More Milestones

Paul made some more milestones.  Yesterday he went over the 500 mile point.  He’ll start tomorrow with 509 miles under his belt.  It was his 50th day on the trail.  And he finished New Jersey!  

New Jersey was a bit of a surprise.  I never knew how wild it could be.  Paul was told repeatedly that New Jersey had the most black bears per square mile of anywhere on the AT.  There were signs on all of the shelters warning of high bear and rattlesnake activity.  That gave me nightmares.  Aside from the bears we saw in Shenandoah, we’ve only seen one other bear.  That guy was in Pennsylvania and he was huge.  Luckily we were in the car driving back to our campsite.  I’m sure Paul was not too anxious to get back on the trail after that.  But he did it.

New Jersey is known for its boardwalks.  Not just the one in Atlantic City either.  That first picture is of a fancy entrance to a boardwalk.  The AT criss crosses several swamps and boggy areas.  Some of the boardwalks are fairly primitive.  He made good time on those.  There were still a bunch of rock scrambles that slowed him down, but nothing like Pennsylvania.

The obelisk is in High Point State Park.  It had amazing views.  The best views in New Jersey were in Waywayanda State Park at the top of the Stairway to Heaven.

I left Paul on his own for a few days when I went to Texas to attend my nephew’s graduation ceremony.  He was in good hands. He met Bob who is a retired teacher.  Bob now runs a shuttle for AT hikers.  He also maintains a 14 mile portion of the trail by High Point State Park.  His section is meticulously maintained and well marked.  For any hikers from Delaware Gap to the Hudson River, Bob’s your guy.

Looking forward to taking on New York.

Kindred Spirits

Look who we found in our campground.  They are the only other couple that I’ve met that are doing a supported hike like we are.  The only difference is they are headed south.  

Bet you can guess their trail names. Scamp & Lady (Paula) are from Lufkin, Texas.  They decided to start in Connecticut and head south.  We are crossing paths at the Pennsylvania/New Jersey border.  Like us, they have maps taped to the walls of the trailer. Unlike us, they planned everything out in advance.  Which is great for us since Paula shared her tips on great RV locations up north.  The one in Maine sounds awesome.  The owner is a Lobsterman and he will deliver fresh caught lobster to your RV.  Love that.

How adorable is that trailer!  Believe it or not it sleeps two, has a stovetop, mini fridge and a bathroom with a shower.  Paula designed all the graphics on the trailer (they are inside too).  It is so cozy.

See that look on Scamp’s face.  It is the look of pure bliss.  You know why?  He decided that he was done with the trail.  Done. Finito. Stick a fork in it, done.  He hiked a hundred miles and knew that it was not what he wanted to do.  It is so much harder than you can imagine.  He put enough time into it to know.  Why punish yourself any more.  

I caught them as they were packing up his hiking gear to send home.  They are going to stay out on the road and continue to explore and maybe take day hikes.  That stills sounds fun to me.  And they did better than 90% of the people because they actually made it to the trail.  

Take another look at that face.  That is the look of someone at peace with their decision.  Knowing when to quit:  That takes wisdom.

It’s a Good Day for Some Magic

Lots to celebrate today.  First, we are finally done with Rocksylvania.    Paul crossed the Delaware River into New Jersey.  We were greeted with gorgeous blue skies and not a drop of rain today.  Woohoo!
I was a big wienie today.  I was going to walk across the bridge with Paul and get a picture as he crossed from PA to NJ.  I opted out because the bridge freaked me out because there was so little room between the trucks on I80 on the one side and the perilous plunge into the river on the other.  Paul has done so much scary stuff on this trip and I chickened out over walking across a bridge. Sigh.

I did hop in the car and met him on the other side.  We got to hike together for a little while.

During my exploring today I ran into Sunflower & Gimmee Shelter. They are a couple who used to live in Manhattan but now live in Pagosa Springs, CO.  They were a wealth of information about the area and gave us some great advice on places to stay.  They knew I belonged to Mr Nature when they saw the California license plates.  Some folks have started calling me Mother Nature because my partner is Mr. Nature.  I think that is pretty funny.

Back at our campsite I met a couple who is doing what we are doing, but in the opposite direction.  They merit a post all their own, which I’ll do tomorrow. They also shared a ton of information with me that will help our travels farther north.

Paul had a good time on the hike.  More accurately, he had a less sucky day on the trail.  He bumped into some veterans and they hiked together for about 4 miles.  The lead guy did the entire AT over 4 years.  His big advice was to stay in the huts in New Hampshire.

When I picked up Paul this evening he was waiting with a hiker named Booty (I have no idea).  Booty started in Georgia and is really moving.  I have never seen anyone enjoy our box of treats so much.  He had one of everything. Seriously if you could see the looks on the hikers’ faces when you give them an apple or a Pepsi, you would understand why I like doing the Trail Magic so much.

On our way back to the RV we were flagged down by some lost hikers.  They were day hikers from Philly.  They got completely turned around.  When we figured out where they needed to be we realized that they were 6 miles away from their car.  So we gave them a ride.  Hitchhiking is very common on the trail but these two didn’t plan on needing a ride.  They were sooo grateful.  Wish I had gotten their names because they were such a cute couple.

Overall a good day.  I promise to post more often and to catch up on some past posts that are rattling around in my head.  Thanks for following along.

A Man for all Seasons

Let’s talk about the weather.  As you can see by Paul’s fashionable ensemble, he got all 4 seasons in one day.  Seems appropriate for our last day in Pennsylvania.
When I dropped him off this morning it was sunny, but a little windy.  He opted to wear shorts.  It never really warmed up.  In fact it got colder and started to rain (no big surprise since it has rained on us virtually every day we were in PA). The big surprise was when he sat down for lunch it started to snow.  It’s May 15th people!  

We come from the land of Endless Summer.  This Spring for us has been an endless bummer.  Well I guess the truth is that Spring is just doing what it does–act like a moody teenager.  It’s been so long since I’ve experienced the rain, winds, & crazy temperature changes that I forgot how trying it can be.  And I’m not the one walking in it.

That being said, this year is different.  You can definitely tell we are in an El Niño year.  The locals are saying that it has been colder longer than usual with far more rain than usual.  I read a hiker’s blog from a couple of years ago and he was complaining about how miserably hot it was this time of year here.  I guess you get what you get.  

Hopefully this weather will keep the bears and bugs of New Jersey at bay.

A Hello From Paul

A big hello to everyone from Paul!  I wanted everyone to be able to hear from me once and awhile, so that was today’s version is.

I first want to give my regards and pay homage to the many ‘thru-hikers’ I have met and spent time with over the last few weeks.  Many of you read our blog and keep up with us, so I am sure you will read this over the next couple of days.  You girls and guys are my heroes!  You started in Georgia when it was snowing and cold, have endured many terrible weather days and nights, but have persevered to over 11 or 12 or even 1300 miles.  I hope to aspire to that.  Keep doing what you are doing and we will run into each other again.

Today is an off day for me or as they refer to it here, a ‘zero’ day.  We always move the RV forward on a ‘zero’ day and today we move to East Stroudsburg, PA, very close to the NJ Border.  Sunday will begin our 6th week on the AT and we continue to learn things everyday and also meet some great, great people.

From the time we started in Virginia, the trail has surprised me with 2 things:  the boulder and rocks and the slowness that causes, and the rain.  I cannot adequately explain the boulder portions of the trail.  Even showing you pictures would not show you the depth or the length of some of the trail these take up.  They slow you down and make you pick and claw your way through, like a maze.  The last two days I have had to ‘boulder scramble’.  Some of you know what I am talking about.  I had to throw my pack and poles up to another ledge and then climb up, finding places to put my feet. This went on for quite a while.  I hadn’t had to do that since my Army days.  The rain is another thing altogether.  I wish we would get even 1/4 of the rain they are getting here.  We would not have a drought in California.  Yesterday was the first day in over 3 weeks I didn’t have to wear my rain gear.  The boulders and the rain are the biggest adjustments I have had to make.

Susan has been absolutely amazing through all of this.  She has become a ‘trail angel’.  Those are people that surprise you with food and treats along the way.  She has gone to a few of the shelters I have stayed at along the way and brought in goodies.  A Wendy’s burger and fries, Hershey kisses, Hostess cupcakes and on and on and on.  To see a hikers face when they get something like that is priceless.  They are like a child on Christmas.  One of the biggest compliments you can get from a thru-hiker is for them to give you their real name and email.  We all have trail names, but when you get someone’s real one, you have gone above and beyond.  Susan has gotten many real names and she is becoming a legend out here already.  I have always been proud to be her husband, but when I see her make someone’s day in this way, it makes me even more proud.  Drive on Susan, drive on!

Well, I am going to go for now.  We miss you all very much, our families and friends.  We talk about you often and pray for you everyday.  A common theme amongst everyone I meet is how much they miss the ones they love.  We do as well.  I would love to hear from you all.  You can leave a comment here and believe me, that would be the same as a  trail angel in my book.  You can also call and I know Susan loves to hear from all of you too.  Our journey is not very long yet, but it is still fun and challenging and that what life is supposed to be.  WE DRIVE ON!





This terrain is insane!

We are closing in on a month on the trail.  Today Paul will have covered 300 miles of the AT from Virginia to Pennsylvania.  I am so proud of him.

When he was planning this trip he was calculating 18+ miles a day.  He trained with a backpack and climbed the highest hills in San Diego.  But there is absolutely no way to recreate this trail.

First of all, when I look at a map and see “National Scenic Trail” I get the impression that there will always be a broad path that you could see.  Hahaha.  What was I thinking?  Seriously I don’t know how Paul doesn’t get lost more often.  

Second, Paul was prepared for hills.  But hiking steep hills with loose rocks really slows down your hiking time.  It has been raining the last week, so add slickness to the mix and I’m sure Paul feels like he is crawling.

He has also encountered obstacles.  I’ve lost count of the trees that have fallen across the path.  He’s had to crawl under them to get by.

I know Paul feels like he should be going faster, but he is doing phenomenally.  I saw a sign in Shenandoah National Park calculating the difficulty of the trails.  Every trail he was on rated a   “strenuous” or “moderately strenuous”.  The park service estimated that a hiker should expect to go at a rate of 1.2 miles per hour.  This is without a backpack.  In those terms, I think he is blazing.

He’s encountered more difficult terrain since Shenandoah.  I’ll have to upload his pictures for you.  

He is still enjoying himself, but this is no walk in the park.

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.