Saturday, September 29, 2012

James River to Bluff Mountain

Saturday, September 22, 2012:

Nine miles of trail north of the James River took me up to Fuller's Rocks where you get a spectacular view of the river valley when the weather is clear.  It was hazy today.  It was much better the last time I was here, on July 1, 2011:

Here's how it looked today:

On up to Rocky Row you get much the same view, then after some very easy level trail between Saddle Gap and Saltlog Gap (not to be confused with Salt Log Gap a bit further north) you come to the open summit of Bluff Mountain where there used to be a fire tower and where, on a November day back in 1890 a boy, not yet 5 years old, wandered away from his schoolhouse.  His body was found at the summit the following spring, seven miles away from where he disappeared.  A plaque now marks the exact spot.

Bluff Mountain offered a view to the west, not half bad, I guess.  I didn't even take a picture back in 2011.

It was a warm day but the evening showers that were in the forecast (30%) formed off to the east and never threatened here.  Now some cool autumn air is moving in - several days of beautiful hiking are in the works.


Here's the map and link to all the photos from today's hike:

AT Day 236 - Fuller's Rocks at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Virginia

Friday, September 28, 2012

Great hike, then a huge surprise afterward

Friday, September 21, 2012:

Another wonderful day in central Virginia.  This time of year in this part of the country is just magical.  And to top it all off, after my 20 mile hike, I had a totally unexpected surprise.  Here's my personal journal account:


I got up at first light, dressed and headed to the James River parking area. On the way I stopped to take a photo of the sea of fog below, with top at about 1400 feet elevation and island mountains sticking up – pretty view.

The drive took most of half an hour so it was 8:15AM before I was on the trail. I crossed the James River Foot Bridge (*not* 'Footbridge' - no, no, no - you see, it's named after William Foot, so it's the Foot Bridge, or the Foot footbridge, if you will) and headed on southbound along the river then up Matt’s Creek to the shelter. There the trail begins a steady side-hill climb to a ridge, follows the ridge, and then goes side-hill again, crossing Big Cove Branch and then climbing via switchbacks to the junction with the Sulphur Springs Trail at 2600 feet elevation.

From there the trail remains mostly level, except for one rocky and eroded section where it drops 150 feet then regaining that elevation gradually, losing it again, and regaining it again, all very gradually as it meanders through some early fall color in the James River Face Wilderness to the Marble Springs campsite, site of a former shelter. I tried to learn the reason this shelter no longer exists via a quick internet search, but couldn’t find any information.

To this point, all of the trail I hiked was very smooth and easy. Then came the climb to and descent from Highcock Knob. The trail in the upper part of this peak is pretty steep and rocky and uncomfortable, with one surprise climb to a secondary knob where the only viewpoint exists but offers a pretty limited and uninteresting view. On the south side of Highcock Knob I turned around at Petite’s Gap at 1:25PM and headed back, enjoying limited views of the James River from the ridge.

Weather was getting hot but it was a very pretty sunny day. On the way back I began to meet some hikers, all of whom appeared to be (and two said they were) thru-hikers. There were five in all, a much higher count than any previous day since I got to Virginia.

For a while my left ankle was complaining – must have slightly turned it, but fortunately as I walked on that complaint faded away and I was left with just the usual aches and pains from a long day of hiking.

It was 6:15 when I got back to the parking lot. I was changing when a park ranger pulled up in his SUV and told me that two guys who I knew were looking for me.  Two guys I knew?  Yep, they were camped up Hercules Road (side road nearby that the AT crosses). He said one was named Harry. Was the other Leo? I asked, and the answer was yes. I could hardly believe it. I dropped everything and drove out to look for them, eventually finding them in a pull-off not at any AT crossing.

Leo (67, left) and Harry (72) finish their 2012 thru hike tomorrow!
What a shock to see these two guys again when I had assumed they were still making their way south from Maine since I last saw them on August 5th. But it turns out that they had been doing many more bits and pieces than I realized, and were going to complete the entire AT tomorrow at Lynchburg Reservoir. They had started on February 23rd, and had only spent a handful of nights on the trail. The rest of the time they were doing very much what I am doing, usually sleeping in their vehicles and doing day hikes, except they were only hiking one way between their two vehicles.

What a coincidence that I ran into them again for the third time (First time was March 18th way down south near the N.O.C. in North Carolina, and we crossed paths on several subsequent days down there as we were both headed southbound) – it truly defies the odds. After tomorrow they would be finished and off the trail.

We had a very long enjoyable conversation, comparing notes, talking about people we had both met, etc., exchanged contact information and promised to keep in touch. It was dusk before I finally said a reluctant good-bye to these two (by now) old friends and headed out.


Here's the map of today's hiking route, and a link to many more photos:

AT Day 235 - James River Face Wilderness at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Virginia

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Small pleasures

Thursday, September 20, 2012:

Today's ten miles of Appalachian Trail ( Cornelius Creek Shelter to Petite's Gap - pronounced 'pet its') provided a wonderful variety of little joyful moments.  I found my first apple tree dropping its ripe apples not far from the summit of some oddly named mountain (*grin*), and devoured one - perfect balance of sweet and tart, crunchy and juicy and free of worms.  These heirloom apples are never very large, but their flavor and body (juicy crunchiness) exceed most of the bloated store-bought varieties.  I harvested this bunch and left them at the Thunder Hill Shelter.

Stopping to 'smell the roses' was a must today, as the grand views that were available were all a bit hazy.  Here's one of the latest blooming fall flowers - the 'Bottle Gentian', set off by the red berries of a low growing herbaceous plant that I couldn't identify in a quick Google search.

The best panoramic view of the day came in the afternoon from the Thunder Ridge Overlook:

And I'm happy to report that I passed through 'The Guillotine' twice without losing my head.  The AT dares you to pass under this suspended rock.  It looks like it could drop at any moment - a static yet dynamic little treat for the hiker.

Okay, I see faces in everything  (maybe it's too many drugs back in college?).  To me, the huge boulder at right looks like a guy's head - bowl haircut, frowning, weary of the game, none too happy to have that stone squashing against his nose for what seems an eternity.  Do you see it?

Eleven hours of hiking in cool refreshing autumn weather.  Ten miles of new trail.  Sometimes I feel like I need to pinch myself - am I really this blessed that I can be here all day every day?  How did I deserve this?

On second thought, maybe I better not pinch myself.  If this is a dream, I don't want it to end :-)


Here's today's map showing the route of the hike, with a link to many more photos:

AT Day 234 - Apple Orchard Mt and The Guillotine at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in West Virginia

A Palace in the Woods

Wednesday, September 19, 2012:

There are official Appalachian Trail shelters with caretakers that also charge a fee.  They're usually a good place to stay.  The best of these is one that very few AT hikers visit - the Crag Camp Shelter below Mt. Adams in the White Mountains of New Hampshire.

There are official AT shelters with caretakers that don't charge a fee.  The best of these is the Upper Goose Pond Shelter in Mass. (canoe, hot pancakes for breakfast), with honorable mention to the Rt 501 shelter in Pennsylvania (pizza delivery).

Then there are official AT shelters that are free, set far back in the woods, and have no caretaker.  Today my hike took me by one of the best of these.  The Bryant Ridge Shelter ranks right up there with the Mountaineer Falls Shelter in Tennessee as one of the best designed and most palatial shelters on the trail.  There are some others that come close, but for me this one is a winner because of the ample roof space and the roomy, well-protected loft sleeping area.

There wasn't much else that was worthy of photos today.  That's not to say that I didn't love the hike.  It was a wonderful day in my favorite part of the country, on comfortable trail but with some big climbs.  The major climb was from the Bryant Ridge Shelter up to Floyd Mountain, more than 2000 feet of ascent.  But after a couple months in New England, this felt more like a pleasant walk than a climb.  The weather was nearly ideal.  I could not ask for a better hiking day, except perhaps for some better views of the country through which I was passing.

Well, I should have some views from Apple Orchard Mountain tomorrow.  And I get to drop through the Guillotine again.  Hope I don't lose my head.  Stay tuned.


Here's the map of today's hike and a link to a few more photos:

AT Day 233 - Bryant Ridge at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Virginia

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Storm Wrack

Storm wrack over the Great Valley, as seen from Harvey's Knob Overlook, Blue Ridge Parkway

Tuesday, September 18, 2012:

The above photo is the most quintessential shot of 'storm wrack' cloud I've ever seen.  The term was first brought to my attention in J.R.R. Tolkein's elegant writing style with this quote from The Two Towers, Book III, Chapter 7:

 "The clouds were torn and drifting, and stars peeped out; and above the hills of the Coomb-side the westering moon rode, glimmering yellow in the storm-wrack."

Too bad this little-used term has been recently (2005) turned into a cheap commercial term in the Dungeons and Dragons role playing game.  It's a far more elegant descriptive term - I hate to see it ruined like that.

In any case - storms laid to wrack and ruin my hike plans today.  I probably could have hiked ... there were breaks between bouts of heavy rain, especially after 3PM.  But I decided to wait for the great weather that is expected tomorrow and in coming days.  This storm accompanies a strong cold front that promises to bring some bright clear weather.

So today I stoked up on calories at the Country Cookin breakfast buffet in Daleville, more than caught up on sleep and rest, and just goofed around on the internet a little.  In all a day of recharging the batteries.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Trail companions

Monday, September 17, 2012:

Can you identify this guy?  I mean what kind of snake it is?  Well, I met him on the trail today.  He was pretty much stalled, headed northbound, obviously not in much of a hurry.

Yesterday (though I forgot to mention it at the time), I met a more personable trail companion - because he was a person!  After only two days of hiking in middle Virginia I made my first connection with someone I had met up north.  I expect to be hiking north through the SoBo bubble as days progress - only a few have made it this far south this early, so I was very surprised when this hiker looked up from where he was seated snacking and talking on his phone and said "I saw you in Maine."

I honestly didn't recognize him.  "How could you get here from Maine so quickly?" I asked.

Turns out he was doing a Flip-Flop.  'Bobcat' hiked north from Harpers Ferry to Katahdin, summiting on Sept. 3rd.  Then he took a couple weeks off and was now making his way south from Harpers Ferry.  He said we met near Andover.  I vaguely remember the horn-rimmed glasses, but he said we didn't talk much back then ... even though he knew who I was from trail talk with other hikers.  Apparently word about me (and my description) had spread up and down the trail much more than I realized.

Anyhow, today Bobcat and I had a nice long conversation.  He's from Baltimore and, like me, has hiked a big chunk of the middle of the AT in previous years, so was covering familiar ground.  We both agreed about the luxury of these easy trail conditions after leaping from Maine.  And Bobcat noted that we both have about the same distance left to hike: about 700 miles.  It was nice to be able to share so many common experiences - and then off he went south and I north, sadly never to meet again.

Now ... back to today's hike.  I expected rain late in the day, so planned my hiking so I would be able to stop early if necessary.  I hiked a leg south from Bearwallow Gap to Cove Mountain Shelter and back and then moved to the nice parking area down at Jennings Creek and hiked back up to the same shelter and back.

It was a foggy day after some pre-dawn showers.  The fog broke enough in the early afternoon that I could get this half-decent view from the only opportunity for a view that the trail presented all day - from this rock outcrop a quarter mile north of Cove Mountain Shelter.  There's even some premature fall color evident in the woods - more because of drought than because of the change of seasons.

Otherwise it was walking in the foggy woods, or in what was left of woods after a major fire swept part of the ridge just a few years ago.

And just as I expected (for a change), the rain started as I was returning to the Jennings Creek parking area, so I did not hike the section north from there that I might have.  Just as well - after two 20+ mile hikes, my body was telling me I was overdoing.  An easy day today was not a bad thing.  There's likely to be another easy day tomorrow - even a zero - with a huge storm system pushing in that isn't forecast to clear the area until late tomorrow.  I'll keep you posted.

Oh, about the snake.  Here's another look.  He's just about a foot long:

It's a baby black snake!  Yeah, who'd-a-thunk?  Seems they hatch out in late summer and early fall sporting this bright pattern, which disappears after they shed their skin a couple times. It took me a lot of internet searching to finally get the ID.


Here's the map showing today's hike.  The title line provides a link to the eleven photos I took that I thought worth sharing today.  They can be viewed as a slide show or individually.

AT Day 232 - Cove Mountain at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in West Virginia

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Blue RIdge Parkway

Sunday, September 16, 2012:

Today's 20 mile hike was in one of those sections where the AT parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway.  It is never out of sight of it for long, and crosses it, or an overlook or tributary road within view of it, seven times in the 10.4 miles of trail I covered (between Wilson Creek Shelter and Bearwallow Gap).

For me, hiking with a vehicle, this provides a unique opportunity to break my hike up into short little sections, all of them less than 2.5 miles.  I parked in three different places and hiked short legs in both directions from those trail crossing points.

Today's view from Taylor Mountain Overlook
The Parkway provides the clearing for all of the views the trail offered me today.  Since it was cloudy and hazy all day, the views weren't too stunning.  By afternoon the Peaks of Otter, visible to the NE, were shrouded in cloud, so instead of showing you how it looked today, I'm dredging up a photo from my last hike here, last November 3rd.

Sharp Top and Flat Top (left)  from the Harvey's Knob overlook area, 11/3/2011

But my favorite 'view' was the one shown up top, where the trail walks the base of a venerable old stonework retaining wall made of huge shaped boulders.  Some of these individual stones were 8 feet long and three feet high - they must weigh tons and tons.  Yet all are placed with precision along that graceful curve - quite a work of art, if you ask me.

Again today I remembered much of the detail of the trail I walked.  I kind of miss being able to 'discover' new trail - that makes walking every piece of trail a little more interesting.  Still, I had fun today with the little mini-hikes carrying a very light pack (in one case no pack at all).

Rain is coming - two days' worth.  I don't know how much hiking I'll try to squeeze in - really don't like hiking wet, and have no real time pressure.  With three and a half months to hike 670 miles, I can afford to be choosy about the weather.  As always, of course, I'll let you know what I do.


Here's a map of today's route and a link to more great photos:

AT Day 231 - Blue Ridge Parkway at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Virginia

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Back to the trail

The quest to complete the final 354.2 mile chunk of Appalachian Trail by my unique set of rules (all by day hikes) begins today,

Saturday, September 15, 2012:

Here's my personal journal account of a rather nostalgic return to a piece of trail I last hiked on Novermber 7, 2011:


I was at the trail parking lot (on US 11 at the Troutville town line) around 7:40 and was on the trail at 8:10 for the short, mostly level leg south to my ‘Mile Zero’ point, where I had officially started this quest on January 1st. Here's what it looked like today:

It took me only 50 minutes to make that 2.4 miles, and 45 minutes to get back to my van. I then reloaded with supplies and answered a ‘call of nature’ in the woods before hitting the trail northbound at 10AM sharp. All this trail I had last hiked ten months ago, on November 7, 2011, but I was amazed at how much detail I remembered.

 I remembered the steady climb up to Fullhardt Knob Shelter – 1300 feet of elevation gain from the parking lot – as being a tough climb. But after hiking Maine, this gradual switch-back trail, all on incredibly easy footing, wide and level graded trail with gradual slopes, felt so easy that I could not even walk fast enough to get my breathing and heart rate up to the level I was used to for climbing. That essentially means that this ascent didn’t even feel like an ascent at all, but just a slightly inclined level walk!

From the shelter I made the gradual descent on the Fullhardt Knob Fire Road (there used to be a fire tower where the shelter is), then the very gradual ascent back up to about 2500 feet on the ridge before dropping down to Salt Pond Road where I had parked on November 7th. I remembered quite a bit of detail about the trail all through this section and the next bit, which involved a fairly steep set of switchbacks down to the Curry Creek Trail. But from there I did not remember much detail and did not remember where I turned around in that direction.

My records show that I visited the next shelter, Wilson Creek Shelter, on November 4th, and I remember coming down to it from Blackhorse Gap, and I did correctly recall the setting for this shelter. I extended my day today, 25 minutes beyond my planned turn-around time in order to reach that shelter.

Then the long hike back, over the several small ups and downs to Curry Creek Trail went fast, though my feet and legs were beginning to feel the strain of the long day. Still, every inch of trail was a total delight compared to trail in Maine – it’s mostly small gravel or dirt for footing, and has been graded so that there is a level path that is fairly wide, even on steep side-hill areas.

The 700 foot climb up from Curry Creek to Salt Pond Road is quite a bit steeper than the climb from Troutville to Fullhardt Knob Shelter, but I was still moving forward at nearly the same pace that I had descended it, and it felt good to be able to do such a steady climb on such easy trail – it felt like walking a tread mill set on an incline.

I got back to the US 11 trailhead parking lot at 6:45PM, so it was nearly an 11 hour day. I had covered 11.5 miles of trail, although based on the trip odometer on my GPS, it had been 25 miles of walking including the short side trips to the shelters and to the parking lot.


Noting the contrasts from my recent days in Maine made today an especially interesting day although there wasn't a lot of scenery to take in - mostly walking in the woods.  This is my home climate-zone, and the familiar early fall sound of crickets (not present in Maine) took the place of the noisy trill of the Red Squirrel.  The air felt warm and humid even though it wasn't a hot day - days like that are probably over in Maine for this season.  It felt like I as back home, and that felt good.


Here's the track of today's walk, and a link to many more photos:

AT Day 230 - Fullhart Knob at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Virginia

Friday, September 21, 2012

Bath water

Friday, September 14, 2012:

Oh, to be able to just drop everything and linger here.  Oh, what a perfect, perfectly tempting, sinfully delicious day to be here at the beach.

I made the 425 mile drive here from Maryland between 1AM and 9:30AM today.  And I MUST leave within 24 hours, or I may never leave.  As the title suggests, the ocean water was like bath water, the surf gentle, the wind just a zephyr, the sky a million miles high and just as wide.

But I need to clench my jaw, and turn my back on the beach for a few more weeks - finish the 354.2 miles of AT I still need to hike.  And then I'm free to come back.  Come back and STAY!

Just a few chores to do here.  I'll be leaving early in the morning, and be back on the trail tomorrow, starting north from Daleville, where I started south way back in the dead of winter, on January 1st.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Touching home base

Thursday, September 13, 2012:

On today's agenda I had a few last chores to wrap up in Maryland, and then the most important reason for being here - a reunion and wonderful visit with my kids.  We had a great dinner at Red Lobster and then dessert at Tutti Fruiti.  We talked and talked, catching up on news - both my son and daughter have started new jobs, and are getting their first real taste of what it means to be 'grown up', or at least to be out in the 'real world'.  They're enjoying the experience.  We've been staying in touch by phone, of course.  But there's just something about 'Face Time' that has no substitute.

Thankfully, now I'll be hiking much closer to home and will be back to visit much more regularly.  I intended to have the waiter take a photo or two of us while we were at the restaurant, but in the joy of the visit, that completely slipped my mind.  So today's post is short and without visible color.  The color is all in my heart.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Hoppy Trails

Wednesday, September 12, 2012:

This was a true rest day.  I was awake for less than eight hours today.  Here's my (abbreviated) personal journal account:


I got up as the sun got up – surprisingly late compared to the sunrise times in Maine. It was after 7AM when I headed back into my MD condo to take a shower. Then back out to the parking lot I spent some time organizing stuff.  Then I pumped the tire, which had dwindled down to 9 pounds of pressure overnight, and headed out to do the long-deferred repair work.

First I got the oil changed at Jiffy Lube, and they swapped out the leaky tire for the spare. Then I stopped at Bay Area Goodyear and dropped off the leaky tire for repair. Next I picked up more than two months worth of mail at the post office and then headed down (through more snarled traffic) to deposit a check at my Credit Union on the east side of Columbia, MD.

When I got back, my leaky tire had been repaired. I waited at the shop until they could put it back on and put the spare back in its place, then did a little shopping and headed back to my condo. There I had some lunch and a couple of beers including the aptly named ‘Hoppy Trails’ IPA from Appalachian Brewing Company in Harrisburg – a fitting beer to celebrate with.

By early afternoon the beer and food had sapped my energy, and it was time for a nap. I hit the sack around 2:30PM, and that turned out to be the end of this day. I obviously needed more rest than I thought after the Katahdin climb and the 20 hour drive home.

But it was a good day from start to finish.  I got laundry washed, cleaned off three months of grime from my body, and achieved a full measure of much-needed rest.


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

The old man and the tire

 Tuesday, September 11, 2012:

Okay ... today's challenge is to make the long road trek to Maryland - haul my 'two-ton steel tent' 900 miles from Millinocket, Maine -- with a leaky tire.  This old man is too lazy to just get out the jack and change the tire.  I was hoping to find a shop to do the work.  But I didn't want to wait around for the shops to open.  Soooo ......

(From my personal journal)

I got up at 5:30, still not decided whether I’d get the tire repaired in Millinocket or try to start south. But the tire still had about 9 pounds of pressure – the leak seems to nearly seal itself as the pressure goes down. So there’s sort of a floor or ‘safety net’ of tire pressure that I seem to be able to count on. In any case, it was too early to get service in Millinocket, so after a bit more rest and thought, I hand-pumped the tire up to 23 pounds pressure and decided to head out, hoping to find a repair shop along the way later in the morning, if needed.

I left Millinocket at 6:20AM and headed east to I-95 and found that the speed limit there was 75. As I cranked my steel tent up to that speed, hoping that the big plug in the tire would not come flying out, I began to get confidence in it. It was leaking air slowly, but was tolerating the high speeds with no additional problems arising.

 I stopped at an exit about ten miles north of Bangor and pumped the tire again, as it had dropped to my chosen lower threshold of 20 pounds. That was at 7:21AM. I had driven a full hour at full speed before needing to pump the tire. Furthermore, I found that having this ‘excuse’ to stop every hour and get out and stretch my legs and get a little physical activity (pumping the tire with my trusty hand pump) actually made the long distance trip more tolerable. So I decided not to seek repair for the tire. I’d just stop and pump it up (to about 26 pounds) every time it dropped to 20 pounds.

 And so that’s the way I proceeded. I abandoned I-95 at Newport, ME and headed west on US 2. I had no intention of paying the tolls farther south, or of driving I-95 through the urban blight of NYC and the rest of the Megalopolis, so I chose the more rural ‘scenic route’ on US 2.

I had to stop again at 8:21AM, exactly an hour since the last stop, to pump the tire again, then at 9:48AM as I was approaching Rumford. I stopped in Mexico, ME (Rumford’s sister city on the other side of the river), where I had seen a Verizon store in my many days of using the Mexico Wal-Mart as my overnight base. I stopped in at that very nice full-service store and bought a new phone.  (If you recall, my old phone was fried when it got wet during the famous 'Monson Monsoon', where I hiked for three hours in heavy rain and hail, four inches of rain).

 The salesman was very pleasant, and I learned a lot from him about the local economy, about the controversy over a planned major E-W corridor highway across Maine, etc. It took less than half an hour to complete this transaction. I pumped the tire (which had dropped to 19 pounds while it sat parked), and headed out again at 10:38AM.

 Next pumping was at 11:38 in Gilead, ME. I thought about stopping in a local store there and asking for their ‘balm’ (from the old African-American spiritual ‘There is a balm in Gilead’, based on Genesis 37:25 and Jeremiah 8:22), but never found a decent store where I could pull that stupid stunt - probably a good thing.

On I went into New Hampshire, pumping the tire again at 12:22PM in familiar old ground west of Gorham and in view of the Presidential Range of the White Mountains, then again at 1:17 near St. Johnsbury, VT.

The timing of the required pumping was dropping under an hour, but I wasn’t concerned about it and continued on, heading south on I-91 through Vermont, Massachusetts and on to Hartford, CT. I stopped again to pump at Thetord, VT, just 9 miles north of where I’d pass across the AT again at Norwich. That was at 2:10PM, then again at 3PM just 40 miles from the MA border.

By that time I was in need of gas, and planned to stop for gas the next time the tire needed pumping. But for some inexplicable reason, the tire pressure dropped much more slowly this time, and didn’t drop to the 20 pound threshold until 4:32PM. I was nearly out of gas, but persisted, stopping to pump both gas and air at Holyoke, MA.

Then I drove into the full-bore guts of the stop-and-go evening rush hour traffic through Springfield, MA and later through Hartford, CT, where I picked up I-84 westbound.

Still, the tire held its pressure well enough, and I made it to New Britain, west of the snarled traffic, before pumping again at 5:43PM. I made one last daylight stop in CT at Danbury at 6:38PM then crossed into New York State and into the twilight after sunset.

West of the Hudson River I pumped the tire again at 7:51PM at a rest area. Then something happened – the tire began to leak air more quickly. In 50 minutes I had to pump again at the exit to Dingman’s Ferry in PA, then at 9:26PM near Scranton, PA.

 But I was finding that this steady tension, and the need to stop at regular intervals was keeping me alert despite the long hours of driving. I stopped next at 10:24PM near Nuangola, PA, then at 11:15 near Heckscherville, PA. It was just three minutes before midnight when I stopped next, just north of where I-81 connects with I-78. There I also filled up on gas – enough to sustain me for the rest of the drive to Maryland.

There were three more stops to pump the tire, and they were getting closer and closer together, whittled down to half an hour between pumpings, but I was determined to make it home now. The stops were at Mile 33 and then Mile 4 of I-83 traveling south through PA. Then I made one final stop close to home in Owings Mills, MD at 2:08AM and got home to my Maryland Condo complex at 2:25AM.

This is the condo that I plan to sell in the next year or so, having bought and relocated to a condo at the beach in NC.  But this MD condo will be my ‘base of operations’ for the final 354.2 miles of AT hiking this year (between Daleville, VA and Caledonia State Park in southern PA).

In total, it had been 20 hours of driving, and just under 900 miles with 21 stops to pump the tire. Since I had all my ‘comforts of home’ with me in my traveling ‘tent’, I just stopped into the condo to turn on the refrigerator and water heater and then returned to the parking lot to sleep

It had been a long drive, but the built-in stops had broken it up. I’ll remember this lesson, and apply it to future long distance trips.


Monday, September 10, 2012:

This was Katahdin summit day.  It was a tough day ... tougher than I had expected.  The weather was providing clear evidence of the change of seasons.  But it was a great day.  Here's my personal journal description:


I headed back to Katahdin Stream Campground, finished preparing and was on this final day hike (Day 229) of the northern leg of my adventure at 7:20AM. Only the lowest couple of miles of trail up to Katahdin are fairly easy – gentle slopes then some well-constructed rock step work after you pass the beautiful Katahdin Stream Falls.

Then the rock scrambling begins. I have to describe today’s activity as a ‘climb’, not a hike. It was very physically demanding. First there were scrambles through boulders in the woods, some of which rivaled Mahoosuc Notch, then the exposed climb through ‘The Boulders’ with the aid of 4 or 5 strategically located metal hand/foot holds.

Above The Boulders, Hunt Spur levels out for a bit but you can see the steep ridge of exposed rock awaiting you as you climb. It just keeps getting steeper and more exposed. By the time I got to The Gateway (the beginning of the Katahdin ‘Tableland’), I felt as though I had been through a super-tough weight-lifting workout. Muscles I don’t use had been pushed to their limits. Not having expected such an extended workout, I probably plunged into it too intensely, rather than pacing myself.

The weather was marginal, with clouds on the mountain almost all day. But as I climbed, the cloud base seemed to rise with me. There were even a few brief appearances of the sun, so although when I got to the Tableland there was a lot of fog, I also managed to see nearly all the views that Katahdin has to offer.  Here's a look toward the SE at the lakes around Millinocket with some of the tundra's fall color in evidence:

That traverse across the Tableland is all easy hiking and would have been a perfect delight on a sunny warm summer day, but today was pretty chilly. Yet I still really enjoyed the tundra, as I always do.  Thoreau Spring is such an unexpected sight!  And for some reason they seem to make the trail walk *through* it rather than past it.

As I said, cloud base kept rising, so I got views of the summit as I approached it, and views from the summit too. There were a handful of people at the summit including thru-hikers ‘Secrets’ and ‘Shenanigans’, who had passed me on the way up. I had met ‘Secrets’ yesterday at Daicey Pond as well. They had seen my entries in shelter log books, and wanted to take my photo. Needless to say, I got my obligatory mug shot with the summit sign.

Some people were having lunch at the summit, but it was a little too blustery and chilly (probably around 40F) for me, so I headed back down pretty quickly. I took my time on the descent. By then the wind had really picked up, so I felt buffeted around on the tough, steep, very exposed rock scrambles on the upper part of Hunt Spur—just adding to the difficulty. But descending was not such a grueling workout, just a serious rock scrambling challenge.

 I think I was at the summit during the best weather today had to offer, because it was getting more cloudy as I came down, and then we got some showers – enough to wet the rocks. But I had reached the woods and the less difficult parts of the trail by that time—thank goodness! I was back at the campground registration box at 3:55.


Today was a milestone day, of course.  It marks the day I completed hiking the entire Appalachian Trail, though not all of it this year.  My 2012 quest still goes on.  I want to hike the entire trail both north and south in this calendar year.  So in this respect Katahdin is just a waypoint along the journey.  I still need to hike 354.2 miles of trail (both ways) between Daleville, VA and Caledonia State Park, PA.  I want to start that ASAP.  I'll be taking a few travel days and a few days off to visit family, but then it's back to the trail.

This central part of the AT, including Shenandoah NP and Harper's Ferry, should be great fun.  I hiked a lot of it in the fall in previous years.  I'm looking forward to all the ripe apples on trees along the trail!  I'm looking forward to fall color (it's already beginning here in northern Maine).  And I'm looking forward to hiking closer to home.  The adventure continues ...


Here's the map of today's climb and a link to all the photos worth printing:

AT Day 229 - Katahdin at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Maine

Monday, September 17, 2012

On the threshold

Sunday, September 9, 2012:

The day of the last hike before climbing Katahdin.  Here's my personal journal description:


Leaving Millinocket, I headed up to Baxter State Park, intending to take my time to scout around the park a bit. I stopped first at the visitor center at Togue Pond and got some good information, then headed on into the park – the road changes to a narrow dirt road right after the visitor center, and has a 20 mph speed limit and lots of washboard bumps so it was bone-rattling to drive even that fast.

I stopped at Katahdin Stream Campground just to scout it out then headed on to Daicey Pond parking area at the AT crossing there, which is just about exactly in the middle of the 5.3 miles of trail that I needed to hike today. With all the slow driving and stops it was not until 9:30 that I was actually hiking.

Big Niagara Falls
I hiked south first. Almost all of this section followed the roaring Nesowadnehunk Stream. The highlight of this section, and a destination for lots of day hikers, is Big Niagara Falls. Today it was really gushing after the heavy overnight rains.

That rain swelling of the stream also made a major challenge out of the two fords I had to do farther downstream. These two fords immediately moved to the top of my list as most difficult fords I've encountered on the trail. There is a high water bypass trail that avoids the fords, but it's blue blazed, so not an option for me. The only option would have been to give up and come back when the stream was lower. I didn't really give that option much thought.  The water was high ... but not impossibly high. Still ...

Upper ford of the Nesowadnehunk
The upper ford consisted of rock hopping over some fairly deeply submerged rocks. My preferred approach of keeping low and walking the stream bed wasn’t an option here because there was no well-defined bottom, just deep holes between large rocks (as plumbed by my trekking pole). That really scared me because with my high center of gravity and bad balance I didn't want to slip off one of the rock 'stepping stones' and into a deep hole. I had dark visions of twisting an ankle, breaking a leg, getting jammed between unseen deep rocks by the current, unable to pull myself out, etc., etc.

On the lower ford, just a mile farther downstream, I was able to walk the stream bed though the water was swift and thigh deep. There I used the ‘hopping rocks’ as hand-holds, passing them on the upstream side so I could use them to bolster me against the current. You get the picture.

Between these two fords (each of which I had to do twice, of course), I just walked the trail in my crocs without socks and found no problem except a few bits of trail debris getting in the shoes that I had to knock out.

I was back at the Daicey Pond parking area at 12:30 and just picked up a can of Dr. Pepper to drink as I headed on north. This part of the trail was just walking in the woods but with a nice section that follows the north shore of Daicey Pond. And then there's a long reroute, not shown on my 2009 map, which is still the one the ATC sells. The reroute takes you past the south side of Grassy Pond and eliminates the long road walk along the ‘Tote Road’—the main park road. It continues along Katahdin Stream below Grassy Pond and gives you some decent views of the big mountain before finally taking you across the stream on a bunch of new bog bridge. Then there’s a short walk through the woods to where the trail comes out right at the entrance to Katahdin Stream Campground.

I took a side trip from there to visit and photograph The Birches – the final shelters along the AT. Then I returned and hiked the short bit of road walk up to the day use parking area at the trailhead. With that finished I visited the Ranger Station, finding that the actual office was closed except from 7 to 8:30AM and 4 to 5PM. But the trail register was there on the screened in porch (where hikers leave their big packs and use one of the available daypacks kept in a bin under the registration table).  I spent half an hour paging through the register and photographing all the entries of the dozens of people I’d met along the trail over the past 8 1/2 months. Good to see them all here finishing the trail. I went ahead and wrote my entry so that I wouldn’t have to take time tomorrow to do it – so I could concentrate on doing the hike alone.

Finally I hiked back to Daicey Pond, finishing today’s hike at about 3:30.


Here's the map of today's hiking, and a link to a total of 18 photos taken along the way:

AT Day 228 - Big Niagara Falls at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Maine

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Abol Bridge

Saturday, September 8, 2012:

Getting really close now - just two more day hikes and I'm finished with Maine.  Here's my personal journal account of today's hike:


I left Millinocket and headed up to find Abol Bridge. It was hard to miss. I parked on the far side (west side) in a big wide gravelly area, prepared, and was on the trail southbound at 6:30.

It was a cloudy, foggy, humid day. I had hopes that it would burn off, but instead the fog only got thicker as I hiked.  Then there was a brief shower that got me and everything wet, and after that the thick fog kept producing drizzle for the rest of the morning. So needless to say, when I got to Rainbow Ledges there was no view of Katahdin, though the site of the Katahdin viewpoint was obvious—a corridor of cleared trees about 0.15 miles north of the sign marking the high point (which is where I turned around yesterday).

The ledges area was still very pretty, with traces of fall color painting the foliage clinging to the solid granite slabs. The descent back north was gradual and virtually all the trail I hiked today was easy. At the bottom of the gradual descent is Hurd Brook – a rock hop over big boulders, then the Hurd Brook Lean-To. From there it’s just a walk through the woods back to Abol Bridge.

I got back there a bit after noon and considered quitting for the day because of the steady light drizzle. But I decided to hike at least a short leg north in order to make tomorrow’s hike a bit shorter (in case I have to start late because of the rain that was forecast). And I’m glad I did decide to hike, because the drizzle ended and there was some intermittent sunshine by mid-afternoon. The storms that I had worried about, thinking they might arrive in the afternoon, held off until well after dark, so I ended up hiking north for two hours, all the way to the lower ford of the Nesowadnehunk Stream.

That entire two hour walk, mostly along the banks of the West Branch of the Penobscot River, was super-easy and very scenic. The river is fast flowing and big and wide. There were several groups of rafters riding down it, several fishermen, and the one negative: the sound of the traffic on the Golden Road coming from the other side of the river. Still, it was a pretty peaceful walk. I was finished at 4:10PM (finishing early just in case of early storms).



Here's the map of today's hike with a link to a bunch more pictures:

AT Day 227 - W Br Penobscot River at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Maine

Friday, September 14, 2012


Friday, September 7, 2012:

See if you can detect a pattern in the place names I list as I describe today's hike, (extracted from my personal journal with photos added):


 I was on the trail exactly as the sun rose, at a few minutes after 6AM, starting at the same place I started yesterday, the Pollywog Stream road crossing. After the trail (northbound) crosses the new wooden road bridge over Pollywog Stream and stays left (straight at a road junction immediately after that), it plunges into the woods for a half mile easy walk along the base of a side slope to Rainbow Stream.

Flumes on Rainbow Stream
Both Pollywog and Rainbow Streams empty into Nahmakanta Lake. The trail then follows Rainbow Stream for the next several miles through varying terrain, but usually on fairly easy trail. The lower part of the stream is swift and noisy and there are several cascades and flumes, then after a crossing of a smaller stream that drains Murphy Pond (you don’t see the pond), there’s a small wetland area where the stream passes through a bog – great spot to look for moose, but I saw none there.

Dead Marshes beside Rainbow Deadwaters
Not long after that comes the Rainbow Stream Lean-To. The trail goes right by the front of the shelter and then crosses the stream on a narrow footbridge also right in front of the shelter. At the shelter I met a lady who said she was 80 years old, from Ohio. She had hiked a good chunk of the Appalachian Trail starting at age 70 and still hoped to finish it. On this outing she was doing 40 miles and had packed two weeks’ worth of food to make that distance. Today she planned to go four miles to the Rainbow Spring campground. I wished her well and headed on toward that campground myself. But before reaching it the trail passes beside the Rainbow Deadwaters – a stretch of the stream that is really a set of long narrow ponds. The trail hugs these closely and is very rooty and boggy and difficult through this section – I came to call this section the Dead Marshes because of the look of the trail and the gnarly, looming, twisted cedar trees that stretch out over the water in one direction and over the trail in the other – usually it’s just that one row of trees that separates the trail from the Deadwaters – the latter is very scenic, but the trail itself was a pain.

Rainbow Deadwaters
Rainbow Spring and Rainbow Lake
Leaving the north end of the Deadwaters, the trail parts from the stream and passes a side trail which leads to the Rainbow Lake Dam where the stream drains the Lake. That’s a 0.2 mile trail and advertises a view of Katahdin, but it was still mostly cloudy and foggy, so I didn’t bother to take a look. The trail then continues beside Rainbow Lake for its entire length – many miles, but doesn’t give the hiker a chance to get close to it until the Rainbow Spring campsite. There a side trail to the spring also gives you that first view of the lake. There’s a pipe from the spring that gushes water onto the stones right beside the lake.

Rainbow Lake from near its south end
Beyond the campsite the trail again retreats into the woods and makes a small climb, passing side trails to Doughnut Lake, then an unmarked side trail that leads down to the lake at a small peninsula (possibly a private camp), and then a side trail that leads ¾ mile to the summit of Rainbow Mountain. Then finally the AT returns to the side of Rainbow Lake and the hiker finally gets a good long look at it, as the trail hugs the lake shore for about a mile, all the way to its southern end – yes, the lake curves around and ends up forcing the AT northbound to meander toward the SE.

After the end of the lake, this erroneous course is corrected and the trail returns to a northward heading and begins to climb gently up to the nice (unexpected), bedrock slabs of the Rainbow Ledges. I turned around at the sign indicating the high point of the ledges, and had not had any sniff of a look toward Katahdin, though the guide advertises that you can see it from Rainbow Ledges. That view must be farther along, but I had already hiked 11 miles of AT and taken nearly six hours, so it was time to turn around. After the foggy start, the weather had turned beautiful—mild and sunny—and remained that way as I made the return trip, enjoying the usually easy trail (except for the Dead Marshes) and complete lack of significant climbs or descents. The return trip took closer to five hours. I was back at my parking spot by Pollywog Stream at 5PM.


Then on the way back into Millinocket in the evening I stopped in at a roadside rest area and caught this shot of the big mountain at dusk.  The building on the peninsula is a Bed and Breakfast called 5 Lakes Lodge - what a beautiful setting!

Katahdin as seen from ME 11 rest area 7.5 mi S of Millinocket


Here's the map of today's hike with a link to more photos:

AT Day 226 - Rainbow Lake at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Maine

Another look at the Great One

Thursday, September 6, 2012:

Another beautiful day in the 'hundred mile wilderness'.

From my personal journal:


I was on the trail at 6:30 and headed south along Pollywog stream, right beside the banks for a few tenths of a mile and then suddenly beginning a climb of a couple hundred feet to get up to the cliffs where the stream goes through what’s described as a ‘gorge’. There’s even a viewpoint up there of this ‘gorge’, but the view was less than impressive. It was basically a narrow wooded valley – little rock was evident except right next to the viewpoint itself.

West end of Crescent Pond
From there the trail retains most of this elevation and comes to Crescent Pond, which it practically circles. It’s a small crescent shaped pond, and the southbound trail comes to it from the west, passes all along the north side, cutting off some of the concave section of the crescent, then around the east side where there are no less than eight or nine boats chained to trees – amazing for such a little body of water in such a remote area only accessible by a long walk.

Then the trail continues along the south side for nearly a third of the length of the pond before finally giving up and heading inland for a climb and then a smaller descent to the road – the same road I parked on. The convoluted course of the trail had taken me 2.6 miles to get to a point on the road that is 1.2 miles from where I was parked as measured by my odometer. Now there’s a nice small circuit hike, or a non-purist thru-hiker’s short cut!

From the south side of this road crossing, the trail immediately begins the ascent of the North Summit of Nesuntabunt Mountain. At this summit there’s a nice viewpoint overlooking Nahmakanta Lake with Katahdin looming just 14 air miles distant (34 trail miles). But when I got there about 8:30 this morning the morning fog had not yet broken so all I could see was the lake below.

I headed on past a fairly unremarkable formation of three boulders forming a short tunnel – for unknown reasons this is mentioned as a landmark in the guide, but I’ve passed dozens of more interesting formations along the AT that don’t get any mention at all. The trail even seems to go out of its way to pass this rock, descending from the mountain then ascending again a hundred feet or more to this rock before descending to the Wadleigh Stream Lean-To, stream crossing, and nearby sand beach.

Sand beach near Wadleigh Stream

From this sand beach on Nahmakanta Lake, the trail makers chose to take the trail back up the slope for 200 feet elevation gain and back down again to a gravel beach in seven tenths of a mile. It looks like they were trying to avoid building trail along the very steep lake-side slopes – perhaps too rocky and difficult to put trail through without significant work. This a perfect example (and there are hundreds more) of a case where the Appalachian Trail is located for the convenience of the trail builders and maintainers at the expense of permanent increased discomfort to the hiker.

This long gravel beach was my turn-around point, and it was only 10:30AM when I got there. The low clouds were beginning to burn off and I was hopeful of having a nice view when I got back to the top of N Nesuntabunt Mountain, and I wasn’t disappointed (view shown up at the top of this post). There were still a few clouds around the peak of Katahdin, but the mountain was mostly in the clear.

Because I had the time, I sat for 25 minutes at this viewpoint drinking a Dr. Pepper and eating and enjoying the cool midday weather and the great view. To the southeast you can see all of the large lake Pemadumcook. By comparison, I’d almost call Nahmakanta a pond.

Even with this dawdling I was back at my parking spot at 2:30.


Logistics dictated that this was all the hiking I needed to do today - a relatively short but rewarding 13.6 mile hike.


Here's the map of today's hike with a link to more photos:

AT Day 225 - N Nesuntabunt Mtn. at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Maine

Thursday, September 13, 2012

How and why I'm hiking the AT

The Appalachian Trail near the summit of Mt. Guyot, Smoky Mountain Nat'l. Park 3/8/2012

When I retired from my 25-year career at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in 2005 I began to consider getting in shape and doing some of the physical things on my bucket list before I got too old to do them.  In my younger years, during the '70's and 80's, I had been an amateur bike racer and also had done a fair amount of hiking and some backpacking where I lived in northern Colorado.  But in the mid 1980's I hurt my knee badly enough that I had to give up the bike.  As it turned out I quit hiking too, though I remained somewhat physically active in other ways. I did a lot of gardening and built two houses with my bare hands without help, one in the foothills of Colorado and one in rural southern Maryland when I moved there to start working for NASA.  But by the time I retired from NASA I was pretty seriously out of shape.  And that was a problem, since topmost on my bucket list was to climb a 20,000 foot mountain in South America. That adventure may be the subject of another post so I won't discuss it except to say that I started whipping myself back into top physical condition and accomplished the mountain climbing goal back in 2009.

When I returned from South America, I began to look for other ways to take advantage of my great physical condition, so as not to let myself slip back into 'couch potato' mode.  I began to hike around my Maryland home.  I developed the 'Personal Continuous Footpath' goal (to travel on foot to every place I've ever lived) and also accomplished a local goal of hiking the entire 81 mile perimeter of public buffer land around Liberty Reservoir in north central Maryland.

I had done almost no hiking on the AT up until then, though I had done a lot of hill climbing using the Catoctin Trail in Maryland as training for my mountain climbing. But the AT was only forty miles from home--a good easy destination for my Personal Continuous Footpath.  So I did the necessary road walk to connect my Liberty Reservoir route with the AT via the Catoctin Trail.  And, of course, once my personal footpath had made contact with the AT, it was inevitable that I would hike more of it.  First came short bits--very casual day hikes--and then longer bits.  Soon I had begun working my way south into Virginia and through Shenandoah Park ... and ... well, I quickly realized that I had 'the bug' and had it bad.  In October of 2011, at age 63 I decided I was going to do a full-blown thru-hike.

Now, being a hard-core non-conformist and independent spirit I was interested in hiking the trail in a way nobody else has done it before. Since I don't particularly like the camping routine (stoves, tents, filtering water, etc.), and didn't want to deal with all the people and varmint issues at shelters (germs, mice, snoring, etc.), I decided to do the entire trail without spending a single night out there - all day-hikes.  This meant I would have to support my hike using my vehicle, a cargo van with a mattress thrown in the back--what I came to call my 'Two Ton Steel Tent'.

With that decision established, I was left with two options: find someone willing to be there to pick me up at a road crossing every day, or self-support using two vehicles and 'leap-frogging' between pick-up points. Now because of my stubborn independence, I wanted to be entirely self-sufficient - not rely on someone else for support (not even any trail magic).  So that left me with the leap-frog option.  Problem: my van didn't have a trailer hitch and I didn't have a second vehicle.  I did have a bicycle and had done a considerable amount of leap-frog hiking during the summer of 2011, but that wasn't an option for doing the entire AT--there were too many places where travel distances and road conditions made bicycling impossible.  So unless I wanted to buy a moped or a second vehicle and trailer hitch it looked like I was left without options.

Well, almost.  There was another option: do the entire trail twice. Doing the whole trail twice in one calendar year without camping on the trail would be a first (Laurie Potteiger and others at the ATC - though they keep no formal records - do not recall anyone else doing what I proposed.  In fact, only five or six people have reported hiking the AT twice in a single calendar year by any method, and the oldest of these was a decade younger than me). The allure of doing something significant--something hard--that nobody else had done intrigued me.  From my previous hiking experience I knew that I was fit enough to try this.  So by November 2011, I had made the big decision:  I would hike 4368.4 miles, pass every white blaze both northbound and southbound, all during the 2012 calendar year.  I would do this all by day hikes, so I would hike a short stretch of trail both ways on the same day, move to an adjacent leg, and repeat until finished.

With the big picture of my adventure now established I now began to consider some details--things I wanted to do along the way.  The first of these was that I would visit and photograph every official AT shelter and to make the side trip to most scenic attractions such as waterfalls and views located within a half mile of the AT on blue-blazed trails.  I would take extensive photographs of these attractions as well as of side trail junctions, road crossings (and associated parking areas) and some notable camp sites, oddities, monuments, trees, wildlife, flowers, footbridges, streams, ponds, and lakes, etc., etc.  In other words, to 'smell the roses', not just to log the miles.  What I decided not to do was visit hiker hostels and trail towns.  Since I planned on sleeping in my van, and since these private hiker-support establishments have no 'official' status as part of the AT the way shelters do, I chose to skip them.  It was probably the right decision, since I was already going to be pressed for time, but in retrospect I wish I had been able to connect with all the wonderful people who bring the trail alive and give it its 'local flavor'.  Maybe next time.

Finally, it was important to me to thoroughly report what I experienced, particularly the nature of the trail, so I established that I would post daily to this blog, include the best of the daily photographs, and also include a complete GPS track to 'prove' that I did what I say I did.

On January 1st I stepped onto the trail and set out on this epic quest.   The rest, as they say, is history ... documented daily for all to read here on this blog and on Trail Journals.

Here are links to some of the highlights of the journey:

And finally ... here's today's report:

Wednesday, September 5, 2012:

 It rained like h-e-double-hockey-sticks last night and up to 10:30 this morning.  Some of the moisture came from the tropical storm remnants that had been milling about the center of the country for the past week.  So while it rained, I spent the morning hours evaluating my 'end game' logistics and plans to get to Katahdin, factoring in the long range weather prognosis and hoping I might get half decent weather to summit the big mountain.

The upshot of all this analysis was that it wasn't worth doing any hiking today - a good day for a 'zero'.  So I had some time to kill.  I shopped some, relaxed a lot, ate a lot, and spent some time on the internet.  One of the things I wanted to do today was to explain myself and why I'm hiking the particular kind of unique AT hike that I've chosen to do.  Interestingly, the AT was never on my 'bucket list' and I certainly had no desire to hike the trail twice in one year, but doing it twice was a good solution to doing it 'my way' - that is, of 'hiking my own hike'.  The full explanation appears above.