Monthly Archives: April 2013

Dickey Gap to VA 16 Mt. Rogers Visitor Center

Once again I appreciate all the text messages, emails, and comments when I fail to post on any given day. Since some have expressed concern, I thought I’d pose a multiple choice question for the answer. Don’s Brother writes every day; however, he has been unable to post his entries over the past few days because he (a) had his pack stolen by a bear (b) fell off a mountain (c) had no cell phone service (d) decided to leave the trail and fly to Argentina (e) was kidnapped by mountain people who refused to release him until he learned to pluck the banjo. “e” should be the first to be eliminated. All the mountain folks I have met have been both kind and helpful. “a” is highly unlikely since there are rarely bear encounters on the AT. I have considered “d” a couple of times; however I’m traveling without my passport. That leaves “b” and “c.” Almost every day I hike near the edge of a mountain, but falls are also rare. Plus, if that had happened, it would have probably been on the news. So if you answered “c” you are correct. I have been in one of the most rural, remote areas of the entire trail the past three days.

Since Mary had offered to drive any hikers to the trailhead who were waiting by the church at 7:20, I made sure I was ready at the designated time. Not Yet and Sunshine joined me by the road. We said our goodbyes and thank you’s to Mary before she drove away at Dickey Gap. I hiked away from the other two who had decided to have something to eat before beginning. Like yesterday, the gentle trail made for fast hiking. After a short climb, the trail descended for about seven miles.

At VA 672 trail magic in the form of a variety of snacks and soft drinks had been provided by the Valley View Baptist Church youth of Sugar Grove, VA. The church is located less than a mile down the gravel road near where the magic was left. I took an oatmeal pie and fig bar, but chose not to take one of the canned soft drinks. The churches in this area of Virginia support the hikers to the fullest. You have to admire young folks who take on projects like this. It appeared that it was an ongoing endeavor on their part.

Throughout much of the day I hiked to music. One aspect of what seems like the most popular country music station in the area is a fifteen minute devotional every weekday at noon. So there I was getting an inspirational message from the Bible between Blake Sheldon and Carrie Underwood. As I just said, the communities revolve around the churches in this neck of the woods.

When I reached the Partnership shelter, one of the nicest on the entire AT, I took a brief rest even though I was only 0.1 mile from the Mt. Rogers Visitors’ Center where I planned to conclude today’s hike. Matt and Scarecrow were the only two there, but it was early afternoon. This 16 person shelter, which has running water and a shower, is favored by AT hikers because pizza can be delivered. Still I needed to go into Marion since I hadn’t done laundry in a week and was almost out of food.

After walking across the road from the visitors’ center, I quickly got a ride from Travis in a work truck. Unfortunately, he could only take me to the edge of town which meant another road walk of about 3 miles, with a full pack, to a motel. I stopped on the way for a KFC meal and updated my journal after eating. Then I walked to and checked in at the Econo Lodge. I continued working on my journal after a shower, but knew I had to eventually walk over a mile to the laundromat. As I left my room, I spotted the white Volvo in the parking lot. Molar Man and Diane were here as well. The desk clerk was nice enough to give me their room number. Surprised to see me, Diane quickly volunteered to take me to do my laundry. After the chore, I made a stop at Walgreens and McDonald’s before returning to the room.

I arrived just in time to turn on the TV to see Tim Hudson’s home run. Thinking about my brother, I sent Brent and Sam text messages. Don always loved watching and discussing the Braves’ games with Brent and with me. I can’t think of a better ending to another great day of hiking than being able to watch Tim Hudson’s 200th victory. Tim showed kindness and compassion to Don when he was sick. I miss my brother greatly, but I carry many memories with me each day I take another step along the Appalachian Trail.





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Massie Gap to Dickey Gap

Monday, April 29: Rich pulled over his small tan pick-up truck in front of the Troutdale Baptist Church at daylight. I had walked down the hill from the hostel to a spot where Ken and Mary said I shouldn’t have a problem getting a ride. When Rich asked where I was headed, he said he would be happy to drive me to the log store about ten miles up the road and near the entrance to Grayson Highlands State Park. After I told Rich that I hoped to find someone at the store who would drive me to Massie Gap for $20, he said he would. Before heading into the park, he was even nice enough to stop at the store so that I could get a sausage biscuit and coffee.

As we drove I learned much about the man who was raised in the western Virginia mountains, moved away and raised his own family, but had to come home after his children had grown up. A true “salt of the earth” individual, Rich was on his way to a site where he was building a log cabin when he stopped to offer me a ride. After pointing out the cabin as we drove, the conversation turned to fishing. A trout fishing enthusiast, Rich tried to give me two of the mess he had on ice in the back of his truck. I thought about my brother as I listened to the excitement in Rich’s voice while he talked trout. Don would have surely relished talking fishing with Rich.

When we reached the parking lot at Massie Gap, I gratefully thanked Rich before he drove away. I insisted he take the twenty, even though he was reluctant to do so. Then I had to hike probably a mile on an AT blue-blazed spur trail back to the white-blazed AT. With an overcast sky and a gentle trail ahead, I hoped to hike the 18.3 miles to Dickey Gap by 4:00. Other than some light rain, all went well throughout the day.

I arrived at the Wise Shelter, the 500 mile mark on the trail, and took a brief break. Another thru hiker, Long Gone, was packing up to leave. I tried to hike with him, but within about three minutes Long Gone was long gone. I also met Jonathan, a ridge runner who was doing a loop trail. Throughout the day I also ran into the Raisin Bran Kid, who has decided to do some shorter days to allow his injury to heel. He was hiking with a friend from Ohio, Morel. I also encountered Alloy and Sandalwood, the section hikers from Ontario.

When I reached the Old Orchard Shelter I took another short break. Matt, a section hiker from Atlanta, was the only one there. A little later at Fox Creek I met Not Yet and Sunshine, a couple from the DC area. From Fox Creek the trail ascended about 800 feet over two miles; however, the climb involved many switchbacks. Along the way I met Rangeley, a section hiker who was out until late May. Hiking solo throughout the day proved peaceful and afforded me plenty of solitude.

The day passed quickly. I made it to Dickey Gap a little before 4:00. Not Yet and Sunshine were by the road hoping to hitch a ride to the hostel. The three of us tried unsuccessfully for about fifteen minutes before I decided to just walk the 2.6 miles. Shortly after I arrived, Not Yet, Sunshine, Outfitter, and In Progress walked up. They had gotten a ride part of the way. Also at the hostel for the night were Disciple and his black retriever, Coy, and Keyl, another cross country cyclist. Originally from North Carolina, Keyl now lives in California. Coming from a bicycling family, Keyl hopes to at least make Colorado before having to go back to work.

Not having eaten well all day, I broached the subject with the others about trying to get a ride to the log cabin restaurant. Only Not Yet and Sunshine were interested. As fate would have it, about that time a small car drove up toward the hostel. Joss and Jess happily offered us the ride. Both delightful young folks sported colorful tattoos and had great personalities. Again there was enthusiasm in their voices as they discussed the beauty of the western Virginia mountains. When they dropped us at the log cabin, I told them they were true trail angels. With smiles on their faces, they said they’d be back to give us a ride back to the hostel a little later.

After an outstanding supper and ride back to the hostel from Josh and Jess, I spent the rest of the evening chatting with all the others. I especially enjoyed being around Coy. Another very well-behaved dog, he seemed to like everyone. Don would really like all these great trail dogs I’m meeting. Finally darkness interrupted all the socializing, as a bunkhouse full of fatigued hikers retired for the night after another satisfying day of hiking on the Appalachian Trail.






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Resting in Troutdale

Sunday, April 28: Howling winds and heavy rain awoke me at dawn. Realizing that I was in a warm, clean, dry bunkhouse, and that I wasn’t going to hike today, I quickly decided to sleep for a little longer. My tired body thanked me. Then when I did get up, I walked to the shower facility, showered, and got ready for church. Since the rain was still steadily falling, I donned my rain gear for the walk of about 200 yards to the Troutdale Baptist Church.

Ken Riggins, the pastor, taught the Sunday School lesson from the book of Leviticus. He also correlated scripture from other books in the old and new testaments. Then at 11:00 Ken delivered an impassioned sermon centered around the book of 1 Peter. Molar Man and Diane sat on the pew with me and Titan also attended. At the conclusion of the service, Ken said a special prayer for me as well as for all the other hikers on the trail. My hike has truly been enriched by being able to hear Ken preach. It was also special meeting and talking with members of the small congregation.

After church Titan and I walked back to the bunkhouse. Ken had told us that he would drive up to take us back to his home for lunch in about half an hour. Rain still fell as we drove the quarter mile to the Riggens’ home where we were treated to a wonderful Sunday dinner. Mary had prepared baked spaghetti , chicken, baked sweet potatoes, green beans, and homemade biscuits. There was also a chocolate bread pudding for dessert. Great fellowship and conversation accompanied the meal and continued for an hour or so afterwards. The Riggins were especially interested in Don’s life and illness. We also discussed his strong faith while he was sick. Before leaving the Riggins’ home, I called Linda and my mom since there is no cell service in the area.

After Ken drove us back to the bunkhouse, he picked up two other hikers at Dickey Gap, Taz and Owl. A little later in the afternoon Sun Duk arrived on his bicycle. The native South Korean recently completed his Master’s degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is on the fifth day of a cross country bike ride by himself. After the ride he hopes to reside in California. Titan and I enjoyed comparing hiking logistics to cycling logistics with Sun.

I spent most of my afternoon relaxing. I took a long nap and journaled for awhile. Then after a light supper I worked on tomorrow’s plan before bed. Today has been another special one. I did no hiking yet every minute was well spent. Once again it’s the people along the way that make the journey so rewarding. From Titan to Ken and Mary to Sun Duk, I continue to be surrounded by good folks. Tomorrow there’s the certainty that I’ll meet other special people who will in some small way contribute to my northward journey on the Appalachian Trail.







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US 58 to Massie Gap

Saturday, April 27: The day began with my third and final breakfast at Cowboy’s before leaving Damascus. Tom, the Raisin Bran Kid, joined me. While we were discussing Tom’s injury, Orange Peel, who was at the next table, joined the discussion with a similar injury of his own. In fact, I’ve met no fewer than six hikers recently with some kind of shin or knee issue. Tom is very discouraged, trying to decide whether to hike fewer miles or return home for a couple of weeks of rest. It’s almost impossible to console an injured AT thru hiker.

During breakfast a gray haired gentleman with a pleasant countenance stopped by the table to ask how we were enjoying our food. When he offered to refill my coffee, I asked if he owned the place. Indeed, I was in the presence of Ken “Cowboy” Fritz. It was a pleasure chatting with Ken awhile. He showed great compassion when I explained about my Hike of Hope for Don. Ken also agreed to a picture with me. So again, I’ve had the honor of meeting an AT legend.

Just about the time I finished my blueberry pancakes and bacon, Journey pulled up in her rental car. Since she had offered to drive me back to the trail in trail angel capacity, I saved the cost of a shuttle again. It was good to share a pleasant conversation with Journey over the winding roads. She lamented that the abundant mountain laurel and rhododendron were not yet in bloom. When we arrived at my drop off point I wished her well before walking back into the woods.

Shortly after beginning today’s hike I passed Toast who was replenishing her platypus at a stream. Then I met Rusty, a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania. We hiked in tandem for a brief while. I think he was holding back his pace out of respect since I was enjoying our conversation. Both of the two young folks were at the first road I passed receiving some mid-morning trail magic from none other than Diane, Mrs. Molar Man. People just keep on reappearing on the Appalachian Trail.

Other than Rusty and Toast the only other thru hiker I saw all day was Heartwalker. When I saw him yesterday, I thought he was sectioning. Today he told me his story. He started a thru hike in 2010, but broke an ankle near Laurel Falls. So this year he picked up where he left the trail in 2010 near Erwin. Heartwalker hiked right behind me to Thomas Knob Shelter where he stopped for the night. I also met several southbound section hikers including a foursome from Hillsborough, NC who I told about Don.

After a brief break I made my way on up the trail which included a climb of 2000 feet over the next four miles. The climb culminated with the ascent of Whitetop Mountain at 5190 feet. Once again I was treated to panoramic views at the crest. Even though the sky was partly overcast, I counted seven mountain ranges in the distance. After Whitetop the trail became a mass of gnarled roots for a good while. At one point I caught my foot between two roots which resulted in a fall. It seems like I’m falling about once every three or four days. Concentration is of the utmost importance at all times.

When I reached HWY 601 Diane was again there waiting for Molar Man. I took her up on her offer to sit in the car to eat my lunch. The trail then entered the Grayson Highlands. I almost immediately encountered my first wild pony who walked right up to me and appeared to be trying to get in my pack. Hikers are discouraged from feeding the ponies, so I adhered to the park’s policy, saving my apple for myself. The pony was kind enough to pose for a close-up before I moved on up the trail. Unfortunately he was the only pony I would see the rest of the day.

Since I was trying to reach Massie Gap by 3:30, I didn’t take a side half mile trail up Mt. Rogers, the highest elevation in Virginia. When I discovered the difficulty of hiking over the large rock faces in the Highlands, I was glad of that decision. The tactical hiking delayed my arrival at Massie Gap by about half an hour. During the last mile I hiked briefly with five young ladies from Davidson College who were up in the Highlands for a day hike. When I commented on the challenging rocks, one assured me that she had first aide and was Red Cross certified.

A gentle rain began falling just as I reached the parking lot at Massie Gap which had to be at least a half mile off the trail. Mary Riggins from the Troutdale Baptist Church Hostel was scheduled to pick me up. Not seeing her, I waited about half an hour and then walked to the road to try to get cell service. Finally a car pulled up at the stop sign. I regret not getting the couple’s name; however, they took the Riggins’ number and promised they would call when they got service. A short while later the couple returned to tell me there were two parking lots and Mary was in the other one. It was a relief when she came into sight.

I appreciate so much people like Mary who are willing to help out a hiker. Already at the hostel when I arrived were Titan and Tugboat. The hostel is actually two bunkhouses with four bunks in each, so I’m in one and the two young guys are sharing the other. They did come over to my side for supper and some hiker banter. It was good to converse with the two throughout the evening.

Since there is no phone service in the area, I’m unable to post on the same day for the first time in a couple of weeks. Tomorrow morning I plan to attend Sunday School and church and then take a day off here. The forecast is for more rain, so that seems like a good plan. It’s very quiet in this rural setting. A steady drizzle will lull me to sleep after another satisfying day hiking the Appalachian Trail.











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Damascus to US 58

Today’s hike was as much about people as it was about the trail. It began with seeing Walker, whom I had not seen in three hundred miles, to being rescued by Snowball’s family, Anne and Eddie Blevins. In between the cast just kept increasing. Every day events occur that I never expect when the day begins. Today was no exception.

I walked out of the front door of the Montgomery Homestead Inn at 7:00 directly onto the trail which runs down Laurel St. When I got to Cowboy’s I stopped for a hearty breakfast. Inside I met for the first time Trucker and Z-Man. While we talking over breakfast, in strode Walker, a hiker from Atlanta that I had first met at the Aquone Hostel. A member of his family had commented at my website, so I was happy again to see the fellow Georgian. Trucker seemed interested in my journal, so the three of us talked about Don.

Lingering too long over my eggs and pancakes, it was a little after 8:00 before I continued the hike out of Damascus. Just as I returned to the trail Whiskers and Rocket were also starting, so I hiked along with them for part of the morning. After an early climb, the trail today resembled many other days of a walk through the woods. There were numerous water crossings; however, none proved difficult. Some required rock skipping while others had foot bridges. The sounds of the rushing waters were a constant companion for over an hour.

Twice today I met southbound section hikers that I told about my hike. Sandalwood and Alloy, from just north of Toronto, Ontario, are spending several days on the trail. Heart Walker and 2 Stent are fellow Georgian sectioners. 2 Stent, from Valdosta, said that his son graduated from Columbus State University. Both has previously been heart patients. I also passed and was passed back by Starman 28, a hiker from Vermont that I had seen a couple of days ago. Trucker and I leapfrogged throughout the day as well.

With a mild sunny day and gentle terrain, the miles zipped by. When I reached HWY 58, where I intended to end my hike today, Whiskers and Rocket were waiting by the road. They too had decided to return to Damascus. Having been told by someone in town that this was an easy hitch, I had not arranged for a shuttle. After trying for about half an hour I realized that the info had not been accurate. Finally, I suggested that if I walked farther up the road perhaps the two of them could get a ride.

This is where the rescue commenced. When I finally came upon a rural home, two dogs greeted me at the roadside. Seeing their owners in the yard, I asked to use their phone to call a shuttle, since I had no cell service. After that option failed I asked if I could pay the folks to drive me to Damascus. They were kind enough to agree as long as I didn’t mind sharing the backseat with Snowball, a part border collie with about as pleasing a personality as I have ever encountered in a dog. He provided good company as did Anne and Eddie on the ride into town. The conversation moved from their Christmas tree farm to a rental property to Eddie’s fishing. When I showed Eddie the picture of Don and the big bass, he seemed impressed. I think Eddie and my brother would have hit it off immediately, and I know Don would have taken a liking to Snowball. I can’t thank the couple (and Snowball) enough for the ride. They were true trail angels, refusing to take any money for the ride.

After arriving back at the inn I tried to call Whiskers. Since his phone went to voice mail, I assume he and Rocket decided to camp. After my call, another people moment occurred. While I was sitting in the parlor looking over possible itineraries for tomorrow, another hiker arrived. She introduced herself as Journey, thru hiker from 2003 and friend to my friend, Switchback. Also a member of the trail journal community, it was special meeting her.

My final people encounter of the day occurred during supper at the Blue Blaze Cafe. While dining, Journey asked if I knew a hiker who was seated behind me. When I turned around, to my surprise it was The Raisin Bran Kid. I hadn’t seem him since the day before Franklin. Kid came over to explain that he was dealing with an injury. A postal worker from Ohio, he expressed frustration over having to curtail his miles. I was sorry to hear of his problems, but it was still great to see the Kid again.

So now I’m planning my tomorrow, a day when rain is in the forecast. Every day is a new day, so once again, there’s no way to know what awaits the northward journey on the Appalachian Trail.











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Low Gap to Damascus, VA

Moving lumber has never been my forte; however, since that’s what Warren requested that I do for my “work for stay,” I resumed the task early this morning. After my work responsibility was complete, I got my full pack ready for today’s journey. I also phoned Susie at the Montgomery Homestead Inn in Damascus to reserve a room for the next two nights. She was most accommodating, allowing me the option of a third night if I so choose. I hope to use Damascus as a base for the next three day’s hikes similar to what I did in Erwin.

Since Warren wasn’t able to drive me back to Low Gap until late morning, it was after noon before I headed up the trail. A climb greeted me from the outset, but I still made good time until I reached the crest. Then for the remainder of the afternoon the trail was relatively flat with occasional minimal ups and downs. Within the first two hours I saw Mr. Gigglefits and Paisley taking a break. Throughout the day we leapfrogged one another. I passed thru hiker Sonny and also passed Outfitter and In Progress, who were slack packing today.

When I arrived at the Tennessee/ Virginia border, In Progress took my picture by the sign. I returned the favor for her and her husband. Reaching my fourth state was special. Virginia comprises about one-fourth of the entire trail; therefore, it will be about a month before I reach the next state. Even though I don’t have a firm schedule, I’ve made it to Virginia about two days before I had expected. With my light pack in tow, I hope to continue averaging over 15 miles per day for as long as I can.

Shortly after crossing into Virginia, Moses passed me for the second time today. I tried to keep up, but he quickly disappeared into the distance even though I was hiking at a good clip. By the time I first saw the town of Damascus from the ridge line, I realized that I was making excellent time on the planned 15.2 mile day. When I reached the outskirts of the city, I called to let the innkeeper know that I was nearby.

Coming into Damascus, the AT passes through a park before heading up the center of town. While in the park I struck up a conversation with a man walking his two dogs. Trace had thru hiked in 2003, met his wife on the trail, and later moved to Damascus. We walked together until I reached the street where my inn was located. When I arrived at the inn, Hester gave me a tour and showed me my room.

After settling in and showering I walked about a block to the Blue Blaze Cafe. As I approached the restaurant, Whiskers and Rocket were walking toward me. I think we all began smiling simultaneously. I had not seen them since Hot Springs. Before going into the cafe I walked down to a bridge at the end of town and met Shutterbug, a young lady from Indiana who had taken some time off the trail due to injury. Later when I finally reached the Blue Blaze, Shutterbug was there and asked me to join her. It was enjoyable chatting with the English major from IU. I told her about Don and my journal before wishing her well on her hike. Since I’m hiking faster than she is I may not see her again. With the AT community, however, you never know.

Today’s hike was special because I reached my fourth state. It was also a day when I reflected often on my brother. I thought about how much I would like to talk about the Braves with him and how I would like to tell him about my hike. But then again, I think he knows. Tomorrow I have options, but one given is that I’ll spend another night in Damascus. The forecast is for sunshine, so if all goes well, I’m looking for another beautiful day to hike north on the Appalachian Trail.






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Wilbur Dam Rd. to Low Gap

My day began behind the wheel of Warren Doyle’s back-up automobile, an older model, faded red, Ford Escort station-wagon, with a stick shift. The odometer is frozen at 316,370 miles. So at just after daylight I followed the taillights on Warren’s other compact into Damascus. Our stop was Cowboy’s, a local eating establishment often frequented by hikers. At the early hour no 2013 thru hikers were there. The hiker that was there, however, was Warren Doyle, the man who is to the Appalachian Trail what Jack Nicklaus is to the PGA, a major record holder. For the duration of our meal I had the honor and privilege of conversing with a legend.

Warren has thru hiked the entire AT a record 16 times. He is currently planning his next AT group expedition for 2015. Thirty-eight would be hikers will soon be attending an orientation session at Warren’s Appalachian Folk School. Only between 20 and 25% of those who attempt an Appalachian Trail thru hike are successful. About 75% of those who attend Doyle’s school succeed, which makes his AT Institute very popular among the novice and experienced alike.

Today Warren was headed to Hot Springs to meet friends for a day hike, so his idea was to place the Escort at Low Gap, where I would finish today’s 22.6 mile jaunt. After we made that stop, Warren shuttled me over to Wilbur Dam Rd., where I ended yesterday. Even though he planned to stay in Hot Springs tonight, Warren graciously offered to allow me to drive his car back to the Folk School and to stay the night as well. People don’t get much kinder than Warren.

With another light pack, I started today’s walk at 8:35. Even though the trail climbed over the first four miles, numerous switchbacks made for comfortable hiking. Early today I passed a German couple who seemed to be near my age, Turtle and Snail. A few minutes later I passed another thru hiker that I had not met before, Triple Step. Then when I reached the Vandeventer Shelter I came across Navigator, another hiker from Washington state that is only the second hiker I have met who started after I did. Navigator pointed out a rather large black snake that was resting in the rafters of the shelter. Made me glad I wasn’t staying there tonight.

Throughout the morning I walked a ridge line with views of the Watauga River and rich farm land. Even though the trail was predominately in the woods, views on both aides were interspersed all day. When I stopped for water at a spring a couple of miles before the next shelter, I met two more thru hikers, husband and wife, Outfitter and In Progress. Hiking on I took a brief break at the Nick Grindstaff Monument, the final resting place for someone’s uncle. A small bench had been placed in front of the marker.

By the time I reached Iron Mountain Shelter, I needed a second lunch. Again Navigator was seated in the shelter. While I rested who should appear but Salad Days, the young man who is hiking in the same trail runners I’m wearing, Brooks Cascadias. He stopped to cook up a hot lunch. Before I moved on Risk It also arrived for a break. I bid goodbye for now to all, needing to hike on at a quicker pace.

The trail continued to be gently rolling for several miles. As I approached TN 91, which leads to Shady Valley, TN, I was thinking that trail magic of a cold soft drink would be nice. Only minutes later I came across a cooler filled with cold drinks. I took a Pepsi and silently thanked the members of the church group who had provided not only the beverage but prayers to go along with it. When I reached the road about one hundred yards later, I enjoyed the Pepsi with the last half of a large ham and cheese sandwich on a Kaiser roll.

Just across the road the AT crosses a cow pasture. This won’t be the last. As I climbed a stile and shot some photos, the cows ate the grass indifferently. They did let out a chorus of moos when the rain commenced just about the time I exited their confines. At first it was a cold, blowing rain and then just a steady drizzle, but I still continued to make good time. When I reached the final shelter of the day, I ducked underneath to gulp down a pack of peanuts. Six hikers were already in the shelter for the night. I introduced myself to more folks that I had not seen before. Starman 28 and Titan also has started after me and were flying up the trail.

After the brief respite I hiked on hurriedly due to the cold rain. I covered the final 3.5 miles in what seemed like record speed for me. The trail continued to be forgiving except for some minor patches of mud. Just after six I reached Low Gap, US 421, where the reliable Escort was waiting. After changing into a dry shirt, I navigated my way down the winding highway like a pro. I never once came close to running over the side of a mountain.

I reached the home of Warren Doyle a little over half an hour later. After a shower and starting my laundry, I drove into Iron Mountain for supper and a little shopping for food for tomorrow’s hike. I can’t say enough about how special the past two days have been. The people I have met continue to amaze and inspire me. Thank you, Warren Doyle. It has been truly an honor and a privilege to spend time in your company and your home. Tomorrow the northward walk continues as I hike into Virginia, the fourth state along the Appalachian Trail.









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Dennis Cove Rd. to Wilbur Dam Rd.

One month ago today I walked away from Linda, Lisa, and Scotty to begin my thru hike of the Appalachian Trail. Today after a 13.0 mile hike, I have now covered 429.3 miles, or just under 20% of the trail. As I reflect on the first month, I continue to be humbled by the number of people who are reading my journal. I greatly appreciate all the comments, emails, and text messages, and hope that they will continue. I wish I could respond to each; however, little time is available during my very structured day. On most mornings I’m up by 6:00, hiking by at least 8:00, and too tired to do much in the evening other than write, call family, and rest. Still, all is well.

Molar Man and I hit the trail this morning at a little after 7:00. From the outset, many large rocks, including several rock stair steps, forced us to be careful and hike a little more slowly. The cascading waters of Laurel Falls highlighted the early morning. The rocky trail literally almost touched the fast moving stream. The sounds of the falls could be heard far up the trail. Past the falls the trail began to ascend. We hiked steadily up for over two miles with an elevation gain of over 1700 feet.

The ascent was followed by a descent all the way to US 321 where Diane was waiting with Molar Man’s lunch and a cold drink for me. The park adjacent to the Shook Branch Recreation Area still revealed signs of recent flooding. Partially submerged picnic tables dotted the area. Signs had been posted indicating a 0.3 mile detour since water covered portions of the trail around the Lake Watauga. I wondered what fish might be in the beautifully blue lake as I thought about my brother. Don would have liked Lake Watauga.

After making our way around the lake, Molar Man and I hiked on to where a dam crossed the water. The trail followed a paved road for almost half a mile. When we finally returned to the woods, the terrain was relativity flat for the remainder of the hike. Due to the shorter distance, we finished today’s walk at around 2:00. We had seen only three other hikers all day. Two were out for the day, and the other was a southbound section hiker. It has seemed rather odd that we have seen so few hikers the past three days.

When we arrived at the Wilbur Dam Rd., Diane was waiting. Since I would be departing from Molar Man and Diane today, they offered to drive me to the Appalachian Folk School, where I will be staying the next two nights. Warren Doyle, an author and the record holder for the most thru hikes of the Appalachian Trail, welcomes hikers into his home on a work for stay basis only. When Molar Man, Diane, and I arrived, we found a note on bis back door indicating that he was out for a short hike, but that I could make myself at home and look around the house. After a brief walk through the house, my two friends of a week drove away. It’s been great getting to meet and hike with Molar Man. I hope to see him again on up the trail.

Since when I spoke with Warren on the phone yesterday he had told me I could pick up sticks in his yard, I went ahead and began. About an hour later Warren returned and gave me a tour of the premises. In addition to his residence, the Old Donnely House, there are cabins, the school, a dance pavilion, and a red barn. Warren also showed me where his new dance facility is being erected. After the tour I spent about another hour and a half moving some lumber. Needless to say, the hike and the manual labor made for a tiring day. Bed time came early for the weary hiker after another rewarding day on the Appalachian Trail.










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Buck Mountain Rd. to Dennis Cove Rd.

Lucky Lucy, a very young looking great-grandmother from Pennsylvania, has been section hiking the AT for several years. She described her passion for the trail during breakfast. It is hikers like Lucy who crave all that the mountains have to offer, even though others, including their families, may not understand. They repeat hikes over favorite sections for pure enjoyment. Roan Mountain was Lucy’s destination today. The excitement of today’s adventure resonated in her voice. She was eager to hit the trail once again.

So after a calorie filled early morning meal, Diane returned Molar Man and me to the trail at Buck Mountain Rd. With plans for Molar Man’s first 20 mile day, we set off a little after 7:00. Early in the hike we walked parallel to the Elk River for a while. I imagined Don standing on the bank, casting into the slowly moving waters. It would seem a certainty that fish aplenty swam beneath the surface. Without really understanding how, Molar Man and I found ourselves on the opposite side of the narrow river. Apparently we had crossed at a small inlet. With numerous water crossings of varying length and difficulty, it sometimes becomes uncertain just where you are in relationship to the bodies of water.

At Cascade Falls we stopped to take in the beauty of the spot. A little later in the morning we came to a bench with a picturesque view. The bench had an inscription in memory of AT hiker Vango. No other details were available. Molar Man and I both reclined briefly to soak in the view and take advantage of the opportunity to rest our feet, even though it was still early in the day. I also took a couple of photos, and then we were on our way.

Like many other days, much of today’s hike was just a trail, complete with dirt, roots, leaves, some mud, and rocks of different sizes. Most was fairly easy despite a handful of moderate climbs. The highlight of the day had to be passing the 400 mile mark, a benchmark I had hoped to hit before I had hiked a full month. Since tomorrow will mark exactly a month since I left Springer, I easily achieved that goal.

One interesting aspect of today’s hike was that it seemed like Molar Man and I had the trail to ourselves. We did see a hiker leaving a shelter headed north, but surprisingly, he never passed us. Other than that young man, we only encountered four others. Orange Peel and Sparky were doing a slack pack southbound day. Don and Tim, northbound section hikers from the area, were taking a break when we stopped to chat. I immediately thought of my brother because Tim was wearing a Cubs cap. After telling the two about my hike, Tim said he had had two friends to die of ALS. Originally from Chicago, he seemed to enjoy our brief conversation about Don, baseball and Wrigley Field.

As the afternoon continued, Molar Man and I took a few short breaks since both of us were getting a little tired late in the day. Approaching the end of today’s hike, we passed an old log barn that looked as if had been abandoned for over a century. No remains of a house were evident. Next to the barn, however, was a small pond. I walked to the edge of the water to observe the large number of tadpoles. Again I thought of my brother. The pond reminded me of one Don and I took Brent and Sam to fish at on property owned by my Aunt Gladys. I still have pictures of the two five year olds holding up fish.

When Molar Man and I finally reached Dennis Cove Rd., Diane was waiting as usual. Before we drove away, two cars pulled up with young folks who appeared to be headed to a scenic area adjacent to the trail, just past the parking lot. We had a snack, rested briefly, and then headed back to Elizabethton. The drive down the winding, mountain road went quickly. Today was another special day. From meeting Lucky Lucy to sharing another hike with Molar Man, all continues to be well in Tennessee, on the Appalachian Trail.










Categories: AT Hike | 2 Comments

Carvers Gap to Buck Mountain Rd.

Don loved to hunt. So today when a deer crossed the road as Diane drove Molar Man and me back to the trail at Carvers Gap, I thought of my brother. And like all the other days I’ve hiked, his memory remained fresh on my mind throughout the day. With what at times seemed to be unending, indescribable views from three balds, I took more pictures than on any other day thus far. It’s truly impossible to put into words the majestic vistas I experienced today.

Even though the sun shone brightly as Molar Man and I began today’s 18.3 miles, it was cold! I don’t mean chilly. It was cold! My ears and hands were especially susceptible to the frigid conditions going over Jane Bald. My hands felt frozen even though I was wearing gloves. My ears ached due to the harsh winds, until I stopped to affix the hood of my rain jacket. The wind chill had to have been in the teens. I can’t remember this severe a wind chill on any of my winter long runs.

Despite the cold conditions, the views, which never ceased all morning, were mesmerizing. We walked downhill for about four miles, passing Stan Murray Shelter and a blue blazed trail leading to Overmountain Shelter, a converted barn that sleeps 20. The trail then climbed about 800 feet, culminating with an ascent of Little Hump Mountain which afforded a view back to the Ovemountain Shelter. There’s a pic included in this post.

Molar Man and I hiked strong all day. A mile descent followed Little Hump before we began the climb up Hump Mountain. The ascent challenged us, but the 360 views more than made up for our efforts. The AT Guide, which warns of several false summits, was accurate. About three-fourths of the way up, Molar Man and I took refuge behind a large rock to enjoy some lunch. While we were stopped, two northbounders, Paisley and Mr. Gigglefits, paused to say hello. We would see the couple from Maine many times throughout today’s hike. We also saw and talked with Two Sticks on three occasions.

After summiting Hump Mountain, the trail gradually descended for the next five miles. At one point a section of medium to large boulders made for some treacherous maneuvering. As we made our way to HWY 19E, we met and talked with section hikers Shonna and Dan from Cary, NC. Shonna said she looked forward to following my journal. We also crossed the NC/TN border for the last time. Since the Smokies, the trail has zigzagged between the two states. Until Virginia, the trail now will remain in Tennessee.

When Molar Man and I reached the road, Diane was waiting with snacks. She was also providing trail magic for Paisley and Mr. Gigglefits. After a brief respite we headed on across the road to begin the final 3.3 miles of today’s hike. Shortly after, a bizarre event occurred. Out of nowhere a white and black spaniel looking dog appeared. He raced past us, did an abrupt U-turn, zoomed past in the opposite direction, and sat down in a large mud puddle. After wallowing briefly, he charged away in the direction from which he had originally come. The dog never barked, nor did he slow down. Don would have liked the mystery dog.

So for the final short section the trail again seemed rather nondescript. We did pass a cemetery just before reaching Buck Mountain Rd. where Diane was waiting to take us to Elizabethon for the night. After checking in, I walked a little ways up the highway to a Lone Star Steakhouse, where I had one of the best sirloins I have ever tasted. No one said a thru hike had to be drudgery. I’m looking forward to another 20 plus day tomorrow as Molar Man and I venture onward on the Appalachian Trail.












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