7/4/12 - 7/6/12
Harpers Ferry/Washington, D.C.
The last few days have been very relaxing and it's been nice to have some down time with 2-Step before we don't get to see each other for the next 2 months. This will be the longest time that we've been apart since we've been together and we're not looking forward to it. I always gave credit to the hikers who had significant others off the trail because I thought that would be the hardest thing to do, and now I have to experience it for myself. Although as I started writing this, my brother just walked through the door after quitting his job, getting another job and telling them he couldn't start until he hiked about 100 miles with me, so I guess I won't be starting out alone just yet. I'll still miss hiking with 2-Step, but hiking with my brother will help ease me into hiking by myself. I'm really looking forward to getting back on the trail since I technically haven't been on the trail since Waynesboro about 160 miles away. Tomorrow, 2-Steps's parents are going to drop my brother and I off at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy where 2-Step and I will sign the registry, get our photo taken in front of the building and find out our hiker number to see how many other hikers have been there before us this summer. I'll be seeing a lot of them as I cruise down the trail trying to get done in time for classes in the fall. Hopefully a few of them will be willing to talk to me about why they are hiking the trail. These next two months will be ineteresting. I'm apprehensive about finishing on my own, but I think there will be some good things that come out of finishing something I've dreamed about on my own. Before Harpers Ferry, hiking with 2-Step, it was our hike, we did everything as a team. Now, even though 2-Step will still play a role in supporting me, it will become my hike. Every decision I make on the trail will be mine and mine alone. How long I hike everyday, how many days I'll resupply for, where I stop for breaks, all of these and many other choices will be mine to make alone and the only person they will affect is me. It has been a few years since that has been the case and it's an exciting, yet lonely feeling.
7/2/12 - 7/3/12
Today was a long day. We paddled hard and made good time, but 30 miles took it out of us and we were ready to stop by the end of the day. We were thinking that we might delay our take out until the 4th, but after being damp for almost a week and the last few days of heat, we were ready to get out of the boat. At the end of the day we stopped at another campground and found a spot to set up. We made a delicious dinner of couscous and vegetables with a second course of pasta. After 30 miles and a full stomach, sleep came easily. We woke up early, hoping we would be ready to finish up the last 20 miles of our trip and to make it to our 5th state and our 1000 mile mark! Maybe we didn't walk all 1000 miles, but we paddled enough to make up for it. When we finally got on the water (our last day on the river) it was slow to start. It didn't take long for our arms to feel the work out from the day before and it seemed like we might not make it, but we kept paddling and we got to the take out by 3:00pm, an hour earlier than our pick up time. We were so happy when our shuttle came and even happier when they dropped us off at the hotel. After showering up, we made the trek across the street to the seven eleven and got a case of beer and then picked up our pizza before heading back to the hotel. Pizza and beer in bed with TV and A/C was the best thing ever, especially since everything was starting to dry out. Tess was happy too! The next day we would be meeting up with 2-Step's parents and catching a ride into D.C. with them where we would spend a couple days at my parents house. This would give me some time to say good bye to 2-Step and the pups and to prepare myself to finish up the hike without them.
The days have been feeling long with all the paddling we've been doing. Aquablazing is definitely not a lazy river float. We work just as hard for our miles as we would be if we were hiking the mountains. With the temperatures nearing 100 almost everyday it's been hot as well. We stop to let Tess take breaks and cool off in the water, but it's hard to stay cool on days like the ones we've been experiencing. The coolest site we saw today was a helicopter helping dump water on a forest fire on the mountains above the river. We watched it as it made it's loop from wherever it filled up the bucket it was carrying and then back to the mountain to dump the water. As we continued down the river we kept getting closer to the helicopter's loop and at one point I swear it filled up the bucket just around the bend in the river. I couldn't be sure though because it was back over the mountain by the time we rounded the bend. As we were going through a straight section we saw the helicopter coming our way and as we neared the end of the deeper part it stopped just behind us waiting for us to move out of the way. We did this in a hurry as we felt the wind from the blades on the helicopter sweep over us. As we cleared out of its way, it dropped its bucket about 50 yards from where we had just been and then flew right over us on it's way back to the fire. It was so cool, not to mention the relief we got from the heat as the wind from the blades swept over us. After that experience the day began to feel long. It was hot and we were trying to make it to Front Royal to get a few food items to help supplement what we had gotten already to finish out the last couple of days. We didn't get to Front Royal until about 6:00pm and by the time Golden and 2-Step had walked into town and back it was about 8:00pm. We didn't feel like going too much further after the long hot day we had just experienced and we were glad when not even 100 yards from the boat landing we found a good spot to stop. We were so tired we just had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner.
We woke up early with the sun and gathered our things and walked back across the field to the boat. We were happy to see that the boat had made it through the storm and our cooler full of food was still where we had left it in the middle of the canoe. We were all very tired and were not motivated to get going, but the sooner we started the day the sooner we could go to sleep again. Midway through our day we got to the only rapid that the guide actually warns us about. This perked us up a little bit and we had a good time going through the wave train at the bottom of the rapid. Even with our canoe so low in the water we made it through without taking on too much water, but there was a good lunch spot at the bottom of the rapid and we stopped anyway to dump the water and take a lunch break, as well as to dry our things from the night before. We took a long lunch and then continued on our way. We made sure to make camp earlier tonight and enjoyed our delicious dinner of brats and sauerkraut before falling into one of the deepest, most exhausted sleeps of our lives.
Today was definitely not as intersting as the night was. We had a long day where we were out of the boat almost as much as we were in the boat. The water level was really messing with us during this section of the river because there were so many rocks and it got so shallow. We were pretty loaded down with three people and a dog and a cooler full of heavy food items. This meant that we got stuck just as much as we floated and we were in and out of the boat all day pushing it over the shallow sections. Since we had such a long slow day on the river we didn't get off the boat until about 8:00pm. This meant we were scrambling to find a place to hang our hammocks, set up Golden's tent and cook dinner before dark. Normally this wouldn't have been a big deal, but there wasn't a good place to hang our hammocks in a hay field, which turned out to be a good thing in the end. As I was rigging up our tarp as a lean to, using one of the hay bails in the field, we noticed lightning off in the distance. We were confused because we didn't think there was supposed to be any significant weather over the next few days and nights. Fortunately, 2-Step had cell service and was able to use her phone to check the weather. Turns out that out of nowhere a severe thunderstorm system had formed and was moving towards us fast. There was a severe thunderstorm warning out in the area where we were located and they were calling for tornado force winds with gusts up to 80 mph. As 2-Step was checking her phone we watched the storm move closer and closer. Within 5 minutes of her first checking her phone we felt the first gusts of wind and we were scrambling to get our site cleaned up and everything underneath our tarp or in Golden's tent. Within 10 minutes of 2-Step checking her phone the full force of the storm was upon us. I've never experienced a more intense storm in my life. I definitely thought that something serious would happen to us or our gear. Sitting side by side in Golden's tent with Tess just fitting in the space in her vestibule, we waited out the storm listening to the winds tear through the trees like they were toothpicks. 2-Step and I were so thankful we hadn't hung our hammocks where we originally thought we would. Even sitting in the tent away from the trees a little bit we were certain that the wind would blow a tree down right on top of us. We were all definitely nervous and 2-Step was keeping an eye on the weather radar, watching the progress of the storm. The only good thing about the winds was that it meant the storm would blow over fairly quickly, but the hour and a half that it took to blow over felt like the longest length of time in my life. It was so surreal once the storm had blown over to be sitting in the still air again, it was as if nothing had even happened it was so calm. Thus began the most uncomfortable night of sleep on the trail. Without camping pads and a way to hang our hammocks, 2-step and I shared her bugnet and used my hammock as a ground cover to lay on. We felt like a can of sardines and needless to say we did not sleep well at all.
The guide that Jeff had provided us for the river let us know that if we made it 20 miles we would be able to camp at a campground and the thought of a real cup of coffee in the morning helped us get there. We knew that a group of hikers had started just a day before us and we were wondering if we would catch up to them at some point. As we got to our first portage around a dam we found them. They were just getting their day started as we were pulling up to the dam to unload and carry everything around to the other side. Since there were some things that we had to take care of while phone service was available the other hikers got ahead of us again, but we were pretty sure we would catch up to them. It didn't take us long after getting done with our phones to find them. They had tied their canoes together and had formed one massive tank of a water vehicle. We joined forces and floated down the river without paddling for a few hours. Since everyone had coolers, everyone had beer too so we enjoyed a lazy float down the river with some cold beverages. After a few hours of hanging out, we had to break up the party since they were getting off the river that day and we had a few more miles to paddle before our day was over. It didn't take long though and we were at the campground unpacking our boat and getting ready for our dinner of bacon and chicken tortellini. I could definitely get used to this canoeing thing if I eat like we have been.
We woke up bright and early for our first full day on the river and had a delicious breakfast of granola and yogurt to get us started out right. We got packed up and were on our way down the river. Having never been on an overnight canoe trip, we were all pretty excited to see what this part of our journey would bring. I felt a little like Huck Finn when he started his adventure on the Mississippi River. It didn't take long for us to find a spot that looked so cool we had to pull over and check it out. A tunnel that went below the train tracks right next to the river led to an area that was so green it seemed fake. After exploring for a little bit and getting some pictures we continued on our way. After a few miles I saw something floating in the water and as we got closer it started moving and then split up into five smaller objects. When we got just a little bit closer I realized that we were seeing river otters. I've never seen an otter in real life and almost thought I was imagining it, but when I realized I wasn't dreaming I got really excited. We never would have seen these animals from the trail and so it just helped justify our choice to aquablaze that much more. At the end of the day we found another perfect campsite along the edge of the river complete with a fire ring already built up. We enjoyed our delicious meal of chili cheese dogs and smores and fell asleep more satisfied from dinner than I've ever been on the trail. It helps when you don't have to carry all the food on your back.
10 miles/15 miles shuttle
The shuttle to the river wasn't going to pick us up until 4:30pm so we had the day to organize our things and buy the food for our trip. By the time 4:30pm came around we were ready to go. Jeff, the guy who owned the canoes, came and picked us up and drove us to the river where he gave us a pep talk on the low water levels and helped take some pictures of us all loaded up on the canoe. Since we got such a late start on the river, we only paddled for a couple hours before we stopped and found our first campsite. The dinner for the night was steak and it was delicious!
6/24/12 - 6/25/12
Before we could do anything else, we made our way over to the Y and got our showers. It was a welcome relief after almost making myself sick with my own stench. Although having to put the dirty clothes back on was not the most exciting thing since we hadn't had a chance to do our laundry yet. As everyone else from our slack packing group was talking about aquablazing, we were packing up our things to go meet our friend Golden at a hotel where we planned on splitting a room for the night. We had talked about wanting to aquablaze before, but didn't know anything about it and didn't know if it was something that would work out. When we met up with our friend Golden, she asked if we wanted to aquablaze with her and we started making some calls. We found a company that gave us a pretty good deal for a canoe and shuttles to and from the river. We could also paddle all 150 miles from Waynesboro to Harpers Ferry. We got pretty excited and started making plans; plans being what we would eat for dinner. Since we had time to spare because we had to wait for a canoe to come back from a group already out on the river, we took the next couple of days to run our errands and plan out our meals.
Reeds Gap - Waynesboro, VA
2-Step and I were only 2 of 4 people that decided to hike that day. Some of the other hikers in our group had had a little more fun than us at the brewery and just weren't feeling up to hiking almost 20 miles that day. Since we knew we were going to be in town that night, we took our time and stopped at all the viewpoints for breaks throughout the day. One of our stops for water also led to an interesting conversation with Regina the Ridge Runner. It was nice meeting you and we enjoyed the conversation about hiking and eco-psychology. We also heard the crying bear that you had mentioned. I wish we knew what was going on, it sounded so sad. We eventually made it to town and hitched a ride in with a couple of ladies who had just finished up a 500 mile section hike. Being hikers themselves, they knew that a cold beverage at the end of the hike was always welcome. When their husbands pulled up to pick us up, there was cooler stocked with cold beers and soda. They gave us one for the road and when we got to the YMCA they gave us another for camp. We couldn't think of a better way to end the day than having a cold beer or two, except maybe the free shower that was waiting for us at Y. Unfortunately, they closed earlier than we thought they would and we didn't get the shower that was very much needed. There have been no other times on the trail where my hiker stink could make me sick, but I had finally reached that point. I was ready for a shower on Wednesday and today was Saturday with no chance of a shower until the next day. We had made it to town and I made that work for me until I could get a shower the next day.
USFS road 246 - Reeds Gap
2-Step was going to take another zero today, but because so many people had the same idea in the group it turned into a near-o. In order to help out Albatross and make the shuttling easier, all the people taking a near-o would hike 6 miles up the trail to the next road crossing that was more conveniently located to where we were stopping for the night, the Devil's Backbone Brewery. We got a pretty early start at about 7:30am and had the 6 miles done by 10:30am. From there I would hike the last 14 miles on my own. I started out quickly and had the first climb done in no time. With the Black Keys playing on the ipod, I started the long descent down to the next road crossing and the last climb of the day. Now, I could have made the day longer by following all the white blazes, but we had gotten word of a blue blaze trail that cut out about 4 miles, although it was much steeper than the actual AT. Since we were ending at a brewery, I figured I'd take the blue blazes and get there a little faster. Although I might have made it to Reeds Gap faster, I definitely worked for it. There was no messing around on the blue blaze. It went straight up the mountain with little to no switchbacks. On the bright side, it followed a creek the entire time and I got a cool breeze coming down the mountain. There were all sorts of swimming holes and little falls along the trail that I wouldn't have seen if I had followed the white blazes. There were also lots of awesome campsites along the creek that made me wish 2-Step and Tess and our full packs were with me so we could have stopped at one of them. Patches, the only person who didn't take the blue blaze that day, said we didn't miss anything at all by taking the blue blaze. At the end of the day, I made a call to the brewery to see if we could get a ride because another hiker had told us they would shuttle people to and from the trail. The rental car was indisposed and wasn't able to come pick us up from Reeds Gap, which is why I made the call. The hostess answered the phone and said that hikers got rides from employees that didn't mind coming to pick us up on their way to work. It turns out, I called at the perfect time because they were able to reach an employee who was about to go to work 30 minutes from when I called and said she had a truck big enough for everyone and the dog. I would like to go ahead and thank Smooth for giving me the heads up on the brewery. They were worth the visit and were very hiker friendly. I'd also like to thank the folks at the bar that bought us a couple rounds. We had an interesting conversation and we enjoyed meeting new people. After dinner we wandered over to the old sandwich shop that the brewery lets hikers stay in. Although there weren't any showers, we had A/C and bathrooms and that was enough for us. We were going to be in Waynsboro, VA the next day and were going to be able to get free showers and camping at the YMCA.
BRP 51.7 - USFS road 246
I was dreading having to hike today. I was so drained from the heat of the day before that I didn't think I could survive another hot day, but 2-Step and I got up and on the trail as early as possible. This helped a lot and before it could get too hot, we were on our way and crusing down the trail. About half way through the day we got to our first shelter and stopped for a break before the big climb of the day. We sat there for a while and some of the other slack packers caught up to us and did the same thing. No one was motivated to start the climb, especially those of us that had hiked the day before. Eventually we mustered up the courage to keep going and started the climb. The first mile of the climb was fairly mellow and it led up to a road crossing where we saw some dark clouds forming through the break in the trees. We then gained some energy with the hope that it would rain on us as we made our way up the steeper miles of the climb. With thoughts of rain in our heads we started up and it didn't take long for the climb to feel as if it was going straight up. The clouds had moved closer to us at this point and when we reached a spot where the climb leveled out for a few yards, we experienced one of those perfect moments on the trail. We had just finished a steep section and as the trail leveled out for a few yards before the next climb, we got a cool wind that washed over us like we had just stepped into an air conditioned room. It was truly perfect and it gave us a boost of energy and attitude that we needed to help get us up the next mile of the climb. It wasn't long after the cool wind that we felt some rain start to fall and it helped ease my apprehension about finishing the climb and the rest of the day. The temperature cooled of dramatically and it didn't take us long to finish up the last few miles of the day.
Thunder Hill Ridge - Blue Ridge Parkway mile 51.7
2-Step had decided to take a zero today and have some girl time since all the girls in the slack pack group had decided to not hike that day. It was a welcome break for her and she didn't miss much on the hike. There were some views, but this was the hottest day we've had on the trail and there was so much moisture in the air that you couldn't see much from the viewpoints anyway. To give you an idea of how hot it was, when I got done with the day someone asked me if it had rained because I was soaked from head to toe. Unfortunately for me, it wasn't rain that had soaked my shirt and shorts. There was a cool part of the day though. After my lunch break, I crossed the James River Foot Bridge, which is the longest foot-use only bridge on the trail. It was pretty neat, but shortly after that I experienced the worst climb ever on the trail. I didn't have to hike as fast as I was going, but when I hike by myself and know that 2-Step is waiting for me at the end of the trail, I like to get there quickly so we can spend more of the day together, rather than apart. This could have been the wrong thing to do for the climb that I was on with the heat that I was feeling, but I didn't stop. Actually, I stopped, a lot, but I tried to go as fast as the heat would allow. I finished the day quickly, but even the folks getting in after me thought that the day was pretty miserable and let everyone who hadn't hiked know that they probably made the right choice.
Thunder Hill Ridge - Jennings Creek
The beauty of having a car available is that you don't always have to hike north. Moonshine, Albatross' wife, had planned today as a southbound hike because there was a major climb that we would have had to go up rather than down if we went northbound. 2-Step and I were part of the first shuttle to the trail that day so we got a good start on the hike. Shortly after we hopped onto the trail, there was a blue blaze that led to a 200 foot waterfall that we thought would be an interesting site, especially since there was a loop back to the trail. The trail to the falls was 1 mile off the AT and we didn't think much about it because of the loop back onto the trail; that is until we found out that there was no loop and we had to hike back up the mile we had gone down. It was at this point that we realized the loop that we thought was there was another side trail that paralleled the AT for a mile before cutting back onto the trail. We had already gone out of our way so 2-Step and I decided to see where this other trail took us. We followed an overgrown path that looked as if it had once been a road of some sort. At first we weren't sure if we should turn around or not, but our interest in seeing where the trail led kept us going forward, and since we followed white blazes everyday, we thought a break from that would be good since we were already off the trail anyway. About a mile after turning onto the second side trail, we came to an intersection that pointed us in the direction of the AT, and a half mile later we were back on our way north. We thought we were going to be getting back earlier since we had gotten such a good start on our day, but the whole waterfall fiasco had taken longer than we thought, so we ended our day much later than we had initially planned on. Oh well, that's one of the things about the trail, you can plan on one thing, but more than likely something else is going to happen. It wasn't the end of the world, and we got to hang out at the Jennings Creek swimming hole another night, so it wasn't all that bad.
Daleville,VA - Jennings Creek
We started out late for such a long day, but the plan was to see where we got. If people didn't want to hike all 28 miles, the driver of the rental car, Albatross, would be waiting at the last road crossing before our campsite to help shuttle people to the Jennings Creek swimming hole. 2-Step and I weren't worried too much about where we ended up and just enjoyed the day. The terrain wasn't that bad, there were some climbs, but it was a comfortable temperature and a good day to be hiking, especially without a full pack on our backs. About halfway through the day, the clouds grew dark and it started pouring on us, fortunately we were only about a mile from the next shelter and we were able to get there and meet up with the other slack packers to dry off for a minute and see if we could wait out the storm. It wasn't long before the rain stopped, the sun came out, and we could continue on our merry way. There weren't many views, so we didn't stop for too many breaks and we were at the road crossing where Albatross was waiting for anyone that didn't want to continue on to the Jennings Creek road crossing 8 miles away. 2-Step was tired after 20 miles and decided to take the ride to camp. Since there were only 8 miles left, I figured I would leave my pack with her and only bring a water bottle, granola bar, and the page from the guide book with the terrain profile for the last 8 miles. Now I'm the first person to avoid running, but since I've been on the trail and my legs are my only mode of transportation, I've tried to get to places faster and faster, and that has started to involve running. Only carrying a water bottle in my hands gave me the opportunity to do a little trail running, and I finished up the last 8 miles of the day in about 1 hour and 30 minutes. That's definitely no world record, but I was happy to have set, what I thought, was a good pace for myself. 2-Step helped my mood even more when she told me she had gotten me 2 Whoppers for dinner. It didn't take long before dark came and we were in our hammocks waiting to see what the next day would bring.
Since my dad and brother were planning on coming to pick up Molly we had a zero day to spend in Daleville. On the slack pack into town, I had decided it was time to get a new pair of shoes. My clean socks that I had put on the morning of the hike should not have been as dirty and crusty as they were at the end of one day. The stench emanating from the bowels of my shoes was more than anyone should have to deal with. After about 750 miles of use, it was time to retire them and I wasn't sad. 2-Step was also in need of a new pair of shoes since the ones she had bought in Hot Springs, NC were already starting to blow out and looked just as old as mine after only 300 miles of use. We thought that the outfitters in town might have a pair of shoes for each of us, so we headed that way after a leisurely morning. The outfitters wasn't much help since they didn't have a pair of shoes that worked for either of us less than $100. The whole store was rather outrageously priced and we didn't spend much time looking around. After that little excursion we spent the rest of our time waiting for my dad and brother to arrive. We parked by the pool with the other hikers staying at the hotel. Soon enough they arrived and we spent some time catching up before heading out to Roanoke, VA where 2-step and I had found a Gander Mountain that had some shoes we were interested in trying on. Success! We both found a pair of shoes we liked and we didn't have to pay as much as we thought we would, which is always a bonus. After a successful shoe search, we got back to the hotel to drop our things off before going out to eat some delicious southern barbeque. The next day, we got up earlier to get our resupply done before my dad and brother had to leave to head back to D.C. 2-Step and I were so glad that my dad could take time out of his weekend to help us out. We are truly very thankful for all the help and support my parents have provided this summer. I don't know what we would have done if they had not been able to help us get Molly off the trail. I was able to tell my dad happy Father's Day and thank you the next day, but I'd like to give a belated Happy Father's Day here as well. Thank you for all the support and guidance you've given me over the years; without it I don't know if I would have been confident enough to have planned this hike. I appreciate everything you've done for me over the years and I apologize if it hasn't always come across that way. Thank you. After saying our good-byes to my dad and brother, and of course, Molly, we went about organizing our things and repacking our bags to get back on the trail. We were moving pretty slow since we only planned on hiking 5 miles. Even with a late check out, we still went down to the pool to finish doing everything we wanted to do before heading north. We ended up having some left over food that we couldn't finish and when we finally decided we couldn't drag our feet anymore, we picked up our bags and went over to a group of hikers that had just arrived, to see if they wanted any salad and a bottle of dressing. I'm so glad we did, because while talking to them we found out that 2 people had just left their group and they had an opening for 2 more people to join their slack packing group. It didn't take much convincing and within 2 minutes of talking to them we had dropped our packs, been handed a couple beers each, and were sitting in the circle of hikers catching up with Screaming Eagle, a friend of ours that we hadn't seen in a few weeks. It's funny how things work out sometimes. We did not want to get back on the trail that day and in a matter of minutes, had found ourselves taking another zero with the opportunity to slack pack all the way to Waynesboro, VA, 134 miles away. There were going to be some long days ahead of us since we were going to get done with the 134 miles in 6 days, but we also weren't going to be carrying our full packs everyday.