Hike Your Own Hike

Welcome to Command Central.  It’s actually not so bad.  We were hanging up Paul’s pancho liner to dry out inside because it would have frozen outside.
I thought that I would take some time to explain the different ways of hiking the AT and how we are doing it.

Over 3 million people hike some portion of the AT every year.  The vast majority are day hikers or weekend warriors.  Some hikers tackle a section at a time.  These Section Hikers may hike 100 miles in Shenandoah one year.  The next year they will take a week in Vermont and so on.   Many Section Hikers complete the trail over a period of years.   We met one couple who were finishing their last leg–it had taken them 12 years.  But working around jobs with limited vacation time, that’s what worked for them.  I think that shows a lot of discipline and determination.  Congratulations to them.

Then there are the Thru Hikers.  They intend to hike all 2190 miles in one calendar year.  They have 365 days to cross Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia,  Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire & Maine. How fast they do it is entirely up to them.  

Most Thru Hikers start at the Southern terminus at Springer Mountain, Georgia.  There  is a short window of time to get to Mt Katahdin, Maine before the weather shuts the park down.  The majority of the north bound hikers depart Georgia in the month of March.  We’ve already met some thru hikers who started in February to beat the crowds.  They encountered some hellacious weather early on with freak snowstorms along the way.  We’ve even met one lady who started in January.  She is hiking with her gorgeous 9 month old German Shepherd, Blaze.  And yes, Blaze carries his own backpack, or more precisely, saddle bags.  Blaze & his mama bring a lot of joy to the campsite.

The really hearty souls start in Maine.  Maine doesn’t usually defrost until June so this year’s Southbounders haven’t even started yet.  Everyone says that Maine & New Hampshire are the hardest section of the trail.  There is something to be said about getting the roughest part over with first.  

So you  have North and South bound Thru-hikers.  The third category of Thru hiker is the Flip Flopper.  Flip flippers start anywhere on the trail other than Springer Mountain or Mt Katahdin.  They hike to one terminus, go back to where they started and hike to the other terminus.  We are Flip Floppers.  

There are many advantages to doing a Flip flop.  In fact, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy was strongly encouraging folks to try this approach, if possible.  The biggest reason is to avoid the congestion at Springer Mountain.  Once the movie “A Walk in the Woods” came out,  the ATC anticipated an explosion in popularity.    I talked to an Outfitter at Rockfish Gap.  He told me that he was getting reports of 30  – 50 people starting the trail in Georgia every single day in March.  An ATC volunteer told me that 3000 registered with them to start there.  Registering is strictly voluntary so I imagine that most people did not bother. Can you imagine planning to get some alone time in the woods and you get to the shelter and it’s full and there are 40 tents set up already.  No thanks.  Considering that a full 40 % of the people who start in Georgia quit the first week, we thought there was no reason to deal with that mess.  Those mountains in Georgia are no joke.  I got a tip from another outfitter:  The first 8 miles of the trail in Georgia are littered with brand new equipment.  People suddenly realize that they don’t want to carry the camp chair, solar charger or extra food etc.  A crafty camper could really clean up.

Where you start a Flip Flop is entirely up to you.  We met a guy at Harper’s Ferry who was heading south bound.  He started in Pennsylvania.  He was more concerned with avoiding the heat of Georgia and Carolina than facing snow in Maine.  Many flip Floppers start in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.  It’s the home of the ATC, but more significantly, it’s the psychological mid point of the trail.

We chose to start at Shenandoah National Park.  We thought it would be a great place to practice our tracking skills and my ability to find Paul at the end of the day.  It proved to be a good call.

You cannot do this hike without some level of support.  The barest minimum is having someone mail your pre packed boxes of food.  It would be impossible to carry everything you need for the entire trek.  Paul is doing what’s called a Supported Hike.  I’m around to resupply him.  I can pick him up at night and drop him off again in the morning.  This is  not cheating .  In fact sometimes it slows him down because we have to find a road where I can meet him and it may not be where he was ready to stop.  Plus he gets an earlier start if he camps out.  The only thing considered cheating is not walking all the miles and saying that you did.

We drove our RV out to Virginia.  We shipped our little SUV ( which was surprisingly cheaper than me driving it out) So we park the RV at a campsite for 4 or 5 days.  I take the SUV  and drop Paul off at the trailhead.  He does his daily hike (which is averaging 15 miles right now) and, if he wishes, I pick him up at a prearranged spot.  He gets a shower, meals cooked for him, a warm bed and to enjoy the company of my sparkling personality:).  After he walks about 50 or 60 miles, we move the RV up to the next campsite.  

He has the opportunity to “slack pack” which is to leave gear you won’t need (tent, sleeping bag…) But he hasn’t done that yet.  Just in case I can’t reach him, I want him to have everything he needs.

He is staying out more, and frankly I am a bit envious.  The weather is nicer.  We are meeting more Thru Hikers and they are always interesting.  Most are flip Floppers but some are actually the speedy ones who started in Georgia in February.  

Since everyone hikes at their own pace and takes days off at different rates, we might see them again on the trail or we may never cross paths again.  Especially the runners. We have heard of them but not seen the people who don’t hike, but run the AT.  Some have set the goal to finish the AT and the Pacific Crest Trail in one calendar year.  And you know what, that’s ok too.  I prefer our pace, though.

When we’ve told other hikers how we are doing it the overwhelming response is positive.  In fact most say they wish they could do it too.

But what we’ve heard repeatedly is everyone gets to “Hike your own hike”.  It’s like a mantra out here.  No judgement.  Frankly that is just excellent advice for life.  More wisdom we have picked up from the trail.

AT Culture:  Trail names & trail magic

Long distance hikers spend a lot of time alone.  For many, that is the primary reason for spending months in the woods.  But when you run across another hiker who has experienced that same hill that just kicked your butt, you develop a camaraderie.  The AT can be a very social experience.  
Part of the culture of the AT (and other long trails) is the hikers go by trail names.  Some people name themselves.  I think most people acquire their name along the way.  Some names are straight forward and others have a unique story.  

The guy in yellow is “Uke”.  He did the trail 2 years ago.  He always carries a ukulele with him on his hikes.  His original one is hanging in a bar in Stafford, VA where it is patched up with duct tape and unplayable.  He had one in his pack there.

Paul’s trail name is Mr. Nature.  It was a moniker given to him many years ago by my cousins.  Paul had just retired from the Army when we drove to Wyoming for my brother’s wedding.  We had Paul’s son Joshua with us who was 12 at the time.  In the days before the wedding we would take Josh and my cousins’ kids hiking.  They were like his little troops.  They hiked and played hours long games of hide and seek in the woods.  Since Paul wasn’t Uncle Paul yet, they dubbed him Mr. Nature.  He was kind of a Pied Piper with the kids.  The kids are approaching 30 years old now and they still call him Mr. Nature.  People on the trail smile when he introduces himself.

Trail Magic is that surprise along the trail that keeps you going.  In some cases it is the very  thing that saves your hike.  We met the guys above when I met Paul at the end of the day. They were in a bit of a quandary.  Their hike was taking much longer than they expected.  They had planned to make it to a campsite another 3 miles away, but they didn’t have enough water for everyone.   They appeared as I was picking Paul up.  We have a cooler in the back with water and sodas.  Plus I had a big box of snacks.  So we were able to replenish their stocks.  We also had a big bag of Easter candy in the back, courtesy of our friend Colleen.  We spent Easter with Colleen, Erik & Charlie Smith in Bentonville, Arkansas on our way out.  Colleen loaded us with approximately 2 lbs of Easter candy.  Each.  Luckily for the hikers we had some leftover.  Paul was happily sharing the candy and they dubbed him the Easter Bunny.  But since he already had a trail name and I’m the one who appeared unexpectedly with the treats, Easter Bunny is now my trail name.  

Since then Paul has performed many acts of Trail Magic.  From pumping extra water for unprepared hikers to patching up the paw of a not so friendly dog.  Most of the time these are the weekend warriors who weren’t prepared.  Most of the AT hikers know their stuff.  

We’ll have more tales from the trail soon.

Mr. Nature and Easter Bunny.

Best coke ever

As you know by now, Paul survived the first day. When I asked him if it was what he expected he said yes and no.  He expected it to be tough climbing. But because there had been a big wind storm, several trees had blown over.  He had to crawl on his hands and knees, with his pack on, to get under several trees.  Not fun.

Normally when you train for a marathon, event day comes, you do it, and then that’s it.  Now would be the time that the let down sets in.  You’ve trained & trained and now it’s over.  This is different.  There is no let down.  In fact, the issue is there is no let up.  We’ll just have to keep him motivated.

Leap of Faith

This is Paul on Day 1.  He’s excited and motivated.  He’s trained for months and he was ready to roll.

It was 27 degrees.  The National Park Service had a sign up that said “breezy”.  Blustery is a more accurate word. 

I dropped him at Rockfish Gap at the southern entrance to Shenandoah National Park.  He immediately had a monster climb. I hung out long enough until I could not see him anymore.  I said a little prayer and left.

I went to St John the Evangelist in Waynesboro, VA for church.  They have an energetic priest named Father Rolondo aka Rolo.  His sermon was about Doubting Thomas.  He said that Thomas is no different than most of us.  That we all need to take a leap of faith and trust God’s plan.  Too frequently we let Life get in the way of Living.  Go out and live the life you’ve been given.

Guess that was the sign I needed not to worry about Paul.  If anyone knows how to live life to the fullest, it’s my guy.

About the blog

We’re back!  Sorry to get you hyped up about the hike and then suddenly we go dark.  We’ve had a monumental amount happen in the last ten days.  About the time we hit a no cell area.  

Paul is off and hiking and doing great.  We will fill you in on the details soon.  

What we’ve learned is that this blog cannot be real time.  A surprising amount happens each day.  We are still getting our systems worked out.  We are pretty much in synch, if you don’t count yesterday when I miscalculated by 2 miles and left Paul standing on side of the road.  Fortunately our backup systems are working.  

We have a ton to tell you so don’t be surprised if you get multiple posts one day and then nothing for 3 days.  That’s how we are going to roll.

I also want this to be more than just an accounting of the hike:  “Day 89–still walking”.  You will probably have to put up with my musings and field trips to anything of historical interest with follow up commentary.  Paul has already met some interesting characters.  Today was the first day that I met a thru hiker younger than Paul.  You go, retired guys!

So I will end with a picture of us on the AT in front of the classic trail marker:  the white blaze. Looks more like “Kilroy was here” since we stink at selfies and my hands were frozen at the time.   It’s just to prove that the wife actually made it on the trail.   


April Fools

  I am so excited!!  We are finally in Shenandoah Valley.  The last few days we were driving through windy, overcast weather. It’s clear that nobody told the Mid-South that Winter was over.  Frankly it was a little depressing, especially after leaving sunny San Diego.  

This morning we woke up to perfect weather.  We could not have ordered a more beautiful day for hiking.  As much as Paul is ready to get going, we opted to wait a couple of days to officially start.  Personally I am happy not to start on April Fool’s Day.  This gives me some time to do some recon of the area.  It’s one thing to see it on a map, it’s entirely different to visit a site and make adjustments accordingly.  

We plan for Paul to start on Sunday.  I think we will have a copy of the same weather as today.  To put things in perspective, Paul is going to start hiking on the first day of baseball season.  We anticipate him finishing around the time of the World Series.  That’s a lot of walking!

You can look forward to more posts as soon as we get our home base/command center operational.