Just Another Statistic…

I want to apologize to everyone who was following along.  My hike is officially over.

I made it to Clingman’s Dome and the weather was awful.  I decided to come home for a few days to wait out the weather (and watch The Masters).

While I was home, I had a candid discussion with my wife about the current state of affairs after a month on the trail.  To my surprise, she was still very supportive of me trying to finish the hike.

However, she did tell me that the stress was growing and my daughter was getting increasingly upset with my absence.

After talking about it for a few hours, we decided it would be best for our family for me to table the hike and come back home.  My daughter was particularly excited upon hearing this news.

I already miss the trail.  I was having a great time and starting to get in the groove of walking every day.  Fortunately, I was out there long enough to have spent some quality time with myself.  Most of the time, all I could think about was not being able to get this part of my daughter’s childhood back.

I realized what is most important to me while I was out there.  It wasn’t finishing the trail, although that was up there.  It was becoming a better father and husband.  I’ve spent the majority of my adult life being pretty selfish.  The trail, although I had spousal support, was another example.  It was MY dream.  It wasn’t my daughter’s dream; it wasn’t my wife’s dream.  It was mine.

I still plan to hike the trail.  However, it looks as though it’ll have to wait until retirement.  My daughter isn’t getting any younger and she needs me at home more than I need to be on the trail.

I’ve enjoyed keeping this blog going and have delayed disclosure of this information as long as possible because I honestly feel like I’m letting you guys down.  I sincerely apologize to those who have been following along; but, this is the right choice for my family and I at this time.

I’ll be keeping the blog going, I think.  It obviously won’t be about the Appalachian Trail, much longer. But, I usually lead a fairly interesting life so why not take some folks along.

As it stands, my wife and I have decided to tour the country looking for a city to call home.  Starting tomorrow morning, we’ll begin a 6,000+ mile tour of the U.S., visiting cities we feel have promise.  Our plan is to check out a dozen cities, or so, that we have pre-screened in our own way.  Upon completion of the trek, we’re hoping to find a place to finally set roots and have a functioning family.

I’d like to apologize once more for throwing in the towel.  They say people hike the trail to find themselves.  I feel I’ve done the same thing, albeit in a different manner.  I’m not entirely thrilled about giving up this opportunity to hike the trail; however, I’m glad to finally be with my family.  I’m excited about our future together.  I’m excited to finally be a part of my daughter’s life.  I’m excited to finally feel like I’m genuinely trying to be a better husband and father.

Hike your own hike.

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Lambie

                  

Day 25, April 4th

I was up this morning once I started hearing birds chirping outside of the hotel room.  So much for alarm clocks.

I went up to the lodge to get breakfast and grab my package.  I checked on the shuttle schedule and then headed back down the hill to my room.  Along with my sleeping pad, I had my wife throw in a bunch of food for a resupply.  Flat rate shipping, and all.

When I got back to the room, I laid out all the groceries, threw in what I still had left in my food bag, and started sorting stuff into each day of the smokies.  I wanted to try to get through in five days.  I figured I’d go ahead and carry six days of food, just in case.

I got everything packed up, changed back into my hiking clothes, and headed up the hill to catch the shuttle.  Shortly after checking out, the shuttle arrived and I was on my way back to the trail.  The climb out of Fontana was supposed to be terrible.  We’d met a ridge runner down in Georgia and his wife specifically mentioned Shuckstack as being her least favorite climb on the entire trail.  It’s not that it’s really steep, hard to hike, or anything like that; rather, most everyone who makes the climb has just refilled all of their food, fuel, and water.

With my pack seeming heavier than it had in weeks, I started the six mile climb to the fire tower. Fortunately, the first two and a half miles were relatively flat.  I still had to pass the “Fontana Hilton,” as it’s known.  This is a shelter right on the lake with running water and showers.  Many hikers elect to stay here on their way through.  I may have, except USPS.

   

 

Next was about a mile walk from the Hilton down the the visitor center and the dam.  It was nice to get to log some time on the trail while also being on a flat paved surface.  

   

 

This was the same dam I’d seen during the last several days of hiking.  The trail actually goes across the top of the dam.  I’ve heard several people with a fear of heights have actually quit at this point.

   

     

On the other side of the dam was a sign welcoming everyone to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

That look is because I can see the fire tower from here and know what getting there entails…

From this grassy little area, I could actually see the fire tower atop Shuckstack Mountain.  It was WAY up there and forever away, as well.  Should be fun.

My phone can’t zoom in any more than this…

I decided, since there was a picnic area just beyond the sign, to stop and have a quick lunch (read: lighten my pack, a little).  After a few SPAM and tuna salad tortillas, I was hiking down the last half-mile, or so, of the paved portion.  When the trail diverged from the asphalt, a volunteer was there taking thru-hiker permits by hand, rather than the drop box to which most hikers are accustomed.

  

The trail seemed to go on forever.  That climb took a few hours, or so it seemed.  Occasionally, I’d get a glimpse of the fire tower from the trail.  More often than not, it seemed only to throw salt into wounds. However, it did start appearing to get closer, so I took another picture.

Again, no more zoom available…

When I had almost made it to the top, I was able to find a spot with a clearing that offered a view back down the mountain to where I’d stayed the night before.  That little community nestled in the mountains is the Fontana Village Resort.

 

After a final switchback, I was on the final climb to the summit.  The fire tower was down a side trail.  Where that side trail met the trail, several hikers had gathered to take a break, drop gear to make the trip to the fire tower with only a camera, or have a meal.  In the mix was 6’12”.  He’d started the day from the dam.  I guess, the day before, he’d arrived at the marina, called the shuttle, and then had been offered a ride by some folks who had parked at the visitor center.  While I’m sure he wasn’t thrilled about walking the extra mile or two to get from the marina to the dam the day prior, it rewarded him with a head start today.  He liked my plan of trying to do the smokies in five days, meaning we’d need to average about 15 miles a day.  We still had nine miles left from this point.  I ran up for a few pictures from the fire tower while 6’12” made sure that particular tree, against which he was leaning, didn’t fall down. 

You can see the dam in this picture. I’d bet it’s easier going back down…

  

Rickety. Everyone’s heart skipped a beat, or two, when the wind blew.

  

The remnants of what appears to be an old house atop Shuckstack.

 

When I got back down to the trail, a few had left and a few more had shown up.  One guy had these.  Blog worthy.

Not just for Grant Hill, anymore…

I think, at this point, it was about 2:00.  We still had nine miles to go.  I loaded up and moved out, 6’12” in my wake.  There was a campsite a bit further down the trail.  In the smokies, as a thru-hiker, you’re required to camp in shelters.  I think this campsite was placed here so the weary hiker would have an easier place to stay after the climb out of Fontana Dam.  The first shelter was Mollies Ridge and is about 10 miles from the southern border of the park.  We still had plenty of daylight, so we carried on. 

Too bad they can’t say that at Soldier Field…

Our goal was the Russell Field shelter.  There was another shelter, Mollies Ridge shelter, about two and a half miles closer.  It was tougher hiking than I’d imagined.  As I was approaching the Mollies Ridge shelter, I told myself I’d press on if I arrived before 6:00.  If I arrived before 6:15 and there was space available in the shelter, I’d also keep going.  You see, if the shelter is full, a thru-hiker is allowed to set up his or her hammock or tent in the immediate vicinity.  Had I arrived at Mollies Ridge to a few open spaces in the shelter, I would have been required to sleep in the shelter.  Therefore, I’d continue hiking if it were a bit later.

As it were, I arrived to the Mollies Ridge shelter at 5:56.  I didn’t even break stride, I just waved at the few friends I saw settling in for the night and charged on to my destination.  I covered the next two and a half miles in exactly an hour, arriving at the Russell Field shelter at 6:56.

Several buddies were there, including John (Salmon).  His sister, Clothesline and her boyfriend, 12, were visiting over the Easter holiday and we’re going to hike with Salmon from Fontana Dam to Clingman’s Dome.  There, they’d get a ride down the mountain to their car and return to Fort Bragg, NC, where 12 was stationed.

Also at the shelter, were two park rangers on a search and rescue mission.  To be fair, it was more of a rescue mission as the hiker in question was located at the Mollies Ridge shelter, no search needed.  I had no idea anything was going on as I passed through.  Apparently, the guy was fairly malnourished, possibly dehydrated, and didn’t think he had the energy or ability to get off the mountain.  MRE’s in tow, the rangers set out to feed and aid the desolate hiker.  That job seems pretty cool.  Hmmmm.

I hung out for a bit talking with 12 and Clothesline about the Army.  As hiker midnight approached, I climbed into the hammock (shelter was full) and called it a night.  There was supposed to be a red moon, or some type of lunar rarity, that evening.  I didn’t get up to see it.

Day one of the smokies complete.  15.1 miles.  On pace to make it through in five days.  I didn’t see 6’12” at the shelter before I got in bed.  He’s either still on his way or he stopped at Mollies Ridge.  Tomorrow’s goal is Silers Bald shelter, 15 miles away.

Good night, folks.

Day 24, April 3rd

Today I’m taking an unplanned zero day; thanks, in part, to the United States Postal Service.

If you read yesterday’s post, you recall that I arrived to the Fontana Resort to pick up a package that hadn’t arrived, yet.  When I updated my tracking information yesterday afternoon, it changed to reflect a delivery date of today, while still indicating it was “on time.”

Oh well, I figured, there probably isn’t anything I can do about it.  I should probably just enjoy the downtime. 

I decided to have an early breakfast and then hang out in the lobby for a bit.  The wifi was much better there than in the room, so it seemed logical.  I asked the front desk attendant to please verify delivery times for USPS and was again told any time between 1:00 – 4:00.  Swell.

Now, you might be asking yourself, “Self, why is Boomer calling today an unplanned zero day if, in fact, he may very well receive his package at 1:00?”

Doesn’t that leave plenty of time for hiking?  It does, indeed.  However, upon my arrival to a very comfortable armchair in the lobby, my initial task was to check for any updates in the status of my package.  Maybe it had magically made it to the lodge overnight.  Who knows?  Alas, the post office has not only inserted the knife in my back, now they’ve twisted it.

  

You’ve got to be kidding me.  Another day?  This is getting old.  Ridiculous, even.  Notice how the service purchased was two-day shipping and it left on the 31st.  It should have been here yesterday, now it’s scheduled for delivery TOMORROW, and they have the audacity to claim it’s ON TIME!  The folks in the USPS tracking department have some serious kinks to work out.

With nothing better to do, I went to the front desk to see what all the wonderful village had to offer in the ways of entertainment and fun.  Not.  Much.

Because it was still early in the year, the pools and such weren’t open.  There were lake tours offered for insane amounts of money.  I could rent a pontoon boat for eight hours for $330.  They don’t have a skydiving department here.  I was left with two choices: miniature golf or disc golf.

Both options required renting gear from the general store at the bottom of the hill.  As luck would have it, we passed the miniature golf course on the way to the store.  For those reading this from Albemarle, the course here makes the Good-O look like Augusta National.  Pass.

Down the hill we went to secure our disc golf gear.  The lady in the general store was incredibly nice.  She gave us the gear for free, didn’t charge us for ice under which a six pack of Howard Brewing’s Lake Fever Black IPA would ride, and even gave us a ride back up the hill to the first tee.  Silver lining.

It took a few holes to work out the bugs, but finally I was having a good time.  I figured at least walking 18 holes would keep my legs loose for the hiking I was hoping to do, sometime within the next year or two, depending on the post office.  I was playing with a guy I’d met on the trail named Forrest.  Like myself, not a trail name.  When it came to working out the bugs, Forrest would have been better off calling Dale Gribble.  Oh well, we had a good time.  We ended up skipping a few holes to lessen the embarrassment.

  

6’12” made it to the lodge around 6:00 today.  We had dinner and discussed the plan for the next few days.  I wanted to try to get through the smokies in five days.  He agreed.  As it turns out, his mom reads my blog and called to reprimand him for his bout of depression and lack of motivation.  Apparently it worked.  He did 14 miles today to catch up.

I decided to check the tracking information, yet again.  Upon doing so, I discovered the package had been delivered to Robbinsville, NC, this afternoon.  Outraged, I called the front desk hoping that it was a mistake and my package was in Fontana Village.  The lady at the front desk assured me my package had arrived, now a day earlier than expected.  I should be happy.  It means I don’t have to wait around for it tomorrow.  However, I can’t help but think that if the USPS’s website had been accurate, I wouldn’t have wasted the day playing disc golf.  I could have been on my way a few hours ago.

I guess that’s just the way it goes.  I gave away two of my beers at dinner, had a good meal, and called it a night.  At least I know I can start tomorrow early and get a decent jump on the smokies.

Day 23, April 2nd

Today was a long day.  I started again right at Stecoah Gap.  The guide book mentions that this area is the beginning of “Jacob’s Ladder.”

I hate Jacob.

It’s basically a half-mile climb that gains 600′ of elevation.  This doesn’t sound outrageous; but, it seems like the last 300′ are straight up.  It wasn’t very fun.

This is a view looking back down…

After Jacob’s Ladder, the terrain seemed to level out a bit, making my plan to do 14 miles into Fontana Dam seem plausible.  I was awaiting a package which included my sleeping pad, a necessity, considering staying in shelters is mandatory in the Smokies.  It was supposed to arrive this afternoon, so I needed to make it into town to pick it up and drive on.

The hiking was fairly mundane after Jacob’s Ladder.  There were several shelters and campsites I passed en route to this little picnic area out in the woods.

The trail bisects this little picnic area. It looked pretty cool. If I’d had more time, I would have stopped for lunch.

I’m not sure how far I was from Fontana Dam when I got a text from DABS telling me he was staying in the shelter just beyond town.  Perfect.  I could go pick up my package, jettison any extras, and track him down and hike with him for a few days.  By my calculation, I’d be at the intersection in Fontana Dam by around 4:30.  The plan was coming together.  Excellent.

Insert North Carolina rocks.

   

The next road I came to was at Yellow Creek gap.  It was about six and a half miles from where I needed to be in Fontana Dam.  Some folks were gathered at the road having lunch.  I said hello and kept going.  I wasn’t trying to be rude, I just wanted to make sure I made it to town today.  Plus, I wasn’t very hungry.  This sign greeted us on the trail on the other side of the road, reminding us of the omnipresent message to leave no trace.

  

NC HWY 28 was my goal for the day.  As noted on the sign, I was still 6.4 miles away.  More walking.

A bit down the trail, I got my first glimpse of the dam which marked the goal for today’s journey.

  

#Footbridge

  

This footbridge was 2.4 miles from today’s destination.  It was all downhill from there.  Sounds great, right?  Wrong.  Prior to coming on this trip, I assumed the downhills would be super easy and break up the monotony and pain of all the climbing.  It turns out the downhills are almost equally as painful.  Fortunately, it just makes you hurt in different places.  The combination of ups and downs proves to thoroughly destroy the legs of the budding thru-hiker.

About halfway down the mountain, I was reminded that it was the beginning of Spring.  It looked like the entire side of the mountain, at that elevation, had turned green.

Maybe this green is a good omen for the Smokies. Probably not.

I made it to the road at 4:22.  I’m starting to get fairly accurate with predicting times based on the guide book’s distances and elevations.  When I got there, I was offered a ride up to the lodge where the aforementioned package was waiting.  I arrived to find out it wasn’t, in fact, waiting.  I checked the tracking information online and it had finally updated.  Now it was showing that it would be delivered tomorrow.  It was shipped on Tuesday using two day express.  I’ve been doing simple math for almost two years, now.  Two days from Tuesday is Thursday.  The shifty folks at USPS still have it listed as “On-Time,” even though the original delivery date was today.  Liars.  I’m certain this unreliability has something to do with their potential downfall.

On a lighter note, when I connected to wifi, I received this text from 6’12”

  

Apparently he reads the blog…

The conversation went on to mention he was planning to make it to Fontana Dam tomorrow.  We’ll see how that works out, it was a rough 14 miles and he’d be starting where I did today.  I wish him the best.  We may end up hiking together, again, because I’m forced to wait here until this package arrives.

The forecast shows thunderstorms tomorrow afternoon and the people at the front desk told me mail usually arrives between 1-4.  They can’t narrow it down anymore than that.  Looks like I may have an unplanned zero here.

We went down to have dinner and I guess the proverbial “hiker hunger” finally set in.  I ordered the mushroom Swiss burger with bacon and some fries.  I finished the meal and felt like I hadn’t eaten anything, at all.  It was the strangest feeling.  The burger was fairly large and it did nothing.  I ordered another entree, a pulled pork sandwich along with another side of fries, and that seemed to do the trick.  A few ESB’s to wash it all down and it was time to call it a night. 

  

I’m in bed by 9:30 and feel quite content.  Hopefully my package will make it tomorrow and I can get back on the trail.  I was getting into a decent groove of 13-15 miles a day and feeling good.  Hopefully this unplanned zero won’t screw it up.

That’s it for today.  Tomorrow will probably be uneventful since I’ll be sitting around all day waiting on a package; but, I’ll do an update, anyways.  They have disc golf and miniature golf here.  Hopefully that’ll serve to squash the boredom a bit.

Oh yeah, this happened, too:

https://youtu.be/qleNoIzENNo

Night folks.

Lambie

My three year old daughter gave me a Lambie to bring with me on my hike.  I like it because Lambie has always been our thing.  I buy her all kinds of toys and one she loves the most and sleeps with every night is her Lambie.  So, she wanted Daddy to have one since he’d be sleeping in the woods and she didn’t want him to get lonely.

Ergo: Lambie photos.

   

     

Day 15, March 25th

I woke up this morning and could hardly move.  Looks like I may have overdone it a bit yesterday.  No worries, only four miles and then two zero days in a row.  Should be nice. 

The day started with Eugene eating the severely misshapen version of the Pop Tarts that 6’12” had given him.  This is what it looked like: 

  

6’12” and DABS left a lot earlier than us so they could try to get to the gap first and head into town.  Eugene and I took a bit longer and made sure no one had forgotten anything in camp.  A few minutes later, we headed up the trail and on our way, we saw this sign when we came through Rock Gap. 

  

Just a bit more on the trail and we came to a paved road with a sign leading people to Standing Indian Campground.  It was strange to realize someone could be there in a matter of minutes when it had taken us two days to make it here, from there.

  

On that same paved road, someone had congratulated thru-hikers in a very North Carolina sort of way. 

  

We had to walk up a portion of the trail that seemed like it wasn’t more than about 18″ wide and dropped straight down to a paved road.  It wasn’t too high, but, I know it would have hurt to have fallen off and landed on the road from that height.  Notice the hard working NCDOT gentlemen in the background.  They didn’t move for roughly 15 minutes. 

  

Fortunately, there was a water source right up the trail because I didn’t drink enough water the night before after all the hiking and had forgotten to fill up before leaving this morning.  We stopped for a few minutes and cameled up before heading on down the trail. 

  

About an hour and a half later, we made it to Winding Stair Gap which was our end point for the day.  I took this picture of the sign that’s right there where the trail meets US 64. 

  

That was it for hiking for the day.  There was a gentleman named Rodney who was doing trail magic at the gap.  I spoke with him for a bit and he offered to take Eugene and I into town.  6’12” had already booked a room at the Microtel Inn and Suites, so we were on our way to hot showers and laundry.  After we finished up with that, we wasted no time seeing to our respective injuries.  A bit later, 6’12” and I went to the FATZ Cafe in the parking lot, only to learn their grill was broken.  We took the public transportation to run a few errands around town before revisiting the FATZ Cafe, now with a working grill.  After a massive burgers and a few drinks, we were calling it a night. 

When we got back, Eugene had made a trip to the grocery store and was using my bed as a sorting table for his rations.

  

The best part of today was that Eugene finally got a trail name: Rocky Dennis.  Here’s a picture of Eugene.  If you don’t already know, just Google it.

  

I think, since I’m planning two zero days, I may rent a car tomorrow morning and drive home to visit my family for a few days.  I figure I won’t have the opportunity to do this for the entire length of the trail, so I should go ahead and take advantage of the close proximity, while I have it.  That’s it for today, sorry it was so short; but, nothing really happened.  The next two days should prove to be fairly uneventful, apart from NCAA basketball.  I hope Carolina loses and NC State wins.  If State does win, I’m going to be in a bind on Sunday trying to figure out where/how to watch the game while I’m back on the trail. 

Working on the Fitbit and should probably have it sorted within a day or so.

Day 14, March 24th, HYOH!

There’s a lot to talk about, today.  It started with some fairly easy hiking and me planning on doing 19 miles and making it to Franklin, NC.  I started the day after everyone else, again.  This is becoming my ritual as I hike a little faster than the rest of my group.  This way, we usually make it to camp around the same time. 

I encountered a fallen rhododendron tree this morning almost immediately after passing 6’12”.  It was a nuisance for me to go through it, so I knew he was definitely going to have a problem getting past it.  In a moment of brilliance, I dropped everything and got out the phone to video him coming through.  The following is the result.  You’re welcome… 

6’12” vs. Rhododendron

https://youtu.be/WpTAcjS29dM

Where Georgia was full of pointy rocks, North Carolina had made its presence known with ankle breaking rhododendron roots.  These must be the most prolific root systems in the plant kingdom.  I mean, they’re everywhere out here.

These roots weren’t made for walking…

Not two minutes after passing the crazy root mosaic, another downed tree crossed the trail.  Again, for your viewing pleasure… 

6’12” vs. Downed Tree

https://youtu.be/1fewe0elGXI

I kinda slipped into a turbo mode today, during which I passed everyone with whom I’d camped the night before.  Walking at that pace isn’t very conducive to picture taking, and for that, I apologize.  I did, however, find this little side trail to one of the best views I’d seen, to date. 

  

After I’d done a little over eight miles in about three hours (remember – I’m fat, out of shape, carrying a pack, and in the mountains – this is great time for me – it took the entire first day to do a little over seven miles) I stopped for lunch.  You might think pregnant women eat strange things, and you’d be wrong.  Strike up a conversation with a thru-hiker and find out what the most interesting thing he or she had eaten on the trail was and I’m sure you’ll be amazed.  You see, trail food has to meet a certain set of standards in order to be considered.  In this case, variety is sacrificed in order to maintain high caloric offerings in lightweight doses while still having some sort of nutritional value.  Did I mention flavor?  Nope.  That’s just a bonus.  Cue the SPAM and tuna salad tortilla.  A little delicacy I like to call, “SPAM and tuna salad tortilla.”

  

While I was eating, a Dark-Eyed Junco was hopping around on the ground in front of me and flying around the immediate vicinity.  I meant to mention these birds earlier and forgot.  I see plenty of them every day, usually at higher elevations and almost always really close by.  It’s like they’re not afraid of humans.  They’re fun to watch, as well.  I’ve always liked birds and do my best to learn about them.  I never knew how bold these little guys are.  It wouldn’t surprise me if someone were able to feed them by hand. 

  

I stopped to refill my water and then kept going.  Since I found out I had LTE during lunch, I took a long one to catch up emails and send a few texts.  

Lo and behold, DABS came lumbering along as I was finishing up.  He’s starting to get trail legs and I don’t think he realizes it.  He’s exponentially faster than he was two weeks ago.  Anyways, we kept going and noticed an area where the fine citizens of North Carolina had clearly taken the time to make an obviously rocky area much more pleasant to the feet of thru-hikers.  Take that, Georgia!

  

Up ahead, I passed an RV.  Yep, an RV.  That’s a caravan, for you British lads/lasses.  Nothing can crush that ‘one with nature, doing something most people don’t do, in the wilderness’ feeling quite like a family of fatsos out having a vacation right beside your gateway to the outdoors.  Sorry for the harsh words, I was just having a really good day and for some reason, that RV ruined it for a few moments.  I mean, I’m thru-hiking the AT.  This is the wilderness.  There are, quite literally, signs everywhere that say so.  The idea of someone being able to drive out and bring a camper along with tons of food and drinks just kinda made me feel like a moron for laboring up and down these confounded mountains for days on end.  Rant over.
 

D’ya like dags? Dags? What? Yeah, dags. Oh, dogs. Sure, I like dags. I like caravans more.

A bit further on, I got a glimpse of today’s highlight – the Albert Mountain fire tower.  Apparently, there’s a fire tower at the top of one of the highest peaks around and not only does the trail pass it, you can go up and inside of it.  Sweet!

  

On we go, yeah?  Remember how happy I was when I realized my state cared about thru-hikers and their feet?  A concern made evident by careful placement of a pathway through an otherwise rocky area?  Remember when I thought that North Carolina was better when it came to rocks?  Scratch that.  Scratch that entirely.  Strike that from the record.  I was so wrong.  The approach to the fire tower was my first “scramble.”  For those unfamiliar with the term, it means you have to crawl up rocks – not making par after missing the GIR.  Fun.  Well, at least I got to take some good pictures of the trail and a few videos of DABS coming up, which is always entertaining! 

   

             

DABS Coming Up

https://youtu.be/wfcIoCq9SCA

DABS Climbing Rocks

https://youtu.be/8riw2WcvLOI

Once again, the misery proved worth it and I was rewarded with the most amazing views I’ve seen, so far.  Needless to say, I spent quite a bit of time up there.  It was breathtaking.  I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

  

  

  

This shot was taken by me running around the walkway on the fire tower to get a 360 degree panorama shot

  

 

  

When I was on top of the tower, I looked down and saw a guy who had taken the sign down and was laying on it.  Obviously it was necessary since the entire area was flat.  Hike your own hike, bro!  (Much, much more on this phrase to follow)

   

 

I noticed an attic inside the tower and my curiosity prevailed.  There was a single piece of 1″ round stock welded to about a foot by foot piece of 1/4″ sheet metal that was bolted to the floor.  It didn’t seem very sturdy.  It was my only option, though.  After a display of acrobatics that would make any circus proud, I was looking in the attic.  There was nothing up there.  Way to risk injury for no reward.  Oh well.  Notice the extreme balance and expertise associated with this maneuver (sarcasm).  Also, how do I have shin muscles? 

  

I actually went to the top of the fire tower three times today and was feeling so good, I ran up the four flights of stairs each time.  I don’t know if I’m getting back in shape, getting my trail legs, or both.  Either way, I’m digging it.  DABS made it up there with me, so we snapped a picture from the top.

  

It was about this time when the day started to take a turn first to weird, and then shortly later, to bad.  One of the girls who came up had a rope at the bottom of her pack.  I’d like to point out that this was not 550 cord.  This was also not rope people use for climbing and rappelling.  This was a rope better suited for a tugboat to use while pulling an oil tanker.  It was massive.  I inquired.  Apparently she does some type of rope-climbing-dancing-acrobatics or something…  Circus girl?  Exotic dancer?  I didn’t get the entire story, and to be honest, I didn’t really care.  I was too confused to be concerned.  What followed shortly after was a display of the strangest thing I’ve seen on the trail, so far (and also a shameless upstaging of my brilliant acrobatics while in the fire tower).  I mean, I guess it wouldn’t have been strange to see in a gym, or something; but, this girl is literally lugging around a piece of the Titanic just so she can swing from things like a monkey.  Hike your own hike!  (Again, more on this later)  I took a picture so I could share this with you guys. 

  

So, that was the weird, here comes the bad:

6’12”, who we thought we’d lost, showed up after I’d been up there for nearly two hours.  He limped up the trail and told me he’d messed up his hip and leg.  Not really sure what happened, I asked him if he was okay and would keep going.  He said he would, but, he wanted to go up the fire tower for a few pictures, first.  I knew he was in pain when it took him almost five minutes to go up the 30-40 steps leading to the top. 

He also showed me this awesome video of him walking.  Apparently that’s harder than it sounds for people from Wisconsin.  You be the judge… 

6’12” vs. Walking

https://youtu.be/82si1pFeZ9Q

We took a few pictures and then decided to head to camp.  Before we did, 6’12” put his pack on and then remembered he needed something from inside of it.  He asked for my help and I declined, hoping for more hilarity.  I got it.

   

 

The rest of the group had planned to rendezvous at a campsite two miles away and then debate whether, or not, to carry on to the next site three and a half miles beyond.  I left with 6’12” and immediately noticed how slowly he was walking, wincing in pain with every step.  Not good. 

Right then, I decided I was going to get down to the first shelter as quickly as I could, drop my pack, hurry back, and carry his pack for him. 

Just a cool blaze I saw on the way down…

I’d like to interject this portion of the story with a little insight.  “Hike your own hike.”  You hear it everywhere out here.  Usually, it’s used when someone sees someone else doing something of which they don’t approve or feel is beneath them.  Example:  I’m walking into a campsite and see someone urinating near a water source.  Rather than argue, I say, “Hike your own hike,” with a hint of condescension in my voice.  

Another way it’s used is in defense of something with which someone else doesn’t agree.  Example: I have my Crocs lashed to the outside of my pack and when one of the gram counters tells me that’s too much weight, I tell him, “Hike your own hike.” 

Now, why does this matter?  A few of the books I’ve read mention that it’s very common for people to form groups at the beginning of their hike.  They go on to say that it’s human nature to form groups and that, although these groups can provide encouragement and support, they can also ruin your hike.  How?  Like so…  Suppose (and in my case, it’s true) you meet up with a group that hikes at a slower pace than you.  If you stay with that group, you risk being forced to do shorter days, lengthening your time on the trail.  Also, they may want to pass by things you want to enjoy, take more/less time in towns, etc.  

Enter: Hike your own hike.  

Leave the group and focus on your own hike.  Books, articles, and many people advise this.  The term literally encourages selfishness.

I’m out here to try to become a better person while fulfilling a dream and an adventure.  I’m not super ‘Hooah’ (it’s an army term, google it) or anything, but I’m reminded of another phrase that I’ve recited thousands of times.  “I will never leave a fallen comrade.”  It’s a part of the Warrior Ethos that every soldier must learn and live.  If I’m of sound mind and able body, why should I hike my own hike?  Why can’t I also help 6’12” hike his?  Why can’t my hike be helping him with his hike? 

Hike your own hike?  Meh.  I’m gonna do me.  At the end of the day, I want to be the person who helped a friend, not left him behind because he was injured and hiked slower.  I’m not saying that our paths won’t eventually lead different ways, I’m just saying that I won’t leave him behind when he’s injured so I can cover more miles that day.  If you would have, I don’t think I’d have a beer with you.  Rant over.

I forgot to mention that on my way down to the shelter the first time, I ran by a female Cooper’s Hawk that was undoubtedly on a kill.  I say this because raptors are reluctant to leave a kill because they’re so hard to come by in nature, and this case was no different.  She didn’t bust out of the bush until I was about three feet away.  If my heart rate wasn’t already at max potential output, it was then.  Won’t be digging a cathole tonight.

So I met up with the rest of the group at the first shelter, brought them up to speed with 6’12” and his issue, left my pack in their care, drank some water, and ran back up the trail to meet him.  After about a half-mile, or so, I found him and told him to give me his pack.  I think he shed a tear.  I told him the group had decided to go on to the next shelter.  He said he thought he’d be able to make it if he didn’t have to carry his pack; so, off I went.  I ran back down the trail and caught up with the group about a mile from the first shelter.  Because I didn’t want my decision to help a friend to have a negative impact on anyone else’s hike, I snatched my pack from Eugene and proceeded to hike the next two miles carrying both my pack and his pack.  Luckily, one of the guys hiking with us, Uphill (that’s his trail name) helped me out by hurrying to camp, dropping his pack, and coming back to relieve me.  Unfortunately, it was only for about a quarter of a mile, but it was still great to finally have one pack, again.  If you ever read this, Uphill, I can’t thank you enough for that.

6’12” made it to camp about 15 minutes after me and seemed to be in fairly decent spirits, in spite of his injury.  He also tripped over a log in a manner that reminded me of a South American soccer player taking a dive in a game.  I called him ‘seis doce’ for the rest of the night (six twelve in Spanish).  I didn’t have that one on video, but it was great.  Trust me. 

My legs are shot.  I didn’t make it to Franklin, NC today.  I did help a friend through one of those moments that tends to make people catch a flight back to their hometown, though.  As soon as I’m done writing this, I’m going to sleep like a baby.  We only have four miles tomorrow to get to town and I’m going to take two zeroes in a row.  I only wanted to take one; but, NC State is playing Friday night in the Sweet 16 and that’s important enough for me to take another one. 

Sorry this has been such a long post, it’s been a long and eventful day, so that’s what you get. 

Regardless of the pain, I still feel really good.  I know I could have made Franklin today if everything else hadn’t happened.  My Fitbit says 16.98 miles for the day, so I’m happy with that.  I’m trying to push myself harder each day.  I’m excited about a few down days, though.  Today took a lot out of me with all the running and the carrying two packs.  Hopefully I’m able to move in the morning.  At least I’m eating Bojangles for lunch tomorrow, though! 

I’m sure I’ll have more to write tomorrow.  For now, it’s 11:54 and that’s way past hiker midnight.  I’m going to bed.  Y’all be good.

#FitbitProblems