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I woke at 5 am this morning and forced myself to rise and break camp. There was a shuttle to Franklin rumored to pick up hikers at 9am where the AT crosses route 64. It was 4 miles away and I was not sure how long it would take me to walk there. I packed by the light of my headlamp, shouldered my pack, and headed north in total darkness, following the nervous beam of my light.

The AT is so well trod that it was easy to find. The only time I got confused is where I crossed a road and had to search the other side for a blaze. I finally found the path, zigzagging up an embankment on a narrow ledge. It’s not something I would do on a regular basis, but it was kind of cool to see the lights of distant cities far below.

Daylight finally began to filter through and I made good time up over Winding Stair gap and down to the road. It was only 8am when I reached the parking lot, so I resigned myself to wait for an hour. As luck would have it, five minutes later a camper from Canada pulled in, it was Spot and Starcraft whom I had met before. She was dropping her husband off for a section of the AT and offered to give me a ride onto town – a gift of trail magic for sure.

The rooms at the motel were not ready yet so I walked to a nearby McDonalds for breakfast. Restaurant food, even fast food, tastes wonderful after several days of noodles and constant exercise. By the time I finished breakfast, my room was ready and I enjoyed a hot shower and then went for a walk up town.

The outfitter’s salesman talked me out of buying a new sleeping bag. We both agreed that it will be warning up soon and I would be mailing the new bag home (Karen’s). I did mail a pair of heavy fleece pants and bought a new Patagonia puff jacket. It’s pretty stylish so I can wear it after the hike, too.

I’m sort of getting an idea of what I like to eat on the trail. I bought a small bottle of red pepper to spice up my noodle dishes, and of course I pack lots of snack food, mainly Rice Crispy Teats and granola bars.

Tomorrow I will get back on the trail again. The Smokey’s are only about 50 miles away. I know there is no cell service in the park and very little in the Nantahala Mountains before there so updates may be sparse. I changed the blog title because several people have asked me about it. They know me as Castaway and it will be easier to find it with a Google search.

 
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Fri. 4/13 – The last two mornings were very cold. Yesterday, it was 25 on my little thermometer, cold enough that it froze water that I left out, and this morning perhaps not quite as nippy. It’s hard getting out of the tent on chilly mornings but I managed to get early starts both days. All the young guys sleep in till ten and still manage to catch me later in the day, kind of like the tortoise and the hare.

Today I did 16 miles – a record distance for me – which included a climb over Albert Mountain, the hardest work to reach a s/ummit yet. It was like climbing a cliff-face straight up for a half mile. I had to put my poles in my pack and use my hands to get up. Once on top, though, the view was spectacular.

I’ve been averaging about 12 miles the last few days. I pounded out more distance today because it will put me in close to the road to Franklin, NC. I will get up early tomorrow and hike four miles to US 64, where I’m hoping to catch the shuttle van into town. Along with a soft bed, shower, and greasy food, there is an outfitter in town. I’m thinking of getting a new sleeping bag; mine doesn’t seem to keep me warm anymore.
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I’m still feeling pretty good. The mornings are when it takes a while to get the soreness worked out, but then I warm up and move okay. I hit another milestone today – 100 miles. I think I’ll keep going. I’m having too much fun to stop now.

 
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I caught the shuttle from Hiawassee back to the trail at 9 this morning. The motel I stayed in last night was a little rundown, but it was clean and cheap. Some of the young hikers that stayed there partied for awhile and finally went to bed about ten. Hiawassee is a good place to get off the trail. Groceries and restaurants are all within walking distance and the people that live there are hiker friendly. They know that we drop a lot of money while we are here.

The hiking today was hard but perhaps not as bad as the last few days. I seem to be getting into a rhythm and develop a pace that gets me over the mountains. The bad thing about coming out of town is that you are loaded down with food from your resupply, and it’s always uphill.

I keep running into the same people each day. There is a group of hikers, all with about my same pace, I run into at the camps. We made it to the North Carolina state line at 77 miles -a real feeling of accomplishment – and are camped just beyond at Blythe Gap. Tonight will be very cold, forecast is for below freezing temps and wind. I had better get bundled in.20120411_144809

 
 
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Today I am at Hiawassee, GA, a town 11miles north of the trail. Several of us camped at Deep Gap shelter, 3 miles south of the road crossing and got up early to meet the shuttle to town. The Budget Inn runs hikers to and from the trail for free as long as you stay at there motel. I will resupply and rest for today, get something to eat at a restaurant, then after sleeping in a real bed, shuttle back to the trail tomorrow.

So far I have walked 72 miles. In another 10 miles I will reach the North Carolina border, marking a significant milestone and a record of sorts for me.

Oh, the trailname came about when Karen said my hat on my backpack reminded her of Wilson, a vollyball that became constant companion of Tom Hanks, the lone survivor in the movie Castaway. In the movie Hanks talks to Wilson like he is a real person, but I’m not going to admit to that yet.

 
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Sunday and Monday were good days. Holidays seem pretty much like any other day out here. You just push on North and marvel at the beauty of this landscape. I’m not meeting many day hikers now, most have gone back to there jobs and school. I feel lucky to be out here, exercising my body and relaxing my mind. The goals and needs of a hiker are simple and basic.

I feel good so far. The knee complains sometimes, but I slow down and baby step the descents. I have seen many hikers – younger than me – hobbling with knee problems.

I stay warm at night. It helps to find a campsite down low out of the wind, but sometimes your mileage leaves you with no choice but camp on a mountain. I spent Easter night on top of Rocky Mtn. and woke to howling winds and a temp of 38 degrees. It was pretty hard to crawl out and hike the next morning.

 
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On Saturday, 4/7/12, I did another 11 miles into Low Gap shelter and tented with about 20 people. The hiking was easy in the morning, following logging roads and streams, and then there were some wicked climbs up to Poor Mountain. The views were spectacular in every direction. The weather is forecast to remain clear all week long, thank goodness. We ran into two trail angels today handing out Pepsi that said they remember this whole area deep under snow, this time in 2010.

I’m pretty sure the 89 yr. man left the trail. I think he tried to go too far each day. I’ve met a lot of nice people on the trail, most are young, just out of school, but there are a few retired guys, me included,acting like kids again.

I’ve built up a reputation of sorts. When I run into someone new and tell them my trailname, they often say, “Castaway, I’ve heard of you!” I guess it’s because I’m nice to everyone. Oh! I have to tell you how I got the name Castaway but I will save that for next time. It actually came from Karen when we hiked in the Allegheny Nat. Forest.

I did get another air mattress at Mountain Crossing outfitters. It’s called a Neo Air Extreme, even lighter than the one I had (It is the one you used Donna. I think you punctured it on a cactus ;)

 
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I awoke at 7am on Friday 6, to the threat of rain. I quickly made coffee, packed my tent, and headed up Blood Mountain just as it began to rain. It’s a long gradual climb – 1300 ft. – to the top at 4450 ft. Usually the views are spectacular, but today all we could see was a swirling, dense fog, accompanied by light rain. Even though it was a long climb the path was more gentle with switchbacks. There were a lot of day hikers out – this being Friday.

Right now I’m at Blood Mountain Cabins, a nice place with a special rate for hikers. There is room in each cabin for four to six people, but when I told the owners I snore, they granted me a cabin of my own, with the exception I help someone coming in late in the rain.

I’ve dried my gear, they even washed my clothes for free, and tomorrow I will resupply and buy a new air mattress. The weather is supposed to turn cold which will be good for hiking but bad in my tent.

 
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Day three. 4/5/12. You may see a lot of errors – more than usual – because I’m typing on my phone. My battery drains faster than my iPhone did and I hurry to write a blog.

The hiking was better today because of a good nights rest and gentle terrain for several miles. I’m starting to see more hikers but there are long stretches where I’m alone for hours. The woods are beautiful with giant mature oaks, hickory, and popular. Sometimes I will hike through tunnels of rhododendron, and the path is lined with beautiful wildflowers.

Tomorrow I will hike over Blood Mountain, the highest mountain in Georgia and stop at the hostle there. We had more rain and lightning before I reached camp, but the sun is now out and I am still dry.

 
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Day two was a killer. I had Sassafras Mountain to navigate, along with several steep peaks and gaps all day long. The AT in Georgia likes to visit every mountain top it passes, and the trail builders never heard of switch-backs. By the time I hiked 11 miles to a place called Justin Creek, it felt like I had walked 20. I can see why novice backpackers quit after just a few days. These mountains are hard!

My feet are doing good – no blisters yet – just a couple of sore toenails. My knee feels good and I only feel it if I go too fast on the descents. I still don’t have much appetite and I know I’m not drinking enough. It’s supposed to get cooler next week so that should help.

I’m starting to meet a lot of thru-hikers now. One interesting man is 89 years old, attempting to hike to Maine. Another, is carrying a 90 pound pack – the one leaving stuff beside the trail.

I am pretty tired tonight. I should sleep pretty well except for an air mattress that has a slow leak and leaves my hip touching the ground. I may replace it at the outfitters in Mountain Crossing.

 
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I started up Springer approach trail at 7:30 am. It didn’t take long before my zip-off pants came off and I was sweating profusely. Even early in the morning the temperature was close to seventy. I only passed a couple of day hikers on the way and met one young thru-hiker while I was resting at a shelter.

I’ve heard of hikers throwing away gear on the mountain, but never thought it was true. About two-thirds of the way up, I came to a campsite with gear scattered by the trail. At first I thought someone was camped there but no one was about and I realized it was discarded from someone’s pack. There was hi-tech clothes, assorted camping items, and eight expensive Mountain House dinners. I wanted to pack the food out but I had all I could carry as it was.

When I reached Springer and the start of the AT, it was still early so I decided to move ahead to the next shelter. And besides, it looked like a storm was moving in, prompting me to get to lower ground for the night.

The walk down the mountain was exciting. Lighting crashed all around, hail prattled my head, and the rain came in torrents. I was full of adrenaline, propelling me faster than I should have walked on slippery rocks, until eventually the sun came out again. By the time I reached Stover Creek shelter, I was almost dry.

I visited with a couple hikers and enjoyed good conversation until darkness and bugs drove us to our tents. I slept well but woke early in the morning.

 
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I left Pittsburgh shortly before noon on Sunday, April 1st. It was only 650 miles to my destination in Georgia so I decided to take two easy days for the drive. Even though my job for the last year has been driving 200 miles every day, it still seemed like a long, tiring trip. I never realized how far it is from the top of West Virginia to the boarder of North Carolina. Interstate 77 intersects the fattest part of the state and also cuts through the Appalachian Mountains for half its length. My old van got tired from going up and down the mountains, but it faithfully chugged on like a true workhorse.

I stayed overnight at a motel just outside of Charlotte, NC, and in the morning drove the rest of the way to Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia. As I continually made my way south, the weather seemed to change from spring to summer. Everything is lush with deep green color (even I can see it) and the trees are filling the sky with thick canopies of leaves. Someone said the temperature reached 85 today. It’s not going to be easy hiking with heat like that.

I signed in at the Visitor Center as thru-hiker (that’s how they spell it) number 702. I flipped back through the pages and counted 45 hikers signed in yesterday alone. Everyone plays the game of saying they are hiking all the way to Maine even though the odds are stacked 90 % against them. It’s funny to see the youthful, exuberance these young people overflow with. I guess it’s good that they are so positive and energetic. What surprises me the most is that I can’t believe how young they look. I think I have underwear older than some of them. At any rate, I sure won’t be hiking alone.

I talked with a Ranger about parking my van for a while and filled out more paperwork. Before I left, she told me about a side road that leads to the National Forest, just over the boundary of the Start Park, where I could park and camp free. So that’s where I am. In the morning I will park in the extended lot and begin the hike to Springer Mountain and the start of the AT. I weighed my pack earlier and found it weighs 31 lbs., more than I like but less than a lot of others.

This unusual, warm weather will be nice for sleeping, but it will also cause some problems. For one thing, I’ll need to carry a lot more water. Dehydration is not only uncomfortable but also dangerous for a person with kidneys like mine. Warm temperatures also bring out surly snakes and excitable, biting insects, and – probably the thing I fear the most – vivid lightning storms. All sorts of things can happen out there, but the most dangerous part is over – the drive down here.

I may not be able to update for a while. If I can get a signal, I’ll try to check my phone each day for email. Other than that I will turn it off to save battery life. Thanks for reading.

“Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning how to dance in the rain.” Anonymous

 
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I awoke to my last day in Buffalo at the usual early morning hour. My body was still on the work schedule of the last year and told me it was time to get up. I doubt I could have slept in anyway because there was a certain excitement to begin my long vacation. I was ready to see what was out there.

There was a light dusting of snow on the ground and the air felt bitterly raw after the mild weather of the last two weeks. I loaded my van with the remaining items from my apartment, cleaned up the floors and bathroom, and after several checks to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything, drove to meet Jenny.

It took us a couple hours to drive to the storage facility and fill out the paperwork to store my van. By the time we got back to the city, I was ready to head south and leave Buffalo for warmer climate. Thanks for everything, Jen.

The drive to Pittsburgh was uneventful. I had to keep reminding myself to slow down and save gas. At $4 a gallon, a little extra drive time will help a lot with expenses. Apparently, there are not many worried about how much gas they burn. All the way to Pittsburgh, SUV’s and heavy duty pickups flew by me like I was standing still.

Right now I’m enjoying a couple of days at Karen’s. She and Zack took me out to eat to celebrate my “retirement”, and then I went with Noah, Nate, and their Dad, to watch Noah play in a soccer game. All three kids are good athletes and it’s always fun to watch them play.

Karen has been helping me decide what gear to pack for my hiking adventure. I think I’m just about set. I know I will be carrying too much, but you can never tell what the weather will be in the mountains. Better to be safe than sorry. Tomorrow I will head towards Georgia.

 
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Published on March 29, 2012, by admin in Adventure.

This week has gone agonizingly slow. I’m ready to get out of town and reckon back to the days of wanderer, ready to take a walk in the woods and see what lies over the next hill, and more than ready to stop living someone else s version of my life. All I have is one more day of responsible, dependable employment, and then I can revert to being a vagabond again.

Tomorrow will be sad good-byes to all the employees at work and the staff in pharmacies where I deliver. I always have a good relationship with my fellow workers and people I meet on my route, and they will be missed. When I told the pharmacy employees of my intentions, it brought many groans and sad expressions, but encouragement in the belief that I was doing the right thing. Who knows, maybe some day I will be back for another run of employment and see them again.

I have most of the apartment empty. I loaded everything into my new van except for an air mattress and a few clothes for tomorrow. On Saturday, Jen will help me take one van to a storage lot where it will remain until I come back from my southern adventure. The plan is to drive my old van down to Georgia, either park or junk it, and walk for a while in the Appalachian Mountains. Then I will shuttle back or forward until I arrive at someplace sensible. It’s no good having too much of a rational plan or it wouldn’t be much of an adventure. My friend at work told me he had a video that I need to watch before I start hiking in Georgia – you guessed it – “Deliverance.” Good one, Ron!

My first stop will be in Pittsburgh to see Karen and the boys. I will leave a few things with her in case I last more than a couple of days and need something mailed to me. It’s always good to get her input on the right gear to pack. Even though I’ve studied my supplies pretty thoroughly, she has that analytical ability to plan a hike much better than I do.

That’s about it. Things can and will change along the way, and that will be all right. I’ll try to update when I do something interesting…and, I guess even when I don’t.

p.s. It didn’t take David long to figure out how to toggle my phone to the computer.

 
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Published on March 11, 2012, by admin in The Great Outdoors.

The weather was beautiful today so I decided to take a short hike. There were a couple of reasons to get out and do some serious walking: I wanted to test out my knee to see how it has survived the winter, and I also have a new backpack I’ve been dying to strap on. Everything went well, and I can report that the knee feels good. In fact – this point is baffling to me – it feels better after I give it a good workout. I’m wondering where the dividing line between moderate exercise and too much is drawn.

I would like to climb a few hills but that would mean driving at least 80 miles from Buffalo. With the price of gas I decided to walk in a town park not far from where I work in Cheektowaga. It’s a nice little park with several miles of graded trails. The paths wind through woods on level terrain with boardwalks constructed over the swampy areas. When the weather is nice, I walk there quite often. But this was the first time I had sported my full backpacking equipment and I received quite a few strange looks. The nice weather had also brought out tons of people to the park.

Most people would smile and greet me politely, although some kept their heads down and hurried by, like you do when you pass a homeless person with a sign. I explained to a couple of people that I was just getting used to my pack before I went on an overnight camping trip in the Spring, but for the most part I just smiled back.

My new pack is a ULA Catalyst. They don’t sell them in stores so I ordered it online. I’m not in favor of buying something as expensive as this pack was without trying it on or even seeing it in 2012-03-11 20.47.40person, but it had good reviews from the trail community and I figured I could send it back if I didn’t like it. I needed something a little bigger than my Gregory pack for cold-weather gear and several days of food while still remaining ultralight. It feels good and I like it.

Everything is set for my AT hike at the end of this month. I’m hoping to last a couple of weeks, anyway. After that I may drive through North Carolina and look at the small motorcycle I’m interested in. I called a dealer and they have two in stock. Then I will head indirectly west. I know the timeline flor visit is extended longer than some would like, but except for backpacking in the mountains, summer in the southwest is too brutal. I will try to update with more stories along the way, even if they seem pointless to me. I know everyone is thinking of me.

 
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Published on March 6, 2012, by admin in Pieces of my Mind.

I just reread a couple of my recent posts and realized that I use the conjunction ‘but’ in quite a few of my sentences. It puzzled me why I write this way and I came up with several reasons to explain it. I might be trying to convey an opposing view, or maybe I’m not sure about my point, or I could just like the way the sentence sounds. I’m not sure exactly why I do it, but I don’t think I can stop.

Everyone is probably wondering where I’m living. The last information I posted hinted of staying in a motel, getting a room at the YMCA, or just living in my van. One by one I ruled these out on the grounds that they were too expensive, too far away, or invited uncleanness. Even though the Y was up in Niagara Falls, I probably would have stayed there. Unfortunately, when I went back to check on rooms, they had rented the last one. I was stuck. I resigned myself to either cough up the money for a motel or jump in my van and take off for a warmer climate.

Fortunately, Louie found me a place to ride out the rest of the winter. His cousin had a vacant apartment, only a couple of miles from where we were staying that I could rent without security deposit, hooking up utilities, or signing a long-term lease. We made an agreement for a set amount and I moved in. It’s not in the best neighborhood or anything pretty to look at, but it will do for now.

I did just buy a luxury. Every since I bought the new van, I’ve thought about getting a bigger TV for it. One van-camper told me how he installed a flat screen on hinges so it could be stowed against the ceiling when traveling, and lowered for viewing when parked. I liked the idea and decided to splurge early so that I could enjoy it while I’m waiting for departure. It’s a Vizio 27” razor. I chose it because it was so thin.

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I’m limited to about eight over the air stations. There’s not a lot that I like on TV anymore but I do get some PBS stations and a couple of local broadcasts that have sitcoms I like. Over the weekend, I got hooked on a public broadcast and watched three hours detailing the life of Lincoln. The FOX news channel comes in crystal clear. Who knew I would be able to get fair and balanced news every night!

 
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Published on February 19, 2012, by admin in More Stuff.

When I was at Dave & Lisa’s this weekend, I bought a new phone.

Karen calls me a traitor!

I couldn’t be loyal anymore after taking a look at Dave’s new phone and the Android operating system. If Apple would have upgraded to 4g, I probably would have remained with the iPhone, but the speed and power of this phone is amazing.

The phone is a Samsung Galaxy II Skyrocket, just a short generation above Daryl’s Thunderbolt. It has a 1.5 g dualcore processor, support for the newest 4g speed, and a gazillion more electrons flying around in a frantic frenzy.

I don’t know enough about it to judge every feature but I think it should work for me. The screen is a lot larger than the iPhone and its incredibly thin. I thought maybe it wouldn’t fit my pocket but I don’t notice any difference.

Dave and I were concerned about loosing our unlimited data plan, but I think AT&T is trying to keep customers happy and still supporting those of us grandfathered in.

One thing that I lost was the ability to toggle my laptop. I could still do it but would have to switch to a different data plan or install a third party program not legal with our provider. David and Lisa use very little data because they are connected to WiFi most of the time. I, however, used 85 gegibites last year- they charge $10/g for anything over 3/Mo.

Ill let you know how I like it in a month.

 
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Published on February 19, 2012, by admin in More Stuff.

After only a few months of living in an appartment it is amazing how much stuff I have accumulated. In ten days I have to clean up, throw out, give away, and find a home for everything that overflows the space of a van.
It’s hard to believe how my possessions have grown since last year. I don’t think of myself as a hoarder but I can see how it sneaks up and overtakes you when your not looking.
I have several books that I bought last year. I really enjoyed reading them but can’t see myself reading them again in the near future. They’re not the type of book any of my friends or relatives would like and I don’t want the hassel of taking them to the library. I probably should just throw them out but can’t bring myself to do it.
I have a couple of pieces of furniture that I picked up at Goodwill. Nobody wants those either. I’ll probably end up leaving them for the next tenant. He may throw them out too, but at least I wont know about it.
I have way too many clothes to ever fit in my van. I don’t remember buying half of them and I regularly wear less than that. They must have seemed like a good idea at one time but I’m thinking the best option is to toss them.
I have a few item that I couldn’t throw out so I made a trip to Karen’s and another to Dave’s and Lisa’s, with instructions to yard sale all of it at their earliest convience. If they can’t sell it I hope they toss it and never tell me.
I have more to tell you but I think I will upload this much in case I mess up.

 
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Published on January 7, 2012, by admin in Pieces of my Mind.

I’m bringing in the New Year suffering with another virus. In less than a month, I’ve caught two colds. I see so many people all day and it seems like everyone on my route is sick with something – colds; flu; laryngitis; bronchitis. I guess I don’t have a very good immune system because I always catch more than my share of colds. If only I’d had those tonsils and adenoids out when I was a kid.

I had a wonderful time with David and Lisa at Christmas. My present was new Black Diamond trekking poles from them and Karen. I can’t wait to try them out! Lisa made a delicious ham dinner, and afterwords, we all went to see a movie. When we got back to their house, Dave jail-broke my iPhone for me. I was thinking of moving up to the iPhone 4, but I really didn’t need any of the new features, and I would be hesitant to tamper with a new phone. I can now use my phone as a modem to connect my laptop, anywhere I get a data signal.

Trekking Poles

Trekking Poles


The next weekend, it was off to spend the New Year with Karen and the boys. It’s always great to see them. The boys are growing so fast and it won’t be long before they’ll all be leaving the nest. Next year, Zack heads to college, and the year after that, Nate will be going. Whenever I’m in Pittsburgh, I always get Karen to take me to the local REI. They were having the usual after-Christmas sales and we both bought some outdoor garments. I like the hiking clothes they have there but it always stuns me to see the prices. With the new rain jacket that Jen and Louie gave me, I should have everything I need to hike in the spring.

That’s about it for the holidays. In a way, I’m glad it’s over. The traffic and turmoil of delivery around Christmas time can be a nightmare. We will be giving up the apartment on February 29. I’m still looking for someplace to stay until spring. My plan is to continue to work until the end of April and then retire again. After I become tired of being retired, I may work so that I can afford new tires.

I found a company in Taiwan that makes small model motorcycles and exports them to the USA. The encouraging news I’m reading is that there are other people like me that want to relive their glory years with the 150cc bikes. It’s possible I may look into something like the SYM Classic 150.

Just for Donna, I’ve included a table of statistics on the motorcycles performance, and a couple of graphs detailing the power vs. torque analysis through the acceleration curve.

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For some time now I’ve received emails and comments lamenting the fact that my blog has been abandoned. Along with subtle hints and direct prodding, there seems to be a unanimous consensus that everyone has had enough of tuning in only to discover “Swivel” as the latest update. I can sympathize with that. I’ve looked many times – always with optimism and hope – for a new update on anther blog, only to be similarly disappointed to see “Natchez Trace” still there. I guess I will attempt to update everyone with the happenings so far and maybe throw in some workings of my mind. Just be warned that that statement bores me. I can’t even imagine what it will do to you. 

I work. I eat. I sleep. There you have it!  Well, maybe I dream a little. Actually, I dream a lot.  It usually happens when I’m asleep but not always. I’ve caught myself quite often – and please don’t try this yourself – dreaming while I’m driving. Once or twice I almost missed my exit on the Thruway because my mind was far away from where it aught to be. I’ve caught myself several times on the verge of performing some careless blunder in traffic, only because I wasn’t paying complete attention. These close calls inevitably snap me back to the real world – often with a quick pulse and flash of adrenaline – and remind me of the seriousness of driving for a living. 

 I think we all let our emotions dictate our driving to a certain extent. During the holiday season, traffic is snarled, everyone is in a hurry to get somewhere, and the weather is often deteriorating, challenging us all to be better drivers. The other day, after making a delivery, it took me over a half hour just to get out of the Walmart parking lot. It was almost like everyone in town was at the store. Sometimes drivers would wait and motion you into the exit line, but eventually everyone became discouraged and fought for their own turn at escape. Usually, after much waiting and waining patience, two cars will move at the same time and bump into each other. That’s when you know your going to be there for a while. 

So far, my old RV (rusty van) has faithfully made the trip to Jamestown every day. With rust and corrosion slowly eating up the sides, strange noises and vibrations appearing regularly, and a host of gremlins ready and waiting to wreak havoc on a 260,000 mile engine, I nurse it along 5mph under the speed limit all the way to my destination. I figure if I can make it last until spring, I can throw it away with pride.

In the event of a breakdown, I have my new van as a backup. So far, the remodel is still in the planning stage. I thought it prudent not to spend a lot of time and money on furnishings until I knew exactly what the plan is. Even though I still intend to travel this spring, one never knows what might come up.  Here are a couple of scenarios I’ve been throwing back and forth in my head. Keep in mind that I’m not an optimist at all and have no trouble talking myself out of doing anything for which I can find a good reason not to. 

I would like to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail. Not just two or three days like all my hikes have been, but a serious section of extended length. It would get me fit again after a winter of sloth; it would be a great way to spend time outdoors and see nature; it would give me a chance to find out where my limits are. 

If I do this, it has to be now. Who knows when congress might come to an impasse and close down all the Parks, or even worse, take away part of my SSI(I’m being sarcastic about this one). And at my age, I may not have many more hiking years left. Already, my knees are complaining about every activity I do, and it’s increasingly alarming when I feel a new twinge in my back. These are the things I think about on my long drive each day. By the time spring rolls around I probably will be content to get another bag of potato chips and put my feet up on the couch. 

A while back, as I was driving to Jamestown, I came upon a motorcycle for sale by the road. I’ve always thought that van/motorcycle was the way to go. To carry a small motorcycle on the back of my van would allow me to camp and tool around the area with ease. I could also park the motorcycle at the trailhead and leave the van a few mile away, hike for a couple of days, pick up the motorcycle and shuttle back to the van. It seemed like a good solution but as I started to investigate new motorcycles, I discovered that they don’t make small ones anymore; at least not in this country. The smallest motorcycle made for the road is the Honda 230cc, weighing 300lbs and costing several thousand dollars. The small bikes we had when we were young have all been phased out in favor of high performance motorcycles and scooters. I’m not coming down on scooters. There’s nothing wrong with getting around on a scooter, but I occasionally like to go off-road – up a mountain trail, through a riverbed, or out in the desert – and thought a dirt bike would work better. 

The motorcycle I bought, with the intention of fixing up, is a Suzuki 185ts, built in 1974. Even though I paid very little for it, it may never work for me. I’ve discovered that parts are almost impossible to find, and what parts are avaiable are very expensive. i probably will take it to the level of dirt bike and sell it there. I have been watching eBay for restored motorcycles but they seem to all be in California or Arizona – great for my brothers but bad for me. 

That’s about it. I’m going to stick it out this winter and make a decision about travel when it gets closer to spring. I’m going to visit David and Lisa for Christmas tomorrow and next week I will spend New Years with Karen and the boys in Pittsburg. I hope everyone has a wonderful Merry Christmas!

 
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Published on August 13, 2011, by admin in More Stuff.

When you buy a used vehicle there are always little things that need to be fixed. I had new shocks installed and complete wheel balancing on all four tires. I’m going to have the brakes and rotors replaced in the near future, and if you’ve ever dealt with an engine emissions light, you know how that can ruin your day. Small repairs don’t seem like much but they add up to significant money when you are budgeting to save for another expedition. The most important thing though, is to have the van mechanically sound before I take on the Rocky Mountains next spring.

The van came with swivel, captain’s chairs in the middle, designed to face the back seat for important conference meetings and socializing. What I really wanted was for the front passenger seat to swivel, serving a dual purpose of passenger and living room seating. It seemed like such a waste to throw away a swivel seat, but modifying and installing it in the front seemed like too big of a project. When I crawled underneath, I couldn’t even find the bolts where they came through the framework, and I was afraid that they would be rusted and impossible to remove.

As you can see from the pictures below: I did it! With a lot of drilling and rebolting, I now have my passenger/living room, easy chair. I had to remove the seat belt assembly from the front seat and install it to the swivel seat, buy longer bolts where they went through the frame, but it went well and I’m confident that it is safe.
Swivel Seat 036

Swivel Seat 034

 
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Published on July 9, 2011, by admin in Adventure.

Here are a few pictures of my van. It is presently equipped with captains’ chairs that swivel, and a bench seat in the back that folds down into a bed. There are shades on all the windows, ducted A/C and heat, diverse interior lighting, and a nice sound system from the radio and TV. The inside is finished in plush carpeting and wood-grain paneling.
1997 Ford Conversion
Van

I tried to figure out a way to save the seats and incorporate them into my camper van design, but the center seats took up too much room, and the fold-down bed was uncomfortable and cramped. So today I decided to remove all the back seats and start over with an empty space.
Van 036
Van 043
The modifications will progress slowly. I still need to use the new van as a backup in case my work van breaks down. I will probably build the cabinets for the kitchen and bed storage area, but still be able to remove them without a lot of work.
Van 044

WordPress made a mess out of this!

 
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Published on June 26, 2011, by admin in Pieces of my Mind.

I awoke to the sound of noisy seagulls, squawking at the bubbling surf and chasing the tides for their morning breakfast. The waves crashed along the oceanfront, rhythmically tumbling onto the shore and then retreating back to the sea. Low on the horizon the sun blazed bright and clear, casting a glow on the water that reflected the sky until it melted into the distant haze. A group of pelicans soared lazily above the water, passing by with hardly a beat of wing, and just beyond the waves the dorsal fins of two dolphins gracefully broke the surface in a flowing arc.

I stepped from my beach house and walked to the picnic patio. A gentle wind of exotic, ocean fragrance rolled over me. The temperature was perfect, warm but cool in the morning breeze. I walked to the beach and gazed up and down the dunes, endlessly stretching for miles in both directions. All around me was million-dollar landscape. A paradise of property that would beckon the desires of the rich and famous was ironically mine for $3 a day.

A few weeks later, I sat on my front lawn and watched the sun set over the distant hills. From my mountain top chalet, I could see for a hundred miles in every direction. A panorama of color and shape, valleys of meadows and forests, silhouetted by craggy peaks of distant mountains. It was a place where many dream of having a home. At that moment, it was my home for $3 a day.

Of course, I was not living in a beach house or mountain top chalet. I don’t own expensive oceanfront property or actually have deed to land in the mountains. The land I’m talking about is public. It belongs to all of us. It is the National Parks, National Seashores, National Forests, and National Historic places. My home was a twelve year-old van, converted into a makeshift RV.

For over six months I traveled the highways across America, accumulating almost 10,000 miles on an old Ford Econoline van. It started out as an experiment. I wasn’t sure if I should drive a car or motorcycle and camp in a tent, or drive my old truck and sleep in the back, or just stay in motels and rely on relatives for lodging. I’m the end, I decided that my old work van, converted into a primitive recreational vehicle, would be the best option. What could be a better way to see America than with my very own RV (Rusty Van).

The van provided me with almost everything I needed for my experimental adventure. I built a bed along one side, added closets and totes for storage, and made drop-down tables for cooking and organizing. I had a propane stove for cooking and a cooler for a refrigerator. For privacy, I used dark curtains and drapes. For nighttime entertainment, I had my laptop, dvd player, and Netflix/Kindle enabled iPhone. The only item I omitted and sometimes missed was a portable toilet. In the confined space of the van I didn’t want to deal with odor and the mess of finding places for waste disposal. I figured I could find and use public toilets when the need arose.

The list of places where I spent the nights include, but are not limited to: parking lots, rest areas, town parks, State and National park campgrounds, and Bureau of Land Management campgrounds (BLM). Not once did I stay in a RV park; it didn’t seem like I fit there. I enjoyed staying at BLM campgrounds the most. They were usually inexpensive and situated in nice, quiet National Forests. Rest areas were usually noisy with interstate traffic all hours of the night, and I spent a couple of sleepless nights there. The only time I was awakened by authorities happened to be in a town park. The police knocked on my door and wanted to know what I was doing. They were quite OK with me after I explained to them that I just wanted a few hours of rest. Although you are always susceptible to mischief, I never felt insecure in a parking lot; my old van is not a prime target for valuables, and most people don’t even know you are sleeping in it. If you are stealthy and park undetected, it looks like you are a store worker or just late-night shopping.

Besides upscale RV complexes, the nicest places to camp are usually State parks. Many of them have showers and flush toilets, understandably a treat after several days of hiking, biking, and traveling. I always promised myself that I would never sink into squalor and uncleanness, and I devised ways to bath in almost every situation. Even though I never felt beyond a little grubby (it’s not quite as important when your traveling alone), it was always nice to take a hot, steamy shower. The downside of State parks is the cost. They are usually $20 – $30/per night all across the US, and as much as $40 in California. You would think this price would include electric hookups but that’s not always the case.

As I reflect back on the trip, I keep focusing on one underlying thread — Don’t plan too much. It’s not to say you should go off unprepared or ill advised, but I found I was the happiest when I could take enjoyment in the moment, worry less where I was and where I thought I ought to be. Sometimes a traveler can put too much emphasis on travel plans, transportation, dining, lodging, and entertainment. After years of conditioning to two-week vacations, I often had to slow down and remind myself to take it easy. I would often get the itch to push on, see what was in the next state, visit someplace new, but if I just stayed where I was and looked around, some little piece of serendipity would always come my way.

Probably the most worrisome aspect of traveling in a camper is finding a site for the night. I have to admit that this occupied my mind quite often as I roamed across the land. If you travel without a definite destination for the night, it conjures up thoughts of ending up on a lonely abandoned road, far from civilization and normalcy, with inebriated, deranged hillbillies lurking about the hills. I would spend considerable time during the day pouring over maps and guides, looking for campgrounds. There were a few times when I would deviate miles from my route only to find a campground closed. What I needed was an escape clause that would almost guarantee a relative safe place to park, never be closed, and be located everywhere along my route. That’s where Walmart comes in.

Although the RV parks in town don’t like it, most Walmarts welcome RVs in their parking lots. The campers are well behaved, don’t make a mess, and buy stuff in their store. There is usually plenty of space to park and security is very good. A lot of the time, security personnel patrol the lot all night. It worked great for me – parking, security, restrooms, supplies, and fresh groceries at hand. Even though it was not my first choice for the night, once I learned the trick of googling nearby Walmarts, it took the worry out of finding campgrounds.

In my next post I will tell of the new van I just bought. Although it is new to me, it is certainly not new. With respectable mileage, beautiful interior, a high top, and – best of all – NO RUST, my plan is to modify it into a camper-van of sorts. I’m usually not looking to make myself more work, but this should be fun. For me, van camping is the way to travel. The gas mileage, the camping places I want to get into, and the stealth quality of parking undetected, outweigh the convenience and luxury of a large camper. Hey, it’s quite a step up from a tent!

 
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Published on June 9, 2011, by admin in Pieces of my Mind.

I finally made it back to Buffalo. The plan is to stay and work for a while. I stopped in at the delivery company I used to work for and they were happy to see me, offering me a job instantly. It’s not high pay but I like the work. I get to be my own boss to an extent, meet a lot of nice people, and enjoy the beauty of New York scenery.

I put a few pictures up on my gallery. I took less and less photos as I worked my way East. It’s so hard to capture the beauty of what the eye sees, and there are so many places on the web that have better pictures than I do it was injustice on my part to photograph it. What everyone wants to see is our picture, but Karen, intuitively, put it this way, “Here’s a picture of me on the AT. Here is another picture of me resting on the trail, and here’s another picture of me walking on the trail.”

I think I need to write some kind of conclusion to my trip, some kind of insight that highlights the pros and cons of what I did. A lot of the trip was an experiment. I wanted to see if I could fall off the grid and not be depressed by the insecurity and loneliness of drifting on a paupers budget. I wanted to taste the extreme vagabond lifestyle and glean whatever knowledge I could filter from the experience. But most of all, I wanted to see this great land of ours. I’ll write more on this later.

 
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Published on May 31, 2011, by admin in Adventure.

That was about it for our hike. We descended South Mountain and walked about three miles along the abandoned railway into Harpers Ferry. We were there so early hardly anything was open. A row of restaurants line the lower streets in the old part of town, catering mostly to tourists that visit the museums and relics on weekends. It was Monday morning and we couldn’t find anyplace to eat so we rode the shuttle bus to the Visitors Center and picked up Karen’s car. 

On our way out of town I ran an idea by Karen. I was still feeling good and not in any hurry to stop hiking. I had plenty of trail food left and plenty of time for another short hike. The transportation was not a problem, Karen could drop me off a ways north and I could hike back to my van. The more I thought about it the better I liked the idea. 

We found a pizza parlor and gorged ourselves on wings and pizza, googled a nearby cinema and went to see the new “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie, and then checked into a motel for the night. While I did laundry – my hiking clothes were stinky – Karen found a highly recommended Mexican restaurant on Yelp and we ate some more. 

The next morning, Karen dropped me off 20 miles north of my van and I continued on another section of the AT. It was fun meeting the same hikers we met two days before and seeing their surprised looks, answering puzzling questions at how I got ahead of them.  I saw three black snakes, even stepping on one, but no rattlers, thank goodness.  

The weather was great for my extra hike and I made good time to Tumbling Run Shelter, my stopping place for the night.  Tumbling Run is a unique area:  Twin shelters – new, clean, well cared for-  showcase a campground with decks for picnic tables, fire pits, clothes lines, a nice privy with sanitizer, and numerous tent sites. I chose a tent site away from a group of day campers and set up camp. When I returned to the shelter area, the camp host was in the process of kicking out the day campers. The shelters are for hikers, and he told us how campers park at a near-by road and walk in to party.   

There were only three of us then. We practically had the area all to ourselves. I gathered wood for a fire and we talked until dark. One of the thru-hikers was going home in a few days to attend graduation. He was some kind of math major at a prestigious college and had graduated early, leaving him time to hike the AT before the ceremony. He didn’t think he would be back to finish the trail. He missed his family too much. 

When I awoke the next morning, both thru-hikers were gone. There was a heavy dew on everything so I hung around camp for a while, hoping my tent would dry a little before I packed it. I had plenty of time; there was only nine miles left to finish. If I would have known what was just up the trail, I would have probably left sooner, when it was cooler. 

For about three mile, I walked through some of the worst mosquito infestation I’ve ever seen. They were relentless, and Deet didn’t seem to phase them. I think I used half a bottle trying to keep them from devouring me. They even bit right through my clothes. With all the rain in the last few weeks, the standing water made perfect breeding grounds. 

It was almost 2:00 pm when I reached my vehicle. I still felt good after 60 miles and would have probably kept on hiking if I had a way to get back. I hope Karen and I can do another hike this fall and get some family to join us. Doesn’t that sound like fun?

 
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Published on May 29, 2011, by admin in The Great Outdoors.

On the third day of our hike we walked into Gathland State Park, site of the famous War Correspondents Monument.  Standing 50 feet high and 40 feet wide, it is quite impressive to see. We were looking forward to our arrival at the park because of a soda machine rumored to be there. A cold Coke tastes so good after hiking all day, and we hurried to the restroom where the brightly lit, pop machine stood waiting. We dug into our pockets for dollar bills and realized that both of us only had $20 bills, useless for obtaining our treat. 

The rest of the day was filled with pleasant walking. The weather was beautiful in the morning, but along about 2:00 pm, it clouded up and began to sprinkle. It couldn’t be our hike if we didn’t get a little rain. The shower only lasted a short time and we made the shelter where we planned to stay soon after. 

We were the first ones at the shelter. It was called the Ed Garvey Memorial Shelter and was as nice as any we had seen for quite a while. I looked it over and discovered a stairway in back that led to a neat loft. It was clean, modern, roomy, a delightful place for the night, and we spread our sleeping pads to claim a place. The one discouraging aspect about staying for the night stemmed from the fact that we would have to walk a half-mile down the hill for water. 

All afternoon and into the evening hikers drifted in. A man and his son arrived shortly. They were doing a section hike for a few days. Then the five, young guys that had followed us for the last three days came in and claimed spots upstairs. Then along about dinner time another thru-hiker, a real nice guy from Texas, strolled in. Karen and I knew we wouldn’t have the shelter to ourselves, but we never realized it would become so crowded. 

Just before dark, as we all sat around the campfire talking, we noticed a young girl walk up and ask if their was any room in the shelter. There is an unwritten rule that there is always room for one more, especially on nights that look like rain. 

She had that athletic look about her – long legs and a torso that molded to a backpack – reminding me of the way Karen looks with pack.  Someone asked her name and I heard her reply, “Snorkel.” (All thru-hikers use trail names, it’s easier to remember)
I knew I’d heard her name before when I did some hiking near Damascus, VA. She was famous for something but for the life of me I couldn’t think what it was. It wasn’t until a couple of days later that I found out her story. 

Liz Thomas, trail name “Snorkel”, is a hiking machine. At the age of 24, she became the youngest female hiker to receive a Triple Crown award, an accomplishment that requires you to thru-hike all three long distance trails in the United States – the 2100 mile Appalachian Trail, the 2600 mile Pacific Crest Trail, and the 3100 mile Continental Divide Trail. She is hiking the AT again this year with the goal of becoming the fastest female, unsupported thru-hiker. Unsupported means carrying a full pack all the way, resupplying from towns along the way, and not accepting help from anyone. She is typically walking 30 to 40 miles a day.  

The night was filled with dredging snores from the shelter. Flashes from a thunderstorm winked off and on in the distance, and rain prattled lightly on the roof, always a good time to be safe and dry inside. I slept hardly at all and was the first one up in the morning. I retrieved our food bag and quietly made coffee as everyone else slumbered on. 

At 7:00 am, as everyone was stirring in the shelter, stuffing their packs with sleeping gear, another thru-hiker arrived.  He was doing the “four state challenge”, a requirement that you hike in four states – Virginia, W.V., Maryland, and Pennsylvania – all in one 24 hour period. To accomplish this task, hikers have to start out in Virginia at 1:00 am, and walk almost 50 miles to PA. It’s not something old guys like me should ever attempt. 

The thru-hikers left together; I imagined offering support and encouragement with their quests. Karen and I were on the trail soon after. There wasn’t any need to hurry; we only had five miles of hiking to reach Harpers Ferry and the end of our trip. We knew the walking would be fairly easy. According to my map, it was mostly downhill for a couple of miles and then a leisurely stroll along the old C&O canal towpath. 

Continued…

 
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Published on May 27, 2011, by admin in The Great Outdoors.

On our second day, we pushed ourselves well past our normal hiking range. There was a campground at Turners Gap, by US40, that boasted a free shower
and restaurant within minutes of the camp. After two days of dripping perspiration and trail food, both options sounded good. 

The hiking was easier the second day. We were starting to get deeper into Maryland and the terrain was not quite as hilly. We still had to climb 1000 feet to some of the ridges, but when we got up on them, they were fairly level walking. On one ridge called High Rock, there was a flat rock jutting out over the cliff, used by Hang Gliders as a launch point. It must take a lot of nerve to run and jump off that ledge. 

We ate lunch at another scenic lookout called Annapolis Rock and rested in the warm sunshine. There were some rock climbers scaling the wall on ropes far below, and we could hear their shouts of either fear or conquest rising up. 

From Annapolis Rocks to Washington Monument, we encountered droves of day-hikers. The good weather of the weekend had brought everyone out to enjoy the woods. The AT crosses Rt.40 where a convenient parking lot allows families and pets to walk for a few hours and experience the trail. 

For a while, we were counting how many thru-hikers we passed. By going South, we were meeting the North-bounders every half hour or so, and by the second day it became overwhelming to keep track. At first, I would ask them if they were headed to Maine, but eventually all we needed was a sniff to tell their destination. When one would pass, we would look at each other and say, “Thru-hiker!”.

We climbed the winding stair way to the top of the Washington Monument. Built in the early 1800’s by a small town in Maryland, this structure was the first, and decidedly more modest project than the one in Washington. Still, it provided panoramic views of the countryside. There was also a museum in the park and we spent a few minutes looking at the displays. After resting for a spell on the grassy lawn, and filling our water bottles from the faucet, we walked on to the campground. 

At about 4:00 pm, we descended a ridge and walked across Alt. Rt.40 to the Backpackers campground. To our dismay, there were already two troops of Boy Scouts occupying the whole site. We found out later that because of flooding on a trail near Harpers Ferry, the scouts had diverted to this campground. Karen and I eventually found a place where we could pitch our tent, secluded within the woods and out of earshot of the scouts. 

We took showers and walked to the restaurant. It was called the Old South Mountain Inn and was much more elegant than we needed, but the food was delicious and generous. They asked hikers that trickled in whether they had showered or not, and clean bodies were allows to enter the dining room, while stinky ones had to sit at the bar. 

After dinner, we read more plaques, scattered on the lawn around the inn. It was quite confusing reading about the battles that sprang up in the area: what commander moved his army here; where the charges took place; what side pushed through and who retreated. We were getting tired by now and retreated ourselves to the campground for tea and hot chocolate. 

We talked for a while to five men that were mirroring our exact hike. We talked briefly the night before but didn’t get to learn much about them until the third night. We turned in early and slept well through the night. In the morning, we were packed and on the trail by 7:30.  

End of Part Two…

 
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Published on May 26, 2011, by admin in Adventure.

On Monday, 5/23/11, Karen and I completed our backpacking adventure on the AT. We climbed through rolling mountains, traversed long scenic ridges with expansive views, scrambled over rocks and boulders, trudged up slopes that made sweat run down our backs, and descended knee jarring switchbacks into lush valleys. We met a lot of nice people and a few that were a bit odd. We mixed in with hikers that were decidedly grubby, a little bit smelly, and always hungry. We were transported into a place where nature decides your every comfort level and the world moves at a simple pace. 

Our path traversed the whole width of Maryland along the South Mountain range. For forty miles, high above the Cumberland Valley, from Harpers Ferry to the Mason Dixon Line, the AT visits historic sites of the Civil War. This area was alive with skirmishes and battles leading up to the major conflicts of Antietam and Gettysburg. We enjoyed mixing in a little history lesson, now and then, as we hiked through State Parks and Monuments. 

On our first day, we hiked about 9 miles to a dreary looking place called Ensign Cowall Shelter. When we got there we found it already occupied by two hikers. One young fellow sat outside making a pair of gaiters out of an abandoned garment someone had given him. We later learned that he was from Germany, and had the urge to travel to America and thru-hike the AT before he started his career. He turned out to be a delightful, friendly, intelligent guy and both Karen and I enjoyed his company. The other character was a piece of work. He lay in the shelter wrapped in his sleeping bag, sick from exhaustion and drugs. This was the first time he had ever been in the woods in his life, and he was so ill prepared for backpacking that he was a danger to himself. It was hard getting a story out of him that any of us could believe, but we gathered that he had come on the train to Harpers Ferry with a pack that weighed 150 pounds, and had walked for 10 days to get to this shelter that should normally be only two days hike. Besides being  way out of shape and grossly overweight, he had nothing even practical for backpacking. What little clothes he had were soaked from walking in the rain, and he was living on some kind of Army rations. We heard stories of fishing in the river for catfish and building lean-tos for shelter. It didn’t take much thought for Karen and I to move to the area behind the shelter and pitch our tent for the night. 

No sooner than we had settled in to our campsite, along came a troop of fifteen Boy Scouts. They pitched their tents in every available space in the area, surrounding us with their noise and chatter well onto the night. At one point, Karen even spoke to them, asking them to be quiet. They finally settled down and we got a few hours of restless sleep. 

In the morning, we packed up early and planned a 14 mile hike that would put us well beyond the range of the Scout Troop. 

To be continued…

 
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Published on May 18, 2011, by admin in Adventure.

Trail Days was fun but not all I thought it would be. A lot of the speakers finished off their time by trying to sell something they had made or a book they wrote  And the gear companies were really pushy for the sell. I tried to convey that I was just there to learn and figure out what I should buy, but most of them realized I knew as much as they did about hiking gear and stopped the hard sell rather quickly. All in all, I’m glad I stopped to see the spectacle and check out the latest backpacking gear. 

At the end of the second day in Damascus, the skies opened with pouring rain and wind, chasing everyone to their tents and vehicles. The next morning held the promise of an all day soaker, so I packed up and headed north to Shenandoah National Park. 

In the two days it took to reach Shenandoah (I take scenic back roads through the Blue Ridge Mountains), the weather was clearing and the view along Skyline Drive was beautiful. Drifting clouds and bright sunlight, exposed vast expanses of the valley below.  From numerous pullouts along the ridge line you could see for a hundred miles. 

I spent the night at Big Meadows Campground. Rain came again in the night. It seems like it rains almost every night and sometimes every day; At least it feels like it. What they wouldn’t give for some of this rain out west. 

Karen and I will be hiking a section of the Appalachian Trail from Harpers Ferry, WV, through Maryland, and ending in Pen Mar Park, near the Pennsylvania border. It’s a section filled with history: We will pass through historic Civil War Battlefields.  We will get to see the first Washington Monument. We follow the path of Louis and Clark, early railroads, remains of abandoned canals, and stand on the same rock that Thomas Jefferson spoke from. We are looking forward to spending a few days on the trail, now…if this rain would just go away for a few days.  

 
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Published on May 7, 2011, by admin in The Great Outdoors.

On Thursday and Friday I hiked the AT for 18 miles. I had almost forgotten how hard it is to walk uphill all day with a full pack. When I hiked with Daryl, Donna, and Dick, we could share some of the gear, combine uses for items like a water filter, stove, first-aid kit, GPS, and tent. Hiking alone requires you carry it all.

Hikers passed me all day. By the time they get to Damascus, thru-hikers have walked almost 500 miles; they are becoming hiking machines. If they make it to the end, most men will be in the best condition of their lives and typically lose 30-40 pounds.

I spent the night in my tent, near a clearing at a place called Saunders Shelter. There were nine of us there: three guys about my age, two young men, two girls and a dog. We sat around the campfire that night and I listened to them talk about their hikes. Some of their names were Rainbow, Raisin, Swamp Dog, Guinness, and the older group that called themselves Team Indecision.

One of the young men was up early the next morning, packed up quickly, and on the trail before I had my tent down. I learned later that he was doing 30 mile days, trying to catch a girl he was smitten with, some two days up ahead on the trail. I hiked out before the rest of the crowd, and only saw a couple of hikers the rest of the day. You tend to meet up with people at shelters, but a lot of the time will be spent walking alone.

The trail crosses Rt. 58 near an entry point for the Virginia Creeper Bike Trail. Two days before, I had strategically hidden my bike behind some Rhododendron bushes, about a half-mile from my exit point. I was a little apprehensive that someone had found it and taken it away, or even worse, that one of the tires would be flat, but everything was ok.

Although the ride down the bike trail only took two hours, I was sore and tired from the weight of my pack, constantly pressing my arms into the handlebars, and jarring my back at every rut. It was quite a relief when I arrived at my van.

I had a good time. I wish it would have been a little warmer – I got cold in the night. There was a light rain on the second day, but nothing that spoiled the hike. I didn’t take enough food. I always have trouble figuring out what kind of an appetite I will have. When I pack, I’m reluctant  to pad my food supply on the grounds that I will have to carry more weight, and it wouldn’t hurt me to drop a couple of pounds anyway. Did I just say I was cold, wet, and hungry?

 

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