Thursday, September 27, 2012

Katah-done

Victory!
Sorry to leave you hanging, readers. By now you've probably assumed that we have either finished the trail or fallen to our doom off the side of a mountain. Don't worry, the former is the correct assumption. On Tuesday, September 18, 2012 at around 11:45 AM, we reached out and touched the sign we've been dreaming about ever since we left Springer Mountain, GA on April 3rd. On a windy, foggy day that will most likely go down in history as the most exciting Tuesday of my life, we stood atop Mount Katahdin with 2,184 miles of invaluable experiences, life lessons, and friendships behind us. I now type this post from an air-conditioned apartment in Chicago. I'm wearing a clean(ish) pair of jeans, have a neatly trimmed beard of socially acceptable length, and have showered every day for the past week. It's good to be back.


Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Maine Attraction

The view from our campsite on Moxie Pond in Maine
In his last post, Guyline promised a report on the White Mountains and Maine, and by golly you're going to get one.   But first, a few words on where we are today:

We are on the homestretch, friends.   With 114 miles to go, all that stands between us and Katahdin is a great expanse of wood and lakes known as the 100 mile wilderness.   Tomorrow we will throw six days of food and fuel over our sagging shoulders and the next time you hear from us, we will (hopefully) be done with the whole affair.

The last 300 miles or so have been hands down the most physically challenging of our trip.  For northbounders, the White Mountains and southern Maine are built up over months of trail rumors and warnings from southbounders and section hikers.     Nearly everyone tells hikers that the White Mountains of New Hampshire are the hardest and most beautiful section of the AT.  Countless hikers have told us this is their favorite part of the trail.   Not so for Bearcub and Guyline.  I'm going to voice an opinion now that is a bit controversial in the AT community:   I don't like the Whites.   (I suppose that statement is controversial in many communities).

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Day in the Hike

The reward.
The hard work.

I know, I know...our posts are way too infrequent. We get it. I'm going to try to make up for it in this post by generically describing a typical day on the trail. But first I think I should give a quick update on what's going on in our lives. We recently finished the White Mountains in New Hampshire, and we are now about 30 miles into Maine. We have about 250 miles left and we're hoping to get it done in about 18 days, but who's counting? We are. We're so ready to be done. More on the White Mountains and a section of trail in Maine that is infamously known as the most difficult mile of the trail is "soon" to come in a later post, but for now I'll bore you with an example of a typical day on the trail. Maybe after reading this you'll be glad that we don't post more often.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Wipe Your Fears Away

One of the more common questions we get asked as thru-hikers is, "How has this trip changed you?". It's not an easy question to answer, and truly changing a person is not an easy thing to do. That being said, the trail has taught us ( and re-taught us, and re-taught us again) some lessons that I hope we will carry with us for the rest of our lives. One of those lessons is how we deal with fear (I'm going to lump fear/dread/avoidance all together for this one).

Confession time: We didn't start philosophical discussion on fear because that's what we like to talk about over dinner. We started talking about fear after reading our friend Matt's blog post "Practicing Poverty and Other Lessons In Stoicism (AKA United Kingdom and Iceland Are Expensive!)". Matt is currently taking 7 months to explore Europe, and is keeping a fantastic blog that you can find at www.giveliveexplore.com. In this particular post, Matt talks about how "Stoicism teaches the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions"......emotions like fear.

On the trail, we experience fear in an outright and direct way more often than the average American probably does. We actually worry about threats like venomous snakes, Lyme disease, falling trees, water-bourne illness, lightning, protective bears, storms, falls, dehydration, hypothermia, heat stroke, hunger, drowning, hunters, and losing our way - these are things we think about on a daily basis (sorry Mom, I know that was a tough sentence but I figure you've already read "A Walk In The Woods"). And here's the amazing thing.....a good portion of those fears have already happened to us, and here we are, hiking New Hampshire and feeling great.

The Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote about overcoming the fear of poverty:

"Set aside a certain number of days, during which you will be content with the scantiest and cheapest fare, with course and rough dress, saying to yourself the while: Is this the condition I feared?"

In other words, once it happens, is it really that horrible, or is it just something different, and maybe uncomfortable, but something that we can adjust to?

One fateful day, Guyline set out to answer this question - is the fear we feel worse than actually experiencing the things we fear? Was FDR right when he asserted his firm belief that "the only thing we have to fear itself"?

Exhale, parents - Guyline didn't intentionally put himself in harm's way via any of the threats and fears I listed above. Why not start small? In actuality, the day he tested Seneca, FDR, and our friend Matt was the day - and the only day since - we realized we were going to run out of toilet paper in the middle of the woods.

"Well," I said, shaking my head in disbelief at our oversight, "Maybe we won't even need to poop before town." (These types of things are perfectly acceptable, if not encouraged, topics of conversation with significant others, perfect strangers, etc. on the trail).

Guyline looked back at me, his eyes blazing with determination and a hint of "Who are you kidding?", and declared, "No. I'm not letting this hang over me like that. Have you seen any sassafras bushes?".

"Guyline!," I gasped in horror, "You don't need to do this! There are still at least 15 - 20 squares left!" (although inside, I was screaming silently, "please don't use it, you crazy fool, please don't use it......I could totally make it to town on this without you!").

"Bearcub, I SAID, have you seen any sassafras?" he repeated, eyes still blazing.

In disbelief at my good fortune and his bravery/stupidity, I helped him locate the "safe to touch" sassafras leaves and watched in amazement as he picked a healthy handful and headed toward the shelter's privy with his head held high. What a guy......rather than dread this over the next few days, he was taking the bull by the horns and willingly wiping his butt with leaves instead of toilet paper.

"Well?" I asked tentatively when he returned, bracing myself for the worst.

"It wasn't bad.....it was totally fine. It was just like Seneca said."

Well there you have it, folks. It was fine. Just like Seneca said. And so it is with many of the things that we fear on the trail but also in everyday life - failure, being alone, being poor, feeling inferior, change. I'm not advocating that we all go stand on top of a mountain in a lightning storm and challenge the awesome power of Mother Nature to give us something to be fearful of.....but I am advocating that we start using a technique that Tim Ferriss (one of Guyline and Matt's heroes) encourages in his book "4 Hour Work Week"; imagine the worst case scenario - could you handle it? Sometimes, the worst case scenario may be: I will get struck by lightning twice and go into cardiac arrest, causing me to lose my balance and fall off a mountain, breaking both my legs. I will lay there in agony for days, too weak to call for help, while vultures circle and begin pecking at my head. Ok, so go ahead and be fearful for that one.

But more often than not, the worst case scenario isn't that bad. Should I take a leave of absence to hike the Appalachian Trail? Worst case scenario - I fail and go home with my tail tucked between my legs, and everyone just has to get over it. People worth talking to will probably respect the fact that I even tried. Should I leave my safe job and try to start my own business? Worst case scenario - I fail, lose all my money, can't find another, and move into my parents' basement. Sounds lovely, Laun makes one hell of a quiche.

The AT re-teaches me this lesson at least once a week....every time it rains. When my handy dandy iPhone actually has reception, the first thing I do is update the weather report, and the dread starts creeping in for any day with a chance of rain above 30% (about half the time). I spend my day praying for dry weather and dwelling on how terrible it will be to get soaked to the bones. And every time it happens, I realize that a.) all of those hours worrying didn't change anything, and b.) it's fine (just like Seneca said). I'm wet and slightly uncomfortable, but I'm fine.

I recognize that fear has it's place, but next time you find yourself avoiding something, play the wort-case scenario game. You just might find yourself with a clean butt and a peaceful mind.

Bearcub

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Stating the Facts

To make up for the infrequency of blog posts throughout this trip, we
thought we'd give you a state by state rundown of the entire AT as we've
experienced it and as we anticipate it. Here's the catch...I like blogging
and you like reading, but we're both busy people. So rather than taking the
time to carefully craft a post that's both informational and easy to read,
I'm going to forget the rules of grammar and just shoot from the hip on
this one. I'm also including for each state the Appalachian Trail
Conservancy's difficulty range, the trail's distance, and our average daily
mileage. For the record I disagree with most of the ATC's difficulty
ratings. Sections of each state are harder they are rated. For example,
Pennsylvania has a very steep, incredibly rocky climb more difficult than
anything else we've done yet the difficulty rating is a 4.

*Georgia* - Difficulty 6 - Distance 76.4 - Mileage 8.23 - Bearcub's friend
Anne drops us off at the trail. We let out a collective gulp as we watch
her drive away. We're anxious, excited, nervous, and slightly scared. The
trail goes up and right back down again through the entire state. It's
rough on Bearcub's knees so we take a day off to play bar trivia with the
locals. We consider holing up in a hotel for 6 months writing fake blog
posts about the trials and tribulations of the AT, but instead we keep
hiking. Or do we?

*North Carolina* - Difficulty 3-6 - Distance 95.5 - Mileage 7.5 - The
terrain is still pretty up and down as if it was a bunch of mountains or
something. For some reason we didn't think it would be this hard. Bearcub's
knees are still acting up, so we take 2 zeroes and a few very short days.
We start to get a steady pace going as we reach the Smokies. This is the
time we meet everyone we'll be hiking around for the next 1,000 miles.
We're getting the hang of hiking and decide we might could keep doing it.
That's Carolina speak for we might be able to keep doing it.

*Tennessee* - Difficulty 5-6 - Distance 287.9 - Mileage 10.12- The trail
hugs the TN/NC border for miles. We never know what state we're in. Bearcub
comes down with what eventually becomes known among hikers as the Erwin
Sickness right outside of Erwin, TN. This sidelines us in the trail town
you least want to be sidelined in. Sorry, Erwin. Trail at the end of
Tennessee is beautiful and not too challenging. Our spirits are renewed.

*Virginia* - Difficulty 2-6 - Distance 550.3 - Mileage 12.19 - We're
excited to get to what we hear is the easy part of the trail. Disappointed
to find it's only slightly easier than the first part of the trail. The AT
reaches into its grab bag of ailments and hands Bearcub a healthy dose of
Giardia. This makes Virginia's 535 miles seem even longer. Nonetheless, we
finally get into a groove and start consistently logging decent miles.
However, we kiss the hopes of finishing before Bearcub's cousin's wedding
on Sep 23rd goodbye. We get our first visitors when Bearcub's aunt and
uncle, my family, and friends Anne and Sarika come to visit. Anne
henceforth not so secretly hopes for blog mentions. My mom makes it clear
that she doesn't like my beard. I tell her hopefully it will grow on her
like it did on me. Zing.

*West Virginia* - Difficulty 2-3 - Distance 4 - A tiny state that we're
happy to knock out quickly. Hit the psychological halfway point in Harpers
Ferry. They take our picture at ATC headquarters to prove we made it this
far. My eyes are closed in the photo. 1.017 miles wasted.

*Maryland* - Difficulty 2-3 - Distance 40.9 - Mileage 12.47 - Another tiny
state. I tease Bearcub in front of some friends about a previous fall she
took only to take a fall of my own seconds later. I stop teasing Bearcub.

*Pennsylvania* - Difficulty 2-4 - Distance 229.6 - Mileage 16.25 - It's
flat! For once, the trail is flat. We rejoice by catching the Sound of
Music at a resort/playhouse right off the trail. Not joking. Soon the flat
is negated by a hundred miles of jagged rocks and boulders. Fa - a long,
long way to walk on rocks. So - ready for our feet to stop hurting. In PA
we realize that if we really hustle, we may be able to finish before the
wedding. We decide to make like a Pizza Hut and Book It.

*New Jersey* - Difficulty 2-5 - Distance 72.2 - Mileage 16.06 - Overjoyed
to be done with PA. We face off with a protective mama bear. The wind
steals my trekking pole and throws it off a mountain. Not The Situation I
was hoping to encounter in Jersey.

*New York* - Difficulty 2-6 - Distance 88.4 - Mileage 17.38 - Unnecessarily
challenging trail takes us over every rocky incline in the entire state
even though there are plainly easier routes. Water sources are a far cry
from the crystal clear springs in the south. Luckily, trail angels provide
water, take us in for the night, and feed us. We don't know how they get
our laundry smelling so clean until we get poured on the next day and soap
suds start running down my legs.

*Connecticut* - Difficulty 4-5 - Distance 51.6 - Mileage 16.4 - pretty
trail, but difficult. Not much else to say about it other than the fact
that we got a free beer at a liquor store just for being thru-hikers.

*Massachusetts* - Difficulty 3-6 - Distance 90.2 - Mileage so far 17.1 -
similar to CT in that it's both beautiful and difficult. Dissimilar to CT
in that we're currently in it. Amazing visit from Bearcub's sister who
takes us to see the new Batman movie. The film is even more awe-inspiring
since we're so out of touch with reality that we think it's real.

*Vermont* - Difficulty 5-6 - Distance 149.8 - We've heard the trail in VT
is beautiful, but it looks pretty rough on the elevation map.

*New Hampshire* - Difficulty 6-10 - Distance - 160.9 - supposedly the most
difficult state, but a planned visit from Bearcub's mama and papa bear
should help to soften the blow. Also supposed to be amazing beautiful.

*Maine* - Difficulty 3-10 - Distance - 281.4 - also supposed to be
difficult, but we should be on cloud 9 knowing that the journey is almost
at its conclusion.

Guyline's eyes are closed - 1,017 miles wasted

The rocky trail of Pennsylvania

Somebody needed an extra rinse cycle
A beer and wine shop in Cornwall Bridge, CT offers all thru hikers a free beer of their choice


To be honest, at this point of the trip the state I'm most looking forward
to is Illinois. I hear Chicago is as flat as a pancake. Later, readers!

- Guyline

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Trails and Tribulations

Hello our faithful blog readers, from New York! We have spent the last week wrapping up New Jersey and kicking off the Empire state, and it has been the best of times, and the worst of times.

Unfortunately, rain has been in the forecast almost everyday. We've gotten lucky a few times and watched hail storms from the safety of a shelter, and we've also gotten caught in some pretty torrential downpours. When it rains, we just hope that we get a chance to dry out our things, either while we wear them (if it clears up) or hanging off our packs the next day. Moldy hiking clothes/gear is.....well, it's the worst, and our standards aren't that great to begin with.

Our final day in New Jersey was one of our most eventful days on the trail.....we experienced our two scariest moments of the entire trip in one day of hiking. About 5 minutes into our day, we heard rustling and looked up to see a bear cub shimmying down a tree (he tumbled the last ten feet which made it even cuter). We watched from a safe distance and listened to his rustling as he left, presumably to find mama. Then we hung around hitting our trekking poles together and calling out to give the pair plenty of time to get away, and finally resumed hiking. About 30 yards up the trail, we turned a corner and I was face to face with momma, about 15 feet in front of me. She was the biggest AND closest bear we've seen yet, and her cub was nowhere in sight.

Instinctively, I hit my trekking poles together, which usually sends bears running. She looked at me and pretty much told me with her expression, "I don't care what kinds of noises you can make.....where's my cub?". And then she started walking toward us. At this point, I panicked and Guyline immediately knew what I was going to do (obviously, I was about to run). He very calmly said, "Don't run. Just get behind me.". So I got behind him and we slowly backed away, avoiding eye contact with mama bear and talking in soft voices to show her we mean no harm. Although I must admit, my "slow backing up" was more like sideways speed-walking.

Once we were at a safe distance, we waited and listened to the sounds of mama and cub finding each other and leaving the area before starting again, making plenty of noise to avoid a surprise. When we turned the corner again, they were about 50 feet away and didn't even look up at us.

Later, about 15 miles into our day, we passed by a road with a creamery and enjoyed some ice cream and a lovely view. The weather forecast had said severe thunderstorms all day, but it had been clear so far. As we finished up our ice cream, we saw dark clouds on the horizon and decided to get going; we had just two miles left to the shelter which should have been enough time to beat the rain.

About one mile in, we started hearing thunder in the distance, and figured we definitely had enough time to get in and set up camp before the rain hit. This part of the hike, like a lot of NJ and NY so far, was on an exposed ridge line with huge boulders you either walk along or climb over, and the storm hit within minutes of us first hearing the thunder. We heard the creaks, groans, and snaps of strong wind against the trees, and before we knew it, both of us were nearly knocked off the mountain.....one of Guyline's trekking poles blew off when he fell and flew off the side of the mountain, never to be seen again. Then came the pelting rain, lightening, and the loudest thunder I've ever heard in my life; within minutes we were soaking wet and freezing. We could literally see parts of trees flying off the mountain, the winds were so strong.

We quickly decided we needed to get off the ridge, and scrambled down to safer ground. We remembered there was a bypass trail for hikers who wanted to skip the boulder climbing, and quickly found it and made our way to the shelter. I wish I had gotten a video of the storm, but it was no time to go fishing for a phone wrapped 4 layers deep in waterproofing.

So, we've made it safely through some pretty hairy situations lately, but we've got our sights set on Mt. Katahdin now more than ever. With less than 800 miles left, we finally feel like we are counting down and not up. From here North, the terrain gets tougher, so we are girding our loins for the mountains to come. Bring it, AT!

Bearcub

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sometimes...I Love The AT

Since my last post, we've been through a lot - 104 degree heat, multiple thunderstorms, the boot-destroying, foot-bruising rocks of Pennsylvania, and the most difficult climb of the hike so far. Not to mention the shame of the infamous Pizza Hut tick incident of 2012. Nevertheless, we're still here and stronger than ever. It's encouraging that we got through it all and made it out of PA and into Snooki country. I'm hoping that our next couple hundred miles will be a bit less trying if I throw some good karma out there. So without further ado, here are a few of the things that I love about the AT.

Mornings - Waking up to the sounds of birds chirping, the cool morning breeze, and the angle at which the sunbeams peak through the trees make it hard not to love mornings on the AT. The first few hours of hiking are always my favorite.

Simplicity - When all of your possessions fit into one bag and your only job is to walk, life is just less complicated. With less material clutter comes less mental clutter, and we are able to think and reflect more clearly than ever out here. 

Sense of Accomplishment - A beautiful view, a hot meal, or a hot shower is even more amazing when you know you worked your butt off for it. Crossing a state line or knocking off another hundred miles feels pretty darn good too.

No Dietary Restrictions - Whenever we go to town, we go to a restaurant. Wait, reverse that. Boom. That's right. We can eat whatever we want and however much of it we want without sacrificing our girlish figures. I'm talking multiple pounds of M&M's a week here, people. Speaking of people...

People - Not only were we not expecting the overwhelming kindness of everyone involved in the trail community (hostel owners, shuttle drivers, trail angels, etc.), but we weren't expecting to make so many friends on the trail. We've met many people that I hope we can stay close with even after the trail is over.

QT - (That stands for quality time. I'm down with most of the hip abbreviations. Laugh out loudly.) If you'll allow me to get all sentimental up in here, my favorite part of the whole AT is unlimited quality time with Bearcub. Certain days when I seem to be overly focused on the hard parts of the trip, she always puts a smile on my face. Alright, alright...I'll stop now before I trigger your gag reflex. Just be glad I didn't make a QT with my QT pun. Oops.

Okay, trail gods. Take that good karma and use it to flatten a mountain or two.

Love,
Guyline





Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"Ticks Dig Me"

This just in...Guyline discovered and was forced to remove and destroy not one but two deer ticks in a Pizza Hut in Hamburg, PA. To Pizza Hut and all of the other lunch buffet patrons, we sincerely apologize.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Company!

Hold your horses Anne and Tony.....we're getting to you!

Over the past few weeks, we've had the pleasure of having plenty of company in Shenandoah National Park, as well as crossing some major trail milestones.  All of this has helped lift our spirits and shed the "Virginia Blues" we'd started feeling as reflected in Guyline's last post. 

My friends Anne and Sarika joined us in Waynesboro, Virginia for a wonderful weekend.  We took a zero the day they arrived and went shopping at Target, had dinner at Outback, and saw a movie.  These may seem like pretty routine activities but it was very, very different for us.  The movie theater was packed (Friday night), and I almost had a meltdown waiting in a crowded line for popcorn.....it has been three months since I've been so close to so many people.  Luckily, Anne has volunteered to create "Transition Plans" for Guyline and I to help us assimilate back into society after the trail.  After witnessing Guyline's new beard length and habit for using a bandana hanky, she concluded that his plan may require a significantly longer time period than mine.

After our day of relaxing, we hit the trail where Anne and Sarika got the full AT experience and shared our first two days in Shenandoah National Park.  They received the trail names "Eclipse" (for Anne's giant backpack that blocked the view of anyone behind her) and "Lockstep" (for the two giant, metal padlocks hanging off of Sarika's pack that we somehow missed in her shakedown).  They saw a black bear and a barred owl, spent the night at a shelter, tasted how cold and delicious mountain spring water is, ate wild blueberries, and enjoyed a few vistas.  We were so excited to share our trail life with friends. 
Lockstep picking wild blueberries....yum!

Check out the size of that pack on Eclipse!  These ladies mean business.
A few days later, my uncle Andrew called with news that he and my aunt Deb were vacationing in Virginia.  They drove to the park the next day and picked us up, shuttled us around down, and treated us to a giant diner breakfast.  Wow.....we could really get used to this company thing!  It was great to see some family after three months without it. 

Beautiful sunset over the Shenandoah Valley

After the visit from Andrew and Deb, we started seeing what looked like smoke in the distance.  It turns out that the Shennies were following suit with the rest of the country, and lightning had started a forest fire in the park.  The next day, the trail was re-routed around the fire and we had to walk 5 miles on Skyline Drive instead.

View of the Shenandoah forest fires from a safe distance

The trail was diverted for 5 miles around the fires

Guyline's family met us shortly after we finished "the Shennies".......despite the huge storms, power outages, and a gas shortage, Terry, Tony, Amy and Jeff made their way to Front Royal, Virgina where we spent a few days visiting.  The highlight of the trip was a quaint Italian restaurant with delicious food and wine. 


Enjoying some Italian with the Italians

Since all of our visits, we've hit some huge milestones.  We've finished Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland, and we're now about a quarter of the way through Pennsylvania.  We've crossed the 1,000 mile mark and now the halfway point (YES!!!!!), and are feeling like we're now counting down the miles.  We had a personal heat record of hiking in 104 degree heat, and are glad that the heatwave finally broke.  We are so thankful for the 85 degree days we have now. 

West Virgina and 1,000 miles....all in the same day!


Halfway!  Thank goodness.




That's all for now......if you take one thing away from this post, take this:  we love company and you should all come visit us!

Bearcub


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Sometimes...I Hate the AT

So far up to this point, our blog posts have been pretty upbeat and positive even though we've had our fair share of challenges. However, in order to paint a clear and honest picture of our experience, I feel the need to vent a little bit. What I'm saying is...I'm gonna get real negative up in this blog. I feel that after hiking 1,017 miles in 5 states I've earned a bit of complaining. So if I haven't already alienated you with the body odor post, maybe this will be the straw that breaks the camel's back. Without further ado, below is a brief summary of everything that I hate about the AT. 
  • Bugs - In a way, we've become one with the fact that there are bugs everywhere. Bearcub no longer hesitates to pick up a giant spider in her boots and toss it into the woods. But sometimes it honestly just gets so ridiculous that a Zen master would flip out and scream obscenities in the middle of the trail. Gnats fly into our eyes, mouth, nose, and ears regularly during the day. Flies bite our arms and legs (even through our socks). It's not unusual to have an entire swarm of gnats or flies follow us on the trail for at least half a mile. If we get out of camp early and we're the first people to hike a section of the trail that day, we walk through at least 10 spider webs in the first half hour of hiking. And let me tell you, spider webs are not easy to remove from a 3 month beard. Apparently, spiders haven't realized that if they toil away all night on a luxurious web right across the trail, it will just be destroyed the next morning. It's like building a sandcastle too close to the tide. Yet I have to admire their persistence. The other night, as I sat down to dinner, I had the sensation that there were spider webs on multiple different parts of my legs. I figured I was just losing my mind, until I realized that there was a spider making a web between my legs at that exact moment. The sad part is, if you're a spider, anywhere in my general vicinity is actually a pretty efficient place to catch your dinner.
  • Stench - I know we've been over this before, and it's true that I improved my hygiene habits, but there is just no way around it. Everything I own smells. My pack, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and every one of my few possessions has a funk that ranges from musty to foul. In an unexpected victory, the hand straps on my hiking poles win the grand prize for stinkiest gear.
  • Hiking - I know, I know...I came out here because I love hiking. But we all know that too much of a good thing can be bad. It's not that I hate hiking, it's that I hate that I have to do it all day every day. One great thing about hiking is that it completely clears your mind, and you get all sorts of great ideas. You think of goals you'd like to accomplish, hobbies you'd like to take up, places you'd like to visit, etc. The catch is that you can't act on any of these ideas until you get back to the real world. It's a unique brand of torture that I felt was worth noting in this post.
  • Town Stays - I look forward to town stays for days, and it's sometimes all that gets me through a rough stretch of terrain. However, often times we get into town all excited to finally have some time to relax only to find that our chores consume all of our free time. Every time we hit a town, showers and laundry are our first priorities. Unfortunately, it's not unusual to have to carry our dirty laundry half way across town to a non-air-conditioned laundromat in the middle of a 90 degree day. If a laundromat ever opens near my house, I'm going to open one with air-conditioning right across the street. I'll make a fortune. People rarely look more miserable than some of the sweaty locals I've seen fanning themselves with a gossip magazine while waiting for their laundry. Once the laundry is done, then it's time to buy groceries, check email, pay bills, do other miscellaneous real world chores, try to write a blog (even these blog posts can be a groan inducing task on our to-do list), and hopefully squeeze in a hot meal at a decent restaurant. By the time all of that is done, we've got to go to bed so we can get back on the trail at a decent hour the next day.
Wow. Okay, I guess I had some stuff pent up in there that I needed to get out. For that, I apologize. I would like to wrap up by saying that this is still an amazing trip. For the most part, I still really enjoy hiking: the scenery is beautiful, seeing all of the different trail towns is a truly unique experience, and our time in the woods makes things like taking a shower and watching TV more enjoyable than they've ever been. Any hardships I experience on this trip are just helping me to appreciate all of the bright spots even more. I promise I'll make it up to you with a post outlining everything that I love about the AT. 

So...are we still cool? You gonna come back and read more blog posts? I'll let Bearcub and her positive little self write the next one.

- Guyline




Sunday, June 17, 2012

Giardia and Other Trail Vocabulary

In conversations with friends and family back home, we've found that the trail has its own vernacular, which sounds like Greek to anyone outside of the trail community.  So we thought we'd take a blog post to familiarize you with some of our trail lingo.  

We'll start with Giardia, because it's particularly relevant to us these days.  Giardia is a water-born intestinal bug common on the AT, with symptoms akin to what might happen if you ate street food in Mexico or drank water from the Ganges.  It's also something that I picked up about two weeks ago, despite the fact that we treat every drop of water we drink (you can also get it from hand contact).  Needless to say, we've been taking a lot of breaks during hiking and had some pretty rough days.  Don't worry, we finally made it to a clinic and got antibiotics, so in a few weeks I should be as good as new and Giardia-free.  Haha, AT, another foiled attempt to take down Bearcub!

Our first blue blaze - the Virginia Creeper Trail
With Giardia out of the way, we can move on to some less graphic trail vocabulary.  First, there's the "blaze vocab":

  • White Blazing - following the white blazes that mark the AT
  • Blue Blazing - following side trails that intersect or run parallel to the AT (marked with blue blazes); we blue-blazed when we took the "Virginia Creeper Trail" out of Damacus.  We're glad we did it, because it was flatter, prettier, and because Guyline is a creeper (just kidding).
  • Aqua Blazing - canoeing rivers that run parallel to the AT rather than hiking that section; we are considering doing some aqua-blazing in the Shenandoahs since Laun instilled a love of canoeing in Bearcub at a young age.
  • Yellow Blazing - driving, shuttling, or hitching past a section of the trail; we have not done any yellow blazing but a lot of hikers do, which makes them hard to keep up with!  There are also several large trails that intersect the AT, some of which are marked by actual yellow blazes.  
  • Pink Blazing - hiking after a girl (we're in very high demand out here)
  • Brown Blazing - here's a hint, it goes hand in hand with having Giardia!
  • Ghost Blazing/Retro Blazing - hiking old sections of the AT after the trail has been relocated
  • Slack packing bonus - loaner Batman day pack
  • Rainbow Blazing - a hiker who follows all types of blazes on their hike (blue, yellow, white, etc.)

There are also names for different types of hikers:
  • Thru-hiker - hiking the entire trail in one calendar year
  • Section hiker - hiking the trail in small sections
  • Flip-flopper - flipping directions on a thru-hike, usually because of time commitments or weather (e.g., if we don't think we'll finish before Mt. Katahdyn closes for winter on 10/15, we could shuttle up to Maine and start hiking South)
  • Leapfrogging - skipping large sections of the trail with a plan to return and hike them later (sure you will, buster)
  • Slack packing - hiking with a day pack while a support crew shuttles your pack to you or you back to your pack.  We did slack packing about a month ago; a hostel shuttled us ahead and we left our packs there and hiked back to the hostel. It was a rainy day and we were glad to be ending it somewhere warm and dry.
  • NOBO - North-bounder
  • SOBO - South-bounder
  • Blaze kisser/purist - a hiker with an unwavering commitment to hike past every white blaze
  • Hike Your Own Hike - a phrase/attitude that any kind of hiking is welcome
Hiker aqua blazing on an unstable craft
Hikers are always concerned with pack weight, so of course there is a set of vocab dedicated to that:
  • Base weight - also called dry weight; weight of the pack and gear, excluding consumables like food, water, and fuel
  • Pack weight - weight of the pack, gear, and consumables at the start of a trip
  • Skin-out base weight - base weight plus what the hiker is wearing
  • Light backpacking - base weight close to 20 pounds
  • Ultralight backpacking - base weight close to 10 pounds (I haven't weighed my pack in awhile, but with the purchase of a new 2 pound pack, I may be flirting with ultralight now!)
  • Gram-weenie - hiker who is obsessed with cutting weight, down to details like sawing off the end of a toothbrush
  • Gearhead - a hiker obsessed with gear
Finally, here's some miscellaneous terminology for you:
  • Hiker midnight - our absurdly early bedtime (usually shortly after dark)
  • Gorp - "good old raisins and peanuts"
  • Bouldering - free rock climbing; most of the good bouldering sites on the AT are up North
  • Bushwhacking - making your own trail
  • AYCE - All you can eat!!
  • Blowdowns - fallen trees from storms and high winds; Guyline and I have encountered new blowdowns and spent upwards of 5 minutes figuring out how to get through, over, around, or under them
  • Zero - day off from hiking
  • Nero - "nearly a zero"; a day when you hike very short miles, usually into or out of a town
  • PUD - "pointless ups and downs"; sections of the trail with huge elevation changes for no apparent reason such as water, roads, or views
  • Stealth camping - camping where you aren't supposed to camp
  • Trail magic - random acts of kindness toward hikers on the trail
  • Trail angel - someone who does trail magic
  • Triple crown - a hiker who has hiked all three of America's longest trails: the AT, the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail), and the CDT (Continental Divide Trail)
  • 2,000 Miler - someone who has hiked the entire AT (although I feel a little cheated out of the other 186!)
  • Vitamin I - nickname for ibuprofen
  • Yogi-ing - begging without begging (e.g., arriving at a busy tourist parking lot sweaty and collapsing in a heap, proclaiming to yourself how hungry you are and how badly you need a ride)
Good....now, when you come visit us on the AT, you'll be all up to speed, right?  

Bearcub




Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Buck Stops Here?

In the past few days, we've had two interesting animal sightings we thought might make for good blogging. One of the encounters was pretty exciting, and the other was slightly terrifying.

Encounter #1

As Bearcub and I were enjoying a rare stretch of flat trail, chatting since the terrain allowed us the lung capacity to do so, we heard a rustling in the woods down the ravine to our right. We both instantly fell silent and began visually scouring the woods for an animal. Apparently, when I visually scour I use my entire body, as I completely blocked every angle of Bearcub's view. So in a bittersweet moment, I caught a glimpse of a bear running through the woods, and Bearcub totally missed it.
We walked on for a couple of minutes in complete silence. Bearcub was disappointed that she missed the action, and I felt guilty for blocking the view. But then suddenly, we heard the rustling again, and we both got a clear view of the bear completing his escape! We were both as excited as kids on Christmas morning. Although most people may consider a bear sighting a frightening occurrence, the bear was clearly more frightened of us than we were of it. Unfortunately, not every animal on the AT shares that attitude. This is where our tale takes a dark turn...
Encounter #2


Evil lurking in the woods

Typically, Bearcub and I only hike a few steps apart and stay close at all times. However, occasionally if I have to make a stop, Bearcub will keep hiking ahead knowing that I'll catch up with her again in a few minutes. This meant that Bearcub encountered a cute little buck on the trail before I did. She noticed that he was strangely not very frightened by her presence, and stayed still long enough for her to snap a few photos.
A few minutes later, I passed the buck and also found it strange that he was not retreating into the woods. I hiked on not thinking too much about it until I heard a ruckus behind me. I assumed what I was hearing was a delayed retreat into the woods, but when I turned around I noticed that the buck was sprinting directly at me! I shouted "Hey!" at the buck assuming the noise would scare him away. He stopped, looked at me curiously, and just stood there. I figured that must have done the trick, and I kept hiking. I turned back again a few seconds later to notice that he was now on the trial and trotting after me! This whole scene played out for a solid 5 minutes and a few hundred yards. I would shout, bang my poles on trees, and do my best to look scary. He would stop for a second, look innocent, and then charge at me again a few minutes later. I'm not ashamed to admit (maybe slightly ashamed) that I was downright scared. I didn't really want to be body-checked and trampled by a deer no matter how cute of a murder it may have been. Finally, he must have gotten distracted by a particularly interesting sapling and he left me alone long enough that I could return to my protector, Bearcub.
Long story short, I'm hoping now that we've seen one bear we've opened the flood gates to see a lot more. However, I'd be perfectly happy not to see another deer for a few hundred miles.

- Guy Line

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

And I Would Walk 500 Miles

......and I would walk 500 more!   It has been awhile since we've given an actual update, and lots has happened:
• We are both happy, healthy, and still determined to finish this hike!
• We received several rides from Miss Janet, a local legend in the trail community.   She is a trail angel who tirelessly drives hikers around during the season out of the goodness of her heart.

With Miss Janet and the "Bounce Box"

• On May 23rd, we FINALLY made it to Virginia


The Tennessee/Virginia state line

• On May 25th, we crossed the 500 mile mark, and a few days later officially completed 1/4 of the trail.  As of now we are 630 miles in.
Reaching the 500 mile mark at the end of a long day...
 
• We took our first "for fun" zero days for the Trail Days festival in Damascus, VA.   Highlights included the hiker parade/water fight, free showers, and a lot of relaxation time with fellow hikers.
Water ballon assault on hikers heading to the parade

• We happened to hike behind a trail maintenance crew that was re-routing a section of the AT.   Along with our friends Spaniard and Mountain Goat, we were the first people to ever hike that section of trail.

The new section of trail we got to hike....with a volunteer heading down the mountain in the background!

• Since Trail days, we have received tons of trail magic....probably half of the road crossings we've hiked over have had coolers filled with cold drinks and snacks - makes our day every time!
 
Trail Magic coming into Damascus.

• We saw a bobcat on the trail one morning!  We must have surprised him by our quiet, graceful hiking....
• We are trying to crank up the mileage and make up some time, putting in between 15 and 20 miles a day.   It is tiring but good so far!
• We passed through Grayson Highlands State Park and saw dozens of wild ponies

Wild Ponies in Grayson Highlands State Park

• Spaniard and Mountain Goat have inspired us to get creative to eat healthy on the trail.  We've learned that Taco Bell makes pre-cooked black beans in a bag, two people can eat a bag of spinach in one day if they try hard, and broccoli florets last two days tucked deep in a backpack.

So far, we have avoided getting "the Virginia blues" (Virginia is over 500 miles long!!!!) and have enjoyed the slightly easier terrain and change of scenery.   We walk through a cow pasture almost everyday which keeps us focused on avoiding giant cowpies.   And we are excited for our friends Sarika and Anne to visit us in Shenandoah Natl Park in a few weeks.

For now, we'd better get cracking on that "500 more"......
Bearcub


Friday, June 1, 2012

AT Quiz Answers!

Alright all you bashful readers, we know you read the quiz blog because we have access to that kind of info (we've got spies everywhere), but it seems that only a few of you were brave enough to answer. Of those courageous few, we are officially proclaiming Littlefoot the champion. Congrats, Littlefoot! All of the answers are listed below.

1) There are roughly 165,000 white blazes marking the AT from Georgia to Maine. Volunteers all over the 14 trail states contribute to the blazing and maintenance of the trail.

2) At the time that we posted the quiz, we had hiked 531 miles. As of this post, we have hiked 587.

3) We have hiked in 4 different states - Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia. We'll be in VA for about a month as about one fourth of the trail is in this state.

4) We have thankfully only dropped one item over the side of a mountain. It was only a quart-sized Gatorade bottle, but one would have guessed it was a prized possession if they had heard the way we shouted "Gatorade, noooooo!" as we watched it slowly roll down the mountain.

5) We saw 1 bobcat and we're pretty pumped about it. The bobcat is nearly as elusive on the trail as a clean-shaven, showered hiker.

6) We have seen 13 snakes, and Bearcub is nearly as big of a fan of them as she is of spiders.

7) We've seen 2 of those snakes trying to eat something alive. We saw one that had a lizard by the leg, and another was wrapped around a cute baby mouse. Bearcub was traumatized after that one. I admit it was a bit difficult to watch. Then again if a snake saw me eating wings he'd probably be a bit traumatized as well. Sometimes nature ain't pretty.

8) We have seen zero wild boar, so this answer is also kind of a bore.

9) It took 46.5 days for Jennifer Davis to complete the fastest thru-hike on record in 2011.

10) The AT goes through 14 states.

11) At the time of the quiz post, I had fallen twice and Bearcub had once. However, a few hours after that post, Bearcub evened the score with one of those slow motion falls where you know you're going down but there's nothing you can do about it. Luckily, the only thing hurt was her pride.

12) The highest elevation on the AT is at Clingman's Dome in the Smokies at 6,543 feet.

13) A liter of water weighs about 2.2 lbs. Since we start our hike everyday with 2 liters and drink most of it right before we get to the next water source, our pack weight can fluctuate by 4.4 lbs throughout the day without considering the weight of the food we eat each day (a lot).

14) Combined we carry about 4 liters or 8.8 lbs of water.

15) We are currently on our 3rd bear rope. We made a rookie mistake and got the 1st one stuck in a tree, and our 2nd one was low quality so we stripped it multiple times and had to replace it.

16) Combined we have lost 10 pounds of body weight. I've lost 10, and Bearcub has not lost any, but that's because she's gained muscle. We read that by the end of the hike, the men look like famine victims and the women look like super models. So far that seems accurate for us, but Bearcub already looked like a super model before we started. Brownie points!

17) At the time of the quiz post, we had been hiking 56 days. As of today, it has been 60 days.

Alright, I'm guessing that filled your appetite for tedious AT facts.

Until next time...

Guy Line

Monday, May 28, 2012

By The Numbers: An AT Quiz

We thought it might be fun for our readers to participate in a little quiz about our AT journey. Match the question numbers to the letter of the correct answer, and submit your answers by commenting on this post. We'll reveal the answers and the winner later. The grand prize will be pride and a brief distraction from your work day.

1) Roughly how many white blazes mark the AT from Georgia to Maine?
2) How many miles have we hiked on the AT at the time of this post?
3) How many states have we hiked in at the time of this post?
4) How many items have we accidentally dropped over the side of a mountain?
5) How many bobcats have we seen?
6) How many snakes have we seen?
7) How many snakes have we seen in the process of eating something alive?
8) How many wild boar have we seen?
9) How many days did it take to complete the fastest through hike on record? The real answer includes a decimal, but we rounded to the nearest day.
10) How many states does the AT go through?
11) How many times between the two of us have we fallen while hiking? Only complete falls count. If we catch ourselves with our hands and our butts don't touch the ground then that doesn't count. Still embarrassing, but it doesn't count.
12) What's the highest elevation on the AT? Hint: We've been there and done that.
13) What is the weight in pounds of 1 liter of water?
14) How many liters of water do we carry combined?
15) How many bear ropes have gone through either by misplacing or destroying them? This includes the bear rope we're currently using.
16) How many combined pounds of body weight have we lost since the start of our hike?
17) At the time of this post, how many days have we been hiking?

A) 0
B) 4
C) 6,543
D) 56
E) 1
F) 13
G) 14
H) 3
I) 4
J) 1
K) 531
L) 3
M) 2
N) 2.2
O) 165,000
P) 47
Q) 10

Friday, May 18, 2012

A Day in Pictures

View climbing Little Hump Mountain

Snack break at Jones Falls

We really enjoyed the several miles where the trail followed the river

View from our lunch spot

The sky cleared coming down Roan Mountain

We met some fun guys!

Just a couple of soaking wet hikers

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Stench of Guy Line

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy keeps records of the percentage of thru-hikers that drop off the trail by certain points. For example, about 50% of north-bounders drop off by Harpers Ferry, WV about 1,000 miles into the trail. If the ATC kept similar statistics on A.T. blog readership, I'm guessing that most blogs would lose at least 50% of readers at the first post that spends an entire paragraph describing body odor.

Body odor and less than stellar hygiene are inevitable parts of the trail, but they can become a real issue when hiking with a partner. I was not fully aware of the gravity of the issue until Bearcub subtly broached the subject with her comment, "You smell like a Burger King." Close, but not quite. Days later she got more accurate with "You smell like an onion." Very close, but still not quite. Let's put it this way, if scientists genetically engineered a giant onion that could live and work among humans, and if that onion were to work a 12 hour shift in a Burger King kitchen on the hottest day in August with no air conditioning, him and I may be in the same range of stink.

To those of you that are still reading, there's no need to worry. I took Bearcub's constructive criticism to heart and greatly improved my trail hygiene. It's a miracle what a baby wipe bath and some baby powder can do. The only bad part is now that I'm stench-free, I can smell how bad every other hiker smells. If only they had a Bearcub of their own to tell them what's what.

- Guy Line

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Holiday Inn-firmary 2: The Revenge of the A.T.

Well, the good news is that Bearcub's knees haven't been bothering her much at all these days. The bad news is that she got some sort of a bug on the trail and got pretty sick a few days ago. We took a zero day at a shelter on the trail so that she could recover a bit, but we concluded after one day off that we still needed more recovery time. Not only was Bearcub still recuperating, but I was starting to feel a little under the weather myself. We thought it would be best to spend some additional recovery time in a nice hotel room watching trashy television, so here we are again at another Holiday Inn Express. This time in Erwin, TN.

Can't nobody hold Bearcub down.
After two days doing as little as possible, and more episodes of Sex and the City and What Not To Wear than I care to admit to, it seems Bearcub is getting back to her old self. We are heading back to the trail today. Again, I have to give Bearcub props for her patience and guts. It's absolutely no fun to be that sick when you're outside in the middle of the woods, and she was a trooper as usual.

As we've mentioned in prior posts, we've been incredibly impressed with the kindness of strangers on the trail, and the interesting people that we've met. Many hikers stopped by the shelter that we "zeroed" at and asked if there was anything they could do to help us. They offered medicine, asked if they could fetch us more water, and a hiker named Bumpo made Bearcub some tea. Bumpo will be completing his final section of the trail this year, which is quite an accomplishment. As it turns out, he's also a published author. I was struck by the fact that a guy who spends his time consulting for boards of executives of some of the world's largest companies, was sitting here sharing a cup of tea with someone he didn't even know in the middle of the woods. It's amazing to meet so many different people from all different walks of life sharing a common experience, and doing whatever they can to help each other.

- Guy Line

PS - Just in case you feel like these posts are too touchy feely and you want to hear more about the gritty details of the trail, stay tuned for an entire post dedicated to how bad I smell.




Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Trail Magical Day

On our way back to the trail out of Gatlinburg, TN, we experienced some very special trail magic that we thought deserved its own post.  So many people have shown us random acts of kindness by taking time out of their schedules and money out of their pockets.  The culture on the trail is truly amazing and we are both inspired to pay it forward.

It all started at the top of Clingman's Dome, the highest point on the AT, where we planned to get a shuttle into Gatlinburg to resupply.  Unfortunately, the shuttle was a trail rumor and a ranger at Clingman's let us know that if we needed a ride, he'd get us to Gatlinburg when his shift ended at 5 (a few hours away).  We were feeling hot, tired, and hungry, when Keith and Sandra popped into the conversation and offered us a ride into Gatlinburg out of the goodness of their hearts.  They dropped us off with a gift card for dinner and requested that we read Romans 16:16 and call them from Katahdin, ME when we finish.  Keith and Sandra - we read Romans 16:16 and we have your number saved for Maine. 

The next day at breakfast in the hotel (free tiny, lightweight packets of jelly.....score huge for hikers!), we ran into Ten Minutes (now goes by "Minutes"), who had some interesting news.  A few weeks ago after our shakedown, Brian mailed a package to his parents with some of the things we wanted to cut from our packs, including his Kindle.  I'm not sure what was going on at UPS that day, but the package never made it to Brian's parents, and after several phone calls, Tony learned that UPS had used a duplicate tracking number and didn't know where the package was, but just that it had been signed for somewhere in Baltimore!  But two weeks later at breakfast, Minutes tells us that someone named Angel found our package and has been looking for us in an AT Facebook group to get us the package back.  Now, thanks to a complete stranger, we have our package waiting for us in Erwin, Tennessee, about a week's hike away.  It may be a blessing in disguise, because Brian has decided he might want that Kindle along after all.

Noah's Ark Widow's Ministry - trail magicians!
Thanks to Woody and Audrey, we made it halfway up the mountian to get back on the trail . There, we found the Noah's Ark Widow's Ministry camped out in the Newfound Gap parking lot with lunch, cold drinks, comfortable chairs, and hiking food to give thru hikers a boost before heading back up into the Smokies.  We sat and enjoyed lunch with them for about an hour, which completely made our day.  And Woody and Audrey, you should definitely hike the AT one day.  You smoked us with your 14 miles, I think you would make it look easy. 

Then, thanks to the couple from Dauphin Island, Alabama (sorry, we didn't catch your names!), we made it back to Clingman's dome where we left off.  We had been on the trail for about 20 seconds when we ran into Peggy, and the first words out of her mouth were literally, "Are you two thru hikers?  Here, have a soda and a snickers."  So, we embraced our day of gluttony and sat down for a snack.  Talking to Peggy, she mentioned a hiker named Toby Keith who we've been hiking with for a few weeks.  Toby Keith lost his namesake cowboy hat a few weeks ago and has been lamenting it since (we just ran into him the night before in Gatlinburg, and after a few free tastings of moonshine, the talked turned to his lost cowboy hat).  But here's the kicker - Peggy had heard Toby Keith mention losing his hat at the Nantahala Outdoor Center (the NOC) a week earlier, and had found it on the trail day hiking - SHE HAD THE HAT!!  We let her know where Toby Keith was staying in Gatlinburg, and sure enough, a few days later, there he was with his cowboy hat that made its way 70 miles up the trail to find him.  Pretty incredible. 

So, there is such a thing as a free lunch, and there are a lot of people in this world who are open and kind to the strangers they meet.  Once you experience trail magic, you can't help but want to pass it on, which we both plan to.

- Bearcub

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Bearcub saw a bearcub!

And no, she wasn't just looking in the mirror. We each saw a real live bearcub in the Smokies, although I must confess that I just saw a black blur and claimed to have seen a bearcub. It was kind of far away and we couldn't get a good picture, but we swear we saw it so just leave us alone already.

We have completed the Smoky Mountain portion of the trail and escaped without experiencing too harsh of weather (aside from a painful hailstorm). The Smokies were absolutely beautiful and we were lucky to have enough clear days to take in the incredible views. We're both holding up pretty well and put in our first big mileage day yesterday (over 19 miles). Bearcub has patiently fought her way through the knee problems like the tough cookie she is, and we're hoping to keep trucking along the NC/TN border for the next couple hundred miles and make our way into Virginia soon.

Beautiful view from Fontana Dam right before the Smokies.
We're hoping to arrive in Damascus, VA in time for a festival called Trail Days which is basically a huge weekend long party in celebration of the trail and hikers. In order to do that we have to stay on a pretty rigorous schedule, but we think we're up for the challenge. We've been out here for exactly 4 weeks and we're starting to get our "trail legs".

There's probably much more we could write about, so hopefully we will start updating the blog more often with highlights from the trip. As for now, we've got 13 miles to hike today so we're off. Our next stop is in Hot Springs, NC so hopefully you'll hear from us in a couple of days. We know you'll be on the edge of your seats until then.

- Guy Line

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Newsflash!

On our way out of town this morning, we weighed our packs.....both of us are at 29 pounds with four days or food and our water!!! Not quite "ultralight" yet but we feel like real long-distance hikers now.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Knee-covery


View from atop Mt. Albert. Worth the climb!

The past six days, we've been taking it slow and focusing on my knee recovery - with some success! Yesterday, we hiked 11 miles without too much pain, and we plan to build up from there. Georgia and North Carolina are both infamously tough on the joints with their big elevation changes, so we are hoping to get through the Smokies and crank up the mileage once we get to Virginia, where the trail is much flatter. It has been a personal struggle for me to slow down and stop pushing the knee to go until it can't, but thankfully Brian has been patient and firm on holding me to our "knee schedule".


We started our six day run with Mt. Albert - we didn't have to push our packs, but we did have to stow our trekking poles and use all four limbs. There was a fire tower at the top with amazing 360 degree views. The knee schedule only had us do 2.2 miles that day - pretty much up Albert and back down.


We had more rainy weather, enduring 16 straight hours of pelting rain one night. Everything we have was wet and covered in mud by morning. With another rainy forecast the following night, we sucked it up and spent our first night in a shelter (we typically hike to a shelter for the water source, bear bag cables, and privy, and then camp nearby). The shelters themselves are three-sided wooden structures that sleep 4 - 12 and usually have a picnic table for cooking dinner. They are notoriously rodent-ridden, which is the reason for our avoidance, but that night we didn't wake up to any squeaking or scratching. Either way, we've decided that in a thunderstorm, shelters are the way to go.


Rain often turns the trail into a stream.

In and around the shelters, we usually eat and relax around a campfire with other hikers. We've met a lot of great folks and come across some creative trail names - some of our favorite names include Squid Belly, Ten Minutes, Impulse, and Captain Guts. It is a weird experience to get to know someone and never learn their real name.

Tonight we are at a white water rafting outpost near Bryson City, NC to resupply - in three to four days, we'll be entering the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, the most visited national park in the country and home to 400 - 600 black bears. The Smokies will take us about a week and usher us across our second state line - Tennessee! Our next visit with civilization will likely be Gatlinburg....until then, we miss you all!


- Bearcub

Monday, April 16, 2012

Goodbye Georgia, Hello North Carolina

North Carolina is much prettier than Georgia.
A few days ago, we kissed Georgia goodbye and crossed our first state line into North Carolina. It feels pretty good to have one state under our belts, and to be only a couple of miles away from the 100 mile mark. However, we've been taking it pretty slow lately due to the fact that Bearcub has been having knee problems. It's not uncommon for people on the trail to have all sorts of leg problems in the first couple weeks of the hike, mostly due to the incessant pounding on the joints when going down steep, rocky declines. We're hoping to keep the knee healthy by taking it slow until we get to Virginia where the trail flattens out a bit and we can start putting in some big mileage days.

Over the past week, the weather and the scenery has been absolutely beautiful. As for wildlife, we haven't seen a whole lot aside from birds and bugs. Lots of bugs. The only two notable sightings were a snake and a mole. Both were right in the middle of the trail and nearly squashed by Bearcub's mighty boot. We didn't bother hanging around the snake to take a picture, but Bearcub's eyes lit up when we saw the cute little mole. Therefore, we were obligated to snap a photo, and I was obligated to pick it up and remove it from the trail so that it wouldn't get stepped on. Don't worry, I scooped it up with a pile of leaves and sanitized my hands immediately afterwards. I'm just hoping this crazy rash on my hands goes away soon. That's a joke, Mom and Dad.

Who's this little guy?
Right now, we're sitting in a Microtel in lovely Franklin, NC waiting for Larry's Taxi Service to come pick us up and take us back to the trail. Within the first few miles back on the trail today, we'll have to tackle the notorious Albert Mountain. Rumor has it that people have had to put away their hiking poles and climb up the mountain with their hands, pushing or pulling their packs up alongside of them. We've noticed that people on the trail tend to exaggerate, and some other notorious mountains proved to be not too big of a challenge. Besides, nothing named Albert can be that tough. That's almost as bad as Guy Line.

- Albert Guy Line