previous life and career in Tampa, FL, it took me only 30 minutes to pack up and leave the Jesuit Hostel. There is something to be said for simplicity. Elmer Hall (the owner of The Inn) and I seem to get along very well. He asked me to go to Asheville with him and one of his employees. We went to a flea market, ice cream parlor, movie, grocery store and a gourmet food store. I had a very nice time, but when we returned I found that my Achilles tendon is badly swollen. However, its not hurting badly, so perhaps there is hope. Soaked tendon in ice and I'm hoping for the best. Shin splints are better; very glad that I was able to catch it early.
May 11 - Spent a quiet, beautiful and restful day at The Inn, resting, working on my ankle and reading. Elmer brought a book to me, "As Far As The Eye Can See", written by David Brill, and I have been thoroughly enjoying it. Its an account of David's thru-hike of the AT in 1978. Later, went with Elmer and several of his employees to a picnic on Max Patch. Weather was clear and pleasant and the area is spring green. Its hard to believe it was the same place where I'd been lost in a blizzard only a few days earlier. Sunset was beautiful. Unsure about leaving tomorrow, shin splints need another day's rest.
May 12 - Another day of rest in Hot Springs. Grocery shopped, and finished reading David Brill's excellent book.
May 13 - Awoke this morning with a feeling that it was time to get back on the trail. Left The Inn about 8:30 a.m. and promptly got into a rain storm before I crossed the French Broad River. Hiked a quick and easy 10 miles to Spring Mtn Shelter. Shin splints are much better and ankle pain in manageable. I feel that my stay at Elmer's inn gave my hike some perspective and focus. I now feel that I'm hiking the AT. Looking back, I think that previously I was just wandering around in the snow with a backpack. Now, I think of the trail as a "highway" through an interesting and varied paradise, and not an end unto itself.
May 14 - A beautiful and warm, sunny day. Hiked 15 miles to Jerry Cabin Shelter. Saw many wildflowers, including several species of Trillium, Iris and Bluets. Right Achilles tendon has now flared up. It later settled down, but it is still sore. Has anyone ever hiked the AT with tendinitis in both Achilles tendons? Afraid it could be another beginning of the end of my hike. Sharing shelters with Cool Breeze and Beat N Feet.
May 15 - I've done back to back 15 mile days for the first time. Exhausted, but don't feel there is any damage, though I still have swelling in right ankle. Beat N Feet's radio, used without headphones, is bothering me; expect this is the last night that I will share a shelter with him. Its unusual for it to be this warm, hiked only with a shirt and pants today, parka was packed away.
May 16 - Enjoyed a nice campfire last night with some overnighters from the staff of the University of Western Carolina. They said I was only a 2 hour drive from Highlands, NC which is only 10 miles from my home. Its interesting (discouraging?) that I've been on the trail for over 2 months, and that I'm only 2 hours from home. Crossed 2 big balds today and walked a half-hour through masses of white wildflowers. Views from Bald Mtn were impressive. Hiked only 10 miles to Bald Mtn. Shelter, the "Carolina Condo".
May 17 - Hiked 10 miles to No Business Knob Shelter. Some of these names are interesting, and I am often curious concerning the story behind the name. Hiking 10 miles in the mountains with a fully loaded backpack is now considered a light day. Surprisingly, have 3 new blisters, though I have hiked 50 miles in the last 4 days.
May 18 - Encountered a 4 foot rattlesnake near Temple Ridge. Its head and about a foot of its body were on the left side of the trail, and I saw it when I was about 5 steps away from it. We stared at each other for several minutes and I then detoured around it without incident. Arrived at Nolichucky River Hostel about noon. Received a ride into the town of Irwin, and resupplied.
May 19 - Didn't get away from the hostel until about noon. Had planned to hike only 3 miles and stop at Curley Maple Gap. However, I didn't feel like stopping and decided to hike to the Beauty Spot, which was a mistake. Got caught in a severe thunderstorm that went on for hours. Barely able to find a campsite before dark. Will long remember the joy of pigging out on the over-abundance of food that I bought in Irwin. Had been hiking with Earthworm and Amy, but Amy bailed out at a highway crossing because of the storm, with the intention of hitch-hiking back to the hostel. Earthworm is camped beside me in his tent. He is sharing his tent with a very wet stray dog. The dog was seeking shelter from the storm, and Earthworm felt sorry for him.
May 20 - Camping last night near the Beauty Spot in the thunderstorm was special for its basic and simple comfort, warmth, dryness and privacy. Hiked 15 miles to Clyde Smith Shelter. Right Achilles tendon is worse and will be trip-threatening if it gets any worse. Now enjoying life in front of a nice fire at the shelter, with a hot mug of coffee. Fog enshrouded spring woods today were beautiful. Its great being in the woods everyday. I feel wild and free and like I'm getting away with something. Perhaps I am.
May 21 - Hiked up Roan Mtn, a 2,000 foot elevation gain in less than 3 miles. Wanted to have lunch at the shelter, but I missed it. That’s happened to other thru-hikers, but it is a first with me. I'm glad it happened, it will make me more careful. However, I'm just glad it wasn't getting dark and I hadn't planned to stay at the shelter overnight. On Round Bald and the area just north of it, saw the most impressive views that I've ever seen in the Southern Appalachians. Now at Yellow Mtn Barn Shelter. It has a magnificent view of the valley below.
May 22 - Spent a good night in The Barn and marveled again this morning at the incredibly beautiful setting that its in. Just when I thought that the scenery couldn't get any better, I crossed The Humps. The views rival anything that I've seen in the Rockies, either in the U.S. or Canada. Hitched a ride into the town of Roan Mtn and checked into the hostel at Stack's Roan Mtn Motel. Its nice to rest, clean up and pig out. Now have my sights set on Damacus, VA.
May 23 - Hiked 14 miles to Moreland Gap Shelter, and made it safely through "The Combat Zone" in the process. (The Zone is an area where, in years past, hikers have been harassed by locals.) Will share the shelter tonight with Cool Breeze, Beat N Feet, Sooner, Reno and Twinkletoes. All are thru-hikers except Twinkletoes, a section hiker from Chicago who is out for about 10 days. No one will use his trail name, and he doesn't seem to know why.
May 24 - Just before entering the Pond Mtn Wilderness, encountered a horse and mule drawn wagon train. All wagons were flying the Confederate flag and all participants were dressed in authentic costumes. It was all very interesting and colorful. Laurel Falls and the gorge are very nice, best waterfall on the trail so far. Planned to camp at top of Pond Mtn, but spring was almost dry. Hiked down to Rat Branch at Hwy. 21 and hooked up with Cool Breeze and Beat N Feet. We received a ride to Wautauga Lake Campground and an invitation to share the camp (and food) of several families at the campground. Feasted on hot dogs, baked beans, potato salad and soda. Hiked about 15 miles, most of it in the rain.
May 25 - Got a late start and hiked only 10 miles to Vandewater Shelter. Arrived in time to relax and get a sponge bath. Woods very cool, pretty and foggy.
May 26 - Weather turned very cool with rain. Hiked 15 miles to Double Spring Gap Shelter. Saw no one all day. Foggy spring woods were beautiful and mystical. Hiked past the Grindstaff Monument, actually the chimney of a hermit that was made into a headstone when he was buried beneath it. His epitah was "Lived alone, suffered alone and died alone". Thinking of doing 18 miles tomorrow to get to Damascus, VA, which will be a distance record for me.
May 27 - Hiked 18 miles to Damascus and arrived at the church hostel called "The Place" just after 5:00 p.m. If I don't make it from Georgia to Maine, at least I made it from Georgia to Virginia. Achilles tendons are in need of rest and I plan to stay here for a few days. Was surprised to see a poem written by my aunt on the hostel bulletin board, then remembered that she had been here for Trail Days recently.
May 28 - Spent a cool, rainy and restful day in Damascus. Town things seemed to take up too much time, food shopping and repackaging took almost a half-day. Decided not to send home my winter gear yet. Had hiking boots waiting at the P.O., but sent them ahead. Will have to stick with my jogging shoes a while longer. Sitting next to me now is a 2600-miler, Johnny O. He finished the Pacific Crest Trail a few years ago. He is 77 years old. When he finishes the Appalachian Trail, he will be only the 32nd or 33rd person in the entire world to have hiked both trails. What an inspiration.
May 29 - Spent hopefully last day the "The Place" hostel. Weather unseasonably cold, its also raining and windy. Lots of other hikes have come in, but few are leaving. As a result, its very crowded, cramped and noisy. Had a fun time with Cool Breeze, Crazy Sweed and Amy at Dott's Inn for a while before all the cigaret smoke got to me. Two days of rest doesn't seem to have helped Achilles tendons. Hike is now day to day and I may have to take some time off for healing soon.
May 30 - Finally left Damascus. Hiked a surprisingly easy 12 miles to a small pond and camped. Its pretty. Different Sox arrived later and he is camped about 100 feet away. Its nice to have some much needed privacy. Earlier, watched 2 hawks soaring over a sunny, spring green valley. Its good to be here.
May 31 - Hiked 14 miles to Deep Gap Shelter ("Deep Gap" number 4?). I am presently being entertained by 3 deer that are roaming around in front of the shelter. Dense fog is making the whole scene very eerie and beautiful. Crossed Whitetop Mtn in cold, wind and fog. It was sort of like Max Patch without the snow. Weather very cold and damp, wearing my winter gear. Very glad I didn't send it or my 3 season sleeping bag home.
Jun 1 - Awoke to 40 degrees and fog. Hiked 13 miles to Old Orchard Shelter in the Highlands. Some areas look like Montana. Saw many feral ponies, one even tried to eat my camera. It must have thought it was a snack after it saw me take the camera out of the zip-loc bag I carry it in. A little down about tendinitis and the weather. The pretty days I've had since leaving Springer could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Area in front of shelter very pretty, with a meadow, then forest and mountains in the distance. Looks like I'll have it all to myself tonight.
Jun 2 - Weather finally warmer, even had a little sunshine. In spite of the problems I'm having, the trail now seems like my home. I belong here. It feels good to be away from civilization, to have dropped out of society and to be beyond the reach of the law. Anarchy feels good. I'm enjoying being out here with my gear and being on my own. Hiked 14 miles to Trimpi Shelter.
Jun 3 - Candi and Kit Dawes of Del Ray Beach, FL came in last night. She is a very attractive and personable Civil War buff and she and I talked for hours. Her "Yankee" husband took the attitude of "here she goes again" and moved away from us. Hiked 17 miles to Chatfield Shelter. Have a ridge across the creek that is covered with blooming Rhododendron. Stopped by Mt. Rogers National Recreation Area Headquarters, a multi-million dollar edifice that the bureaucrats built for themselves, without so much as a picnic table for the public. Saw deer just about everywhere. Knew I was long overdue for a snake encounter, glad it was only a small Garter.
Jun 4 - Heard via the trail grapevine that a female thru-hiker was raped near the Grindstaff Monument a few days ago. I remember seeing the woman near Pond Mtn, but don't remember her name. The rapist is not in custody, and is believed to be in the area. Heard that Bonnie G (another female thru-hiker) freaked out and got off the trail. Sharing the shelter with Amy, Cool Breeze, Beat N Feet and Different Sox. Amy is a little spooked, but doing okay. However, I believe that she is very glad that she's not out here by herself. Hiked 5 miles through cow manure and mud (in a hard rain) to Atkins. Cool Breeze, Amy and I got a room. Its been pouring hard all day, and shows no signs of stopping.
Jun 5 - Hiked 13 miles to Knot Mole Shelter. Have a large crowd; Comfortably Numb, Timbo, Atomic Chili, Mission Control, Free Fall and Nomad Man. Everyone is concerned about the rapist, who is supposed to be close by, but this would not be a good place for him to appear. One of the hikers has a gun, another has 2 very protective Rottwilers, and another is a martial arts expert.
Jun 6 - Hiked a long 17 miles to Davis Farm Campsite. What a beautiful place! Now feasting on bass that Nomad Man caught in a small pond. Will long remember watching the nearly full moon come up over the valley below. Timbo is here, and he and I share an interest in someday hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. However, we both agreed that at the present time, we have our hands full with the AT.
Jun 7 - Hiked 15 miles to a highway near Bastian, VA and got a ride to Levi Long's Restaurant and hostel. The hostel is not much, but it is free. Had no choice except to take a blue-blaze (shortcut) off the main trail today. Bridge on Little Wolf Creek had been washed out, and the "creek" has temporarily turned into a raging river from all the recent rain.
Jun 8 - After resupplying in Bland, VA, hiked only 3 miles to Helvey's Mill Shelter. Finally mailed home most of winter gear. Bugs, and heat, are getting bad. Summer has finally arrived.
Jun 9 - Hiked in fog, rain and mud for 17 miles. Have a large blister on side of left heel that is giving me fits. It had formed a callous a few days ago and I thought it was all right, but now the whole area is red, swollen and painful. Camped at Dismal Creek Falls.
Jun 10 - Got a late start after performing some minor surgery on the callous on my left heel. Heated the blade of my knife, then used the tip to cut through the callous to get to the blister that I hoped to find underneath it. The blister was there, large and tight as a tick, and I drained it. It feels better, but now have an open wound in my foot that's about a half inch long and a quarter inch deep. Somehow, I have to keep it open so that it heals properly from the bottom up and also keep it from getting infected. Did a short but hard 12 miles to Woodshole Hostel. Tillie, the owner, invited me to dinner in her home, and I dined with her, her granddaughter and a couple from Roswell, GA. Chuck Logan, a fellow Georgia AT Club member, is also here. My feet seem to be getting worse, even the short days are hard. Callous / blister has been a nightmare, can hardly get my shoe on. If that were not enough, both Achilles tendons are getting worse. Completed 600 miles of trail today.
Jun 11 - Got a late start after having breakfast at Woodshole. Hiked 10 miles to Pearisburg, VA, most of it in fog, rain, mist and a multitude of wild Azalea and Rhododendron. Received a ride into town and I'm now at the Catholic church hostel. Pigged out at the Pizza Hut salad bar (6 trips), then Lynne Whelden and I finished off a half gallon of ice cream at the hostel.
Jun 12 - Got a ride back to the trail, probably won't see Lynne ("Bigfoot"), Cool Breeze or Crazy Sweed again because I can't keep up with them. Bought too much food, as usual, in Pearisburg. Planned to go only 4 miles and camp, but campsite was occupied by a sleeping man that I thought could be a weirdo named Jack that Cool Breeze had warned me about. Kept hiking. In a "water scarce" area, later found a campsite and a spring on blind faith. Don't know how far I hiked, because I don't know where I am.
Jun 13 - Hiked about 15 miles in very unseasonably cool weather. Wearing Thermax long underwear bottoms and parka. Met "Bobcat", from Cleveland, GA. He was the sleeping man I saw yesterday. I like him; looks like we may be hiking together for a while. He has ankle problems, and is hiking slow, also.
Jun 14 - Hiked about 14 miles in rain to Laurel Creek Shelter. Smelled a campfire from almost a half-mile away, then had my sense of smell assaulted by two freshly scrubbed and cologned day-hikers. For all the "Virginia Blahs" (depression that hits most thru-hikers in VA), realized today that it would be very difficult to go home.
Jun 15 - Hiked "only" 12 miles today to Niday Shelter, but it felt like more. Walking across a mile of nearly vertical rocks took its toll on my ankles. Mileage seems to be dropping, but days are not getting any easier. Saw 2 very large Blacksnakes today, one was longer than I am tall. Nights are becoming very painful, having trouble sleeping. Feet are in pretty bad shape. Hiking and sharing shelters with Bobcat and Crazy Sweed. Believe it rained only twice today. I enjoy hiking with Crazy Sweed. Even if he is an ex-heroin addict, an alcoholic and a dead-ringer for Charles Manson, complete with facial tattoos, he's good company and always builds a fire at night. He's from Sweden, here on a 3 month visa (which has expired), and gets a check for 100% disability each month from the Swedish government.
Jun 16 - Did 10 miles to Pickle Branch Shelter, it has a very large and beautiful spring. Spooked a spotted fawn on the side trail to the shelter. Feel as though my stamina peaked several weeks ago and that the trail is now beating me down. Looks like Bobcat and me tonight, Sweed went ahead.
Jun 17 - Hiked about 14 miles to Catawba Mtn Shelter, crossed many cattle stiles ("double" step-ladder devices, to allow crossing of cattle fences) in the process. Stopped at Catawba Grocery, there were several other thru-hikers there that I hadn't seen in a while. Everyone seems to be hurting and struggling to stay on the trail. Virginia is quite a monster and takes its toll in hiker casualties. Heard that Comfortably Numb is gone for good with 2 stress fractures in his left foot. He'll be in a cast for 6 weeks. What makes this so disturbing is that he is a young (26?) Olympic-athlete type. Makes me wonder what chance I have. Have decided that thru-hiking is definitely goal-oriented, regardless of what anyone says. Its day to day, shelter to shelter, and state to state.
Jun 18 - Hiked only 9 miles to Lambert Meadows Shelter. Was in the process of being attacked by an overnighter's German Shepherd dog when its owner was finally able to restrain it. Shelter is down low in a swampy area with weeds. There are many mosquitoes and a warning about Copperheads in the guide book. Sharing shelter with Bobcat, Gone Fishin, apologetic dog owner, and a recalcitrant German Shepherd. Have been out 7 days; looking forward to Cloverdale tomorrow.
Jun 19 - Hiked 9 miles to Cloverdale. Change from wilderness to civilization came a little too quickly. Was hiking in deep woods one minute and hiking along a four-lane divided highway the next. Saw Timbo in town. Bobcat, Gone Fishin and I bought into his motel room for $10 each. Had salad bar, dips in pool, 2 hot showers and a double bed all to myself. It was all so comfortable that I didn't want to go to sleep.
Jun 20 - Came very close to staying another day, but packed up and hiked 5 miles to Fullhardt Knob Shelter. Had a long road walk, and today was the first day that heat has actually been oppressive.
Jun 21 - Hiked to Bobbet Gap Shelter, about 14 miles. Couldn't believe my good fortune, but actually ran into Bill Irwin and his guide-dog Orient. We had a nice visit. Talking with Bill was quite an inspiration. I believe I'll finish the AT now; I'll do whatever it takes. (Bill Irwin is the only blind person to ever thru-hike the AT.)
Jun 22- Did a long 17 miles to Cornelius Creek Shelter. Weather this morning turned cool again, heard that it was 45 degrees and a new record. Day was beautiful, like the first day of spring. Wonder how much longer I can keep up this pace, feet seem to be fading fast. Still sharing shelters with Bobcat. Its very beautiful here, with all the blooms and greenery in the fading light. One of the prettiest days since leaving Springer.
Jun 23 - Did another 17 mile day to Matt's Creek Shelter. Took first dip of summer in a mountain stream. Have hiked 48 miles in the last 3 days, but I feel good. This is hard, but good and worthwhile. After all these years of planning, dreaming, hoping and waiting, I'm finally doing it.
Jun 24 - Hiked about 14 miles to Punchbowl Shelter. Bugs are getting worse with each passing day; mosquitoes and biting gnats swarm at times. Met "JR" at John's Hollow Shelter. He told me that Beat N Feet had gone home from Cloverdale, back to Colorado. In a way, I'm not surprised. Beat N Feet took the attitude that the "real" mountains were out west and that the southern Appalachians were not worthy of his respect. The last time I saw him doctoring his feet, I could barely see the skin for all the band-aids and Mole Skin. Mileage for last 4 days is 62 miles, hard for me to believe.
Jun 25 - Left shelter this morning in the rain, always a pleasure. Hiked 14 miles to beautiful, but misnamed, Cow Camp Shelter. It’s a very nice area, with a great piped spring. Looks like I'll have it all to myself tonight. Hiked by a beautiful creek with many large old-growth trees.
Jun 26 - Ran into a skunk on a bald, we both stayed cool and there were no consequences. Hiked 15 miles to The Priest Shelter and eclipsed 800 trail miles in the process. Picked some strawberries this morning. The berries were good, but the "experience" of gathering and eating wild food was special, and touched some long forgotten primal instinct in me. It felt very good and "right"; hard to describe.
Jun 27 - The weather is crazy, its almost July and I could see my breath this morning, suppose temperature was in the low 40's. Hiked to the Tye River and walked about 1 1/2 miles into the community of Tyro. Resupplied and received a ride back to the trail from a Trail Angel I know only as "Mr. Bradley". I'm now in an area that has been devastated by Gypsy Moths. "Scott" wrote in a register that he liked the word "gypsy", and wished that they were named something appropriate like politician, corporate executive of Exxon moths. Whatever they are called, the damage they do is sobering. Sharing the shelter with Damascus, Nova, Maverick and a section hiker, Steamboat.
Jun 28 - The atmosphere in the shelter last night was very much filled with tension, and it seemed to have something to do with Damascus, Maverick and Steamboat. This morning, in private, I asked Nova what was going on. He laughed, then said that Steamboat and Damascus had been dating before she (Damascus) left for the AT. Since he (Steamboat) knew where she was going to be (approximately), he decided to surprise her and show up at the shelter. He "surprised" her all right; she and Maverick have been hiking together as a couple for over a month. Nova and I shared a long and ongoing laugh over it. Later, hiked about 15 miles to Wolfe Shelter amid much Gypsy moth devastation. There were many good views, especially at Humpback Rocks. Hiking with Bill, Curt and Kenny, some hard drinking but friendly school teachers who are out for a few days. They have kept me supplied with food and even water since last night.
Jun 29 - It was very nice at the shelter last night with its large porch, lots of room and noisy creek. Hiked 5 miles to Afton Mtn resort area. Lori ("Slack") got us a ride to Waynesboro and we arrived at the fire station just after noon. Left knee bad and in need of rest, very painful on downhills. Got a very long hot shower and later went to Bonanza restaurant with Lori and pigged out on the salad bar. Before parting, Bill (one of the teachers) told me, "Of all the thru-hikers I met, I think you'll be the one who makes it to Maine." It was quite a compliment, and it surprised me. I will miss them.
Jun 30 - Spent a mostly lazy day in Waynesboro. Went to the library, Weazie's for all you can eat (AYCE, pronounced "ace") pancakes, got a much needed haircut, and then damaged the salad bar at Pizza Hut. This is the best trail town experience since Elmer's Inn at Hot Springs, NC.
Jul 1 - July, and I'm still in Virginia. All other hikers went back to the trail today, except for 2 who went home. Have some stomach pain, haven't felt well since Bonanza salad bar 2 days ago.
Jul 2 - Had full blown diarrhea and stomach cramps last night after Hardee's and then pigging out on free pizza at the fire station. Was determined to leave, however, and the first few miles were memorable. I was stopping every few minutes to throw up. Hiked 7 nauseous miles to Calf Mtn. Shelter on a very hot day.
Jul 3 - Hiked 13 miles to Blackrock Hut, but took a wrong turn and did an extra mile because I didn't know to read the little bands at the top of the concrete trail marker signs. The bands have small lettering that is easily missed. My stomach has made an amazing recovery since yesterday, I'm almost back to normal. Hiked in rain and drizzle most of the day, however, with the heat, it actually felt very good.
Jul 4 - Got lucky and was able to slackpack all day because of the efforts of Don St.John. Hiked 12 miles to Pinefield Shelter via Loft Mtn. Saw many deer, and also many Japanese tourists. Flying insects are getting very worrisome, probably will start wearing reading glasses to help keep swarming gnats out of my eyes.
Jul 5 - Made a short day of it and hiked only 9 miles. The alternative was going to the next shelter and doing 21 miles, which probably would have done me in. Took an afternoon nap and I am enjoying the half day off. Now at High Top Shelter. Enjoyed slackpacking yesterday, and the large (and free) breakfast that Don provided this morning. He packed in a stove, food, and utensils and made breakfast for everyone in the shelter, then steadfastly refused offers of reimbursement.
Jul 6 - Hiked 13 miles to Bearfence Shelter, was mostly a nice day. I was the star attraction at Lewis Mtn Campground (since I have been on the trail nearly 4 months, and have hiked here from GA), though I didn't enjoy all the attention. I'm in a lot of pain and I'm a little down, trying to work through it. Considering taking a week off at Harper's Ferry, though I don't have the time. I know that I'm fighting the calendar; I have to be in northern Maine by mid-October, or risk not being able to finish my hike at Katahdin.
Jul 7- One of the prettiest days since leaving Springer. Weather cool and clear with a nice breeze and warm sunshine. Hiked to Big Meadows Lodge and will long remember sitting in the lounge, listening to soft music and watching hawks soar over the Shenandoah Valley. Met Waldo, another thru-hiker. It looks like he and I will be hiking together for a while. He yogied lunch for us before we even left the campground. Later, a large female black bear fell / jumped out of a tree onto the trail 50 ft. in front of us and stood her ground. I called it the Famous Shenandaoh Flying Bear routine. Anyway, I literally had to grab Waldo to keep him from running away. I noticed a small cub in the same tree that the adult bear had jumped out of, and we slowly backed off. Hiked 12 miles to Rock Springs Hut.
Jul 8 - We saw 2 more bears, 2 cubs going up a tree very close to the spot where Waldo had gotten off the trail to urinate. He hadn't noticed the cubs and we quickly left the area after I pointed them out. Later, I wondered if bears have a sense of humor. If so, the sight of 2 middle aged men with backpacks, half limping and half running down a trail, with one of them trying to get his zipper up must have been hilarious. Hiked 15 miles to Pass Mtn Shelter, stopped at Panorama Restaurant for AYCE salad bar. Aches and pains improving some, pain not so bad at night. Passed 900 miles on the trail today. Reaching 1,000 will be great, so will making it out of Virginia, what I've been calling "The State Without An End". About 1/4 of the entire AT is in Virginia, over 500 miles.
Jul 9 - Hiked 14 miles to Gravel Springs Shelter, stopped at Elkwallow Gap store for a $6 lunch that was mostly a rip-off. There are many rules and restrictions in Shenandoah National Park. At times, its seems that the National Park Service is more intent on enforcing back country rules than trying to save the eco-system from Gypsy moth devastation. At least the hikers seem to get more attention than the moths.
Jul 10 - Finally got out of Shenandoah Natl Park, which I feel is mostly a tourist trap run by concessionaires who have the business ethics of a bankrupt carnival. Hiked 10 miles to Tom Floyd Shelter. Now hanging out, relaxing and airing out gear and clothes. I fought it as long as I could, but I finally stopped shaving and I am growing a beard. Left knee is bad, now taking downhills either sideways or backwards. I suppose it looks funny to everyone except other thru-hikers.
Jul 11- Hiked 3 miles and got a ride to Front Royal with the very first vehicle that passed. Now doing town things amid 95 degree hear. I like my beard, I guess, but it still has a ways to go. Waldo and I got a motel room for $28 total. Neither of us seem to be making phone calls home or writing letters to anyone. Repaired water bag and back-washed water filter. We are getting our money's worth out of the motel room; we'll have it 26 hours.
Jul 12 - Had breakfast in town, then took a cab back to the trail. I have discovered that its much easier to hitch-hike into town than it is to hitch-hike out of town and back to the trail. I suppose its because when hikers are beside the trail motorists recognize hikers for who they are. Someone in town with a pack could be anyone. Hiked for several hours in a very loud thunderstorm. Polar Bear, Young Flanagan and Thumper were at the shelter, but they moved on.
Jul 13 - Got stung by a bee at Dick's Dome Shelter when I stopped for lunch. Hiked 14 miles to Rod Hollow Shelter. Stopped at Papa Nick's Restaurant, where I tried to call my son to wish him a happy 21st birthday. His grandmother told me that he had just joined the Air Force, and was enroute to basic training in Texas. My son; the original long-haired, rebellious teenager, now in the Air Force with a GI haircut. Wonders never cease. There were many large trees today, and the woods were beautiful.
Jul 14 - Hardest day of my hike so far. Hiked 18 miles to Blackburn AT Center. Rocky terrain, roller coaster grades, bugs, high humidity and 102 degree heat all combined to make this a memorable day. Hiked right past Bear's Den Hostel early in the day, and regretted not stopping for the night.
Jul 15 - Finally have Virginia behind me. I heard that more thru-hikers call it quits in Virginia than in any other state. Terrain is very rocky. Yesterday made all aches and pains worse, my old companion left Achilles tendon is really putting on a show. Went by ATC Headquarters in Harper's Ferry and had my photo taken, had pizza with Waldo and then checked into the Hilltop House Hotel. The hotel really gives hikers a break on the room rates, reduced from $60 to $21. I'm in enough pain to know that the Pennsylvania rocks could finish me off. I've felt this way before, though, and my body has always come through for me.
Jul 16 - Took a day off in Harper's Ferry and did town things. "Gutless", a terminal cancer patient who thru-hiked in 1991 once said that hiking the trail was harder than dying. I have decided that I will not quit, that I will hike until I can no longer walk. Then I'll take some time off and keep going.
Jul 17 - Got back on the trail and enjoyed walking through the old-town section of Harper's Ferry. Crossed the bridge where the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers converge and entered Maryland. Followed C & O towpath for several miles. Hiked 17 miles to Rocky Run Shelter.
Jul 18 - Hiked about 15 miles to Hemlock Hill Shelter on a cool, pretty day. Passed very ugly first-ever Washington Monument. I'm in pretty good shape except for my feet. This shelter is very close to a highway, the locals have been going at it for hours with a shotgun, a pistol, firecrackers and loud music. Just the place to be on a summer Saturday night.
Jul 19 - Hiked about 15 miles to Deer Lick Shelters, into PA and across the Mason-Dixon Line. Had a nice nap, burgers and ice cream at Pen-Mar Park. The park was full of folks in their 60's and 70's who had come to hear a 1940's type "swing" band. I got a little tired of the same old questions. Several people asked if they could take pictures of Waldo and me and we obliged. One man asked me if I thought that I would have enough money to get home once I finished the trail. At first, I didn't understand why he would ask a question like that. Later, it occurred to me that he thought that I am homeless and indigent because I am hiking the AT. However, Waldo and I probably look and smell like bums, so that is how we are perceived.
Jul 20 - Hiked 15 miles to Quarry Gap Shelters. Feet are bad, can no longer hike all day without taking my boots off and massaging my arches. So far, the trail in PA has been easy, but I expect that to change. Still hiking with Waldo, Earthworm is just ahead.
Jul 21 - Hiked about 17 miles to AYH Hostel in Pine Grove Furnace State Park. Had very bad pain in feet along the way and had to stop. At that point, had no water and therefore couldn't eat my salty lunch. Also, was not sure that I could keep hiking (because of my feet) and was 1,200 miles from home, alone somewhere in PA. Tried to think of something funny, and thought about what Mac (an elderly thru-hiker) once said at Levi Long's hostel in Bastian, VA. He said, "Son, if you are dumb, you have to be tough". Finally made it to the hostel and encountered a large portrait of Bill Irwin and Orient hiking in the rain in Georgia. That blind man and that dog show up every time things get tough. Had thought about quitting, but suppose I'll hang in.
Jul 22 - Last night at AYH Hostel was very comfortable, and Waldo and I were the only guests. Passed the official AT 1/2 way marker before leaving the state park. Hiked 15 miles to Alec Kennedy Shelter in rain and amid giant boulders. Came very close to falling headfirst down some rocks after losing my balance.
Jul 23 - Did my first 20 mile day through the Cumberland Valley in an all day rain. It was hot and the rain felt very good. Hiking through the valley was very nice, terrain was flat and ground was very soft. Now at Darlington Shelter.
Jul 24 - Hiked about 11 miles to Duncannon, PA, now at the "famous" (infamous?) Doyle Hotel. Stopped briefly at the Thelma Marks Shelter, where Geoff Hood and Molly LaRue, southbound thru-hikers, were murdered in 1990. It was foggy, windy, drizzling and very eerie. It was a little spooky, very sad and I was glad to leave. The Doyle Hotel is full of colorful characters, mostly elderly and down-on-their-luck pensioners. However, everyone is very friendly, and the hotel bar is legendary as a place of socializing between locals and thru-hikers. The hotel patrons and thru-hikers seem to enjoy each other's company, and "cultural tolerance" seems to be the order of the day.
Jul 25 - Slept in my sleeping bag on top of the bed last night at the Doyle Hotel, after finding that the sheets were not clean. Today, hiked 11 miles over hellacious rocks to Peters Mtn Shelter. Found it occupied by 4 men with guns who were wearing full camo outfits. Put my tent up and slipped and slid down the side of a very rocky mountain to get water.
Jul 26 - Hiked 18 miles on a relatively easy trail to Rausch Gap Shelter. Hiked with Waldo and Bigfoot. Yogied about a pint of fresh strawberries at a road crossing from a local who had just picked several quarts. Hiked in rain most of the afternoon. Last night, mice chewed holes in 2 of my shorts pockets. They were after snack wrappers that I'd forgotten to remove. Now half way through PA.
Jul 27 - Hiked 17 miles to 501 Shelter, actually a cabin. Watched a hang-glider do his thing. Apparently, he was very religious. He stood on the side of the mountain, yelled "Praise God!" and then flew away.
Jul 28 - Hiked 13 miles to Eagle's Nest Shelter on a very pretty day. I have decided that there will be no more long days in PA. The rocks seem to get worse the farther north I get. Getting gear dried out after 4 or 5 damp days; most of it had soured. Bigfoot went ahead and Waldo's whereabouts are unknown, looks like I'll have this new and beautiful log shelter all to myself tonight. Rocks have Achilles tendons going full tilt, plan to take 2 - 3 days off in Delaware Water Gap, PA.
Jul 29 - Hiked 12 miles to Pocohontas Spring. It looked easier on paper than it was. Rocks were bad and I took a wrong turn because of an incorrect sign. Had a nice lunch at the Port Clinton Hotel, where I met the owner, Helen Carbaugh. She is a very interesting and colorful elderly lady. Later, saw the largest rattlesnake of my life after it rattled when I walked past it on the trail. It was the worst tempered snake that I have ever seen. I watched it from a safe distance for a few minutes, it coiled and rattled the whole time.
July 30 - Enjoyed an exciting electrical storm last night in my tent. Hiked about 12 miles to Eckville Shelter, actually a hostel-like building. There's even a solar shower and electricity. Had lunch at The Pinnacle (an overlook) while watching soaring hawks. Rocks have just about done in my Achilles tendons. Hike is now day to day.
Jul 31 - Took a day off because of Achilles tendons, stayed at Eckville Shelter. Felt that if I'd hiked today, it could have been all over. Also, got very little sleep last night because of pain. If I make it, will probably look back on this as one of the low points. Two men came in with 8 - 10 inner city teenagers, and they gave me much needed coffee and powdered milk. The teenagers all have criminal records, and were given the choice of either coming on the backpacking trip or going to jail. Their collective trail name is "Hoods In The Woods".
Aug 1 - Turned 45 on the trail. Began feeling better soon after leaving Eckville Shelter. Had a couple of NA (No-Alcohol) beers and a fun time at "The Restaurant On Rascal Hill". Hiked 19 miles to Bake Oven shelter. There are no words than I know of that could adequately describe the rocks that I encountered. They were truly beyond description.
Aug 2 - Hiked 9 miles to Lehigh Gap and hitched to the town of Palmerton. The local police department lets hikers sleep in the basement of the police station, and there are also shower facilities. All the police officers went home at 5:00, and Waldo and I were the only ones left inside the building. We were given strict instructions not to allow anyone else inside. However, a woman who had found a dog followed me inside when I came back from dinner, and wanted to know what she should do with the dog. Rather than try to explain to her that I was just a hiker sleeping inside the station, I suggested that she contact the local humane society. Thankfully, she didn't ask any questions, or try to leave the dog at the station. Waldo was beside me, and mostly succeeded in keeping a straight face while all this was going on.
Aug 3 - Took a cab back to the trail. I will never forget the nearly vertical climb out of Lehigh Gap; after that, walked several miles on terrain that looked like the face of the moon. The area is an EPA Superfund site thanks to a smelting plant that killed all the vegetation years ago. It’s a good example of what a large corporation is capable of in its never ending quest for profits. They didn't care at all about air quality, the environment or even the health of the children in the nearby town. All they cared about was making money. Hiked 16 miles to Smith Shelter. Only one more full day left in PA, but Don, a Ridge Runner, said that the rocks go on for a while .
Aug 4 - Hiked most of the day with Flicka Rodman, a 27 year old medical student. He invited me to come by his home when I go through Massachusetts. Knowing that PA is ending, and that fall and the New England portion of the trail is just ahead, is a big plus.
Aug 5 - Arrived in Delaware Water Gap ( a town ) and went to the comfortable and homey Presbyterian Church of the Mountain Hostel. PA is now behind me, now less than a half mile from the New Jersey state line. Earthworm has an injured knee and is going home tomorrow. Also, Flicka is getting off the trail here to be with his fiancee at home. He has talked about her a great deal, and it is obvious that they are very much in love. I will miss both of them (Earthworm and Flicka). Not too many people seem to be left; however, this is starting to be fun again.
Aug 6 - Will long remember the good time last night at Brownie's Bar & Restaurant, socializing, drinking NA beer, and shooting pool with the locals. Delaware Water Gap is probably my favorite trail town so far. Took the day off, went to Stroudsburg to resupply. Weather is beautiful and cool. The church members at the hostel made dinner for us last night, and it was greatly appreciated. Two more thru-hikers came in, Yogi-Master and Looks Down.
Aug 7 - Crossed into New Jersey about 9:30 a.m. Its actually pretty here, surprisingly. Because of a very bad experience in New Jersey with Advanced Infantry Training in winter with the U.S. Army at Ft. Dix many years ago, I once made a solemn oath never again to enter New Jersey. Hopefully, this experience will be more fulfilling.
Aug 8 - Hiked 14 miles to Glen Anderson Shelter with severe stomach pain. Thought for a while that it might be Giardiasis, but now think I got some bad ice cream at Worthington's bakery. Inadvertently scared a father and his little girl at the shelter when I took my Buck knife out of my pocket and quickly opened it with one hand, as I'm in the habit of doing. They thought that it was a switchblade, and that I had threatened them. After I opened the knife, the father grabbed his daughter and started backing out of the shelter with her. Sometimes I have to remind myself how I must look to Real World folks.
Aug 9 - Hiked 14 miles to High Point Shelter. Met "Greyhound", a section hiker who claims to treat his Giardiasis with garlic and scotch whiskey. My stomach is better, but had a bad back spasm this morning. I know that it will get much worse tonight after the muscles cool down and contract. I've had these spasms before, and I dread tomorrow morning.
Aug 10 - Last night was one of the most painful since my hike began. I was unable to get out of my sleeping bag this morning because of my back. It took several minutes, but I finally was able to get up by turning on my side and pushing up with my arms. After Waldo watched me painfully moving around, he said that I should get off the trail. He may have been right, but I felt it was best to work through it. He helped me put on my pack and I made it to Unionville and hooked up with Yogi and Looks Down. They were out of money, compliments of the U.S. Postal Service. When I saw Yogi, he was sitting down on a curb near the post office, eating some cold soup out of a can. I bought breakfast for all three of us. My back felt better in the afternoon, and I hiked all the way to the fire station pavilion in Vernon, 22 miles in all.
Aug 11 - You know you're having a bad day when you wake up in New Jersey with a backache, then get stung by a bee before breakfast. It was a very painful sting, on the second toe of my left foot. Hitch-hiked 3 miles back to the trail from the town of Vernon, and later got slowed down going over 1 1/2 miles of nightmarish boulders in a lightning storm. A climb up a too-short ladder on a sheer rock face in the rain was lunacy. Hiked about 14 miles, camped near a stream that had foam in it. Filtered it, boiled it and will hope for the best.
Aug 12 - Spent a very restful night at what I'm calling Foamy Creek. Awoke to cool air and bright sunshine. Hiked about 13 miles to Orange Turnpike. Walked about a half mile to a spring, then went back to the trail and carried 1 1/2 gallons of water up a mountain. Found a beautiful campsite that reminds me of an overlook at home. Got homesick for the first time in a while. Last few days have been something else.
Aug 13 - Did an AT first, at least for me. Was merrily on my way to Maine and met Waldo hiking toward me in the opposite direction. I had gotten turned around and had started following south-bound blazes. This added 2 extra miles to an already brutal day. Hiked 17 (net 15) miles to Brien Shelter. Waldo and I both carried 1 1/2 gallons of water 4 miles from Tiorati Park. I'm very tired and mentally stressed, and the confusion over the blazes today didn't make matters any better. I believe Waldo is worried about me, though in my estimation, he's not in much better shape than I am.
Aug 14 - You know the shelter mice are going to be bad when you see them come out on recon patrols before its even dark. Waldo and I had our positions completely overrun by 10:00 last night. There were mice in our packs, hanging clothes, boots and they were all over the floor and running across our sleeping bags and our heads. We finally got up about 10:30 and put our tents up inside the shelter. I made a solemn oath to someday return to this shelter and leave a couple of large Blacksnakes behind. Today, hiked about 15 miles to Graymoor Monastery, a wonderful place of restful peace. Met Brother Jerry, who I believe is in charge of controlling and managing the visiting thru-hikers. He recently was in South Dakota on vacation and I enjoyed talking with him about Native American culture and the monument that is being built in a likeness of Crazy Horse. This place is hiker heaven. In most hostels, I have felt "tolerated", but here I feel genuinely welcome. Yogi, Looks Down and Waldo are also here. New York has been my least favorite trail state. There are lots of PUDS (pointless ups and downs), scarce shelters and very little water. What it does have is an abundance of rules. Graymoor is like an oasis.
Aug 15 - Had a long and leisurely thru-hiker's dream breakfast with Brother Jerry and the other hikers after a very comfortable night in a comfortable and real bed. The monastery houses homeless people, and I couldn't help but notice that they appeared to be in a lot better shape than the hikers. Got a late start and intended to do only 10 miles and camp, but there were no campsites or water. Had no choice except to do 19 miles to RPH Cabin and arrived right at dark. I usually feel very comfortable in the woods, but for some reason, I was very uneasy today. It probably has something to do with extreme physical and mental fatigue.
Aug 16 - Took a day off because of exhaustion, left knee and an all day rain. I'm probably breaking someone's rules by staying here 2 nights, but like Rhett said to Scarlett, frankly I don't give a damn. Won't see Yogi-Master or Looks Down again. Could barely keep up with them and now they'll be a full day ahead. Also, Waldo left and plans to flip-flop at Kent, CT, so I won't see him again, either. All this made for a somewhat "down" day, but not really a bad one. However, I realized today that if I don't finish the trail, I'm going to be emotionally devastated.
Aug 17 - Hiked 16 miles to Telephone Pioneer's Shelter. Rain has not stopped for days. Its hard to believe that I'll enter New England tomorrow. The woods here are very pretty and Georgia-like. I'm sharing the shelter with Sam (as in "Samantha") and Frog-Stomper. The rocks finally seem to be going away. I had another back spasm, but its not nearly as bad as the first one.
Aug 18 - Hitched into Pawling, NY. Went to the post office and a new pair of boots was waiting. Later, had a good but expensive breakfast at McKinney & Doyle's Restaurant. Had to walk 3 miles back to the trail, then hiked 9 miles to Wiley Shelter. My new boots promptly gave me a blister on the little toe of my right foot.
Aug 19 - Left New York and crossed into Connecticut. I had no stamina today, and was hard pressed to do 13 miles to Mt. Algo Shelter. Met a young man from Blarisville, GA whose trail name is Yo-Yo. It was nice talking with another southerner. The woods are very pretty here, and I saw a river that made me think of "my" Chattooga River at home.
Aug 20 - Awoke to cool temperatures, could see my breath. Summer was very short. Hiked down St. John Ledges, which were very steep with many large boulders. After that, the trail followed the Housatonic River for 5 miles of flat and beautiful hiking. The new blister on my right foot is very painful; cut my new boots to relieve the pressure. This assured me of having wet feet for the rest of my hike. Connecticut is very nice, it reminds me of home. There are pretty woods and mountains and even water is plentiful. It feels very good to be back in cool, green, shady mountains.
Aug 21 - A cool and beautiful day, don't know if these temperatures are normal here or not. Hiked 14 miles to Limestone Springs, then camped illegally after I saw that the 1/2 mile side trail went straight down to the legal campsite. I have been hiking and camping alone for several days, and it looks like it will continue for a while.
Aug 22 - Broke my illegal camp early and hiked to Salisbury, CT to resupply. I was promptly invited into the home of Joel and Teresa Blumet for breakfast and a shower. They are very nice people. Later, hiked 10 miles to Sages Ravine Campground. Met ATC employee Alison Dixon and some Ridge Runners at Bear Mtn, and they invited me to come by their camp for dinner at Sages Ravine. I accepted and had a very nice time. These folks seem to be having too much fun to get paid. I was told that I could have a job as a Ridge Runner anytime I wanted.
Aug 23 - Hiking today was rugged and beautiful with great view from Race Mtn and Mt. Everett. However, I had very little stamina and hiked only 11 miles to Jug End Campsite.
Aug 24 - Hiked 15 miles to South Wilcox Shelter. The lower back-band on my pack is 90% gone and probably will go completely tomorrow or the next day. I will have to get it repaired somehow, or the metal pack frame will be rubbing directly against my back.
Aug 25 - Hiked a long and hard 17 miles to Goose Pond Cabin. After a dip in the lake, walked a mile to a restaurant only to find it closed. This was especially frustrating, because I had really been looking forward to a good restaurant meal, and my feet are very painful. It was a 2 mile walk for nothing. I'm not sure that I can hike tomorrow.
Aug 26 - Ridge Runner Joan came by Goose Pond Cabin and she offered to drive me to Lennox to have my pack repaired. I bought 2 new back-bands and a new hip belt for $30. I was going to leave in the afternoon, but decided to stay another night. The area around Goose Pond is beautiful. I took advantage of the sunny weather to leak-proof my parka, pack cover and tent.
Aug 27 - Went to dinner last night with Joan; she drove us to a restaurant in Great Barrington. I enjoyed it very much, and it made leaving today a lot more difficult. However, I left early and hiked 18 miles to Kay Wood Shelter. Looks like I will have it all to myself tonight.
Aug 28 - Left the shelter very early and hiked to Dalton, mainly to use a laundromat. They are few and far between in New England, and it has taken me a while to figure out why. I believe the feeling here in these small, quaint towns is this: If you don't have a washer and dryer, we would appreciate it greatly if you would take your dirty clothes and go somewhere else. Today, I hiked a total of 12 miles to the town of Cheshire, and I'm staying at a church hostel.
Aug 29 - I'm having severe pain in my Achilles tendons, as well as my feet, and I have decided to take a few days off. I am limping badly, and taking a total of 12 Ibuprofen tablets per day.
Aug 30 and 31 were spent resting and recuperating.
Sep 1 - Hooked up with Polar Bear, and it looks like we will be hiking together for a while. He said that Timbo was just ahead, and that they had been just a day or two behind me for weeks. It will be very nice to have the company of thru-hikers again. Foot pain is still bad, and at one time I toyed with the idea of going home. However, I noticed on a map of the AT how far I'd come and how little of the trail is left and decided to go for it.
Sep 2 - Got an early start, trail up Mt. Greylock, the highest mountain in Massachusetts, was beautiful, fragrant and well graded. This day was very nice with cool temperatures, and the woods are changing from hardwood to coniferous. Hiked 12 miles to Wilbur Clearing Shelter.
Sep 3 - Did a long, hard day in a very cold rain. Hiked 17 miles to Congdon Camp. Hiking with Polar Bear and Timbo. I crossed into Vermont about noon. Eleven states down and three to go. An elderly woman who inferred that she is a witch is also at the "camp", which in Vermont-ese means "cabin". I don't know whether she is a witch or not, but its been raining hard all day and she got a fire started in less than a minute with wood that she gathered from outside. Timbo and I just looked at each other, then enjoyed the warm fire. Some very strange things happen out here occasionally.
Sep 4 - A beautiful day of fragrant woods and grand scenery. I really like Vermont, the scenery has definitely improved. Hiked 14 miles to Goddard Shelter. Scott once wrote in a shelter that after hiking the AT, how does one go back to a society of easily duped, TV watching imbeciles. I'm beginning to feel the same way.
Sep 5 - Hiked about 16 miles to sub-alpine beauty. I'm spending the night at the warming cabin of the Stratton Mtn Ski Resort. Its closed and I have the place all to myself. I arrived in eerie fog, and the place has the feel of a ghost town. I have electric lights and heat, hot water and even a one channel TV. I expected Polar Bear and Timbo, but they didn't show. Enjoying the great indoors.
Sep 6 - Hiked about 14 miles to Bromley Tenting Area, which the rest of the world would call a "campsite". However, they can't call it a campsite in Vermont, because a "camp" here means "cabin". God forbid that they should confuse anyone. Anyway, I have a nice private spot close to a noisy little stream. The days are going faster than the miles and I feel like I'm fighting a losing battle to finish at Katahdin.
Sep 7 - Last night was mostly sleepless because of some unidentified forest animal that roamed around near my tent for hours. Every time I'd make noise and scare it off, it would come back. It was probably a raccoon, though I never saw it. I was a little down this morning, but the scenery was so great that happiness closed in from all directions. Hiked 15 miles to Big Branch Shelter after climbing Bromley, Peru, Styles and Baker Mtns. I have a fire going, a beautiful river in front of the shelter, and several other thru-hikers for company.
Sep 8 - A very nice day, hiked 10 miles to Hwy. 140 and hitched into Wallingford, VT. I resupplied and washed clothes in about 3 hours and managed to get a ride back to the trail. When I first started hiking the AT, it would have taken all day. I'm sharing Hinkley Shelter with Indigo ( as in "blue", for blue- blazer). I saw him last in Damascus, VA. He is now a south-bounder who has given up on completing the trail this year. He's now skipping around.
Sep 9 - Hiked a long and hard 17 miles. Crossed Killington Mtn in the process. This was a beautiful day in the mountains, but I'm very tired and in a lot of pain. Now at Pico Camp (cabin), watching a full moon come up over the mountains and valley. There's lots of Birch, Spruce and Fir trees and they are very fragrant. There is something special about the New England portion of the trail.
Sep 10 - Hiked only 12 miles because of shelter spacing and threatening weather. Now getting pain in the ligaments of both knees. Went by McGrath's Pub and had breakfast . The scenery is still very good, but there's lot of relocations and many PUD's.
Sep 11 - Hard to believe that I did another 20 mile day, and in the mountains of Vermont, too. Lots of nice scenery today, colors are very vivid. There are lots of fall wildflowers and herbal scents, too. I'm now at Cloudland Shelter with Pastaman. He got his trail name because he likes to eat Ramen noodles cold, fresh out of the package. I really didn't believe it until I saw him do it. Earlier, I got zapped by an electric fence while walking through a pasture. Literally hiked from daylight to dark.
Sep 12 - Hiked 17 miles to Hanover, New Hampshire. Only 2 states left. Had another clear, cool day in beautiful woods. I regretted leaving Vermont, it is a very beautiful place. A fraternity at Dartmouth University usually will let thru-hikers sleep in one of their dorms, but they have freshmen coming in with their parents now, so they turned us away. I'm now at a motel with Polar Bear, Timbo and Pastaman. We are splitting the cost of the $85 room. In GA or NC, this room would cost about half that amount.
Sep 13 - It was great sleeping in a real bed with a feather pillow. Had a nice long, leisurely breakfast at The Inn At Norwich. Later, had a pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream while sitting on a bench in the warm afternoon sun. Hiked only 2 miles to Velvet Rocks Shelter.
Sep 14 - Hiked 15 miles to Trapper John Shelter. Some Dartmouth students were on a hike and were pleasantly surprised when I told them that the shelter had been named after the fictional Dartmouth grad "Trapper John" on the old MASH TV show. Weather now much cooler, bugs are mostly gone except for a few sluggish and uninspired mosquitoes.
Sep 15 - Suppose this was practice day for the White Mtns. Long, steep ascents up Smarts and Cube Mtns put me in Hexacuba Shelter after only 11 miles. Scents abound, hiking a lot in very fragrant coniferous forests.
Sep 16 - Hiked 15 miles to Jeffers Brook Shelter. Stopped by the post office in Glencliff to pick up my winter gear. It was all there except for my thermal underwear. Even though I told Carolyn exactly where it was, she said that she couldn't find it. I will enter the White Mtns tomorrow , where many people have died from exposure a lot earlier in the year than this. I'm already going through very late, not having the thermal underwear will make a bad situation worse.
Sep 17 - Climbed Mt. Moosalauke and went above timberline for the first time. The wind was very bad. The descent was rougher than any hiking I've ever done. Part of the trail went down a nearly sheer rock face, there were wooden blocks anchored to the rock that served as a kind of staircase. There was absolutely nothing to hold on to. The last 2 miles were murder on the knees, but absolutely beautiful with one waterfall after another. It was quite an introduction to the Whites. Hiked only 8 miles, but it felt like more.
Sep 18 - Hiked 11 miles to Kinsman Pond Shelter and climbed both South and North Kinsman Mtns in the process. At times, the trail went absolutely straight up a rock face and the only way to ascend was to find finger holds in the rocks or to pull up on roots and / or tree limbs. I cut my right knee on a rock; it bled a lot (like most rock cuts do), but it isn't bad.
Sep 19 - Hiked 4 miles and hitched into N. Woodstock for a hectic resupply. Barely got back to the woods before dark. While I was standing on the side of the road hitch-hiking, I thought, "If I can just get back to the woods before dark, I'll be fine". Later, I thought how odd that was. Most folks (in the Real World) would be thinking, "If I can just make it out of the woods and back to town before dark, I'll be fine". Hiked about a mile and camped, probably illegally, by a nice mountain stream. Cold front moved through about 4:00 a.m., temperature dropped to just above freezing.
Sep 20 - As far as scenic beauty and grandeur, this was the best day of my hike. Hiked Franconia Ridge on a clear, cold day and had unlimited views in all directions. Visibility was over 100 miles. Leaves are also changing and I had beautiful fall color. The Whites are beating me up and killing my knees, but they are among the most beautiful mountains that I have ever seen.
Sep 21 - A very long and hard day. Left camp early, before anyone else was up. Was greeted by "clouds in the valley" scenery when I left Garfield Ridge. Kestrel took a picture of a Gray Jay eating out of my hand. Hiked 13 miles to beautiful Ethan Pond, but got in right at dark. Had to do a "burn" the last 5 miles, covered it in less than 2 hours.
Sep 22 - This is the first day of fall, I have hiked in all 4 seasons on this hike. Did a very tough and wet 10 miles to Mispuh Hut. Now camped on a platform in the rain. I could be inside the hut with Timbo in exchange for doing only a few hours of work, if I wasn't so damn stubborn. Today was dangerous, with many climbs up rock cliffs and descents of many more. I'm surprised that my body is holding up.
Sep 23 - Spent a very wet, wild and stormy night in my tent last night. Everything is soaked, even my toilet paper. Temperature dropped to about 25 degrees this morning. Hiked only 5 miles to Lake In The Clouds Hut in 60 - 70 mph winds. The wind knocked me down several times. And one gust slammed me right into the side of the mountain. I hurt my right wrist badly; afraid that it may be broken. However, it still works, and I don't need my wrist to hike with, so I'm not going to worry about it. Wind chill today was about 30 degrees below zero. This is very beautiful but dangerous hiking. The hut is closed for the season, hikers are supposed to stay in a small room in the basement called "The Dungeon". It is supposed to be haunted by the ghost of a young woman who died of exposure near here back in the 1970's. There is a work crew from the Appalachian Mountain Club here who is closing up and winterizing the hut. They wouldn't even let us come inside to get warm, or to get water. It’s the type thing that hikers don't forget, and has helped gain the AMC a very bad reputation among thru-hikers.
Sep 24 - Couldn't stay in The Dungeon last night because of claustrophobia, illegally put my tent up on the lee side of the hut to shelter it and me from the 50 mph winds. This morning, climbed Mt. Washington in clear, cold weather with very little wind. I don't know how to describe the beauty and grandeur at the summit, with 110 mile visibility in all directions. There is a plaque at the summit which contains the names of about 100 people who have died while hiking in these mountains. I saw crosses today where bodies have been found. Its all very sobering. Today's hike was special; perhaps unique. And I certainly wish I had my long underwear. Hiked 8 miles to a campsite near Madison Hut, which is closed for the season. However, there is a caretaker there, an AMC employee. Apparently, the work crew at Lake Of The Clouds hut is coming here to close and winterize this hut once they finish their work there. He denied us permission to stay inside the hut, or even to camp on the grounds. When I asked him why he was there (if no services were being offered), he said, "I'm only here to keep out thru-hikers".
Sep 25 - Climbed Mt. Madison in 30 - 40 mph winds. Weather was sunny and clear, but very cold. The scenery is great, but the 3,000 foot descent into Pinkham Notch was very rough on my knees. I had been above tree line for 13 miles, it was strange dropping back into green leaves and hardwood forests. Hiked about 9 miles, camped illegally about a mile north of the Notch.
Sep 26 - Climbed Wildcat Mtn, made about a 2,000 foot ascent. It was rough, but almost boring, the same thing that scared the heck out of me only a week ago. Weather changing, rain is coming. Food and fuel low, but believe I'll make it to Gorham, which is now only 15 miles away. Like I really have a choice? Now camped near Carter Notch, believe its my 5th night in a row in my tent.
Sep 27 - I now have a bad cold that is sapping my energy. Very tired and beat-up, and the descent of North Carter was the worst I've encountered. I am really looking forward to Gorham tomorrow. I have not been this dirty, hurt and exhausted since leaving Springer.
Sep 28 - Danced with mice all night after inadvertently leaving a jar of peanut butter in my pack. Three of the little --------- have headaches this morning. Got 2 of them with my shoe and slapped the ----- out of another one. Climbed Carter (?) Mtn in very windy conditions and then descended to beautiful Rattle River amid beautiful fall color. Hiked 8 miles and hitched into paradise; Gorham, NH. Timbo and I are staying at the Berkshire Manor, and we are enjoying life in this beautiful little town. Timbo said, "Rainmaker, do you realize we haven't had showers in two states?". My reply was, "Timbo, they were small states." We had a good laugh over it. I arrived in Gorham with 2 ounces of rice, 1 ounce of spaghetti, 1 candy bar and 1 ounce of Coleman fuel.
Sep 29 - Managed to find some much needed items in Gorham, mainly Thermax thermal underwear and new reading glasses. Alice, the owner of Berhshire Manor, gave Timbo and me a ride back to the trail. Hiked 7 miles to Trident Col Campsite. The weather has turned cold and windy and there has been some sleet. I'm coughing a lot, my cold is much worse. Timbo sounds like he has pneumonia, I hope I don't sound as badly as he does. I know that the rest of my hike is in jeopardy.
Sep 30 - Hiked in freezing temperatures, high winds, sleet and snow all day. However, I crossed into Maine at 5:01 p.m. Hiked about 9 miles to Carlo Col Shelter (I believe that "col" means a small gap below a summit, but I'm not sure, and there is no one around to ask). My head cold has now become a chest cold, also. It is sapping my energy and making me feel bad, and Timbo and I are both coughing like we have bronchitis. I will sleep with my water bottle (to keep it from freezing) and stove tonight. I wrote in a register, "Too dumb to quit, too stubborn to flip, going for it". Despite the weather, the woods are beautiful, and it feels great to be in Maine.
Oct 1 - Awoke to 22 degrees, snow, ice and wind. Trail up Mt. Carlo and Goose Eye Mtn was steep and covered with ice. Winds were 50 - 60 mph on the peaks. Hiked 4 miles and stopped at Full Goose Shelter, just couldn't go on. At one point, was clinging to a ledge with ice underfoot, desperately searching for a hand-hold while my heels hung over the edge. There was about a 50 foot drop below. The icy conditions made normal hiking impossible. Even though I hiked only 4 miles, this was one of the roughest days of my hike.
Oct 2 - Spent a very long night with visions of icy rocks in my mind. I would like to stay here until the weather improves and the ice melts, but I have no guarantee that the weather will warm up before my food runs out. Hiked about 5 miles. The only way to descend was to turn around and get slightly off the trail, then slowly lower my body while hanging on to tree limbs, roots or anything else that I could grab. The trail itself was nothing more than ice covered rock and it was slick as polished glass. Went through Mahoosuc Notch, took it slow and easy and it wasn't all that hard; at least not compared to the other hiking I've done in the last 2 days.
Oct 3 - The weather is a bit warmer. I realized today that I was in Maine 2 full days before the temperature went above freezing. Had 2 exhausting climbs; Speck Mtn and then Baldplate, which reminded me of Stone Mtn in Georgia. The climbs were "exciting", and the views were spectacular. I'm very glad to have the White Mtns, Mahooosuc Mtns and Mahoosuc Notch behind me.
Oct 4 - Weather and terrain both generally better, but I have learned that both can get bad in a hurry around here. Went into early hypothermia when I stopped for lunch. I quickly loaded up on calories and started moving again and I was all right. It really surprised me, because the temperature wasn't that low. However, it was windy and I was wet and tired and that's all it takes. I'm no longer completely warm at night and sometimes not even during the day, I know my body is having to work hard to maintain its usual temperature of 98.6. The scenery is rugged and beautiful. If someone chose to, he or she could get lost for a long time in one of these wooded valleys. Fall colors are about at peak. Trail today almost normal.
Oct 5 - Made 2 climbs early, ascended over 3,000 feet before lunch. Spent the afternoon scrambling across rocks, roots and bogs. Hiked about 12 miles to Bemis Mtn Shelter. The temperature was about 30 degrees when I arrived, and will probably be in the teens tonight.
Oct 6 - A good day, except that right Achilles tendon is close to ending my hike. Hiked 13 miles to Swift River Pond Campsite on a clear, cold day. It was very nice sitting at Sabbath Pond Shelter in the sun during my lunch break. I am really looking forward to going into Rangely tomorrow. I am very worried about my tendon; I have some very rough terrain ahead. The last few weeks on the trail will not exactly be a walk in the park. I'm still over 200 miles from Katahdin and I have no guarantee that they will let me climb if / when I get there. The miles seem to be going down very slowly in comparison with the hiking I'm doing. I need a town day; I'm hungry, beat up, tired, dirty and sick from my head and chest cold.
Oct 7 - I left Timbo in his tent and made it to Rangely in time for several breakfasts at a local restaurant. I'm now at Horse Feathers B&B. Mac, the owner, is very pessimistic about my chances of being able to climb Katahdin. I don't know that my right Achilles tendon will do all the climbing that has to be done tomorrow. Its difficult and painful just walking around town without a pack. I suppose it could all be ending. If it does end, I've given it my best. There's nothing I could have done differently, or better.
Oct 8 - Food is very expensive here, spent $63 on a week's worth. I spent a very uncomfortable night in very comfortable surroundings. I tossed and turned all night, partly from pain in my Achilles tendon, and partly from worrying about not being able to finish my thru-hike. After a truly memorable breakfast, Mac's wife JoAnn took me back to the trail. I saw my first AT moose beside the road. I made a steep ascent and then hiked 13 miles across the Saddleback Range. I'm now camped on an old railroad bed next to a beautiful waterfall near Obetron Stream. My tendon held up to all the abuse. I feel better, and think that I have a chance to finish at Katahdin.
Oct 9 - A beautiful morning soon gave way to clouds and wind. I'm afraid of more ice. I need 2 more days to clear the Bigelow Mtns, and then I will be in lower and hopefully warmer elevations all the way to Katahdin. Hiked 11 miles to Crocker Cirque Campsite. I haven't seen Timbo or Pastaman or any other thru-hikers since Rangely. I realized today that this will all be over in 2 weeks, one way or another. Either I will have accomplished the dream of a lifetime against nearly insurmountable odds, or I'll get to Katahdin and they won't let me climb because of the weather. Of course, telling me I can't climb, and keeping me from doing it are two different things.
Oct 10 - I saw a bull moose just after leaving camp. Rain started last night while I was sitting by my campfire and continued all night. I got up early because of needing as much daylight as possible to climb Crocker and Bigelow Mtns. Hiked 12 miles to Horn Pond Shelter. The rain knocked most of the leaves on to the trail, they looked and felt like a yellow carpet, and were very fragrant.
Oct 11 - Had hopefully last day of mountains and steep climbs before Katahdin. Hiked 10 miles to Little Bigelow to find a couple, Chris and Kerry , from Athens, GA. Timbo, from LaGrange, GA arrived later. I thought it quite a coincidence that 4 Georgians who live within 150 miles of each other should share a shelter in Maine. We had a nice time by the fire that Chris built. He gave Timbo and me some much appreciated food, and Timbo also received some Wild Turkey whiskey. I fell 3 times today because of slippery mud; right wrist is very painful and it has "broken bone" type pain. Having trouble with it when I pack up my gear in the mornings, especially rolling up my Therma-Rest. Achilles tendons are doing well, surprisingly.
Oct 12 - Did a long, hard 17 miles in the rain. Terrain has really flattened out, but its very muddy and boggy. There's lots of fall color, but its mostly on the forest floor in the form of fallen leaves. Now at Pearce Pond Shelter. I hope that weather, body and gear hold up for another 152 miles. Hiking with Timbo again. All gear and clothing are wet except for sleeping bag and sleeping / lounging clothes. I'm now listening to a loon that is out on the pond, wondering why he hasn't left with the others. He may be wondering the same thing about me.
Oct 13 - Had a great breakfast prepared by Tim at Harrison Camp, complete with lots of coffee, music, a hot wood stove and great views of the fall woods and Bridal Falls. Breakfast consisted of 4 eggs, 4 pieces of sausage and 12 small pancakes, all for $5.50. These folks in Maine know how to eat. Later, crossed the Kennebec River and went into Caratunk for snacks and mail. Day was partially sunny, and I got most of gear dried out. Hiked 10 miles to Pleasant Pond Shelter.
Oct 14 - Started this little adventure 7 months ago today. Had 2 surprisingly hard climbs, Pleasant Pond Mtn and Moxie Bald Mtn. Views from Moxie were great. Mental strain must be showing, I don't remember being on the summit of Pleasant Pond Mtn at all. Hiked 12 miles to Moxie Bald Shelter. The realization that my hike will soon be over is settling in. Despite all the adversity, its been an incredible adventure, and I've really enjoyed being Rainmaker.
Oct 15 - Pastaman came in last night just before dark, he was the first person I'd seen in 2 days. Hiked 15 miles to a point just north of Hebron Lake. Walked along a beautiful river for 5 miles in nice fall woods. Forded several streams, had ice water up to my thighs in 35 degree weather. This type thing no longer feels unusual or strange. I'm now camped alone in my tent for one of the last times of my hike. As anxious as I am to finish, I'm going to miss all this.
Oct 16 - I had a nice night listening to loons calling, and coyotes howling; sounds that I will always associate with Maine. Had breakfast in camp, then hiked 4 miles to Hwy 15 and hitched into Monson for breakfasts 2 and 3. Arrived at Shaw's B&B just as a cold rain started. Yogi-Master, Looks Down, Bear and Wayward Son finished at Katahdin yesterday, and came by Shaw's for a few minutes. We all had a long, joyous reunion. Timbo called park headquarters, and inquired about the long term weather forecast, and asked about out our chances of being allowed to climb Katahdin in a week. They were non-committal in the usual bureaucratic manner. However, we've decided to go for it. We didn't come this far to quit, and we don't want to "flip-flop". Its very important for both of us to finish our hike at Katahdin.
Oct 17 - Left Shaw's B&B early after a monster breakfast. Did a very rough 15 miles to Long Pond Creek Shelter. I lost a half hour because of faulty blazing and arrived right at dark. The Wilderness is rougher than I thought. My emotions have been going back and forth between nostalgia and relief concerning the completion of my thru-hike. Today, I wanted the hike to be over as soon as possible. My body has been pushed about as far as its going to be pushed; I don't have much left.
Oct 18 - Awoke to solidly frozen boots and 20 degrees. I thawed the boots by placing them upside down over a lighted candle, otherwise their stiffness would have caused excruciating pain when I forced them onto my badly aching feet. Later, hiked across the Barren Rock Mtn Range. I still haven't seen Katahdin that I know of. Hiked 11 miles to Chairback Mtn Shelter. The Wilderness is rugged and remote, but not real pretty because of all the logging. But, I'm a little bummed out, frozen boots and wet socks will do that.
Oct 19 - Bad weather continues, awoke to a light snow and more came down later. Temperature has not been above 40 degrees in several days. Whitecap Mtn has either snow or ice on it and is only 3,500 ft. in elevation. I don't even want to think about how much snow Katahdin got. Hiked 9 miles to Newman Shelter. My feet are very bad, I'm now going through a bottle of 100 Ibuprofen a week. On the trail, its called Vitamin I. Worried about more ice, especially on Whitecap. Will this ever end?
Oct 20 - Awoke to more snow and another 20 degree morning. My feet are fading fast, I have severe pain in the 3rd toe of my left foot, and I think that I may have a stress fracture. I saw 2 more moose, one a bull, while I was ascending Whitecap Mtn, which had almost 4 inches of snow. Had my first confirmed sighting of Katahdin on the descent. It is snow covered, and one ominous looking mountain. I took one look at it, and knew that it will kill me if it gets a chance. I can understand why the Native Americans were afraid of it. Hiked 10 miles to the west branch of the Pleasant River. Timbo, Pastaman and I have a nice, large illegal fire going. As badly as I'm hurting, and as exhausted as I am, I'm going to miss all this.
Oct 21 - The insanity continues. Awoke to sleet and rain. A mouse chewed a hole in the eyedropper I had been using to prime my Svea 123R stove, and I've been using a 35 mm film canister. Because of the cold weather, I had to prime my stove a second time this morning. When I dumped the fuel (I was irritated, and using far more than I should) into the priming well from the canister, some of the fuel came into contact with the burner element and the fuel exploded. I had been cooking in the vestibule of my tent and the stove turned into a fireball. Burning fuel went everywhere. There was a flash that temporarily blinded me, and suddenly the tent, stove, sleeping bag, air mattress, my gloved left hand and my bare right hand were all on fire. After kicking the stove outside, I quickly extinguished everything inside the tent, including myself. It could have been a lot worse. The tent was only scorched because it was soaking wet. I was uninjured except for scorched eyebrows and a small burn on my right hand. However, if I hadn't put the cap on the fuel bottle before I attempted to light the stove, about 20 ounces of white gas would have ignited, and I probably would have suffered a very painful death. None of my gear was damaged, except for the tent, and its still usable. I have decided that backpacking stoves are actually patient, calculating psychopaths, silently plotting the painful demise of their owners. Later, hiked 19 miles, somehow, to Potay-something Spring Shelter. Rain didn't stop all day and the temperature didn't reach 40 degrees. However, the woods near the shelter are surprisingly pretty with some fall color. Now have 2 other physical problems to deal with. My feet are badly swollen and I have blisters on the ends of my toes. If I cut my boots any more, they will fall apart. Also, there is something wrong with my eyes. Anything further than 10 feet away is blurry.
Oct 22 - I know that it is time for my hike to end, and because of the weather and my physical condition, it must end. However, now I really don't want it to. I smelled all the damp, fragrant woods smells and wondered how I could ever inhale diesel fumes again. Walked beside streams most of the day and enjoyed their music. I'm now at Rainbow Stream Shelter, the one featured in the 1987 National Geographic book. Hiked 18 miles. Pastaman blue-blazed and arrived before me. Timbo hiked 20+ miles and arrived just before dark. We have agreed to hike together the rest of the way. I will enjoy listening to Rainbow Stream tonight. The blisters on my left foot are now just bloody raw areas. Most toenails are gone, the few that remain look like they've been painted black.
Oct 23 - Well, last night the shelter mice finally pushed us too far. Pastaman and I decided to retaliate. We killed 6 with a trap, and hanged one with fishing line. The anger and frustration had been building a long time. Later, my feelings of regret concerning the end of my hike quickly evaporated in the mud, rocks and bogs. Got first complete view of Katahdin near Rainbow Ledges. It was impressive, but if a mountain can look deadly and menacing, this one did. Hiked 15 miles to Abol Bridge. I had a card from my aunt and a note from Yogi-Master and Looks Down congratulating me on making it here. Both will become part of my trail souvenirs. The problems with my vision are worse, very glad I'll be climbing Katahdin with Timbo and Pastaman. There is no way I can pick out distant white blazes in the snow.
Oct 24 - Hiked in more rain, mud and bogs to Daicey Pond Campground, and then to Katahdin Stream Campground. I hoped that there would not be a sign at the campground saying that Katahdin had been closed for the year. Not only was there no sign, but there was no one at all at the campground. I took this as a sure indication that the mountain hadn't been closed to hiking for the season, and I felt a tremendous weight being lifted. Timbo and Pastaman came in about an hour behind me. Just before dark, a park ranger came by. At first, he told us that he did not want us to climb tomorrow, that many people had died on the mountain in weather that was better than this. He wanted us to wait for better conditions, but reluctantly gave us permission to climb tomorrow, providing we went as a group and that the weather didn't deteriorate overnight. We took this to mean that we could hike tomorrow, providing we leave so early that he can't get back in time to stop us. I'm now only 5 miles from the end of the trail.
Oct 25 - I was sleeping soundly for the first time all night when Pastaman woke me and said that it was time to get up. I quickly had breakfast, packed up and stowed my pack on the front porch of the ranger station, which was closed for the season. We would be climbing light and fast, and wouldn't take our packs with us. We planned to be back at the ranger station later in the day. I was too antsy and cold to wait for the others, so I signed out at the register and started up alone. At first, the trail was so easy it seemed unbelievable. Without my pack, I felt like I was almost flying. The first few miles went quickly, but soon I was above tree line and the conditions got much worse. Hiking soon gave way to climbing huge boulders. It wasn't long before the boulders were covered with snow, which didn't really matter. I was concerned only with ice which would make the rocks slick and unclimbable. I was soon in fog and visibility was very bad. When I came to a particularly bad place where the trail went literally straight up, I decided to wait for the others. I waited for 10 minutes and they didn't show. I was afraid that they had given up and were waiting for me to come back down. The wind had picked up to about 40 mph and the fog was getting worse. I knew that I was all alone and that with my vision problems, it would practically be suicidal to go on without the others. After all that I had been through, it seemed terribly frustrating, even maddening, that my hike would end a scant 2 miles from the summit of Katahdin. Looking back down the mountain, the fog cleared momentarily and I thought that I might have caught a glimpse of Timbo's blue parka. It cleared again and I was able to clearly see the others still climbing, only 5 minutes behind me. When they reached me, I thought that I might have to talk them into continuing, but the smile on Timbo's face and the determination in his eyes told me that I was wrong. Pastaman yelled above the wind, "Let's get this done and go home!" (well, that’s not exactly what he said, but it will have to do for the purposes of this journal). We were on our way. However, a few minutes later, I felt something "give" in my left foot and the pain became severe. I knew that the bone in the 3rd toe had finally given out, and that it was broken. I also knew that I couldn't hike even one more day. If I was going to complete my thru-hike, there would be no second chances; it had to be done today. When the trail finally flattened out, I knew that we were only 1 1/2 miles from the summit. With the flat terrain came snow accumulation, almost 2 feet in places. I had been in the lead, but then Timbo took over because I couldn't even begin to pick out the blazes and rock piles that marked the trail. When we passed Thoreau Spring, a mile from the summit, I knew we'd make it. A half hour later, I heard Timbo yell, "I can see the sign!". I asked him if he was sure, and he said that he was. I took a few more steps and suddenly I could see "The Sign", too. It marked the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. I stopped before I reached the end and took a deep breath. I savored the last few steps and suddenly had a huge lump in my throat. A few steps from the end, I raised my fist above my head, then reached the sign and bent down and kissed it. It was finally over. We didn't remain at the summit long. We took a few pictures, had a snack, and began our descent. It’s a good thing, because we were soon lost. Visibility was down to only a few feet and wind-blown snow nearly created a white-out. We knew that if we didn't find our way off the mountain before dark, that Katahdin would probably claim 3 more victims. However, we remained calm and managed to find the trail again after about a half hour. Soon, we were below tree line. When all the excitement was over, I began to get very cold. By the time we arrived back at Katahdin Stream Campground, I could no longer control my shivering and knew that I was going into hypothermia. Luckily, there were some tourists at the campground who were leaving. They had room only for 1 additional person in their van, and Timbo and Pastaman insisted that I go. Mainly for my benefit, the driver of the van turned the heater to maximum volume, and his wife gave me hot coffee from a Thermos and some sandwiches. I will never forget their kindness, the luxurious warmth inside the vehicle, the wonderful sensation of moving without walking, or the taste of the coffee and snacks. At a nearby town, I called a cab to pick up Timbo and Pastaman and waited for them at a local restaurant. Soon, we were all enjoying a hot meal. The mood really wasn't jubilant, each of us seemed to be lost in his own thoughts. We were all probably thinking the same thing, that we had narrowly escaped from what could have been a very bad situation. I found out later that shortly after we made our ascent, officials at Baxter State Park closed Mt. Katahdin for the season.
As much as I wanted to get home and climb into my own bed, I stayed in New England 4 days after finishing my hike. This was partly for rest and recuperation. I also wanted to gain some weight before my friends saw me. I had lost 17 pound while hiking. However, the main reason that I did not come home immediately was because I needed some time to readjust to civilization before I spent 31 hours on a bus. After spending over 7 months in nature with close friends, I could barely comprehend being closed up in a bus with 65 strangers. I arrived home on the morning of October 31.
Although I didn't realize it at the time, hiking everyday had served to keep my injuries in check. When I stopped hiking, it all caught up with me. A week after climbing Katahdin, I was having problems just getting out of bed and walking. My injuries have now healed. I had really been worried about my eyes, but my vision problems went away after I recovered from my head cold. I found out later that I had climbed Katahdin with 2 broken bones. I had a hairline fracture in my right wrist, and a stress fracture in the 3rd toe of my left foot. I also had acute bronchitis, tendinitis in both Achilles tendons, inflammation in both knees and an eye infection.
Many people have asked me if it was worth it. I reply that it was, that the bad things about hiking the trail lasted for days and weeks, but the good things will be with me for the rest of my life. It was the fulfillment of a life long dream, a life changing experience and the adventure of a lifetime. Someday, I will probably do it again.
I have never been materialistic, but the trail served as a stern but fair teacher concerning living a simple, uncluttered and mostly happy and fulfilled life amidst the beauty of nature. I felt more alive on the trail than at any other time in my life. I miss it. However, there are other trails to be hiked, other mountains to be climbed and other days to rejoice in the joy of living and being free.
Wherever I go, whatever I do, the experience of hiking the AT will always be a part of me. Whenever the going gets rough, and I think of quitting something that I feel is worthwhile, I will remember raising my fist above my head, pushing a tired and bruised body a few more feet, and bending to kiss a snow and ice covered sign atop a frozen mountain in Maine.
Georgia - Maine 1992