Ahead on the Hiking, Behind on the Blah Blah Blah…So Let’s Catch Up!
Ok, so I had this big idea that I would keep the few interested in this boondoggle of a journey up to date with my progress while waxing poetic painting a lovely mental nature scene for you along the way. Like if Bob Ross were a book.
Well, it didn’t happen. A lot has happened, but doing the finger dance on computer keys has not been a beat I’ve been able to keep.
I’ve been on the road for nearly 70 days at this point and have hiked more than 1,000 miles. I took two days off in Damascus (mile 470) and two more outside Harper’s Ferry (mile 1025). Otherwise, I’ve been doing a daily march up and down hills with only enough pause to grab food, do a load of laundry, shower, and maybe sing the occasional karaoke song (The Proclaimers, ‘I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),’ of course!).
Leaving Stover Creek, I ended the second day on trail at Devil’s Kitchen, a campsite with a creek attracting many a sore foot (and some crosses knifed into surrounding trees). Here I ran into a couple people from the first night and was (quite easily) convinced by good company and conversation to not push further, but to soak my feet and call it a day.
This began a bond between four otherwise unlikely allies that would last in person for several weeks (and continues by phone still), helping nurse sore ankles while carrying our buddy’s (26 lb) pack, walking to fictional pizza promises in the woods near Neel’s Gap, riding in the back of pickup trucks to resupply in town, walking along highways to throw slumber parties in cheap motel rooms, and eating our way through Georgia and into North Carolina (4 lbs of Chinese food per person anyone?).
Unfortunately, we got separated on a terribly cold and rainy day heading into Nantahala Outdoor Center in Bryson City, North Carolina, but that’s just how things go out here on the farm.
I celebrated my 38th birthday at mile 100 and crossed into North Carolina from Georgia the day after, one week after starting on March 27th. At the gap on my way into Franklin, the trail club manager and his wife shared not only their love of the trail, but a couple cold beers with fellow hikers. I mentioned my aging a year at the state border and was rewarded with their last Fireball shot from the cooler (and a couple hi-fives and a big hug). The fun didn’t end there! An RV’ing family was at the gap celebrating their youngest daughter’s birthday (who was very into knives) that weekend and had leftover birthday cake. Beer, Fireball, and birthday cake? I mean, I guess the trail does provide!
Sorting through the end of your 30s under normal circumstances can be complicated, but, out here, it seems you can put most people in 3 buckets:
Those in their 20s full of life, embarking on an epoch adventure, proving themselves and ready to conquer the world.
Those in their 50s or 60s out here to check off a bucket list item before they, well, kick that bucket.
And then there are those in their 30s, which a friend summed up quite nicely asking, “So, what fell apart in your life?”
The trail can be full of surprises. There are people that set up tables at road gaps in the trail providing food, beverage, and conversation. There are strangers that pull over providing rides to hikers looking to resupply their food stores at the nearest town. One hiker’s closest friends, after driving 7 hours, showed up in the snowy cold at the base of Roan Mountain in Tennessee to provide trail magic of steaks, potatoes, and green beans just before the freezing dark arrived and then got up in the early a.m. to serve up some warm pancakes, deer sausage, and French-press hot coffee to the weary hikers descending the mountain that morning.
One event that I will not soon forget took place at Wood’s Hole, a mystical hostel in the forest outside Pearisburg, Virginia, whose 1880s main house and accompanying bunks capture your childhood clubhouse cowboy curiosities soothing your soul with hammocks, guitars, and farm-fresh foods. I was lucky to be on the approach trail to this heavenly hostel when word spread that a special treat was in store for the first twenty hikers that reached Wood’s Hole that day. It turned out that the sweetest couple, a couple who met thru hiking the AT in a prior year, decided to rent out the place, providing food (Ribs!) and a bunk to complete strangers out walking the trail that day. It was a magical event, an event that had us share our gratitude in a group circle before meals, an event that gave me my new trail name (VANGO!), and an event that provided me with new friends for the weeks ahead and hopefully the months (and years!) to come.
The last couple of months have been a whirlwind. We’ve had friends come, speed ahead, fall behind, and head home. We’ve walked over so many roots that we would like to set those roots on fire, deny them water, and watch those mutha flippas burn. We’ve conquered the Triple Crown Peaks watching hawks fly underneath us on Dragon’s Tooth, standing near the edge of McAfee Knob, and howling like wolves on Tinker Cliffs; all in a single day. We’ve hiked in the dark. We’ve scared and been scared by large rat snakes jumping simultaneously together in the air (can snakes scream?). We’ve swam in streams and had our stomachs nibbled by baby trout. We’ve had ticks on our butts, which we find because we take color photos of our butts each night (stay tuned; maybe I’ll have an art show post-hike – just jokes folks). We’ve camped near landfills and toxic streams, stayed with a dude someone met on Reddit (do NOT do this alone, campers), worked on the cleaning crew at a hostel for a free couch to sleep on, and had a few camp fires and laughs to boot. We still have more than 1,000 miles to go. So I’ve taken a couple days to sight-see with my Mom in Gettysburg, discard my bear canister, and break in new shoes. I don’t know what I expected coming out here. I sure haven’t figured out life’s purpose, why my beard hair grows more gnarly as the days go by while the hair on my head resembles Gollum from ‘Lord of the Rings’ more and more each day, or what I’ll do for a living once completing the trail, but I’m sure grateful to be out here, to my parents for taking care of things on the homefront, and I look forward to the weird and wild ride ahead.
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Really enjoyed reading your catch up post attempted trail in 85 harpers ferry where I got off my daughter and now husband thru hiked in 2021 spent a lot of time with them thru out their adventure rekindled the fire will attempt again next spring best of luck enjoyed the read
Thanks Cap! And good luck to you on getting back out there! You’ve got this!
I want to see some butt pics. Please. You can call it Trail Art.
Also, what did happen to your life?
Still giggling over that bit.
Make sure you hug your Mom and say thanks to your Dad.
Great post and good luck.
The real concern I have for your well-being is the loss of banjo calluses. Maybe you should call the whole thing off. This is serious, dude. Where are your priorities???
Nevertheless, enjoying your accounts of your adventure. (You obviously have your mom’s writing talent.)
Stay safe and keep on having the time of your life! Look forward to your future posts.
I agree with Ricky, the lack of banjo calluses is concerning.
Beautiful writing and great update. Miss you buddy.
Great Post!!!! Brought back sooooo many great memories! Enjoy creating yours@
Hi Andy, I successful thru-hiked the AT last year. I’m an old coworker and friend of your aunt Anna. I enjoy your writing style. You should consider a book on your journey. Keep hearing north! You got this!!!