Hiking in the rain clears the head (551.6m)

Waking up in a bed after two nights in my hammock didn’t feel right; it was like cheating. But, to put it frankly, it beat trying to pitch camp in the pouring rain yesterday. The pizza was bloody amazing, too.

Anyway, up, shower, blah blah – nothing new to tell you.

TD, Specs, and I went across the street to the Barn Restaurant and treated ourselves to a breakfast of eggs, bacon, hash browns, home fries, and a biscuit. Coffee and ice cold water was also enjoyed by all.

It was late when we headed out onto the trail, nearly 10:30am – the latest I’d ever started. It was already raining when we climbed through a very gentle incline through meadows and knee high grass. Passing through a cow pasture we stopped to make “mooing” noises as several of the bulls enjoyed a nice morning shag. Lovely.

Onward and upward we climbed through dense undergrowth, and then the heavens really opened. At one point I said aloud, “are you taking the piss?!” as the downpour turned the trail into a creek. The day went on, and so did the drenching. At one point I thought it was slowing down so I started to sing: “I’m singing in the rain, just singing in the rain! What a glorious feeling, I’m on the trail again!” – then it pissed down so hard, like the man upstairs decided that my singing voice was worth drowning out, literally.

Whatever; I kept singing, and Tie Dye joined me.

We stopped at a couple of places to eat a quick bite – we couldn’t stand still for long because it was just too wet and raining hard, and stopping walking would lead to cold muscles.

The rain did subside at about 2:30pm so we broke for lunch, and I precariously tried to pull apart my stuck-together tortillas – I laid out some cheese singles on one of them, three slices of ham on top of that, and slathered on the Cholula Hot Sauce — utterly delicious — I was about 10 seconds from heaven. My fingers were still wet and puckered, and as I went to put down the bottle, the f*cking thing slipped out of my hand and shattered on the rock I was sitting on. Hot sauce explosion, everywhere. On the rock, all over the forest floor, and all over me and my rain kilt. I looked like a proper tw*t.

The others felt it necessary to point and laugh, then take pictures.

Shit, just goddam shit.

I cleaned myself up and slung my pack over my shoulders and off I went – with my long face.

Tie Dye had called Bubba’s shuttles from the guide book — after her fair share of laughing and pointing — and we had our ride into Bland, VA.

It was about 3:20pm when we got to VA610, and Bubba rolled up at around 4:00pm. We all hopped in the back of his truck and laughed and took pictures the whole way.

I have a cheeseburger with my name on it. My stache is also coming along nicely again. And I realized tonight looking in the motel room mirror that I’ve put back on some of the lbs I’d lost before I left at Hemlock Hollow. I’ll work on that over the next few days/weeks I’m sure.

My ankle feels strong. These shoes are awesome. I ordered some new ones, a half size bigger, and they should arrive at the motel day after tomorrow.

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First day back, hello Virginia (542.2m)

I woke in my hammock at around 6:00am and realized I needed to be at Crazy Larry’s in half an hour.

Shit!

Breaking down my shelter in record time and pack fully packed (15 minutes flat), I said my farewells to Stink Bug and also to Honey Bun as she poked her head out of her hammock.

Walking through Damascus’ high street felt eerie, a silence had fallen on the town between last night’s festivities and today’s mass hiker exodus (Trail Days was now over).

I’d almost reached Larry’s when Tie Die pulled up next to me in Co Pilot’s car which was a nice surprise. We got to Larry’s and hoisted our packs into the back of SG’s (Snake Girl: a name she picked up during her 2012 AT thru-hike after stepping on a rattler), and off we went.

Co Pilot — who looks uncannily like Bill Murray and Tom Hanks — dropped Tie Die, myself, and a new hiker friend, Red Specs (a German photographer over to hike the trail) at Partnership Shelter. Saying our goodbyes we headed north and up – something I hadn’t both written, or hiked, in three weeks.

I’d felt extremely anxious about getting back on the AT, and I just didn’t feel ready; to be frank, I wasn’t quite sure I belonged anymore.

We came across a box of goodies right off the bat which contained Oreos, apple sauce pouches, candy, and other awesome stuff – I love trail magic, and it helped my much cultivated doubts about returning to the AT.

The first 3-4 hours were very, very hard emotionally. All I could think about was being back home in New York; home, the place I’d just enjoyed three weeks of being with loved ones and friends. The trail hadn’t felt like home for so long, and I wasn’t feeling it here. Not one bit.

I spent most of the morning catching up with Tie Dye and also acquainting with my new friend Red Specs. We’d started very early — 7:20am — and I realized about six miles in that I was becoming winded up the smallest of climbs. My knees started to hurt, too. Good grief, the time away had softened my body. This was the first time I’d used my new pack, too, so everything felt strange to me. Home didn’t feel strange: I didn’t want to be here at all.

This went on for another mile or so until we reached the top of Glade Mountain and I was smacked in the face with a view that almost floored me. I can’t explain it but my body and soul felt as if they were finally drawn back into what made me fall in love with the AT during my early days in March: the sheer beauty. I let out a scream of happiness and we took pictures and threw our voices through the hills and valleys below.

I was back.

For another few hours we hiked down until we hit Lindamood School and Settlers Museum. Many pictures later, we continued through a meadow and downward again. We reached I-81 at around 2:30pm and I decided to stay at the motel close to the trail – my hamstring had started to hurt and I got a blister – my first, I was pissed. These new Sportivas are a half size too small, I need new ones and stat.

Tie Dye and Red Specs decided to join me and we enjoyed a hot shower and laundry. We ordered two large pizzas and enjoyed a few Heinekens, also.

We talked, planned a little, and we were out before the sun went down. I was planning on staying at the motel and have some new gear shipped to me and allow the pain to dissipate, but I felt great the next day and decided to head out.

Miles hiked today: 12

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Saturday, rainy Saturday

It’s my last day in Damascus and I’ve bumped into a lot of my old trail friends: Bitter Goat, Rainbow Brite, Mr. Cleveland, Willow, Stupid, and some others I recognized (yet not hiked any miles with) – Mountain Man, Nomad, Stupid, and more.

I’ll be honest, I’m having mixed emotions being down here. Maybe it’s because there are so many people here (literally thousands of hikers), or it’s trail nerves given I haven’t hiked for three weeks. I’m not sure what it is, but I don’t feel super pumped for some reason; that bothers me. I don’t have the spark in my belly like I used to. Could also be due to the fact that I just spent three weeks off the trail.

I’m trying to keep focused and spend time consciously thinking of being back on the AT tomorrow morning with Tie Dye. I’m looking forward to hiking with her again, but I’m second guessing my decision to not return to Hemlock Hollow.

I took another walk through the vendors again first thing and said threw a “mornin’!” to AWOL as I passed his tent. I met him yesterday, quiet fella, very humble. He’s a bloody AT legend and he talks in a soft voice with such a “good guy” mannerism. I liked him a lot, and it was a thrill to meet him in person and get a handshake. Instead if asking for a photo opp — like I usually do — I asked if he wouldn’t mind signing my cap: he did, gladly, and said it was the first time he’d signed anyone’s hat before, and let out a grin as he autographed my ball cap.

I’m sitting in my hammock next to the river by Damascus Old Inn with my tarp in porch mode, looking out to the waterfall to my right and flowing to my left. It’s gorgeous.

Stink Bug and Honey Bun mailed back their tent today as they’d both bought new Snipe hammocks from Wilderness Logics – they have a vendor tent here, too, along with ZPacks, Hennessy Hammocks, Osprey, Black Diamond, and many more

I managed to find a spot yesterday that had three trees in pretty much of a perfect triangle shape. We set up out hammocks and tarps here last night and all slept soundly.

I’m nervous about tomorrow and what the days ahead will bring.

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Damascus and Trail Days

Quick update: hanging (literally) with Stink Bug and Honey Bun in Damascus. Convinced them to ditch their tent and buy hammocks. We’ll be hanging in our hammocks by the river tonight. Done with my tent so I can mail that back home. Thank god.

Ice coffee for now, and I’ll hit the post office later today.

Road trip, friends, and Virginia

After many conversations with family and friends, I have decided to rejoin the AT with my hiking buddies Captain Dan, Tank, and Camel in Virginia, and a touch north of Damascus.

My original plan was to return to where I left the trail at Hemlock Hollow, and just pick up my hike from there and head north.  The purist part of my brain was 100% sold on this, and it just made sense to start where I left off.  The only negative about being I’d be ~170 miles behind my friends whom, until my departure, had played such a large part in my own journey; I considered them family.

Plan B was to rejoin the AT at Cap’s current location, which is a little north of Damascus, about 466 miles from Springer.  To be honest, I think I’d rather just hike the trail as a normal backpacker than partake in the truck slack packing, but at this point, I’d prefer to just be with my friends again.  Familiar faces and the tightness of our bonds, it’s a no brainer.

Virginia it is.

You may be asking yourself what I’m going to do about the ~170 mile gap that I’m leaving out.  Those I’ve spoken with of my decision, some wondered if I’d just leave them be and not bother walking those miles.  Not at all.  My goal is to complete the rest of the hike to Katahdin then return to Hemlock Hollow and complete those miles and my Appalachian Trail thru hike.

I am choosing to drive the 633 miles and a 10 hour road trip to Tri-Cities Regional Airport on Thursday morning; this local airport is the closest rental car drop-off point to Damascus, and it also means that I can spend a day (or two, depending on when I leave to join the boys) with Tie Dye and Obie.  I haven’t seen Obie since she left Neels Gap with Turtle on March 21st and it will be great to see her again and catch up in person.  It will be the first time all three of us will have been together in around six weeks – crazy.

After my Damascus merriment I’ll take a shuttle to join Danny and the lads on the trail and start hiking the Virginia trail – the longest part of the entire AT, 550 miles of it.

A “Get Well” note from the Milne-meister

What a nice surprise: an autographed “get well soon” note from former Liverpool player, Wigan Athletic manager, and all round soccer legend, Gordon Milne.

He’s a very close friend of Bucketlist, with whom I hiked through the Smokies; Bucketlist totally hooked me up!

Thanks, brother!

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Jolly back on the Appalachian Trail

My podiatrist called me this morning with the news I’ve been waiting to hear: I can return to the AT and continue with my thru hike.  His ‘all clear’, though, came with some conditions:

  1. I consider switching out my La Sportiva trail runners to a high-top hiking boot
  2. Lighten the load of my pack
  3. Hike at a slower pace and for fewer miles

Now while I’m stoked at the call and the chance to return to the trail, I’m not keen on swapping out my Sportivas – I’d rolled my ankle in my old Solomons which had less of an ankle/heel support system.  After switching to the Sportivas I went three days with no issues – I also wore an ankle brace I picked up from Walgreens.

Over the past two weeks I’ve also managed to get my pack’s base weight down to 11lbs, so even with a fully laden five days worth of food, I’ll be at 20lbs – about 10lbs less than I was carrying.  I’ll also be carrying the load in a much comfier and sturdy pack; I switched out my Six Moon Designs Swift pack for the ULA Circuit – it’s just better all around.

I can also go easier on the miles, too.  I’m convinced that my ankle rolling was a result of fatigue in my legs and feet.  By taking my time and literally hiking my own hike, I’ll be able to monitor my pace and take necessary steps for rest stops and ultimately, round out my miles for each day with more emphasis on recovery.

Just got off the phone with Bucketlist (Mike, Cap’s friend that joined us for the Smokies section) and he mentioned that Cap and his cohorts (Tank and Camel) and slack packing using his truck!  Hilarious.  Apparently it goes something like this: one or two of them will get dropped off at point A while the remaining hiker/s drive north to point B, and leave the truck there.  He/they walk south and handover the keys to the one/s hiking northbound.  When they reach the truck at point B, it’s driven back south to point A to pick up the flip flopper/s and then they either drive into the closest town for a hostel stay; showers, resupply (for real food), and more, or they’ll pitch a tent by the truck and grill burgers – yep, burgers on the AT.  Hope I can catch up to them, that sounds like a lot of fun… although it also sounds it could get expensive with paying for gas and hostels/human food each night.

Anyway, I’m off to C-Town to pick up some pasta/rice sides and spam singles.  I also have to figure out how I’m going to get back down to Greeneville, TN in the next few days.

Foot doctor anxiety

Today is my two week check up with my podiatrist and I’m anxious. The last time I met with him he told me that he wouldn’t recommend a return to the AT for at least two months which was crushing to hear.

My ankle is much better, although there still seems to be a little residual swelling around the joint; I can’t seem to get rid of it, no matter how much icing and elevating I apply.

To be honest, despite what he tells me today, I’m likely to return regardless. I feel like a lazy couch potato and the lbs are coming back, I can feel ’em. I don’t like it, and I’d rather be walking in the woods and set out to accomplish what I started on March 20th.

I feel like a race horse right before the starting pistol goes off.

Seven twenty two

A week ago I was forced off the trail due to a severely sprained left ankle and swollen lower shin muscles/tendons in my right leg (likely the EDL, or tibialis interior).  Taking time off the trail for a rest day isn’t going to mess up your stride too much, but after a week off my feet I’m starting to feel lethargic.

I do love being home and enjoying life’s comforts and my beau, and taking time to heal has been my #1 priority.  The dreams have subsided, which I’m not sure is a good or a bad thing yet: I was dreaming of being on a trail (not necessarily the AT), and they were pretty lucid, but I did enjoy them nonetheless.

The swelling has almost gone and I can walk without pain, but my feet and knees are still stiff in the mornings or if I stand after long periods of sitting down.  I’m no longer limping which is a relief, and I’m no longer popping pain pills – which is even better.

I wish I could take my better half on the trail with me, it would certainly make the decision to return to the AT much easier on both of us.  I don’t want to leave (per se) again, it was hard enough the first time, yet I have a yearning to finish what I started.

On another note, I started my trip weighing in at around 235lbs (total lard arse), and I’ve been watching what I eat since coming home – today I weigh 212.8lbs – for a total weight loss of ~ 22lbs.  I feel great, and I have a level of energy that I haven’t had in many, many years.

Being home has given me the chance to be back with the most important person in my life, and to share my stories and experiences with her has been a treat.  My wife’s support throughout the month hiking the trail was the most helpful, and I’ve realized that she’s been my very own personal trail angel this entire time.  I wouldn’t have gotten out of Davenport Gap if it weren’t for her.

Anyway, back to elevating my foot and my daily dose of HGTV.

Day 5 of recovery

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It’s a gorgeous sunny day here in NY and my ankle is feeling much better. Swelling is reducing each day and my right tendon isn’t tweaking (yet; I’m a realist).

Sat here teaching the missus how to play Texas Hold’em, sipping a Coke Zero, and enjoying the fact that my old clothes fit – amazing how much weight I’ve lost and kept off after “real world” hydration.