Friday, December 12, 2008
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Monday, November 03, 2008
Friday, October 31, 2008
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
Friday, October 17, 2008
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Friday, October 10, 2008
Thursday, October 09, 2008
Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Monday, October 06, 2008
I received this text message this morning, from Keychain:
"@L.namahkanta. snow on k. closed for past 2 days says rumor!"
Translated, this means “I am at Lake Namahkanta. There is snow on Katahdin, and supposedly the mountain has been closed for the past 2 days.”
I sent him a message back to see when he thought he’d summit given the weather. Luckily, I got a call back! Apparently Zen got some kind of floatplane ride (?!) and saw a lot of snow on the mountain, and rumors from ahead of them indicate that people were stacking up at the park, waiting to summit. It did snow on them a few nights ago, but today is a gorgeous day in Maine, and they figure the folks that have been waiting to hike up will likely go today, leaving less of a crowd for them, and they still plan to summit on Wednesday.
So, the plan to leave Philly tomorrow is still intact, and I’ll hopefully be with Shawn on Wednesday!
Friday, October 03, 2008
Just to keep everyone up to date, the "Getting Shawn from the Trail Plan" is to leave from Philadelphia on Tuesday, make the long drive up, and meet him sometime Wednesday when he is back from the Summit. I spoke with Shawn in Monson at the beginning of the week, and probably won’t hear from him again until I see him at the base of Katahdin since he’s going through the 100 mile wilderness as we speak. We picked out a meeting place at the base of the mountain, and if all goes according to plan, I’ll see him there! We will make calls to families as soon as we can, and I’m sure he’ll want to post about his summit here as well.After the big reunion, Keychain and I (and Zen, too) are planning a short trip further north to see where the Appalachian Mountains end in Canada. We’ll be in touch with plans for a welcome home gathering (or two) with photos from his Thru-Hike once Shawn settles back into “real” life. Be glad I’m donating the extra food, or else the entire menu could consist of dried milk, tuna, and ramen noodles…
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Monday, September 29, 2008
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Tuesday, September 09, 2008
So, here we sit in Gorham. It is raining all day today and over breakfast Zen, Thinker and I made the executive decision to spend another night here in town. Later tonight and tomorrow will be clearing and we'll push hard this week to make up the miles. Rest is needed too. The rocky and steep trails of the Whites have beaten my body up. I've had no knee problems this whole trip until the Whites and my feet are meaty stumps at this point. It won't stop me, but it is kinda fun to watch them swell up overnight. The next bit of trail looks difficult too - someone asked a southbounder how the transition into Maine will go, and she replied "seamless."
It does feel great to be entering the final state of the AT. Autumn has already started in the boreal forest of the higher elevations - birches are turning yellow and dropping their leaves across the trail. Down the mountains a bit, in the mixed hardwood forest and some of the early maples are already turning red-orange. Of course way down in valleys like the one Gorham sits in, its still summery green. But the cold nights are giving us the signal that autumn is arriving even here, and pretty soon we'll be pushed out of the woods whether we are done the hike or not. Baxter State Park closes its trails to hikers on October 15th, but we should be done by the first week in October.So, some chores and errands, but a mostly lazy day of sitting around and watching television. Its hiker Saturday!
Monday, September 08, 2008
Hello from Gorham, NH, mile 1880ish - under 300 miles are left. Most of these will be in Maine which I will enter in 2 or 3 days. For now, rest. Traversing the Whites was the toughest part of the AT and easily some of the toughest hiking I've ever done. The trails are steep and often require climbing sharply sloped rock faces, which can be slow-going - especially in rain. There are few flat areas, and climany ascents and descents along the ridges. Five major gaps, called notches here, mean huge drops and climbs of several thousand feet in short distances. We tended to average 1.5 miles per hour, about 10 miles per day. Here is a little more detail about the past week:
The weather started out iffy as we went over Moosilauke and the Kinsmans, which may be the toughest climb on the trail. We spent a night doing work-for-stay at the Lonesome Lake Hut and slept in their dining room. Then we spent a half-day and night resting in Lincoln, NH at a house whose owner invites hikers to stay. Chet is a former hiker who suffered massive burns in a cookstove accident and after a recovery that took years of surgeries and drugs (and millions of dollars), he now hosts hikers at his home. Very cool guy. My cousin Robert paid a visit and acted as trail angel for us thruers - thank you for the fun time and we'll get together for a hike at some point.
The weather cleared and was beautiful as we climbed Franconia Ridge, which peaks at the 5,200 ft Lafayette. The sun was great for warmth, but the wind was gusting up to 50mph along the exposed ridge. This was our first distance run above treeline and the views were outstanding. Lots of dayhikers were out on this Labor Day, and as tourist attractions, we got to answer many questions about our trips. The trail turns right onto Garfield Ridge, and after watering up, we spent the night on the lee side of Mt. Garfield's summit. Cowboy camped and watched the sunset and then the sunrise with an amazing array of stars between them.
The next two days continued the good weather and at the end of the second day we climbed onto the exposed Presidential Ridge. This is an alpine zone that is essentially tundra - you'd have to go a thousand miles north to find similar environments. We camped on Mt. Eisenhower, enjoying the sunset and the purple glow of Mt Washington, just 2 miles ahead of us. At this point the clear weather ended and clouds came in and dropped overnight, first covering Washington and the highest peaks and then lowering to our peak next. When we woke in the morning, we were in a dense fog and the wind had picked up to 25-30mph. No one wanted to leave their bags but they were getting soaked, as we had cowboyed sans tent here too. So, up and march through the clouds with 50ft visibility, looking for the manmade rockpiles called cairns ahead, since there are no trees to blaze and the path on bare rocks is easy to lose. Warmed at Lakes of the Clouds Hut and lunched at the cafeteria atop Mt Washington after the last grueling climb. On the way along the next ridge, the trail crosses the cog railway which takes tourists to the top. As per tradition, the shorts came down, and the full moon came early for some of the passengers.
The rest of the Presidential Range is exposed as well, making for over 12 miles above treeline that we covered that day. We spent the night at a very very crowded Madison Springs Hut and the next morning we decended back into the trees on a very windy and exposed ridgline that was above the clouds. Rested at M&M's house and then tackled another 3 days of big peaks, rain, and cold evenings.
Friday, September 05, 2008
Hi everyone - The Thinker, Zen, and I are resting here in North Conway, New Hampshire at the vacation home of a former thru-hiker named M&M. I met M&M and her boyfriend Pootz in Georgia on March 31, my very first day, while going up the approach trail to Springer Mountain. They had thru-hiked the AT last year (in fact they met on the trail) and were back to do the approach trail and provide some trail magic. I spent most of the hike talking to them, asking them questions, and was the first to benefit from their trail magic - two beers to end my first day with! M&M had mentioned a place I could stay once I got to the Whites, but of course I had forgotten all about it until she emailed me last week. So, here we are enjoying delicious home-cooked beef stew, beers, and ice cream and watching movies. Trail magic is a fabulous gift and I can't wait to pass on my good fortune to next year's hikers.
So this afternoon is a perfect time-off from hiking the Whites. The Whites are tough. Easily the most challenging terrain of the AT thus far, possibly of the entire trail. But the most rewarding too. We just spent 5 days going over Franconia Ridge and the Presidential Range, doing about 10-13 miles per day - the lowest mileage since the beginning. We were fortunate to have some incredible weather for most of those five days - the weather was so benign that we actually spent nights on Garfield and Eisenhower peaks, above treeline. I should warn any kids out there that it is not only technically illegal to camp above treeline, but its very dangerous given the changeable weather the Whites are famous for. Best to leave it to the professionals like us. I can't describe the incredible sunset and sunrise from Garfield but I can say that we received some comeuppance while on Eisenhower - the night started warm and clear with a fantastic view of Mount Washington, but we woke up deep in a cloud with 30mph winds. The mountains were clearly angry about our presence at night, because the bad weather continued all day, socking us in for our climb up Mount Washington (which is really rather typical - its cloudy there 80% of the time.) The weather broke this last night and this morning's climb over Madison had some stunning views once again.
The AMC, which runs the huts and campsites and maintains the trails in the Whites, does an excellent job with everything. Its amazing the Whites aren't a national park, given their beauty and history and natural importance. But the non-profit AMC and the Forest Service run the area as effectively as the National Park Service, and so it provides an interesting alternative in the world of recreation management. My only complaint is that the Appalachian Trail, admitedly a newcomer to the AMC and other entities in the Whites, is clearly of secondary importance. The trail is barely blazed and uses existing trails (and keeps their names), and there are few free campsites or shelters for thruhikers, who are unused to paying for nights in the woods. A few more facilities for us would've been helpful. We've stayed at two AMC huts - Lonesome Lake and Madison Springs - doing work-for-stay at both, which requires minor duties in return for sleeping on the floor. Both huts were very relaxed, albeit crowded, places. The "croos" who operate the huts and carry up supplies via trails are amazing to watch - they really are great teams and reminded me of the crews I've seen work on tall ships.
So, we will enjoy a rest here today and get back on-trail tomorrow morning to complete the Whites. Just a few more days left in New Hampshire and then the wilderness of Maine!
We have a map on the wall here at the office that I've been marking each time I talk to Shawn, or get an update on his location. From the picture here you can see the green thumbtack I marked on Monday, after I talked to Shawn over the weekend- they are almost through the White Mountains, and you can see very clearly how little of the trail he has left. Its only about 300 miles from where he is now, to the end.Today's update: They are near Pinkham's Notch (a bit north of the green thumbtack), and got to spend two of the last 5 nights on top of mountains! A trail friend he met at the very beginning of his journey has offered he and his buddies a place to stay (and shower) tonight, and then its maybe 2 more days or less into Gorham, NH. And, he’s still right on schedule!!
Wednesday, September 03, 2008
Hello from Philadelphia - From what I hear, things are going well on the trail. The weather has improved, and with it, so are spirits. Shawn is somewhere between Lincoln and Gorham, NH, which leaves him with only about 4 weeks left. I spoke with him this weekend; he had the opportunity to have dinner with his cousin Rob on Saturday night, and they had a great time.
A BIG thanks to everyone for the continued letters and treats … as Shawn has been receiving them, he mails them home to me for safe keeping (the letters, not the treats unfortunately), and its been wonderful to read all the words of encouragement he's been receiving. So thanks, from the trail manager, for your help in keeping him on track!
These days Keychain is very close to his original schedule... putting him at the end of the trail on Mt. Katahdin on or near the 4th of October. So, if you're thinking of sending a last package or card to his mail drop in Monson, Maine, I'd make sure it was there by the 21st or so of September.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
Friday, August 15, 2008
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Hi all from an unplanned stop in Bennington, Vermont. 11 states down, only three left - of course these are three of the hardest states. Vermont isn't normally regarded as an ultra tough state, but this year it is. One word: MUD.
It rained every day I was in Massachusetts, but the trail there is newer and better made, so only small mud puddles exist. However, as soon as you cross the border into Vermont, the AT joins the Long Trail - the world's first long-distance hiking trail. The Long Trail runs from the Massachusetts line to Canada's border, and is a decade or so older than the AT. The AT shares 97 miles of it through southern Vermont before turning east to New Hampshire. As an older trail, the Long Trail doesn't have modern techniques to drain water from the trail and often times the trail itself becomes the drainage path for heavy rains. The trail is now a giant string of mud puddles in flat areas, and you walk through cascades of water on the inclines.
And rain there is. I saw on TV that Vermont usually gets 1.3 inches of rain in the first half of August, but has received 5.8 inches so far. Funny, I've heard there's a drought now affecting Virginia.
The hiking takes on a totally different aspect in these conditions, and the 17 miles I did yesterday were spent doing a continuous rock-hop and slog through ankle-deep mud and water. Its truly exhausting, and more than a little treacherous. At one point, the trail walks across a boardwalk on the side of a marsh, but the water is so high, the boardwalk was submerged under 8 inches of water. I took my boots off and did that part barefoot, but any effort to keep dry was truly pointless. Within a half-mile of starting, my boots and socks were soaked and by the end of the day, my feet were shriveled prunes. And you can imagine the smell this might produce.
None of us expected these conditions and all of a sudden, the normally skip-able town of Bennington has become filled with northbounders who are a bit shocked. Thankfully, this is one of the few towns in New England with reasonably-priced motels, and a group of friends and I split a room last night. Today was thankfully sunny and there were tents and bags and clothes and socks and boots drying all over the lawn of the motel today. Hopefully the trail has dried out a bit today - no one is in a big hurry to get back out there.
Its funny. For the last few weeks, most of us have noticed that the southbounders we come across are pretty dour people - very serious and quiet and not very joyful and social like the NOBOs tend to be. We just figured the SOBOs are a more independent type, but now we understand why - they've been walking in this rain and mud for 600 miles. One guy told me that in Maine they walked through knee-deep muck for four miles at one point, with no possible way around.
Already, a few NOBOs have called it quits. I know I've had thoughts of doing the same if the weather keeps up like this. For four months, I've been really looking forward to Vermont and northern New England, but this is not how I wished to see this part of the trail. But its a challenge to rise to, and I keep hope that conditions will improve soon.
Come on sunshine!
Saturday, August 09, 2008
Hi all. The drive due north continues as I am now in the former mill town of Dalton, MA - mile 1560ish. (Don't have my guidebook on me right now). I am staying at the house of a gentleman named Tom Levardi here in town. His house sits right on the trail as it passes through Dalton and for more than 30 years, he has been kind enough to let hikers tent in his yard and sleep in his basement, take showers, and use bicycles to get around town. Trail magic!
I entered Massachusetts five days ago, and the trail has become increasingly mountainous as we go through the Berkshires, with muddy and rooty pathways typical of northern New England. In many respects, its been a nice change from the low elevations of the mid-Atlantic, and our legs are being reminded what real mountains feel like. We are also slowly getting away from the gentrified area of western Connecticut, with its cute but expensive towns. Places like Salisbury didn't have a grocery or a pharmacy, they had an epicure and an apothocary. Though I admit it was kinda fun to walk around with my giant beard and suntanned skin, filling my water bottle from a public fountain while Wall Street wives drive by in porsches.
But the biggest change is the weather - no more heat and humidity, and the highs have dropped into the low 70s, upper 60s. I'm sure we'll experience hot weather again before the summer really says goodbye, but its a welcome change. Still, the skin is not used to the cooler weather, and without any body fat to insulate me, it can be pretty chilly at times. In fact, everyone is now wondering just how cold it may get in northern Maine in late September.
The other big change is the mosquitos, the latest pest to accompany us. They were hinted at in Connecticut, but are in full force here in Massachusetts, with its many bogs and marshes. You can read my arms in Braille. We try to get a fire going each night to smoke them away, but sometimes the wood is too wet and you have to cook dinner inside the tent.
There's been several highlights from the past week or so: Before leaving Connecticut, I had the best burger of my life at Toymaker's Cafe in Falls Village, and spent the night stealth camping on a high meadow with a view straight from a Hudson River School painting. Climbed out of Connecticut on Bear Mountain, the state's highest peak, and camped that night in Massachusetts in gorgeous Sages Ravine, a deep cleft with a beautiful creek and lots of swimming holes. Up and over Everett Mountain the next day, with views of the Catskills to the west and Mt. Greylock far to the north. After that, the trail crossed a marshy low-lying area where mosquitos attacked with no mercy. I slept in a greenhouse at the Corn Crib farmstand near Great Barrington, where another trail angel allows us hikers to stay for free. Further on across more mountains, we stayed at a pre-war cabin on Upper Goose Pond, given to the Park Service by its owners and operated by the AMC and ATC free for hikers. It reminded me very much of the my grandparents' camp on Pleasant Lake in New Hampshire, and was even painted in the same dull red color. A storm came over that night, and there's nothing like a fire in a big stone fireplace while it pours rain outside. Yesterday, we stopped by a great pick-your-own blueberry farm and grabbed two 20oz bottles' worth of delicious blueberries.
One other interesting thing: Connecticut and Massachusetts is where we encounter lots of the southbound thru-hikers. Most of these hikers started at Katahdin between mid-June and mid-July - late enough to avoid the worst of the muddy thaw and black flies in Maine. Its a hard way to start though, and there are far fewer SOBOs, as they're called, than us NOBOs, which makes for a more independent and possibly lonely thru-hike. They start off in the hardest area of the trail, and the success rate amongst them is lower than ours - some say only 10% of SOBOs will complete the whole AT. Those who make it will probably reach Springer Mountain, Georgia in early December.
Physically, everything feels fine now that the weather has calmed down. My leg rash has healed, with the help of a diaper rash cream. The legs muscles are gearing up once again, and the tougher hikes have sparked my appetite. The feet are tired though, and I'm taking a "near-o" here in town to rest them, having done only 3 miles into town this morning. I haven't had a full zero-miles day since Duncannon, PA, and I'm feeling it.
Sensing the end of the trail is somewhere now on the horizon, many of the hikers are pushing hard for to get north and finish. For my last month and half on the AT, I've decided to slow my pace down and really soak in as much of the trail as possible. Its caused me to loose track of some of my faster hiker buddies, especially those from New Hampshire and Maine who are gunning for home. But I know tons of people behind me as well, and meet new people almost every day - its always amazing to finally meet someone who started 2 days after you. Plus, there is a large crowd of thru-ers ahead of me right now, heading for the Long Trail Festival in Vermont. While it was fun in the begginning, I'm not into the crowds anymore. Besides, for practical reasons, its not a good idea to go through the Whites in large numbers since places to stay are few and far between - so its a good idea to start spacing out now.
And by slowing down, I get to have some really interesting conversations. I've spent most of the last week with an guy named Vashon, who is a dairy farmer from the Shenandoah Valley - his trail name is French for "tender of cows". He tells me all about organic farming practices and the need to "buy local" while I tell him about best practices in urban planning. We've been doing a moderate pace of about 14 miles a day, but this will probably slow as we go over Massachusett's highest peak (Mt. Greylock) and into Vermont's bigger mountains. I'm looking forward to Vermont in particular, as it's supposed to be one of the most beautiful sections of the trail, with great towns to rest in.The library is full this Saturday, so I must move on. I will try to write more in a few days, since we pass through a few more towns before leaving Massachusetts....
Friday, August 08, 2008
Hi everyone! … I'll share with you all that we had a great time when Shawn passed through our area on his journey hiking the Appalachian Trail...he looks great and seems strong and healthy (in body and mind). We met him in the Delaware Water Gap on Thursday around noon...actually spotted him and a bunch of other thru-hikers sitting outside a local bakery...what a reunion! Gavin and Carson had made some poster board signs for him saying 'Welcome Uncle Shawn'...let me just say before going any further, that the anticipation of waiting for Shawn to reach the DWG had been mounting for months, so for Gavin especially he was so excited the whole time Shawn visited...and it took Carson a good couple of hours before he felt confident that the guy with the beard (and body odor) was really his Uncle Shawn...
Anyway, we took him and two other thru-hikers (trail names, Donnie and Zen) back to the house for food and shower and we washed their clothes twice over...sat and had some beers (well some people had beer) and talked and talked about the trail...Shawn and the others shared so much interesting stuff about their experience and on a personal note I'm a little envious...just a little...it was great just to sit and listen...we had an awesome dinner that night, steak, chicken and fish (caught by Daryl) along with salad, pasta salad and fruit and ohhh ice cream and pie and brownies for desert...the hikers did not leave a crumb...like mom said, it was like feeding growing teenage boys...after dinner we went for a quad ride where Daryl hooked up the trailer to the back of the quad and we had five kids and six adults on the back...as you can see from one of the pictures Daryl let Dad drive the first part of the trip, it was a little bumpy going and coming back home was even more bumpy...we came home in the dark...it was awesome to just let go and have a great time with everyone...Daryl and the boys and I camped out that night (all four of us in the tent was a first time experience)...poor Carson didn't make it to the tent before he fell asleep on the dining room floor......
The next morning we all found food and the got ready to go swimming down at the Kittatiny visitors center on the NJ side of the DWG...we packed lunches, took a blow-up tube and had an awesome time...although we did hike from the PA side to the NJ side, therefore we had to cross over the river using the Rt 80 bridge...ummm...a little long, a little scary and it was extremely hot and humid...but it's all part of the trail experience! The river felt so good though....
So, then after sometime, we said good-bye to Shawn, Zen and Donnie...as they left for Sunfish Pond up the NJ side, where they were planning on camping that night...and we hiked back over and went home (they boys fell asleep before my car even left the DWG). It was such a great feeling to be able to host Shawn and his friends and our family...and then to be able to accommodate sleeping arrangements for seven people inside our home was awesome, something Daryl and I had never done before....During that week before Shawn came on Thursday I had prayed...and my prayer was kinda simple just asking God to bless the time that we had with our family and with Shawn (knowing it was going to be short) and to make it something that would leave a great memory for everyone...of course then I prayed for the safety of the hikers and Shawn as I'm still doing today...enjoy the pictures...