Thursday, June 14, 2018

An Unexpected Trip Home until July 4

My parents arrived as planned yesterday. They picked us up from our campsite and took us to the Post Office to pick up my resupply package. Then, we went on to check in at the motel where they had made a reservation. No issues with Forest there. I took a shower and changed clothes, and then we all went to Cracker Barrel to eat. It tasted wonderful. I've lost a lot of weight again, but made up for it in beard growth. 😜 I spent the afternoon getting my hair cut and doing some gear maintenance, so I'd be ready to slackpack, as we'd planned.

Today, after talking to my parents, it became evident that what we had planned to do this week was a little too overwhelming and just wouldn't work out. Also, they are worried about the weight I've lost and how it's gotten so hot so quickly. In addition, cold-soaking my dinners wasn't working with the meals I had. I need to come up with a new plan to get calories into me, or I'll be too weak to put miles in each day. (Too bad I am not as accustomed to eating the same food for every meal like Forest is; he's still thriving on his food!) So, after much deliberation, I decided to drive my folks home and go home until my July 4 flip-flop date. That should give me enough time to put some weight back on again and work out my food plan.

I got home at about 3:15 today, laid down for a little while and then ate dinner with the family. Before I had dinner, I weighed myself: 154 pounds. Even lower than the last time I came home (159 pounds, and returned to the Trail at a little below 170). I definitely need to pack on pounds while I'm home and then figure out a way to keep them on.

Thanks for all of your support, and for being so patient and sticking with me. I'll be back on when I have something new to report, or when we are ready to head to Katahdin for our southbound (SOBO) finish!


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Camping Outside Catawba, Catching up on Social Media and Some Random Thoughts

The heat and longer distances between clean water sources have really been hard on us and have slowed us down. If you go slower, then you are between towns longer. That means you need more food, and that means you have to carry more weight. Guess what that means? It's a vicious cycle...

The key to thru-hiking is keeping everything balanced, both figuratively and literally. The heat and water issues keep knocking us off balance. Night-hiking is the only way to balance our hike, but I keep slipping back to day shift for a variety of reasons mostly beyond my control (e.g., bears, thunderstorms, dead batteries). I plan to continue taking advantage of overcast and rainy days to hike during the day, but I will also keep hiking at night until it becomes our natural rhythm. That struggle will continue until the first week of July when I plan to flip flop. My wife and Forest's trainer will pick us up and take us to the end of the trail in Maine at Mt. Katahdin. From there, we will hike southbound to where they picked us up.

In the short term, I do have some help coming this week—my parents will arrive tomorrow and pick us up from our campsite. They will stay in hotels for five days and support me along the way. This will allow me to slackpack, so that we can hike 15 to 20 miles with just a day pack with food and water. At the end of each day they will pick me up and take me to the hotel. This will be a huge help and keep us moving along. Thanks, Mom and Dad!!

I had promised to share a video of the two bears we saw previously during our night hike. Unfortunately, the video did not pick them up in the dark. The next night on the trail, two cubs about the size of piglets walked right under our tarp (which was in porch mode) to within just feet of our hammocks. When Forest growled a warning at them, they stood on their back legs and growled and shook their front paws at us. Mama bear showed up on the other side, but on the outside of the tarp. She brushed up against it while crashing through the rhododendron to collect her cubs. They left with her, but we could tell that the one cub was a little bummed that he didn't get to fight us and eat our food. He left, too, but he was not happy about it. Luckily, Forest stayed in his hammock as I told him to, or we might have had a much bigger problem with Mama bear.

While we've been zeroing here in the hammocks, I've had time to think about a couple of things that have been on my mind during the last weeks.

Mountain Valley Pipeline
First, the Mountain Valley Pipeline slated for construction this year, unless property owners and/or environmental groups can block it in court (to view the Appalachian Trail Conservancy's position, please visit this website: http://appalachiantrail.org/home/conservation/advocacy/mountain-valley-pipeline). We came across the pipeline location during the night that I slackpacked 20 miles back to Angel's Rest Hiker Hostel. I stopped short of it to wait on daylight because I had been hearing stories about law enforcement and company men confronting hikers. I don't know why—if video of the pipeline on the Native American Reservation and the result of some of our last few wars can't stop oil/gas money, then they should feel free to live-stream the oil dumping into our waterways. Reminds me a little of how Easter Island ended up with few trees.

I did not take a picture of the police car protecting the pipeline company activities, but here are the other three pictures in the order that I took them.



We Take Happiness for Granted
I guess I think as a society we treat being happy like being high. We always want more, and no matter how happy we are, we will always be hungry for it. I think it is good to take a tolerance break from all the "unhappy happiness" to reset your happy scale. If you are unhappy, go on a long, long hike. It may not make you happy, but it will teach you that you were happy before. I know that we all have legitimate things to be angry or unhappy about. No doubt about it. Go on a long hike, though. You will see how good you have it. You will see something as simple as a gas station or a pizza and be beside yourself with excitement.

Monday, June 11, 2018

The Kindness of Strangers; Catawba, VA; and 700 Miles!

Last night, before I had a chance to set up camp, a person who lived near the trailhead offered me dinner and his porch to sleep on for the night. He also sold me a pack of cigarettes. I won't name him here so that he doesn't get taken advantage of by other hikers in the future, but he has at least partially and at least for now restored my faith in humanity. Thank you!

When we woke up this morning, we packed up and headed back out. We hiked past Pickle Branch Shelter and up to the Cove Mountain Range ridgeline. On the way to the Dragon's Tooth spur we passed through a pretty difficult rock scramble. Forest did a phenomenal job of picking his way through the rocks. He somehow knows when to take the lead and when to wait for me to tell him which way to go. At one point, we came to a rock where the only way down to the next level were several iron rungs sunk into the side. I went down first and then lifted Forest down; it's incredible how much he trusts me. My back will be hurting tonight, but at the end we were rewarded with a beautiful view. The following photos were lifted from a video of the hike, so they aren't the best quality...but you get the idea!


I'm Smart, but I Can't Go Down Steps Like That! 
Coming to Dad to Be Lifted Down


We waited for a big black rat snake to slither down a tree and out of sight off-trail. You can just see him on the far side of the tree in this photo.


While Forest rested, I collected water for the remainder of the day's hike. Seven miles back, the last stream was almost dry, but this one was rushing so fast that Forest's bowl (the bottom of a gallon water container) floated away (my apologies for violating Leave No Trace). I filled 4.75 liters of water—10.5 pounds. That's why we haven't been making as many miles lately. We went 13 miles yesterday with me carrying 6 liters (13.25 pounds) of water, and it almost killed me.




One of the things that I wasn't really aware of before now, is how much more work it is when the weather gets into the upper 70s/lower 80s. When I hike alone, I just shed weight and clothing and keep making miles. With Forest, I have to stop every mile and make sure he drinks and stays hydrated. During each break, I have to make sure he completely cools down and stops panting before we start again. He drinks about half a liter of water per mile. That's extra water, and therefore weight, that I have to carry because I have to keep his load light when it's warm. That means that I have to be careful that I'm also staying hydrated. If either of us went down from heat exhaustion, we would be in trouble. If the weather were cooler and I was carrying the weight I am now (less the extra water), we would be flying! For that reason, the point where I decide to flip-flop (i.e., jump up to Maine, summit at Mt. Katahdin and hike back south to wherever I left the Trail) is getting closer and closer.

We arrived at Catawba, VA, this afternoon, where we stopped at the Catawba Grocery (actually just a convenience store and gas station). I had run out of food yesterday, so the first thing I did was get a pizza. The second thing I did was plug in my phone, which had died a day ago. Everyone is really nice here, too. Forest still has food, so I'm going to wait until morning to hike to the Post Office to get my resupply package. We are pretty wiped out from climbing all those rocks today, so we're just going to go to the Route 624, Newport Road, trailhead and set up our hammocks.


Oh, and WE PASSED 700 MILES TODAY! Just 310.4 miles to Harper's Ferry, WV (the halfway point for the Trail).

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Audie Murphy Memorial

After eating and packing up, we left the Niday Shelter area at 9 a.m. We passed a small Trail Magic setup, with apples and beer. I don't drink, but I did take a beer in case I passed someone willing to trade for cigarettes. I'm out. 😧

We hiked about 5 miles to the Audie Murphy Memorial, where Murphy died in a plane crash in 1971 shortly before his 46th birthday. In 1974, the Veterans of Foreign Wars placed a stone monument near the site of the crash, and the Trail was rerouted to pass by it. Since June is PTSD Awareness Month, it was appropriate (if not necessary) that I visit for a bit and pay my respects.




Some may remember Murphy as an actor in old Westerns, but he was also one of the most decorated American combat soldiers of World War II. He received every military combat award for valor available from the U.S. Army, as well as French and Belgian awards for heroism. Murphy received the Medal of Honor for valor that he demonstrated at the age of 19 for single-handedly holding off an entire company of German soldiers for an hour at the Colmar Pocket in France in January 1945, then leading a successful counterattack while wounded and out of ammunition.

After the war, suffering from what would today be described as PTSD, Murphy slept with a loaded handgun under his pillow. Like many soldiers, he looked to addictive sleeping pills for solace. In his last few years, he was plagued by money problems, but refused offers to appear in alcohol and cigarette commercials because he did not want to set a bad example.

Murphy was interred with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. His grave is one of the most visited sites in the cemetery.

After sitting and reflecting for a while, it was time for Forest and me to move on at about 1 p.m. I was hoping to get to our next resupply stop because I was almost out of my food, but I had to face the fact that we wouldn't get there until Monday morning. At about 4:45 we stopped at the VA 620/Miller Cove Road trailhead along Trout Creek (mile marker 693.9) to collect water and set up camp.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Niday Shelter

We packed up early this morning and left Piney Ridge at about 7:15. We pushed hard today because my goal was to make it to my next resupply point by tomorrow night. We passed the Eastern Continental Divide sign this afternoon, and set up camp just past Niday Shelter at about 8:45 p.m.


Wind Rock Parking/Mountain Lake Road Trailhead to Piney Ridge

Sorry I wasn't able to communicate for the last couple of days; cell signals continue to be spotty on his part of the Trail. Here's a recap of what's been going on.

On Tuesday night back at Angels Rest, I had made the decision to stay up all night in order to make it easier to transition to night-hiking the next day. On Wednesday morning we caught the 7 a.m. shuttle back to Peter's Mountain Wilderness Trailhead. When we arrived, I went first to collect water and then set up camp along the Pine Swamp Branch Stream, about 1,000 feet beyond the trailhead. As planned, we slept through the heat of the day. That evening, before we even got out of the hammocks to eat and pack up, two bear cubs came out of the woods and growled at Forest. Luckily, the mama bear herded them up and ran them off into the woods, but they had come too close for comfort. Forest never even got out of his hammock when the bears approached (I had told him to stay). He just looked at them like, "Why are these strange-looking dogs making such weird noises." He's always good for providing some comic relief, at least after the fact.

Between Monday night when we slackpacked and Wednesday evening we saw 5 bears, which made me rethink my plan to hike only during the night. Instead, we stayed put Wednesday night and headed out Thursday morning at 9 a.m. and hiked about 7 miles. We set up camp Thursday night just past the Wind Rock Parking Area/Mountain Lake Road Trailhead (mile marker 662).


Today (Friday), I went back to my original plan to hike about 6 hours, rest about 6 hours, etc. We hit the Trail at about 8:15 this morning and hiked until we passed War Spur Shelter at about 3:45 p.m. I collected water at John's Creek and set up camp just past the VA 632 trailhead (mile marker 667.6).


At 8:15 p.m. we set out again, hiking until midnight. We stopped at a campsite on Piney Ridge (mile marker 674.5), which is just past Laurel Creek Shelter. That's a total of about 11.5 miles for today, and puts us just about 1 mile from VA 42, Sinking Creek Valley, VA.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Back to Peter's Mountain Wilderness Trailhead

Note from Admin: We know that Fisher and Forest got up early this morning to catch the 7 a.m. shuttle back to Peter's Mountain Wilderness Trailhead, from where they had slackpacked back to Angel's Rest yesterday. From that point on, he has not been in contact. He noted in a recent video that it is going to take 3 headlamp batteries to be able to night-hike for 8 hours. Considering that his power pack only provides 7 charges, that would not be enough for this 5-day hike. He may have to mix day and night-hiking as originally planned (6-hour shifts), and will probably not be able to recharge his phone. We will provide blog updates as communications come through, hopefully before he reaches his next resupply point in Catawba.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Back to Angels Rest Hikers' Haven

Slackpacking went well last night. After being dropped off by the shuttle at the Peters Mountain Wilderness Trailhead, we hiked South and only stopped once for a few hours to let Forest rest and sleep. Forest did a great job leading the way in the dark. Twice he stopped and froze, and each time I realized he was alerting me to a bear ahead of us on the Trail. Both times we just waited for the bear to move on and then continued on without problem. I have to admit it was a little eerie having nothing but darkness behind me.


At 11 a.m. we were at the original trailhead to hop the shuttle back into Pearisburg. Forest and I went straight to Hardee's, where I'm happy to say we were treated wonderfully. The staff was so accommodating; they invited us to stay as long as we wanted, and offered to let me charge my electronics. Unfortunately, I didn't have my chargers with me, but the gesture was so nice. I ate 3 breakfast sandwiches, what they call "hash rounds" and a Coke.

After hiking 20 miles and stuffing myself, I just wanted to sleep. We headed straight to Angels Rest Hikers' Haven, where I picked up my pack and resupply package, and decided to rent a private room to ensure that we'd get some sleep. Again, everyone at Angels Rest was really nice, and no one questioned whether Forest was a service dog. We crashed at noon after asking my wife to call me at 8:45 p.m. to be sure I was awake.

Tonight I'm staying up to repack Forest's and my pack to include the latest supplies and water for the next 50 miles. Anything I don't need, I packaged and dropped at the Post Office, to send back home. Tomorrow morning, we will catch the shuttle back to the Peters Mountain Wilderness Trailhead again. Once there, I'll set up our hammocks to wait out the heat of the day, and we'll set back out northward in the evening.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Angels Rest Hiker's Haven to Peter's Mountain Trailhead (VA 635)

I walked to Walmart and Wendy's from Holy Family Hostel last night. Before I left I cleaned up as best I could and tried not to look like a hiker. Forest had his proper vest on as well. I'm happy to report that we had no problems. I filled up on fast food, had a cold Coke in a small glass bottle and ate a lot of fruit. So today was better. Thanks for the encouragement.


I tried to stay up late last night to make it easier to switch to night shift hiking, and then tried to nap this afternoon. Unfortunately, just as we stretched out in our hammocks today, someone on the neighboring property decided to mow the grass right along the property line. Murphy's Law. I just had to laugh.



This evening, we headed to Angels Rest Hiker Haven to pick up our resupply package and my glasses (what a relief!). We were faced with a 70-mile stretch ahead of us to our next resupply stop and water sources that are farther apart (as much as 10 miles), so I decided to slackpack. We left our main packs at Angels Rest and caught the shuttle. It dropped us off at Peter's Mountain Trailhead (VA 635; mile marker 656.1) at about 7:45 p.m. We will hike about 20 miles back to Angels Rest through the night with minimal provisions (mainly food and water). After we complete this portion, we will only have 50 miles to go, and will have 2 days less weight in our packs.


A huge part of PTSD is a high degree of social anxiety. It would be so much easier to go into stores and restaurants and arrange hostel and hotel stays and shuttles if my wife were here. She's good at interaction with people and keeps my feet on the ground. However, a large part of the reason for this hike is for me to get used to handling much of that myself. It won't be easy, but after I do it another hundred times or so, hopefully I'll get better at it. I'm not sure I'll ever like it, though.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Holy Family Hostel in Pearisburg, VA

After picking up my resupply package at Woods Hole Hostel, I moved on to Angels Rest Hikers Haven to pick up another small resupply package that was waiting there. Unfortunately, I arrived too early this weekend to pick up my new glasses, which my wife express-mailed on Friday, so I had to cool my heels in Pearisburg at the Holy Family Hostel until Monday. This donation-based hostel is located on a peaceful plot of land.


Last night, I had just fallen asleep when I heard someone yell out in their sleep. It scared me for a second, but then I realized that it wasn't me for a change. It's somehow a little comforting to know that other people are fighting their demons on the Trail, too.

I left my pack and Forest's pack on the ground last night when we went to sleep. When I went to get them today, I realized that they were infested with earwigs. I dumped at least 200 out of our packs, and then immediately set up our hammocks so that everything would be off the ground from that point on.


I had nothing to do this afternoon but hang out, plan and work on some new materials. First, I made an adjustable lanyard using some paracord that I found in the hiker box (a box where hikers drop anything they find they don't need). It will come in handy for carrying small items and for keeping things out of the way under the tarp when we're in our hammocks. If you're interested in learning how to make one, there's a YouTube that's easy to follow here:  https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=_0nTadpl6Lg.


I'm also working on an idea to replace Forest's underquilt with some lightweight insulating material (e.g., Reflectix, Prodex) that will keep him cool when it's hot and warm when it's cold. With that and some type of Sunbrella fabric that I can mount to the top of his pack, I might be able to keep him cooler during the day. It could also serve as a raincoat for now, and a warmer coat when we move back into cooler weather.

While I was working on the lanyard, Forest managed to catch and eat two bees, which stung him in the mouth. As required by Canines for Service, I took a canine first aid course before setting out this Spring, so I was prepared for this with Benadryl just in case he was allergic. Luckily, he didn't show any symptoms, so after dinner we headed off to WalMart to pick up some ear cleaner for him.


I won't lie. This thru-hike has been stressful and frustrating for me. I am missing my family a lot, and I have days when everything seems just impossible and overwhelming. However, I remain determined; I know I can do this and finish it. Thanks for being there to cheer me on.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

A Shout-out to My Little Boy; Woods Hole Hostel; Past 600 Miles!

Before I talk about the day's activities, I wanted to share a big milestone for my son. Last night was his preschool graduation, and next year he's on to school. I'm so proud of this little guy. Congratulations, buddy!  🎓

Today, we caught the shuttle to Woods Hole Hostel (mile marker 624.9), so I could pick up the resupply package that was waiting for me there. As usual, my chore for tonight is to unpack and repack Forest's and my backpacks to incorporate the new supplies. In addition, it's time for Forest's monthly heartworm and flea/tick medications.

Speaking of Forest, we continue to have issues with off-leash dogs along the Trail. We'll be minding our own business, and then a dog suddenly has his nose all over Forest's butt or worse. I've tried to nicely request that they control their dog, but all I get in return (if the owner acknowledges me at all) is, "Oh, it's fine. He's friendly." All while the dog is being obviously aggressive and Forest is completely distracted and unable to work. I've ordered some NO DOGS patches that should arrive in a week or so, but I'm not really hopeful that they will help.

Dogs aren't the only problem we've encountered. Last night the veterans I had met (I think they were veterans; I didn't really ask) and I were heating dinner over a fire we had built. We were pretty much "stealth camping," which means that the campsite was not one that is used by the majority of hikers. They tend to go to the shelters where they can congregate. Again, we were minding our own business, enjoying the quiet end to the day, when a group of younger individuals came bursting in on us and essentially took over the fire, pitching their tents right next to it and being loud and obnoxious (essentially the human equivalent of the dog that marches in and pees on everything and growls at everyone). Rather than make an issue of it, the other vets retired to their tents, and Forest and I went to our hammocks to try to sleep.

A little while later, we heard a commotion coming from the tents by the fire. Apparently, a log on the fire had broken and sparked, and it burned a hole in one of their tents. The inhabitant of that tent came bursting out of it and started screaming one of the veteran's names. He yelled and cursed, blaming him for not putting out the fire. It was ridiculous. On the Trail, like at any campsite, the last people around the fire are always responsible for taking care of it and extinguishing it before going to sleep. The vet came out of his tent and tried to calmly explain that concept to him, while the other vet went and got water and poured it on the fire for them. The yelling and cursing continued and kept escalating. Finally, I got out of the hammock and suggested that he go back to his tent and try to get some sleep. I don't know if it finally occurred to him that he might not want to start a fight with men who have been trained in physical combat, or if he just exhausted himself like a baby crying himself to sleep, but he finally retreated to his tent. When we got up this morning, they were all gone.

The immaturity and disrespect of the 2018 hikers has been a topic of discussion almost everywhere I've gone on the Trail this year and on a lot of the hiker pages online. From hostel owners to townspeople to other hikers, everyone has noticed an increase in both the sense of entitlement and the amount of trash and destruction left both on and off the Trail. The principle of Leave No Trace is left to those who come behind them—to those who are more conscientious or have no choice but to pick up after them. There is definitely a group that has come to the Trail not to enjoy the beauty and solitude of nature, but simply to party and exert their independence. It is causing many hostel owners to either close their doors to hikers, establish stricter rules or shut down their businesses completely. We are all just hoping that it does not cause the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to likewise adopt stricter rules or even shut down some parts of the Trail to the public as a result. What a shame that would be for the future generations who would pay the price.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Fishing Laurel Creek

Sorry, I was out of cell range last night. The Laurel Creek was a perfect spot for wild trout, so I decided to stay put yesterday for some fly fishing therapy. I met a few other veterans who were also fishing, so I had some company. While there, I caught my 31st trout on the Trail and my first crawdad, both on a fly graciously provided to me by James Carey. (Thank you, sir!) I wish I had better pictures, but these were captured from video I shot, partly while holding my Tenkara rod in my mouth—not an easy feat! Forest wasn't much help, but he got to cool his paws in the creek.




This morning, we hiked about 7 miles down to the U.S. 52 trailhead to the Brushy Mountain Outpost in Bland, VA, which is a restaurant, ice cream store and hiker restock location. From there, we shuttled about 2.5 miles to the Big Walker Motel (also in Bland) to clean up, recharge batteries, let Forest play and spend the night. After fishing, I feel energized and ready to forge ahead tomorrow.

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 ...