Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Trail Journal 2010 Take This Bread

I'm gonna be away for a while again, but will try to check in as often as possible.
I'll be updating with The Felice Brothers news and updating where I am as we move along. I wrote this synopsis of what happened in the spring.

I'll be in touch in a week or 2.

January to April
States finished; Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey
April to September
Martha's Vineyard for work for the summer
Late September to December
finish off Maine, NH, VT and Virginia (and likely repeat a lot of the rest)

I figured since I am going to try to keep a journal of the second part of my Appalachian Trail hike I should at least try to give a brief description of the first half of my journey in the winter and spring of 2010. I hiked a little over 1,000 miles of trail from January to late April. From January 1 to Feb 10, from New Year's Eve on I hiked virtually all of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and some of Pennsylvania
It sounds like a lot but in reality it added up in miles to be less than Virginia alone. Most of it was hiking in bitter cold but not unbearably so. highlights included doing a couple sections of hiking with my good friend "Sasquatch" and meeting lots of great folks like "shelter leopard" "over the edge""Nox" "Bag of Tricks"and "Panzer"(trail names), not to mention a detour to Gettysburg, an ill advised trip to Waffle House, all culminating in a family on the historic Civil War battlefield, watching me suffer a horrid, ommelette and waffle induced diarrhea attack, that left me dropping my pants in full public view, and desecrating that sacred ground.
In my mind my hike really began when I arrived in Georgia to begin my journey north. I had to make as many miles as possible by the last week of April as I had to be back to work on the island of Marthas Vineyard, where I'm self employed. the plan was to do as much as I can in the spring and then finish the last 300 to 500 miles in the fall.
I will preface the story with a little background on the Appalachian Trail. The Appalachian Trail is a continuous path in Appalachian mountain range from Mount Springer in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.
The distance of the trail is somewhere in the neighborhood of 2,176 miles. I been intrigued for many years by the romantic notion of thru hiking the trail, and only recently felt compelled to do it soon.
Why? I had little hiking experience, never was particularly fond of the outdoors or animals. I had the fitness level of Chris Farley after a three day binge at Krispy Kreme. I hate sleeping outside, was addicted to caffeine, work, my cell phone. I am ill suited for such an endeavor to say the least.
During my routine in January, I whipped my legs into decent shape, while cruising through the relatively small and easy sections of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. I loved the winter scenery, the solitude, and the cool temperatures. What I found disturbing was setting up camp at 3:30 pm or so, everyday, and by 5:00pm it was pitch black, nobody around to talk to, and just laying in my sleeping bag, shivering, waiting for 14 hours to pass till there was light again.
One time in the blizzardous northeast, did I find myself in peril, on October Mtn. In Lee Ma. It was a massive blizzard, the snow was smashing me in the face, and I kept hiking on in hopes of reaching a trail legend on Pittsfield Rd, called "the muffin Lady". She lived on that road crossing, and had been helping out Appalachian Trail hikers for many years. I worked all day, actually making good time in the face of horrid conditions to get to that road crossing. When I finally arrived, there was nobody there. I was crushed. (i guess she flew south for the winter) The storm was so bad, I knew I couldn't survive for long out there, and the road had no traffic. I was able to eek out a cell signal and called a 2009 thru hiker, "Lupine" to get a ride put of there.
On February 12 I left the Northeast section of the trail and jumped down to Georgia, and the plan would be to hike north, through Pennsylvania, leaving me only VT, NH and Maine to do in the fall.
I arrived in Georgia after a "Please shoot me in the head" 30 hour train ride from Boston to Atlanta, That included 12 hours of sitting still outside of Gainesville, Georgia with a broken down train but a fully stocked bar. I finally arrived in Atlanta drunk off my ass and shocked at the snow on the ground
Still, it was only about a half a foot of snow and the temperatures were not bad. This is a continuous problem in hiking the AT, expectation control. You expect things to go a certain way and inevitably, it leads to disappointment, despair or down right panic.
Constant failure to meet expectations, can lead to total psychological defeat, which is why the success rate of thru hikers is so low (5-10%).

The hike began on the Approach Trail in Amicoala Falls, Georgia. This trail leads to Springer Mt. Which is the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. It includes like 1000 steps of the wooden staircase. It's wrapped around the majestic waterfall. I met up with a fellow hiker named "River" and began the journey with the 9 mile hike up to Springer. The snow got deeper as we went higher and it was uphill the entire way. By the time we get to the summit of Springer Mountain (about the least remarkable summit on the whole trail), it was absolute blizzardous and temperatures were bone crushing. River and I barely knew each other. I then asked about fairly uncomfortable question,
"do you mind taking a picture of me naked?" I got completely nude, standing bare ass in a snow squawl, waiting for a guy i met yesterday, to take my photo.
River shot the picture of me naked on top of Mount Springer which I quickly e-mails off to Tammy as I promised. We proceeded to the Mt. Springer shelter, made dinner and then I fell asleep only to wake in the morning to a shelter filled with snow and my sleeping bag soaking wet. Some of my food was eaten by mice and two other hikers in there, "Turkey" and "Thrasher", a young couple, looked overwhelmed by the absolute blizzard outside.
Georgia was marked by a constant battle of my will to make miles and "rivers" will to not. He'd often flash to look at me that said he wanted to go home and I would try to coach him up. The first day we hiked about 15 miles in deep snow. It took till dark to finish and River had a tough time, and was quite grumpy. We camped with three other hikers; Joe and Cory and a guy named Toeman, named after this form fitting shoes. He carried way too much food including a mind blowing 10 pound bag of trail mix! But he hiked so fast, we never saw him again.
The next day we planned to take another 15-20 miles but we only made about 5 miles by 1:30 in the afternoon and we got to road crossing called Woody gap. Winds were howling at 75 miles an hour in the Gap. I stared across the street and There was a public restroom, on the other side. My legs were tired from trudging through the deep snow and my face was froze from the wind and ice. Snow was coming down still, and I raced for the restroom as River yelled he was calling for a shuttle out of the woods. ( I did not protest). In the restroom, out in the middle of nothingness, there were 3 other hikers esconsed in the urine stained, but wind protected walls of that 4x4 toilet. Everyone was planning an escape. We did escape and made it for the night to the beautiful Hiker Hostel in Dahlonega. This place cost 16 bucks, and it was worth $100 easy. It never got better than that, as two nights later we were at Neels Gap with cat food, cat urine and general filth all about.

Georgia had some good moments, climbing up Blood Mt in the snow, crawling up among the chandelier like crystalized ice rhodys that jingled as you brushed aside them, and "Cooter", the barely literate, but hilarious gent from Hiawasee, who had an ample supply of moonshine, had recently inherited his pickup truck from "my baby mama died last week, this was her truck", and had never had eaten at either restaurant in town or ever been to Atlanta. River and I chuckled over that one quite a bit.
Our plan was to finish Georgia in about 5 days. 11 days later I left Georgia. The snow got deeper as we progressed into North Carolina, and eventually stopped us In The Smokey Mountain National Park. At that point the level of snow depth, my frustration of not making progress, River quitting the trail, it all added up . I eventually skipped the park and hiked for a couple of days on the other side of it, but the snow was no less deep, the feet were no less wet, and the blowdowns on the trail were actually more significant.
What was good was I spent those couple of days with an old man named Fahmah. I gravitate towards older hikers because their feeble physical state matches mine.
Fahmah had hiked the AT a couple years prior, and had done the last section with his son. Upon returning home, Fahmah had learned that his son had a brain tumor, and had very little time left. He was gone before they knew what hit them. Fahmah was hiking the trail this year as a way of honoring his son. I spent much of those days weeping quietly, listening to Fahmah talking about missing his son, things that he was grateful for, and his regrets.
Fahmah, Rooster (a young hiker of limited funds but a dream of becoming a pot dealer on the AT), and I were repelled by weather and lost in the blizzard, and finally we all gave in.
Fahmah went home for a spell, I went eventually to Pennsylvania, to hike alone, in lower elevations and much less snow. I loved it. Sure I saw maybe ten hikers total in the 200 plus miles I traversed through PA, but I was able to hike long distances, doing at least 20 miles each day, and seeing some incredible hawks by Eckville Shelter. I spent the gayest day of my life, chasing a butterfly for about an hour, trying to get a picture of it.
After I polished off PA., I returned to North Carolina, as the weather had changed and hiked for the next month and half with a larger group of folks. (I'm glad i waited till the weather improved to do the Smokey Mountain National Park as it was worth seeing in decent weather). By the time I got into the Smokies, I had begun to hike regularly with "Trail Trash, Ez Hiker, we'll see, Lil Brown, akido Joe and a cat named Ron Burgundy. Trash and EZ were the opposite of Fahmah, they loved to do big miles. It was hard keeping up with them, a point which Burgundy made abundantly clear at each opportunity, but it was good for me to toughen up.,
Burgundy, got his name because of his debonaire appearance after a day of hard hiking, when everyone else looked so bad. At camp, people would yell out lines to him from the Anchorman film, and it became a game. "hey everybody, come see how good I look!" "stay classy!" and "60% of the time, it works everytime!"
The Smokies were fantastic. The greatest place, and it exceeded expectation. Rocky Top, Charlies Bunion, and the moss covered terrain were incredible. I am not usually focused on the vistas. They mostly look the same to me. I am the type to watch my feet and am keenly interested in all the amazing groundcovers, fungi and mosses, that provide a kaleidoscope on the now clear trail floor. It always reminded me of one of my favorite song lyrics from Bright Eyes; (Landlocked Blues)

"And the moon’s laying low in the sky
Forcing everything metal to shine
And the sidewalk holds diamonds like the jewelry store case
They argue walk this way, no, walk this way"

The snow was icy and sharp coming out of the Park, and by the time we got to Standing Bear Farm in TN, I had about 20 blisters on my feet. Standing Bear Farm was awful. People were wasted, I was tired and had no energy for dealing with energetic drunkards. I regretted staying there. By the time we got to Erwin, at Johnny's(home of the loudest and sleep preventing train whistles ever, think "my Cousin Vinny")Hostel, Many days later, my feet were a mess. The crew went on without me. I hung back for a few days. I Then proceeded to Damascus, Virginia, in about a week, before heading home for the season of work on Marthas Vineyard. I worked my prescribed time from May to the end of September, And was meeting up with Ron Burgundy to finish the trail hiking from Maine back to Damascus. I may repeat sections that I gave already done, and if I do, I will have hiked 3,000 miles in a year.

I will try to keep a better journal of events this time around, it just gets to be a bummer to write down everything that happens to you and makes your down time, work. ugh!