Friday, November 30, 2012

Trail Recap 12 of 27: Skyland to Harpers Ferry, WV

Red Maple in the fog, Shenandoah National Park

Skyland Resort, Shenandoah National Park, VA to ATC office, Harpers Ferry, WV: 89.3 miles

General Impression/Theme:  Peak of fall color in northern Virginia.

People:  'Mag-Lev' from Boone, NC, father of 'Huckleberry' (GA-WV) who I met in Smoky Mountain Park on March 10th.  'Shaky', out for a week NoBo to Harper's Ferry, and 'L.A.' perhaps the only Hispanic/Native American hiker I've met, headed from Rockfish Gap to New York City and planning to do another 500 mile chunk next year.  'Hersch', thru-hiker hiking for a charity that helps displaced homeless people here and in Guatemala.  He'd finish his thru-hike in Duncannon in just a week or two.

Supply/Overnight:  For this section I was able to commute from my condo in Maryland - quite a luxury to have a shower, hot food, flush toilet, clean laundry, etc.

Worst Memory:  Had to kind of reach to identify one, but I guess I'll go with the infamous 'Roller Coaster' - tough, slow trail because of the rocks and some steep sections.

Best Day Hike:  An absolute cornucopia of great day hikes in this section.  First, there are a huge number of great rock outcrops and rocky summits with views of the Shenandoah Valley.  All but the last one I'll mention are easily accessible from Skyline Drive.  From Skyland, the hikes up to Stonyman (a short side trail off the AT) and Little Stonyman (right on the AT) are great and hugely popular.  Other notable rock outcrop viewpoints here are The Pinnacles, Mary's Rock, Hogback (be sure to take a little walk up to the AT overlook above the Skyline Drive auto-turn-out overlook) and North and South Marshall (with a parking lot in the saddle between them).  Of all these rocky vistas I liked North Marshall the best.  Crescent Rocks, right on the AT, is a popular outcrop with views to the south and east.  It's the only one outside Shenandoah National Park - right near the West Virginia border.

But my favorite walk was not to a rocky viewpoint.  It was a serene walk through open high meadows.  And there were even two of those in this ten-day-hike section.  I highly recommend the walk between I-66 and VA 638 in the vicinity of Linden, VA.  This two mile walk takes you up to a quarter mile walk through open meadows to a bench beneath an old apple tree with nice views to the west.  But of all the above choices, my favorite AT day hike by far was the walk through Sky Meadows State Park, with a long, varied traverse through an open ridge with some scattered stately trees in a savannah-like setting and wonderful views off to the east.  The park offers a number of opportunities for loop hikes.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Trail Recap 11 of 27: Waynesboro VA to Skyland

The best example of the 'Long Green Tunnel' anywhere on the AT

Rockfish Gap to Skyland Resort, Shenandoah National Park: 83.4 miles

General Impression/Theme:  Shenandoah National Park is a unique hiker experience.  Nowhere else on the trail is there so much easy access to facilities, amenities, and resupply.  For me as a day hiker, I was able to break up each day's hiking into very short legs, as many as seven little out-and-back pieces in a single day.

People:  'Three Day', age 57, who has been hiking the AT by three day (long weekend) chunks since she turned 50.  She has about 1000 miles finished.  'Mailman', NoBo section hiker, out for a week or two.  'Chuck-e-Phish', SoBo thru hiker.  Two hard working maintainers improving water bars on the north side of Hightop Mountain, and the father-son combo of day hikers who agreed to pose in the green tunnel shot above.

Supply/Overnight:  Waynesboro Wal-Mart and Golden Corral restaurant; Elkton 24hr Food Lion, Luray Wal-Mart.

Worst Memory:  The worst experience I can point to in this section is a bee sting - third of three I suffered.  This one produced the smallest allergic reaction of the three.

Best Day Hike:  I'm giving the nod to the very new (2012) trail reroute that takes the hiker up over Little Calf Mountain from Beagle Gap (big parking area in a meadow off Skyline Drive).  This open grassy summit with excellent views was formerly reached via an unmarked side trail while the AT had hikers trudging through nothing but woods.

A close second choice:  To have the best 'Green Tunnel' experience anywhere on the trail (shown in the photos up top), head south toward Hazeltop from Milam Gap (big trailhead parking lot on Skyline Drive) and keep your eyes open.  The views west from a rock outcrop near the summit of Hazeltop (via a short unmarked side trail) make this a very rewarding hike.

Third and last, there is the hugely popular rocky experience atop Bearfence Mountain.  The rocky spine of this mountain offers hikers several loop hikes, a significant rock scramble and plenty of views.  Unfortunately the AT skirts the 'good stuff', preferring to stay in the woods to the west of the 'fence'.   There's a trailhead parking area on Skyline Drive (which fills up quickly), making for a short hike for the whole family.  Super popular spot.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Trail Recap 10 of 27: Buchanan to Waynesboro, VA

Best free unattended shelter on the entire AT - Bryant Ridge Shelter, Natural Bridge AT Club
Bryant Ridge Shelter, gorgeous streamside setting, designed by Architectural Students

Peaks of Otter area to Rockfish Gap, 93.2 miles.

General Impression/Theme:  Point of origin.  On May 22, 2006 I set foot on the Appalachian Trail for the first time (as far as I can recall), coming up from land I owned and hiking about a mile of AT between The Priest and an unused old woods road to the saddle between The Priest and Little Priest, and visiting The Priest Shelter.  The rest, as they say, is history.

People:  Third and last meeting with Harry and Leo, who were completing their thru-hikes by day hikes (only spent a handful of nights on the trail).  I was also in the midst of the SoBo bubble, meeting up to ten southbound hikers per day, including 'Banjo' who I'd met up in Maine on two consecutive days, and Banjo's companion 'Stilts'.

Supply/Overnight:  Daleville 24hr Kroger, Lovingston Food Lion and Village Inn motel, Lynchburg Food Lion (west side of town), the I-81 rest area near Buena Vista, and the Waynesboro Golden Corral restaurant and adjacent Wal-Mart.

Worst Memory:  Had quite a bit of knee pain, a result of overdoing, feeling invincible on this easy trail after transferring from Maine.  For three days I had to hike on medication (Ibuprofen) as I adjusted to mid-Atlantic trail conditions.

The Guillotine, as it appeared on 10-31-2011, not long after I began growing my beard
Best Day Hike:  Cold Mountain - a fairly short day hike up from Hog Camp Gap - with a half mile of broad open ridge-top meadows with panoramic views to the east and west.  Second choice would be the combination of the open summit of Apple Orchard Mountain and the adjacent 'Guillotine' just to the north: a very distinctive rock feature.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Trail Recap 9 of 27: Newport to Buchanan, VA

Where it all began: my  'mile zero', Sept 15th and January 1st
Side trail to the Daleville park-n-ride lot

Near Blacksburg, VA to near the Peaks of Otter:  ~76 miles

General Impression/Theme:  This section contains the most scenic piece of trail in all of Central Virginia:  Within 30 miles of trail the hiker passes sweeping vistas of Carvin Cove Reservoir and Tinker Cliffs, McAfee Knob and the Dragon's Tooth.

People: I did three of the ten day hikes in this section in September and met the first long distance SoBo hiker, 'Bobcat', doing a flip flop WV-ME, WV-GA.  He had met 'Sharkey' up in Maine so was the first to clue me in to Sharkey's yo-yo attempt, the only other person doing the trail both ways this year.  Back in January, when I hiked the other seven hikes, I met my very first long distance hiker, 'Free to Go' who did the AT NoBo in 1995 and was out training in preparation for a thru hike of the Continental Divide Trail starting in April.  All the other hikers I met were New Years' holiday day hikers, including two who were members of the Roanoke AT Club.

Supply/Overnight:  primarily the Daleville 24hr Kroger and the VA 311 trailhead parking lot near McAfee Knob

Worst Memory:  Frostbite.  As a result of the below zero wind-chills on January 2 and 3 both my cheeks developed minor frostbite, not the classic black skin, but enough tissue damage to cause redness, soreness, and oozing.  It took more than three weeks to heal.

Class three scramble up rock wall approaching  Dragons Tooth
Best Day Hike:  I'll go with the tough climb up to Dragon's Tooth as my choice for best and surely the most memorable because of the difficult rocky trail (see photo).  Close second is McAfee Knob.  The hike up to Tinker Cliffs via the Andy Layne Trail is another great choice with panoramic views of the Catawba Valley.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Trail Recap 8 of 27: Bland to Newport, VA

Bland, VA to Newport (Blacksburg area): ~ 75 miles

General Impression/Theme:  Weather.  I hiked this in mid-January and had some of the nastiest winter weather:  an all day rain with temperature barely above freezing then some snow and wind and bitter cold, but some nice days too.

People:  Few and far between.  Met two long distance section hikers, Peter ('Lasher') headed from Harper's Ferry to Springer and 'Thor', frequent long distance hiker, headed the opposite way doing the same section.  Otherwise the only other people I met on the trail during these ten hikes was a foursome of young women vet medicine students out for a day hike on their last day of freedom before classes began at Virginia Tech.

Supply/Overnight:  Food Lion lot in Pearisburg, Newport park-n-ride lot, Blacksburg Kroger.

Worst Memory:  Had one of my three serious falls here, slipping on snow covered ice right by the road above Woods Hole hostel, came down fast and hard on adjacent rocks. 

Best Day Hike:  The open ridge area of Rice Fields, a nice hike north from Pearisburg.  A close second is the day hike south from Pearisburg to Angels Rest, with excellent panoramic views of the town and the New River valley.  Third choice is the pleasant field walk to the massive old Keffer Oak, largest tree on the trail, from VA 42 in the Sinking Creek valley.  And fourth, from the same parking place head south to Kelly Knob for some nice views.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Trail Recap 7 of 27: Groseclose to Bland, VA

Chestnut Ridge, open summit and shelter

Groseclose to Bland: ~67 miles

General Impression/Theme:  Lonely Trail - I did this section in the dead of winter (late January).  I would walk for days without meeting anyone else on the trail.

People:  Staying at Woods Hole Hostel my daughter and I had the honor of meeting Michael, but Neville was out of town.  The only person I met on the trail turned out to be my first 'fan'.  We met on a bitter cold day along the ridgetop of Garden Mountain.  He was just out on a day hike with his dog and his GPS.  The next day, he emailed me saying he only realized who I was after we parted.  He had been following me on Trail Journals.  Unfortunately I've lost that email, and therefore also his name.

Supply and overnight:  The Kangaroo 24h gas station at the interstate exit, Bland, VA.  Also the Wal-Mart in Marion, VA.

Worst Memory:  Locked my keys in my van (and left it running) when my daughter and I were headed in to watch a movie in Blacksburg.  Had to wait 45 minutes for AAA to arrive and missed the first half hour of the movie.

Best Day Hike:  Chestnut Ridge with its open summit and expansive meadows with views down to "God's Thumbprint" (Burke's Garden).  Getting to the trail access points takes a lot of driving and the roads aren't great.  From the south it's an 8 mile drive up the rough gravel VA 625.  From the north you can drive up to Walker Gap, though you may need a four-wheel drive vehicle.

Another great hike is the climb up to Glade Mountain from the Settlers' Museum near Groseclose/Adkins.  The trail follows the noisy tumbling Vaught Branch much of the way, then up on top of the ridge of Glade Mountain you'll pass an amazing collection of twisted and contorted trees.  I call this the 'enchanted forest'.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Trail Recap 6 of 27: Damascus to Groseclose, VA

Mural of Mt. Rogers in Damascus

Damascus vicinity to near Groseclose: ~87 miles

General Impression/Theme:  Where's the snow?  Normally, according to the Mt. Rogers Visitor Center staff, the mountain is deep in snow from December 1st to March 31st.  But as I hiked through this beautiful open highland area on Feb. 2-4 there was not a single patch of snow to be found.

People:  very few and far between.  There was Ted, 'living' in the Trimpi shelter, far from his New England home, drivers license suspended, awaiting a DUI court date.  There was Shortstop, who planned to hike a significant section up north in the spring (saw journal entries up there but never met him again).  And there was Cody Coyote, a young kid who seems to have done a large piece of the trail this year.  I met him near the Nick Grindstaff Memorial on a snowy foggy morning and, like Shortstop, I noted his journal entries in New England frequently, but never again saw him in person.  His motto, which ended nearly all his entries, was 'Turning my mistakes into gold."  Would have loved to hear more of the story.

Supply and overnight:  Marion, VA, KFC AYCE and Wal-Mart parking lot.  In Damascus I used the long term hiker lot beside the new library and the Food City out east of town.

Worst Memory:  Due to some sort of bureaucratic tangle, the footbridge over Feathercamp Branch, not far north of Damascus, was torn down but no alternative stream crossing had been provided, forcing a ford through twenty feet of knee deep water with the temperature of air and water barely above freezing.  Have you ever plunged into icewater?  It's surprising how quickly the sensation of cold turns into a sensation of intense pain, and how slowly it goes away.  And, of course, I had to endure this twice.

Best Day Hike:  Grayson Highlands/Mt. Rogers area.  There are sixteen miles of memorable trail - open, high country walks with grand vistas - to choose from between Pine Mountain summit and Buzzard Rock south of Whitecap Mountain.  Park at Elk Garden in the huge free lot and go either way, or park at the trailhead in Grayson Highlands State Park ($2) and do any number of excellent loops.  For me the absolute epicenter of this special area was getting up close and personal with the gentle ponies in the open meadows near Thomas Knob Shelter.  They seem to be tamer there than those in other areas.

In the Damascus vicinity there are some excellent loop hikes involving the AT and the Virginia Creeper Trail north of town.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Trail Recap 5 of 27: Erwin, TN to Damascus, VA

Bradley Gap and Hump Mountain - my favorite place on the Appalachian Trail
Erwin to Damascus (actually a bit south of the VA border): ~73 miles

General Impressions/Theme:  The outright best and some of the worst.  This ten-day-hike section took me over the extensive balds of the Roan Highlands, which, on retrospect, continue to be my very favorite part of the Appalachian Trail.  Yet not far away, just across Highway 19E is a section of the trail that is the subject of an ongoing feud with some of the locals - a feud that began when the government 'took' land away from its owners via eminent domain, and apparently done with an attitude that seemed to say: "the government's bigger than you, so if you fight it, you lose".  As a result, vehicles parked at trail crossings here are frequently vandalized, and the trail itself is often trashed, littered, white blazes overpainted, etc.

People:  My favorite 'people' of this section were a horse and a goat in their trail-side pen on Shook Branch Road just up from Watauga Lake.  Never have I encountered a more people-friendly duo of beings (other than dogs).  Actual people on the trail were limited to weekender day-hikers though I met Lone Wolf, a former thru-hiker at Watauga Lake shelter, just out for a few days.  In the shelter register at Clyde Smith Shelter the last entry, dated 2/18/12 was from Iceman and Viking.  At the time I had not met them yet.  They would have been only the third and fourth thru-hiker I met, but they passed me while I was off the trail taking three zeros to take care of business.  At the Mountaineer Shelter there was an entry from 'Meats' dated 1/28 stating he was out for a weekend training hike for his successful 2012 thru hike.  Again, I photographed this entry even though it was before I had ever met him.

Supply:  Most of these ten days I was able to use the same base: the Walmart in Elizabethton, TN (pronounced 'eliza-BETH-ton').

Worst Memory:  Apart from the feeling of being an intruder in the contentious section of trail described above, I had two other bad memories: a seriously painful sprained ankle that, for a while, made me wonder whether my adventure had come to a crashing end, and an incident where I nearly ran my van off a 20 foot sheer drop (no guard rail) on a switch back on snow-packed Dennis Cove Road when I lost control after losing all traction and trying to turn around.  In my daily report from that day I did not mention how serious this problem was because I didn't want to worry my elderly parents.  And it turned out okay in the end: I avoided disaster by something like 12 to 18 inches.

Best Day Hike:  If you can do the distance (one way with support), start at Carver's gap and hike over all the great balds - Round, Jane, Grassy Ridge (a side trail), Little Hump and Hump Mountain and then drop down to end the day at US 19E.  The views are magnificent and plentiful.  The high grassy meadows are magical.

One of the other very popular day hikes in this area is also an excellent choice for a shorter day - Laurel Fork Falls.  It even looks great from Google Earth.  There's a well-used (often crowded) parking lot on US 321 just east of Hampton, TN, that leaves you about a 2 mile hike to it (one way).

A more remote halls, but more impressive to me because of its sheer height is Jones Falls, just up from a peaceful meadow walk along the Elk River.  To get there, however, you have to hike a long way or risk parking in that frequently vandalized area (with support you could get somebody to drop you off).  Finally, the Mountaineer Shelter is one of the nicer new shelters - by far the best one in Tennessee, and nearby Mountaineer Falls is a great stop during the wet season, though it dries up in late summer.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Trail Recap 4 of 27: Hot Springs, NC to Erwin, TN

Uncle Johnny's Nolichucky Inn, right on the AT

Hot Springs to Erwin (approximate end points of this ten-day-hike section) ~91 miles

General Impressions/Theme:  Into the heart of 'Bald Country', the NC-TN Balds.  This section included Beauty Spot, Big Bald, and two different kind of exposed high-ground hikes along Firescald Knob and Cliff Ridge above the Nolichucky River just south of Erwin.  All four of these places will give you exceptional day-hiking experiences.

People:  Appalachian Trail Conservancy board member Lenny Bernstein, met on the section that he and his wife Danny maintain, Thru-hikers 'Fire Pit', 'Rambo' and 'Spicotti' and a friend of Rambo whose trail name I didn't get.  A couple meetings with section day-hikers the self described 'two Cougars' based in Hot Springs - yes, these were middle aged women on a holiday who met young Rambo and Spicotti in the bar at the Iron Horse and invited them to spend the night in their room (and ?? - Spicotti said no more).  Off trail (by 0.2 miles only) I stopped in at the beautiful home of 1998 thru-hikers the Nelsons, who were offering trail magic.

Supply and overnight:  The Wal-Mart in Unicoi, just up the road from Erwin.  A couple nights at the Ingles in Marshall, NC, on the road to Asheville.

Worst Memory:  'Five Bridges and a log' - the slippery fallen log I had to cross twice (in the rain) on Jones Branch near the Nolichucky River.  The AT crosses this big stream six times and inexplicably this was the only crossing without a bridge - it was either an all out ford or try to negotiate this thin mossy log.

Best Day Hike:  I have to go with Big Bald - a somewhat obvious choice.  The views are 360 degree-panoramic.   There's access from the Wolf Laurel Ski Resort that makes it a short hike, but if you can make it, come up from the north, parking at Spivey Gap.  That's a 7 mile hike one way and takes you past a vast open forest of ancient, contorted, never-give-up birches on the slopes as you approach.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Trail Recap 3 of 27: Fontana to Hot Springs, NC

Sunset atop Max Patch, trail shown is not the AT but the access trail, summit to parking lot
Fontana to Hot Springs (~105 miles)

General Impressions/Theme:  The four huge hikes, 31-34 miles each.  In order to work through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park by yo-yo day hikes (out and back), I had to hike these four big days.  This was one of the serious tests I had to pass if I was to succeed.

People:  Paul Bernhardt (Parkside, first of two meetings), the foursome of Green Bean, Spoon, Moses, and Huckleberry, Patches and Gutsy (my first of two meetings with Gutsy, first of three meetings with Patches).

Supply:  The best is the Pigeon Forge (Sevierville) Wal-Mart.  Another overnight spot I used is the Tennessee Welcome Center rest area on I-40.

Worst Memory:  Happened on the best hike.  The first few miles from Newfound gap to Charlie's Bunion is horrible, rutted, eroded, overused trail.  And because of the length of the hike I needed to do, I had to hike that section in the dark - both ways, early morning and late evening - with invisible black ice and white ice imitating dry rock as viewed by the light of my headlamp.  Very slow, treacherous going.   Also, Cold Spring Mountain (between Clingman's Dome and Spence Field) is the single most significant 'PUD' (pointless up and down) of the entire Appalachian Trail.  Almost every other apparent PUD has an explanation.  This one is truly pointless.

Best Day Hike:  There are two that compete for best.  I'll go with the hike north from Newfound Gap to Charlie's Bunyon and beyond, as far as you can go before turning around.  This transports you into what is by far the most spectacular, scenic and remote ridge-hiking on the southern half of the AT.  Another must is Max Patch with its broad open high meadows and spectacular panoramic views.  But you can hike that from the parking area on Max Patch Road without ever actually hiking the AT (you'll cross it).

Friday, November 16, 2012

Trail Recap 2 of 27: GA/NC border to Fontana Dam

Bly Gap to Fontana (~84 miles):

General Impression/Theme:  Recommendation to NoBo thru-hikers.  If you can swing it (by lining up a shuttle), I strongly recommend that you consider hiking the leg from Fontana Dam to Springer *Southbound*.  You'll get a broader sampling of the hikers who will be in your 'bubble' as you return to Fontana and head north, maybe a better chance to find compatible souls.

People:  Following on from the general theme above.  This was the time and place where I met the greatest number of memorable people, many of whom I'd meet again up north and/or would follow on Facebook, Trail Journals, etc., and two of whom I met here for the second time already ('Gutsy' and 'Meats').  Just to name a few more:  Smokehawk and Snake Runner (Brandon and Kylie), JK and Navigator (Florida Hikes author and her husband), Drop Out (who would become one of the Parkside Fellowship), the Northbound 2012 Facebook team, Gingersnap (NoBo 2011, who just a short time later appeared on the cover of the March-April 2012 issue of AT Journeys magazine), Johannes and Bomber (both of whom I met at Gingersnap's amazing trail magic station near Rock Gap and then again up north months later), and the thru-hiking-by-day-hikes duo Harry and Leo who I'd meet twice more up north.

Favorite Supply Point:  The general store at the N.O.C. - excellent beer selection in a part of the state that has a lot of dry counties, and hiker rest rooms open 24 hours.

Worst Memory:  One of the worst looking shelters on the trail is Big Spring Gap Shelter near Albert Mountain (great view from the fire tower there, though), built of particle board, leaning, dilapidated. 

Best Day Hike:  I'll mention two:  My favorite spot was Siler Bald - a quarter mile side trip off the trail, but definitely worth it.  Go up and back from Wayah Gap (NC 1310) for a fairly short hike.  Great views including across to Wayah Bald.  The other great destination is Cheoah Bald.  Start at Stecoah Gap.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Trail recap 1 of 27: Georgia

In preparation for whatever book I finally write about the Appalachian Trail, I've begun a review of my hike, organizing it in ten day-hike chunks from south to north.  Here's the first installment in the form of a set of notes rather than polished prose:

Georgia, Amicalola Falls to Bly Gap at NC border (~80 miles):

General impressions/Theme:  The NoBo bubble--met/passed hundreds of hikers starting their northward trek.  I deliberately planned to work my way southward during the time of peak NoBo activity in order to be exposed to as many of these folk as possible.  It worked.  Daily hiker count approached 100 on several days.

People:  Georgia Ridgerunner Rhea Patrick, The Rainwater family, Tomas and Anthony, The Sarasotas

Favorite supply and overnight spot:  Clayton, GA Wal-Mart

Best Day Hike:  My actual favorite of these first ten day hikes was the 608 steps climbing beside Amicacalola Falls on the approach trail.  On the actual AT, there's a very pretty and popular day hike to Long Creek Falls from Three Forks, not far from Springer.  Then there's the popular climb up to Blood Mountain from the Walasi-Yi trail center at Neels Gap.  That's great for a clear day, but being a waterfall fan, I'll go with Long Creek Falls and the fragrant rain-forest-like approach as the winner.

Worst memory:  Not recognizing Rhea Patrick when I passed him again on my return leg simply because he had his hat and pack off and was stopped, resting. Passed by him hardly saying a word.  *So* embarrassing ...

Monday, November 12, 2012

My novel wins an award!

Proud to announce that 'Eden's Womb', then called 'Ice King', the distant future Fantasy/Sci-Fi novel I've been working on has just won third place in its genre in the Maryland Writer's Association 2012 Novel Contest.

This is a pretty big deal for me - a game-changer in fact.  It's the kind of positive reinforcement I was hoping for (though first place would have been better *grin*) as I took a hiatus from writing in order to hike the Appalachian Trail.   If my novel had been just another unsuccessful entry in the pack (there were 24 in all), I may not have returned to it at all.  But now I'm energized.  I want to get this book, first of seven to tell the entire tale 'Eden's Womb' finished and out the door.  But with my AT thru-hike fresh on my mind I also intend to work on a book about that.  Guess I'm going to be one busy little award-winning novelist for the next few months.   (Ahhhhhh, kinda like the ring of that.)

The certificate above came with a cash prize.  And this isn't the first time my writing has earned a cash prize.  Did you know that I'm also an award winning poet?  Check out the highlighted portion of this 1969 newspaper article.  This is a screen print from a PDF file that you can find online at .  Scroll down to page four, upper right corner.

Now a related announcement.  'Eden's Womb' has an Appalachian Trail connection.  A chunk of Book VI is set on the trail as it appears more than 600,000 years in the future, and a major 'Fell Capital' is DunCanon (Duncannon, a town in PA that the Appalachian Trail goes right through).  After having now hiked the entire trail, I wanted to feature it even more prominently.  I also have an outline for a 'Prequel' that is set almost entirely on the Appalachian Trail and involves a life-or-death thru-hike in the midst of dystopian anarchy.  More on this to come.

I'm back at my NC beach condo now, chillin' with my 'buds' and doing some soul searching and formulating a plan to get the rest of the series written.

Why do I need plan?  Why not just sit down and write?  Well, when it comes to making the novel a success, there's much more involved than just having a good story to tell, much more than just getting it down in black and white.  I'll be unveiling an unusual proposal for publishing 'Eden's Womb' and the reasoning behind it in the future.  Stay tuned.

Yours truly,
Award winning poet and novelist, P.J. Wetzel         ... ahhhhhhhhhhhh :-)

Friday, November 9, 2012

So what's the formula for success?

Finish line celebration with family, Caledonia State Park, PA, 3 November 2012

I don't feel extraordinary.  Yet I've just become only the 6th person in history to hike the AT both ways in a single calendar year (and report it to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy).  And I'm the oldest to do so by about a decade (I'm 64.  Previous yo-yo thru-hikers who have reported their accomplishment to ATC range in age from 20 to mid 50's).

No, I don't feel extraordinary, and my overall reaction to my adventure at the moment is "it wasn't all that hard."

So what gives?  It was an extraordinary feat - a feat of patience and persistence and putting up with pain.  It was a feat that required laser focus and a willingness to sacrifice every other aspect of my normal existence for nearly a full year.  And a year is no small part of a human life.

I think it helped that I was already fit at the start - had hiked 350 miles of the AT the previous year, summited three 6000 meter peaks in South America the previous year, and had done a lot of other hiking as well.  I also think that my body structure worked to my advantage - long and lean (like Jennifer Pharr Davis, who holds the current unofficial speed record - she hiked the entire AT in 46 days).  Long legs mean fewer steps.  Light weight (I averaged about 150 pounds on my 6'2" frame) means I wasn't carrying along a lot of extra 'baggage' every day.

Everyone says an AT thru-hike is more mental than physical.  I wholeheartedly agree.  First of all, you spend a lot of time alone.  It helps immeasurably if you 'like yourself' and know how to entertain yourself 'in a vacuum'.  I imagine that a successful thru-hiker would also be a person who would come out of a 'solitary confinement' prison sentence smiling - or at least feeling no worse for the experience.  It helps if you have a healthy measure of plain old damn stubbornness - that jaw-clenching determination that nothing is going to keep you from achieving your goal.  And finally, it helps if you have some sort of over-arching motivation - some reason to see your effort through to the finish even when the going gets tough.

Okay, let's talk to the point about motivation a bit more.  Many successful hikers draw on the support of family and friends - a steady flow of encouragement is often motivation enough.  A good hiking partner is a huge help.  Some hikers are hiking for a cause - e.g. to raise money or to raise awareness for something close to their heart.  In my personal case, the motivation seems a little more nebulous.  But it worked for me:  I have started a lot of things in my life, and haven't always finished them.  I've had a lot of accomplishments as well, yet none that I feel are that noteworthy.  I simply wanted to do something hard and see it through from start to finish: something that takes a lot of work and something that nobody else had done (hike the AT both ways by day hikes in a calendar year), and maybe something that I could call my 'fifteen minutes of fame' accomplishment - the thing I might be remembered for if I'm remembered at all.

My Dad doesn't believe in 'luck'.  I'm tempted to say that in order to succeed, a thru-hiker has to just have some good luck (not to trip over a rock and twist an ankle, not to get sick, etc.)  But in the end I think my Dad is right.  You make your own luck.  In fact I'll add this to my list of essential winning qualities:  A successful thru-hiker needs to be willing to take responsibility when something goes wrong - not to look around for someone or something external to blame.  Blaming others weakens your character and resolve.  Taking responsibility builds them.

So when you sum up the list of qualities needed for thru-hiking success, does it describe a person of extraordinary character?  I think not.  What I did is something that many others could have done.  Maybe the lesson is simply this:  Ordinary people can do extraordinary things - you just have to set your mind to it.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Primal Wonder

My trail name is 'Seeks It'.  Foremost among those things that I sought to gain from my ten months on the Appalachian Trail was that fundamental sense of awe - that magical feeling of connectedness with and oneness with the universe.  Those moments of perfect fulfillment that you can get from things as tiny as a patch of green moss after a cleansing rain, a spider spinning its web in the morning sun, to gazing at the infinite sky on a clear starry night far from the interference of city lights.

In all my life, I've never been blessed with such an opportunity - to draw, daily and abundantly from this tap of pure ambrosia.

Sacrifice?  Hardly!  Here in the woods I drank with gusto from this infinite primal source.  Every day!  No wealth of kings can compare.  No words can adequately describe ...

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

There should have been confetti

Saturday, November 3, 2012:

Shortly after noon today my immediate family gathered at the Oak Pavilion in Caledonia State Park to celebrate and hike the last mile of my 2012 double/yo-yo pair of thru-hikes:  4368.4 miles in all.

We were getting ready to have a picnic lunch before heading out to hike when a SoBo hiker rushes up asking for 'Seeks It'.

Lo and behold it was none other than 'Sharkey' - the only other hiker this year who is doing a yo-yo.  He had met Quarry Gap Shelter 'innkeeper' Jim Stauch up the trail about a mile.  Jim knew we were here because he had been working in the park when I arrived this morning.

Well, as you can imagine, Sharkey and I were both shocked and delighted by the coincidence.  I had first heard about Sharkey back on Sept. 16th from 'Bobcat', a flip-flop hiker who had met him up in Maine before he flipped down to Harpers Ferry and began heading south.

Sharkey had done a NoBo thru-hike back in '92 and half the trail (GA - PA) in '08.  This year he decided to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his thru-hike by doubling it.  He plans to reach Springer before Dec. 31'st.  Good luck, Sharkey!

Somehow I feel that my hike has been blessed by chance encounters like this throughout - things that you couldn't dream up if you tried.  Like the day in June when I decided to drop in at Harper's Ferry before returning to the trail in New York, and ran into thru-hiking friends X and N Trovert, who just happened to have arrived at the ATC office minutes before I did.  Then there are the three times I met Harry and Leo on the trail, including the evening before they finished their self-supported thru-hike, also all by day-hikes.  There's the coincidence that I was able to pass the plaque celebrating the anniversary of the AT's completion on the very day of the 75th anniversary of that completion.  And finally there are all the amazing weather breaks I had along the way - not a trace of snow on Mt. Rogers or Clingman's Dome in March, not a breath of wind on Mt. Washington on the day of my double presidential traverse.

What a ride it has been!  And today's gathering is like icing on the cake:

Of course we invited Sharkey to have lunch with us.  The main dish celebrated the hike with a 75th anniversary theme - serving Kraft original Mac and Cheese with Spam, both of which share this year as their 75th anniversary year, and very appropriate trail food.

Then off we headed, with our talented photographer, Adriane Workman of Wraven Design hiking along.  Here she is with her camera, keeping warm by the fire - it was a cloudy day in the 40's.  Also in the shot are brother Jim, Sharkey and my nephew Rik at right.

And off we went, clowning around as we hiked.

Thanks ever so much to Sharkey for sharing the video he took.  And Adriane was busy covering every angle of the day's activities with her camera and creative eye.  Here are just a couple of her products - more to come:

In all a very satisfying wrap up to this ten month adventure.  We adjourned as darkness approached, and we headed to the nearby hiker friendly Flamingo Restaurant for dinner.

On the way home, stomach comfortably stuffed, I could not have felt more contented.  What a great day!


Here's the map of today's final little ceremonial hike, no photos attached:

AT Day 270 - Caledonia State Park at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find hiking trails in California and beyond

Sunday, November 4, 2012

4366.4 / 4368.4

Saturday, October 27, 2012:

Yep, just one trail mile left to hike (both ways).  I'm reserving that for a family celebration.

Somehow it seemed like just another day out on the trail, not the last one.  It had its ups and downs (literally), its little annoyances and its little pleasures.  It just didn't feel like a big deal that it was the last real hike I'll do on the AT for a while.  So I'm just going to tell you about it the way I've told you about the last 268 day hikes.

It was a short day, just 8 miles of hiking along the ridge of Rocky Mountain.  And it's aptly named.  The trail bounced you up on the rocky spine of the ridge for a mile and change, 'showing' you some interesting rock formations, the best of which I call 'hole-in-the-rock':

I visited the last shelter, and was delighted to find entries in the log book from some trail acquaintances among the early NoBo crowd, including Paul (Parkside).

Somehow they felt like personal messages to me, as if they were offering their congratulations.

I rolled back down the hill, finishing early, and then drove up to Caledonia State Park to scout it out for the family celebration.  There I noticed a guy working blowing leaves out of the Oak Pavilion, and I approached him to ask a few questions.  Lo-and-behold, it was none other than Jim Stauch, the 'Innkeeper' at the amazing Quarry Gap Shelter, which I visited on my first day starting north toward Katahdin, back on Easter Sunday, April 8th.

Jim is one of those people with a big heart - down-to-earth, humble, and truly happy doing what he does.  We had a long, wide-ranging conversation.  He's been caretaker at Quarry Gap for 35 years, and his work here in Caledonia Park is also freely given volunteer work.  What a great guy, and what an honor to meet him!

And what a great (almost) finish to this odyssey.  Look for my post from the final day, coming soon to a computer screen near you :-) ... ...


Here's the map showing today's hike, and a link to more photos:

AT Day 269 - Rocky Mountain at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find hiking trails in California and beyond

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Day 268 - the last long hike

Friday, October 26, 2012:

Yes, it's come to this, and it feels bittersweet.  Today's 19.6 mile hike brings me to within 5 trail miles of the 'finish line'.  So all that I have left is to hike a short leg tomorrow setting up a 'ceremonial' stroll to the finish line in Caledonia State Park - a stroll short enough that my family can do it with me.  Wow ... I can't believe it's really the end ... and just in time to let nasty old Hurricane Sandy do her thing.

Today's hike took place in mild, cloudy, hazy conditions.  I passed no viewpoints except this one from a pipeline clearing, but any views today were hazy ones.  Otherwise I walked mostly very easy trail through woods that have quickly become full of naked trees.  The leaf change and drop is mostly over.  It is always so quick to come and go, but somehow seems especially quick this year for me.


Here's the map and a link to more photos:

AT Day 268 - Chimney Rocks area at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best hikes in California and beyond

Friday, November 2, 2012

Into Pennsylvania

Thursday, October 25, 2012:

And now just 15 miles of trail left to hike.  Tomorrow will be my last full hiking day.  Wow!  What a ride it's been.

Today, though, the ride was all in the fog.  It was a dreary drippy day.  Look at the "view" from Pen Mar Park's famous and venerable old vista point:

For the third day in a row I hiked all day in my crocs.  My poor beat-up old feet seem to like them better than any of the alternative shoe choices I have available.  Every pair I have is worn out and close to falling apart except the crocs.  Maybe that's the key.

The highlight of the day was a chance to visit the new Raven Rock Shelter, less than two years old and *much* easier to get to than the old Devils Racecourse Shelter it replaces.  That old shelter was a long steep drop from the trail and 0.3 miles away.  The new one is at the elevation of the trail and just a few hundred yards away.  Below is the photo I took of Devils Racecourse Shelter on August 7, 2010.  Note how the front is leaning and the roof has a tarp:

All the talk on and off the trail in this area is about Hurricane Sandy and the super-storm it will generate as it merges with a winter blast of cold air.  It's very reminiscent of Hurricane Hazel in 1954, which I remember well (living in Wilmington, DE at the time).  Almost exactly the same time of year.  I'm fortunate that I'll be done hiking before the storm hits, except for a ceremonial last day when I'll celebrate with family and hike the last couple of miles.   Just hoping that Sandy spares us all, gives us a Halloween fright, but with out the 'tricks'.


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

AT Day 267 - Pen Mar Park at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find trail maps for California and beyond