It Started Well, but I Am off the Appalachian Trail for 2022
It started well, but I am off the Appalachian Trail for 2022.
I did not underestimate the difficulty of the trail, at least not too badly. What I found was pretty much as advertised. What I did underestimate was how much three rounds of surgery had clobbered my strength and stamina. After a month of conditioning, I was much more ready for the trail than I was at the beginning of February, but not ready enough.
Springer Mountain to Stover Creek
Brother Chuck (aka Bilbo) and I drove from Fayetteville to Above the Clouds Hostel on Monday. From there Lucky shuttled us to the Springer Mountain parking lot. We hit the trail about 2:00. Given the mid-afternoon start, we were only planning to go to the Stover Creek Shelter, less than two miles north.
We arrived at the shelter about 3:15, before the heavy rain moved in. There was still plenty of room. We set up in the loft and watched the deluge move through. After the rain, the stoves came out and dinner was served. The dedicated fire sitters got the fire going again. (Pictures below.) We slept warm and dry in the shelter, though I did put my puffy on sometime during the night.
I enjoyed the Stover Creek Shelter. The roof over the picnic tables was wonderful.
Stover Creek to Hawk Mountain
Tuesday morning we packed up and headed for Hawk Mountain Shelter, a bit less than six miles away. The rain caught us mid-afternoon. By the time we got to Hawk Mountain at 4:00, it was raining steadily. It was cold, the shelter was packed, and there was a veritable tent city already set up.
While Chuck got his tent set up, I tried to get my tarp into a workable configuration for sleeping. It did not go well. We ended up with both of us sleeping in Chuck’s little tent with the tarp in a simple vee off one of the side doors for our gear. With that done, we went back to the shelter and fixed dinner. I had couscous with a tuna fish packet mixed in. Not bad at all.
It rained on and off through the night. The tent had a couple of pinholes above my head. I pulled my stocking cap down and ignored the occasional drips. I was warm and comfortable enough in my bag on top of my air mattress, but everything else was getting wet, even the stuff we had carefully set between us. I knew it was time to bail. With all our gear wet, I was not interested in another night out crammed into that one little tent, especially with the 20-degree forecast for Saturday night in Dahlonega down in the foothills. I knew my gear couldn’t handle the weather. I did not want to end up with another emergency situation such as I had had in February.
Wednesday at Hawk Mountain Shelter
I did not want to get out of the sack Wednesday morning. I was warm, but it was cold outside. There was water on the tent floor all around us. Thankfully my clothes had mostly stayed on top of other stuff and were only damp instead of soaked like my mittens. Getting dressed was not nearly as traumatic as I had feared. Thank God for merino wool! We got our sleeping bags stuffed and compressed and out to the relative dryness under the tarp. We made our way to the shelter where the breakfasting and packing up and heading out was in full swing. We waited for the commotion to settle before cooking our own breakfasts; we, at least, did not have far to go that day.
We found out there had been an emergency extraction the evening before. It was a fellow we had first met when we passed him on our way to Stover Creek. He was not moving fast but he was determined. He would go for a while, sit down for a break, then get up and do it again. I think it was already raining by the time he made it to the shelter. He left the shelter before we did on Tuesday. We passed him on the way. It was late by the time he got to Hawk Mountain. He was wet and cold. I grabbed his water bottles and headed down to the creek to fill them. When I got back to the shelter, I announced to those there, “If there is any way you can scrunch together and fit this gentleman in it would be most appreciated. He has had a very long day.” The last I saw he was sitting on a side bench with a water bottle held close. I hope someone had filled it with warm water. Apparently, after Chuck and I headed for our sleeping bags, folks called emergency services for a hiker in distress with hypothermia. For which I give thanks. The trail can definitely kill you.
This critter showed up in one of the packages of camping gear milady mailed to me after my first attempt. It obviously wanted to go with me on the Appalachian Trail. Folks kept referring to it as “the mouse,” so I decided that is what it was. I named him Max after the son of a long-time artist friend in the Ukraine. I added the bow tie and sprayed him with Scotchgard. I got him as far as Hawk Mountain.
Sometime after we arrived at the shelter a family of four trekked in, Mom, Dad, and two preteen daughters, destination Katahdin. I asked Mom whether she had followed FightForTogether on their thru-hike a couple years ago. “Oh, yes!” They found a reasonable spot and set up their tents.
Wednesday morning, when it was clear I was not going to make it to Katahdin, I decided that Max had to continue on his way. I solemnly bequeathed Max to the younger daughter and handed Mom my business card so she could stay in touch.
Chuck and the older daughter had all sorts of fun comparing sketchbooks. What a delightful crew. I think this foursome is going to make it.
On Toward Home
Verizon may have the best overall connectivity along the AT, but here in Georgia, Chuck’s T-Mobile phone has had much stronger connections. So he got to make the arrangements for a shuttle pick-up at Hightower Gap. Bret Eady said he could meet us a 5:00. We hung around the shelter and chatted with the folks stopping there for a lunch break as well an ATC Ridge Runner making her rounds. About 3:30, I had a tuna fish packet and Chuck had his snack. We finished packing up and ambled (carefully!) down the seven-tenths of a mile to Hightower. It was a fairly steep slope with lots of rocks and roots. At least the weather cooperated. We even got a glimpse or two of the sun. It was cold (low forties) and windy at the gap. I pulled out my raincoat for a windbreak layer. Bret picked us up promptly at 5:00 and took us back to Above the Clouds and Chuck’s car.
I left a 24-pack of Yuengling Traditional Lager at Above the Clouds. I had planned to present it myself to the Thursday night crew as a bit of paying it forward for all the help I had received from the trail-angel crew in February. Lucky said he would be happy to do the honors.
We got back to Chuck’s house in the early evening. Thursday was sunny and low sixties in Fayetteville. I did my laundry and got my gear hosed off and hung up to dry. Today I wrote a brief post on Instagram and this expanded version here. I will leave the retrospective for another post. I am wrung out enough as is.
One of my February trail angels responded to my post on Instagram. I commented, “Writing that post was *hard*.”
He responded, “I know it was but perhaps your posts may actually save someone’s life down the way – sometimes it takes courage to acknowledge to oneself that enough is enough and I believe your posts may make a difference down the way.”
So may it be.
Where to from here?
I am not planning to make another thru-hike attempt in 2023. Neither am I planning not to hike. If I want to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail and have a reasonable expectation of making it all the way to Katahdin, I need to get myself on a serious training regimen to build back my strength and stamina. When I can do ten miles up and down hills with 40 to 45 pounds on my back, I will be able to consider another thru-hike start.
Thanks again to my February trail angels and to Lucky at Above the Clouds Hostel for all their support.
Soli Deo gloria
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Best to you always…keep posting about your day hikes
No time for losers….
How did it start well if you only did 8 miles?
It really is okay. I started in 2004 with the thought I would do a thru hike. As it was, I got off the trail at Delaware Waters. The next year I was bummed. But someone pointed out I could thru hike by sections. It took me nine years but it was worth it. It encouraged me to stay in shape doing PT and long walks through out the year to stay in shape for each leg. And my arm rocker is the same as a 6 month thru hiker’s.
Do not be disheartened
Came here to the comments to suggest just this very thing! Section hiking is great, no need to try to force yourself to do a thru-hike. You were wise to listen to your body. Heal up and enjoy some day hikes. Blessings!
Pearwood, my good fellow trekker. I admire your courage. It’s a hard task to walk those mountains. It is hard to pull back, I had to. Shoulder surgery dictated it. I will be section hiking and occadionally bagging a Va peak. Take care of yourself, keep an eye to the trails. God bless.
Pearwood, I wish you well in your continued preparation. As I know you learned in the Army (b/c I did in the Marines), knowing when to say when is a true life skill. I’m looking forward to my own section (Swatara State Park, PA to Bear Mountain, NY) during my summer break from teaching. Happy trails, Gecko
I admire your willingness to be open and honest about your hikes and physical limitations. I believe they will help people – old and young – as they prepare for their thru-hike attempts. I look forward to reading about your conditioning and training hikes. My wife and I leave tomorrow for a short section hike of the BMT, and you will be with us in spirit.
You can always consider section hiking! One of my husband’s colleagues says he wished he’d section hiked rather than through hiking the PCT. You get each section with fresh hiker joy and you get to enjoy the trail more because the time/mileage pressure is low. Good luck!
Yours is no disgrace you tried enjoy shorter spectacular hikes
As I read this, I kept thinking that a man has to know his limitations. Kudos to you for making a post that could help someone else hit the pause button when that little voice suggests it.
I keep trying to push my limitations
Just a few thoughts: 1. You can increase your chances and enjoyment by A LOT, if you’ll figure-out how drop your pack weight to about 25 lbs, from that 40-45 lbs you mentioned. It will cost you some $$ and will take careful research & testing, but you can do it. 2. Try hammock camping. It won’t necessarily save weight, but it is more forgiving of wet/rainy conditions. Best wishes on your future efforts!
It takes strength to know and accept your limits. Don’t think of this as a failure or defeat, you’ve learned and grown as a person and will take that knowledge into the future with you. Happy trails, whichever trails you choose.
It takes strength to know and accept your limits. Don’t think of this as a failure or defeat, you’ve learned and grown as a person and will take that knowledge into the future with you. Happy trails, whichever trails you choose. Okie
I really enjoyed reading your blog. You are very inspiring. I have not backpacked over night yet but planning my first trip, a five day hike in two weeks. I am going solo as I have not found Anyone willing but I am so excited! Thank you for sharing with us!!
You should be proud that you knew when to say “that’s it, I’m done”, rather than pushing yourself above your limits and risking serious injury – or worse. God bless you.
Sorry to hear it ended, but very glad you recognized the signs early that it was not going to be. That takes courage to admit to yourself after all the planning and prepping. Kudos to you my friend! Keep on hiking in surrounding area…do the highest peaks or something on weekends. I have switched my hike to a flip flop, maybe we can link up in NY, if I make it that far…haha. Take care,
As a member of your afe cohort I really admire your gumption and fortitude. About ten years ago ( I am now 70) I was thinking of hiking the AT when I retired at 63. A friend recommended I read bill Bryson and suggested I consider the TMB ( tour mt blanc) I did it in two sections, five years apart and have never regretted the decision. The views are spectacular, better than any I ever saw in eastern USA. You can trek with tent and gear, but there is a GREAT deal to be said for sleeping indoors at refuge with showers and meals. U can easily get pack weight down to 20-25 lbs incl rain gear and lots of water .and no mosquitos
I’m sorry you’ve had to bag your hike, as I was truly looking forward to your photography. I’ll look for you on Instagram to see what beauty you capture through the lens. Take care! (BTW: I have heard from friends who did it, that hiking Mt Blanc is spectacular! And slack packing was the way to go.) Safe travels home!
First comes the crawling, then the walking, then you can run, and finally you’ll fly.
We all started out going 8 miles a day..shelter to shelter, carrying too much weight.
Your body is learning how to walk all over again..and then you have that cold rain to deal with..but then the trail will change.
I tell hikers to never under estimate GA..or New York!
It takes Sacrifice just to get to the starting point..and the the trail will demand more and more sacrifices from you. Whether one is out for a few days or months, it says a lot about the character of that person.
No doubt you’ll be dancing with that beautiful beast again one day.
While I admire your grit maybe you know now that the AT isnt for you. There’s no shame in that. I’ve done a few 60 -70 miles hikes and I have no desire to do the AT. I know there are people in their 70s that do it but they’re aliens. You’re not an alien. If you still think you are an alien and want to try again you need to be hyper focused on your gear. Like many have said here. Reduce weight! 40 lbs is still too heavy. Shoot for 30-35 . Invest in ultra light gear. Which is expensive. Go freeze dried food. It’s the lightest. A tent that leaks is not good gear. Invest in a good one. Being cold and wet can end a trip in a hurry. Shelters on the AT fill up so don’t rely on them. As others have said do chunks of the trail. The 70 miles of the AT in GSMNP would be a Helluva trip and something to brag about.
A valiant attempt!
There is no shame in trying something that is a reach; aiming for a lofty goal. That’s the challenge of it.
I hope you are able to do more strength training and rehabilitation, and get back to hiking, even if not the AT itself.
Without knowing the full extent of what your injuries are, might I suggest some regular deadlifts in your training? In addition to strength, they seem to really help with endurance.
Finally, the rain sounds like such a huge part of the AT. I’d like to do a thru-hike someday, but the AT might not be a top priority as I’m from the rocky mountain west and I’m accustomed to high altitude and dry air, not the wet weather of the AT. Have you considered thru-hiking the Colorado Trail? Shorter, and also drier, although at a much higher average altitude.
Best of luck,
Alex (no trail name yet).
Hey Pearwood, you only fail when you stop trying. Sounds like you’re going to be hiking again when you feel better. People are going to label you, it’s how you over come those labels that matter.
Hike your own hike!!! Do what you can, when you can and enjoy it. Be comfortable lighten your pack, sections and day hikes are just as amazing and enjoyable as thur hikes.
Wishing you the very best, stay safe and healthy and warm. All the best Brian 🤓🇺🇸👍
I’ve enjoyed reading your posts over these last few weeks. Keep your head up– the AT is super hard. Keep training. Start slow. Lower that pack weight. Consider starting in warmer weather. Have you considered a flip flop? I started in Harper’s Ferry going north on June 1st– the trail was light and easy, there were far fewer people, much more room in shelters, and when it rained, I simply just took off most of my clothes, and since it was so hot, when it stopped raining, everything was dry in minutes! No need to worry about hypothermia and all that craziness.
Only you know what is best for you. But keep at it– if a tiny hobbit with no outdoorsy experience can walk all the way to the Lonely Mountain on his epic adventure, I fully believe you can make it to Katahdin one day and have your own epic adventure. I believe in you.
Also, this is not a failure. You got out and you went hiking on the AT– you’ve already accomplished far more than the millions of other people who didn’t even try. Keep up the adventure, my friend.
NEVER GIVE UP!!! was my motto, however, after turning 72, I added “KNOW WHEN TO QUIT!!”. Done most of the AT (except PA). Started sections in 1976. In 2016, I went for 150 miles in VA, and had to quit with a Cancer diagnosis… After adopting “know when to quit”, I got a Honda 250 Motorcycle, a motorcycle rack from harbor freight, a van with a bed with 5″ of foam in the back, and the VA AT maps. I HAD A BALL. Printed up some shirts with “once you slack pack, you never go back”. Gave them away. Always had cold beer for the thru packers. Met AWESOME people. Camped at AT road crossings. When I ran into long sections like McAfee Rock, Would back pack (lightly) for a 3 day Trek. Lost 20 lbs. I would park the van at the end of the day’s trail and ride the Motorcycle to start of the day’s trail and hike rain or shine…(I always had dry cloths, and a warm place to sleep at night). You’re not going to get any stronger, but there’s still a chance you’ll get smarter. “KNOW YOUR LIMITATIONS” “Improvise, adapt and overcome” (USMC). You can get great buys on motorcycles on E-bay motors. You’re not a failure…you’re 72 and still hiking…that in and of itself is quite an accomplishment. Good Luck. There’s still plenty of time to get back on the trail…ADAPT, AND OVERCOME.
You need to have a sincere look at your gear if you’re going to try this thing again next year for your safety. You were carrying two heavy cameras, heavy plastic nalgenes, nostalgic metal pins and stuffed animals, books etc – items that don’t serve you at all for hiking, but instead serve your imagination of what a virtuous hike should look like. You don’t need to buy ultralight stuff, just decide if you’re serious about hiking some distance or going on a nostalgic weekend drive to the woods – the former will require you to dispense with all those items that don’t actually help you hike at all. Strip to the bare minimum, get some actual weekend hiking in to build up your fitness, and try again next year. I hope you don’t interpret this as an attack, but I sincerely believe the commenters on this website did you a disservice and even risked your life by gaslighting you instead of giving you realistic counsel. -Ian
cancel body-shaming author and nurse andrea lankford! We don’t need her hate!
Thought I would check in on you, see how you are doing. I have hopes that you are well.
Im out hiking the low country in eastern Virginia around Williamsburg. Lighter pack, day trips for now. Wife wants me to quit, Im holding out for 75.
Take care , Blessings