Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Laurel Creek Campsite

It cooled enough last night that I was able to build a fire near my hammock and heat my dinner. Mountain House dehydrated meals taste much better hot. Because I spent the night, I didn't have any trouble making absolutely sure the fire is completely out. Taking time to do that is critical on the Trail, and not doing so is why we've already had two major fires this year. If you can't put your hand in the ashes, don't leave it!

It was raining on and off all morning, so I took my time packing up and took a quick video to show the benefits of hammock camping:
  • We can camp on a steep slope as long as there are trees, which means we have many more choices regarding where we camp.
  • We can avoid the depression caused by numerous people tent camping on the same ground, which results in lying in a virtual bathtub if it rains.
  • We aren't on the ground, so there is less likelihood of bugs and vermin getting to us.
  • Forest can eat and then hang out in the hammock to digest his food and keep him out of the way while I pack up.
  • Forest's hammock is the last thing in my pack and the first thing out of it when I'm ready to set up camp again. Hanging Forest's hammock, my hammock and the tarp in that sequence keeps me from having to adjust any of them once they are up.

At about 11 a.m. it stopped raining. We hiked about a tenth of a mile back to the water source, and then about half a mile back to the Trail to be on our way. Our destination for the day was a stream just a little past the Trail's intersection with Laurel Creek—about 8 miles up the trail.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Davis Farm Campsite

Note from Admin for those of you who have been receiving each post via email: Google apparently made some changes to last week that have affected the blogs' ability to transmit posts by email. We have contacted their support forum (as have many others) to try to get this fixed. In the meantime, you may need to manually come to the blog via your Internet browser. If you save this address as a favorite, that access will be easier: We apologize for the inconvenience.

Now that it's getting warmer, I'm dividing the day into hiking/sleeping segments (e.g., four 6-hour sections). That way, we can get into a regular routine of hiking, collecting water, eating and sleeping. The down throws that I sewed into a sleeping bag for me and an under quilt for Forest worked great. It went down into the 60s last night, but I was warm and comfortable. Forest seemed to like his, too, but I removed the under quilt early this morning because he was getting too warm.

At about 10:30 p.m. while we were hiking last night, we heard coyotes howling. I started laughing because I imagined they were moaning, "This rain suuuuuuuuucks!"

We stopped hiking at the Davis Farm Campsite (mile marker 576.4) at about 9:15 this morning and set up the hammocks. That's a total of about 18 miles since we were dropped off yesterday, consistent with my plan to hit about 10 miles a day. Spot went through this morning, so last night the problem was probably cloud cover and storms. We are on a steep bank, but with the hammocks, it doesn't matter. Plus, when we are set up in porch mode, we have extra protection from the rain and can look out at the view of Burke's Garden (if the clouds lift). In the following picture, I'm pointing to a tent set up down the bank; it's just like the one I sent home when I switched back to hammocks. I hope they are enjoying sleeping on the ground more than I did.

I was able to cut 12 pounds out of my backpack, so I'm down to 28 pounds (not including water). I picked up an extra Sawyer water filter and two more liter bags, so I can collect more water now. I left my MSR PocketRocket stove at home because now I can cold soak my food and Forest's food instead. All that means is that each time I stop to eat, I put the next meal and water into a ziplock bag and put it in my Titanium pot. By the time we stop to eat again, the water has rehydrated the food and it's ready to eat.   I do the same with my instant coffee/hot chocolate blend; combine everything into a 1 liter bottle when I go to sleep, and it's ready to drink when I wake up. Not only does this save the weight of the stove, but also it makes us more efficient because we don't have to set up the stove and cook each time.

It's getting warmer today; my glasses keep sliding off my face. I also have a few projects I want to get done today, like fixing the shock cords on Forest's under quilt. My head isn't quite back on the Trail yet, so I need to settle in and transition back to hiker. I'll most likely get up early in the morning and push on.

I was thinking a lot last week about the issues we have had going into hostels, stores and restaurants. In the interest of cutting weight, I had not been carrying my Canines for Service vest with me. I thought that having Forest's ID card fastened to the top of his backpack was all I needed. Looking back on it now, I realize that that may not have looked official enough. So, I have sewed Canines for Service patches on his backpack, and I plan to also attach Do Not Pet and Do Not Distract patches as soon as I get some. Hopefully, this will help eliminate some of the access issues we have had.

And last for today, I want to thank Jason Sparks at Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing again for the Badger Tenkara Scout. I have beaten this 10'6" rod to death for almost 600 miles on this hike, and it's still rewarded me with about 30 fish so far. I mainly Western style fly fish, and it's done me well. Thank you, sir.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Camped Just Past Bear Garden Hiker Hostel

Forest and I are back on the Trail. My wife dropped us off at Bear Garden Hiker Hostel (mile marker 556.3) at about 2 p.m. today. I set up our hammocks just past the hostel so we could catch a nap before we set out. The whole East Coast seems to be socked in by the tropical storm coming up from Florida, and there is a Flash Flood Watch here until 8 a.m. Wednesday. We just can't seem to get out of the rain this year, but the good news is that the temperatures are only supposed to be in the upper 70s during the day and mid 60s during the night for the rest of the week. Although the views aren't as pretty, the cloud cover provides some often-appreciated protection from the sun and heat. We just have to watch out for thunderstorms and falling trees, which can happen when the soil is so saturated. I don't have a cell signal here, and apparently Spot didn't go through either━probably because of the cloud cover and stormy conditions. There's a full moon, though, so we plan to hike late tonight.

It felt good to be home with my family, but I knew I needed to get back to the Trail and get on with it. Forest enjoyed running around in the house and stalking my son to see if he left any food unattended.  πŸΎπŸΎπŸ‘€  The good news is that I put back on almost exactly the 11 pounds that I had lost since I started my hike. I was eating constantly. Here's an example of one evening "snack."  πŸ·πŸ”πŸ–πŸ—πŸžπŸ¦πŸ©πŸͺ

People don't realize how hard it is to maintain weight on the Trail. The more you focus on your hike, the harder it is to keep eating. It saps your appetite, and if you aren't careful to increase your fluids and electrolytes, that decreases your appetite even more. Just last week, one woman had to be evacuated from the Trail with dehydration. In addition to keeping on top of my own food and hydration, I have to be sure that Forest is drinking enough and eating regularly as well. That's why it's so critical that we take frequent breaks for both of us to drink, replenish our water supply and eat, and why I prefer to hike at night when it's too hot during the day.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Memorial Day Weekend

Hi, everyone. It's been a wonderful week at home with the family, and it felt good to disconnect for a bit. I've been eating everything that isn't nailed down, and my vegan wife is certainly doing more than her part by buying and cooking all kinds of meat, vegetables, donuts, ice cream, etc., etc. I think all she did the first couple of days is cook and wash dishes. My mother also came over and cooked a ton of good country food. I'm definitely making up for lost time when it comes to food and sleep, and I've been chilling and playing frisbee with my son.

The Trail hasn't been far from my mind, though. While I've been home, I've been making an under quilt for Forest and a lightweight sleeping bag for myself from some down throws we found online. Right now, it looks like a duck was murdered in the house. I tried to vacuum the feathers, but the more I tried, the more they just flew around the house. Looks like we'll be seeing them for a while.

I also got to call my girls and catch up with each of them. They haven't had much time with me for far too long. My oldest is graduating tonight, and they will both be coming down for the weekend to visit. My sister is having a cookout to celebrate, so I've decided to wait until Monday to get back to the Trail. My wife will drop me off on the way to take them back home.

Now, all I have to do is get through the fireworks and airshow planned near my house over the weekend. For most people, that's an exciting time and great way to spend a holiday. I used to enjoy fireworks myself and heck, I used to be a pilot. Unfortunately, like it is for so many veterans suffering from PTSD, now it's just a rapid transport straight back to the place where my bad memories live. Even when I know the sounds are coming, they still take me by surprise and leave me shaken. The ironic thing is that the event is billed as "a spectacular, patriotic salute to our military heroes!" If they only understood the effect it has on living military personnel, maybe they'd think of a different way to commemorate our fallen.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Bear Garden Hiker Hostel; Breaking for Weather

We just picked up my resupply box at Bear Garden Hiker Hostel. The owner, a very nice lady who is proud of her business, gave us a tour and showed us her home and how she is preparing strawberry jam for the hikers. In the next breath she said, "If you stay here, the dog can't stay inside the hostel. You can sleep outside over by the chapel." This is just another example of the hypocrisy Forest and I have encountered on the Trail at almost every town. "We appreciate your service to our country and pray for you every day, but don't ask us to make any special arrangements for you or clean up after you." The sad part is that they are often not mean-spirited people...just oblivious. But I'm ready to give up on hostels.

One of the store owners asked me what Forest is for (which by law they are not allowed to ask), and I said PTSD. The shopkeeper then said, "Like I told you, no emotional support dogs are allowed." When I tried to explain that Forest is a service dog, not an emotional support animal, who is specially trained to preserve my personal space, watch my back and provide bracing and retrieval support, he just ignored me. When I tried to show him Forest's ID and the letter from Canines for Service, he just hustled me out. This just gets exhausting and makes my PTSD worse.

We got in the car and drove until we found a nice spot to hang out for a minute so I could breathe.

The rainstorms continue, and all of the streams on the Trail are flooding. Most aren't expected to crest for days, so stream crossings (which occur often on the Trail) won't be possible until late in the week. For that reason, and because I can't afford to hang out in a hotel for days, I've decided to head home with my wife today; I'll return Friday. This will give me time to rehydrate and get some more nutritious food into me. It will also give Forest a rest and some time for some real grooming. So for now, take care and thanks for reading. I'll be back soon.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Bad Weather; Catching Up

Forest and I arrived at the hotel last night at 8 p.m. They were very nice and accepted Forest as a service dog should be accepted. By the time I checked in, took everything to my room, fed Forest, and cleaned up, I was too tired to go to the restaurant, so I ended up ordering a pizza in the room. I started charging all of my electronics, washed some clothes, and took advantage of the WiFi to upload some videos to Facebook and provide a few updates for the blog.

The weather report for today and the weekend is pretty bleak: a flash flood watch through tomorrow, a chance of thunderstorms every day, and a 80% to 90% chance of rain every day. My sister and mother-in-law offered to watch my son for the weekend (thanks so much to both of you!), so my wife is driving up tonight. We will go to Bear Garden Hiker Hostel tomorrow to pick up the resupply package that is waiting there and will decide from there where we want to stay tomorrow night. This will give us a chance to talk about the food situation and better plan how to maximize calories (and taste) in the future, while minimizing weight. I also need to figure out how we can carry more water, so that Forest and I are both hydrated properly. Most of the hikers on the Trail are heading to Damascus for Trail Days, so the hotels and hostels outside of that immediate area should have vacancies. I don't think we are going to go, unless I determine that I have a pressing gear issue that the vendors there might be able to fix.

Thomas Knob Shelter: the Ponies in the Campsite
These pictures are a little fuzzy because they are screen captures from a video. This is one of the videos I mentioned previously. I woke up to find a mama pony right in front of our campsite. She was calmly munching grass as her foal nursed. When it was done, the foal started coming right toward our hammocks. A little panicked because I didn't know what Forest would do, or whether the foal or mother would panic and kick or bite, I had to shoo it off. Fortunately, it wandered away. It was unbelievable how calm they were; they are definitely used to being around people. Probably some of those people have broken the park rule and given them food because they certainly seem tame.

Some Random Shots from the Past Few Days

View of Walker Mountain
with the Storms Brewing in the Distance
Forest in His Raincoat Crossing a Log Bridge 
The "Green Tunnel"
Purple Iris: the Spring Flowers are Beautiful

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Hotel Night

It's been stormy and wet for days, so I'm headed for a hotel just off the Trail in Rural Retreat, VA. It's definitely not a superior hotel, but it has laundry facilities and WiFi. I've stayed there before, and I remember that the food in the restaurant was good. I'm really looking forward to eating both dinner tonight and breakfast tomorrow there. I haven't been as diligent about eating lately as I should be, so I'm feeling a bit malnourished and dehydrated and really looking forward to a good meal that doesn't involve dehydrated or packaged food.

The hotel allows service dogs as long as they have some legitimate form of identification, so I won't face the kind of challenge I've had lately in that regard. I realized that Forest hasn't been off his leash at all since my family visited, so I'm looking forward to giving him the run of the room to play and just be a dog for a night. That always makes both of us happy.

We will stay at the hotel tonight and then head out tomorrow to pick up my next resupply package.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Partnership Shelter

Sorry for the delay, everyone. We left Troutdale and didn't have any cell signal until we climbed back up to the ridgeline. It was cooler and cloudy yesterday, and we were able to mix some day and night hiking, so we were able to make up some time and get in 16 miles. We stopped near the Partnership Shelter (mile marker 532.2; elevation 3,360 ft) at about 5 this morning. We will stay here and sleep, and move on again this evening.

We have about 24 miles to go to our next resupply, which we should be able to complete in 2 days, but there are a lot of thunderstorms in the area that could cause us to take temporary shelter off and on as we go.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Troutdale Baptist Hostel, Day 2

I got up this morning, showered and walked to the Post Office to pick up my resupply package at about 9 a.m. Unfortunately, it didn't include cigarettes, so I decided to try to walk to the only store, which was about 3.7 miles away. It got hot really fast today, and I could tell it was affecting Forest. At about 2 miles I stopped under a tree to give him some water and try to cool him off in the shade. A man came out of his house and asked me to move along. I said, "I'd be happy to, but my dog is really hot. Would you mind filling this bottle up with your hose?" He turned around, walked back in his house and locked his door. I'm beginning to understand why no one stops in Troutdale. Luckily, soon after that we were picked up by the store owner who happened to drive by. He was kind enough to drive us to his store, and then brought us back to the hostel.

This episode made it evident that I will have to night-hike to keep Forest out of the heat. I'm also going to try to get my hands on some 1/2-inch PVC joints to make him a shade canopy.

I'm seeing more and more people leave the Trail. Everyone tries to act like it's the best thing they've ever done, but they're only trying to convince themselves. Hiking the Trail actually sucks most of the time; you just have to decide whether it's a price you're willing to pay for the exhilaration of finishing. Most of the people who finish are the ones who decided they would from the beginning. It  will become a better, more honest crowd the further I go.

There's no place here to hang our hammocks, so we are sleeping on bare plywood beds. My back is really hurting. I'll be happy to get back on the Trail in the morning.

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Blue Blazing Grayson Highlands to Troutdale; Passing 500 Miles

Now, picture this. I was asleep in my hammock last night, and Forest was in his under me. All of a sudden we heard rustling and movement all around us. Naturally, my first thought was bear. I peeked out and saw that there were horses eating grass all around us. Forest was frozen in his hammock like a statue (good boy!). For some reason it freaked me out a bit, so I didn't sleep well after that. Instead, I texted my wife Happy Mother's Day at midnight and woke her up, too. 😲 I did shoot some good video, though, so I have proof that I wasn't dreaming. 🐴🐴🐴

This morning, we got moving at about 9:30. Because I already hiked most of Grayson Highlands when my family visited, I was able to take the Blue Blaze trail shown on the left side of the following Guthook map. This cut out about 6 miles from the standard White Blaze route. I further reduced the day's hike by going to the Fox Creek Trailhead (Route 603; mile marker 510.7!) instead of Dickey Gap (Route 16), for a manageable 12 miles. From there, I could get a shuttle to my next resupply stop in Troutdale.

We arrived in Troutdale at about 4:30 p.m. My wife had reserved a room for tonight at the Sufi Lodge, where my resupply package was supposed to be delivered. As Forest and I walked up the road toward the lodge, a large pitbull suddenly launched itself over a fence and came at us. Forest is trained not to react to other dogs. I had no idea whether the dog was aggressive or just bonkers, but I couldn't take a chance. I had to go into defense mode. 

By the time we arrived at the lodge, the owners had seen what happened. They had two labs of their own, and apparently the dog up the street jumps the fence and goes after other dogs often. I have no idea why no one has complained or called animal control. Anyway, I was supposed to go into a standard hiker room, but instead the owners wanted to put me in their "pet-friendly" room to keep Forest isolated from their own dogs (even though it was obvious that Forest was completely docile). I didn't feel that the room was worth the extra fee, so I refused. After what I'd already gone through up the street, it got a bit heated, and it didn't help that my resupply package had not arrived and wouldn't until morning. We finally agreed that they would refund my money, and I went up the street to the Troutdale Baptist Church AT Hostel. Great, that meant I had to pass the dog in the fence again...

I need to explain something here. It is frightening enough for a pet to be attacked by another dog. Besides being traumatic for the person, it can forever change that dog's behavior around other dogs even if it is not injured. It can become fearful, or aggressive. In the case of the service dog, an incident like that could completely destroy its ability to perform in public, rendering it incapable of serving its person properly. In that case, not only could the dog's life be negatively affected, but also that of his or her person. That is why leash and containment laws are so critical; people should always be held responsible for being in control of their pets at all times. And I will protect Forest just as I would any member of my family.

For tonight, I just want to get my electronics charging, have a hot shower, and try to get some sleep. There is no place in this town to get food. I sure hope my resupply box gets here early tomorrow.

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Fishing the Whitetop Laurel Creek; Thomas Knob Shelter

When I looked through our food supplies yesterday, I figured we could afford to zero for the afternoon. We stopped in two spots along the Virginia Creeper Trail to fly fish the beautiful Whitetop Laurel Creek.

It was a quiet, peaceful afternoon that both Forest and I enjoyed. Both wild and stocked trout swim in these waters, including brown, brook and rainbows. More information is available here:

At this point the Appalachian Trail and the Virginia Creeper Trail merge to follow the same path. I always feel renewed after fishing, so I set a goal for about 14 miles today. We set out at about 7:45 this morning and pushed on until about 2 p.m. It's hot, but at least there's a breeze and we're getting some shade from the tree canopy. I think Forest is so over having his picture taken. πŸΆπŸ‘…

At about 6 p.m. we set out again toward our next overnight campsite, hoping for 4 to 6 miles.  We stopped just past Thomas Knob Shelter (mile marker 498.5) to set up the hammocks for the night.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Today's Progress

Note from Admin: Fisher and Forest are in another area that is notorious for its lack of cell signal support. This post is pulled together from Spot signals, Trail maps, GPS maps and current weather reports. We will note any corrections and post any missing information as it becomes available.

The Spot signal went off a little before noon today, placing Fisher and Forest about halfway between Saunders Shelter and Lost Mountain Shelter. We assume that they stopped there to wait for the heat of the day to pass, and resumed hiking later.

The following special weather statement issued today for the Damascus area warned of strong thunderstorms, with hail, high winds, torrential rainfall and frequent cloud to ground lightning. Because today's hike was across a ridgeline, we are sure that Fisher waited for any such storms to pass and sought safe shelter, as necessary.


At about 7:15 p.m., we received another Spot notification placing Fisher and Forest a little farther along the Trail, at the Creek Junction Trailhead of the Virginia Creeper Trail. Trailheads are typically at parking areas where day, section and thru hikers can pick up transportation. This does not mean that they left the area, but they may have been sheltered in a rest area or vehicle. We will have to stay tuned to find out the details, as this is all simple speculation based on available information and past behavior.

With 2-3 days of food remaining, Fisher will have to be aggressive in the coming days to reach his resupply point in Troutdale. The following map shows the Trail in red and blue blaze trails in blue. The Saunders Shelter is the yellow shelter symbol farthest to the left, and the next yellow shelter symbol is Lost Mountain Shelter. The destination for this section of the hike is Dickey Creek Gap (Route 16) to Troutdale, which is illustrated by the yellow hostel symbol farthest to the right.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Saunders Shelter

We set out at about 9 p.m. last night intending to hike through the night. Unfortunately, my headlamp battery died a little before 1 a.m., so we had to stop and camp.

We slept until 6 a.m. and then set out again, stopping at Saunders Shelter (mile marker 478.3) during the afternoon to rest and eat.

At this point, we are only 34 miles from my next resupply stop at Sufi Lodge in Troutdale, VA. I have 3 days of food left, which is plenty to get us there. We are setting out again now (about 5 p.m.) and hope to do another 3-5 miles before we have to stop for the night.

How It All Began

In August 2017 Canines for Service Inc. in Wilmington, NC, provided Service Dog Forest to me (U.S. Army Veteran "Fisher"). It was ...