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The 10-Year Anniversary Of My Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike

Deb thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail and is a Search & Rescue volunteer and writer living in Flagstaff, AZ.

appalachian-trail-thru-hike

Looking Through My Appalachian Trail Photo Album

April 1st marked the ten-year anniversary of the day I began my Appalachian Trail adventure -- a 2,169-mile thru-hike from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Maine's Mt. Katahdin. It was the most wonderful, difficult, soul-satisfying, challenging and fun experience of my life. So I still think about it and write about it often and do hope to do it -- or something like it (the Pacific Crest Trail perhaps) -- again someday.

On that 10-year anniversary, I looked through the hundreds of photos I took along the way, and here I wanted to share just a handful of those pictures with you and bits and pieces of the story that goes along with them.

Southern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail

Southern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail

The First White Blaze On The Appalachian Trail

On the summit of Springer Mountain, Georgia

Soon after sunrise on April 1st, I began the eight-mile approach trail from Amicalola State Park to the summit of Springer Mountain and the southernmost white blaze of the Appalachian Trail.

When I arrived at the plaque and that first blaze (just above the plaque to the left), I signed the register and continued north. Only 2,169.1 miles to go!

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I spent my first (rainy) night on the trail camping near Stover Creek Shelter. (That's me in the black vest, eating breakfast under the lean-to roof the next morning as the rain continued.)

Appalachian Trail, Day 5: Camping in the mountains of north Georgia

Appalachian Trail, Day 5: Camping in the mountains of north Georgia

Walking With Spring Can Be Cold

On the fifth day of my hike, I was too cold to get out my tent. But when I finally grit my teeth and got moving, I wore socks on my hands (don't know what I'd done with my gloves) and four layers of clothing as I hiked, and my nose dripped like a leaky faucet throughout the morning.

Goose Creek Cabins near the Appalachian Trail

Goose Creek Cabins near the Appalachian Trail

The First Stop: Walasi-Yi and Goose Creek Cabins

Every year, the Mountain Crossings store at Walasi-Yi serves more than 2,000 Appalachian Trail thru-hikers on their way to Maine. In fact, the trail itself passes right through the building, making it the only covered portion of the trail. Walasi-Yi is a great place ... although the staff helped me part with $273, and all I got in return was gear.

From Walasi-Yi, fellow hikers and I hitched a ride to Goose Creek Cabins, where we spent the night, did some laundry and dried out our gear after a cold and rainy start to the adventure.

That's Joker and Grumpy in the Goose Creek Lodge, where they found themselves some safari hats.

Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Trail

At The Georgia/North Carolina Border

A special tree marks the spot

One state behind me and 13 to go. I camped two-tenths of a mile past the Georgia-North Carolina border, which is marked by a small wooden sign nailed to a tree. It was a comfortable evening, and a dozen hikers gathered around a campfire for trail-talk and laughs.

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That evening, Joker and Marie hoisted their heavy food bags to (hopefully) keep them away from bears and other hungry critters.

Appalachian Trail through the Smokies

Appalachian Trail through the Smokies

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An Ice Storm In The Smokies

On April 22nd, I awoke in the Siler Bald Shelter in Great Smokey Mountain National Park to snow, ice and bitter cold. But once I finally ventured out of my warm sleeping bag, packed up, and started hiking, I realized it really was a great day on the trail. It was below freezing, but with a few layers on top and the effort of hiking, I was sweating in no time. And the ice and frozen fog on the trees was magical.

I entered an area thick with evergreens, which was a nice change from the bare trees I'd seen most of the way. Many of the ice-laden boughs hung over the trail and dropped some of their load on me when I brushed by. As the wind blew, the frozen branches jingled, and I frequently heard cracking and crashing of falling limbs and whole trees.

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Before the day was through, two of my trail friends and I were in the crazy little tourist town of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, having gotten a 15-mile ride from Indian Gap. We had a big dinner and visited the Happy Hiker outdoor store, where we posed for a group photo for the thru-hiker wall.

This here is a man we met on the street, proudly showing off his baby. (Yes, that's a dog.)

Mountain Mama's on the Appalachian Trail

Mountain Mama's on the Appalachian Trail

Mountain Mama's

A former hiker hostel on the Appalachian Trail

This is one of the itsy-bitsy bunkhouses at Mountain Mama's, just after the Smokies. (I don't think the hostel is there anymore, actually.) Among the things I remember about Mountain Mama's are the owners' -- the Thigpens' -- black Lab, who followed me to the bunkhouse and slept under my cot; the fact that literally half the store was filled with more brands of cigarettes than I ever knew existed, but you could donate to the Cancer Society can at the counter; the variety of old trucks in the yard; and the odd assortment of knickknacks, signs and pictures in the store.

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The morning I left, Mr. Thigpen gave me and a bunch of other thru-hikers a ride back to the trail in his tractor-pulled trailer shuttle for one dollar apiece.

Max Patch on the Appalachian Trail

Max Patch on the Appalachian Trail

Hiking Over Max Patch

This was taken the day I crossed Max Patch in thick fog. Apparently, Max Patch was the site of an old homestead. It was originally forested, but early inhabitants cleared the mountaintop for pasture. The expansive summit has also been used as a landing strip for small planes. The U.S. Forest Service purchased the 392-acre, grassy-top mountain in 1982 for the Appalachian Trail and now uses mowing and controlled burns to maintain it.

When Joker and I came to the top of Max Patch, we saw a strange sight by a white-blazed post: half a hare. The lower half of the rabbit was laying on its back in the grass. I made a bad joke about splitting hares (get it?), and Joker played Taps on his harmonica. It was really kind of eerily (is that a word?) cool up there. The white-blazed wooden posts materialized in the fog every few dozen feet.

Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail

Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail

Climbing The Stiles on the Appalachian Trail

In Tennessee and Virginia, thru-hikers have to climb up and over many pasture fences. The ladder-like structures that aid the hikers in getting over these fences are called "stiles." And here's the hiker known as Sailboat and a "man called Screamer," walking over a fence line near Sam's Gap in Tennessee.

Screamer, whose real name was Brandon, was a homeless man who'd been picked up by a police officer while walking along a Georgia highway. The policeman told Brandon that if he wanted to follow white lines, he should follow the ones on trees, not on highways, so he dropped him off at a road crossing on the Appalachian Trail. And Brandon started walking north.

Resupplying on the Appalachian Trail

Resupplying on the Appalachian Trail

The Art Of Resupplying On The Appalachian Trail

After running into thru-hikers Grumpy, Tripper and Heather at the post office in Erwin, Tennessee, I joined them for lunch at McDonalds, and then we all went grocery shopping. We kept passing each other as we wandered around and agonized about what to buy.

At one point, we sat down in an aisle and spread out the food from our baskets on the floor to figure out if we needed more. Townspeople must be used to seeing that, because we received a few friendly smiles but no strange looks. Same when we took our purchases outside and spread them on the sidewalk to remove excess packaging and sort each day's food into Zip-Loc baggies.

The Southern Balds

The Southern Balds

Wide Open Spaces On The Southern Balds

Max Patch, Big Bald, Beauty Spot -- these are three of a number of treeless, or bald, mountains on the Appalachian Trail in North Carolina and Tennessee. On a clear day, you can see for miles in all directions.

This is the section-hiker known as Just Ray. We met up at Carver's Gap, where, for at least the fifth time, the trail came to a road crossing right at the North Carolina-Tennessee state line. From there, Just Ray and I hiked together for the rest of the day. We talked a little, stopped to look at the views and take pictures, and, for the most part, hiked in silence. It was great to have someone to enjoy the beauty of it all with.

Summer on the Appalachian Trail

Summer on the Appalachian Trail

Summer Comes To The Appalachians

I remember this was a very hot day. Amazing how much sweat can come out of one person. Just Ray and I took a lengthy lunch break at Watuga Lake and soaked our sore feet.

Later that day, we saw two baby snakes. One was black with a yellow belly and a stripe around its neck, and the other was a tiny garter snake. Just Ray picked it up, and it opened its mouth as wide as it could but was too small to bite his finger.

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We also saw a big flock of butterflies on the rocks by the Laurel River. They were all over, feeding on the rhododendron and mountain laurel blooms.

The Grayson Highlands

The Grayson Highlands

The Wild Ponies

Hiking through the Grayson Highlands

Before my thru-hike, I'd lived most of my life in the east, but I never knew there was an area like the Grayson Highlands. Some hikers were comparing it to Colorado and Montana. I heard that country song Wide Open Spaces in my head as I hiked and sang it several times through.

As Hacker, Grant, Funky Munky and I came over a rock outcropping, we saw a painted pony below and, before long, encountered a group of mares and foals grazing alongside the trail. We fed them banana chips, and a brown pony with a thick mane stuck its nose into Grant's backpack. The foals, some no more than days old, followed their mothers right up to us. We saw ponies throughout the day.

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The four of us took our time on that beautiful, comfortably warm afternoon, stopping now and then to rest in the grass. There was no reason to go for big miles. What a gift that day was, and we made the most of it.

Trail Days Festival in Damascus, Virginia

Trail Days Festival in Damascus, Virginia

Trail Days

An Appalachian Trail festival in Damascus, Virginia

When my current hiking companions and I arrived in Troutdale, Virginia, we met our pre-arranged ride and drove forty-five minutes back to the place we'd been 49 trail miles and four days earlier -- Damascus, known as the "friendliest town on the Appalachian Trail" and the home of the annual Trail Days festival.

That's my blue tent, surrounded by hundreds of others during the multi-day event, which includes a hiker talent show and a crazy hiker parade.

Hiking through cow pastures on the A.T.

Hiking through cow pastures on the A.T.

The Virginia Moos

We were definitely being watched

In Virginia, the terrain changed. We were no longer at elevations of 5,000 feet or more. While there were plenty of ups and downs and rocks and roots, the climbs were generally shorter and the landscape more rolling. Pink rhododendron, white mountain laurel and orange flaming azaleas were in full bloom, and the colors combined along the trail. It was breathtaking. We passed through fields and pastures. At one point, a cow standing next to the trail turned her sizable posterior our way, raised her tail and showed us exactly what she thought of us. And, I must say, she was quite long-winded about it.

Wood's Hole Hostel

Wood's Hole Hostel

Wood's Hole Hostel

Another special stop along the Appalachian Trail

After a day of hiking through several downpours and strong thunderstorms, Wood's Hole Hostel was such a welcome sight. This homey place is is located on a dirt road, a half-mile off the A.T. The hostel was built with wood from the now-extinct American Chestnut. There's a bunk room upstairs and a kitchen downstairs, as well as a porch with a hammock.

At the time I hiked, Wood's Hole was operated by Tillie Wood from Atlanta, who spent summers there in the main house, a log cabin built in 1880. Tillie's husband, Roy, who passed away in 1987, found the old homestead while studying a herd of elk (wapiti) in the area in the 1940s. Roy served as assistant to the Secretary of the Interior during the Carter Administration.

Tillie would ring the wake-up bell at seven a.m. and the breakfast bell 7:30. Then I happily ate Tillie's eggs, sausage, grits and biscuits, as Tillie stood at my side and talked with the eight of us sitting at her dining room table. She told us about her son, who was the mayor of Roswell, Georgia, the history of the house we were eating in, and the friendship quilt from the 1920s that hung on the wall next to the table. Tillie told us that she and her husband had rented this homestead for five dollars per year and eventually bought it and 100 acres for three hundred dollars. There was a bunch of dead chestnut on the property, she said, which they then sold for $1400. There's a rock wall behind the bunkhouse that was built by hikers, stone-by-stone over the preceding five years. As "rent," we each had to place a rock on the wall.

Tillie Woods is gone now, but her wonderful hiker hostel continues on. You can become a friend of Wood's Hole Hostel on Facebook.

Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail

Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail

Sunrise In Virginia

After hiking out of Pearisburg, Virginia, nine of us camped in Symm's Gap Meadow in what I thought was the prettiest spot I'd camped so far. We were on the edge of a big meadow, with broad views to the north and west. It was an absolutely gorgeous day, and we had front row seats for an incredible sunset.

McAfee Knob, Appalachian Trail

McAfee Knob, Appalachian Trail

McAfee Knob

In the fog

When the fog lifted a bit, I enjoyed some wonderful views of the valley on this 65th day of my thru-hike; however, what's considered to be the best view in Virginia, from McAfee Knob, was completely obscured. Split P, Turbo Turtle and I took some photos there anyway, including one of Turbo Turtle standing out on the end of the precipice. The trail then followed along Tinker Cliffs, and I walked as far from the edge as I could.

Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail

Thru-Hiking the Appalachian Trail

Cold Mountain Hostel

The owner gave us a warm welcome, even though he wasn't there.

From Buena Vista, VA, my companions and I made a spontaneous stop at a free hostel someone told us about and then offered us a ride. After a long drive into the boonies, the truck eventually stopped in front of what looked like a shack, which was surrounded by four-foot-high grass. Two ducks ran down what there was of a driveway, and I saw some cats playing on the porch. Turbo Turtle and Making Cents (who's real name is Carey Cash, by the way) went to investigate. They found that no one was there, but a welcome note on the door said the owner, a 1995 thru-hiker called Spider, would be back late, but that we (anyone) should just go on in and make ourselves at home. So we did.

First, we cleaned the place. I washed the pile of dishes in the sink while the others vacuumed, swept and tidied up. We took showers, washed laundry, and played with the dog and kittens. By 9pm, Spider still wasn't home. Neither was his wife and baby, whose pictures were on the refrigerator. So there we were, nice and comfy in someone else's home, surrounded by books and baby toys, and listening to CDs. It was so weird and wonderful. In the event that the owners didn't show up before we left the next day, we wrote a note telling them who we were. We left a donation, as well. What generous, not to mention trusting, people.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail

Hiking the Appalachian Trail

Not Even A Trace Of The Virginia Blues

I was still as happy as could be

That's me, having one of many, many happy days on the Appalachian Trail. I felt more alive than I ever had, living each moment of each day to its fullest.

This particular happy day was #74 since leaving Springer Mountain, Georgia.

The Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park

The Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park

The Shenandoahs

When I entered Shenandoah National Park, things changed suddenly. Where there was previously underbrush along the edges of the narrow trail, there was now a weed-whacked swath on either side. And there had been a noticeable absence of non-thru-hiker hikers for quite some time ... until I got to Park. Matter of fact, just as I passed the sign about backcountry camping regulations, a man jogged by me on the suddenly very smooth trail. For the most of day #78, it looked as though somebody had gone along and removed all the rocks from the A.T. There was even a point where my trail companions and I passed just below a boulder-covered summit and above the rest of a mountainside of rubble, but the A.T. was a clear path. Anywhere else, we would have been scrambling.

Naked Hiking Day on the Appalachian Trail

Naked Hiking Day on the Appalachian Trail

Naked Hiking Day on the Appalachian Trail

Me, I stayed fully clothed

In case you hadn't been informed, June 21st is National Naked Hiking Day. As I sat on the edge of Pass Mountain Shelter at 8:30 a.m., I for one was fully clothed in a sports bra and shorts. McGruff and Hacker, however, were strategically cloaked with what looked a lot like fig leaves. Not that I knew what a fig leaf looked like.

Should I mention that McGruff's front fig leaf fell off a time or two?

Once we were ready to hike, I brought up the rear and my clothed friend, Split P, walked out in front of Hacker and McGruff for a little added naked-hiker protection. There were Boy Scouts in the area.

Thru-Hiker at Bear's Den Hostel

Thru-Hiker at Bear's Den Hostel

Loaner Clothes At Bear's Den Hostel

What a wonderful hostel. You couldn't ask for friendlier caretakers (at the time, it was Mel and Patti) or a prettier spot. The stone building, which looked somewhat like a castle, was once a doctor's private retreat. At Bear's Den, there was a completely stocked, public kitchen, a dining area with several large tables, and a comfortable living room with a piano. There were a couple of bunk rooms and bathrooms upstairs, as well as bunks and a bathroom downstairs, where ten of us and one dog stayed the night on the 85th day of my thru-hike. There were all kinds of books and games, towels, shampoo and conditioner (which my hair just soaked right up), and spare clothes to wear while doing laundry and hanging around. It felt great to wear a cotton t-shirt.

This here is Split P, enjoying some funky loaner shorts and her newly washed, ultra-frizzed, kinky-curly hair.

Thru-Hiker at Pen-Mar State Park on the Appalachian Trail

Thru-Hiker at Pen-Mar State Park on the Appalachian Trail

Pen-Mar Park

Crossing the Pennsylvania-Maryland Line

Just before the trail crosses the Mason-Dixon Line, we came to Pen-Mar Park. Western Maryland Railroad opened this park in 1878, which, in its heyday, was known as the Coney Island of the Blue Ridge. A Lutheran picnic around the turn of the century drew 15,000 people. Facilities in the park once included a three-story hotel and an amusement park. The park, as it used to be, ceased operation in 1943.

After lunch in a gazebo, as Split P and I began to leave the park, we were surrounded by little girls asking lots of questions. Interesting thing: They didn't ask the usual questions most adults ask. Instead, they started off with, "How do you go potty in the woods?" followed by "What do you wipe with?" and "What are those blue things around your ankles?" (The girl who asked was referring to our gaiters.)

"Do you get a reward or medal when you finish?" one of them asked me. When I told her we wouldn't, she wrinkled her nose and said, "Well, you should. But I guess you'll feel good about it, though."

"Yes," I replied, "That's the reward."

The Half-Gallon Challenge on the Appalachian Trail

The Half-Gallon Challenge on the Appalachian Trail

The Half-Gallon Challenge

Marking the halfway point on the Appalachian Trail

On July 1st, 2000, I and several other thru-hikers sat outside the country store in Pennsylvania's Pine Grove Furnace State Park. After lunch and resupplying there, we'd hike on and pass the halfway point of the trail. There's a halfway marker, but, due to numerous trail relocations over the years, it was no longer on the exact spot. In any case, we would be more than halfway by the time we stopped for the day.

One thing's for sure: I wasn't thinking, oh, geez, I have to do all that again! I was really looking forward to the next 1,080-some-odd miles. Unlike the beginning of the trail, I was, by then, in good hiking condition. Gear was figured out, as were foot problems--knock on wood. My feet had felt great since Waynesboro, VA, where I'd changed boot inserts and added sock liners. Setting up and breaking down camp and cooking were now second-nature, and my balance and eye-foot coordination were quite a bit better, though the rocks were still a challenge. I was excited to see New England again, where I'd lived in every state but Vermont.

That's Turbo Turtle, showing us his big belly after finishing off a half-gallon of Moose Tracks ice cream. Eating a half-gallon of ice cream is an Appalachian Trail tradition when you get to (or near) the halfway point. Me, I had half a pint.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail

Hiking the Appalachian Trail

Hiking Through Pennsylvania Farm Country

Near Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania, I came out of the woods into a corn field, where I met a box turtle and told him how I'd nearly been run over by a group of fast-moving mountain bikers. He listened like all good turtles do. Then, having vented and smiling yet again, I continued on through the farmland. The white-blazed posts guided me through the corn and wheat and over a bridge into town. What a beautiful place Boiling Springs was, and the local people I spoke to as I wandered down the main street were very friendly. The historic homes were pretty and well-kept, as I told some of the owners who were sitting or puttering outside in their yards.

The Pennsylvania Rocks

The Pennsylvania Rocks

The Infamous Pennsylvania Rocks

Where hiking boots go to die

So this was what everyone had been referring to when they went on and on about the Pennsylvania rocks. Yep, there are quite a few out there. It really didn't slow me down all that much, it just hurt more. I did pretty well on all the embedded, sharp-edged rocks but stumbled quite a bit on the loose ones. I'd often take a step, and my foot would slide back as I pushed off to take another.

For several miles on my 99th day of hiking, the A.T. followed closely alongside a dirt road. The road was apparently part of the "old A.T." Now the trail lead us over lots of rocks, with frequent glimpses of that smooth dirt road. Many people--even some that had, as far as I know, stayed on the current A.T. until then--chose to walk the road through that stretch. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but I looked at it as a test of my willpower. To me, that "old A.T." wasn't the A.T. now, so it wasn't part of my hike. Okay, but I admit it: a wee little voice in my head whispered, "What kind of ridiculous relocation is this?" My aching legs and feet!

The Appalachian Trail in New Jersey

The Appalachian Trail in New Jersey

A Special Stop In New Jersey

I don't know who Jim was, but he sure did a nice thing for the hikers. Rumor had it he was a former thru-hiker himself. I heard about this hostel of sorts from Thebes and Twilight, who in turn had heard about it from trail angel galore, Desperado. He said to go past Gemmer Road to a field, then turn at a sign that simply read, "Water." It was a little confusing, since we crossed a number of unsigned country roads, but we finally found a note from Diamond Doug, directing us to the place. Diamond Doug too had spoken to Desperado and had gotten more precise directions.

Just a tenth of a mile off the A.T., down a dirt lane, we found this beautiful farm with a large, freshly-mowed area and hay fields. We found several neat and tidy outbuildings, including two small bunkhouses. One of them had in it a washer/dryer, a large sink with sponges, a loft with a fan, and a separate room with a clean, hot shower, heat lamp and shampoo. The privy even came with toilet paper, and it was the thick, cushy stuff at that! There was a fenced-in field nearby, complete with grazing donkeys. Even the donkeys' house has an automatic light that went on when it got dark.

We saw no sign of this hospitable Jim. We didn't even know where the main house was. Possibly further down the dirt road, on another part of that immaculate farm. There were no signs posted about dos and don'ts, and no donation box. Hikers had left Jim thank you notes tacked to a wall and in the trail register.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail

Hiking the Appalachian Trail

Another Border Crossing On The Appalachian Trail

And a little side trip

Just so happened that Split P and Turbo Turtle's friend, who was moving upstate, was being given a going-away dinner party on the night of July 20th at her favorite Tibetan restaurant in New York City's East Village, and that morning we just happened to be 15.3 miles from Greenwood Lake, New York, where a bus stops en route to the city. So we left Vernon, New Jersey at 8:30 a.m. and hiked 15.3 beautiful miles, crossed the New Jersey-New York line, got to Greenwood Lake at 3p.m., had a munchie at the All Seasons Diner to tide us over (a thru-hiker's version of a munchie, that is--meaning a full meal) and then boarded the 4:17 bus.

appalachian-trail-thru-hike

I thought a little culture shock might be fun, and Party Animal really wanted to wear his backpack on the subway. I really wanted the picture of Party Animal wearing his backpack on the subway and had never been to a Tibetan restaurant, so I decided to tag along. We'd stay the night at an apartment on the Upper East Side belonging to another of Split P's friends, then get a ride back to the trail (where we left off, of course) from Bob, yet another friend of hers.

In a tent in the woods one morning and an apartment on the Upper East Side that night. Fun!

The Lemon Squeezer on the Appalachian Trail

The Lemon Squeezer on the Appalachian Trail

The New York Lemon Squeezer

And Appalachian Trail hikers are the lemons

Bear Mountain--Harriman State Park was beautiful, with its open forest and great views. Day 113 on the Appalachian Trail was a perfect day for a hike and, being Saturday, there were quite a few people out for one themselves, though not enough to call the trail busy.

The park is home to the Lemon Squeezer, a rock formation the A.T. passes through, which I'd heard of many years earlier when I was first learning about the trail. It wasn't a big thing, really, but to me it was one of a number of key spots on the trail, simply because I'd heard the name and seen it in so many former thru-hikers' pictures. This time, I was the lemon and, with my pack on, barely squished through the long, angled crevice.

Trail Angel Hospitality on the Appalachian Trail

Trail Angel Hospitality on the Appalachian Trail

Northern Hospitality Along the Appalachian Trail

You just never know where you'll end up each day.

At 5:30 p.m. on July 28th, we came to Route 4 in Cornwall Bridge, Connecticut. The next shelter and water source were still six miles away, and Split P and I were pretty tired. So we decided to try to hitchhike a mile to Baird's General Store and explore our options. Turbo Turtle wasn't thrilled with the idea, but he folded under the power of two girls with the same goal. The thought of camping in a thunderstorm just wasn't appealing to Split P and me. Neither were six more miles of ups and downs, given the time of day and our energy levels. We knew there was a motel nearby.

As I was standing in line at the register back at Baird's, a woman looked at the assortment of groceries in my hands, smiled, and said, "I'm curious to know what kinds of food hikers crave." That started a conversation which soon resulted in her unsolicited offer to take the four of us to her home, a mile up the road. She said she had a separate cottage and an RV named Bessie we could stay in, a shower we could use, and a computer if we wanted to check e-mail. We didn't hesitate.

appalachian-trail-thru-hike

The next morning, our wonderful hostess served us breakfast on a cloth-covered picnic table on the footbridge over the creek that separated her house from the guest quarters. This is Tevi in her kitchen, cooking up that huge, delicious breakfast.

The Appalachian Trail in Vermont

The Appalachian Trail in Vermont

Sharing A Vermont Sunset

Camping on the summit of Stratton Mountain

On August 9th, 131 days since I'd left Springer Mountain, at least twenty muddy thru-hikers, both north- and southbounders, spent the night on the windy summit of Stratton Mountain. The gondola to the village below had been shut down just before Split P, Turbo Turtle and I arrived, because of 40-mph winds. But thru-hikers were allowed to stay in the ski patrol hut free of charge, with use of a kitchen, bathrooms and a phone. When it was running, the gondola was also free for thru-hikers.

The Appalachian Trail in Vermont

The Appalachian Trail in Vermont

Mud And Mosquitoes

There's Dead Man Walkin' crossing a suspension bridge in Vermont. The bridge was a temporary respite from the very muddy trail but not from the very hungry mosquitoes that seemed to crave DEET and every other kind of repellent we tried.

In some places, I didn't know whether to try to cross slick bog bridges or wade through the muck. To top it all off, when I went to cross a stream that was swollen from all the rain, I stepped onto a rock that proceeded to turn over and dump me in the water. I stomped, dripping, up the bank and across the road in boots that were filled with water and hoofed it up the next mountain to work off some steam.

Nimbelwill Nomad on the Appalachian Trail

Nimbelwill Nomad on the Appalachian Trail

Nimblewill Nomad

An Appalachian Trail legend appears

When a southbound thru-hiker passed me on August 16th as I continued my northward journey , he said Nimblewill Nomad would be coming by shortly. I knew who that was. Nimblewill had begun hiking in May from the Gaspe Peninsula in Canada. He hiked the International Appalachian Trail to Mt. Katahdin and then continued on the Appalachian Trail bound for Springer Mountain. Then he would hike to Key West, Florida. In fact, he'd done that same route northbound.

When I caught up to new trail buddies, Mule and Web Breaker, after taking a short rest at the stream to eat a banana and a peach, compliments of a trail angel, they were standing in the trail, talking to Nimblewill. What a friendly guy. I wish we'd run into him at a shelter in the evening, so we might have had a longer conversation.

Read Nimblewill Nomad's Book

The Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire

The Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire

New Hampshire's White Mountains

Back in more familiar territory

I was excited to be back in New Hampshire, my old stomping grounds. I'm an alumnus of the University of New Hampshire, where I was an active member of the Outing Club and hiked in the White Mountains two weekends a month on average. It was on one of those trips more than a decade earlier that I'd learned about the Appalachian Trail, and the dream of a thru-hike had begun percolating.

That's Gaited Mule, taking in the view. He was from the South and had never been to New England before. In fact, he'd never backpacked before hitting the A.T., and he made it the whole way.

The Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire

The Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire

Gaited Mule Learns A Lesson On Mt. Moosilauke

Our first summit above tree line, at 4,802