Crushing The Burroughs: Catskill Mountains

It had been some time since we’d taken on a substantial backpacking trip, but Matt had managed to piece together four options for a Summer Solstice weekender in the Catskills. Ranging in difficulty from short to long, we had PDF maps numbered 1 through 4 respectively.

On the invite list were the usual suspects: Matt, Anton, Olga, Jeff, Erin, and yours truly. I started a new job last year after returning from my AT trip, and invited one of the guys on the IT team I’d gotten to know pretty well: Nick. Matt also invited a long-time friend, Mike, to join us.

As our trip deadline drew near, we’d thrown in several opinions for the trip via a Facebook event page that Matt had kindly set up, but the trail outlined on map #4 really stood out for most of us. It was by far the longest: starting at Woodland Valley Campground trail head we would continue up and over Wittenberg, Cornell, Slide, Table, and finally Peekamoose. This route would pass through The Burroughs and along the Slide-Peekamoose Trail.

Deciding to spend the night close to the trail head, the majority of our group made reservations to stay at Woodland Valley Campground on Friday night. On a whim and best guess, I picked out two sites: 30 and 32 as they looked relatively close to the creek. I booked 30 and Matt the other.

I’d taken Friday off from work and so had Nick, which meant we could get on the road pretty early. I arranged to pick him up on the way as he lives right off the I-87. Nick had told me that he was borrowing some gear from his dad and that it was “old and had seen some use”. When I pulled up to his house his dad’s external frame pack with tubular steel hip belts was leaning up against a car in his driveway. It was huge, and the tent and other accoutrements were placed on top, strapped on by one of those old bungees your folks used in the 70’s to fasten luggage. All in all, this thing came up to higher than my hips when standing on the ground. It was massive. Thank god I’d decided to bring some of my own gear: ULA Circuit, 20°F TQ and some other ultralight gear.

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We set off at around 12:30pm and our scheduled eta was around 2:30pm. Hitting traffic about an hour in slowed our journey but we got to camp around 3:00pm. After checking in and driving to site 30 I realized that I’d made a very lucky choice: we were right on the creek! Amazing.

We unpacked and went through my gear for Nick to use – I think in total I helped shave about 20lbs off his base weight alone. I hung my hammock and Matt rolled in about an hour later. This was Matt’s first outing with his new hammock gear, so I was stoked for him. Matt’s always been a tent guy, and I think his tent/sleeping pad choices tallied in at a considerably larger weight.

We got some wood from the ranger station and set about building a fire and making dinner. Mike arrived shortly after Matt, and we got some hotdogs on the go right away. Anton and Olga had decided to arrive on Saturday morning as they both had to work on Friday, but Jeff and Erin were driving up that night.

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Wine and hotdogs, what a combo. As night drew in I wanted to hit the sack hard. Plus I was just jonesing to have some hang time. I bade the boys a good night and slipped into my hammock, zippered the side and I was out like a light. Slowly rocking, hanging between two trees only feet away from the creek – sleep came fast.

Waking up at 3:00am needing a leak, I realized that my “nap” had turned into a full-on sleep fest – I spotted Jeff’s car parked and their tent pitched over on site 32. Cool, they’d made it. After doing my business I felt my body shake uncontrollably – it was freezing and there I was standing in only shorts and a t-shirt. I hurried back to my hammock and pulled my ZPacks quilt up and over me. I was laying there listening to the flow of the creek whilst peeking out at the stark white moonlight through the trees above me. I love this time of night, it’s so peaceful. It’s like the moon is shining just for me to see.

As usual I’m the first one up. I unzip my hammock and just lie there watching and listening to the water gurgle by without a care in the world.

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First things first: where’s the coffee? I unlocked the car and start to unpack some of the breakfast stuffs and Nick pokes his head out of the tent – he decided to use my SMD Lunar Duo instead of the 6lb monster his dad had loaned him. He slept well which was good to hear.

Matt slipped out of his hammock shortly after and got his coffee grinder and espresso maker right to work. Anton and Olga arrived around 9:30am and it was good to see them again – haven’t had the chance to hang out since they got married a few weeks prior.

We needed to drop off a couple of cars at the end of the trail — southern trail head of Peekamoose — and Mike’s car off by Slide Mountain. He was just going to join us for a day hike while we kept going all the way for an overnight on Saturday.

Once back at Woodland Valley I insisted on the obligatory group shot – I like taking these as we always look so clean and refreshed, unlike the shots I take a day or two into these trips at the end, disheveled and filthy.

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We set out quite late — 11:00am to be exact. We had a lot of ground to cover and some serious elevation change to handle – 11:00am was way too late for a hike this long.

Crossing the creek we started the ascent up Wittenberg. I’ve got quite a lot of experience climbing mountains on the east coast, but this first climb was up steep dirt/rocky trail and boulder/outcropping scrambling for close to ~3.5 miles. Straight up, and it kicked my arse.

For what seemed like an eternity, we summited Wittenberg and we all spread out along a smooth rocky outcropping that delivered 180° views over the Catskills before us; beautiful valleys and lush green rolling peaks – stunning. This was the payoff we’d all earned with our sweat equity.

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A quick bite to eat (I opted for a spam single wrapped in a flour tortilla with a splash of Frank’s Red Hot, and we all took photos and cool panoramas. We were soon hoisting our packs and we headed down the mountain and onto the climb up Cornell.

The hike up Cornell wasn’t nearly as rough as Wittenberg, but it did offer its own fair share of bouldering/crag scrambling which littered the ascent.

No real view off Cornell, maybe a couple of lookouts, but most of us just kept going. Our biggest climb of the day was straight ahead: Slide Mountain.

Standing at 4,190′, Slide Mountain is the highest peak in the Catskills. From the side, Slide may look like a children’s playground slide: the steep climb on one side leading to the top, and then a long steady downhill the other side. From Cornell we were heading up the [very] steep side. This climb was brutal and far steeper than Wittenberg. Granted the distance needed to summit Slide was shorter, but the extra effort required to hoof ourselves up and over was exacerbated by the angle of ascent.

Holy effing moly.

If I stopped to catch my breath once, I did it ten times. And the weather had gotten warmer, too. Luckily we’d been graced with a lot of lower-level shade during the earlier part of the day, but as we neared these summits, we were more exposed to the sun – and it was hot.

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Once at the top of Slide there were no real views again, not like Wittenberg, but there were several small spots you could walk out to – but nowhere we could all gather and drop our packs. At a few areas on the trail we could look back and see the summits of Cornell and Wittenberg in the distance, green and rolling, smooth almost: trust me, they were anything but “smooth”.

I’ve often thought that the energy needed to climb serious elevation was harder than the descents of similar elevation loss. That myth was busted during my descent from Mount Cammerer out of the Smokies. Descents are way harder: with 20-30lbs of added weight pushing down hard on your knees and other joints makes for a rough hike downhill.

We stopped for a short break to catch our breaths and chug water, then headed down the long rocky descent to camp. Four long knee-destroying miles down we went, single file for the most part as the going was rocky underfoot. I’d hiked behind Olga for a couple of miles and we caught up on life and sundries. When the trail is as rocky as this it’s hard to not look up at the surrounding beauty, fearful of rolling an ankle on that one bastard loose stone. My eyes affixed always a few feet ahead of me as I traverse this descent I see Olga’s left ankle roll – completely at 90°. Shit, she yelped and hobbled to the side of the trail. I know only too well how that feels – with all your weight pressing your ankle to its outer limits you’re treated to an electric jolt of pain that shoots all the way from your foot upwards through your entire body. Man does that suck.

She slowed her pace and took it easy for the remainder of the hike down Slide.

About two hours after rounding the summit of the largest mountain in the Catskills the trail started to level and we heard the welcome sound of a fast moving body of water. Were we at the river? Our campsite for the night was situated right next to East Branch Neversink River and the sound of water got the group excited. We picked up our pace a little as the trail flattened out and through a clearing the river came into view in all its glory. Finally, we were here.

Crossing a cool wooden bridge we followed the trail a little more and there were an abundance of campsites littered to our left and to our right. We spotted another bridge off to the left where the trail veered and, over that one, we found our own little paradise. Right on the creek’s banks, we’d found our home for the night. It was perfect.

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Jeff and a couple of others had mentioned keeping going up Table and make camp 2.7 miles farther, making for an easier Sunday – the majority, including myself, were completely spent. It had been a long arduous day and the temps had been pretty high. Nothing could have dragged me away from that campsite – I was famished and tired, stinky and greasy.

We scurried like worker bees vying for spaces to pitch our shelters; Matt and I had the simple task of finding two trees to hang from: the others searching for flat ground, sweeping the forest floor with their boots checking for rocks and roots. I love my hammock, and this is the #1 reason I choose to hang instead of tenting. I’m completely free of the task of searching for flat ground.

Matt and I had our hammocks up pretty quickly, and the others were unfolding poles and clipping into brass grommets into tent corners. I helped Nick with the SMD Lunar Duo I’d loaned him for the trip, and I turned to see Jeff stripping. He looked like a lifeguard ripping off his clothing to save a drowning boy and, down to his pants, he sprinted for the river. I managed to start recording and catch it on video – good times. Hitting the frigid water he let out a cacophonous howl; the forest alive with his echoes and high pitched laughter.

We’d soon started a fire with much help from Jeff and Erin, and before long we were chowing down on various freeze dried accoutrements and instant mashed potatoes. A blazing fire centered within a circle of well-fed hikers, we laughed into the night telling stories and sipping on aged tequila.

My body hit hiker midnight (it had to be earlier than 8:30pm, and it was still light out) I and was the first to hang my hat for the night. Sliding into my Blackbird I was out like a light. Rocking to and fro as dusk turned to night, the evening sky and its myriad diamond-like stars peeking through the tree limbs above.

The next morning was pretty standard: baggy-eyed and hungry hikers climbing out of their shelters like zombies clawing their way out of graveyard crypts in the Thriller music video. I’d opted for a no-cook breakfast of frosted Pop Tarts again, choosing to only boil water for coffee.

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Jeff and Anton headed over to where their food bag was hanging and yanked the cord. Somehow the cord managed to re-loop itself through the carabiner for a 2nd time – it was stuck, not coming down or going up so the stick could be removed (we PCT hang our bags on our backpacking trips). The bag wasn’t budging, and even with Anton climbing on Jeff’s shoulders, it wasn’t going anywhere.

Jeff wasn’t about to give up so easily.

He tried to shimmy the tree from which the bag was hanging but it was too thick to grab around its girth. I motioned to another tree next to it that was much skinnier. Jeff needed no further prompting and leapt into action. Shimmying the smaller tree he climbed to the height of the food bag and with some tugging he pulled it free. Applause abound, the food was freed.

Matt was still in his hammock. I’m sure he wondered what was going on with all the laughing and shouting. Erin helped him wake from his slumber by gently rocking the shit out of his hammock and yelling like a banshee. He wasn’t too pleased – good job they’re related.

We were all packed up by around 7:30am and, right after our obligatory group photo, we headed back onto into the trail headed for Table Mountain.

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Off the bat we were treated to a ~1,500′ elevation gain to the summit of Table, some viewpoints but nothing like Wittenberg the day before. The pine forest on top of Table was beautiful to walk through. A flat and soft needle-cushioned trail that felt like we were wearing our favorite slippers, we made a good pace down the other side and back up again to summit Peekamoose. The descent and subsequent climb between these two was minimal. We stopped for a bite and a quick rest stop before summitting Peekamoose, knowing the downhill to the trail head was going to be long.

I hate the descents. Reminds me of Mt Cammarer in the Smokies: six miles straight down. This wasn’t quite six miles but it was close to it. We passed through the three distinct levels of foliage as we descended, and after a good two hours we reached the Peekamoose trail head. My feet and knees were shot, this was a rough downhill indeed.

Erin and Olga agreed to drive Nick and me back to my car at the Wittenberg trail head near Woodland Valley campground. My feet were barking and my knees swollen, and the ride through the winding mountain roads back to my car was very relaxing.

Great trip with great friends; my backpacking weekends with these guys become more enjoyable each time we hang out. I’m also very happy to be able to cross another five 35’ers off the list – nine down, 26 to go.

Jolly and Jeff hit the AT at Wildcat Shelter, NY

It was one of the first weekends that was forecast above 45°F and I was jonesing for a hike on the AT and a comfortable overnight in my hammock.  Friday night and rain was forecast, so I went to bed sulking.  It hadn’t rained all week, and here we were looking at rain all weekend.

Saturday morning and I’m bouncing out of bed at 6:00am and check the weather – it’s raining outside and it’s forecast most of the day to remain the same. Decisions, decisions…

I group text the boys around lunchtime (Jeff, Anton, and Matt) asking if anyone would be up for an impromptu hike into Wildcat Shelter that afternoon for a quick overnight.  As always, Jeff answers first and it’s an knee-jerk “YES!”.  Brilliant.  He can’t make it until he finishes work, and I still have some packing/prep to take care of, so we schedule a meetup in a couple of hours.  I headed out at around 3:00pm and arranged to meet at the trail head where the AT crosses Rte 17a just north of Glenwood Lake, NY. (Google map coords)

Arriving at the trail head it had started to pour; this is going to be a wet hike, but I was excited to get onto the trail and nothing — not even some rain — was going to dampen my spirits.  Jeff rolled in about 20 minutes after me and we hoisted our packs and off we went, northbound on the Appalachian Trail.

As Jeff and I got caught up on life, thoughts of my time on the AT in 2013 came flooding in and I found myself grinning like the Cheshire Cat less than a few hundred feet in.  I love just being on he trail – it’s tough to explain to a non-hiker, but my outdoor brethren know exactly what I mean.

Through the rain we hiked and talked up a storm about life, work, and how things were now he’s an engaged man.  Jeff’s a typically happy guy on any given day, but he had an extra spring in his step for sure – ah, young love.  I’m stoked for him and Erin.

It wasn’t long before we came across Cat Rocks and Jeff fancied a scramble up the side to the top of this rocky outcropping which carries the AT up and over it.  The rocks were slippery given the downpour so I took the blue trail to the side and hiked around.

After rounding the rocks and hiking for another 20 minutes we arrived at the signpost nailed to a tree pointing us to go west for the shelter.  As we walked around the rocky part of this blue trail, the shelter started to come into view and our excitement built for sole ownership tonight of Wildcat.  As the shelter came into view, I noticed hiking gear inside.

Bollocks.

Two other guys were already situated comfortably inside the shelter, one warming himself inside his sleeping bag atop his pad.

“Are you gone in the head?!”, the bearded guy on the right bellowed.  “We thought we’d be the only idiots out in this today!”.

Ice breaker, these cats were cool.

wildcat_2Jeff and I threw our pack towards the back of the shelter and started unpacking our gear and changing out of our wet clothes.  After some half-naked one-legged stumbling in and out of clothing, we sat our asses down and hung out with our new friends.

One of the guys had an air of experience about him: epic trail beard, lots of gear, and an actual trail name: Chief Daddy.  Real name Joe Howell, Joe and his wife run an outdoor wilderness guide company called Wilderness Rocks that provides “immersive wilderness excursions”.  He was out with a client, a Ukrainian fellow by the name of Anton (are all Ukrainian men called Anton?).  As we made long introductions into who we were and where we were from, we broke open the libations: I’d brought a bladder from a box of wine (Malbec), Jeff, too, had brought some wine, and Chief and Anton sipped on some kind of whiskey.  Chief is a Double Crowner: he’s thru-hiked the AT and the PCT, and he has that typical “coolness” about him.  He’s calm, learned, enriched by the people he’s met while walking the miles.

The rain was still coming down well into the early evening, and I was undecided: shelter or hammock tonight.  I’d driven all this way and hiked in the rain for an hour; I was putting that bloody hammock up tonight if it was the last thing I did.

I pitched the hammock and tarp right behind the shelter as the lower area of ground to the side of the shelter and beyond was positively swampy.  As soon as I had gotten my gear set up, I went back to the shelter and continued to share stories and jokes with Jeff and our new friends.

I remember saying something about it being “hiker midnight” and I was out like a light.  I woke up in the middle of the night (someone was snoring, and it could have very well been me), and realized that I’d fallen asleep in the shelter.  I was having none of it, so I dragged myself up quietly, turned on the red light on my headlamp, and headed out to my hammock.

My head hit the pillow and I was gone – swaying in the air.

Wildcat Shelter, hammockMorning broke and the rain had stopped.  I love it when that happens.  I hauled myself out of my hammock — very reluctantly — and saw that the other guy’s had woken and started to make coffee.  To our surprise the fire was hot enough from the night before to roar again on this cold morning.

I made Jeff and myself a cup of Joe and I munched on two frosted raspberry Pop Tarts for breakfast – I’d brought oatmeal but I couldn’t be bothered to cook.

At about 8:30am we’d all packed up and said our farewells to Wildcat Shelter.  Chief had Anton continue hiking north to the falls and then to the next road crossing where he’d pick him up.  I’d agreed to drop Chief back at his minivan which was back towards Greenwood Lake.  Jeff and I bade or goodbyes and I drove Chief to pick up his wheels.

I was back on the road by 10:00am and home by 11:00am.  Rested, my AT/hammock desires satiated, and looking forward to the next time I can get on the trail with the lads.

An AT Mosey in New Joisey

Having packed the night before, I was on the road by 6:30am on Saturday; I was driving to an AT section trail head close to High Point State Park on the NJ 23 / CR 443 just south of Port Jervis, NY.  Friends and fellow backpackers/hikers, Jeff and Erin, were joining me for this weekend trip and I was excited for the time on the Appalachian Trail again.

Since returning home in June I think about my time on the trail quite often, sometimes just bringing up my blog on my iPhone while on the train and reading from a random day or two.  Good times indeed.  But what’s really special to me is the actual trail: the blazes, the mountains, the sights and sounds.  Unless you’ve spent [a considerable amount of] time on the AT it’s difficult to appreciate the gravity of how a life on the Appalachian Trail can change you.

As I arrive at the trail head parking lot I notice the temp has dropped to 27°F and the wind has picked up. Spotting Jeff’s car in the corner of the lot I parked up alongside.

Jumping out of my car and into the tundra was enough to send a jolt through my body: my god it’s freezing. After the cold meet and greet, we tied off our packs and slung them over our shoulders. There was a group of day hikers gathering near the start of the approach blue trail and I managed to finagle a group shot from one of them.

As we headed up the blue blazed trail our boots were sinking into the crunchy mud that had frozen during the night before. This made for challenging hiking as it was like we were walking through sand. After a few minutes we t-boned the AT and headed left, and southbound.

The wind had died down and we’d picked up a great starting pace so we warmed up pretty quickly. We were hoping the forecast was accurate and were looking forward to clear blue skies – no dice, cold and gray today.

The terrain became rocky underfoot as the trail headed south. We rounded and summited a section of rocky balds and stopped awhile to admire the view.

A few snaps and we were off again, southbound with a spring in our steps.

I always like hiking with Jeff and Erin, a young couple that I’ve been friends with for a few years. I’d met them for the first time during a Catskills weekender that another hiker friend, Anton, had organized. They’re both heavily into the outdoors, fit, and I enjoy the pace at which they hike – swift. They’re also a riot to hang with, and it’s not long before we’re onto the topic of food; Jeff and I discussed the many ways one could prepare a burger – multiple cheeses and fillings, always good trail banter.

Quickly we’re into our stride and we crossed Deckertown Turnpike — a winding country road that slices through the AT — and after a short climb beyond we hit Mashipacong Shelter and we had the whole place to ourselves.  We dropped our packs and broke out our lunches and discussed what we’d do afterwards.  We decided to continue southbound for at least an hour given we’d made such good time, but the remaining ~5.5 miles to Gren Anderson Shelter may run us into night hiking – which none of us really wanted to do.  Plus, the temps started to drop.  I reached for the trail journal hanging in a box in the far right corner of the shelter to see if I could find any names I’d know; sure enough, I found three:  Acorn, Nimbles, and one of my besties, Rainbow Bright.

So with full bellies and an invigorated spirit we hoisted our packs and headed south.  About a half hour in we came upon a pretty bleak looking stream which trickled from a stagnant pond – the water was orange, and none of us fancied using it to filter water for dinner tonight.

After some umming and ahhing we decided to head back to Mashipacong Shelter where we’d make camp, and hopefully, we’d still have the place to ourselves.  Once we got back we felt a tad bummed as fires aren’t allowed here – damn.  It was getting pretty chilly, too.  The sun had come out but we could feel Jack Frost’s bite rolling in.

I pitched my hammock gear in the woods a ways to the right of the shelter as I was hoping to sell some of it on GearTrade, so I needed photographs.  Once the shots were out of the way, I hoisted the hammock into the awning of the shelter — from left to right — while Jeff and Erin laid out their sleeping pads and bags inside on the platform.

We drank wine and shared stories, and we laughed into dusk.  It was early when the sun hit the horizon, cold blue hues spreading out through the woodland.  It was bedtime, aka “hiker midnight”.  The second my head hit my pillow I was out, and the slight sway of the hammock was enough to rock me to sleep in minutes.  It was 8:00pm.

I woke to the sound of an owl echoing through the frigid night.  To my chagrin, I pressed the backlight button on my watch and found it to only be 11:00pm.  Good lord, it was going to be a long night.

Coyotes are bloody loud, and when they’re in a pack that sounds ominously close, it’s quite disconcerting.  Another glance of my watch and it’s 1:30am.  Come on, man.

I started to feel the cold in my arms and torso a little which was strange as I was wearing literally all of my clothes and covered by my 30°F bag.  Unbeknownst to me, the temps had dropped to a not-so-balmy 23°F.  Without a 2nd thought I hoofed my tired self out of my cocoon and tossed my bag onto my own sleeping pad which I’d laid out on the shelter’s inner platform “just in case”.  I threw down my pillow and climbed into my bag and off I drifted, a little warmer than I was earlier dangling in mid air.  My watch said 3:00am.

It was about 6:30am when I woke, and I’d been tossing and turning all night; I get pressure points on my hips and knees as I’m a side sleeper when I go to ground.  “This is why I sleep in a hammock”, I grumbled to myself.

Jeff and Erin stirred shortly after and we shared morning pleasantries.  We’d all heard the howling and screaming last night.  And some of us (read: me) had heard snoring all night, too (read: Jeff and/or Erin).  Water was quickly on the boil and we enjoyed warm coffee; I enjoyed a couple of frosted raspberry Poptarts with mine – ooh look, it’s in one piece!

Warmed up, fed, and ready to go, we broke down camp and packed our gear.  We were off my 9:00am and heading northbound in the cool wintery air.  About a half hour in we stopped to enjoy the view at a pipeline clearing and snapped a few shots.

The trail seemed more rocky today than it did yesterday, but we still managed to get a good pace going; we hit the side trail for Rutherford Shelter in no time and calculated we’d been hiking at 3mph.

We stopped at a bubbling stream about half way back to the cars and filtered some more water; Erin had a crack at using my new Sawyer Squeeze Mini and I think I have a couple of converts!

Shortly after filling our water bottles we pressed on and it started to drizzle.  Now I don’t normally mind the rain, but when it’s 30°F, it’s bloody uncomfortable.  We double-timed and made it back to the parking lot in no time.  Cold, wet, and shivering we decided to head for the Ranger station up the road to change into drier clothing.

Warm and dry, Jeff suggested we head on over to a local diner for breakfast – amen to that.  We wolfed down an appetite-busting biscuits, gravy, and corned beef hash.  Human food tastes so good after a good hike.

Great hike with great friends, and the weather played nice, well almost.

Olive Oyl reaches 1,417 and some trail magic

My old friend Olive Oyl (or Double Oh as I used to call her) and her hiking partner, Wet Bag, are hitting the NY301/Fahnestock State Park road crossing today, so I’m doing what any normal buddy would do: TRAIL MAGIC AND LAUNDRY/SHOWERS!

It’s a much nicer day than the last time I was here to see Stink Bug and Honey Bun; it was positively ~95°F. Today’s a manageable 75°F and low humidity, but I’m sure they’ll still smell like ass. It’s amazing to realize how much I must have reeked while I was on the AT, but I just never noticed. Those poor town folk in GA/NC/TN/VA lol! I’m sure hot showers and laundry will bring smiles to their faces… it feels really good to give back, and I’m looking forward to catching up with OO!

Trail magic: it feels good to give

I’ve been keeping tabs on quite a few AT thru-hikers through their journals, and amongst them, a good buddy by the name of Postman.

Postman and I met at Fontana Village and shared an outside table at the Wildwood Grill with Tye Dan and Captain Dan; burgers, fries, and beer – a proper hiker’s lunch.

I’d kept in touch with quite a few of my old hiker friends and had always said that I’d be happy to provide trail magic once they hit the New York section – specifically the Fahnestock / NY301 crossing at mile marker 1.417 – there’s a parking area by both entrances to the AT and it’s also pretty close to where I live.  Postman and I had kept in touch via text messages for the last couple of months so I knew both where he was, and what his ETA in New York was going to be.  I’d offered trail magic, and was proud to deliver.

As I rolled up at around 8:45am I saw him standing there, but a much skinnier and ripped version of what I remembered.  The epic Georgia beard was growing in nicely – we high fived, back slapped, and we wheel spun off the gravel and onto the Taconic State Parkway for food and showers.

It was only about 9:30am by the time we got back to my place and I handed over a fresh towel so he could shower – I remember how amazing they felt after hiking in your own filth for days at a time.  We headed out to a local diner for burgers and fries after that, and then back to my place to get his laundry sorted.  We caught up and shared trail stories whilst watching episodes of Top Gear (British version of course) – it felt great talking about the trail again and hearing of his adventures.  Postman is the most northerly AT friend I have, and I am very proud of him and his achievement thus far – incredible.

After laundry we hopped back in the car and it was another drive back to NY301 and back to the AT for Postman.

I have to say, I’m totally envious of him, and I let him know.  Not in a jealous way at all, but envious that he has experienced so much more of the trail than I have – and given the ~330 miles of my own were the best times of my life, I can only imagine how life altering those extra miles would have been for me.

You can show your support of Postman and his journey by following his Flickr journal here.

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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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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Day 4 of recovery

I’ve slept like a rock for the last four nights, my dreams taking me back to the trail each time.

My ankle, although still sore, is getting better each day.  There’s not as much swelling as the day prior, and I’m getting into a pretty good routine of rest and elevation.  I’ve also not taken any ibuprofen at all – doctor’s orders.  Tylenol instead, and maybe just a couple per day.

I managed to get through all the DVR’d shows that had recorded over the last four weeks which included Game of Thrones, Top Gear, The Walking Dead, and The Following.

I love being home with my wife.  It feels a little strange at times, and I know she’s also going through her own stuff with me having been gone for a month and returning.  The 500lb gorilla in the room recently is whether I’ll be returning to the AT once my feet are mended.  Honestly, I’d love to – I feel a little lost out here, and I don’t mean that in a negative way at all.  Being on the AT felt like I was walking to something greater, and not even Katahdin.  Just the everyday hike with friends was a path to a new me, a me with a stronger mindset on completion. Given I was essentially forced off the trail and not of my own accord, I feel I have unfinished business.

Clearly it’s not a decision I’ll be making overnight, and it’s something I’d like to discuss with the missus – I would still want her blessing.

For now, though, I’ll rest and enjoy my lazy time with my beloved.  We had taco night last night and it was every bit as indulgent as I’d remembered.  Epic!

I received two text messages this morning: one from Bucketlist (Mike, Dan’s very close friend who hiked the Smokies with us) wishing me well, and another from Captain Dan saying that he’d gotten word from Tie Dye of my prognosis and hoped I’m doing ok.  I do miss Danny, he’s a good man.  A friend for life.