Archive | April, 2013

Still Walking

30 Apr

Day 30 (4/20) – zero day with Dad
Day 31 (4/21) – 16.1 miles
Day 32 (4/22) – 16.4 miles
Day 33 (4/23) – 4.7 miles
Day 34 (4/24) – 12.8 miles
Day 35 (4/25) – 16.8 miles
Day 36 (4/26) – 15.8 miles
Day 37 (4/27) – 9.3 miles
Day 38 (4/28) – 15.6 miles
Day 39 (4/29) – throat infection
Day 40 (4/30) – 10.3 miles
Total AT Mileage to Date – 426.8 miles

Things are getting real out here. Cell service has been sketchy. It has been bone chilling cold. We ran out of food and had to mooch Pringles, trail mix, and beef jerky off the two greatest day hikers ever (thank you, Hunter and Chase!). Walking has gotten kinda old at times. I am coated in dirt and grime.

But I’m happy.

Oh yeah, and my throat start hurting worse and worse. When it started spreading down my neck, I hiked into town and a guy named Bob took me to the town doctor, who diagnosed me with a throat infection and gave me two different antibiotics. I took my 8 horse pill amoxicillins yesterday and felt okay enough to hike 10 miles today. Hoping I wake up tomorrow feeling even better!

Anyway, pictures…

Thru-hikers Yukon and Jabberwocky spent a rainy night with my Dad, Bojangles, and me. They got to know Velcro:

20130430-184850.jpg
On the food front, we stopped here:

20130430-184942.jpg
And we madeavoided some hard decisions (i.e., bought both):

20130430-185047.jpg
A guy in a 1980s camper van gave us a banana and some coffee at a particularly low point on Day 31:

20130430-185241.jpg
We passed the 400 mile point:

20130430-185307.jpg
I’m still alive:

20130430-185517.jpg

20130430-185538.jpg
And sometimes the scenery blows my mind:

20130430-185949.jpg

20130430-190013.jpg

20130430-190232.jpg

20130430-190433.jpg

20130430-190449.jpg

20130430-190631.jpg
Oh yeah, yeah, also: we officially left North Carolina for real (we’d been hiking the border with Tennessee for-freaking-ever):

20130430-190840.jpg

20130430-190858.jpg
And my trekking pole broke in half:

20130430-190937.jpg
Life is good.

Idiocy in the Woods

16 Apr

Day 26 (4/16) – zero day
Day 27 (4/17) – 2.0 miles
Day 28 (4/18) – 19.7 miles
Day 29 (4/19) – 13.4 miles
Total AT Mileage to Date – 309.0 miles

We rolled into Hot Springs, NC on Monday. Okay, we actually limped into Hot Springs on Monday… or at least Bojangles did. He was majorly dragging and was walking like a cowboy who’d been on horseback for the last 20 years. So I gave him my last 2 ibuprofen.

Half an hour later, he was slow as ever and now walked like a cowboy with a club foot. I pulled out my Ziploc baggie of medicine: only 4 Tylenol remained. He swallowed them all without comment.

Here’s seeing Hot Springs below as we hiked in:

20130420-155419.jpg

Hot Springs was uh-mazing. A tiny Southern town with everything you need: a diner, Dollar General, Hillbilly Market, pub, outfitter, and hardware store. At least one hiker didn’t get its charm – he pulled me aside and whispered, “Hot Springs, NC: where teeth are hard to come by and the motels are cash only.”

We took a zero day on Tuesday, in which we visited Puffy (and the staph infection/cellulitis on his leg) and ate everything in sight.

We hiked out of Hot Springs on Wednesday, but we didn’t make it very far. We camped 2 miles out – in part because hiking up a hill is difficult after you’ve eaten so much that your stomach resembles a beach ball and in part because it was raining.

We picked up our pace on Thursday and Friday in order to meet my Dad at the road crossing at mile 309. It poured rain all day on Friday, and all of us staying at the cabin he had rented – Bojangles, Yukon, Jabberwocky, and me – were so happy to see him. Although Yukon may have been a bit disappointed, as he was convinced my Dad was going to pull up in a tour bus with “Oxy” painted on the side.

To add some color to this post, I will note that we are all idiots out here (did you already know that?). I’ll use 3 anecdotes to illustrate:

1. Postman calls me on Wednesday night. He tells me he’s in Erwin, TN (60 miles ahead), which is “a f*cking shithole” and that he’s spent the entire day Google imaging pictures of cellulitis.” “I think I’ve got it,” he tells me. “Did you see Puffy’s? What does it look like?”

I told him I’d send him a picture, and I did. He texted back: “F*ck it, I don’t have it.”

But then he called again. I put him on speakerphone. “Well, I mean, your guys’ feet are red and tender and swollen at the end of the day, right? Especially of downhills?”

Bojangles didn’t hold back. “You don’t have cellulitis, dude. You’re being a f*cking idiot.” I had more sympathy, explaining that I too suffer from “Ivy League hypochondria” (Postman is the Dartmouth grad i-banker). “I’m a kindred spirit,” I told him.

2. [This is where the realities of the woods get kinda gross. I’m sorry.] The next day, we were well into our day of hiking when Bojangles informed me that his butt hurt. “I’m sorry,” I said.

Ten minutes later: “Hey, Oxy, my butt really hurts.” I turned around and looked at him. “I’m sorry. What’s wrong with it?”

“I wiped too hard.”

“What?!!!”

“Well we’re in the woods and I didn’t want to get a ‘hanger’ and I think I just wiped too hard.”

There were no words. I kept walking. Five minutes later I hear Bojangles behind me: “Can I have one of your facial wipes?”

“For your butt?! Geez Louise, Bo, you’re an idiot.”

3. I gave Bojangles a facial wipe, and he disappeared behind the Cherokee National Forest sign. Meanwhile, I pulled out a block of cheese and began eating.

When Bo remerged from behind the sign, I was sticking my tongue out and pointing at it. ” Why is your tongue bleeding??,” he asked.

“I tried to lick the cheese off my knife,” I replied.

“Well aren’t we all just idiots out here,” he said as he stuffed the facial wipe deep into the recesses of his pack.

20130420-154546.jpg

20130420-155252.jpg

20130420-155309.jpg

20130420-155655.jpg

20130420-155708.jpg

20130420-155719.jpg

Bombs Away, Ted!

16 Apr

I’ve had a tough time keeping a good blog during my hike because (1) I’m generally so exhausted at the end of the day that the last thing I want to do when I crawl in my sleeping bag at night is type my day up character by character with my index finger on my phone, and (2) even if I did, in all likelihood I would not have Internet service to post it anyway. Then, when I finally make it to town, (1) an Internet connection is still far from guaranteed, and (2) there is so much to do: food to eat, laundry to wash, showers to stand under, groceries and gear to shop for.

But I thought I’d index-finger-up a quick snippet from my memory of Day 22 (4/11), in which we traveled a scant 4.7 miles [all uphill, however, I will note] – to offer but a glimpse of the good life…

The day’s hike was feeling good. We were buoyed by a good night’s sleep and town food, thanks to local hiking enthusiast and trail angel David, who had kindly shuttled us in and out of town – over 15 windy mountain road miles each way – the day before.

When we arrived at the shelter to collect water from the stream that ran behind it, we were greeted by twenty-something “Duck Tape.” “Yo, but just call me D.T.,” he bellowed. “Welcome to the sheltah. I’ve been chillin’ here for two days, yo.”

“Oh wow, I thought that wasn’t allowed,” I queried, referring to the well-known mandate that in the Smokies, hikers must keep moving – there’s a strict “no loitering” policy.

“Oh yah, hah. Well, anyway, the gravity bong is here in the corner, the top for that is sitting over here, and I got a pipe out here if that’s yah thing.” Hmm, I looked at Bojangles with a blank expression.

“Oh yah!,” D.T. exclaimed, “I also was hiking off trail and found the mother load, yo!” He holds up a 4 liter bladder of yellow-tinged liquid and a Payday bar.

“How do you know that’s not urine?”, I wondered aloud. D.T. was unfazed. “Who buries 4 liters of urine in the woods, yo, it’s totally wine!”

And so it was, or at least I assume it was, because shortly thereafter I saw him drinking it out of a cooking pot.

Bojangles and I had planned on pushing through this shelter to the next one – 7.4 miles ahead – but D.T. and the five or so others at the shelter were fear mongerers who convinced us that the night’s hailstorm was coming earlier than expected. They were in fact listening to a NOLS mountain weather broadcast, which gave us pause. We initially decided to press on regardless, but then called David, our local hiking guru and trail angel.

David said we could probably make it but cautioned that if we should get caught in a storm on that section – a long and completely exposed ridge – it would be disastrous. He even shared an anecdote about “the only time he ever came close to death hiking,” which happened to be when he was hypothermic on that ridge and a buddy pulled him down and saved his life.

“Okay, D.T., we’re staying,” Bojangles hollered grumpily before wandering off to find a tree to carve his initials into (he brought me back a photo).

The shelter that night was packed. I’ve never felt more like a sardine. The latest arrivals to get shelter space (everyone else – miserable souls – had to tent in the storm) were familiar to Bojangles and me, for we had sheltered with them a few nights back.

They were [drum roll please]: Stephen, Jonathan, and Ted. Stephen and Ted were old – maybe 65 – and both boasted massive bellies that dunlopped over their jeans. Jonathan was the 17-year-younger – and significantly trimmer – brother of Stephen. Ted was Stephen’s brother-in-law. We had learned all this and more several days prior, when we had eagerly listened to them because there was a roll of summer sausage in the offing.

I think this was Ted’s last backpacking trip, for he was near death upon arrival. He flopped up onto the the second shelf of the shelter like a beached whale and did not move for 15 whole minutes, with the exception – thank goodness – of the heaving rise and fall of his great belly.

Stephen himself came bustling into the shelter a half-minute behind Ted. “Well, hiya guys!” A chorus of polite murmurs echoed back. Stephen surveyed the shelter, the “gravity bong” in the corner immediately drawing his interest.”What is that?”, he asked perplexedly. D.T., cooking pot of wine in hand (Chardonnay, he told us) explained that it was “a device.”
“Hmmmph, a device for what?”
“Weed,” D.T. unabashedly proclaimed.
“What?”, Stephen screwed his face.
“Smoking mari-ya-juana,” D.T. enunciated.
“Oh, you mean weeeed,” Stephen replied self-satisfyingly.
D.T. looked confused.

I went to sleep shortly thereafter. I woke up to two things: (1) D.T. snoring, and (2) the overgrown Boy Scouts hollering at each other, even though their sleeping bags were literally mashed together (like everyone’s).
“Steve, ya up?!”
“Yeah, Jon. Ted, ya there?!”
No response from Ted.
“Ted?”

I rolled over and put my makeshift pillow – my down jacket in a stuff sack – over my head. Fifteen minutes later, at barely 7 a.m., Stephen’s voice was at a full-blown shout: “Rise and shine, Ted!” Ted did not budge.

And then Stephen really let loose: “I said, bombs away, Ted! Bombbbbbbs away, Ted!”

The entire “sheltah” groaned in unison.

Bojangles tapped the mound atop my head. “Let’s get the hell out of here,” he said. “Yeah,” I responded weakly, “at least 20 miles today.”

Trail angel David, with Bo:

20130416-075720.jpg

Call Me Oxy.

15 Apr

20130415-211842.jpg

(Above: the afternoon I started my hike)

On the AT, it don't matter what your parents call you. Instead, you are christened with a "trail name" – usually as a result of something stupid, funny, or otherwise memorable that you do. It's like a fighter pilot's call sign.

As a result, I know my comrades only by names like Staph, Puffy, Funny Bone, Fatty, Sinner, and Whiskers.

So what do they call you, Lucie?, you may wonder.

They call me Oxy.

Back at Neels Gap (mile 31.7) – my first night on my own – I was getting a “shakedown” at the local outfitter’s. A shakedown is where a backpacking “expert” goes through your pack and tells you what you should ditch in order to lighten your load and increase your chances of getting, well, anywhere.

The shakedown dude picked up my bag of meds and was like, “what the heck’s in here?” Being myself, I retorted sarcastically. “Just the basics, Allen. Oxycodone, Percocet, Vicodin, ya know.”

Other hikers heard this and later that night, as we lie in our bunks kibitzing, my offbeat (yet, I will note, hilarious) humor led Stretch to declare “yo, you are so high on Oxy right now!” Staph immediately chimed in with “trail name!” and the room erupted in cheers and laughter.

“Hold on, guys, I can’t be named after a drug. What am I supposed to tell the church groups and old people?!”, I pleaded.

“Fine,” Stretch said, “you can be Roxy if you want.”

“Roxy?!”, my face contorted. “Then they’ll think I’m a stripper!”

A quiet voice floated across the bunkroom. “Why don’t cha just call ‘er ‘White Trash’?”

People fell out of their bunks in laughter.

I pulled my sleeping bag over my face. My words were muffled but loud: “Fine! I’ll be Oxy!”

And so I am. Lucie is but a memory of somebody that I used to know.

20130415-212038.jpg

(More) Life on the Trail

15 Apr

Firstly, my trusty Dad and puppy Velcro are coming for another resupply this weekend. My Dad is concerned about this whole hiking business and “wants to lay eyes on me.” In any event, it will be nice to share a beer with Velcro:

20130415-184955.jpg

One of my fave hikers on the Trail, Puffy, has a staph infection and cellulitis on his leg (it started with a nick from his boot). A hospital visit, heavy doses of antibiotics, and several days later, he tells me his leg is much improved:

20130416-185747.jpg

I’ve officially now stayed at the worst shelter on the entire AT: the Walnut Mountain Shelter. It’s right in the middle of a wind alley, it leaks, it has mice, many floorboards are missing, and the privy is falling over.

20130416-190127.jpg

Of course, a storm had to roll in while we were holed up there. It would have been baaaaad news had the boys not reinforced it with our rain flys:

20130416-190347.jpg

20130416-190427.jpg

OF COURSE, I had to sleep beside this guy, who slept with knife at the ready:

20130416-190643.jpg

And OF COURSE, of all nights, I had to have a night terror on this night and wake up screaming bloody murder. Dude above was at full alert, red headlamp ablaze. “Is it a bear?!!”, hiker Nova yelled from the other end of the shelter.

Oops.

Also, you may be wondering, what do hikers eat? Answer: everything… that is super light but chock full of calories. This often means Pop Tarts, honey buns, candy bars, and all kinds of other junk foods not seen since childhood. Also, another rule: everything must be dipped or otherwise coated in either peanut butter, honey, or olive oil. As the hiker saying goes: “it’s all about the calories.”

Some people have interesting inventions. Take Sleeping Beauty (below) who almost exclusively eats “Snickers rolls”: a large Snickers bar coated in peanut butter and Nutella and wrapped in a tortilla:

20130416-193140.jpg

The Forest Ranger and Me

10 Apr

Day 21 (4/10) – 9.1 miles
Day 22 (4/11) – 4.7 miles [hailstorm scare laid us up]
Day 23 (4/12) – 12.6 miles
Day 24 (4/13) – 22.8 miles
Day 25 (4/14) – 15.6 miles
Day 26 (4/15) – 13.1 miles
Total AT mileage to date – 273.9 miles

Say you are an overeducated lawyer wannabe (named Lucie) who’s never camped a day in her life – who suddenly heads out to hike the AT. What do you do?

Find an ex-forest ranger and hike with him!

A week or ten days ago, I was telling my Aunt Leslie about my friends on the Trail: Walker the retired Navy pilot, Postman the 26-year-old NYC investment banker, Bojangles the ex-forest ranger with the forestry degree, Puffy who dreams of being an organic farmer, and so on. “Oooooh,” says Aunt Leslie, “so which one do you like? The investment banker??”

Aunt Leslie,” I responded incredulously, “do you think I’m managing portfolios out here?!” “Or am I hiking through and living in a damn forest?! Of course I’m postage stamping myself to the forest ranger!”

And so Bojangles and I are hiking buddies. Quite the pair. We hike one in front of the other. Our sleeping bags lay side by side at night. We use my long-handled titanium spoon and lightning fast JetBoil stove. We use his water filter and “road kill seasoning.” He handles bears. I do snakes. He fixes anything that breaks. I’m in charge of navigation. In the woods, he’s in his element, picking fiddlehead to add to supper. In town, it’s all me – hitch hiking is my job.

20130415-175004.jpg

20130415-175109.jpg

20130415-175217.jpg

20130415-175547.jpg

It’s nice having my own personal forester. “Hey Bo, what kind of tree is that?”

“Beech.”

Or: “Bo! What is that noise?”

“Ruffled grouse.”

And so on.

For my own sake, I make myself useful. “You know another reason I like hiking with you?” Bo asked me the other day. “Because I don’t have to talk to anyone. You get all the information, and all I have to do is wave.”

So together we completed our 70+ mile traverse of the Smokies – the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Known as one of the most remote and difficult sections of the AT, it has claimed many thru-hikers’ dreams with its impossibly steep ascents, knife-edge ridge walks, and knee-jarring downhills. It. Was. Hard.

Oh yeah, but Tennessee, baby!

20130415-180302.jpg

20130415-180507.jpg

20130415-180637.jpg

20130415-181914.jpg

Life on the Trail

10 Apr

Just a few pictures offering tidbits of life on the trail…

Everyone is trying to get their packs as light as possible (you feel every ounce every step up a mountain, believe me). These homemade sandals are popular:

20130410-173424.jpg

At shelters, where there is not a “privy” (primitive, raised outhouse without doors), there may be a “toilet area” – known to hikers as “the sh*tfield” (for your viewing pleasure, I will only include a picture of the sign):

20130410-173804.jpg

You see all kinds of nutty things on the Trail. This was in Fontana – the gateway to the Smokies:

20130410-173904.jpg

Do you like my new trail runners?

20130410-173950.jpg

This morning, we woke up at 4:30 a.m. to hike (IN THE DARK) to catch the sunrise on the top of Clingman’s Dome, the highest point on the entire AT (at 6,655 feet):

20130410-174444.jpg

20130410-174603.jpg

It was a dumb idea. I almost got hypothermia:

20130410-174702.jpg

But we made it:

20130410-174833.jpg

And, amazingly, no one fell off the top:

20130410-175421.jpg