Thursday, June 28, 2012

New Gear. Old Gear.

Finally bought a good swing away bike carrier and a solid hitch for mounting it. No more disassembling the bikes to fit them in the camper. With the swing away I can open the back end with out removing the bikes. Very nice. Maggie and I tried it out on a Sunday ride.

That ride also proved the value of a critical piece of old gear, my helmet. A couple of miles into the ride I was dodging washboard cracks on a wet, mossy trail near The Evergreen State College. I cut just a bit too sharply, my bike slid out from under mi and I and went down on my right knee and shoulder and slammed my head on to the pavement. My helmet took the hit and saved what's left of my brain. I wasn't injured and rode another six miles with Maggie around the Evergreen campus and vicinity but wisely canceled my plans to ride an additional six miles home from there.

Four days later everything is healing. No sign of any traumatic brain injury symptoms, which was my biggest concern after I realized nothing was broken or lacerated. Once again, I lucked out.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Trail Journal 06.21.02

So now I am off the trail for about two weeks while Maggie visits. It's a longer time than I anticipated and it distresses me to think that I will "miss" this time. On the other hand, I get to see Maggie so I'll just have to accept the hiatus. I won't exactly be absent from the trail--Bev Carver and I will hike about 25 miles this weekend and Maggie will hike the remaining Shenandoah miles with me while she is here. But I've lost my cohort for a while, at least until I catch up with Red and Gary farther north which means I will do some yellow blazing. An insistent voice in my head tells me that I'm a slacker for skipping trail miles, that I'm not doing a "true" AT hike. But I'm doing what I can do, all things considered, and it's "my hike".

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Trail Journal 06.19.02

Made it to Rock Springs Hut just in time to miss the rain--one of the true victories on the trail. Now that I am walking south through Shenandoah National Park, I am seeing folks who kept walking north from Rockfish Gap. Met up with Red and Gary and the rest of my recent cohort as I approached Skyland. Was good to see everyone again--Zues, Kinky, Two Timer, Bill, Ursula and Full Moon Walking. Radar was at this hut when I arrived but moved on to a room at Skyland. Now they are all past and I can see who is walking "behind" me. Rained last night--stayed dry during the night but it was wet packing up this morning. Wasn't too cold overnight but I'm in the shelter tonight and hope I'll be warm enough in the worthless light bag I got for summer weather. If not, maybe I'll walk the full 20 miles to Swift Run Gap and bail into Harrisonburg tomorrow. Spent a lot of time around the table talking to shelter companions. Several are northbound thru-hikers: Beatnick, L-Passo and English Bob (last seen at Fontana Village in NC). Others are section hikers: Weedeater (Harpers Ferry south for a month), Bob (Duncannon, PA to Waynesboro, VA) and Kitchen Sink II (not sure). Lots of conversation and frivolity but also some serious observations about the value of the trail experience, about the sense of community and caring among the hikers. It's certainly true tha we can easily relate to each other. It took little time to become "old friends". We have much in common that creates a common bond.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Trail Journal 06.15.02

Made it to Rockfish Gap in quick time yesterday--5 miles in just under 2 hours. Trail was pretty easy but weather was warm and humid even at 6:30 am. Had rain showers starting around midnight, continuing through breaking camp so we were damp pulling out. Woods were very misty and foggy so we got no views through the wood line. Saw a box turtle on the trail just after leaving camp. Rockfish Gap was completely fogged in when we arrived--the long-closed HoJo's and other empty building made it look very deserted. Fortunately the gas station had a pay phone so we were able to reach long-time friend Peyton who picked us up almost immediately. Went to Shoney's in Waynesboro for the breakfast buffet. So now I've been at Peyton's for over 24 hours and am enjoying the leisure. I went into Waynesboro to shuttle Red and Gary back to the trail and saw many hikers in the process: Zues, Kinky, Two-Timer, Sir Lady James and Green Man. Also saw the raft that some hikers will try to float on to Front Royal. It's a real work of art: 4 or 5 inner tubes lashed together with a styrofoam deck and a blue poly tarp superstructure. The stern has an inflated kiddie pool for beer; the bow has tiki torches. Seeing all the hikers reminds me that the AT is indeed a moveable feast. Some of these folks have been partying all the way from Georgia. I guess we're all partying in a way--we are on permanent vacation.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Trail Journal 06.13.02

Last night with Red and Gary for a while and I'm feeling sad.  We've done well as a team these last 11 weeks.  I wonder how I will do on my own.  I worry that I'll not be able to rejoin them after hanging out with friends and Maggie in Virginia these next few weeks.  And on and on.  But I wan to visit with and be with Maggie and I cannot do both so I've come up with a plan that balances things about as well as can be. 

Walking this morning was hard.  It was hot and humid even at 5:30 am.  Air was still and stifling.  Red, Gary and I walked together from Maupin Field.  I found the overlook where I used to hang out and where Toby's ashes [the dog who accompanied me on so many trips here before we moved to Arizona] are buried.  It pleased me to be there as pare of my thru-hike.

After that, the going was tough.  North of Reeds Gap the trail crosses to the west side of the ridge where it was relocated to avoid the impact of development.  The relocated trail was rocky and the stifling air made it feel like we were in a subterranean passage.  Was glad to finally get back on the ridge.  Still, it was hard going in the humid air. 

Afternoon was much better.  We got to Paul Wolfe Shelter around 3:00 pm.  It's much better than most of the recent ones--has a covered porch and cooking area.  It's set above and overlooks Mill Creek which is running strong and flows through a pleasant valley.  We had a relaxing afternoon so I am not writing late into the evening as has been the case so many days lately.

Tomorrow R&G go to Waynesboro which is the latest Mecca for thru-hikers.  Seems funny to me since it's just Waynesboro(*).  But after 11 weeks on the trail, I understand the lure of any town.

(*)  I was married to a woman from Waynesboro and saw a lot of the town during those years.

Sketchbook 06.13.02

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Trail Journal 06.12.02

Camped at Maupin Field Shelter only 1.6 miles from Reeds Gap, one of the special places in my life.  Reeds Gap is where I had much of my early post Vietnam encounters with the AT.  omorrow I will pass through Reeds Gap as a genuine thru-hiker.  I can hardly wait!  Plus I get to do it with two very special partners at first light which is always a special time of day for me.

Got here via the Mau-Har Trail from the Tye River.  It cut eight miles off the day but was very rugged--most rugged hiking of the trip so far.  It came at the end of a long day.  As always, the morning walk was wonderful.  Got to The Priest by 10 am.  The five mile downhill to the Tye was hard--much like a Grand Canyon descent.  I fell twice.  Both times my foot slipped out from under me on loose scrabble.  I was happy to reach the river for lunch.  It all, it was an 18.3 mile day.  Now it's time to sleep.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Trail Journal 06.10.02

Camped beside the James River on a warm evening after an 18.5 mile walk from Cornelius Creek Shelter.  Once again, we beat the heat with 5:30 am roll out.  And once again, we were rewarded with an exquisite morning.  I love the way the forest slowly emerges from the night's darkness.  Shapes become distinct in the morning twilight.  The first rays of the morning sun spotlighted a single small tree.  All was quiet save for my foot falls.  Morning was wonderfully cool--no hint of the heat to come later.  Fog lay in the valley, just like yesterday.

Covered 12 miles by noon, took a long lunch and walked to Matt's Creek Shelter but decided to camp by the river so we could swim.  The water felt very, very good after the long hot afternoon walk down to the river.  Now I'm just sitting on the river bank, enjoying what coolness there is and watching people float by in canoes and kayaks, watching traffic on Route 501 across the James and the occasional coal train rumble by on the tracks adjacent to the highway.  Not exactly pristine wilderness but peaceful enough in its own way. 

My first view of the James River was from the ridge high above the river to the south.  The sight almost stopped my heart.  I was very overcome with emotion.  The James River has always been a part of my geography, of my history.  To see it as an AT thru-hiker after 760 miles was a real thrill.  Seems like every step I take these days brings me closer to home.

Saw four deer and one rattlesnake today.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Interview with the Author

Here's an interview I did about At the Speed of Foot for "The Veterans Hour" produced by my Veterans For Peace Chapter here in Olympia.  The interview is a mix of Appalachian Trail and Vietnam experiences, reflections on the the years in between that took me to the trail, and plugs for the veterans benefit counseling that program host Dennis Mills and I do at Coffee Strong.

Watch what you will.


"The  Veterans Hour" is a monthly production of the Rachel Corrie Chapter 109 Veterans For Peace in Olympia, Washington.  We've been doing the program which airs on local cable access channels since before I came to Olympia in 2007.  We a have a large archive of programs.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Trail Journal 06.05.02

Very late on a long day but need to write before I forget.  Walked into Troutville today after getting up at 4:30 to beat the heat.  Was tough getting up--didn't get much sleep last night.  Was hard to get comfortable in the humidity.  Had a lot of thunderstorm activity through midnight which made sleep difficult.  But still we made it out early which resulted in some of the most glorious walking of the hike so far.  Not only did we have the soft morning twilight to walk in, we reached Tinker Cliffs early.  The wind was blowing stiffly from the west and was delightfully cool after the night's humidity  The cliffs are a sheer outcropping that offers expansive views to the west:  houses, farms, roads and ridges dissolving into the distance.  We were very glad to be there at that early hour.

The rest of the day's walk wasn't nearly as rewarding.  It seemed to go on forever.  We got in around 1:30 and immediately started in on all of the town chores.  So here I am sitting naked in an air-conditioned motel room wondering what great thoughts I wanted so desperately to record.  A few come to mind:
  • Walking in the Troutville area is difficult.  The roads are built for cars, not pedestrians.  We were lucky to experience some trail magic in the form of an unexpected ride to and from dinner.
  • AT hiking turns us all into old people, at least in its impact on our gait.  I saw three 20-something hikers coming out of a motel in Pearisburg.  They walked stiffly and with some effort.
  • We hikers are a very distinct group.  Most people recognize us as thru-hikers almost immediately.  No doubt out unique garb and men's beards give us away.
Not exceptionally profound but it's late.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Trail Journal 06.01.02

A new month and my first 18 mile day!  18.5 actually.  We started out this morning at 6:50 and made the 11 miles to Pine Swamp Branch Shelter by 11:30.  Took a long lunch there and set out for Bailey Gap Shelter at 1:00.  Morning was excellent walking--sky overcast and not much elevation change until we dropped down to Pine Swamp.  Afternoon was another story.  A hard thunderstorm hit around 1:30 and lasted about an hour.  Soaked us thoroughly.  Plus, we had to climb steeply to Baileys Gap Shelter.  Got in just as the rain stopped.  Cheetah and Spec were already there as were two women I'd not met previously--Lauren and Jennifer.  Our original plan was to eat dinner and push on to Wind Rock--a couple of section hikers we met in the AM told us a bout a good site there--but the rain lessened our enthusiasm for a while at least.  Went ahead and watered up and ate dinner and finally decided to push on and got to Wind Rock around 7:00 to find the most obvious site occupied by Virginia Tech students (who gave us each a beer!) but we found an equally good spot nearby.  It's wet but it's home for the night. Today's long mileage keeps us on target toward Katahdin that we set yesterday.  The last four miles were hard--I was tired and the trail had lots of wet rocks.  But I made it.

Tha afternoon thunderstorm was quite intense--very dark with heavy rain and some hail.  Lightning flashes with a mile of us and rolling, rumbling thunder.  It came up quickly:  from distant thunder to pouring rain in less than 30 minutes.  The woods darkened dramatically and I could hear the wall of water approaching through the trees.  Sky never cleared after the storm but we did get occasional bursts of sunlight later on.  We are camped near Wind Rock Overlook, a rock outcropping that offers a panoramic view of the mountains to the west.  It is one of the few breaks in the green tunnel.  The view is all forest--no farms or roads--just green ridges and valleys.