Monday, April 8, 2013

The end

Gosh I'll admit i am a little disappointed in myself for not keeping up with my blog. There is so much now that I wish was written down and shared with friends and family. But so it went, after a certain point I just kept making excuses for not posting, but one day i will share my stories with you all. It has now been over a year since I began my hike and all that I have learned is still with me. I can start a fire with next to nothing, which comes in handy more often than I thought it would in Florida. I can open a beer can with a lighter, a wine bottle with a tree and a shoe and I could talk for hours on end about the right backpacking gear.

I've become more comfortable in nature as well as more comfortable in my abilities. Its sort of like the book "The Giver" any time I feel bored, lonely, depressed, or just anything other than grateful and satisfied. I am reminded of a moment on the trail were everything was shit, I remember the day in Pennsylvania when i was not prepared for the total and complete downpour that was unleashed on me. I knew i was going to set up camp as soon as possible and figured it would not be a huge deal to keep my ipod and camera were they were and not get them in plastic bags. Of course i got soaked beyond comprehension as did my ipod and camera. I was so tired and so wet and uncomfortable that i just set up my tent in the rain and went to sleep. It was so uncomfortable and I knew that not only did i have to send these useless electronics home but i was going to wake up soaked and sad.

I finished the Appalachian trail on October 9th, 2012 and much like the entirety of my hike it was beautiful, and something i will never forget. My friend Chatty Kathy proposed to his fiance Sacajawea when they touched the sign. There was also a man who's dad had just died, his father hiked the whole trail and so he decided to hike up Katahdin barefoot. All 20 or so thruhikers joined hands around his fathers ashes and let out 3 synchronized "Ohms".  It was certainly a time to celebrate and everyone did so liberally, the champagne flowed.

As i said I will post stories periodically as i remember them, mostly so i can have them in print somewhere and not just in my deteriorating journal. I will also be posting some of my poetry and other writings.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Virginia blues was just a ruse

 Note: this post is rather old but your writer is as lazy in hiking as he is in blogging, this was written about a month and a half ago.

Hello all, here for another post about this crazy, trashy highway in the woods i've been lucky enough to be a part of. I realized that my last post was a gigantic wall of text and probably an outright bore, how could i do that to you loyal readers after a month of no posts? Well heres a picture of darwin and her sweet lil beaver to make up for it

It's all come full circle, i find myself back in Pennsylvania Waynesboro to be exact which is the city that marks the mason dixon line. Yee-haw the difference was immediatley discernable the old wooden buildings of the south and the small town 1 stoplight communities are no more and are replaced with a large main street full of ancient brick buildings. The people are just as friendly and just as amazed with the fact that i'm hiking across America, but far less have mouths full of dip and wear confederate flag t-shirts.

The Virginia blues were something that many contended with. It was talked about often and many who experienced it up and left. I spent a month and a half of my trip in Virginia and i count it now as one of my favirote states i have hiked through.

Up to this point i really have not had any thought of quitting or getting off trail, the physical challenge has been rough but its nothing that a day or R&R can't fix right up. But then things started to change at somepoint late into Virginia, shit got hot. With heat of 95-100 degrees every single day of the week hiking has become not just difficult but down right dangerous. My chafing level went from a modest discomfort to full on firey hell. Water consumption means at least 5 or 6 liters a day and with the summer heat many springs are dry in the area. At this point its difficult to do the big mile days, although i am used to doing 16-20 miles daily by mile 10 I am an exhuasted sweat soaked mess.

But thats ok, because its time for a whole new adventure the great north! But theres a lot i will miss about my good friend the dirty south. 

like this apple pie moonshine, apples cinnamon and a whole lot of tasty.

Great big open meadows with views for miles
and all of the farms with strange animals like this (albino?) peacock
Anyway nows not the time to hike, its the time to sit and enjoy a cold drink on a porch. I have a feeling these next couple of miles will involve lots of money spent and tons of reeelaxation. After all i'm not out here to kill myself i'm out here to have fun!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

(almost) Half Way!

Hello everyone, so sorry its been.. oh geez a month since my last blog post. I assure you that it is not because of a lack of things to write in fact quite the opposite i've had more great experiences than sometimes i can properly remember. But now i'm here at the ATC (appalachian trail conservency) in Harpers Ferry, WV. This awesome center sits at just over 1,000 miles. Thats right i've walked over a thousand miles up the east coast so far its a very exciting and sobering realization. The actual halfway point sits at about 1,092 which lands somewhere in Pennsylvania but for many years the trail only extended 2,000 miles as apposed to the 2,184 miles it is today making harpers ferry the "psychological halfway point"

I also landed here at right around the 3 month mark for my adventure. This means that I can expect 3 more months and 1,000 more miles in my future. My mentality about the trip has changed a lot since the beginning when i was dead set on doing big miles and trying my hardest to push myself. After meeting scores of some of the nicest people I have ever meet and making tons of great friends while hiking I've realized that its all about the journey. 

For example a couple of days ago in lovely Virginia (which i was in for a month and a half!) the temperature was 101 and 114 with the humidity. At this point me,  Easy does it, Apollo arrived at what is called "the roller coaster". Its 15 miles of 10 different peaks and pretty much goes up and down over and over again. We got up to it and were absolutely dying of heat, if we continued there was a good chance we could suffer some serious issues. We tromp up to a road and figure that we will just walk the road on the side of the roller coaster because it was flatter, ok so its not technically the trail but shoot it was close enough. As we are walking a truck stops behind us and asks were we are headed, we say well trying to get to this restaurant 15 miles away. She tells us to hop in and she will take us to her house were her boyfriend can take us there... screw it not only can we get a ride but we get a nice breeze driving in the back of a pick up truck. So we head to a bar called the Horseshoe Curve. We're drinking beers hanging out and listening to the live music, a band called banana express if you like bluegrass you should totally check them out. Then a giant storm rolls in, trees are coming down left and right the winds are incredible and there was enough lightning to give someone with epilepsy a seizure. Shoot we gotta hike in this! Then a local drunkard asks were we are headed when he hears we are going to hike he tells us his buddy is having a big party right down the street and tells us we can crash there. Sweet! we drink a couple more beers and head down there, he takes us to the garage were there is what looks like a body on the floor.. oh lovely we landed ourselves in the house of one of Virginias many serial killers. But no it turns out it was in fact

A delicious pig! Which the next day was roasted up. There was also tons of great beer, cool people, and a live band. We ended up staying 2 nights and having an amazing time, and that would not have happened if i didn't decide to take that ride from that stranger. 

Though there is no way of really knowing, people have said about 60% of the people who started have left and i would have to say thats about accurate. All but 2 of the people that started the day i did are gone, and its for all different reasons. The biggest is probably money, after 3 months of partying and hotel stays people ended up spending a lot more than they initially thought hell i know i did. People also have just not had the mental fortitude to continue, people miss their families, dogs, and just "regular" life in general.I'm very fortunate to have had both my dad, my brother, and my best friend visit me on the trail and that was a big boost of nostalgia that really helped me keep mentally strong. I will admit though i do miss everyone of my friends and family and i will have a bit of a skip in my step as i get closer and closer to my goal.

And that goal is certainly getting closer, with just about 7 states down and the mason dixon line rapidly approaching I am ready for a whole new kind of scenery and all new townies, lets hope they are all as friendly as the good old south.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Food glorious food

Hello readers, it's hard to believe but today marks a month and a half on the trail. Oh my what a month it's been, i've conquered almost 500 miles (about 1/4th of the entire trail) and sit now in the public library in Damascus, Virginia. Surprisingly i've arrived without any serious bodily harm and am still fairly mentally stable. which is more than i can say for poor darwins feet

and this piggys nail fell off
I've hiked through it all rain,sleet,hail,snow hell even giant spiders.

snake runners head for comparison, i slept in the shelter with that thing!

I would like to think i am now a hardened mountain man, except that my beard is weak at best. It's hard to explain to someone the joys of hiking and just what is so fun about doing this. When i tell people i've been out in the woods for almost 2 months they always have the same question, why? That is something that you really just have to be out here to understand. The joys in this come from the hard work, it comes from 3 days of soaking wet boots and clothes and finally getting into a town to dry off and have a burger and beer. My friend Matt decided to hop on the trail with me in hot springs and hike to Pennsylvania (about 500 miles) he drove for 3 hours from his house in high point to meet up with me, after buying all of the gear and food needed.

Lets look back at some of the fun times we've shared....

oh that's right we can't because Matthew K. Mccarron lasted approximately 2 miles up the trail, he spent more time driving up to the trail then he did on it! Matt thats bad, and you should feel bad. But it just shows that it does take a certain type of crazy to do something like this. Though one of my virtues is my optimism (when it was snowing hard on top of a mountain i simply stuck my tongue out arms wide and relished in the fact that i was actually seeing snow for the first time in years and not at the fact that i was wet and freezing) its still rather hard to see the fun in this sometimes and i do question why i'm out here.

But then i think of the alternative, i think of how my time would be spent otherwise. In front of a computer or a tv screen, safe in the comfort of my home and seeing the same old crap and same people that I always do. I've meet so many different people from so many different walks of life, people 40 years my senior that share their life experiences and pass down advice that you just can't buy. My days are filled with new mountainous views and animals and plants I've never seen in person before. My days are also filled with self reflection and meditation, i have become closer with my self then ever and find that I have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. I know that I am learning things that i never would at a desk in a classroom, i'm learning to survive and thrive in a climate were I am not comfortable.

This brings me to one of the coolest things i have learned and thats how to pick wild veggies. The woods is just full of stuff you can pick and shove in your mouth.

This mouse not being one of them, they are so cute when they're babies and not dragging their filthy disease covered bellys over you in a shelter.

One of the tastiest treats is something called a "ramp". Allium tricoccum to be exact, basically a wild leek with a strong onion-y flavor and garlic undertone. They're great for tossing into soups,tortillas, or even just eating raw.

 I'm also fortunate enough to have one of the best mom's in the world (happy mothers day btw i love you <3) who is periodically sending maildrops to me full of food from the real world. She just got hold of a food dehydrater and has been making some fantastic dried fruits and veggies for me. Not to mention some amazing beef jerky, I am serious this stuff is stellar I had another hiker offer me money for it. So I have been able to make some pretty decent dishes.

Here we have some miso soup with mushrooms and ramps
However there are some points were you run out of all of the tasty stuff and have to just throw whatever is left into a tortilla and hope for the best.

This is called hiker gourmet
So of course there's good and there is bad about this lifestyle but at the end of the day there is nowhere else i would rather be and nothing else i would rather be doing.

Friday, April 27, 2012

3 weeks..

They say it takes 3 weeks to develop a habit and get your so called "trail legs" well after 3 weeks the following are true
- I hike roughly 15 miles a day up and down mountains
- I go weeks at a time without seeing my own reflection
- I fart as much in a day as i used to in a week
- my snickers budget consists of $20 for 4 days
 I am grateful for warm food, showers, beds
i am grateful.
Also i've conquered the smokies! No small feat, I quickly discovered my 35 degree bag is of little use against 15 degree weather with freezing winds. But the smokies also gave me some of the most gorgeous views on the entire trail. Due to park regulations there is no tenting allowed (doing so carries a $75 fine and being labeled a dick) so all hikers are forced to stay in the shelters which was great because it ment i was shacked up with many hikers i hadn't seen in weeks.

Train, big bear, and the twisted sisters. Whats so twisted about them? They're married of course. They have recently changed their names to psycho and path respectively, presumably because people thought they were sisters.. and thats just nasty. I reached my 200 mile mark yesterday and the tallest point on the entire Appalachian trail. Clingmans dome. It's here were i hitched in to Gatlingburg (or Gomorrah as firestarter nicknamed it) which is basically a giant theme park in the middle of the mountains (except instead of cool rides they have t-shirt shops and candy stores). It's very disillusioning heading out into such a town, waiting in line for mcdonalds as the herd of rednecks in there XXL walmart shirts with sayings like "thats how i roll" or "eat sleep text" complain that there bigmac is taking too long and scoff through their turkey necks. It's silly to see so much gimicky crap in a town that is surrounded by some of the most beautiful mountains in the country. Why would anyone want to go to a ripleys believe it or not mirror maze or buy a sword when there is so much fantastic natural splendor around. Another benefit of the smokies is that I saw more animals in one day then i have the entire 3 weeks on the trail. A 3 foot tall turkey that walked the trail with me and 4 of the biggest deers i've ever seen.
not to mention the ballsiest, i ate lunch with this guy who was munching on some grass about 20 feet away from me.

So with the smokies under my belt i continue onward.. the bitter cold was too much for many hikers and the herd has thinned a bit but my resolve is only strengthened.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Trail magic, i dont usually rely on the kidness of strangers.

North Carolina has tons of great brewerys and beer, some fantastic rapids and now me and a dozen of my smelly hiker friends (and a dog)
still the biggest, and cutest animal i've seen on the trail. That's right the big news today is i've conquered my first state and first 100 miles, something that seems like an insane and unlikely accomplishment. The 4 mile stroll straight up hill at 8 a.m resulted in this overjoyed border photo between gasps of air.
Yes i'm sunburned, my feet are blistered and bruised, and it appears my right arm has become a popular feeding destination for the many bugs on the appalachian trail. As well as the hundreds of spiders i most likely spend the night with in my tent. But alas, there is hope! Believe it or not there are people out there that understand the pain and suffering of the thru hiker. Which is saying a lot, theres a pretty common term around here for thru-hikers and thats "hiker trash". I fully understood this classification when i was using someones side mirror when flossing and brushing my teeth.
Dude i stink, there's no way i can go to the bar. Think we could just.. bathe and wash our clothes in the middle of the river? If i've learned anything in these past two weeks its how to appreciate and be grateful, when you're biggest luxury is hot sauce for your spam the smallest things mean so much more.
like a robins nest in the outhouse. There is a term i've recently become aware of and thats trail angel. These are people who do trail magic, which is really anyone who goes out of there way to make a hiker smile. The trail angels can be anyone from past thru-hikers to hiking enthusiasts, hell sometimes even just some bikers with an extra 12 pack of beer before a large mountain. Photobucket Beer is always welcome because, as alcohol usually does, it gives the energy and confidence to carry on. After my previous blogpost i was ready to get back out on the trail with my hiking group, unfortunatley being new to the whole mailing to the middle of the mountains thing i was quite delayed. I ended up being about 4 hours late for the shuttles to the trail (11 miles away) and i had heard some pretty scary hitching stories. The "man in the red truck" who would drive you out to somewhere 5 miles away and and then tell you he needs 5 bucks, 20 bucks, your organs etc. So a local who saw me asked were i was headed and said oh this guy will take you. Tik-tok was an older man, who due to some pretty shitty circumstances ended up stuck in Hiawassee, he drove me the 11 miles and after promptly refusing the gas money i offered pointed up and said hmm looks like some trail magic. Perhaps some water or food on the side of the road? No, no it was 3 very kind women from asheville who had set up chili, hotdogs, gatorades, and water.
Is that salt and vinegar chips AND fritos, damn these ladies know how to party. Then the very next day i got hit with my first real thunder storm and that was hard. Thunder and lightning are scary enough, well enough to make my chihuahas shake, but when your on a mountain and literally the highest metal thing are the pot hanging outside your pack in, things get a little sketchy. Not only do i have to deal with seeing lightning sometimes 10 feet away from me, but then once i finally start to descent the rocks are slipperier than a field of banana peels. So i slowly make my way down the rocks and finally make it to deep gap were i see a small tent set up. Photobucket (spins on left, baboon on right) as i come closer i realize theres a whole spread of yummy foods, grilled veggies (a huge treat, i go weeks without eating anything green), hummus, chips, and even the sweet hipster nectar i crave PBR!
Spins and baboon thru-hiked last year and wanted to give back so naturally me and a couple of hikers spent the night at that gap, hell i wouldn't turn down free beer and food regardless of the circumstance. Then of course there's always those that try and take advantage of this amazing community. A Floridian (fun fact, roughly 80% of the people i have met have been from Florida) by the name of "gator" he probably has more tattoos then brain cells and he is the definition of a mooch. Pretty much just a guy who came onto the trail with no money, and no idea what he was doing who has made it 137 miles in solely on the kindness of other people who have bought him food, gear, and even booze. But of course people like that tend to get cast out as news on the trail spreads quick. Then there's the guy at woody gap who was an "rn", he was gauzing peoples feet and cleaning them up and then would ask for 20 bucks. We all later deduced that he was most likely just a guy with a foot fetish and a $16 bottle of betadine. Anyway, I sit now at the Nantahala outdoors center which sits literally in the middle of the appalachian trail, a beautiful resort built on a large white water rapid that attracts lots of different tourists. Photobucket Its a beautiful area and i actually spent my first zero day here, which means i did no hiking at all and just sat around and ate and it was spectacular. However someone decided it would be a good joke to put the NOC at the bottom of the largest mountain in North Carolina, i've discovered that whole thing about alcohol giving strength is devastatingly untrue for hangovers. So Wish me luck, and the strength to not stay for my 8th peanut butter milkshake in 2 days. Photobucket oh burger basket, why you so good?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

The trail: the great communicator... a.k.a dames and trail names

Welcome to Hiawassee, Georgia population: 800 length of town aproximatly 2 miles, number of stop lights: 2.
You know when the church is the tallest building in town, you're in the south. But getting in to town is really great, all be it a little disallusioning. Wait so your saying i can just buy any food i want right off the shelf? like anything? If there was any advice i could give to those attempting a thru-hike it would be to get a water filter. Those who know me are aware that there are 3 things i am afraid of: spiders, anything floating in my water, and commitment. and boy do those water tablets leave a crap ton of floaties, sometimes mica and minerals and sometimes whole mosqiuto parts. Also ill be damned if after filtering a tiny muddy trickle of dirty and smelly stream water a water filter will have it coming out tasting like an ice cold bottle of poland springs. Anyway one week on the trail! huzzah break out the cheap champagne and double cheesburgers. I would say i've got a pretty good taste of trail life, which usually consists of a plethora of different people and beautiful views as well as a scheduele that has me in bed by 9 and awake by 7. There's the meandering snail who i met on my first night at the shelter. A 5'10 280 pound hari-krishna who had just come back not 14 days ago from a 6 year stay in an ashram in india (basically a monastery for krishnas). He was on his 12th day of a 30 day fast and had made it about 11 miles in those days. But not 5 feet away from him sat blues clues, a psychotherapist with his own practice in Boston. The trail is the great equalizer, you could have a harvard degree or a 2 felony record and by the end of the day everyone is cooking there ramen and discussing all of their aches and pains. How much mileage we are planning on doing tomorrow, the beautiful views and that bastard of a mountain who almost broke my ankle! Surprisingly the trail is about 70/30 guys and girls which is great because from experience i know that too much testosterone in one place is not a good thing.
from left: sink, ultra violet, button, and naked ninja at the mountain crossing hostel at neels gap. But i need to share with you the greatest 4 words that any thru-hiker can hear. its not "warm bed and shower" or "lookin like no rain" no its all you can eat. And eat all i could i did oh me brothers, i ate and i ate until i couldn't make up me rasoodock what to do with myself.
that first bite of real food was.... indescribable. and by the end of the meal, the taste of butterscotch pudding and whipped cream still rich on my tounge. I was grateful, i appreciated, and i knew there was nowhere else i would rather be then at that table with my friends, pure bliss. As far as my trail name(s) go i have gone through about 3 first was while in a shelter with Jason and Linda (two hippie folks carrying a ukelele and a fiddle whom i got along with real well until we split ways at woody gap). I wasn't sure whether to go on to the campsite or call it a very early night, and of course i lucked out as this was the day i landed that great spot on Justus mountain. So as im re-packing/un-packing Travis says jeez so what the hell are you going to do? I said yeah i'm an indecisive bastard and almost immediatley linda says, hey theres your trail name! I'll call you indecisive bastard steven I.B.S -__-. Then theres sink and his group who i've been keeping steady pace with pretty much a big group of farm boys. When i told them i'd come from Jersey and had lived there for quite a long time he thought i looked like quite the Jersey boy and so the name "Jersey" stuck. Then came a name i was actually happy with.. I loves me some canned cheese and my plan was to get a bottle every week and just suck down the plasticy goodness for some quick protein and calcium. However, my pack had other plans.. The end of the bottle ended up depressing with the force of my hiking and i opened up my food bag to find a greasy, wet, ball of cheese through the entirety of the bag. This was 3 days away from town mind you and dumping anything thats not poop onto the ground is very frowned upon. So i had 3 days of picking out bags of ramen noodles, slim jims, and chocolate from the gooey mound of mess i had created. When i had finally reached the hotel room dumping that cheese out was the only thing on my mind. My three bunk mates washed as i globbed out the sticky yellow paste like a waterfall into the trash can. But this was not enough, the cheese seemed to have lined the bag entirely and the only relief was to flood it with shower water. After leaving a slime trail of cheese behind me and generally pissing off everyone in the room the name "cheese wiz" was born.
Bonus shot: thats firewalker in the "casino" (really a backroom with poker chip table clothes stapled to the wall, 2 video slots and a battery powered disco light) in the back of a thrift shop.