Saturday, July 5, 2014

Days 111 - 130: New Jersey, New York, Connecticut

Day 111: PA 309 to George W. Underbridge Shelter (12.7 miles)
Day 112: Dubya Shelter to Leroy Smith Shelter (16.7 miles)
Day 113: Leroy Smith Shelter to Delaware Water Gap, PA; Church of the Mountain hostel (20.2 miles)
Day 114: Zero in DWG 
Day 115: DWG to Rattlesnake Spring Campsite (13.2 miles)
Day 116: Rattlesnake Spring to US 206; High Point Motel (14.9 miles)
Day 117: NJ 23 to Murray Property Cabin (7.1 miles)

Days 111 - 116 were some of the wettest days we have had so far. Having Cooper back was great, and Cowgirl carried on from DWG when we decided to zero. We traversed the Palmerton Superfund Site on Day 112, getting the steep scramble out of Lehigh Gap out of the way early. This was the worst tick day that we have had! We spent 2 hours at lunch picking a hundred ticks off of Sheila, and another 2 hours that night at the shelter. The rain started that night and the 20.2 miles into DWG was one of the toughest days we've had. I was simply fed up with the rocks, and the rain made everything slippery and dangerous. Surprisingly enough, it did not rain during our zero in DWG. This was probably our favorite trail town so far! $2.50 hot dog and pie anyone? We hung out with a great group of thru's and even got to slackpack to the Mohican Outdoor Center the next day. The rain didn't want to quit on day 116, so we pulled off at Culver's Gap and got into the High Point motel to dry out and recoup. It wasn't supposed to rain until around 4:30p on day 117, so we hit the trail around noon and booked it to the Murray Property. We ended up getting there with plenty of time to spare and enjoyed a lovely evening to ourselves watching the rain come down.

Day 118: Murray Property to NJ 94; Appalachian Motel (18.9 miles)
Day 119: NJ 94 to Wildcat Shelter (17.1 miles)
Day 120: Zero at Wildcat Shelter
Day 121: Zero at Wildcat Shelter
Day 122: Wildcat to Fingerboard Shelter (14.3 miles)
Day 123: Fingerboard to West Mountain Shelter (8.4 miles)
Day 124: West Mountain to Fort Montgomery, NY (7 miles)

We caught word from Cowgirl that she and Chef were getting a room at the Appalachian Motel in Vernon, NJ, so we decided to take them up on their offer to join. We got in early enough to enjoy a couple of movies and to resupply in town. This section of NJ was mainly a boardwalk hike, so the going was easy, and one of my favorite sections of trail. On day 119, we entered NY with a bang! It was a steep climb early in the morning, followed by rocks in the afternoon. To get up to Prospect Rock, we had to climb a ladder and Sheila, being a butthead, decided just to throw herself at the mountain rather than to wait for instruction and help from the two of us. By the time we got into camp that night, she was limping on her left forepaw. We decided that we would watch her the next morning and see how she was feeling before pressing on. The next day she was still limping, so we decided to zero to give her the rest she needed. We spent the day hanging out, reading Harry Potter and eating. Sheila was still limping the next day, though it seemed a lot better. We decided to play it safe and take another zero. At this point I was suspecting Lyme or another tick-borne disease, but I wanted to wait and see. Maybe she had just outdone herself when we got into NY and just needed to rest. We decided to move on Day 122 to Fingerboard Shelter. We were running low on food and Sheila seemed to be doing better. This was actually one of the tougher days on the trail, terrain-wise. Before entering Harriman State Park, you come down this section of trail called Agony Grind. It was steep and rocky, and very treacherous. It was slow going and we were absolutely beat by the end of the day. I felt bad for pushing Sheila through this, but she seemed fine while hiking, just stiff after we sat for a while in camp. Fingerboard was a really beautiful shelter in a great setting. We met some section hikers at Fingerboard Shelter, a guy named Eric, his son, and his son's friend, and also recieved some trail magic from Paddy-O in the form of beer, gatorade, and donuts. The next day we spent the morning chitchatting with Eric and the boy's and then made our way down to Lake Ticora for a couple of sodas and some snacks. While there, we watched dozens of swallows tending to their nests. I noticed that one nest was knocked down, and the baby birds were lying on the concrete. At first I thought they were dead, and I asked Ramen Shaman to move them to a place where they wouldn't be trampled underfoot by any of the beach-goers. But they were still alive! So we put them in a box and handed them to the staff at the front desk, hoping that the folks at the Trailside Zoo could so something about them. We hiked on to West Mountain, getting caught in a torrential downpour 2 miles from the shelter. We set up camp just after the clouds cleared and had one of the most picturesque campsites we could have hoped for. Sheila was still limping in camp, but it was a lot less noticable than it had been at Wildcat Shelter. The next day, we had only 7 miles into Bear Mountain/Fort Montgomery. The day was pretty easy. There were 400+ stone steps up to Bear Mountain, and probably 600+ down into the trailside zoo. These steps really aggrevated Sheila's leg, but thankfully we were taking another zero for the next 2 days to attend the wedding reception of Treefrog and Squirrel, a thru-hiker couple who were getting married on the trail!

Day 125: Zero; Treefrog and Squirrel's Reception
Day 126: Zero in Danbury, CT
Day 127: Bull's Bridge Rd to Mt. Algo Shelter (7.1 miles)
Day 128: Mt. Algo to Pine Swamp Brook Shelter (17.3 miles)
Day 129: Pine Swamp Brook to Fall's Village, CT; Bearded Woods Bunk-n-Dine (8.1 miles)
Day 130: Fall's Village to Salisbury, CT; Bearded Woods Bunk-n-Dine (7 miles)


The wedding reception was awesome! We picked up some outrageous matching outfits at Walmart (American flag tees and neon yellow running shorts) and rolled in a few minutes late, making one hell of an entrance. Treefrog and Squirrel were so ecstatic to see us all, and we were thrilled to be there! The Ramen Shaman and I were especially excited to give them our wedding present; a real white blaze that had flaked off of a down tree in NY. What a great party, and a night we will not soon forget! The next day, Red and Canadiahhh! got back on the trail at the Bear Mountain Bridge, while we decided to jump up to CT with Cowgirl. She had the rental car until Monday, so we took advantage and drove to a very affordable La Quinta in Danbury, CT. We hit the Eastern Mountain Sports to get Ramen Shaman some new shoes and ran into Reroute, Kristo, and Geared Up! They were there with a trail angel Dora the Explorer, who had hiked the PCT with Geared Up last year. The trail is completely unexpected sometimes! We caught some of the US v. Portugal game at the Outback and called it night. Leaving town has always been very difficult for us, and day 127 was no exception. Not only did we have to run a few last minute errands, we also had to return the rental car by 2pm. So we didn't get back on the trail until maybe 3pm. It was hot and humid, so the 7.1 miles to Mt. Algo shelter was perfectly fine by me! Reroute, Kristo, Geared Up, and Dora even showed up with a little trail magic and invited us to dinner! The stretch from Mt. Algo to Pine Swamp Brook shelter was tough, and the water at the shelter ended up being a pond, but Sheila seemed to be doing very well, with no signs of limping even after the tougher day. We planned to do 15 in Salisbury the next day, but I was schemeing a scheme to celebrate Ramen Shaman's 28th birthday at Bearded Woods, so we pulled off early at Fall's Village. Everyone ended up being at Bearded Woods! Cowgirl, Geared Up, Reroute, Princess, Rocketman, and some new faces, Honeybadger and A-Train. Hudson and Big Lu really treated us like family. Not only did we have an amazing BBQ dinner, but Big Lu made a surprise birthday cake for Ramen Shaman! We celebrated and laughed throughout the night. We loved Bearded Woods so much, we only made it to the next town the next day and just had to come back! Sheila had fun playing with their two dogs, Cedar and Glacier, and Big Lu spoiled her like the rest of us with sausage dog food and all sorts of goodies!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Days 107 - 110: Lost & Found

Day 107: Windsor Furnace Shelter to Dan's Spring (12.7 miles) Search Party Day 1
We stayed in bed a bit later than we wanted to but we didn't stress too much since we only planned to do about 14 miles to Allentown Shelter. We started out the day listening to Pomplamoose's Pharrell Mashup and dancing down the trail. We hiked up to Pulpit Rock and drew a hopscotch board on the rocks, just to make the hikers behind us laugh a little. The day was pretty rocky overall, and the going was slow. Around noon, we received a text from Cowgirl saying that Cooper had run off after some deer near Dan's Spring and hadn't come back yet.

We stopped for lunch at Eckville Shelter around 3 and talked about Cooper. He had scurried off before after squirrels and deer, but he had always come back. Just outside of Damascus, Cooper came sneaking up on us out of the woods about a mile from where Cowgirl was camped. All in all, we didn't think too much about his running off. We figured we would get up to Dan's Spring and he would come bounding out of the woods to greet us. 

We climbed up to Dan's Pulpit calling for Cooper. It was slow going due to the rocks and boulders. We the arrived at a blue blaze trail that led off to the east. We assumed this was the Dan's Spring trail since the guide made no mention of a trail between Dan's Pulpit and Dan's Spring. Cowgirl had said she was camped out near the spring, so we headed down the steep trail to meet up with her. 

As soon as we started down, I had a feeling that something was wrong. We were going down too steeply for too long. No thru-hiker would have gone down that trail. I eventually voiced my concern and stopped while The Ramen Shaman continued on down. About 20 minutes later, I got a text from him saying he was turning around. I hiked back up the steep trail and waited for him at the AT. According to the altimeter, we had climbed down over 400ft! What a waste of 40 minutes! Damn you AWOL!

So we start back down the AT and come to the actual Dan's Spring, which is marked with a sign (and definitely more than 0.6 miles from Dan's Pulpit).  It's about 5 o'clock, and we learn from Cowgirl that Cooper has been missing since 10am. I start to worry. 

We try to keep the mood light as Chase walks up and down the trail, calling for Cooper while I set up the tent. It's starting to get dark, there is rain in the forecast and with Cooper no where to be found, Chase and I decide to stay and help Cowgirl tomorrow. We decide that Katahdin can wait. We all talk about hiking down past the shelter the next day to see if he continued the journey north alone. Cowgirl is quieter than normal with her best friend missing in action. 

That night I quietly whispered to Chase all my fears about Cooper being missing as the rain fell softly on the tent. I tell him I would be a wreck. He says that there is nothing on the mountain that is a real threat to him and after thinking about it for a minute, I agree. Bears don't eat little dogs. We haven't heard coyotes. Snakes aren't necessarily a threat unless he stumbles upon them by accident. There is nothing in the woods to get him. 

Day 108: Dan's Spring to PA 309; then to Footbridge just past Hawk Mountain Rd (8.4 miles) Search Party Day 2
None of us slept well and we were all up early. I felt like I heard his little bell outside the tent all night. Cowgirl hiked out of camp before us and we agreed to meet at the shelter in another 4 miles. I decided to leave a note about Cooper on the tree by the campsite to let other hikers who come through the area to know to be on the lookout for a little brown dog. 

We hiked over rocks and boulder fields calling for Cooper. We were still hopeful that he was in the area. When we arrived at the shelter, Cowgirl was there and we took the initiative to call some local animal shelters and post on Facebook about him. She decided that we had done all we could do by putting notices up and calling out for him. She decided that we should just continue hiking north. Again, she left the shelter before us and said she was going to get water at the B&B in another 4 miles. 

The hike to PA 309 and the B&B was easy and hard. The terrain was an old road bed, which made the walking easy, but it was hard to leave the area in which Cooper was last seen. I wasn't sure we were doing the right thing. We crossed the busy highway and hiked for another 20 minutes before I broke down and had to stop. My legs felt like jello and my stomach was in knots. We sat down at a campsite and texted Cowgirl to see how she was doing. She said she felt wrong crossing the road. She came walking up to the campsite a few minutes later and we all shed a few tears and then came up with a plan.

We would hike back to the B&B and get a shuttle back to the Eckville shelter. We would camp where Cowgirl had last camped with Cooper at the footbridge at the foot of Dan's Pulpit. We would hike up to the Spring and back just to see. 

Just as we were debating shuttle drivers at the B&B, Dad, an AT hiker who had to get off due to injury and is now offering shuttles in the Hamburg/Port Clinton area showed up to drop off a pack for a guy who was slack-packing. He would take us for a quick resupply and take us back to Hawk Mountain Rd for a reasonable fee. He also offered to stop by the Eckville Shelter and put a note in the log about Cooper. 

We stopped at a little market and picked up some supplies. Cowgirl bought us some hot dogs and potatoes so we could eat well that night. 

We hiked out to the campsite and set up our tents. The forecast called for a lot of rain that evening, and we worried about the scared little dog, all wet and pathetic in the woods. Chase and Cowgirl decided to hike up to Dan's Spring while I stayed in camp and collected firewood. 

I would occasionally call out to Cooper while I worked on the fire and making baked potatoes and hot dogs. They returned around 9pm just as it started to rain. They were both convinced after hiking the terrain again that Cooper would not have come back over all the rocks and boulders. It just didn't make sense. We ate as cheerily as we could and decided to camp one more night at Dan's Spring and search the surrounding woods, just in case he got caught on something. Cowgirl thought that he would be able to get out of his pack in case he did get stuck, but we couldn't be sure. 

It poured all night, and again we didn't sleep well. 

Day 109: Footbridge Campsite to Dan's Spring (3.1 miles) Search Party Day 3
We had 1.6in of rain that night. Cowgirl left camp early again and we followed her up the mountain, calling for Cooper. After coming over those rocks up to Dan's Pulpit, I too felt that Cooper would not have gone back that way. It just didn't make sense. The Ramen Shaman had run to the Eckville Shelter that morning to throw away our trash from the night before and he ran into a hiker we had met in the Shenandoah's named Sunbear. He seemed interested in wanting to help and said he would meet up at the Dan's Spring campsite to help us look for Cooper. 

When we arrived there later in the afternoon, Sunbear was there waiting and Cowgirl's stuff was sitting by the firepit. We waited a little while for Cowgirl to show up, and when she didn't we sent her a text to let her know we were waiting for her and that we wanted to coordinate before wandering off into the woods to look for Cooper. Turns out, she had already wandered into the woods and couldn't get back to the campsite! With our voice guidance, she made her way back. Can you imagine?! Cowgirl and Cooper lost! 

We agreed to have Cowgirl stay in camp in case Cooper showed up, and the three of us would branch off perpendicular to the trail and bushwhack in an effort to find some trace of the little dog.

When you step off the trail, it almost seems to disappear behind you. You can head in a straight line, turn around 180 degrees, and not be sure of the direction you came from. I used my phone to mark the location of the trail where I entered the woods and I made sure I was always within earshot of Chase. 

Walking in the woods off trail proved to be very tiring. And the search seemed very overwhelming. While looking for Cooper, I couldn't help but to think of the hiker Inchworm that went missing in Maine last July. I felt like if I could be 10ft from him or some sign of him and never know it. I felt hopeless. 

Chase and I regrouped at camp and waited for Sunbear. When he emerged from the woods, he seemed to have gone deeper into the woods than we had. He said that the mountain makes a very general slope downward and that there are dozens of deer paths leading into the fields at the base of the mountain. He postured that if he was a little dog, he would head down one of those deer paths and into civilization. Thinking about my experience in the woods, I had to agree. It was a very nice slope down into town. There was civilization not that far away from where we were camped. It was completely possible that he had left the mountain and made his way into town. 

Sunbear left and we all felt a little better, even though we were still without Cooper. We set up camp for another night at Dan's Spring and decided that tomorrow for sure, we would continue north. We decided that it was up to Cooper to get found. 

We ended up camping with quite a little group that night. Reroute, Geared Up, Sisyfus, DaVinci, Dino, and Lady Moose showed up while I was down at the spring getting water. It was a nice night  spent with great people, and I think the company really helped cheer up Cowgirl. 

Day 110: Dan's Spring to New Tripoli, then back to PA 309; Howard-Johnson in Allentown, PA (9.8 miles) Search Party Day 4
Again, Cowgirl was up super early and left before us. We again agreed to meet at the shelter for one last pow-wow. When we got there, we called a few more vets and animal clinics. We felt confident that we did everything we could do. We hiked on to the B&B and decided to get lunch there with the group we camped with last night. 

Cowgirl spoiled us by buying us lunch. We ate and drank merrily and eventually decided we should get hiking if we were going to make it to the next shelter before dark. We crossed PA 309 with no regrets this time. We told ourselves that he would be picked up by somebody in town and we would get a phone call in a day or two. 

We hiked about 2 miles to the New Tripoli campsite and started hiking up and over some boulders. Cowgirl's phone rang and we all stopped to look at her. The look on her face told us that she didn't know the number and our hearts leapt. 

"Hello?" She said, followed by "Are you kidding me?" She started crying. Chase and I cried out and started crying and laughing. Cooper had been found! He had wondered off the mountain into someone's garage! Just as we had suspected. :)

We sent Chase ahead to meet the guy, Josh, who was graciously driving out to drop Cooper off at the B&B. Cowgirl broke down a lot on the way back. She had been holding back for 3 days and was finally letting herself feel all of the stress and emotion. 

We got back to the B&B just as Josh and his family pulled up. Out jumped Cooper the dog, looking a little thin but very happy to see his mom! We told Josh the story of our past few days and took down their address to send them a thank you. We looked it up later and Cooper had traveled about 6.5 miles from the campsite at Dan's Spring! What a crazy little dog! We all felt so incredibly fortunate to have him back. 

We celebrated with a few beers and called Dad. We thought we should go into town and rest. Cooper seemed to be a bit shell-shocked and we knew hiking out wasn't an option. He ate and drank a bunch, and curled up in his mom's lap, happy to be safe and sound.

Cooper has been back on the trail for over a week now. He's made it through another state in that time! 

We received a lot of negativity from the Internets about being irresponsible owners and some just plain mean comments regarding Cooper and bringing a dog on the trail in general. I stand by the fact that hiking the AT is not for every dog and not every hiker could handle the responsibility that comes with bringing a dog. Sheila and Cooper are having the time of their lives out here and they remain the number one priority on our hike. We know our dogs can handle it and that we can handle it. But mistakes were made and accidents happen. That being said, if you do choose to bring your dog it is important to prepare yourself mentally for the possibility that your dog could be lost in the woods. It's just another thing on the long list of considerations one has to make regarding hiking long-distance with a dog. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Days 101 - 106: Enter Rocksylvania

Day 101: Clark's Ferry Shelter to Campsite on ridge (11.8 miles)
This was a hot and humid hike! We intended to get a little further, but a 2 hour lunch break impeded our progress. We ended up camping with a section hiker couple from Jacksonville, Alll Right and Half Left. They were pretty cool to talk to. Talk about a small world where we meet people from Jax in Pennsylvania on the AT! There was no water at this campsite so we ate cold and went to bed early. 

We had spoken to a ridge runner at the Doyle in Duncannon who said that the rocks really start north of there. He wasn't kidding, but the rocks seemed like the type of rocks you find on top of any ridgeline in Virginia. I was skeptical. 

Day 102: Campsite to Spring, Campsite just before Rausch Shelter (12.8 miles)
Well, so much for an early morning! We finally got up around 9 or 10 and headed down to the spring at the bottom of the hill for brunch. We were done with this short & sweet day around 5pm when we set up camp next to Rausch Creek, which we learned is too acidic to sustain trout populations. To combat this, engineers installed these "filters" which diverts the creek water into a flow-through cistern filled with limestone so as to raise the pH of the water. The result is just a change of 1 or 2 pH units, but it allows brown and spotted trout to thrive downstream. The "spring" next to our campsite that fed into the stream was very rust-colored. We weren't sure if this was from too much iron in the water or some sort of nutrient imbalance. Anyway, we ended up camping out with Pooh Bear and Twizzler, and Cowgirl pushed on past the shelter. It was a quiet night. Still no horrendous fields of rocks. 

Day 103: Campsite to 501 Shelter (17.6 miles)
501 Shelter is famous for a few things. First and foremost, you can order pizza delivery. Secondly, there is a shower. These are the things that really matter to a thru-hiker. We left Rausch Gap a little later than we intended but the hiking was pretty easy. We crossed an old iron bridge at one point and made a tough climb up to the top of the next ridge. The mountains in Pennsylvania are really just parallel ridge lines, so the AT will follow one for a while and then jump to the next, resulting in easy hiking dotted with a few steep climbs and descents. This next ridge, Blue Mountain, was completely covered in poison ivy. Chase and I have never had a reaction to poison ivy, but the fear remains! Once we reached the 501 trail crossing, we jumped the gun and ordered some wings and a chicken parm sub. We waited at the parking lot for our food and ate there. We then carried our trash up to the shelter with the expectation that we would be able to dump our trash there. Alas, when we arrived we found a sign that welcomed pizza boxes but said pack out your own trash! We would have to carry our greasy styrofoam container with us into the next town. 

Day 104: 501 Shelter to Eagle's Nest Shelter (15.1 miles)
We saw a timber rattlesnake! That was the only exciting part of the day. The rest of it was rocky and awful. The trail so far in Pennsylvania seemed to be either sections of nice, flat, rock-free trail, or large boulders that you have to hop across, or small, sharp rocks that stick up out of the ground stabbing your feet to death, or a combination of small and medium sized rocks that slow you way down and annoy you to no end. The rocks are really supposed to start getting bad after Port Clinton. My feet hurt a lot even with just this measly amount of rocks and I was worried that my overuse issue was coming back. We were excited about Port Clinton and the Cabela's to look for new footwear. The camping at the shelter was really nice, and we spent the evening bullshitting with the old guys; Gwalker, GreaseSpot, and Banter. 

Day 105: Eagle's Nest Shelter to Port Clinton, PA; Microtel in Hamburg, PA (9.0 miles)
The started out with me being annoyed at the lack of landmarks mentioned in the guide. Then we had a really steep descent into Port Clinton. A lady with 8 kids ranging in age from 5 to 19 asked me about Sheila and her breed. I told her if she wanted an aussie that they are great dogs but they need a lot of exercise and attention, and also she should consider rescuing one. She said they tried that and had to put the dog down because "it was crazy." I hope she never gets a dog. 

Anyway, Cabela's came to pick us up and take us into Hamburg. That place is HUGE. We were expecting something the size of a Dick's Sporting Goods, but dayum! We then walked across to the 5 Guys Burgers and Fries to have lunch with Cowgirl and Pooh Bear, who had arrived in town the previous night. We then all went back to the Microtel to check in and have a beer with Cowgirl before she hit the trail again. One beer became a chorus of "una màs!" several times, and it was clear Cowgirl wasn't leaving town that. She ended up ordering The Ramen Shaman a pair of Ariat boots to hike in because she swears by the brand and also because she was drunk. Pooh Bear came with the two of us for a steak dinner, and Cheez-it picked out some new shoes; Merrel Moab Ventilator lowtops. Sleeping in a bed and having a shower is always awesome. 

Day 106: Port Clinton to Windsor Furnace Shelter (5.7 miles)
We were supposed to be out of town much much earlier, but Cheez-it decided her new boots were too narrow in the toe box. That's the trouble with these things; you never know how those shoes are going to fit until you wear them for a good long while and take them on the trail. I could tell just by walking across the street that they were too narrow. So it was back to Cabella's as everyone else hit the trail. After a few hours, I decided on a pair of Salomon XRMission trail-runners, and so far they have been great! We then had lunch at Cabella's and had to wait around until 2:30 before getting a ride back to the trail. We wasted more time at the post office in Port Clinton sorting through the dog food and sending home a few things. We actually started hiking around 3:30p. 

The shelter was a little creepy. There were a few people sitting around, but none of them were planning to stay. We set up camp and started making dinner when we heard something crashing through the woods near camp. I saw a big black thing walk across the trail and quietly told Chase, "I think there is a bear over there." He got up while I held onto Sheila and chased it away, yelling and throwing sticks. I'm sure it was just going down for a drink of water at the spring. Regardless, we bear-bagged for the first time since North Carolina that night. 

No rocks just yet, but that would soon change!

The next 4 days were spent searching for Cowgirl's dog, Cooper. This was a really intensely stressful and emotional time for us, so I would like to do it justice by speaking about it in a separate post. We've been trying to keep our mileage up to stay on schedule for finishing at Katahdin by the first week of August, so I haven't had much energy to write but I will do my best to work on the next post throughout the week. 

Thank you to all our followers for your continued support! Be sure to check out our Facebook page for more regular updates!



Saturday, May 31, 2014

100 Days

Day 86: Zero day in Pittsburgh
Day 87: Zero day in Pittsburgh
Day 88: Zero day in Pittsburgh
Day 89: Zero day in Pittsburgh
Day 90: Harper's Ferry to Crampton Gap Shelter (7.5 miles)
Day 91: Crampton Gap to Annapolis Rocks Campsite (14.1 miles)
Day 92: Annapolis Rocks to Raven's Rock Shelter (11.5 miles)
Day 93: Raven's Rock to Pen-Mar Park, Waynesboro, PA, Days Inn (4.6 miles)
Day 94: Pen-Mar Park to Tumbling Run Shelters (8.6 miles)
Day 95: Tumbling Run to Quarry Gap Shelters (12.2 miles)
Day 96: Quarry Gap to Pine Grove Furnace State Park Campground (16.9 miles) Half-Gallon Challenge
Day 97: PGFSP to Little Dogwood Run (15.6 miles)
Day 98: Little Dogwood Run to stealth campsite near piped spring (17.3 miles)
Day 99: Campsite to Duncannon, PA, The Doyle Hotel (12.3 miles)
Day 100: The Doyle to Clark's Ferry Shelter (4.3 miles)

Hike recap...
Our hike since returning to the trail has been awesome. Aside from having head colds, the terrain has been easy so our mileages have been rather consistent. We did a short day into Waynesboro to try to recover from our colds more quickly by spending a night in a warm bed and having a hot shower. The other short day was coming out of Duncannon because we didn't leave until 5pm due to a severe thunderstorm moving through the area. Our stay at the Doyle was amazing! The run-down old hotel definitely has some charm! Our attempt at the Half-Gallon Challenge was a bit pathetic. First, the General Store was closed so we couldn't participate in the "official" challenge, but the Ironmaster's hostel next door sold 1.75 quart containers of ice cream so we decided to make our own challenge. We decided to try and race each other which was a huge mistake! Eating ice cream very quickly is no fun at all, so we ended up eating half that night and half the next day. Our 98th day brought us through the Cumberland Valley and the quaint town of Boiling Springs just in time for their Memorial Day Parade. Sheila enjoyed the free eggs she yogi'd from the customers at Cafe 101, but she did not enjoy the 21 gun salute at the end of the parade. 




Reflections on 100 days...
Wow. 100 days! It seems like just yesterday we set out from Amicalola Falls in about 4 inches of snow and struggled to summit Springer Mountain before nightfall. I can still remember the feeling of the anticipation and excitement of what was to come. I remember being nervous of walking over to h the shelter to meet the other hikers at the end of our 8.8 mile day. I remember being really unsure of myself and unsure if I could really do the thing. The AT was a big and scary unknown. 

Today, I'm a little more confident in who I am and why I'm out here, and I'm still excited about what's to come (New England!!! Whaaaa?!) The AT is still an unknown in many ways, but it also feels like home. Our 5x8 tent is the coziest little house we could ask for and walking the spine of Appalachia is the best commute. The AT has become the "real life," and everything else is referred to as the "before times." I'm confident we can summit Katahdin before having to head home and start the newest chapter of our lives. 

The past 100 days have been marked by plenty of ups and downs (literally and figuratively), some of which I've documented in previous blog posts. It's hard to capture every moment out here to share with the world, but thinking back on these 100 days fills me with an immense feeling of joy and accomplishment. Hiking everyday for 11 hours a day is hard work. Sometimes you're rewarded with a great view or particularly nice terrain, but more often than not you seem to be trudging up and down pointless mountains over snowy, slushy, muddy, rocky, root-y, or uneven terrain. It's painful and exhausting more often than not. Hiking the AT is not about finding happiness in every step, though for us there is an inherent happiness in the hike. For me it's more about finding joy in the personal growth I have experienced which has stemmed from pushing my physical and mental limits and stepping outside my comfort zone. 

There is a quote I often see on cheesy home decor products that says, "Life is not measured by the number of breaths you take but by the number of moments that take your breath away" and I have found it to be so incredibly true. For over 100 days now I've been able to wake up alongside the most loving and kind man and our silly dog in a little tent in the woods with the biggest grin on my face, and it continues to take my breath away. 

On on! To Katahdin! 








Tuesday, May 20, 2014

"Psychologically" Halfway

Harper's Ferry is touted as the "psychological" halfway point of the Appalachian Trail. If you look at a map of the AT and you pointed to the visual middle of the trail, your finger would land damn near Harper's Ferry, WV but this isn't why it is considered the half-way point. The actual 2014 AT midpoint is somewhere just north of a woods road at mile number 1092.65, whereas Harper's Ferry is situated around mile 1019. But Harper's Ferry is celebrated and will continue to be celebrated as a major milestone for a few reasons. By this point in an AT thru-hike, a person has endured countless hardships, whether that be injury, inclement weather, the loss of a hiking partner or group, or some combination of all three. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters also resides in Harper's Ferry and many a thru-hiker delight in having their photos taken outside of the building. The ATC keeps photo books dating back to the '70s full of hiker portraits.

We were beyond ecstatic to arrive in fabled Harper's Ferry (albeit by car). Our shuttle driver, Strings, parked behind the building and we four walked up the steps and opened the creaky screen door, letting it slam behind us. I don't know what I was really expecting from the small, whitewashed building, but I can tell you I was on the verge of tears. My eyes instantly settled on an aged wooden plank in the back of the room. The old Katahdin sign was beautiful and didn't seem real at all. We are at the ATC! They are going to take our picture! We're thru-hikers!

We were soon standing out front trying to keep Sheila still as the volunteer fiddled with the camera. She took a few different shots of us and we then followed her inside to watch the photo print and fill out the required information. While we were waiting, we spoke with another volunteer behind the desk and told him a little of our recent travels, what with having to skip ahead in order to finish at Katahdin by August. That's when everything changed.

The woman who had taken our picture was ready to fill out the information, including our start date and what number hiker we were to come to the ATC as a thru-hiker. She reached for the red permanent marker reserved for thru-hikers when the man at the counter stopped her.

"They aren't thru-hikers. They are doing an alternate hike since they missed some of the trail. Use the brown pen."

I was a little shocked when I heard this, but it didn't really register with me. It was as I was filling out our trail names and writing GA>ME that I realized that what he had said really bothered me. We are thru-hikers damn it. I mean, of course I understood that we wouldn't actually be hikers number 146 and 147, but being classified as an "alternate" really rubbed me the wrong way.

Chase and I have struggled through so much out here and we have found so many reasons to rejoice in the trail life. We feel like the AT has become a part of us, that the trail runs in our veins, guiding us toward Maine and helping us to grow along the way. To be classified in such a way really did some damage to my spirit. Our Maryland hike has been characterized by both of us having head colds and me dealing with the realization that the psychological halfway point isn't really halfway for us.

I've since come to terms with the brown "21" written over our ATC photo. We still have over half of the AT to hike and so much more time to spend out here in the woods and with each other. The numbers and milestones really are all "psychological," but the physical reality of what we are doing is still immense and applaudable.

Once we reach Katahdin, our AT miles hiked will be something like 1931.6 miles. Next year, we will hike the 22 miles into Damascus and party like a thru-hiker at Trail Days. We will make up the trail we missed from Glasgow to Harper's Ferry over the next couple of years as time allows on weekends and holidays.

I don't know when we will make it back to the ATC, but the next time we are there, I plan on holding my head high as we walk through the door and eating all of the cookies left for thru-hikers because damn it, I am an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Hiking with a Dog: 780 miles later

Now that we have officially passed the 1/3rd mark, I think this is an appropriate time to update our followers on what it has been like hiking with Sheila the Australian Mountain Dog. We've learned a few lessons along the way, and for anyone considering bringing their outdoor-loving dog on a long backpacking trip, you might want to take notes!

Hiking with Sheila is so rewarding, but it's also very challenging. Making sure she is happy and healthy is our number one priority. Having her along for the adventure adds one more variable to the equation of getting to Katahdin.

Food & Water
In the beginning, we were stopping every 15 minutes to give her water which made our average pace barely above 1 mph. After hiking 780+ miles, we usually stop every hour or hour and a half to water her, depending on the terrain and the temperature. Between the two of us, we carry 6.5L of water to make sure that we all have enough. She can easily drink about 2L of water per day (sometimes a half-liter or more while in camp in the morning and at night, and a liter throughout the day). Doggy dehydration is serious, so make sure to carry extra for your thirsty pooch. We don't let her drink from streams or rivers directly due to the risk of Giardia, though sometimes she will sneak in a few laps.

For food, she started out eating twice as much as she did at home (about 4 cups per day, 2 in the morning and 2 in camp at night). We didn't anticipate how hard it would be to actually get her to eat. She would eat a few handfuls in the morning, and maybe a few more when we stopped for lunch. We finally learned to accept that she wants to eat the majority of her food at night. Nowadays she eats 5 cups of food per day; 1 in the morning, 1 in the afternoon, and 3 at night. She still acts a little picky and we have to work pretty hard to convince her to eat. There was a 2 week period where she was losing weight and we were worried she would have to go home, but we started putting about a tablespoon of olive oil in her food at night and we haven't had a problem since (fingers crossed!) She carries about 5 days of food in her pack and we will usually carry an extra day for her, just in case. 

Ticks
Since the weather has warmed up, ticks have been our number one battle. She started out on a Seresto tick and flea collar, but we found that it just wasn't potent enough to fend off the explosion of ticks that seemed to come out of nowhere as we crossed into May. We were spending 1.5 to 2 hours per night picking off 30+ ticks (including the dreaded deer tick). When we decided to skip some of the trail to let Cheez-it's foot recover and to get back on track, we switched to the Preventic collar and within 48 hours all of the ticks that were attached to her were dried up and dead! We will see how the new collar works once we are back on the trail, but for now, we are very happy with the switch. The Seresto collar works supposedly for 6 months and the Preventic is effective for only 3 months, but we think this is the best move. I will report when we return! We are also working with Tarptent to see about getting a "dog bivy" that will fit in our vestibule and keep her separated from us while keeping her from running off after an animal in the middle of the night. A big problem we were having with the ticks is that the live ticks would crawl off of her and onto us in the middle of the night. We are hoping that the fast acting Preventic will help solve some of this problem.

Wild Animals
Sheila is a herding dog by instinct. If she spots an animal in the woods and it just so happens to be running away, she really wants to chase it. Thankfully, she has only bolted off once after some deer. She also chased a bird that was flying in the sky in the Grayson Highlands. On that note, Sheila didn't seem to mind the ponies until we started making a big about them. Oh! She chased the goats at Woods Hole Hostel and we had to turn off the electric fence to get her back out. Thank goodness she actually listens to us when we yell at her.

We have come across one rattlesnake so far, but we know they become more common in PA. A guy named Bangarang told us about a rattlesnake vaccine you can get out west, but the few veterinarians we asked here on the east coast have never heard of it. Just be careful if you chose to hike with your dog in rattlesnake areas. Always keep your dog close and keep an eye out for any snake that may be on the trail or just off the trail. Rattlesnakes will often let you know if you're too close, but it's best not to push your luck.

Hostels & Town Stays
We have been very lucky at each hostel we've stayed at in that they have let us leave Sheila in the room while we run any errands. This is not a privilege, so always ask if it is okay. And don't leave your dog if you know that they are prone to whining or could become destructive if left alone. It really helps to hike as a pair if you take your dog, that way one of you can hang outside with the dog while the other runs into the store or orders food. Town seems to stress Sheila out immensely. The noise of cars and motorcycles really freaks her out after a week or two in the woods. We find that minimizing our time in town minimizes her stress.

Gear
Sheila's gear has been holding up wonderfully. Her saddlebags are showing some wear from her rubbing up against rocks and things, but I'm sure that they will survive for the rest of the trip. We have had a spot of trouble with the fit of the pack, causeing the whole thing to slide forward as we were coming down a steep descent, but I think the issue was more user error than a design flaw. I am really sad to hear that Granite Gear is discontinuing the Long Howl, because it's the only one we've found with this type of design and we prefer it much more than the typical dog packs.

For hiking in snow, I definitely recommend the dogbooties.com fleece booties. They are cheap and they get the job done. I was very hesitant about the hard-soled booties you can buy for your dog because none of them seemed to fit quite right and they seemed like they might do more harm than good in the long run. I just felt like they didn't allow her foot to move naturally, so when we found these simple fleece socks I was really excited. The fleece insulated her pawpads from the snow and slush while keeping the ice from building up between her toes and allowing her to walk naturally. I don't worry about rocks so much, though I'm sure she gets tired of walking on them (just like us!) After a long day on rocks, we usually rub her pads down with Musher's Secret to help nourish them. She loves a good footrub at the end of the day. These booties combined with the moisturizing power of Musher's Secret have helped to keep Sheila's feet happy and healthy.

A tough decision...
Overall, we would not take her on another long-distance backpacking trip. We would take her out for a week or so at a time, but being on the trail for 6 months with your dog is a lot of extra hard work. If you're considering taking Fido for a long hike, be mentally prepared to spend a few hours a day taking care of your pet. If you aren't committed to the idea of putting your animal first in every situation, then don't bring them along. It has been very tough for us to continue on with her because on one hand we know she is having a blast, but on the other hand the risk to her health from tick-borne disease is real and has really been weighing on my mind. 

For now, she will continue to hike with us and she will continue to steal the hearts of the hikers around her (including ours!) but if this new medication seems less than effective, we might end up taking her off-trail. Just please, please be a responsible pet owner if you decide that you are up to the challenge! If you have any questions, please feel free to comment below or send us an email to endlessfootpath@gmail.com





Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Goodbyes and Trail Magic: Days 69 - 85

Day 69: Doc's Knob Shelter to spring, campsite (12.8 miles)
Day 70: Campsite to Stony Creek Valley (15 miles)
Day 71: Stony Creek Valley to footbridge, stream, campsite (13.3 miles)
Day 72: Campsite to VA 42, Four Pines Hostel (7.3 miles)
Day 73: Zero at Four Pines
Day 74: VA 42 to Craig Creek (11.5 miles)
Day 75: Craig Creek to Four Pines Hostel (15.3 miles)
Day 76: Four Pines Hostel to Lambert's Meadow Campsite (16.6 miles)
Day 77: Lambert's Meadow to Daleville, VA (9.4 miles)
Day 78: Daleville, VA to stealth campsite (6ish miles)
Day 79: Campsite to stealth campsite past Bearwallow Gap (16ish miles)
Day 80: Campsite to Cornelius Creek Shelter (15ish miles)
Day 81: Cornelius Creek to Marble Spring Campsite (12.2 miles)
Day 82: Marble Spring to US 501, Glasgow VA and Buena Vista VA (7.7 miles)
Day 83: Zero in Buena Vista, camped at Devil's Backbone Brewpub
Day 84: Zero in Charlottesville, trail magic in Shenandoah
Day 85: Zero in Charlottesville, trail magic in Shenandoah 

As you can see from the above, we've been pretty busy! After coming back from Virginia Beach, we were super motivated to make up for lost time on the trail. We took an unexpected zero at Four Pines Hostel to wait out some weather (the same weather that put tornadoes down in Pearisburg), and had an amazing stretch of clear, sunny weather to cover Dragon's Tooth, McAfee Knob, and Tinker Cliffs, which are some of the most picturesque sections of the Appalachian Trail! 

After we left Pearisburg, Cheez-it started having some foot issues. First, the top of her ankle was very sore and left her limping down the trail most of the time. That problem was solved by doing "alphabet stretches." To do alphabet stretches, point your toes and imagine that they are a paint brush. Then use that paint brush to write out each letter of the alphabet. This is a really good ankle strengthening exercise that I would recommend to all hikers. After this issue was resolved, Cheez-it's ball of her foot would be very painful by the end of the day and the top of her foot would be swollen. She dealt with this pain with a "grit and bear it" approach that had drained her of all patience by the time we arrived in Daleville. We were convinced that new shoes would help resolve this problem since she had been hiking in her Vasque Mantra 2.0's with stock insoles since Franklin. We picked up a pair of Dr. Scholl's massaging gel insoles at the recommendation of Dr. Grandpa Kibble and bought Cheez-it a pair of Salomon Synapse trail runners. It was clear the moment we left Daleville that the Dr. Scholl's were not supportive enough, so she switched back to hiking in the brand-new stock insoles of the Salomon's. This seemed to help, but as we neared Glasgow, VA Cheez-it's feet were in so much pain we had to stop every mile or so to let them rest.

By this point we had already been discussing our options regarding finishing the trail. Cheez-it had been accepted to the College of William & Mary School of Marine Science at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science and the moment she accepted the offer, we imposed a firm deadline for having to complete our hike. Orientation at VIMS is the 22nd and 23rd of August, and we have to find somewhere to live and move to Virginia from Florida before that. If we stayed on the trail and just kept hiking normally, the soonest we could be done with the trail was something like August 10th, which didn't seem likely since we would probably be taking a few more zeroes. We decided we would skip what we had left in Virginia and get back on the trail at Harper's Ferry. This was a really tough decision for Cheez-it to swallow. Skipping this section of trail meant leaving Icicle and Quailman behind. It meant we wouldn't hike into Harper's Ferry, proud and tired and dirty, and have our picture taken at the ATC headquarters. It meant missing 1/10th of the trail, which is really just a drop in the bucket, but there is something so emotional about making the decision to skip a significant portion of the trail. Would we really be thru-hikers at that point?

We talked and I (Cheez-it) cried a lot. But it made sense. It would put us on track to finish by late July/early August. We would be able to come back on weekends and section hike the Shenandoah's. We could take time off to rest my foot and get Sheila on new tick medication. So we decided to jump trail.

We spent one last night camped with Icicle & Quailman at Marble Spring, and we all hitched into Glasgow to get pizza and beer. We all ended up getting a ride into the larger town of Buena Vista and really celebrated with margaritas and fajitas. The next morning, the finality of our parting hit home as they caught a shuttle to the Food Lion to resupply and we tried to figure out the rental car situation. We cried and group-hugged and promised to keep in touch. It was hard watching them drive away. We had been through so much together and we connected with them like we had with no other hikers. It was at that moment that I understood what it must be like for a solo hiker to fall behind their group. I had always wondered, "Why don't they just do their own thing and find another group?" And the answer is because it's hard. When you're out here every day conquering the same obstacles with the same group of people, it's hard to leave them behind or be left behind. You build life-long friendships out here. No one really understands what your going through like another hiker, especially one that you have been with since the beginning.

Enough with the sappy stuff before I start crying all over the keyboard!

We got a rental car and drove to Reeds Gap to pick up any hikers looking to go to the Devils Backbone Brewpub, where they would let hikers camp for free. We didn't see anyone at the AT crossing, but when we got to the pub, we met ReRoute, Geared-Up, and Kristo. We spent a great night with them and offered to slackpack them into Waynesboro since we had to go there the next day anyway to go to the foot doctor to have Cheez-it's foot checked out in case of stress fracture or the dreaded plantar fasciitis. They really appreciated the offer and we had fun doing it! We also picked up the packs of Simba and Brightside as we drove down the Blue Ridge Parkway into Waynesboro. The foot doctor ended up being closed that day, so we hatched a plan to do some trail magic along Skyline Drive. We picked up some Cokes, lemonade, apples, bananas, and oranges and entered Shenandoah. The first hiker we saw was Good Company at Beagle Gap, waiting on a friend to come pick him up. We drove on and stopped at every AT crossing to try and catch hikers as they crossed the road. We ended up meeting a lot of people that we had met at Four Pines when we unexpectedly zeroed there. We were able to give out magic to Survivorman, a section hiker named Trashcan, Prom Queen, Wees, Cowgirl, Poohbear, Sunbear, Good Company (again), Spicekit, Coconut, Shybear, Top O, GramCracker, and Grasshopper. I may have missed some names, but I had them all sign-in on our trail magic log book so I'll update that later. It was so much fun doing trail magic!

Now, we are off to Washington DC to be a bit touristy and then off to Pittsburg to visit The Ramen Shaman's aunt and uncle and my sister, Cassie. We plan to get back on the trail on Friday at Harper's Ferry.

We will be updating our mail-drop page soonly to let everyone know of our next stops along the trail. The rental car and the time off has been rather costly, so I'm not sure we will be staying in too many hostels going forward. If you want to help out, but aren't sure about what to send, generic Visa gift-cards would really help us out at this point. We have our resupply down to a science, and while we surely appreciate and are excited to receive packages, sometimes we aren't sure what we need until we are in town, and putting together food for the week from a few mail-drops is hard to do. We would  love to receive cards of encouragement and support to help us over this rough spot in our trail experience.

Thanks to all of our readers for the continued support and encouragement! Check out our Facebook page for new photos from the trail which we will be posting before the end of the week!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

On Slackpacking and Vacations: Days 60 - 68

From our previous post, Grandpa Kibble had just joined us for a fun week in the woods from Atkins to Woods Hole Hostel. Unfortunately he had injured his knee just out of town, so The Ramen Shaman came up with a plan for us to still make the miles while keeping Grandpa Kibble involved. We decided we would slackpack over the next few days. Slackpacking is the term used for hiking a section of trail with little more than water and some snacks for the day. The joy of slackpacking comes from being able to do more miles faster than you can carrying a fully loaded pack. We learned a lot about ourselves and our hiking style in the few days that we slackpacked, enough that we needed a vacation from it all!

Day 60: Chestnut Knob Shelter to Laurel Creek - Slackpacking Day 1
The first 6 miles of this day were normal hiking miles, but we dropped off our packs with TruBrit at a roadcrossing and slackpacked the rest of the day. This was the only day of slackpacking Cheez-it enjoyed! The miles seem to fly by and you don't feel exhausted going uphill. Our night concluded at Fort Bastian, which was fun, but weird. Grandpa Kibble decided to become a trail angel to our little group of 12 hikers, and planned to intersect us at various roadcrossings throughout the next day with drinks and snacks. The Ramen Shaman decided that he would stay behind with his dad to spend some quality time and help with coordinating the trail magic. It would be up to Cheez-it to pick up the next 25.5 miles on her own!

Day 61: Laurel Creek to VA 608 - Slackpacking Day 2
We arrived to the trailhead later than we had hoped (10am) due to TruBrit's shuttle schedule. Being slower hikers even while slackpacking, Icicle, Quailman, and I would be struggling to finish the 25.5 mile section before nightfall. The start of the hike began just fine and we kept a steady pace for the first 8 or so miles. Then we arrived at the roadwalk over I-70. I had hiked ahead of Icicle and Quailman while they took a little break and subsequently arrived at the road first. You exit the woods onto a dirt road and follow the road down to a paved road. Once you intersect the paved road, you can't see any more white blazes from where you stand, but there is a beaten path up a hill next to the road. I climb this hill and check out the view of the valley below, but soon I realize there are no white blazes and the footpath has dead-ended off of the other end of the hill, which is steep and covered in loose shale. I carefully pick my way to the bottom of the hill back to the road, feeling a little more than foolish. Thankfully I spot a white blaze on the nearby road sign and I know that I'm at least heading in the right direction. I follow the road as it takes a sharp left turn and crosses over the top of I-70. I spot a white blaze on the opposite guardrail and head for it. Once I arrive, I turn 360 degrees over and over again, trying to spot the next white blaze. I pull out AWOL's guide at this point and read the entry, "AT re-enters woods north of road." I whip out my compass and check that yes, I am indeed facing north, but no, I cannot see where the trail re-enters the woods. I spot a footpath that rounds the guardrail so I head over to check it out. I get a few dozen feet up the trail, but I can't see any white blazes, so I abandon the trail and decide that it would be better to wait for Quailman and Icicle so that we can all try and figure this out. I spot another white blaze on a tree by the road, facing in asuch a direction that you cannot see it from the guardrail white blaze. Quailman and Icicle arrive a few minutes later and we are all scratching our heads. I finally decide to walk further down the road to the east to see if I could find another blaze. And there it is. On a rock face oriented in such a manner that you can't see unless you are right in front of it is painted a lonely white blaze. I call out to the others and we all hike down the road together. We wasted 45 minutes wondering around on a road trying to find the trail. NOBO thru-hiker beware! This section is not well blazed.

This is only the beginning of our troubles. We head down to the trailhead and get back on. We decide to skip filling up on water at the trailhead and start the steep climb up. The shelter is only a couple miles away afterall, and we can just get water there. WRONG! The shelter ends up being 0.3mi off of the trail, and the water source is another 0.3mi farther past the shelter. Even though we are all low on water, we decided to just push on 8 more miles to the unreliable stream. This ends up being the biggest mistake of our entire hike yet! It's hot and the three of us are stuck on a ridgeline with no water! I hike ahead with the intention of filling up at the hopefully flowing stream and bringing it back to Icicle and Quailman. When I am about 3/4 of a mile from the road and the stream, The Ramen Shaman appears carrying tons of water for the three of us! I tell him to hike back to them because they only had 1 liter of water between the two of them. We all meet at the road crossing and find out that the unreliable stream is dry. We would have been in big trouble if The Ramen Shaman hadn't showed up. Together, we finished the last 4 miles and chose to be picked up at VA 608 instead of pushing the original 25.5 miles to Trent's Grocery. These last 4 miles were the most fun out of the day, and we ended our first full slackpacking day in good spirits. Grandpa Kibble left us beer and snacks at the road while he went to pick up a bunch of burgers for us, which was incredible and amazing. We spent the night with our trail family (Batman, The Priest, Noodle, Radioman, Cowgirl, Flex, and Poohbear) around a warm campfire at Trent's Grocery. Radioman was even kind enough to share his wine and salmon pate!

Day 62: VA 608 to USFS 103 and Woods Hole Hostel
The morning was very stressful as we were faced with another 20 mile day to get into Woods Hole Hostel and a hot, homemade dinner at 7 o'clock. We got to the trail late again, and set off to make up the missed 5 miles and the next 15 miles into the hostel. The first 5 miles were mellow and we even got to cross a suspension footbridge! The next 10 miles were miserable. We hiked as fast as we could and skipped the side-trail to the waterfall. Cheez-it's ankle was sore and she fell behind the group, slowing everyone down. The Ramen Shaman ran ahead to get to the privy at Waputi Shelter, and the rest of us hiked quickly to meet him there. When we were less than a mile away from the shelter, we were all commenting to one another that hiking at this pace was no fun and we really weren't enjoying ourselves. Just then, Icicle took a bad fall and banged her knee pretty badly. That was the tipping point! We all just laughed at ourselves for trying to stick to a schedule that didn't make sense for us and was causing us all to be miserable! We threw up our hands and said "Screw it!" and decided to arrive at Woods Hole whenever we felt like it. We were done pushing ourselves to the point of not having any fun. We took a long break at the shelter to eat and rub our sore feet. Vegemite ended up catching up to us, and we hadn't seen him since Damascus. Grandpa Kibble called and said that he had left the car at the forest service road, and that really raised all of our spirits since we would be able to get to Woods Hole before dinner. Vegemite was down for catching a ride as well! We hiked on and stopped for a short break at a rocky overlook that gave us wonderful views of the Virginia farming valley below. It was quite the end to another crazy day. When we arrived at the car, we all piled in and headed for the hostel and a hot meal.

Day 63: Zero at Woods Hole Hostel - Zero Day 1
We decided to take a zero day after our rough couple of days in order to rejuvenate a little. This was lucky because Cheez-it had just been contacted by a professor for the Virginia Institute of Marine Science back in Atkins and had been meaning to contact him for a phone interview. This day provided that perfect opportunity. The food and the atmosphere at Woods Hole is awesome, but they are overpriced in my opinion. For $15 you get a bunk in the unheated bunkhouse (which you are responsible for cleaning up), a gross privy, and an outdoor shower (which is no fun in mid-April). Our zero day had Cheez-it's spirits low, even though her phone interview had seemingly gone well. That night, we all sat around and contemplated options. We had the opportunity to visit the VIMS campus in Gloucester Point, VA in order to meet the professor and make an impression, and we decided that now was the perfect time. Icicle and Quailman were feeling like taking a few days off as well, so we hatched a plan the next day that would lead to all of us having an amazing beach vacation!

Day 64: Zero at The Days Inn in Christiansburg, VA - Zero Day 2
Neville of Woods Hole offered to give us a ride into Christiansburg to start our adventure. We would hit up Williamsburg and the VIMS campus, and then drive to Virginia Beach to relax by the ocean! This day was full of walking from the hotel to the convenience store across the way to get beer, and then to the Cracker Barrel for dinner. We also watched Marley & Me, which was a mistake.

Day 65: Zero in Williamsburg/Gloucester Point/Virginia Beach - Zero Day 3
We started out the day renting a car and spending the 4 hour drive saying how weird it was that we were in a car. Then we arrived in the Williamsburg/Gloucester Point area and drove on the Colonial Parkway, which was really beautiful. Cheez-it got to meet with her potential advisor and get a nickel tour of the campus. Then we all piled in the car and drove back to Williamsburg becasue we thought it might have a cool downtown area to hang out it. We could only find the overly commercialized portion, so we drove to the subburbs to eat at place called Oceans & Ale. During this time, we reverted to calling each other by our real names, which also felt weird. Eric, Kristin, and I each made bets about how many chicken wings Chase could eat. Eric won with his guess of 27 wings, though Chase admitted later he was saving room for Ben & Jerry's. We then drove another hour to Virginia Beach and checked into our amazing oceanfront hotel and beachfront room ($54/night on priceline; about $13.50/person i.e. cheaper than the typical hostel rate). The next day was sure to be epic.

Day 66: Zero in Virginia Beach - Zero Day 3
We felt so relaxed on this day after spending all day hanging out by the ocean and sipping fru-fru drinks. $2 fish tacos at the hotel bar. This was the first day we actually felt rested on a zero day.

Day 67: Zero in Virginia Beach - Zero Day 4
We had an indian food buffet. That's all that needs to be said about this awesome day. We began to fell anxious about heading back to the trail, especially after we found it that it is essentially Cold War Part Deux out there.

Day 68: Zero in Virginia Beach/Pearisburg - Zero Day 5
This was a whirlwind car trip from Virginia Beach to Richmond to Pearisburg! We stopped in Richmond to visit the REI to pick up a few things to get ready for our return to the trail. We originally intentioned to hike a few miles, but the rental car agency closed at 5pm, so we had to get a hotel! Day 69 will be a return to Woods Hole to catch up on the 12-ish miles that we missed into Pearisburg!

Our vacation from the trail truly was restorative and we are ready to get back to the trail. There is a statistic floating around out there that 80% of thru-hikers that take more than 3 zero days in a row ultimately leave the trail. We don't like the negativity associated with such a statistic, because when you are feeling low on the trail, sometimes the best medicine is to take a few days off. I think it helps to get far away from the trail and the trail culture, that way you approach it with a fresh set of eyes after a few days off. 

Sheila spent her vacation chasing birds on the beach and getting very sandy and wet! She also got a good grooming and a foot massage. I think she will always be a beach dog at heart. 

Well, that's all for now folks! 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Trails and Tribulations: Days 41 - 60

Hello loyal followers! Sorry for the long stay between blog posts! It has been a crazy couple of weeks since we left Damascus and the only reason we have time to update now is due to the fact that we are in Virginia Beach on vacation from our adventure! Kelley is being considered as a candidate for admission to the Virginia Institute of Marine Science at the College of William & Mary (a very exciting and intimidating time in our lives!) so we decided to take a few days to visit the campus and escape to the ocean in order to rejuvenate our souls in preparation for the return to the trail life. Our good friends, Icicle & Quailman, also decided they needed a couple of days off and have joined us for this minor detour! Check out their awesome blog: Trail Mix & Dirty Underwear.

You might be wondering why we would need to escape from the trail for a few days. A series of events led up to this, starting with the weather turning on Day 60. I'm planning on detailing this culmination of incidents and happenings that led to our decision to leave the trail for a few days in the next blog post, which I will be posting tomorrow or the next day. For now, here is a summary of our days since our last post!

Day 41: Hogback Ridge Shelter to No Business Knob Shelter
This was our first 20 mile day! Holy cow! That morning we had decided that it would be ideal to make it to No Business Knob in order to get into Erwin early the next day before the forecasted thunderstorms rolled in.Thankfully most of the slush that was on the ground the previous day had melted away and the going was easy. We arrived at Spivey Gap (15.8 miles into the day), filtered water, ate raw Ramen noodles, fed Sheila, and pushed on into the growing darkness. Night hiking with emergency headlamps is no fun, but we were really excited to see that Boomer and Smudge were awake in the shelter as we arrived well after hiker midnight (around 9 o'clock in the evening). We made a quick dinner and hit the hay!

Day 42: No Business to Uncle Johnny's in Erwin, TN
The descent into Erwin is seemingly endless. You can see the town for at least the last 3 miles, growing ever closer with each switchback. We made it eventually to Uncle Johnny's and checked into the only cabin they had left, Cabin F at a rate of $40 per night. The "free" town shuttles were really just a dinner and breakfast shuttle to one spot in town. We ended up having a good night and meeting Sunshine and Youngbeard, a newly engaged couple that we hiked with through Hampton, TN.

Day 43: Uncle Johnny's to Indian Grave Gap
The weather looked atrocious on this morning, but soon cleared to blue skies and sunshine. We witnessed some of Uncle Johnny's more suspicious business practices as they quoted a couple $55/night for the same cabin we stayed in. We learned later from Icicle and Quailman that they stayed in the same cabin, but only because the guy who had reserved it alone all of a sudden found himself shacking up with Socs and Blaze, two pretty college age girls. The guy panicked and left because his girlfriend would have been very uncomfortable with the situation, so Socs and Blaze offered to share the cabin with Icicle and Quailman. Apparently this sort of thing happens pretty often when bunkroom spaces fill up. Buyer beware.

We ended up staying at Indian Grave Gap at Freshground's Leapfrog Cafe, a traveling trail magic food fiesta set up by attempted thru-hiker, Freshground. He made us hot dogs, chili, and homemade fries that night and banana pancakes, eggs, and bacon in the morning! Unfortunately there were no privies for the next 20 miles.

Day 44: Indian Grave to Cherry Gap Shelter
This was a short day because I felt like crap after all the food. We met Radioman,Cowgirl & Cooper the Miniature Pinscher, along with Poohbear and M this night, and reunited with Penguinman. Sheila ate people poop because previous visitors to the shelter had decided that it was OK to poop behind trees 0 feet off of the trail. Disgusting!

Day 45: Cherry Gap to Roan High Knob Shelter
Another long, hard day at 17-ish miles! Cheez-it felt great during the last big climb, while The Ramen Shaman's energy drained. For the last few miles of the climb, the trail was literally a sheet of ice, which made it dangerous and slow going in the setting sun. We managed to make it to the shelter, which was up another steep, icy trail, where we stayed with Sunshine,Youngbeard, and M. It was the coolest shelter I've seen so far with a fully enclosed space with windows and a door! Perfect for keeping out the wind.

Day 46: Roan High Knob to Doll Flats (NC border! - 2 States down, 12 to go!)
It was slow going again as we came down Roan High Knob due to the continued sheet of ice. The next section of trail was full of beautiful balds, referred to as the Roan Highlands. The climb up Little Hump and Hump Mountains made us very tired and the final mile to Doll Flats seemed infinite over rocky terrain. It was a beautiful campsite though, and we had great company.

Day 47: Doll Flats to Upper Laurel Falls
Tennessee was such a beautiful state! We were greeted with many rolling, green hills and many beautiful streams and waterfalls. We found a sweet headlamp at Jones Falls, which we have named The Sun due to it's brightness. We camped right near the river and enjoyed a peaceful night's sleep.

Day 48: Upper Laurel Falls to Black Bear Resort in Hampton, TN
Black Bear Resort was really incredible, partially because it really was just awesome and partially because we stayed with such great people and had such a good time that night.We split a cabin with Sunshine & Youngbeard, and partied with Windscreen, Batman, Tree, Dorothy, Coconut, Spicerack, Cowgirl, Youngbeard, and Mr. Blue Sky until actual midnight. The hostel was very dog friendly and had a great layout, and they didn't have a problem shuttling you into town to resupply at Dollar General versus resupplying with them.

Day 49: Black Bear Resort to Watauga Lake Shelter
We missed Laurel Falls! We accidently blue-blazed on the high-water trail, and got lost! But thankfully we saw Spicerack and Coconut and found the trail again.The hike up Pond Flats was stupid. You literally climbed 3000 feet just to come back down 3000 feet. Watauga Lake was beautiful, and we spent a fun night in camp with Batman, Owl and Dr. Scrambles.

Day 50: Watauga Lake to TN 91 (Yellowblazed into the Hiker's Inn in Damascus, VA - 3 States down, 11 to go!)
On this day, we realized we had to push long mileage days in order to get into Damascus on time, which would set us up for meeting The Ramen Shaman's dad in Atkins on the correct day. I also got really down and felt very tired after realizing we wouldn't have the opportunity to take a zero day for another two weeks. With some harsh weather blowing in, we decided to pull an 18 mile day instead of a 21 mile day and to go into Damascus early. That way we could take a rest and recoup before heading for Atkins. This meant missing 22 miles of trail, but it also meant reuniting with Icicle & Quailman, whom we had been missing! We already spoke about doing that section of trail again, so the 22 miles didn't seem very significant to us. We also realized that people on the trail don't actually care what you do during your hike; only online armchair hikers care.

That night we met Batman at the infamous Blue Blaze Cafe and learned he had hiked the 41 miles from the Watauga Lake Shelter that morning, a feat quite worthy of a beer or two! You can find his awesome blog here!

Day 51: Zero at Hiker's Inn
The Hiker's Inn was amazing. The room we stayed in was clean and comfy, and they let us borrow some bikes to do our resupply.

Day 52: Hiker's Inn to campsite by pond
We hiked out with Icicle & Quailman, happy that the "band" was back together. They are amazing friends and hiking and camping with them again was awesome! The miles seemed to just fly by. Soon enough, little Cooper the Min-Pin (Cowgirl's dog) came running up behind us. We hemmed and hawwed about going back to the shelter to see if they were there, but decided to push on to the campsite by the pond, which is where we thought Cowgirl and Radioman were staying. We made the right choice, and Radioman expressed his gratitude by sharing his booze.

Day 53: Pond campsite to Elk Garden campsite
We climbed Whitetop Mountain and Mt. Rogers on this day. Well, really only Whitetop because we didn't do the blue-blazed summit trail to Mt. Rogers, but we were essentially at the top. The views were beautiful, but the wind was cold, so we hustled down the mountain to eat lunch and push on. We camped at the Elk Garden VA 600 campsite, which had a surprise privy!

Day 54: Elk Garden to Bearpen Trail campsite
The Grayson Highlands are full of rocks. We were so tired at the end of 11 miles, we camped at the first spot we could find outside of the park. It was very beautiful though, and seemed unlike anything else in America. The ponies were cool too. Cheez-it was very worried about Sheila scaring off all of the ponies and ruining the experience for everyone, and she thought this was the case until we arrived at Wise Shelter. The Ramen Shaman ran down to filter water and called back to the shelter "Ponies!!" We were all ecstatic! Walrus, a section hiker, equated us all to 5 year-old girls which was an accurate assessment of our behavior. To be clear, Sheila didn't give a damn about the ponies until we seemed very excited about them, at which point she decided to bark like mad. The ponies didn't care. We pushed on to a beautiful campsite at the Bearpen Trail intersection and spent a great night by the fire, listening to Quailman read The Hobbit.

Day 55: Bearpen Trail campsite to Trimpi Shelter
Another long day! 18 miles! But it was totally worth the sore and tired feet, because the next day we arrived at the famous Partnership Shelter for pizza delivery! Boomer, Smudge, Tree, Batman, and Dorothy were all in the shelter while The Lolligaggers camped.

Day 56: Trimpi to Partnership Shelter
Food is an excellent motivator. We made these 12 miles before 3pm! And it was a just and excellent reward! Pizza, beer, and good times loitering in front of the visitor's center with the whole gang from Trimpi Shelter.

Day 57: Partnership to the Relax Inn in Atkins, VA
This time we were motivated by an AYCE buffet at The Barn Restaurant that closed at 2pm in Atkins, VA. We woke up at 6am to the sound of The Ramen Shaman cracking a beer and hiked the 10 miles into town. The Priest caught up with us and walked into town with us. Mason (The Ramen Shaman's dad) arrived that evening bearing gifts of delicious oatmeal cookies from The Ramen Shaman's mom, Debbie. All of the hikers who hung around that night, including Batman, The Priest, Noodle, Cowgirl, Poohbear, Radioman, Icicle & Quailman enjoyed them immensely and they were gone in no time. It was a fun and productive night and we can't thank Mason & Debbie enough for their generosity! The buffet was disappointing though as they imposed a 3 plate limit and no refills on fountain drinks. We also switched into our summer gear, dropping our pack weights from the 40-50lb range to 25-35lb range. Cheez-it also heard back from a professor at Virginia Institute of Marine Science saying that she is being considered as a candidate for admissions!

Day 58: Relax Inn to Knot Maul Shelter
This was our first day hiking with Mason (aka Grandpa Kibble)! We were all excited to leave town and start the adventure, but on the first uphill it was clear that Grandpa Kibble's pack-weight was a little much and our hardened hiking legs were too fast under the lightened load of summer gear. The Ramen Shaman ended up carrying Grandpa Kibble's pack to make things a little easier on him and we all trudged on to the shelter. At the shelter we met The Cougars, a group of 3 older ladies who are section hiking together. They were a lot of fun!

Day 59: Knot Maul to Chestnut Knob Shelter
This was a day from hell, and is now Cheez-it's worst day on record. The day started out normally enough, overcast and a little rain, but as we climbed the 5000ft up Chestnut Knob, the weather turned. The rain turned into sleet, and the sleet turned into snow. Sheila coat was covered in a layer of ice and sleet. The temperatures plummeted on the Knob and the wind picked up, blowing at a sustained 20mph with gusts to 60mph. Thankfully the shelter on top was a fully enclosed concrete shelter with a door. About 13 others decided to stay in the shelter built for 8, but Cowgirl and Radioman made sure that the three of us had bunk space. The sudden turn in the weather combined with our lack of cold weather gear really caused Cheez-it to spiral into a depression and snap at The Ramen Shaman. The next few days would not do much to lift her spirits. The Ramen Shaman came up with a plan for us to make up the missed miles by slackpacking for the next few days. Radioman, Cowgirl, Poohbear, Noodle, Icicle & Quailman were all down for slackpacking, which was cool because we ended up traveling with this little group for the next few days.

Day 60: Chestnut Knob to Fort Bastian at Laurel Creek (near Bastian, VA) - Slackpack Day 1
The plan called for us to hike to the next road crossing and drop off our packs with a guy named TruBrit who runs Fort Bastian, a place with tenting and pizza delivery. Grandpa Kibble hiked the remaining 10 miles with The Ramen Shaman, and decided that he would be a trail angel for the following days to our little group due to having injured his knee. This put a damper in our spirits because we were really looking forward to hiking with him. TruBrit's place was really interesting, and so was the man himself. We were all convinced he was a pathological liar after he told us that he had been a millionaire 3 or 4 times over and subsequently gave away his wealth each time and said he had hiked over 150,000 miles in his life. We did the math on this last part, and figured out he would have had to hike 3000 miles every year since he was born if we assume he is 50 years old. The stories he told were entertaining to say the least.


We will be updating the mail drop page later this evening and adding photos to our Facebook page tomorrow morning before heading back out on the trail! Thanks for your continued encouragement and support!


Monday, April 7, 2014

Our 40th Trailaversary: Days 26 - 40

We are in Damascus! We decided to yellow-blaze 22 miles to get out of a bad wind & rain storm and honestly, we couldn't be happier! Not only have we been reunited with Icicle and Quailman, we have also been able to hang out in what I would consider the coolest trail town so far! Our original plan allowed for no dilly-dallying in Damascus, which would have been pretty terrible...

I'm changing our format again to make it easier on me, especially since we hardly ever have cell service and I never want to write in camp at night. I'd rather be sleeping!

Day 26: Zero at Double Spring Shelter
Day 27: Double Spring Shelter to Icewater Spring Shelter
Day 28: Icewater to Tricorner Knob Shelter
Day 29: Tricorner Knob to Cosby Knob Shelter
Day 30: Cosby Knob to Standing Bear Hostel
Day 31: Standing Bear to Brown Gap
Day 32: Brown Gap to Old Rd.
Day 33: Old Rd. to Laughing Heart Lodge in Hot Springs, NC
Day 34: Zero at Laughing Heart
Day 35: Hot Springs to Campsite near Lover's Leap
Day 36: Campsite to Spring Mountain Shelter
Day 37: Spring Mountain to Hemlock Hollow Hostel in Greeneville, TN
Day 38: Zero at Hemlock Hollow
Day 39: Hemlock Hollow to Jerry Cabin Shelter
Day 40: Jerry Cabin to Hogback Ridge Shelter

The Smoky's
So, as you might have guessed, we survived our super cold night in the Smoky's. The temperature in our little bungalow never dipped below 25 degrees, which is just insane when you consider that it was less than 10 degrees outside the shelter. We spent our zero day playing in the snow (give us a break, we're Floridians!) and yogi-ing food off of the section hikers that passed through. Yogi-ing is the term for acting like a "Yogi Bear" trying to get food from someones pic-a-nic basket! It's easy to do: first, find a day hiker or a section hiker. Next, continually mention how hungry you are and that you are low on food. Section hikers almost always pack too much food, so if they catch on that you are discretely asking for food, they will off-load some of the extra weight right into your belly. It also helps to be a semi-attractive girl asking a bunch of college-age guys. In the Smoky's this was really amazing because we actually were low on food and had to ration for 2 extra days.

Chase actually got his official trail-name on our zero day in the Smoky's, because Pacman was gracious enough to point out that Angeleyes was "so gay." So Chase was redubbed "The Ramen Shaman" for his ability to suggest that mostly anything left at the bottom of your foodbag would probably be really good in Ramen. And he is so right on that.

The rest of our time in the Smoky's was pretty great. Hiking in the deep snow was an experience for sure. Icicle came down with a head cold at Icewater Spring Shelter and her last few days were really miserable. She wrote a really great blog post about it, which you can check out here. We all carry cold medicine now! Our second to last day to Cosby Knob was really great weatherwise, as it was blowing 40mph across the ridgeline with heavy rain! Superfun to hike in! NOT.

We were all very excited to leave the Smoky Mountains. "At least it's not the Smoky's" became a favorite phrase.

Hostels
We've stayed in a lot of diverse places so far on our journey. There is a lot of lore behind many of the hostels along the AT, and a lot of rumors about each one. I'm going to take a moment to talk about the three hostels we stayed in on this stretch of trail.

Standing Bear Hostel divides the AT community pretty decisively into two camps: people who love it, and people who hate it. I'm pretty sure this chasm is created over the people who own Standing Bear and the resupply options, because the accomodations are normal for the AT (basic bunkhouse, OK cabin). The community kitchen area was really awesome, and the shower was great (hot water FOREVER). The people who run it, Curtis and Rocket, are pretty typical "Dueling Banjos" mountain folk. We interacted with Rocket mainly, and he seemed like a pretty genuine and decent human being (though blazed out of his mind), but our brief conversations with Curtis left us feeling pretty uneasy. Drug use is pretty open and rampant there, so if you're uncomfortable with that sort of thing, definitely stay away. My main problem with the place was the resupply. Everything that a hiker would actually want to buy was marked waaaaay up. All of the meat was out of date. The coolers smelled like pee. I get the impression that they buy groceries at a discount grocery store and then just mark everything up 50%. While you can get buy here, I would suggest sending a resupply box (though I also wouldn't be surprised if they did away with accepting mail drops, as Curtis mentioned that it takes away from his business). Overall, I would stay there again, though we wouldn't resupply and we wouldn't stay for more than a night.

The Hostel at Laughing Heart Lodge was one of our favorite places that we have stayed so far. The location is a little outside of the main drag and the room we stayed in was a little small for the price (the smallest double room in the place, I think), but the common area and the people were awesome. Chuck Norris was a really great guy to talk to and he even let us leave Sheila in the room when we went to lunch and to do resupply. He let us do work-for-stay for one of the nights that we stayed, so we swept and cleaned rooms as hikers left. We were able to save a bit of money by buying some frozen pizzas and frozen fried chicken from the Dollar General and cook in the common kitchen. We hung out with the other hikers staying the night in the living room and watched "Pitch Perfect" while eating pints of Ben & Jerry's. The showers were awesome and had seemingly endless hot water. The lawn was also really great for spreading gear out on. We would most definitely stay again!

Hemlock Hollow is just outside of Hot Springs, and I don't imagine they get too much business unless it's during peak hiker-season. We really enjoyed our time there! Mark and his mom are great people who love the trail! The bunkhouse, cabins, and bathrooms were all built using lumber logged from the property, which was really neat. The location was beautiful! A small creek runs straight thorugh the middle of the property and the cafe has this wonderful porch that overlooks the creek. They let us do work-for-stay for one of the nights, so we stacked firewood with Mark, which was awesome. The bunkroom is heated via wood-burning stove, and it was really easy to overheat the place. We woke up sweating the first night and kept the windows open for an hour to let the heat out. Sheila loved hanging out with Rowdy, Mark's Aussie-mix dog. They played for hours! The only reason we stayed here was because of Sheila: she ate some trash back at Spring Mountain Shelter (the place was a dump) and didn't want to eat or drink that morning or that afternoon. Some winter weather was blowing in that night, so we didn't want to be stuck on the trail if something was seriously wrong. She was feeling fine again by the next day, and we all watched the crazy sleet/snow/rain/wind from the comfort of the cafe. The showers weren't very good, but it has something to do with the way they get the water, so you only have 5 minutes to shower and the next person has to wait 20 minutes. Sailor showers are a must there. The bathroom is nicely heated though, so this wasn't a problem in the winter. The resupply there is pretty limited, but they weren't fully stocked up for hiker-season yet, so that may have been why. We would stay again, but the distance from Hot Springs makes it not ideal.

The Hiker Bubble
 We were unfortunate enough to get a taste for what hiking in the Bubble must be like when we stayed at Jerry Cabin Shelter. We hiked in around 5 o'clock and decided to stay as a section hiker named Codger had a fire going in the fireplace. We set our packs down and start collecting firewood to dry out our socks after hiking in snow and slush all day. About 30 minutes later, a couple come into the shelter and proceed to roll out their sleeping pads right next to the fire. They didn't even say hello to any of us before deciding to set up. Codger had his pack sitting on the floor of the sleeping area next to the fire and he had to awkwardly move it out of their way as they set up. Ramen Shaman and I thought it was weird and really rude, because we hadn't experienced anything like that before. Anyway, we all are introduced and everything seems fine until about 10 minutes later. I'm in the process of blowing up our sleeping pads because we decided we wanted to stay in the shelter with Sheila for the first time, and 8 people show up at the same time. All of them are thru-hikers. All of them started March 1st. I was very instantly overwhelmed with this group. I quickly decided that we should tent, so we moved out of the shelter, and they instantly took over. Everyone was great and nice and happy, but it just seemed so strange to me that such a large group had set out from Springer together and had been hiking together for nearly a month. We then put two and two together and decided that the couple that had come in a little early were claiming their space because they knew that there was a bubble of hikers coming. I remember hearing that there were something like 100 people at Hawk Mountain Shelter one night, and I cannot even imagine how crazy that must have been. My experience with the trail has very much been of an intimate community of hikers that are usually hiking alone and will probably camp or shelter with very few other hikers on any given day.  We all know each other and can recognize one another coming down the trail. March and April starters will have no idea what that is like until much later in the game after most people have quit. I prefer the small group dynamic of early-starters, and I'll be happy when the fast March bubble pass us by.

40th day on the Trail!
Our 40th day was spent hiking miserably in slush. Thankfully we didn't even realize it was our 40th Trailaversary!