Hiking in Virginia, day 1

6.5 miles , campsite site at 4,000 feet near spring.

( hiking on 5/18 )

Walking the AT in Virginia with a full backpack after moving through here one year ago is quite a beautiful experience. I am walking here for about a 24 hour period over three days ( one whole day, two half days). Checking my daily journal of my AT thru-hike last year, I see that I was walking through here in May, almost exactly to the day. This year, I am walking with my wife, Auntie Mame, and her twin sister V8, two women who are walking strong. I am walking south, after the three of us were shuttled 35 miles up the Trail as we head back to my rental car , sitting in the lot of the Rendezvous Motel in Pearisburg, VA.
I experienced considerable concern about whether I could be able to keep up with the “ Speedy Sisters”, after 6 months off the Trail. I saw enough “ friend/family failures” to know that it generally doesn’t work for a thru-hiker to accommodate a backpacking visit from family member or friend. Even in cases where the visitor is in strong physical shape, the sheer mileages ( 15-20 miles a day) that a thru-hiker can crank out at this stage of the hike generally affects the feet of the visitor in a dramatic way. Leaves them blistered, raw, or painful. This was my concern, especially since my feet are still screwed up from my own 5.5 months on the Trail last year. I still experience numbness, some pain, and occasional cramping of both forefeet.
The good news is my Inov8 Rocklite 295’s, with wider forefoot, increased cushion, and lighter weight than the three pairs of Inov8 Terr-Roc 330’s that I found best for me last year. This time, I switched out the stock inner foot pads with custom orthotics I was fitted with in November ’07. I am very pleased to report that the orthotics helped. I ended up covering some relatively big miles with no blisters, or additional forefoot pain . I highly recommend that potential thru-hikers pay a visit to a respected sports podiatrist to check out their feet before thru- hiking.
We started at 1 PM on Sunday, May 18th, heading south from the 601/ Rocky Gap trail crossing. There was a 30 % chance of rain, but things looked bright at the start of the walk. I started hiking at the back, content to just walk along this beautiful, springlike path again. It was very surprising to me to see how quickly the twins moved along. I have been hiking with them off and on for , well, I guess it has been 36 years now! However, they were moving twice as fast as they ever had before, and were steady and deliberate on the uphills as well. It was a most amazing experience to witness their transformation from weekend hikers to human hiking machines.
We moved through countryside that was at first appeared new to me. But soon memories came back. Last year I just forded Stony Creek, but this year the twins wanted to take the road walk and avoid wading, so that is what we did.
Our trio completed a relatively fast 6 miles, stopping for a break at the Warspur shelter around 3.
We moved on. Then the precipitation cycle went like this : First, sprinkling. Then winds. Then rain. I told myself, “ No big deal, at least it isn’t that cold” Then I noticed these little balls of ice bouncing along the trail at my feet. Hail. Somewhere in the above progression I started to get cold, so I put on my rain jacket. I think it was too late, as it took me hours to regain a decent core temperature.
We eventually reached peak elevation at about 4,000 feet, where we found a site that had a fire ring, and a piped spring nearby. We were in for the night.

By this time, it had stopped raining, but the temperature had now dropped into the 40’s. I had with me a new pair of Pearl Izumi Windstopper gloves, but they weren’t warm enough. My hands were cold for hours. We could see our breath. It felt like the low temps reached the high 30’s. Mame said that they hadn’t had a night that cold in weeks.
Our home for the night was Tarptent’s Double Rainbow, which I used last year and had willed over to Auntie Mame. It fits two, and Mame and I unzipped my 40 degree Western Mountaineering down bag that we mated to the new under sheet. We slid into that “ We’ve got to work out a compromise” place right away where I was cold and wanted to pull the drawstring around my shoulders, but she didn’t, as she would have felt smothered with the drawstring pulled taught.
We didn’t sleep too well. My first day back on the AT day put me though a wide range of emotions, from true appreciation for the beauty of the Trail to downright suffering, with hours of ice cold hands, and colder temps prevailing that definitely outpaced the limits of our summer gear.

Trail Days 2008

( written on May 18, 2008)

Back in Damascus, VA,  exactly one year, to the day,  after being here in 2007 for Trail Days, or Trail Daze,  a 25,000 person backpacking party.    I’m here tonight at the Biker Barn,  in the company of my wife Auntie Mame, and her twin sister, V8. Both are part of this year’s crop of Appalachian Trail thru- hikers, having racked up 624 miles to date.
We are in an apartment right on the side of the Creeper Trail, one of the country’s premiere rails to trails conversions, famous for the  gentle 16 mile down hill that attracts bikers from all over the country. No skills are really required to accomplish the trip other than being able to keep yourself from falling off the bike once it starts rolling.
I wanted to meet old hiking friends. Three  minutes after walking in downtown Damascus brought a, “Hey, Uncle Tom!” from Robo. We walked and talked a while.
During the day, I ran into Serial, Poontz and the female M&M, the guy M&M, Grasshopper ( who gained 40 pounds back), Grin, Pogue, and Crazy Horse.  On Sat. I ran into three members of the infamous Dung Beetles: Evil Eye, Kiwi, and Tom B. I also ran into Hemlock, Hungus, Dozer, Megan, Bama, Lipstick, and Slinky Dog.
I thought that I’d score some real finds at vendor alley, but ended up buying just one  $4 bag of five small plastic squeeze bottles, that I’d use for liquid soap, hot sauce and tamari.
However at Mt. Rogers Outfitters, I dropped some serious cash.  I spent $65 on a sleeping bag coupler that allow me to mate it to a 40 degree Western Mountaineering down bag.  That converts it to a two person bag, with the thin coupler on the bottom and the full rectangular bag on top. I also bought two “2,175” (miles from Maine to Georgia) decals for my cars, and an A.T.  patch that I’ll sew onto my backpack, so I can then  attach beneath it the “2,000 miler” bar  that I earned for thru hiking.
On Sat., I was back on vendor alley where I bought $48 worth of freeze dried suppers from  Antigravity Gear, plus they threw in a complimentary t-shirt and  an insulated cozy  to hold the meals in while they are rehydrating. I also bought a newly released DVD  entitled “Walking the Great Divide”. www.flagerfilms.com .  I needed to replace my Inov8 ( www.inov-8.com) Terr-Roc 330 hiking shoes. I now have a pair of newly released Rocklite 295’s. They are lighter, made with a wider forefoot, with more cushion in the foot.  The fellow that sold me on them was the pro rep, and wanted me to get back to him after I told him I wore out two pairs on the AT last year.  “Check your landing gear” is Inov8’s  motto catch phrase right now.
It was a solid packed couple of days, with my only regret my inability to connect with Queso and his girlfriend Angie. I would have loved hanging out with them.
Tomorrow I leave here for three days of backpacking with the Speedy Sisters.  Watch out.  After I backpack in VA on the AT with them for three days, I go back to Maine for two days, then head out for another three days of backpacking, this time on the AT in Western Maine, trying out the new Grafton Loop Trail.   My friends General Tso and Rangoon will be with me.  I’ll be posting here, stay in touch.

I’ve Been Backpacking…

in Virginia and Maine.  I have all sorts of adventures to post, and have got to get started.  I’ve put the piece about Gene Espy on tonight, and will just say that I’ve backpacked 6 of the last 9 days; in two stints on the AT, down south and up north.

I have just finished over 40 miles in just over two days,  doing the Grafton Loop Trail up through  Grafton Notch State park here in Maine.

The 40 + mile Grafton Loop Trail is the first new trail the Appalachian Mountain Club has completed since 1976.  I’ve put 40+ on there because I still haven’t finished tabulating all our mileage , as we did some side forays as well.

Stay tuned for several write-ups that should come in here soon.  I’m hurtin’ and healin’ tonight!

How About Hiking the AT in 1951 ?

The highlight of the offerings at Trail Days was the talk given by Gene Espy,who was the second person ( Earl Shaffer was #1) to thru-hike the AT. Gene did it in 1951, at 24 yrs old.

He had no idea at the time that he was only the second person to do it as a thru-hike until after he completed the walk, which he did in a staggering 4 months, in a day where there was few resupply points, fewer settlements near the Trail, no cell phones, or even zip lock plastic bags. During the 1950’s only 14 people completed the trail.

Gene related that his only adventure experiences before hiking the AT included riding a single speed heavy bicycle some 750 miles at 16 years of age. He also did some camping in the Smokies before he thur-hiked, using 6 blankets in lieu of a sleeping bag.

Other than an occasional postcard to home, Gene never made any phone calls, as he held that an expensive long distance call would be reserved for emergencies only, of which he felt experienced none, even completing the Trail.
When Gene arrived at Katahdin Stream campground he was the only person there other than the ranger, who realized that Gene’s accomplishment had to made known to the world, so the ranger called in a reporter from Millinocket who did a story on Gene that was rebroadcast on the Associated Press wires. His parents only learned that Gene reached his goal after hearing it on the radio in Georgia.
Gene had made up a black flag lettered in white with ” Appalachian Trail Hiker’s Club” on it to use when hitching on and off the trail. He sent it home after he realized that no one knew what the sign meant.
He showed us the two very soiled and very worn pairs of formerly white nylon socks that he thru-hiked in. He reported only 1 blister, stifled with a band-aid. His usual food purchases were two loaves of bread and three jars of different flavored jams. He ate 2-3 sandwiches most meals. He used parts of a Boy Scout cook set.

There is an excellent article about Gene’s phenomenal accomplishment in a 2005 issue of Georgia Tech Alumni Association magazine.

I thank Crazy Horse for alerting me about the chance to meet Gene, shake his hand, and experience living history.

Mostly Good Influence

Great day of riding 320 miles ( motorcycle) into the great White Mountains of New Hampshire.  I left the house at 9:30 AM  and figured I had to put down 150 miles  if I were to make lunch with my  infamous Appalachian Trail friend, and increasingly famous Vermont trail angel,  Bad Influence.  I didn’t think we’d do much standing around:

We didn’t.

I was there earlier than BI.  had already bought myself a pair of hiking shorts for the new season.  I wanted another pair of Pearl Izumi’s, like I had for most of the AT thru hike last year.  They would have made it all the way, but I tore a huge rip in the ass end exiting the outhouse at the Secret Shelter, in New York.  I ended up stitching it back together with dental floss and a needle, but it was basically reduced to a dirty rag by Vermont, so I threw it away. Actually, my wife STRONGLY suggested I throw them out.

I called out to  BI  as I was exiting the Dunkin’ Donuts with a turbo cup o’ Joe.  We went back to  the bikes. I wanted a photo commemorating the event.    I asked a wiry guy with no shirt who was walking across the lot if he would mind  taking our picture.

“No way, man, I don’t do nothin’ with cameras. But my old lady will take it for ya.”

Then I recognized him from being right in front of me in line at the Dunkin’.

” Hey, aren’t you the guy who just asked for 15 sugars and 10 milks in your coffee ?”  I asked him.

“Yup, he said, that’s me !”

So here are two badasses: Uncle Tom on the left with his 1996 BMW R1100RT , and BI on the right with  his big black 1998 Harley Road King.

BI and me have similar, simple needs.  Coffee, and the nearest food available.  To our thinking, its all good.  We hoofed it over to the 99 Restaurant right next door.  We had sandwiches, fries, beer and caught up on all the old and some of the new news.  It took us all of 5 minutes to be back in a great zone.  Mojo working today.

     We had planned to make this lunch together, each  some 150 miles apart, as an excuse to ride our motorcycles and to hang out a bit, so we mopped up the table and rode North for a while.  Soon,   I saw huge snowfields up above treeline in the Presidential Range straight ahead.

     BI and I stopped at the edge of a parking lot where Rt. 302 goes left and RT. 16 winds straight up through PInkham Notch.  We sat by a bridge near a  river a while,  before we each went our separate ways: Bad Influence back to the greening hills of central Vermont, and me to the Lincolnville, Maine hills and shores.  It was peaceful watching the water flowing by, and the discarded cans and paraphenalia at our feet signaled that this has been a traditional party spot for more than one gathering.

     As I fired up the big twin and threaded my way uphill and north, I soon realized that I was riding directly toward Mt. Washington.  How did I recognize it?  Well, how about the half dozen communication towers, the bowling ball shape of the summit, and black sooty smoke belching out of the Cog Railway, coal-fired,  steam-engined locomotive.  It was thrilling to see it again like this, now against the snow.  I enountered no cars on the road at all.  The temperature was dropping, but up ahead  was a huge number of cars  lined the sides of Rt. 16 and filled all the lots at Pinkham Notch.  Then it hit me.  These guys are all skiing or snowboarding down Tuckerman’s Ravine!  It’s free, but you have to hike up for every run.  Sheesh!


As I passed the AMC’s Pinkham Notch site, I realized the AT crossed right here,  where last August, I  went vertical , over 3,000 feet of ascent, into The Wildcats, A-E , a series of successive peaks that were a bitch to get up  and over.

     I remember the day well. It was a Sunday, August 15th.  It was grey, looked like rain, and I had just spent a Nearo (not quite a whole day of mostly doing nothing)  at my sister-in-law’s near Conway, NH.  The wind was fierce, and cold, even with me climbing steadily and under significant exertion levels.  I was alone, and remembered that  it was a tough day for me.  It sure was.  I looked up my Trailjournals.com entry for that day and this is all that I had written ( I had fewer than five days out of six month’s backpacking where I ended up too tired or cold to write) :

” 305.9 miles to go to Katahdin.  Too late and much too cold up here to write.  Will hope for easier end time tomorrow – Uncle Tom ”

    But today I was tearing right on by these big guys, with  the throttle rolling  all too smoothly and effortlessly. It was glorious.  I had The Soundtrack thumping inside the speakers I had installed in the interior of my motorcycle helmet  I still saw no cars at all all the way up to Route 2, where I turned right , made short work of Gorham, NH , and headed back into Northern Maine.  I also crossed  the AT a few miles west of Gorham, where it heads into Maine , just two days later.  As I went by the Trail again outside of Gorham, NH ,  I felt my heart skip like the needle on a record player. I now know why people who thru-hike return to one of those parking lots someday to shell out , some of them, what ends up being thousands of dollars worth of burgers, hot dogs, and cold drinks to the current pilgrims of  The Big Walk.  

      I tried to take Rt 113 south back over Evans Notch, but was blockd by  a gate across the road halfway up.  Still snowed in. They don’t plow here in winter.

Soon I was in Bethel, ME, home of the record breaking

World’s Largest Snow Woman.   It shrunk just a bit, and at the record breaking moment, was 122 feet tall!

     It was a couple of more hours on increasingly cold riding before I finally made it home before 6 PM.  The thermometer outside my house was at 48 degees when I got here.  I was chilled to the core.   I  fire up the wood, and hung out some 6 feet away from it the rest of the evening, reading about Thoreau’s own illuminating trip to Mount Katadhin.

Another successful pilgrimage at The Church of Two Wheels.



are BAACK! Big time.

I was recently out in the woods with one of the infamous biking Bubbas, Craig, this week and part of me now looks like a human pincushion.

We actually headed for higher ground, choosing a ride up the trails to the top of Mount Pleasant. Record rains from a week ago and the residual water from this year’s almost record snow pack have left the woods exceedingly wet for this time of year, with standing water in abundance throughout the forest. Small streams and creeks are full. Water is running everywhere.

As a precaution, I wore my Rocky waterproof socks over my regular socks. I’d never use them hiking, but they work well in conditions when I am biking through streams or walking my bike through mud pits.

Lately, I have been ramping up my exercise program in preparation for at least a week of backpacking later this month, in Virginia and Maine. I have left the gym and have shifted to taking walks in the Camden Hills State Park and my own Uncle Tom trail here up to the top of Moody Mountain . A couple of days ago, I even fit both biking and hiking into one day, doing a 75 minute biking loop on some big hills circling Moody Mountain, then later talking a walk up to the top of Bald Rock Mountain, about a 3.5 mile round trip.

Biking is hard around here. Steep stuff no matter where you go , and although I was regularly taking a Spinning class at the YMCA, once you start grinding through the mud, over the uneven rocks, and fight to keep your balance on a real trail, it is tough! So sweat, humidity, and a 6 PM start up Mt. Pleasant combined to be perfect conditions for black fly attacks.

Craig dosed himself with some sort of insect repellent before we left , but I declined. Truth is, I haven’t had to spray myself with any repellent for at least three years now. Ever since I have traveled in the wilds of Labrador, and have encountered the mother of all black fly and mosquito clouds, the insects around here don’t seem so bad. Except for today.

I literally could not stop and rest for more than 10 seconds before a thick cloud of black flies attacked me. They bit me on my bare legs, they got in my hair, they liked the eyeballs. I swallowed at least one of them a half dozen times on the ride, coughing ‘em up when I could.

Nevertheless, we had a great time out there. It was Craig’s maiden voyage out on the rocky trails this year. Mine too. He has been sidelined for over a year due to a mountain bike crash in November 2007 that resulted in a Type 3 shoulder separation. He required serious surgery to reattach several tendons back to the bone. I was on that ride with him too, when I first passed him as he sat stunned on the side of a really rocky descent where he was thrown off his bike and his shoulder hit an immovable object on the ground.

After a bit of looking around this evening , we found the exact spot where he hit, and agreed that we would start the ritual of pissing on the big gnarly knob of a root that projected sideways from the edge of the trail.

“Here’s to ya, root!” It’s pretty crazy stuff that we do out here in the woods.

Just after we were back rolling down through the rocks, Craig came right up to a rocky ledge that extended across the washed out road. It had a clear two foot drop-off below it before we would launch off through wet, leaf covered, lumpy bowling balls again. Craig was setting up to shoot off it.

“ Craig, don’t do it! I will be shot by Angela if you happen to rack yourself up again! We are almost done, and all kinds of bad stuff usually happens to us at the end of a ride, or the end of the day when we are tired.”

We agreed that we were still rusty, that we were still dialing in suspension settings, and settling in our new brake pads. Craig agreed to take the side loop into the woods to bypass this section, this time.

That’s the thing about being a biking Bubba. We are in it for the long haul. The idea is to have a good time, fall off into the mud sometimes, walk through black pools of unfathomable water and slime, and come back to do it again, three times a week. Year after year, season after season, day or night, doesn’t matter. We even have headlights.

We’ll be back to visit with Mr. Root Knob.

Even with these black flies.

Mr. T , the tic man..

“Tics are parasites- They live by feeding on the blood of others: birds, mammals, and reptiles. They remain attached to the host for several days while feeding , attached by their strong mouth parts. Some species pass on diseases, such as Lyme disease, as they feed. size 1/16-1/8 “ long, # species 650.”

For while this weekend, I adopted the role of and advocated for Mr. T, a tiny tic.

For two weekends a year, Maine Coast Men hosts The Gathering. A typical weekend is very informal. MCM’s is in a remote wooded area on a river with enclosed bunk houses and gathering rooms. It begins with a Friday night potluck and a voluntary “check in.” Saturdays offer workshops which are conducted by other members who volunteer. In the past their have been workshops about anger, living single, relationships with fathers and sons, spirituality, co dependency, homophobia, racism, singing, and so on. No one has to attend anything but usually over the weekend those who gather engage with each other and feel support and comradeship. Saturday night is a “variety” show with stories, music, singing, and improvising. The hope is that men return to their homes with renewed energy, insight, or connections with others as they move through the next 6 months, where many first time participants become returnees.
The next one will be Oct. 17-19, 2008 here in Lincolnville, ME. If you want to attend, check the web site linked above and download an application form. I’ll be there, and have signed up to cook Saturday night’s supper .

This year, the theme was “ Connecting With the Earth” and the highlight this time was the Saturday afternoon Council of All Beings. At the opening circle, we were encouraged to be receptive to some type of connection or contact with a being, animal, bird, etc. that we would then represent in the Council. I love this type of non linear cognitive process, and was thrilled that I might have some type of visit from a life form that might need my help.

At first, I thought I might have connected with a Downy Woodpecker that presented itself to me as I walked out the door of my cabin on my way to breakfast in the morning. But, Mr. woodpecker was eventually displaced by the tic that I uncovered that alerted itself to me after I felt it crawling up my leg.

One important and engaging activity that remained in place throughout Saturday was an ongoing mask-making workshop, where a huge collection of art materials was available for our use. I had no initial picture of what a tic would look like, but eventually worked it up, using a color tic photograph that I located in a nature book that I found down in the Nature Center at the camp. I grafted on some sharp teeth, and used sticks dipped in red paint as the mouth parts. I glued on some big blood drips.

How do you convince someone about the value of a parasite that sucks your blood and passes on Lyme disease?
I knew at least a dozen Appalachian Trail thru-hikers who contracted Lyme disease last year . They succumbed to various levels of sickness and fatigue. I myself was paranoid about tic bites, and faithfully wore knee high gaiters periodically dosed with a tick repellent spray containing 0.5 percent permethrin. I only had to remove three of them from my legs, none doing me any apparent harm.

The idea of a blood sucking parasite opened up to me the larger issue of the sometimes parasitic-like existence of forces that are not supporting our life. Things that might fall into this category might be television viewing, drugs, alcohol, commercial advertisements foisted on us by income fattening merchants. In this form, tics are real life reminders that we must be constantly vigilant about those influences that might actually burrow into our flesh and suck the life out of us.
For me, the more that I am out in the woods, walking on some sort of trail, the safer I am. The tics that I might meet there are far less likely to suck the life out of me than the tics I might not be able to recognize when they are masked.

You Name It, Exercise helps It ..

Great article in the 4/29/08 New York Times with the above title written by Jane Brody. (Hit the link in the last sentence to get the full article.) The article not only covers the protective role of exercise in the ability to lower the risk of a litany of diseases but discusses the body’s ability to battle the effects of disease.

“It’s crazy not to do it.”

OK, but what about the chance component of contracting diseases? Chance plays a role in the body’s struggles, and may be linked to genetics. Just yesterday I received an email from an acquaintance’s wife that he had suddenly died from a brain tumor, living just two months after receiving his diagnosis. Tom was 56 years old, and the healthiest person most of us knew.

As long as we are in the area of health, what about all this talk about drinking lots of water? I became intruigued about the folk wisdom around trying to drink two to three quarts of water a day, for health, on my AT thru hike. Watching the guys who were not carrying much water, and who would drink when they hit water sources, got me thinking. Then I read  this ariticle I saw in the Times:  Put the Water Bottle Down.    The article is the usual , well-researched work, required of the Times.   They failed to find any scientific evidence that 8 glasses of water daily were a requirement for the  needs  of an otherwise healthy person.