Getting Close

Since my last post at the end of August, we’ve walked 200 miles. Following the precise plan of enjoying every minute out here, and worrying about the end when we get there.

We now includes another guy, Wildcat, aptly named for his Kentucky hailing and alma mater. Wildcat is generally a soft spoken 35 year old carpenter. We met back in New Hampshire and has fit in to our group dynamic very well. He wields a hilariously well timed sense of humor ,and the basic principles of living that Yaeger and I have come to bond over. The past two weeks have been littered with more hurdles and yet more magic. Mostly the hurdles include torrential rain, and well, mountains. That being said, I have had the worst two consecutive trail days in a row. 

The first day, we showed up to a shelter later than usual; and with impending rain. Unfortunately, we’d stumbled upon “the bubble.” We have been behind the bubble for most of the trip, and it was great. Now we were dealing with 15+ other hikers, and no room in the shelter. So, we set up our tents and spent a long night in pouring rain. Only to wake up to wet tents. 

The next day, the weather was just as bad. The mountains we’d climb that day were some of the last “major Maine miles” that we’ll encounter. The Bigelows. As I climbed the first peak of the Bigelows, rain descending, I took one step up and then CRACK. The sound of carbon fiber exploding. I took a tumble about 8 feet onto my back, scraping my hand on the way down. My first “turtle” of the trip.

I sat for a minute, found myself wildly unscathed, picked my self and broken trekking pole up, and then summited the peak. Coming down the other side, I stopped in tree cover, lit a cigarette and thought “at least I have one pole left to set my tent up with.” No more than 30 minutes after I started moving again did my other pole snap. Completely different place, same loud pop of carbon snapping. I didn’t fall this time, which was much less disheartening that it seemed to happen just to spite me.

With nothing else to do, I packed my poles up and kept walking. I arrive at the Little Bigelow Lean To, yet again to find a full shelter with rain on the schedule. Yay. The thing that chapped my ass about this particular full shelter was the yellow blazers occupying it. They decided to skip the Bigelow range (16 miles), get dropped off at a road north of the shelter, and then walk south back to the shelter. 

Being the non confrontation person I am. I said nothing and proceeded to set up my tent…which I had to set up with Wildcats hiking poles. Thanks Wildcat. It started raining about the time I fell asleep, and didn’t stop until about 8 am. Definitely the hardest rain we’d encountered thus far. EVERYTHING I owned was wet. Inside and out. All because of the dirty yellow blazers (cheaters). 

I work my ass off everyday to hike miles and hit goals. Sometimes they go by quickly, sometimes painstakingly slow. Either way. I hike, and I fucking love it. Now we’ve got to deal with these assholes that, in the end, will claim all the glory of winning the fight, without ever throwing a punch or getting hit with a few haymakers. Fucking cheaters. 

This is life. There will always be people who make a mockery of other people’s hard work. But why? I’ll never understand how these people sleep at night. 

With soaking gear and drooping eyes, we awoke, and we hiked. The day cleared by 9 am and turned into a beautiful sunny day. We got to the next empty shelter around 11 am, and, although we planned to hike on, decided that we’d had enough for the day. We hung all of our gear to dry and made a fire that would last nearly 9 hours. Thanks Boy Scouts. 

Just as we were starting to pull out cook sets out for our nightly ramen and dehydrated choke down meals, we heard a boat. A damn motor boat. Ten minutes later, it was parked on the shore of the pond in front of the lean to. The couple in the boat yelled for us to give them a hand and we kindly obliged. What we didn’t know is that we were carrying a little bit of magic back to camp.  

We all sat down and waited while the couple unfurled BBQ Chicken, then ribs, then homemade bread, then beans and pasta and coleslaw AND ice cold beer! Holy shit! These people just prepared dinner for 10, drove it across a wind beaten pond, and fed all of us…for no other reason than kindness and compassion. We all ate and drank well, then swapped stories of trail and home. Simple.

“The trail provides” is an adage used unsparingly on the AT, and for good reason. It always seems that at your lowest of depths, some kind of beautiful, unsolicited kindness is laid in the palm of your hands. Amazing is also a word used unsparingly by most, without actually ever living up to its definition. Except for in this instance. Amazing is the exact word.

This trail has restored my faith in humanity. In myself and in others.

Yaeger, Wildcat, Hollywood and I now only have 150 miles left to reach the Greatest Mountain. I’m excited by the prospect of completing my goal, as well as saddened that it will be coming to an end soon. Hopefully my altruism in believing that magic exists in the real world, as it does out here, will continue to come true. 

Over and out for now, 

The Law

Trailationship

Today is the 28th day of August, and my 139th day of this crazy, beautiful adventure. Of those 139 days, I’ve actually only been on trail hiking for 113 days. From where Yaeger, Hollywood and myself sit, we’ve walked 1843.8 miles. Our next major task being Mt. Washington and the Wildcats…a task that will have to wait another day. 
I’m sitting in front of the Saco (say-co) River, at camp Indian Acres in Fryeburg, Maine. Yaeger spent his childhood and early adulthood as a camper and counselor at Indian Acres. Hollywood and I are fortunate enough to be on yet another side trail, graciously provided by Yaeger and his New England friends. It’s a bluebird day, and we’re all excited to be sitting by a river…as opposed to climbing the most difficult mountains we’ve seen to date. 
It’s been nearly a month since I’ve last written. Since then, people have come and gone, and so have the states. We’ve completed Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and nearly all of New Hampshire. The White Mountains have proved tremendously difficult, and exceedingly breathtaking. Just the other day, we climbed Mt. Kinsman in a torrential downpour…over 3,000 vertical feet of hand over hand climbing. The following day we climbed Franconia Ridge, which included a 2.5 mile above tree line walk over Mount Lincoln and Lafayette. There are no words to sufficiently describe its beauty. 

  
  
In my last post, it was presumed that Bernard had Poison Oak. We were wrong…he’d unfortunately developed a staph infection. Once diagnosed, we parted ways and he spent time recovering in Boston with friends. It was tough having to say goodbye (for now) to friends you’ve been through so much with. Last I heard, he and Sheila have been back on the trail, kicking ass, and are within a day of Yaeger, Hollywood and I. 
Since Yaeger and I reconnected, we’ve developed a closer bond…one akin to a little brother/big brother relationship. Most days, we make a plan for mileage, hike at our own pace and catch up on breaks or at the end of the day. Other times we hike together, talking on life, love and the pursuit of. Yeager’s ten years my elder, (although you wouldn’t be able to tell by meeting him)…and in typical ‘little bro’ style, I never let him forget just how ‘old’ he is. He’s a good sport, and certainly never hesitates to send it back my way. 

 

photo courtesy of Steve at LivingVertical

 
The other interesting fact about Yaeger is that he is a Type 1 Diabetic. I apologize if I’ve mentioned this before, but it inspires me everyday. He would be modest and say it’s no big deal, It’s his life now. Other times he’d get angry and tell me how much it sucks having to deal with this autoimmune disease. Whichever way he’s feeling that day, he continues to walk. I got a glimpse of what it means to be diabetic, and still live your life the way you desire, back in Mass. 
Yaeger was contacted by Steve, a climber, adventurer, photographer, podcast creator, and least of all, Type 1 Diabetic. Steve wanted to do a spot on his podcast about Yaeger’s thru hike, how his diabetes plays a roll in his life, and how adventure is a prescription to help deal with the disease. I was fortunate enough to be a part of that conversation, as well as to have met Steve and Yaeger. You can find Steve at LivingVertical.org, as well as find pictures on FB and IG at LivingVertical. Go check out the two part interview on his podcast. 
After a few more days of hiking, we caught back up to The Shire (Bilbo, Raiden, Finch, Homefry and Papa Osts). They’ve all been hiking together for most of the trip, and have become my second trail family. Each one offering a different outlook on life and hiking. Then a week ago, we took in another stray. Hollywood is a recent Oklahoma Theatre grad who adds spunk, optimism and smiles to the crew. She’s been a more than welcome addition. 

 

hitching at its finest

 
I never realized how much interpersonal relationships would play a role in this trip. I came out here searching for solitude, getting it, growing personally…and then realizing the degree to which I enjoy and, at a basal level, need other people. 
To make this long story shorter, I’ll refrain from writing about the million other amazing and/or sketchy things that have happened in this last month. This trip continues to exceed every expectation I ever had for it. I would rather be no where else…other than with my dog, I still miss the hell out of her. 
To all of you, everyone in my life (past and present)…I love you for enriching my life in so many different ways. Without you I would not be able to be me. 

 

photo courtesy of Steve at LivingVertical

 
345.4 more miles to walk…but after this beer. 
Cheers,

The Law

Smell The Roses

It’s been 10 days since I took a zero day in Wind Gap, PA. I’ve now crossed into New Jersey, completed it, and done the same with NY. That equates to around 175 miles. We’ve slowed down a bit, but still making good time. 

I see now why New Jersey is called “The Garden State.” Even though the red headed step child that is the Jersey Shore tries to bring the state to a new low every year…this side of New Jersey is quite beautiful. It was a welcome change of pace from PA. Although the rocks didn’t stop at the PA/NJ beautiful, they subsided enough for us to be able to look up and enjoy the changing landscape. 

Then came New York. As told by former hicker trash friends…”New York is no joke.” Indeed it is not. The constant elevation changes, rock scrambling, poor water sources and 90+ degree weather have all made NY my toughest task to date. This being said, NY has also been just as enjoyable. The climbing has been a welcome obstacle. I find that the more I am tested, the more I enjoy myself. 

A few days ago I received a Facebook message from an old high school friend. Emily was a year younger than I, and we were never close friends, but we seemed to run in the same circle at the time. She and her boyfriend live in Peekskill, NY…just a few miles from the AT and Bear Mountain. She generously offered to bring pizza and drinks to myself and the crew I’d been hiking with. 

  
Emily and I spent a few hours catching up on the last years 10 years of our lives. It was nice to spend time with someone who grew up on the same streets I did. She’s now an ultra runner and a bad ass chick…not that she wasn’t before, I just didn’t know her well enough then. In the rain, Emily and I hiked up a steep ass climb after crossing over the Hudson River. Her generosity and friendship is a reiteration of the constant support I’ve received from total strangers, friends and family during this journey. Magic, indeed. 

Now, having hiked just 5 miles this morning, I’m sitting at a deli in Stormville, NY. I just left my watch in the sun for 30 minutes. The temperature reading when I picked it back up showed 118 degrees. This means I will be lounging under the shade of a tree (where the temp reads a balmy 94), whilst sipping an ice cold lite lager and waiting for the sun to retreat back to the hell from which it spawns. We’ll hike later. 

To make means worse, Bernard has contracted, what we think to be, Poison Oak. This has caused some nasty sores in places that are hard to keep dry, clean and without abrasion. At this point, there’s nothing on any thru-hikers body that is dry, clean or without abrasion, at any point in the day. So, the whole hiking game has slowed down significantly. 

It’s kind of funny that, even before the point of sweltering heat, pointless ups and downs, and plant allergies, we’d already discussed slowing our pace. Bernard and I have both been feeling like we’ll blink and this journey will be over. The next rose we come across, we’ll stop and smell. 

Katahdin is within striking distance and all I want to do is continue to savor this once in a lifetime experience.

Cheers for now,The Law

Wet Rocks: Hell on Trail

Not my most optimistic title for an entry, but it’s the damn truth. I’ve now walked 215 miles through Pennsylvania, home of the slogan “where boots go to die.” The reason for said phraseology, is the hellish number of rocks. Let’s say I’ve taken roughly 500 thousand steps in 215 miles…I’ve probably stepped on at least 400,000 rocks…each one exacting the relative pain of a young teenager hitting the soul of your foot with a hammer. Another fun anecdote, it’s rained nearly every day. I’ve thrown a lot of math at you, so let me break it down…

(Wet rocks + rubber outsoles)*3 mph = fuck this. 

Our first day across the Mason Dixon Line, we happened upon a former hiker doing trail magic at a road crossing. This Marine had actually attempted a thru-hike this year, but had to get off trail due to some serious trouble with PTSD and depression. 

On this journey, I’ve met many former military men and women who’ve served overseas, and who’ve been in active combat. Each one coming to the trail to find solace and renewed hope in mankind, and themselves. It’s tough to see someone in pain, and know that there’s nothing I can do to help…but hopefully I was able to cheer up this particular one, on that particular day. It seems we, as a country, need to do more to help the soldiers who bring home the wounds of our governments mistakes. Before I build my soap box and climb atop, I’d like to move on. 

A momentous occasion happened the next day. I crossed the official halfway point…and also consumed a half gallon of ice cream in 40 minutes a. I’m not a glutton, it’s a challenge steeped in legacy and tradition…and I’ve become a glutton. Food is [mostly] all that I think about now. Anyway, it was awesome to be in a new state, and closer to my destination than I was to my starting point. 

The next day was a scorcher. We’d end up walking 23 miles, but not without losing pounds of sweat and wishing for some kind of magic. Just before the end of the day, the magic happened. The trail crossed a residential road and followed it for a ways. Upon seeing a house, my first thought was “If I knock and ask politely, will they let me take a shit in their toilet?” No knocking necessary as the owner, Robert, was outside and quick to invite us to fill up with water and come inside. We did, I shit, then we drank a few beers. Magic. 

We headed on to Duncannon, PA the next day. The Doyle Hotel is a 100 year old building that may fall at any minute. The bar downstairs is home to a very well made hamburger, and the rooms upstairs are home to crackheads and more bugs than I’ve seen on the trail. Seriously though…bed bugs. Staying there was ill advised, but it’s an iconic piece of the AT community, and was worth every dollar and bite.

A few days later, I posted my second 30+ mile day. Which was then followed by a few mid-teen mile days. One of those days was ended with an unexpected and fucking radical event. 

We planned to stealth camp (aka camp illegally) at a privately owned Astronomical Park. Upon arrival, the care taker Ron was mowing the grass. Bilbo, being the giant space nerd he is, quickly engaged Ron about different space stuffs. Turns out that Ron and five of his club friends were going to be planet gazing and taking photos that night. Ron asked us if we’d like to camp with them and “see some cool shit.” 

We, of course, happily agreed. The night was actually perfectly timed. Bilbo had been talking of using his binoculars to star gaze, whilst I had also been yammering about getting star photos. Ron then proceeded to show us said “cool shit.” He took us in to a couple different observatory rooms and lined up Venus, Saturn and Jupiter with the giant telescopes. He then showed us globular clusters and a few other star formations I cannot recall. It was indeed cool shit. 

 

Ron showing Bilbo some cool shit

 
When I first started writing this entry, all I could remember about PA was the stabbing pain of slippery rocks (see paragraph 1). Then I went back and read my notes. I found that nearly each of the past 11 days had some sort of awesomeness to it. Hiking this trail is a whirlwind of amazing things and fucked up things…and I’m excited to be able to spend more days in the storm. 

Introspection and the crew

I woke up in Luray feeling refreshed and ready to hit the trail. I walkedout of my room and there was Raiden walking out of a room adjacent to mine. He proclaimed “holy shit its the law!” Then the rest of my crew filed out of the room in slow procession. Sheila ran over to me, dancing around and whining; followed by Bernard, Papa Oats and Bilbo. Our hiking crew being back together was a sigh of great relief for me, as I was coming off of the most depressing stretch I’d had on trail. 

That day had much talk of the poor weather, not so fond memories of the Shenandoah’s and plans of making Harpers Ferry by July 1st. It’s tough to say why exactly it was this crew that I had stuck with the longest; but we all just clicked for some reason. Pushing each other forward like a team training for a big game. This camaraderie was something I’d been missing since my some 12 years of playing competitive sports. 

As I mentioned, the week before we all found each other again was the worst for me mentally. With every step I questioned my motivations for finishing the trail. With every panting breath I questioned my purpose in life. It wasn’t until Bernard and I hit the trail again that day that I realized why I had been so down on myself. I had lost my sense of purpose in life. 

From age 6 to 18, I’d been an above average athlete. Baseball. Tennis. Football. Basketball. I was generally the most skilled player on any given field or court. Until I hit high school, at which point I still garnered high respect from each competitor, teammate and coach. It sounds conceited to say now, but it is the way of competitive sport. Believe you’re the best to become the best. 

Well, I wasn’t the best, or the biggest, or the strongest. Other than in my own high school bubble, I went completely unnoticed. There were no recruiters (other than some small D-3 inquiries) and there were no fans. Just me. Time for college as just one thing, a student. This wasn’t an issue, as I had always found academia to be fairly unchallenging. So, now without sport, there was nothing else to challenge me. No teammates, no competition. Just me. 

It feels silly to say that I’ve been grasping on to this notion of being an athlete for this long. I don’t think I even consciously tried to, or understood that was happening; at least not until this past week. I’d worked so hard at my passion for sport that I’d pushed everything else out. There was no room for any other passion or discipline to flourish.

The past 1024 miles have opened my eyes to this fact. I never let go of the idea of being an athlete. I never reinvented myself. Now, that notion is gone, and I am striving to find and master the things that I love most deeply. The things that will ultimately define me as a man in my life’s work. It is frighteningly exciting. 

There’s no telling what I will conclude while walking the rest of the some 1126 miles of this trail. I am sure that, now that I’ve deciphered the reason for spinning my wheels for nearly a decade, I can plant my tires on solid ground and drive forward into my future; uninhibited by my past and open to the road that lies ahead. Sometimes the hardest part isn’t letting go but rather, learning to start over.

With all of that introspection out of the way, I can tell you what’s been happening on the trail…outside of my head. The last 120 miles have flown by. We arise early, and finish early. 25 miles is now an easily attainable task before sunset. We all hike at different paces, except for Barnard, Sheila and I. When coming across new people on the trail, we are the passers, not the passees. Generally averaging around three miles per hour.

Last week we encountered a Blue Maccaw named McLeod. He and his owners love to day hike, and are also planning a thru-hike one day…so long as they can find a way to keep McLeod warm at night. Maccaw Jackets…new business idea. Brilliant. 

 

McLeod and Bilbo

 
We were also fed a free meal from the Stonybrook Farm at the Blackburn AT Center. The group that runs the farm is a cult-like “religious” group of which the name escapes me. They were all very generous and accommodating, just gave me the willies. That night Bernard, Sheila and I hiked out of the Balckburn center at 830pm. We hiked 12.5 miles through the darkness to arrive in Harpers Ferry at 2am on July 2nd. This was my first real night hike. The Cool weather, bright full moon and overly fragrant flora made for a beautiful hike.

Although the hike was grand, arriving in town at 2am proved to be a poor choice. Harpers Ferry is a historic site and camping on historic sites is prohibited. So, of course, we cowboy camped on the porch of a civil war era Confectionary. We picked this site because it was flat, dry, and there were American flag banners hanging on the railings. Thus giving us a little bit of cover from Rangers/Cops should they be in the area. We arose with the sun, having had the worst three hours of sleep either of us will probably ever have. There was one plus though, no tickets or handcuffs. 

 

The Confectionary, where we may or may not have slept

 
That morning we reunited with the gang and rounded up to go into DC for the Fourth of July. Bilbo is from Arlington and graciously offered to let all five of us dirty hickers stay with him and his family for the weekend. Mattox family, if you’re reading this, thank you again for your generosity. I felt at home and had an amazing, relaxing weekend. 

Now, after a few too many drinks, and a USWNT World Cup Victory last night…I sit on porcelain throne, awaiting our ride back to the trail. Three days off has been rejuvenating, but I’ve become restless thinking of what left the trail has to offer. If you’re looking for pictures, I’ve posted a good bit of them on my Facebook page, find them there. For now, I leave you with this quote. 

“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks”

– John Muir

May the forest be with you.

The Law

The Virginia Blues: Real

Last weekend was certainly a highlight of my hike. I got to spend time with close friends, as well as have them meet some new friends I’ve made along the way. This years trail magic trumped years past. Pop up tailgate tents, four coolers (full of beer, soda and Gatorade), a full size gas grill, burgers, dogs, bacon, biscuits and last but not least, a massive low country boil complete with corn, potatoes, sausage and fresh NC Coast shrimp. The only downfall to the magic was the weather. The Atlantic coast had just gotten a tropical storm and we received it remnants. High winds and unrelenting rain lasted all day and night. Regardless, the weather didn’t dampen the magic. 
 

Dave (Gaucho), Austin (AD), Perro and Warpzilla

 
Unfortunately, the magic had to end, and I had to say goodbye, once again, to great friends and Hazel Mae. This will probably be the last time I will see Hazel, Gaucho and AD until I complete my journey…as well as the last time I will see Warp and Perro until we summit Katahdin together in September. This weekend also put me behind my hiking group by a day, as they all moved on and I had to backtrack a days worth of miles. 

 

Only shot I got on The Preist…rain.

 
It’s tough to say exactly, what it is that causes the “Virginia Blues” for each hiker, but I can say that everyone I’ve talked to is experiencing them in one way or another. For me, leaving mans best friend and my boys, hiking alone again, stormy weather and the shear boring nature of the next 100+ miles; are the culmination of my blues. 

 

Overlook after climbing some 2500 ft over “Three Ridges”

 
Although said blues have been in full force for the past week, I’ve made quick work of the AT miles within the Shenandoah National Park. A cold front moved in a couple days ago and I took full advantage of it, making quick work of my longest day yet…32 miles. 

 

Mile 900, Shenandoah NP

 
I still haven’t been able to catch up with Bernard, Finn or the folks from “the shire”…but I’m sure I will by the time I hit Harpers Ferry. Today, I hit mile 942, leaving just over 80 miles to Harpers. I stopped over in Luray, Virginia to dry out and get a solid square…which was a full medium pizza and cheese sticks…and brownies. Hiker Hunger, check. That being said, I’m down 15 pounds thus far, feeling strong and in the best shape I’ve been in a long while…now all I have to do is quit this tobacco habit. Eventually. 

 

This little one didn’t want me to leave

 
Back at it tomorrow. All for now. 
The Law

Wish Come True

Pearisburg wasn’t worth much, but it was easy enough to walk in and out of. When we headed into town, we met Scott Jurek, an ultra-runner who is trying to beat the fastest supported thru-run of the AT. An interesting character and, although a different journey from mine, I wish him the best. 

From Pearisburg, I did my longest “leaving town” hike; 20.7 miles to The Captains. Leaving town with a full food bag is always dreaded and never easy. The Captain is a former thru hiker who lives parallel to the AT, just across a small creek. To get across the creek, one has to pull them-self over it via zip line. Pretty neat. The Captain lives on a big property and allows hikers to camp on site for free. There were ten other hikers, none of whom I’d met before, at the Captains the night we stayed there. 

  
The next day, we left The Captains early, planning on doing another 20 mile day. This did not come to fruition, reason being…heat wave and gnarly climbs. As you all probably know, this would be the beginning of some seriously hot temperatures. Dealing with 90+ temps and humidity, while hiking up and down mountains, is tough business. We only made 17 miles. Unfortunately, it’s only going to get hotter and more humid. 
Nothing temperature wise changed the following day. Still hotter than hell. The only change was that we started hiking at 6am…my earliest start yet. We ended up making 23 miles and were set up for an easy day the following day. 

 

Biggest oak tree south of the Mason Dixon , 18′ around and over 300 years old

 
Although this day was supposed to be easy and exciting, it certainly was not, as I only slept for about two hours. Unfortunately, my sleeping pad decided to malfunction as soon as I laid down. It deflated quickly. I now had to sleep on the bare, hard board of the shelter floor. Regardless of the misfortune, and additional reinforcement of my trail name, I still arose with excitement. My parents were just a few hours from being in Virginia with my best friend, Hazel Mae. Wish come true. 
Hazel met me with elation, as she always does when I’ve been away for more than 15 minutes. My parents then took us into town to eat at The Homeplace, an all you can eat (AYCE) “family style” buffet. We dirty hickers thoroughly enjoy, and take advantage of, AYCE restaurants. Bernard, Finn and I have been trying our damndest to make any AYCE establishment we visit invoke the Homer Simpson clause. The clause is simply revoking the AYCE status because one eats way too much. We still have yet to succeed.  

That night, we all went to see the new Jurrassic World movie. The movie was a disappointment all around. I was stiff and hurting after the first 15 minutes, the large tub of popcorn I ate gave me diarrhea, and the movie was just generally bad. I feel regretful that I was part of helping generate the movies some 500 million dollar opening weekend revenue. Either way, the little taste of normal society and family was a real treat.

The next morning, mom and dad dropped us back off at the base of McAfee’s knob and Hazel joined the hicker pack for the week. Although I’d been to McAfee’s Knob before, it was still breathtaking and memorable. We spent some time at the top hanging off the ledge, taking pictures, and eating second breakfast. We proceeded to move on, making 19.8 miles by day’s end, and walking back into Daleville for another stay. 

  
Hazel loves to hike. Her approach, fast and hard. The only problem with her approach is that she is not used to walking more than 10 miles in a day. This approach proved to be a costly one over the past 5 days. She usually awakes with vigor, raring to go, but by mid-day, she’s worn herself out and moves slower than us bi-peds. Unfortunately she developed a limp on Wednesday and it never subsided. This forced me to carry her pack and food, and to take a half day and walk into the booming city that is Glasgow, VA. From Glasgow I hitched a ride to Buena Vista, we were stayed last night to rest. 
Now we’re both sitting at the city park, Glen Maury, which is actually really nice and welcoming. Warpzilla, El Perro and Gaucho are in route to retrieve us, but not without leaving some Magic for the rest of the walkers. 

Every year, for the past several, we have picked a spot on the trail to provide trail magic for thru-hikers. This year, Warp decided on Hog Camp Gap, which is just north of Buena Vista (about 6 trail miles). Apparently they have a special feast this year, although I do not know any specifics. It’s strange, and super exciting, to be on the receiving end of the magic this year. 

  
Although the last 100+ miles have not been easy, nor has the weather cooperated, nor has my time with Hazel gone as planned…I still manage to end and begin each day with a smile on my face. Everyday brings a new challenge, a new reward and a closer bond to this earth and its inhabitants. I look forward to completing Virginia, and chewing up and relishing the rest of the some 1400 miles left to complete. 
Over and out,
The Law & Hazel Mae

Dirty Hickers

Internet service and cell signal has been very poor since I’ve last written, thus the lapse in frequency of posting. Since my last report, I’ve crossed into Virginia, hit mile 635 and have passed the quarter way mark. Still, no “real camera” photos to post because computers are scarce and carrying mine seems a bit heavy and unnecessary. So, enjoy the phone pictures and words. 
My first stop out of Hot Springs was Erwin, TN. Yaeger and To Sol (Kirk) and myself all shacked up at the Mountain Inn and Suites. It was a really nice hotel compared to what we’ve become accustomed to. We ate, we drank, we slept, and we moved on. Nothing too special about Erwin. 
The stretch between Erwin and our next destination, Mountain Harbour Hostel, was perhaps the most beautiful section thus far. The roan highlands, little hump and big hump mountains, were absolutely stunning. Although winds were blowing 40+ miles per hour, one could still see for miles. Yaeger and I were able to catch up here with Wild Turkey, his wife “hardcore”, and their friends for one last hike together before they headed back to the real world. They were kind, generous and fun-loving folks…their energy will surely be missed. 

Finn, Hardcore, Wild Turkey, Yaeger, Law

  
Mountain Harbour Hostel was the buzz of the trail from the second we left Erwin, to the second we arrived in Roan Mountain…reason being, Breakfast. They are notorious for their lavishly prepared homemade breakfast delicacies, and they did not leave anyone wanting. French toast with pecan syrup, fresh fruit, strawberry-pineapple upside down cake, cinnamon swirl monkey bread, pulled pork with scrambled eggs and the list could continue forever. Every bit of it was absolutely fantastic. It was all cooked by the delightfully traditional southern woman who owns the place. If you’re ever in the area, or want to visit Appalachia, Mountain Harbour is a must stay. 
Unfortunately that amazing breakfast would be Kirk, Yaeger and my last one together…for the foreseeable future anyway. Yaeger was nursing a swollen shin muscle and Kirk went to Boone to relive some college days with a good friend. The Law would then hit the trail solo, again. 
Upon leaving Roan and moving closer to Virginia, the miles started to fly. My injuries subsided, other than minor blisters, and I was feeling stronger by the mile. Fifteen miles in a day was now becoming the bare minimum. My next destination was Damascus, and I would push my longest day yet, 26 miles, into the town known as “Trail Town USA.” Although I pushed big miles into town, I took a zero the following day…making it my third zero day in Damascus, including trail days. 

 
 

While in Damascus, I met a hiker named Bernard, who is also from the triangle. He’s 30 and is hiking with his 8 year old Aussie Shepard named Sheila. We struck up a friendship fairly quickly and have been hiking together ever since. It’s really nice to be around someone who knows the area I grew up in, as well as with a dog. I miss Hazel Mae something fierce and having a dog companion helps.
I’ve also been bouncing back and forth with a younger guy named Finn who’s from Cleveland. Aptly named for his love of literature, although poorly named because I’m pretty sure huck finn was illiterate. Either way, we’ve had some interesting conversation about literature, religion, music and the overall well being of society. Finn also hikes at a good pace and I’m sure we will continue to be in company as we move further north. 

  
Virginia, thus far, has been littered with Trail Magic; which has been primarily provided by local church groups. I never imagined how happy I would be to come across store-brand soda and crackers. Thanks Virginia. 
Bernard, Sheila, Finn and I have been moving at what I’ll call “above average” pace. We walk anywhere from 2.5 to 3 miles per hour, depending on terrain. Since leaving Damascus 10 days ago, we have averaged just under 17 miles per day; with 24 miles being our biggest day of the stretch. Hiking at this pace has brought us to encounters with a whole new bubble of hikers. Two guys from Raleigh, Waves and Buns. Five mid twenties females, Bubbles, Zeta, Figgy, Whiz Bang and Finch. Five other solo hikers, Stryder, Raiden, Papa Oats, Dejavu and Boston Ryan. I’ve gotten to know each of them over the past five days or so, and all are interesting characters from different cities across the U.S. I’ve enjoyed being around a bigger bubble of folks again. 
The past few nights we’ve walked shorter miles because of nightly socials we like to call “Dirty Hicker Meetings.” Yes, I meant to say Hicker. (Note: as reading, “Dirty Hicker” sounds best with a Deep Southern twang). Two nights ago, myself and the aforementioned dirty hickers had a meeting at an awesome waterfall camp at Dismal Falls. Each of us packed out a 6 pack (or more) from a little convenience store just a few miles south. Carrying the extra weight that far was both worth it and completely not worth it.
Around dusk, Waves and I went to find wood, and returned to make a bonfire on top of the falls. We all then proceeded to tell stories of our hometowns and misguided adventures while consuming adult beverages until about 2am. This would not be a problem in the real world, but hiker midnight usually comes around 8:45pm, and we’re all soundly asleep by 9:30pm.
The next morning, Waves, Bernard, Bubbles, Zeta, Raiden, Stryder and myself decided to stay at the falls to go swimming, sun bathe, and wash away our hangovers until about 2pm. Usually leaving this late means you’re not going to make any miles, but we only had 14 easy miles to make to Woods Hole Hostel, and the water and company was just too good to leave. 
Woods Hole Hostel has been my favorite of the trip thus far. The hostel has been family run for three generations now. The hostel is run on an organic farm by wife and husband duo Neville and Michael. Neville is a licensed masseuse, yogi and meditation leader. Michael mostly does the labor intensive work around the farm, which includes maintaining a 24 hour fire that heats the water to all three buildings on the farm lot. Dinner consisted of delicious homemade bread, fresh picked greens with homemade dressings, and Mexican lasagna with homemade tortillas as the pasta layers. All of it was exquisite.  

 

Woods Hole Hostel

 
Now, I sit at the Holiday Motor Lodge in a less than clean motel room…just wishing I never had to leave Woods Hole. Unfortunately, there are still many miles to be traveled and I must continue on. My feet, knees, legs, mind and spirit are all working at 100% right now. There is not much else I could ask for…except for my dog. Someone bring me my dog. 
Hopefully less time between posts in the future. For now, this dirty hicker needs a bath and a nap. 
Happy Hiking, 
The Law

Back at it

Leaving Trail Days, my family, friends and dog…again…proved to be difficult. Although, not quite as difficult as a making the climb up Lovers Leap and back into the wilderness hung over after a weekend of binge drinking and eating. I nearly vomited on multiple occasions. That being said, I trudged through and made a modest 11 miles to the first shelter. 

When I stumbled upon the shelter, Yeager was there eating dinner and told me he was dealing with the same issue, after having a weekend in Asheville with friends. While we were telling weekend stories, Kirk came walking into camp. It was good to see him again, although he was sans Jack. Kirk had to spend two weeks off the trail dealing with tendinitis. Although I’ll never wish injuries on anyone, it was nice to see I wasn’t the only one who had dealt with time off trail due to injury. 

If you remember, Kirk and I spent the first week hiking together…in the rain. It seems our hiking combination entitles rain, because it has rained every day since we met back up. Fan fucking tastic. Either way, Kirk, Yaeger and myself continue to push on. We don’t typically hike together, simply because we walk at different speeds…but we typically break and camp together. We’ve also caught back up with a little group of hikers we were with before injury, trail days and Asheville delays. Making miles, but enjoying them. 

Kirk has long past had his first twenty mile day, but Yaeger and I had our first this past Tuesday. 21.3 miles. Check. It was a long day, but an enjoyable one. Kirk stopped short that day, but caught up the Wednesday before we hiked in to Erwin today. Follow?

In other news, Yaeger and Kirk have both picked up trail names. Both, it seems to me, are tentative. Yaeger is now “WB”, short for Wilfred Broccoli. Wilfred referencing his autoimmune type 1 Diabetes, and broccoli referencing his family’s northern Maine farm. Kirk is now “Two Sole”, stemming from some nasty blisters caused by the negligence, and hilarity, of placing new super feet insoles on top of the existing insoles in his shoes. Classic. 

As for me, nothing new to report really. Both knees are feeling strong and the toe cut is still healing, but doing well. I’ve walked 342.9 miles in 28 hiking days…not counting my 12 zero days…10 injury and 2 for fun. 

I’m enjoying my time alone while I hike…mostly, I absorb the expressions of nature while I contemplate a variety of different ideas in my noggin, or I clear out and just walk. When I get tired of my own thoughts, which is often, I enjoy my time in camp. We talk about how the hike was different for each of us, our ideas of societal issues and/or norms…or we just bullshit and make fun of each other. Either way, it’s a pretty fine way to live. Simple. 

No pictures to share. All the good ones reside on my real camera, and I’ve got no way to upload them at this moment…thanks El Perro 😉

All for now…happy trails folks,

The Law

Making Miles

After a long 9 days off the trail, my cut toe had finally closed enough to put pressure on, and the knee pain had mostly subsided. I took a short day out of the N.O.C, only making 6.7 miles, but gaining nearly 3000 vertical feet, to Sassafras Gap Shelter.

Regardless of the painful climb, it felt great to be back on my journey. It felt brand new again, and I was now introducing myself to a completely new group of hikers. One of the hikers I met that first night out was a guy named Yaeger. A soft spoken guy in his mid 30’s, originally from rural Northern Maine, but current resident of Snowmass Village, Colorado. We seemed to be very like minded and walked a similar pace; he reminds me a lot of my friends back home. Although I’m generally moving a bit faster than he, we have been hiking together ever since.

Sassafras Gap Shelter - Myself, Wood, Lifesaver and Scout

Sassafras Gap Shelter – Myself, Wood, Lifesaver and Scout

When we got to Fontana Village, we were forced to take a short day because of aggressive bear activity at our first desired campsite. Apparently a mother bear had thrashed a few backpacks the previous two days. So, being in the mindset of self preservation, we walked an easy 7 miles from Cable Gap to the Fontana Hilton. We’d begin our foray into the Great Smoky Mountains the following day.

Sunset at the Fontana Hilton Shelter

Sunset at the Fontana Hilton Shelter

Over the next few days in the Smokies, we would lay down some solid miles. The first night at Spence Field Shelter, we met a section hiker named Joe. Joe is a Charlotte native, and married to a previous thru-hiker named Hardcore. Hardcore did not come by her name lightly. She is widely known on the trail for using round stones to clean her bottom, after having relieved herself via the number two fashion. Hardcore indeed. After having come across a giant female turkey on the descent from Rocky Top, Joe quickly earned a trail name. Joe proceeded to chase said turkey, trying to catch it for dinner perhaps? After getting to know him and his affinity for whiskey…and chasing turkeys…he earned the name, Wild Turkey.

We had some pretty amazing trail magic at Newfound Gap from a former Thru Hiker named God Speed. God Speed fed us, drove us to the outfitter in Gatlinburg and to the grocery store. Most importantly, he shared his amazing story with us. He and his son started a thru hike in 2007. God Speed unfortunately got Giardia and was unable to recover, forcing them both off the trail. A week later, his son went for a routine eye exam and a stage 4 malignant brain tumor was found on his frontal lobe; inoperable. After two years of every medicine possible, his son was cancer free. A year later, they finished the trail together. Simply amazing, warming to my soul, and motivating. Never give up. 

 

God Speed, myslef and Todd

 
Wild Turkey decided to use some saved up hotel points to put us up at the Hampton Inn; which might was well have been Caesar’s Palace compared to some of the shit places I have stayed thus far.   

Wild Turkey, Lucy, myslef and Yaeger at the Hampton Inn


From Gatlinburg, we decided to push to the end of the smokies; making 18.5 miles in 7 hours. Our destination for the night, Standing Bear Hostel. This hostel was probably unlike any other hostel on the trail. Think, nudist-farming commune…without the nudity or farming. It was delightfully dirty and rustic. There were about 18 of us staying at Standing Bear. One thru-hiker named LeLe was playing the ukulele and singing all night, while the rest of us tended fire, drank and sang along. Although we enjoyed ourselves, the emotional tension at the farm was palpable. Unfortunately, the proprietor passed away a week prior and a dog that was being kenneled got loose and was hit and killed on I40. The dog owner did not know until he finished his hike in the smokies. Tragic. 

“Someone needs to check on this place” – BK Flynn

 

Our last morning in the smokies


The last few days before we made it to Hot Springs were brilliant. Nicely graded trail and fairly cool temperatures made for some of the best hiking we have had. Max Patch bald was stunning. We sat at the top for a couple hours, laying in the grass, eating lunch and cat napping. 

 

Yaeger and Wild Turkey enjoying the view and soft grass atop Max Patch


The walk in to Hot Springs was an easy one. The sounds of lawn mowers and cars filled the mountain. The mountain laurel in early bloom helped mask the stench of our 10 day, sweat drenched bodies. Real food, beer, showers and soft beds helped quicken our pace into one of the coolest little towns on the east coast. 

Mountain Laurel

Now, I await the arrival of Warpzilla and El Perro to take me to see my best friend Hazel Mae, and my parents. Destination “Trail Days” in Damascus. A couple days off, good friends, family and a massive hiker party all sound like a deserved treat. 

Cheers for now, 

The Law