Tuesday, May 22, 2012

And I would walk 500...I mean 600 miles...

This has been a huge week and some change even though it started out questionable. Damascus was a hard town to get out of, but once I did, I started getting some miles knocked out of Virginia. This week alone, I hit mile 500 and 600 and had my first 110+ mile week. This week has also been a big week for me spiritually. I have been listening to several different church's sermons through iTunes and God has just really been speaking to me through a lot of different ways. I have had several things I have been praying for each day while hiking (how to be a better husband and man of God, God's blessings for my wonderful wife each day, how I can be a better servant, how I can be a better steward of creation, and several other things). Let's just say that after almost 2 months of walking, the flood gates have opened. There is a huge jumble of God-stuff going on in me and so now I guess it will slowly make more sense the more I press on. All I can say is that I am excited to get home so some of this stuff can start happening, but I still have a lot more miles to walk first and I am sure God is far from finished with what He is doing in me. So thanks for hanging in there for a little spiritual update, here is what hiking looked like.

Day 48 (4/27) - Zero Day
Damascus is such a cool little town. Glad to have been able to take a whole day off and enjoy it. I definitely want to come back and bike the Creeper Trail.

Day 49 (4/28) - Damascus to Beech Mountain Rd (18.4 mi)
Every day coming off a zero is a tough one, especially when the people you are hiking with drink a lot. Everyone was slow moving this morning. I will be honest- I was not opposed to taking another day off (I even tried to get Wendy to come down for the weekend). Yesterday was so beautiful and today was too, but a day off means money you have to spend so we needed to hike. We gathered at a coffee shop trying to plan out the day and it was getting close to 10 and no one was feeling motivated. So then the idea of slack packing (see last post) was thrown out and quickly everyone was liking that idea. We found a ride up the mountain and by 1:30 we were on the trail. All we needed to do was hike the 18 miles back to town. And we did- and it took only 6 hours. I will admit that it felt like it took just as much energy to do those miles in such a short amount of time with no backpack as it did to do them with a backpack and take all day. Now tomorrow we will just get a ride back to where we started today and continue north towards Maine! On a side rant- there are way too many pot heads on the trail. I think probably 70-80% are carrying and smoking it. So when you are staying at a hostel run by a church that has the rules of no smoking or alcohol on property, you would think a little respect would be in order...you would think. Nope- they just get upset when cops hired by the church come in to do a random check up. It's one night. Can you not go without for one freaking night? Maybe it helps the hike go better. I will be proud of the fact I will finish the trail without performance enhancing drugs (except 800mg ibuprofen).

Day 50 (4/29) - Beech Mountain Road to Thomas Knob Shelter (9.9 mi)
Today was hard- not because of a climb or trail terrain (rocks and mud) or any physical means, it was hard mentally. Because we slack packed yesterday, it meant another night and morning in town. Even though we did almost 19 miles, I was still in town mindset. Our shuttle didn't leave until 2 so it was more wasted time in town. I actually went to a church service which was nice, except it felt like empty routine and ritual. I won't say what kind of church it was, but I got the idea since it was a little old lady church and only about 30 people there the minister just didn't have his heart in it. Still, I was happy to be there since I haven't been to a service in almost 2 months. It was good to see a few other hikers in there too. So back to the hike...mentally I just wasn't feeling it. I was feeling about as empty as that church service. I knew we could only do 10 miles because of the terrain and time we had so I just went through the motions of hiking to get to my destination. I had a chance to call home which was nice and then I heard there were some bears spotted so I was on the lookout. No bears, but I caught my first glimpse at some wild ponies. I am hiking in the Mount Rogers area (highest peak on Virginia) and knew Grayson Highlands was close by. Once I saw the ponies my mindset got a lot better. I started cranking out the mileage just under the peak of Mt. Rogers and saw what looked like a small ranch. I saw a glimpse of a cabin and some fence for horses. The closer I got I discovered that that was our shelter. The fence was to keep horses out of the spring. I was quick to eat and quick to go to bed because I was excited for what was about to come.

Day 51 (4/30) - Thomas Knob Shelter to Hurricane Mountain Shelter (16 mi)
PONIES! Wild ponies everywhere. I know what you are thinking...you live in central KY surrounded by horses. Why are you excited about ponies? Well I just am so get over it! They were awesome. There were 5 (1 being a newborn) within a quarter mile from our shelter. They would come up and nibble on your shorts and shoes and loved being petted. I was shooting some video and one of them started peeing. You bet I got that on camera! Other than the wild ponies, Grayson Highlands was beautiful but very rocky. There was one section called Fatman Squeeze which I made it through easily (yes!). After that you could look out over the fields and see around 20 more wild ponies off in the distance. The trail continued to mix it up through fields and forests. I stopped at the Wise Shelter for lunch with a huge smile on my face because that was the official 500 mile mark! Wow, this fat boy has walked 500 miles (and I will walk 500 more...). You know that crazy song was then stuck in my head the rest of the day. After the shelter I saw 2 deer up close. This was turning into an incredible day. With about a mile and a half to go I started hearing thunder. Within 5 minutes a storm was right on top of me. I almost had to drop my bag and wait it out. Then the hail came. These chunks of ice were about twice the size of a pea. I tried to walk faster hoping to make it to the shelter or outrun the storm at least but the trail would have none of it. Instead it turned right toward the hail and it took 1 large ice ball to the downstairs for me to walk in a defensive pose. Finally I made it to the shelter and wouldn't you know the storm passed. Oh well. That's another day in the office for me!

Day 52 (5/1) - Hurricane Mountain Shelter to Partnership Shelter (19.7 mi)
When you wake up knowing you are going to do a 20 mile day, you get rolling pretty quickly. I did get ready pretty quickly but then got sidetracked by campfire biscuits. Some section hikers who stayed at the shelter with us were making them and they were delicious! But then it was time to roll! I made it to the first shelter with average speed around 1. I made my lunch and filtered water (I had already drank 2 liters) and visited the privy...so glad VA shelters have privies. The next half of the hike had several landmarks that helped break up the hike and help me stay on top of where I was. There was supposed to be an old abandoned school bus that we could see but it must have been removed because no one saw it. Then there was a river and bridge and a cooler with trail magic and it was full! I love that there are a bunch of churches that love hikers to do all the trail magic that I have received. It's funny how trail magic works- the majority of the time it is either church groups or former hikers. The Pepsi I drank was enough to give me a nice energy boost. Once I hit the last landmark I knew I only had 1.5 miles to the shelter, the possibility of pizza, and a shower. Partnership shelter is next to a visitor center so it is loaded with amenities- shower, phone, privy, and pizza menu. Before I got to the shelter I saw several tents set up, but it was just because they all wanted to tent camp instead of shelter camp. No one was really up for ordering pizza and instead a few went to town and bought a bunch of groceries so we feasted on brats, burgers, and hotdogs. It felt like hiker thanksgiving. It was one of the most fun nights not in a town. Everyone pitched in, everyone participated (around 13 of us), and all had a fun time. We then fired up the old hiker television (campfire) and just let the night wind down. I felt great for all the miles done today and look forward to picking up my first hiker box tomorrow in Atkins.

Day 53 (5/2) - Partnership Shelter to Atkins, VA (11.6 mi)
I woke up today feeling great! It was probably due to all the food I ate last night. Once I hit the trail I was rolling. Again we had a nice rotation of forests and fields to walk through. Once we got within a mile of Atkins you could see several barns. We crossed some railroad tracks just in time because a train came trough about 5 minutes after we were over them. I also got to see some old fighter planes fly over. It was a neat welcoming into this small town. Just before I stepped onto the highway I encountered a guy in full marines garb with a gun. I said hi and kept going and he didn't even acknowledge me. No big deal. I walked over to the Shell station where everyone else was and told them about it and it turns out that that was my first encounter with Turtle. His reputation has far preceded him on the trail- and not in a good way. He was hiking with another guy named Machete Mitch an the two of them together were nothing but trouble but Mitch got arrested and I am not sure if he is still on the trail or not. No one was too thrilled about the idea of camping outside of town if he was going to be around. While at the gas station, i decided to take advantage of having cell signal and called Saloman. They are the makers of my hiking shoes. They have been very comfortable but have started falling apart. They were very cool with setting up a warranty for them and I should have a new pair of shoes at home within a week. We went down to the Relax Inn to pick up my hiker box (Wendy sent me a food resupply) and made the call to get a room for the night. 5 of us split a tiny bed bug infested room. Dances With Flies may be the only safe one because he slept in his sleeping bag on the floor. We went up to The Barn for dinner. It is home to the 16 oz Hiker Burger. It was delicious and reminded me of the Smoky Valley Burger from the Smoky Valley Truck Stop in Olive Hill, KY.

Day 53 (5/3) - Adkins, VA to a streamside campsite (14.5 mi)
One word is needed to describe today- HOT! It was hot and humid right out of the motel room. Again Virginia treated us to a nice mix of forest and fields. There were several climbs today that the heat made even more difficult. I got to a nice little area by a creek where I saw Snagglefoot and Dances With Flies and we all had lunch and refilled our water. All of a sudden we see 3 guys with big guns sneaking down the trail. Two were park rangers and one was a sheriff. They were looking for a few hikers or campers who were camping out a little too long in the area. We assumed they were talking about Turtle because we heard from another hiker thy he had been there for a few days and because they were packing an automatic rifle, a taser gun, and a shotgun. Like I said, Turtle's reputation has preceded him. We don't know if they found him or not, we just kept hiking. More climbs and more scenery mixed with some podcasts (Relevant Podcast and a sermon I downloaded) on my iPhone kept the day going smooth and my mind off the heat. We got to a river with a small bridge crossing it and took our shoes off for a bit and soaked out feet. It felt so good to do that. It's the little things sometimes. We finally made it to the shelter and decided to press on a little further and tent camp along a creek. F100 and Steady were camping there too. They are a cool married couple in their late 40's. My ankle felt great today but I am starting to feel a little bit of a shin splint in my left leg. Hopefully it will go away soon. I need some healthy feet and legs to get these Virginia miles behind me. Oh yeah, when we hit mile 546.5 today, we officially completed 25% of the trail!!!

Day 54 (5/4) - Streamside campsite to Jenkins Shelter (18.5 mi)
I woke up this morning early ready to tackle some miles before the heat. What I didn't realize was today was going to be one of those head-down hikes. There was a really long climb that was 2100 feet high over 4.5 miles. Once on top it was a beautiful field with some great views of the mountains. The shelter on top was fully enclosed and there was this really weird kid in there. He kept talking about broad swords and really weird stuff. It was entertaining but I couldn't eat fast enough to get out of there. After a steep descent it was supposed to be pretty flat for the next 4.5 miles. It was not. It was rocky with lots of ups and downs. It was along a ridge line but there really were not any views. It just seemed to last forever. I finally got to the end of that section which led to a 4 mile downhill which also lasted forever. Today had the potential to be dangerous because there were only 2 reliable water sources along the trail. I drank 5 liters throughout the course of the day. If it hadn't been overcast during the hottest part of the day I would have needed more water. Remember kids, don't smoke yourself stupid or you will want to have conversations about broad swords!

Day 55 (5/5) - Jenkins Shelter to Jenny Knob Shelter (23.8 mi)
Well it decided to rain this morning so I had to pack away a wet tent. Other than that the day was incredible. The plan was to try for 30 miles since the elevation profile looked like that would be possible, but after yesterday we were a little unsure. I was booking it this morning. I had cell signal most of the day so I streamed some sermons from church. It was good to hear my preacher's voice. I took a quick break to call Wendy and Dirty Girl came rushing by. When I asked what got into him, he simply said Dairy Queen. There was a road crossing up ahead that the small town of Bland could be accessed 2.5 miles away. I hated the thought of Dirty Girl eating Dairy Queen alone so I started walking with him. This was definitely not in my plans and I was trying to figure out if I could still make it to the shelter like I was planning. After about a mile of walking, an SUV finally pulled over and gave us a ride. DQ did not disappoint and we were quick to get a ride back to the trail. After a steep climb we got to the shelter Dirty Girl was staying at. I knew I would be pushing it with time and water to get to the next shelter but I was going for it. I asked Dirty Girl for a liter of water since he had water access from his shelter and it would save me a little over a mile extra travel. I filled up and took off. The caloric intake from the cheeseburger, fries, coke, and blizzard was enough to make me fly on the trail. I made it 10 miles in just under 4 hours. I wasn't sure if any of my crew would be at the shelter because the terrain ended up being so nice I figured they would try for the 30 miles or at least go to the 600 mile mark. Nokey and Trophy Wife pressed on another mile but Snagglefoot was here. The timing was perfect because when I looked at my water level I had 1 sip left. Made the trek down to the spring for a fill up and set up my wet tent. There's supposed to be a huge full moon tonight but I think I am a little too tired to stay up to see it.

Day 56 (5/6) - Jenny Knob Shelter to Wapiti Shelter (14.2 mi)
I think I may have worn myself out last night because today I was completely unmotivated to get going. If I had been in a town I would have probably taken a zero (so its good I wasn't in a town). We hit mile 600 first thing which was incredible then went up a mountain and along a ridge line for several miles until we got to a cool suspension bridge. I crossed over that and that brought me to a road that had a little country store a half a mile down it. Snagglefoot needed some lunch stuff so we went down there. I bought a Pepsi and ate my own lunch. We hitched a ride back (because that half mile doesn't count) and continued north about 1.3 miles to Dismal Falls. Dismal Falls is a wide falls only about 10 feet high. By the time I got there (my shin splint was killing me) everyone was in the water having a great time. I threw off my shirt and joined in. The water felt great. It was definitely a great spot to hang out for a while, especially on a hot day like today. But then the temptation hit to stay and camp at the falls- so much so that Snagglefoot and Wall-e hitched a ride back to that store and bought a ton of beer. I am all for short lazy days, but I have Woods Hole Hostel in my mind for where I want to take my short day. I made the tough decision to press on 6 miles to the next shelter. It was tough because I was leaving my group and also because my shin didn't have 6 miles left in it. Luckily the terrain was nice and flat and they will be getting to Woods Hole tomorrow (they will just have to hike 12 miles instead of 6).

Day 57 (5/7) - Wapiti Shelter to Woods Hole Hostel (6.2 mi)
Quick 6 mile hike to make it to Woods Hole. What an incredible place! It's an old 1880's chestnut cabin that they added on to. They have their own garden where they grow veggies and herbs an have chickens and pigs that they use for eating! First thing I heard when I got here was that last night they made homemade pizzas and all the ingredients came from the farm. To me that is awesome. I want to be able to do something like that where sustainable living and reducing my carbon footprint is a healthy part of my lifestyle. It was also awesome to be greeted by a familiar face- Steps! I haven't seen her since Standing Bear Hostel outside of the Smokies. I hiked with her and her little group for a few days until I sprained my ankle. I hadn't seen her name in the shelter logs at all so I figured she may have become another victim of injury. There are some tough ones out here that won't let injuries stop us!


  1. Amazing story of your quest. To conquer and surrender simultaneous is a paradox to consider deeply. This is life. This is God.

    Bobby d +--

  2. I'm so proud of you Brian. It's wonderful/inspiring to read your posts. Keep them up!

  3. Brian, I've been reading your blog and am so thrilled that you are having a fabulous journey! It sounds like an experience you will never forget and one that will have an impact on you for a life time. We ask about you all the time at Starbucks and Mary Ann tells us she has talked to you. Our group continues to gather there regularly. We especially enjoy Rogar(spelling?) and his sweet smile and disposition! The others are great also! Happy Hiking!
    Sherry(cinnamon dolce latte, 6 pumps, decaf, skinny, extra hot)

    1. I'm going to be arriving in Shenandoah Park in 2 weeks if you all were still planning on visiting there. Would love to run into you all. Glad they are taking good care of you at the store!

  4. Dean and Pat Lee
    Hi Brian we are following your blog and we are
    proud of you. keep up the good work.