Monday, June 30, 2008

As of today...

Shawn is in Pennsylvania! I spoke with him around 4, and he said he was about 10 miles from the PA border. That being said, he's running about 5 days ahead of his original planned schedule. Since I'm having a little trouble updating the excel spreadsheet with his dates on it, I'll post the update here for your mail-drop fun ... this is subject to change as he hikes along, but for now, here's the updated schedule from here on out. I don't think he'll be at the top of Katahdin on September 27th, as I know that he will be slowing down as he gets closer to Maine, but this should give you an idea of where he will be for the coming months (Any of the stops with ** have a planned mail drop - addresses are the same as the original list.).
7/5 1,135.3 Duncannon, PA **
7/10 1,205.3 Port Clinton, PA
7/15 1,281.6 Delaware Water Gap, PA **
7/19 1,344.9 Vernon, NJ
7/22 1,390.5 Ft. Montgomery, NY
7/27 1,453.7 Kent, CT
7/29 1,486.4 Salisbury, CT
8/3 1,556.6 Dalton, MA **
8/5 1,579.9 North Adams, MA
8/9 1,638.4 Manchester Center, VT
8/16 1,734.3 Hanover, NH
8/20 1,777.7 Glencliff, NH **
8/23 1,803.5 Franconia Notch / Lincoln, NH
8/30 1,878.3 Gorham, NH **
9/3 1,919.7 Andover, ME
9/10 1,988.4 Stratton, ME
9/13 2,025.0 Caratunk, ME
9/16 2,061.7 Monson, ME **
9/25 2,161.1 Abol Bridge, ME
9/27 2,176.5 Katahdin, Baxter Peak

Saturday, June 28, 2008


Back for a second post. So, naked hiking day completed, we had a nice stayover in Luray, VA with Elizabeth, Johnny Thunder and his girlfriend Theresa. The next day, I got my Virginia keychain, said goodbye to the ladies at Skyland Lodge. As Johnny and I entered the woods to get back on the trail, we came across Orion, and then the skies opened up. Luckily, Skyland's tap room was not far and we had a place to wait out a huge thunderstorm with marble-sized hail - while enjoying a few beers! By the way, those of you who are sick of Yeungling might find it curious that it's sold all over the South as a premium domestic beer. Finally got back on the trail and ended up stealth camping near a troop of boy scouts at a picnic pavilion. The next few days were more of the same, with easy trails, afternoon storms, and Skyline Drive becoming more and more annoying. Most of the thruhikers by this point were over Shenandoah NP - it is amazingly crowded on weekends, and having Skyline Drive so close to the trail really ruins any attempt at a quiet wilderness experience. In fact, the original creator of the trail severed his relationship with the Appalachian Trail Conference when they agreed in the 1930s to move the trail to make room for Skyline Drive (yes, the AT is older). He felt having a big tourist road right next to the trail would ruin the AT, while the ATC leadership felt it would give more people access to the trail. Both were right. If you are really interested in what happens when roads are brought through are National Parks, I suggest reading Edward Abbey's "Desert Solitaire" which is about his time in Arches NP in Utah in the 60's when a road was brought thru, completely changing how visitors experience the park. Anyway, most of us were glad to be out of the park simply because it means only 40 miles until West Virginia. As a buddy Wavepool says, "she's a moody lady, Virginia, tough to get along with. And despite trying a long term relationship with her, I'm ready for a brief fling with her sister." And what a last 40 miles. Very boring trail, lots of rocks, no views, completely overgrown and seemingly forgotten in parts, no good swimming holes. And to top it off, the "rollercoaster" - a 13 mile section where the trail climbs up and down over 13 viewless and rocky ridges. I had gotten only 10 miles into it and was in a foul mood when I came across Orion, sitting with a big smile on his face and playing his mandolin. "Keychain, so glad to see you - get ready to change your journey." Orion had been to Linden, VA to pick up a mail drop, and there he met a party of guys celebrating a friend's release from jail. A guy named Tom called Orion over, and in short time offered him the use of his canoe to paddle down 15 miles of the Shenandoah River. He just wanted gas money to come pick it up. So Orion went looking for me, and several hitches later, we had beer and a camping spot on the river where Tom would drop the canoe the next morning. True to his word, at 7:30am the next day there was Tom and his canoe, and there we were, "aqua-blazing" past the Roller Coaster, skipping over rapids, getting tan, drinking beers, and enjoying the fun the river provided. And the river kept on providing. Two hours into the journey, we found a dented aluminum canoe, abandoned on a mud island. It floated well, with only a slow leak, and so we commandeered her and gave her the trail name "Proud Mary." We caught up with Tom at the end of the 15 miles, returned him his canoe, and told him we were heading on towards Harpers Ferry in our own. So, Orion and I set off in Proud Mary for another 15 miles, stopping overnight at a hidden riverside camping spot that had a picnic table and clean-running stream for water and cleaning up. The only hitch was that our map showed five "falls" on the river below where we gave Tom his canoe back, and no one we talked to could tell us anything about those falls. So on the second day, we strapped everything tightly to the Proud Mary, and headed into the unknown. Luckily, the "falls" turned out to be minor Class 2 rapids, but they caused excitement and were fun to run. We ened up at Route 9 in West Virginia, unable to get around a power plant dam. One call to Tom, and he came to return us to the trail, taking the Proud Mary as payment. What a guy! What a way to leave Virginia! What an addition to this journey! So Orion and I did end up walking the last 6 miles into Harpers Ferry, West Virginia - our 5th state, our 1,000th mile, our halfway point in time, our near-halfway point in mileage. When we arrived this morning, we promptly got our photos taken at the Appalachian Trail Conference's headquarters for their record books. We are the 460th and 461st thru-hiker to pass through this year, out of an estimated 1,200 that started in Georgia. A proud moment indeed! I plan on staying overnight, but accomodations are tight since the major hiker hotel is closed for renovations. There is talk of doing all of Maryland's 40 miles in one day tomorrow, but I'm not sure I want to push that hard - plus I need to find a town in Maryland that sells keychains. We shall see. However, I can say that the next time I am able to blog, I will be in my homestate of Pennsylvania!


Hello to all the faithful readers! I am sitting in the public library here in Harper's Ferry, WV - the halfway point (at least psychologically if not physically) of the AT! Since I didn't make any stops since seeing Elizabeth, I haven't had a chance to blog, and have a lot to tell you all. So I will try to write a couple entries - this one will concern Shenandoah National Park. After I last wrote, I left Waynesboro and my buddy Orion and I entered the Shennies, which I will describe as a thru-hiker's vacationland. The trails in the Park are nicely maintained and not very steeply graded - a decent hike for any weekender, but a breeze for anyone who's already walked 900 miles. Additionally, there are 4 waysides along the route that serve food and delicious blackberry milkshakes, as well as a few campgrounds and other places to get water and food and showers. Not very backcountry at all - I didn't have to filter my water at all. Not to mention, Skyline Drive is parallel and close to the AT at all times, so whenever you feel like blue-blazing around some pointless climb, you may. Orion and I were able to punch out a 27.3 mile day the first day, and I followed it with an 18 mile day in an effort to meet Elizabeth on time. Orion would've come with me, but fell in with a couple Germans who flew to DC and bought a cheap van and are traveling across the country, with Shen. NP as their first stop. They were feeding and drinking Orion up pretty well, so he was slow for day 2. I admit, I did blue-blaze on Skyline Drive a few times for these days, but only for a total of 9 miles. The road is simply too boring, and as the weekend drew near, the amount of traffic grew to be too much to want to walk beside. However, good things happen on the road - we hit two instances of trail magic when a thruhiker's mom gave us chicken strips and soda, and a fellow thruhiker named Bojangles, who is leaving the trail, picked us up in his pickup truck for an impromptu party at an overlook. It was this last trail magic event that Elizabeth found me at, and it was a sweet reunion indeed. Other hikers who weren't there said they heard about the lovey lovey going on. Unfortunately, the party reunion caused me to skip a 17 mile section of the trail that I didn't go back and do. This is a break of one of the three cardinal rules I have for myself - always walk in a continuous manner (no skipping), always walk north, and always carry my pack. Elizabeth's visit was a worthwhile break of the rules though, and as another hiker Burrass tells me, "at the end of the day we'll get a patch that says "2,000 miler" but since the trail is 2,176 miles, I figure we got a hundred seventy-six miles to play with." I broke my second rule with Elizabeth as we walked 8 miles south from Skyland Lodge to Big Meadows Lodge on Saturday. I should also explain that this day was the Summer Solstice - the longest daylight of the year and otherwise known as NAKED HIKING DAY. Well, I'm not one to break from trail tradition, even if it's on a Saturday in the most crowded section of Shenandoah National Park. Let's just say my entry in the trail register at the lunch shelter read something like, "Keychain is in ur woods, observing the solstice. Lady E saw a bare."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A Trip to the Trail

I am back in Philadelphia after a wonderful weekend in Shenandoah National Park with Shawn. Teresa and I drove down on Friday afternoon, and as their location changed from hour to hour (“we’ll see you in Elkton,” became “there’s nothing in Elkton… meet us in the park,” became “we’re at mile marker 65 having a party on the side of the road with some other hikers.” Yep, that’s how they roll on the trail…) Just before we pulled onto Skyline Drive, a small black bear ran in front of us … this means I saw a bear on the trail before Shawn, which he finds incredible unfair.

We pulled into the wayside off Skyline Drive, and words can’t describe how wonderful it was to see him across the parking lot. I almost forgot to put the car in park! It was just amazing. We got to meet a bunch of hikers, and finally can put some names with the photos I’ve seen and stories I’ve been hearing.

It turns out that shortly after Shawn wrote the previous post at 6:45 am, he hiked 27 miles (!), his personal best day, and then 18 miles the next day, in order to make it up to where we were meeting them in time.

We stayed at Big Meadows Lodge in the park on Friday night and listened to some live music at the Tap Room that night. We hiked an 8-mile stretch of the trail on Saturday afternoon – I had a full AT experience (except for the 30 pound pack) as it started to rain on us as we were nearing the end of the trip. We were able to get a ride with a park ranger back to Skylands to meet Teresa and Johnny Thunder, and then we all headed down into Luray, VA, for dinner and an overnight in town and off trail.

Sunday we spent some time hunting down a VA keychain for Shawn’s pack and some chicken sandwiches for Johnny Thunder. It was impressive and maybe a little gross to see the two of them polish off 5 KFC snacker sandwiches. Each.

Overall, a great, great trip. The last 2 ½ months have been rough, but this weekend made it all worth it. Luckily it won’t be that long again – believe it or not, they should be entering Pennsylvania in the next few weeks!!!

Thursday, June 19, 2008


I'm out the door - it's like real-time AT blogging!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Still here. Pizza Hut didn't have the all-you-can-eat deal we expected so we ate a couple of Little Ceasars pizzas in a parking lot. Which allowed us to see the huge clouds rolling in, and rain pouring down on the ridge a few miles away. Orion and I made the executive decision to stay another night rather than hike 7 miles in the dark AND rain. So here we are at the Lutheran Church, which nicely offers cots in their basement for hikers. There's a shower and even internet. I plan on getting up at the crack of dawn (we have to be out by 9am anyway) and getting out to the AT as soon as possible. My 46 miles in three days will now have to be done in two days. It will be hard, but I am ready.


lHi y'all. Here in Waynesboro, Virginia - mile 850 and probably the largest town we've stopped in yet. The place is one of the friendliest of trail towns too, with a YMCA that graciously allows us to use their facilities and camp nearby. Yesterday, I managed to do the last 14 miles into town by 1:30 yesterday, hitch a ride, get a caloric injection at Arby's, catch a EuroCup match at a local restaurant, set up camp, and go for a swim at the Y. Also got to hang out with college pal Spencer Payne last night, who lives in nearby Charlottesville, and get dinner at Applebees. Those who know me well can see that I've had to completely drop my ban on chain restaurants and stores for this trip. A couple of other hikers - Snap, Snack, and Orion - had adventures on transit today as we took a bus to a mall to catch the Indiana Jones movie then use the bus to get to an outfitters for fuel. It was nice to sit in air conditioning and forget all about the trail for a few hours, though I can't really recommend the movie. We are stopping by the library and Pizza Hut on the way out of town tonight, hoping to do a few miles of night hiking. What's really exciting about Waynesboro is that we are 3/4 done with Virginia, and are entering Shenandoah National Park right after town. Throughout the earlier states, every hiker gleefully passed around rumors about how "easy" Virginia is and how fast we'd be going. I can tell you now that Virginia is NOT easy or fast, and the last week has seen some big 2000 and 3000 foot climbs almost daily. The biggest of these was 3 days ago, when I climbed Bald Mtn into a thunderstorm, with rain pouring down my back and into my shoes, making them nice little bathtubs. However, after looking at the maps, it seems that Shenandoah NP really is less challenging, and will kick-off a faster paced hike through the Mid-Atlantic. Can't wait. Let's hope so, because Elizabeth is meeting me on Friday afternoon, 46 miles from here in Elkton, VA, and I will have to pound out the miles to get there in time. We'll be staying in Elkton the first night and at the Big Meadows Lodge in the Park on Saturday, where I will take her for an 8-mile hike to give her a taste of the AT. At least I can say the heat has abated and the temps are back in the high 70s up on the ridge - perfect for walking. There's been lots of great swimming places lately too, including the James and Tye Rivers, and a 30' waterfall on a steep blue-blaze trail. These places aren't just fun, they're necessary since this part of the world is low on rain - Waynesboro's received 10 or 11 inches as of today and are usually at 22 inches by this time in the year. Water sources are low and sometimes not flowing at all, meaning we have to carry extra and walk further with it. The real excitement is that we are nearing the end of Virginia after more than a month here. Harper's Ferry, WV is a week and a half or so away and is the mental halfway point of the entire trail. Harpers Ferry is one of those places that seemed impossible to reach not so long ago, and its proximity is amazing. Everyone is excited after a long time out here watching the miles, and some of our fellow hikers, disappear. One other thing I should mention: with the heat has come the smells. Sweating into my pack, my sleeping pad and bag, and my clothes has made them stink like all hell. Even my tent stinks. I've taken to using incense for the tent, and am now dabbing myself and my sleeping pad with patchouli oil. I'm finally a hippy!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Ahead of Schedule... and in Glasgow, VA

I got a call from Glasgow, VA, this morning (pretty much in the center of this map - if you click on it, it should get bigger), where Shawn was supposed to arrive tomorrow. Our fast-moving thru-hiker is now officially quite a bit ahead of his original schedule, even despite the heat. He should even pass the 800-mile mark in the next few days!!! He now anticipates arriving in Waynesboro, VA, on Wednesday (where he was supposed to be next Friday or Saturday).... I’d estimate that Shawn is about 2 days ahead of where he thought he would be. I will try to update the mail drop list, and repost it, but in the meantime, if you are mailing packages, be sure to send them early!

I was lucky enough to get a flower delivery from the trail at the office this morning just before he called! And I got to have dinner last night with Teresa, whose boyfriend Johnny Thunder is also on the trail with Shawn. It was so great to chat with someone who completely understands what its like to have him away, and to hear stories from her trip to the trail over Memorial Day weekend. So, overall, a good couple of days here in Philly!

I’m headed down to visit next weekend, originally to Waynesboro and now to somewhere around Big Meadows Lodge in the Shenandoah. Can’t wait!!!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

More from the trail...

Just got a nice call from the trail (or, more precisely, a town near the trail)... our hiker seems in good spirits despite the heat. Luckily, the town they have stopped in has an Outfitter whose property backs up to the James River. So, guess where Shawn will be spending this hot afternoon? That's right - in the water. Must be nice! He said they’d likely head out this afternoon when the sun starts to go down.

They are making pretty good time, and he expects to be in Waynesboro, VA, by a week from Thursday or so. We’re making plans to see each other then -– the first time we’ll see each other in almost 2 ½ months, and I can’t wait!!

Here’s one of the most recent photos I’ve gotten of Shawn (check out the long beard!!). I’ll be posting more photos to our Flickr account soon so you, too, can see the beautiful trail scenery, and Shawn in a dress during the Damascus Trail Days Hiker parade.


Hi all. I'm in the small town of Buchanan, on a side trip during our "siesta" period. Its been very hot for the past week, and while I was happy staying at the motel enjoying the pool and Euro Cup soccer games for the two 100-degree days, I had to keep moving. The heat has made us alter the hiking schedule, so that we're up with the sun at 5:45, and doing 10 miles or so before taking the early afternoons off. Once it cools off enough to walk again, we'll go until sunset at 9pm. We hammered out a 15 mile day out of town yesterday, stopping once or twice to bathe in creeks. We're on track to do even more today, with help from the Blue Ridge Parkway this morning. The Parkway now runs right along the trail, so a few of us opted to walk the road instead, making 9 miles in three hours. Got a ride from a section hiker down to town for lunch and an air conditioned hideout in the library. Its a nice pickup too, since I accidentally left my candy bars and big block of cheese at the motel. We're having a colorie injection and then will sleep in the shade and swim in the James River today. Probably head back up to the trail sometime after 2 or 3 and try to get another 6 miles in to another creek for camping. Bath-to-bath hiking today. Boy I need it to - you should smell me!

Saturday, June 07, 2008


Hello all - if you've been watching the weather lately, you may have noticed the record heat wave hitting this area of Virginia. Its 100 degree high today, perfect for my first full zero day since Damascus. Yesterday was 97 degrees (94 on my pack thermometer up on the ridge) and ridiculously humid. I got up at 6am to start out and avoid the heat as I climbed McAfee Knob, advertised as the best view in Virginia. A bit steamy, but definitely nice. Funny how bad weather days make for great miles - my previous record was during an all-day rain, and I'm proud to say I bested it in the heat of yesterday, doing 20.8 miles over very uneven terrain to make it to town. I've never been so sweaty and gross in all my life. The days of heat have led my clothes and pack to smell - somewhere between gym socks and dead animal. I had to shower with a garden hose before a group of us hit up the Homeplace Restaurant in Catawba, VA on Thursday night, which might be the best all-you-can-eat on the trail. I had the skeletal remains of at least 1.6 fried chickens on my plate at the end. Nothing like the site of a dozen hikers laying on the grass lawn of the restaurant holding their disgustingly full bellies while local families are taking pictures with their recent grads. Its been a trying week with the weather, and realizing the haze, heat, and humidity of mid-Atlantic summer has just begun and probably won't abate until sometime after the Hudson River. There was a giant thunderstorm late afternoon on Tuesday, the same storm that brought a tornado to Roanoake, only 16 miles away. I was luckily setting my tent up at camp when it hit, but a friend named Dirty Jerse was on the exposed ridgewalk a few miles before and looked a little shaken when he got into camp. Some folks have decided they've done enough - 3 or 4 solid hikers dropped out this past week, and the rest of us are trying not to grumble too loudly. The scenery has been enjoyable, but the trail itself has turned very rocky in sections, and there's been many climbs up and over ridges as we make our way from the West Virginia line northeast to the Blue Ridge. Most of the climbs are on old sections of trails, which tend to go straight up the steep slopes instead of switchbacking gently across the slopes. Added to the weather and tough climbs are the bugs that are out in full force now. Mostly flies and gnats and those little sweat-bees that hover around and collecting on my sweaty arms. The flies can be a real pain, and are way too much to handle around the privies. I've taken to going in the woods mostly, where you have about 30 seconds before the flies find out what you're doing and tell their friends. We also spent two days walking through forest that was absolutely overrun with gypsy moth caterpillars. They drop out of the sky like in some Mission Impossible scene, on little spider webs that you walk through constantly, landing on your pack and hitching rides. You can hear the rain of leaf pieces and caterpillar poops as you walk through, and forget about enjoying lunch when you are down in valleys where they are thickest. But not all is bad. McAffee Knob and the other views are quite nice and its cool looking at the long ridges now that we're in the Ridge-and-Valley province that extends up into PA. There's been several nice creeks to swim in, and I spent the night dry camping twice on top of prominent knobs that had excellent sunset and sunrise views. Even did a little rock climbing up a steep rock pinnacle called Dragons Tooth at night to catch the stars (new moons are great star times!). I think the toughest thing about this section is its length, coupled with the lack of landmarks to measure progress by. That, and its been 9 weeks, and I'm missing home - particularly Elizabeth. Hopefully, she and I will be getting together soon, either in an upcoming town stop or for a short hike in the Shenendoahs. I think it will do wonders for morale and everyone here is dying to meet her. But in the meantime, I can do nothing but laugh as I walked out of the hotel room this morning into a wall of heat and humidity and cheered because today I'm zeroing and hanging by the pool here at the Howard Johnsons Motel and not hiking at all!