Thursday, August 28, 2008


Hi all from the hamlet of Glencliff, mile 1,778. Less than 400 miles left! How small is Glencliff? There's four houses and one of them is the post office. I've received the last of my winter gear here and boy is my pack heavy. No more lightweight backpacking! In order to fit everything in, I've got to get rid of the accumulations of summer, so no more patchouli oil or town clothes. Zen and Thinker and I have had great weather since our 3-day stay in Hanover. We've been able to camp on top of mountains both nights out, with amazing skies overhead. Few things in this world beat watching the sunset on one side of your tent, seeing the Milky Way and an amazing amount of stars during the night and then viewing the sunrise from the other side of the tent. On one peak, we could see from Stratton Mtn back in Vermont to Mt. Lafayette ahead in New Hampshire - almost 185 miles of the trail! Tonight we are staying in Glencliff - one of the houses here lets hikers camp in the lawn and shower and gives rides to town. Tomorrow, we will climb Mt. Moosilauke, the first of the Whites and at 3,600ft, its the biggest climb of the trail so far. Immediately following the peak is one of the steepest downhills on the trail to Kinsman Notch, and then right up again. This is the pattern of the Whites - tall peaks and deep notches between ridglines. Within a few days I should pass by Lonesome Lake Hut, one of the first of AMC's huts and the one my cousin Amy worked at for a summer once upon a time. Health is good, though everyone has beat up bodies. My feet, particularly my right, is hurting. After 3 days off in Hanover, it was angrier than it was hiking day after day. It will last though and I'm not concerned about it. My spirits are doing fine too after the low point in Vermont. The weather is a big part of that and it looks good for the week ahead. Passing the 400 mi mark also helps get it in my head that the end is near. Thanks for all your well-wishes and all the other cheer and comfort that family and friends have provided. It means a lot to me to know everyone is watching, hoping for me to complete this thing. Slowly but surely, I'm getting there! P.S. Saw my first moose on the drive to the store tonight - a young male, huge, wandering around in the road. Hopefully I get to see one on foot...

Sunday, August 24, 2008


I've made it to Hanover, just across the Connecticut River into New Hampshire. What a pretty town too, with lots of restaurants and outdoor seating and Dartmouth's beautiful campus right in the center. Its no wonder there's 50 or more hikers here right now, taking time off, resting up, collecting themselves before heading into the toughest sections of the trail. Collecting winter gear too. Almost everyone receives some additional gear in Hanover or nearby. And the new weight can be frustrating to bodies grown used to the low-weight summer packs. I've doubled the amount of clothes, and with the full food bag, I may very well be back up to 42lbs. And I haven't added my winter sleeping bag yet either. Yay! I am taking at least one full zero here for rest, fun, and to see my Grandpa and Aunt Sharon who graciously drove 2 hours just to take me out to lunch. And just like the other times I've met up with family and friends, I was reminded of how freakish my facial hair has become. I really am sporting one of the more impressively large beards out here! I am here with The Thinker and Zen, who are lounging at a cabin in Vermont right now before I join them this afternoon. We are probably leaving tomorrow at some point - don't want to stay too long and get too stuck in the town vortex, as some hikers find themselves. But we also want to let most of this group get out in front of us - it will be no fun to fight for spaces in the huts of the Whites later this week. Hopefully we can also slow down enough to let Labor Day crowds have their time on the big peaks before we come through. The White Mountains aren't a National Park, but they get more visitors than almost every true National Park. The Appalachian Mountain Club, an organization that's been around far longer than the AT has maintained trails and campsites in the White Mountains for over a century. They are probably most famous for running the series of "huts" in the high peaks - eight or so lodges that offer bunk accomodations and meals for guests. The only problem with thru-hikers is the price, which are somewhere around $90/night - way too high for a thruer's budget. So, most either skip the huts (hard to do in some sections) or try and do work-for-stay at them. AMC also charges for backcountry camping spots and shelters in some locations, another bone of contention with thruers who generally stay for free where ever we can. All the charges and rules and such are aimed at protecting the natural resources, but have the effect of "gentrifying" the trail as it goes through the Whites. The southbounders I've met said we will definitely feel like second class citizens. So, should be an interesting experience. The weather report looks great, and hopefully remains that way!

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Hello from the village of South Pomfret, VT - mile 1700ish. Zen and I stopped in to see about snacks at the local store here and found a cute library with dial up. The weather thankfully has turned and today was our best yet - 82 degrees and completely blue skies. But I got to tell you for a while there it has not been pretty. Temps in the 60s and rain for 12 out of 14 days at one point. Tons of mud on the trail, and unhappy stories from southbounders who have experienced New England's wettest summer on record. Vermont has ended a number of thruhikes this year - in fact my buddy Vachon has decided to go home after feeling like he's got what he wanted from the trail experience. A number of others skipped good portions of the muddy trail and waited out the bad weather in towns. I know my own low point came in the last few days, when a huge series of thunderstorms re-wetted the mud that had dried up a bit and I caught some odd cold that has given me a fever and chills. Plus I miss home, miss Elizabeth, miss Camille and all the normal things. Yesterday, I began planning how I could get a train to Philadelphia from Hanover. But it's amazing what good weather and improving health will do for spirits. The last week or so hasn't been all bad either - some fun sites and experiences despite the weather. My first reaction to the mud was to push hard. I did a 22 mile day, my largest since Maryland, and my third largest ever. It was all to get to Stratton Mountain, which I did, and slept in a firetower that night under one of the few clear nights we've had. Pretty cool experience. Climbing Killington, the highest peak on the AT in Vermont was a huge operation, but had an amazing 360-degree view as a reward, with the Adirondacks to the west and Whites to the northeast. We pushed hard to get off the mountain as the temps were falling (it was 43 degrees in the valley that night - would've been in the 30s up top) and ended up staying at the wonderful Inn at Long Trail. Great pub there and a swell hiker discount for rooms that included a yummy breakfast. We have now left the Long Trail and are headed east to Hanover, New Hampshire. Cutting across the ridges means more pointless-ups-and-downs (PUDs), but brings us closer to the farms and towns of the real Vermont. Today included a stop at a farm stand for a delicious pie and ice cream, and now this village. But the days are growing shorter, and everyone like myself who was once carefree and wanted to take the trail slowly is now switching gears and getting ready for the final few states. Hope all is well with everyone. Thanks for all the well wishes -- its nice to know you guys are watching closely. Makes me feel much better, or at least like I'm not doing this alone.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

75% done with the AT!

Another quick update from the trail - Keychain, Zen, and the Thinker spent last night just past Killington, VT, and will hike on today. The best news is that they passed the 75% mark the other day, followed shortly by the 500 miles to go mark. Shawn plans to be in Hanover, NH, this weekend... and once they cross into New Hampshire, its only two states to go!!!

Friday, August 15, 2008

More mud...

Keychain has reached Manchester Center, Vermont! I just had a very brief chat with him, and he's currently trying to find his way around town around to see if he can get to a library to blog. In the meantime, I'll update you with this tidbit: in the last 11 days, its rained for 9 of them. I get the feeling that morale on the trail is a little low.... I think I speak for all our faithful readers (hi families!) when I say, "Go Keychain!" "You can do it!!" and, of course, "Mud, shmud."

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!

Mud, Mud, and More Mud

Word from the trail is that Vermont (where Shawn is now) has experienced almost double its usual rain fall in the past month ... which apparently is making for some muddy hiking, wet shoes, and pruney feet! The hikers (Keychain, Thinker, Brama, and some others) made it to Bennington, VT, last night. It was an unplanned stop for Shawn, but he decided to stay over last night as a treat after a few days of walking in the at-times calf deep mud and water. I say good call! They're heading out today, and on towards Manchester Center, VT.

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

Guest Blog!!

Our guest blogger today is Kim, Shawn’s sister. She (along with her husband Daryl and sons Gavin and Carson) hosted Keychain, Zen, and Donnie, as well as the whole Keychain family, when the hikers came through the Delaware Water Gap in July! (p.s. if the photos look blurry on your screen, click on them, and you can see them in a little higher resolution!)

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 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 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 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 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 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...

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Quick update with more to come tomorrow....

Hi all - First… a long overdue update!! I spoke with Shawn both Tuesday night and this afternoon. He has crossed into Massachusetts, and will be in Dalton late Friday or early Saturday. For those keeping track, this puts him about 2 days ahead of his original schedule. I’ll update the whole list when he gets there so everyone is on the same trail-page.

Second, tomorrow’s blog update will feature both a surprise guest blog entry, and photos from our trip to NYC….

Stay tuned!

Friday, August 01, 2008


HI all from the very cute and very posh town of Kent, Connecticut. I have only a half hour left of library time and lots to cover, so here goes...

Since I last wrote at Delaware Water Gap, we entered the "deli-to-deli" portion of the hike which was nice in that almost every day there were stops for ice cream or fresh produce or thick sandwiches, but it also meant not bothering to stop in towns - therefore no internet. Strange too, since this is the most urbanized portion of the trail - basically circling the New York City suburbs. New Jersey, as Elizabeth mentioned, was indeed nice. The rocks petered out as we went north to High Point, where the AT takes a right hand turn and follows the NJ/NY boundary. This is a very pretty area of New Jersey, climbing small ridges and passing over many flat marsh areas on boardwalks. Many perceptions of the Garden State were changed. lizabeth's parents also discovered the beauty of the area when they visited me and a hiking buddy named Zen at Vernon, NJ. We had holed up at a motel for a day, watching copious amounts of bad TV (a redundant phrase really) and taking a needed rest from the heat and humidity. The Burlings were nice enough to take us both to dinner and drive us to a supermarket and several other places as I looked for a NJ keychain. No success in that endeavor, but a few days later, another hiker found a frog keychain left behind by some Jersey schoolkids that I have written "NJ" on, so it counts.

Then we hit New York and life changed. The location of the New York portion of the trail is an oddity, in that its far from any traditional definition of "wilderness footpath". When the AT was first conceived, they used older trails already in existance like those in the White Mtns of New Hampshire, or the Long Trail in Vermont. The first section purposely built to be part of this new Appalachian Trail was built in the brand new Bear Mtn State Park, offered up as a location by the New York City Hiking Club in the 1920s. Naturally, the AT organizers at that time were happy to accept that location to get the ball rolling on their dream trail. Thus, New York hosts the oldest (purposely built) section of the AT, and 90 years later this section runs thru suburban NYC. The mountains are mountains in name only really, more like foothills, and we cross endless ridges to reach Bear Mtn, and then "course correct" across more ridges to get to the Berkshires of Massachusetts. Not many impressive views, and lots of interaction with suburbia and NYC residents, which leaves hikers sometimes wondering what exactly we are doing. Furthermore, sometimes it seems the local trail clubs purposely route the trail over punishing rock climbs just to make it tougher. Some of us geography buffs wonder if relocating it further north thru the more impressive Catskills wouldn't be a better choice.

But the AT is what it is, and I follow it faithfully. The weather has been nice with little rain, but the classic mid-Atlantic heat and humidity day after day can wear one down. Everyone was ready for Connecticut and the mental progress into New England it brings. We are now heading almost due north, with only 50 miles of Conn. and 90 miles of Mass. before crossing into the bigger mountains of Vermont. Hopefully as we move, the humidity will drop. After 50ft of climbing, I'm totally soaked, and over the last 3 days a mean hurting rash has developed on my inner thighs from rubbing with my, ahem, bits and pieces.

So, a welcome break here in Kent, the first true town since Del. Water Gap, even if its a bit posh for hikers. (Our fine colonial inn starts at $175 a night...) From here, the AT follows the Hoosatonic River north, which is a welcome flat section after so many ridge climbs.

I should mention that NY wasn't all bad. Bear Mtn. Park is absolutely beautiful, an asset which NYC is very fortunate to have. And there is direct train service from there and a few other places to the City. I took advantage of this to meet Elizabeth for one last rendevous before heading north for the final 2 months. We stayed overnight in Manhattan, and I can't describe the headtrip of moving from the woods to New York. Its almost so completely opposite the trail. No one looked twice at me, and when I mentioned to a few people that I had been hiking for 4 months they never reacted like it was anything odd. Seen it all, I guess. More and more, our interactions with the real world are strange - TV and shopping and cars and the waste and boredom in regular life all seem so unneccessary. A fellow hiker named Burrass once wondered if we're the only sane people out there. More on this later - Kent Library is closing!