Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Off to Tennessee

Shawn headed back out onto the trail this morning, with a fellow hiker "C-Bass." He should be in Erwin, TN, by next weekend. In case he gets lost along the way, his nephew, Gavin, drew this map of the trail for his Uncle Shawn... I'd vote he follows this map, since the route seems much shorter than the 10 feet of crazy we have hanging in our office conference room... =) (special thanks to Gavin and his mom, Kim, for letting us post this on the site!)

Monday, April 28, 2008


Hello all - still in Hot Springs, NC. I woke this morning and the skies were dark and rain was coming down, and my right foot was still hurting, so I decided better to take a second day of rest now to hopefully avoid a full week of recovery later. I have soreness in the tendons of my right foot, and its definitely better than it was two days ago, but it still hurts when standing on it. However, by this afternoon the weather cleared and three of my little group of five hiker friends headed on their way, leaving me and a young buck named C-Bass here. (Just found out how his name is spelled, and I'm dissappointed that its not "Seabass" like I thought. Apparently he's named after a character in Dumb and Dumber, but don't know who.) C-Bass also has a hurting foot.

So, we've been lounging at our fun haunted mansion hotel, watching movies and running errands, and plan on leaving first thing in the morning regardless of how our feet feel. Its a small town, and getting smaller by the minute. We'll try and do some big days and hopefully catch up with everyone else by the next town. Since they're ahead, we'll be able to track them through registers at the shelters, but they won't know about us. The AT is tricky like that, because if you leave towns even a few hours after someone else, you may not see them for weeks. Just now, a girl who I met the first day of my hike just showed up, despite persistant rumors that she had quit.

Since I have the time, I'm at the town library right now, where along with internet access, they have early voting - NC's primary isn't til later this week I think. Amazing how politics still finds us, despite being away from the news for long periods. Had heard about the PA primary as soon as the results were announced, though seems there was some confusion for a while. The hotel we're staying at right now is a lone outpost of blue in this red state - the owner is a former thru-hiker, and you know his lefty politics right as you walk in the door - bumperstickers and pins all over the place. I think he may even scan potential clients over to make sure they aren't Republicans.

As you may have guessed, most people on the Trail are definitely on the liberal side of the spectrum, given their youth and love of the natural environment, plus the plain hippiness of staying in the woods for this long. Obama is the clear favorite, enough so that the Dem race is not really discussed much. In fact, politics in general is seldom brought up. It could be because everyone is on the relative same page, but its probably because most people just want to get away from that stuff while out here. The one gentleman who insists on bringing up politics is a middle-aged Bush-lover who hiked the trail years ago and is simply bumming along from town to town to hang out. He's finding fewer friends each day.

OK, enough idle chatter. Will head back to the house and ready my stuff for an early start. Then on to dinner for yet another hamburger. You'd think I'd love eating bad pub food everyday while in town, but it gets old. I have gained back a halfpound though.

Thank you all so much for the care packages and cards. They are really helpful and keep me in good spirits. However, just a quick note about sending food (and thank you Elizabeth for writing the post below). Please directly send me all the cards and postcards and quickly-edible food that you would like to - but if you want to send anything like trail mix or other carry-out food, please send it to Elizabeth for her to pass along. She'll make sure there is no duplicate foods and that portions are sized for the distance I'm doing. Since leaving a town usually involves a long, slow uphill, every once counts, and I am trying to be very careful how much food I take with me. But thank you all for everything!!!


Hello all! I got to talk to Shawn a few times this weekend, as he took a "zero day" in Hot Springs … as always, it was so good to talk to him!

He asked me to pass along one request regarding packages sent to him on the trail: letters, postcards, and treats that can be consumed in one sitting, by him plus a few hiking friends (i.e. cookies, rice crispy treats, etc), are always appreciated, and have been welcome encouragement during the past month of hiking. But he asked that if anyone is thinking of sending more substantial food items, that they be sent to me in Philly first so I can incorporate them into his existing set of mail drops.... this is just to cut down on the overall weight he has to carry. (I promise to give full credit to any food providers!)

Usually his mail drop packages have been weighing in between 7-10 pounds, depending on how many days have been included, and whether maps or other necessities are also in the box. This is on the edge of how much food weight he would like to carry, so if you’re interested in sending Shawn some treats, please get in touch and I can let you know whether to send them on yourself, or if its best to send them to me….

As an FYI, his scheduled mail drops are mailed out from our office (thanks, KSK!!) about a week before they need to be there, and include individually portioned breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, as well as snacks like trail mixes, cookies, and granola bars. Apparently these meals has been a hit on the trail, with fellow hikers asking what Keychain is having for dinner. Our officemates have been excellent at helping me "taste test" some treats I've baked from recipes found in hiker cookbooks and online. I'll be posting a list of what I've included in his mail drops so far later this week.

Again, THANK YOU to everyone that has been supporting his trek so far – we both appreciate it so very much!!!

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Hi all - sitting in downtown Hot Springs (mile 271) - the one block of downtown Hot Springs that is. Been here since yesterday afternoon and will take a full zero day today. Pouring rain today (great day to be in town) and I'm sitting at the outfitter shop here with their fast internet connection. I've purchased a heavier and warmer sleeping bag - my little old 32-degree bag wasn't cutting it in the freezing nights of the Smokies and I've got a bunch of high peaks to go before summer really starts. On the other end of the spectrum, its getting really hot in the sun when going up hills, so its time to get a tee-shirt for the day times. You should see the tan lines on my lower arms from where I was pulling the sleeves up. At least I'm no longer getting sunburned like I was in Georgia - the scabs on my ears from sunburn have finally come off. I'll be sending my unneeded gear home along with the photo disks so Elizabeth can post some photos soon.

Hot Springs is a neat small town - the promised festival wasn't much of an event, so our group ended up in the one bar drinking most of the afternoon. I'm staying at this fantastic B&B called Elmer's that's in this great old Victorian mansion with antiques and knick knacks and peeling wallpaper, like something out of the movie Clue. Will check out the town's name-sake hot springs tonight after dinner, but plan on relaxing most of the afternoon with a pint of Ben & Jerry's. I finally got to weigh myself - lost 18 lbs so far, bringing me to my college weight of 176. It may sound scary, but its expected and its not nearly as much as some of the other guys out here. Unfortunately, for the ladies, most of them have gained a pound or two as fat is converted into muscles.

The past few days took me over a few neat balds - mountains that are treeless on top. No one is really sure why they are treeless - its not from climate this far south - but they are grassy and have beautiful views. I spent the night on top of one two nights ago - perfect place for sunset, stars, and sunrise gazing. A spring is in full force - the forest is carpeted in Trillium and other wildflowers, the birds wake us up at sunrise, and the blooming dogwood trees are fun to see as they show up nicely against the green and brown background.

I plan on leaving tomorrow afternoon for another 6-7 day stretch to Erwin, Tennessee. I will be leaving North Carolina permanently behind, one more state down, still many to go....

Thursday, April 24, 2008

10% Done

Got to talk briefly with Shawn a few moments ago – he asked me to pass on some info for our friend Chris: he hiked under the US40 overpass and thought you'd appreciate knowing that bit of trail/transit trivia. And, as bonus info, but in the "gross information" category - although he did get to shower for the first time in 6 days, he did not get to do laundry, so he put back on the clothes he had been hiking in, and set out again (ick). That part sounds completely unappealing to me (and the rest of the folks here in our office), but Shawn really seems to be enjoying himself!!

The group he's currently hiking with is not staying overnight at the hostel this evening, but instead is pushing on towards Hot Springs, where a festival and hot springs relaxation await. When he gets there, there will be a better phone connection and internet service, as well as more time to chat… which I, for one, am looking forward to!!


Hi all - this will have to be real quick since i've stopped only briefly at a hostel with a bad bad wireless connection. The Smokies were really amazing - by far the most beautiful part of the Trail so far. Followed the ridgeline for 80 miles, most of which is above 5000ft - we had some cold nights around 30 degrees for most of the week, and some rain early on, but the last three days were magnificent with 60 degree highs and sunshine all day. The trails are beautifully maintained and often sloped nicely for horses. On the ridges it often runs on 6ft wide knife edges with 1000ft drops on either side, and views abound. The forest up top is unique in the south - all spruce and balsam conifers that remind you of New England, but very very wet - an island remnant of the type of forest that covered this area during the last ice age. Plus, tons of moss. The peaks here get something like 90 inches of rain a year - consider that Philly gets about 45in. And since nothings been logged since the 1930s when the Park was created, the trees are big and the forest floor is covered with fallen logs, thick soil, moss, and wildflowers.

Hit lots of milestones - tallest peak on the AT at 6670ft, the 10% mark two days ago (217.6 mi), longest stretch of roadless area until Maine, and my personal longest day at 14.8 miles (its typically 11-13 miles each day right now). I'm at mile 238 right now, but am pushing on to reach Hot Springs, NC by Saturday afternoon- theres a festival that day. Plus hot springs.

Just took a shower, first in 6 days, which felt great. Plus the food bag is down to 2 days, which is so much nicer. Walked into spring as i came down from the high peaks - the trees are all leafing and there are huge patches of wildflowers everywhere. Unfortunately, the only wildlife I saw in the Park were rabbits who watched me during a midnight pee. Pervs. Oh and shelter mice abound - i've mostly tented thus far, but the Park Service requires you to stay in shelters if there is room in the Park. Did get my photo taken by tourists at Newfound Gap where a major road cuts through - they were from Nebraska and thought it insane to do this hike. Must say that the group of us dirty beaten homeless looking hikers standing there do not look exactly sane. In fact, I think the hiking poles are the only thing separating us from your average hobo.

The body is starting to harden with three weeks of hiking, and it actually feels like I could make it the whole way - though kinda depressing when I saw the NPS Strip map hanging here at the hostel. Three weeks of hard hiking, sun and rain, ups and downs, miles upon miles, and i've gone like 2 inches! My feet are aching whenever i start up from a long break, but generally feel good after 15 minutes of walking. Some pains in the right knee and elbow (from using poles) came and went during the Smokies. Looking forward to a full day off in Hot Springs.

Once I get to Hot Springs i will be able to write more. Plus i will send home my first camera card so Elizabeth can post some pics of Georgia and early North Carolina. Thinking of you all...

Friday, April 18, 2008


Hi everyone - a quick hello since the slow-moving computer here at Fontana Village finally became available. I'm in Fontana, NC, a town built to house TVA dam builders in the 1940s who were building the nearby Fontana Dam, which is the tallest dam in the East, and the gateway to Smoky Mountains National Park. My buddy Y2K and I will be entering the Smokies today, hoping to do the 11 mile uphill slog that will put us on the crestline. The weather is beautiful, highs in the upper 70s and perfectly sunny - hopefully it will hold for most of the next week, since the Smokies are notorious for bad weather. It snowed 6 inches there 3 days ago, but its since melted. These will be the highest peaks on the AT - Clingman's Dome is almost 6800 feet high - a full 600 feet taller than Mt. Washinton in NH. The rumor is that once on top of the ridgeline the trail is relatively easy, with few major gaps to climb in an out of. This will be a nice break from the punishing North Carolina Trail so far, with its almost twice daily 1200ft down, 1200ft up gaps. I did spend the night on 5500ft Standing Indian Mtn a week ago, with perfectly clear skies and endless stars. Great sunset and sunrise - thanks to Suzanna for her star book. Thanks also to everyone who has sent stuff - Bridget Keegan's postcard, Gavin's map and mix, Mom's cookies, Aunt Sharon's card, Grandpa's card, and of course Elizabeth's meals and notes. They've been very inspiring, particularly on the long 3000ft climb out of Wesser, NC a few days back.

I stayed here in Fontana Village at a real hotel, having enough of the snoring (I reckon 50% of the hikers snore terribly. You should meet the guy named "Rolling Thunder") and the foul bunkhouse at my last stop with its B.O. smelling mattress. I ended up sleeping on the porch. So it was nice to get a real bed and pillows and linens for a change, plus an indoor pool, and restaurant and bar nearby. Now, i'm packed up with a ridiculous amount of food, enough to get through the 6-7 days of the Smokies, since there's no close town once you're in the park. This will be the longest section without stopping until Maine, and the pack is fully loaded, probably weighing something around 45lbs. I've sent some items home, but its never as much as you'd like to send.

As someone told me last week, the AT is the most fun you'll ever have, interrupted by long walks. This is very true - the characters out here are truly interesting people, and its great fun to gather at the shelters to cook and socialize each night. The actual hiking bonds people closely, since we're all going through the same thing. I'm making great friends and having a great time so far. I've met a number of people who do long-distance hikes every year - they work during the winter to make enough money to take off for a few months each summer. It's very addictive, I agree, but not sure if Elizabeth will let me run off again and again like this....

Ok, i'm off. There's a hostel right after the Smokies with internet I hear, so I will try and stop there to post more. Until then, here's hoping the bears, freezing temps, snakes, lightning, falls, and exhausting labor don't get me....

Fontana Dam, NC

According to the math that Shawn and his new friend Y2K did last night, they are now 7% done with the trail... only a little more than 2000 miles to go. Y2K got his name from the dehydrated food supply that some friends had gathered for the millennium and never needed, and then donated to him for the trail. Everyone's got a story behind their trail names, it seems. Shawn has stuck with "Keychain", and even purchased a North Carolina one yesterday during his afternoon off. Other folks he's met include SlowGoin' and Johnny Thunder.

So far, everything is going well. He has received everyone's postcards, letters, and snacks, and asked me to pass on a big thanks to everyone. He stayed last night in an actual hotel instead of a hostel or bunkhouse - I can only imagine how nice a real bed must have felt after 2+ weeks of the floor or the ground! The weather has been a bit of a challenge, with fluctuations between 26degrees at night and 74 degrees during the day. However, since he mailed me back his heaviest long underwear, I think he's doing ok. Also in the "I-decided-I-don't-really-need-this-anymore" box that got delivered to our doorstep last night: extra bandanas, a small microfiber towel, and some campsoap.

He's spent a couple of nights on the tops of mountains, some alone and some with other people. I think part of the inspiration behind the hotel room last night was the snoring factor - apparently there's one in every group of hikers you come across and bunk with.

The Smokies (and the snow on them that is visible from where he is now) are next, so it will be about 7 days before we hear from him again.... surprisingly, his next stop is Tennessee, followed by a return to North Carolina. That tricky trail - it never goes in a straight line! By the 28th or so, he'll be relaxing in the hot springs at Hot Springs, North Carolina - probably the one and only time that we will be jealous of him!

Monday, April 14, 2008

One state down....

Hello faithful blog readers (aka our families ...). Just a short note to let you all know that I heard from our intrepid hiker very late last night. We spent almost an hour on the phone, and it was so wonderful to talk to him and hear what he's been up to. I really miss him an awful lot, as you can imagine! Shawn has made it to the NOC, in North Carolina -- so that's one state completed (Georgia), and something like 13 to go. Not too shabby! Its also over 100 miles that he has hiked. He said that all is well, and except for some rain and a recent 26degree evening, things are going along great. Knees, feet, back all still in good shape. Shawn got to spend what sounds like a wonderful night out on a mountaintop, admiring the evening stars (thanks to Suzanna for the constellation book!), and has made some hiking friends. One of them, SlowGoin', it turns out I met as well at the Lodge in Georgia the morning he left. He's hoping to find some internet access in town today, on his Zero Day (also known as a day off after a 6 day stretch), but its hard to say whether he will be able to or not. The next mail drop is a short three days away, also in NC. He asked me to say hi to everyone in case he did not get a chance to post anything here, and he thinks of everyone often.

Monday, April 07, 2008


Hi everyone! I can't write for long as there is a line for the computer, but I am sitting in a delightful place called Cloud9 Hiker Hostel and Trout Farm in Hiawasee, GA. I've done about 68 miles of the Trail, and have only a day or two more in Georgia before I hit the rollercoaster mountains of North Carolina. The trail has been tough so far but not as bad as I expected, and mu body is holding up very well, though the feet began protesting yesterday afternoon since they knew a day off was coming. This hostel is great - jacuzzi, horseshoes, pool table, free ride to town for groceries, a big cookout and bonfire tonight. Perfect after 6 days of solid hiking, especially given the weather. Its rained at some point every day except one, and on the few sunshine days, it gets into the upper 70s and sunburn through the leafless trees is a factor. The longest day so far - 13.5 miles, was also on the toughest terrain with two 1000ft drops and two thousand foot climbs, and it was solid rain and 55 degrees all day and night. But it was done with gusto because a local BoyScout troop was cooking burgers at the destination, and after 3 burgers, a hot dog, 2 bowls of soup, a pile of cookies, and other snacks, a great sleep was had. The best part of the Trail is the people hiking with me, and the first day out I was introduced to M&M and Pootz who hiked the trail last year and left me with two delicious beers that day and have stashed some bourbon along the Trail in North Carolina for me to find later. I also met SlowGoin at the Lodge, who seemed a bit crazy at first but has quickly become a great companion. Lots of others, too many to mention now. I will try and write again when i get to Wesser, NC in about a week. Until then, take care all and thanks for the support. A special shout out to Mom, whose cookies were well-received by me and a dozen other wet and cold hikers at Neels Gap. More to come!

Hiawasee, GA

Just got off the phone with Shawn, who has now completed 3% of the trail! All is well in Georgia, and he's still on schedule. He said there was a little trail magic recently, when they came across some Boy Scouts having a cookout for trail hikers. A few hamburgers and hot dogs later, he was back on the trail and is now at a hiker Hostel for the day to refuel and resupply. He said to say hello to everyone, and might get the chance to post here soon... And as it was last time, it was so good to hear his voice. The next time we could expect to hear from him is when is makes it across the border into North Carolina, around the 15th.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Georgia on my mind

oops.... I think I am hoping he walks faster than he is... note to self: check map, then post. He's still in Georgia, at least for a day or so. I was thinking of the next mail drop he'll get, which is, in fact, in North Carolina... sorry for any confusion for those following along on a map!! Just had a wonderful, but sadly brief, conversation with Shawn, who has made it to Neels Gap in Georgia. This was the destination for mail drop #1, which was sent out about 2 weeks ago and waiting for him when he arrived! He also said he got a package from his mom (cookies, I believe), that he was really looking forward to opening. All is going well on the trail - weather, food supply, water supply, knees, feet, and back are all doing just fine. He slept the first night in the shelter with about 8 other hikers, but since then has been sleeping in his tent. So far so good... I think we'll be talking again on Saturday or Sunday, depending on how fast the next few days go - that will be able to be a longer conversation as he's planning on spending the night in a town. It was so good to hear his voice, even if only for 5 minutes.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

He's in Georgia... I think.

After a short debate as to whether it was better for him to walk away from me, or for me to drive away from him, Shawn headed off into the woods at around 10am on Monday morning.

He registered at the Amicolola State Park Visitors Center as a northbound thru-hiker in the morning. The sign in procedure is kind of fun – you walk in, and tell them you’d like to register for the Trail. The question is then, “Where are you going?” and when you answer, “Maine,” they smile, say, “That’s the right answer!” and let you sign in. We also weighed his pack, including food and water, and it came to 37 pounds, which I think he’s pretty happy with. We took a lot of photos (if you’d like to see more, let me know!), walked over and saw the beautiful waterfall, had some tears, and then he was off.

Interesting Trail Fact – Shawn was the 500th northbound thru-hiker to register this year. According to the staff, that number is down a little from last year at this time, but they expect to pick up soon. There were three hikers who left earlier that morning, and we met one other who was expecting to start later on in the afternoon.

Interesting Trail Fact #2 – It is around 800 miles from Fishtown to the start of the trail… and a distance that took us 2 days to drive will take him about 3.5 months to walk. Kind of puts your commute into perspective. Of course, the other kicker is that once you set out from the Visitors Center, you're not actually on the trail yet... you're on the 8.5 mile "Approach Trail," which them takes you to the official start, on Springer Mountain. I'm guessing he arrived there, to the shelter, before dinner time last night.

We also think he’s settled on a potential trail name – “Keychain.” It comes from the two photo keychains I gave him as a going away present (Camille and my photos), which he has hanging on his pack. Those plus his small thermometer and whistle keychains make a nice little jingle as he walks. We also bought him a keychain from Georgia. He’s hoping to buy one in each state as he hikes through. We’ll see if it sticks or if the other hikers decide on something they’d rather call him!!

Thanks for everyone’s well-wishes… I expect to hear from him sometime on Thursday, and I’ll be sure and let everyone know when I do! (and if you look very closely at this photo, you can see Shawn, walking off onto the Trail...)

He's off!!

Shawn is currently hiking through Georgia, and I am home ... more info to come.