Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Perfect Zero

A Perfect Zero Day

Today Figgy and I were planning to get started again on the trail, but the day turned out differently than we had expected.

If we could point to one unexpected difficulty of our hike, it would be the committments we've been trying to keep along the way that influence our pace and timetable. Meeting with friends and family has been great, but we're realizing that lately we've been feeling like racehorses trying to stay on track.

That's okay for a while, but begins to be a burden when it interferes with how we might want to spend our day... that might mean not lingering at a beautiful spot, taking on bigger miles than the terrain would allow, or passing up a side trail to something worth seeing... In short, we felt how rigidly adhering to an itinerary (that we made up on the road to Georgia) defeats our ability to "Hike our own hike."

So today we mixed it up. We made fast friends with our hosts Walt and Pat and they welcomed us to stay another full day with them. And we said "Yes!"

Last night the bed felt so good, the food was plentiful and tasty, bathing 3 times was bliss, being with caring and knowledgable hosts was welcomed, zoning out with a few movies was a treat and staying off our feet was just plain refreshing.

Today it felt good to stock up with some extra emotional and physical reserves. Hooray for a perfect zero day.

Comments and Encouragement

Just a quick note to let you all know we appreciate your comments and encouragement. Even some from people we have never met! Thanks for taking the time to keep up with us and be a part of our journey...

Craigo, Lucky Charmz, Kristy R., Mark and Tamara, Anrosh, Kavita / Vijay, Kimiko, Matt A., Dale, Faith H., Future Boy, Kathleen, Simona, Tim and Emily, Hays(s), Amanda M., Sarah L., Chanie, Linda A., Linda C., Matt, Rob, G-Man, Maisi, Cousin Amy, Chinni-Minni...

Here's an unexpected note we received from Meg. Seems that more and more people are finding our little site:

Hi Lauren and Ben -
My husband, Bil, just started his journey yesterday 6/12 from Amicalola Falls - I was lucky to find your website (actually through apartment therapy!) Although you are much much further along than he will be it makes me feel closer to him by checking in on you guys! He is traveling alone without a cell phone (and that makes me nervous!) but he's been planning for so long and it's a dream of his. He'll be gone for only a month - back in July - but it seems forever!

I know he is already planning his return trip to continue his journey to Maine. We own a tea house in Newburyport Massachusetts and I am back here cheering him on with our soon to be 18 month old daughter Annie. We miss him already as it's tough to be a single parent with no relief in sight! (and he's only been gone 6 days so far - weekend in Atlanta for world tea expo)

I wish you both all the luck in the world in reaching your goal - and I will continue to check in on your progress via your website. Your photos are awesome and while I can't be with my husband, it helps to see your photos and I can sort of picture in my mind where he'll be. Be safe and thanks again for your inspiration.

Warm Regards,
Meg S.

ps. Bil's
trail name is TeaDog!!! our website is: licoriceandsloe.com
(that's the name of our tea business Licorice & Sloe Co.)

Thanks for the kind words, Meg. Hang in there. And if we're ever in Newburyport, Mass. down the line, we'll be sure to look you up.

The Human History of the Trail

The Appalachian Trail meanders through a landscape strewn with American history. The problem is that I usually donn't know what I'm looking at. I find myself seeing things such as this beautifully laid chimney picture below and having plenty of questions without anyone to ask.

Who were the people who lived here? Why did they leave? Am I looking at a Civil War remnants, the modest dwelling of a reclusive subsistence farmer, or was this area even a thriving center of life at one point?

The forests had changed so much in the last 200 years. At one point nearly every tree east of the Mississippi has been cut down so it is sometimes impossible to picture what was once here. A thick forest of today may have been an apple orchard just 100 years ago.

An Abandoned Stone Chimney

Fortunately our hosts for the night, Walt and Pat, were able to tell us a little bit about this chimney we passed yesterday morning. It is the remains of the old Lowe House, where 10 children grew up and the men would walk the 5-10 miles into Waynesboro to sell their crops.

For me, the most compelling remnants on the trail were from the Brown Mountain Creek Community pictured and described below.

Remains of the Brown Mountain Creek Community

The Appalachian Trail strolls for 1.4 miles through this shady valley that was once the site of a share-cropping community of freed slaves.

This was a very powerful area to walk through, experiencing so much human history woven into the landscape. In my mind I could hear could hear the songs of those proudly working the first piece of land they could call home and the laughter of children playing in the chilly creek.

It was established in the early 1900's and disbanded in the 1920's when the Forest Service purchased the land for the Appalachian Trail. Makes me wonder if they voluntarily sold it or were more-or-less run off the land.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Thanks Mom

The Tarp with Our New Net Tent

One thing we had neglected to plan for was when the weather becomes too hot and muggy for our sleeping quilt which also serves as our bug protection with a headnet.

From Blacksburg / Pearisburg, VA I called my mom and asked her to sew a net-tent that suspends beneath our tarp based on Ray Jardine's kits. She made quick work of it and shipped the net-tent off to us Waynesboro where I received it and tried it out in the yard today.

It works great. Thanks again, Mom. We appreciate your support and involvement in our journey. Now we won't go insane from the biting critters we have in store.

Update - Waynesboro, VA

Today we hiked the 5 miles to Rockfish Gap at A.T. mile 848.1 and are enjoying a "nero" (that's a near zero day, for those just joining us) in Waynesboro, VA.

Fireworks Flowers

At Rockfish Gap we called and enjoyed a ride from local trail angels Walt and Pat (veteran PCT and CDT hikers - their last journal here). Tonight we are actually staying with them since they've invited us into their home. It's great to be able to share our experiences from the trail with people who can immediately relate.

In the morning Walt and Pat dropped us off at Weasie's Diner where I demolished the Big Boy Breakfast - a nice stack of pancakes, grits, home fries and eggs with endless mugs of coffee. At this point calories are calories, and I enjoyed every one of them. In fact, we average about 4500 calories per day, but one day recently I polished off 6300 calories in one day! This day, however, Lauren held out for some more diabetic-friendly food at Kroger.

Looking Back at the James River

We've been out on the trail for 8 weeks now and continue to feel strong and amazed that we're blessed to have the experience. It is a refreshing time for us emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually and has been an amazing context for deepening our relationship.

This past week we encountered three more bear, bringing our trip total to 17. We also met our first copperhead and rattlesnakes, which, by the way, is a great way to get the adrenaline pumping when you encounter one mid-stride and come to a screeching halt. It has also become obvious that Shenandoah National Park is right around the corner since the deer are completely fearless and border on nuisance, except for the two adorable spotted fawn we saw this week.

Sometimes I am amazed that Lauren and I still have things to talk about after nearly six years of marriage and more than 800 miles of trail. Comfortable silence can be great too, but this week we seemed to have plenty to talk about. Our conversations ranged from the intellectual heights of "My Architect" and the architectural theories of Louis Kahn - to the depths of Sol Rosenburg, Tarbaj the Egyptian Magician and any other Jerky Boys crank calls that my brothers and I had memorized back in my impressionable youth.

On top of The Preist Mountain Figgy and I met a troop of Boy Scouts who were training for a big trip to Philmont. I see not much has changed since my backpacking trips as a scout. Same gargantuan packs that I very clearly remember were not comfortable to haul up and down the mountains. Too bad, since so much lighter and more functional gear is now available. Anyway, it's great to see people exploring the great outdoors. Good luck fellas, and have a blast out west!

On Top of Spy Rock

Photo from Spy Rock after a hot and exhausting climb.

Virginia has been a varied mix of rocky outcroppings with vistas, wooded forests, open pastureland, rhododendron thickets, cold streams, slow going rock-strewn trail, easy ridgewalks and views from the Blue Ridge Parkway. And we begin the Shenandoah's tomorrow for our final leg of Virginia. With all the variety we have no idea why some hikers get the "Virginia Blues" - It's hard to believe we've almost completed the trail's longest state.

A scary moment

One evening with less than 1/4 mile to camp I heard strange chanting noises coming from below (We later found it was a couple vanloads of a youth group). While distracted and looking below toward the noise I tangled my feet in a fallen branch and took a serious spill. In the process I landed hard on my side and ended up with either a couple seriously bruised or cracked ribs. On the first night when I laid down I was unable to breathe and it was excruciatingly painful, but fortunately apart from that I've been able to hike normally with very little effect.

Feeling at home

We continue to feel comfortable on the trail and this week it has been home more than ever. On Thursday our friend Joseph met us in Glasgow and asked us if there is anything we missed. Truthfully, we have everything we need and the luxuries of town life are never really more than a week away, anyway. We've never been too hot or cold. Our food is nutritious and satisfying. We're always dry and comfortable at night. The scenery is engaging and constantly changing. Conversation is usually pretty good. What more could we ask for? When pressed for an answer of some sort, we said we'd love more fresh vegetables and Lauren could go for an episode of Oprah!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Update - Glasgow, Virginia

(Phone message transcribed)

Today Lauren and I hiked to the James River where we were greeted by our friend Joseph who surprised us and hiked southbound to meet us. He was hiding behind a tree stump and jumped out at us, so it was really good to see him.

Surprise, it's Boswell!

Joseph has been carting us around all day, helping us get to the pharmacy and run a couple errands, so we are very grateful for his help. Thanks a lot Joseph!

Looking Back at the James River

The last stretch has been quite beautiful, if not a bit nondescript. We've been zig-zagging across the Blue Ridge Parkway and there has not been a lot of notable things. There have been several vistas and a lot of humidity. Other than that, the trail has treated us well. We're feeling in stride right now. We're energetic, strong and have positive attitudes.

Wild Blueberries!

One day we hiked through an incredible downpour, when the rain came it cut the temperature by about 20 degrees, so that was a welcome relief. We've also picked our first wild blueberries of the summer and have spent some time at a couple different swimming holes, which was fantastic.

. . .

We're several days away from Waynesboro, Virginia, which is the southern gateway to Shenandoah National Park. We're looking forward to a day off there and a short resupply. On this past stretch we hit our 33% mark and I guess that's about all the news I can think of.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Update - Troutville, VA

(Phone message transcribed)

It's Tuesday, 8AM, June 19th. Lauren and I have completed the section between Blacksburg and Troutville, so we are at mile 715.8.

Striking a Familiar Pose on McAfee Knob

McAfee Knob.

A 300 Year Old Oak

A 300 year old oak tree.

Sunset on Wind Rock

Sunset on Wind Rock.

We arrived in Troutville on Sunday around noon and called my Aunt Rebecca from the Cracker Barrel. We've had a couple of refreshing days with her - got to see where she lives, meet her friends, enjoy some great conversation and stock up on some good food.

So today we're headed back out on the trail. We're entering the Blue Ridge Parkway area of Virginia and we understand there's a considerable amount of pollutions that gets trapped against these mountains making the skies fairly smoggy so we're not sure what the views are going to be like.

It's also getting quite hot and humid during the day, which can make for some challenging hiking, so we'll likely be needing to carry more water than we have in the past. Lauren and I have decided that we'll be carrying 3-4 days food tops, just because we can drop into small towns with regularity. Our next stop is going to be Glasgow, VA probably on Thrusday.

We're feeling strong and have recovered as of last Saturday from any traces of the stomach bug we had out of Blacksburg. Glad to be back out on the trail. Today I think we're going to cross the 33% mark.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Update - Catawba, VA

Well, it's 6:15pm on Friday, June 15th, and we're calling from the Catawba Gas Station at mile 688.6, half mile from the trail on Virginia Route 624.

Catawba General Store

We've had an interesting several days on the trail since leaving Blacksburg. While we were in town there we think Lauren picked up a stomach bug, like the 24-48 hour whatever. So we got a late start out of town on Tuesday, and Wednesday she was feeling terrible the whole day wanting to puke. Yesterday she was back to normal, but today I came down with the same thing, but I'm not feeling as bad as she was. I've had slight nausea today.

[UPDATE: My worst day actually came later that night through the next day. It wasn't pretty, so I won't go into details here. Let's just say that it hit me harder than it did Lauren. Fortunately we both recovered quickly and are confident it was not Giardia, but something we picked up in town.]

We continue to make good progress despite the rain. It's fun to be on some of the old stomping grounds that we used to go to. We enjoyed dinner at Wind Rock the other night. Today we got to go to Dragon's Tooth which was completely socked-in by fog. Although we had nice weather years ago when we were there for a picnic dinner, today we were trying to move quickly just to stay warm as the mist and rain came down.

A Narrow Ledge

At points today the A.T. resembled more of a climbing wall than it did a hiking trail. Still, we enjoyed scampering around on the rocks, particularly carefully sice they were so wet and slippery. Tonight we are going to be camping just short of McAffee Knob and then Tinker Cliffs, which we're hoping to do tomorrow.

Hiking Trail or Climbing Wall?

Through all the difficult going this week we've been set back one day from our projected schedule. We expect to see my Aunt Rebecca on Sunday afternoon.

As a side note about our quilt: As the temperatures have been getting warmer it's been getting too hot. We've appreciated the cooler light temperatures this week because we've actually been able to use the quilt without overheating. As an oversight I neglected to make plans for bug protection if the quilt truly becomes too hot. This week I've asked my mom to sew a net-tent to suspend under our tarp and mail it to us by the time we arrive in Waynesboro. Hopefully that's all working out and we'll have hot weather bug protection shortly.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Our Time in Blacksburg

Blacksburg is a familiar place that we love dearly. We enjoyed our time catching up with some friends who still live here while relaxing from the demanding energy requirements of the trail.

Our to-do list included: Shopping and mailing three weeks of food ahead to the next town stops, picking up new shoes, coordinating with Ben's mom to sew a piece of gear for us that we regretfully did not bring (a net tent for under our tarp), pay bills, connect with friends...

Bollo's Cafe & Bakery

Lauren and I also enjoyed visiting one of our all-time favorite hangouts, Bollo’s CafĂ©. We saw a lot more laptops and probably less conversation than the days we remember, but the coffee is good and it felt great to be back. We enjoyed our time there sipping coffee and evaluating our trip now that we've crossed the 25% mark.

Two Painful Topics in Blacksburg

Virginia Tech Memorial

We were able to visit the memorial to the 32 victims on the campus drill field which was compelling impromptu monument. Each person had a "hokie stone" (local limestone used in the facade on campus buildings) in their honor decorated with objects and trinkets from friends and relatives celebrating their life. We were grateful to be able to pay our respects and see how the community is bringing closure to this painful event.

The other painful topic in Blacksburg is much less somber, but emotions still run deep. The growing pains of a booming campus and community are felt in the controversy surrounding a Wal-Mart coming to town. Heated opinions and petitioning can be seen and heard across town. The outcome will undoubtedly affect the development of the town forever.

Blacksburg or Bust!

On Saturday morning, our friend Dave offered to drive the 45 minutes out to Pearisburg to pick us up. Instead we thought it would be more fun and interesting to hitch, since A.T. hikers are very familiar to drivers in the area.

After a grocery stop where the trail lets out onto 460, we caught an immediate ride from a woman who took us to the business district of Pearisburg - an ideal intersection and a payphone as a bail-out option.

Minutes later another couple stopped and said they'd take us as far as they could. I pressed them if they were headed all the way to Blacksburg. They said they were not, but could take us that direction. Two miles later I realized they had no idea where we needed to go and were about to take us on the freeway entrance in the wrong direction, at which point I had them drop us off.

Now we were two miles from a phone or building and after 20 minutes no driver had shown interest in picking us up. After feeling some despair in our situation, I remembered the carrots in our bag and developed a plan to let the drivers know our intentions, or at the very least make us laugh at how ridiculous we were.

Blacksburg or Bust!

Shortly after a guy in a pickup pulled over laughing and told us to hop in the back of his pickup. Success!

A Narrow Strip of Trail

A Narrow Strip of Trail

In some places the A.T. has an easement where it passes though private property.

Notice the narrow corridor of trees where the A.T. has been granted a right of way through farmland. The trail occupies a 60' wide strip bordered by cow pastures on either side.

Climbing a Cattle Stile

This is how the A.T. typically crosses in and out of cow pastures, and has been a common occurrence on the trail in Virginia thus far.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Update from Blacksburg, VA

As of Saturday, June 9, we've walked to Pearisburg, VA at mile 622. In the afternoon we hitched the 30 miles over to Blacksburg, VA where we are taking some much needed rest with our long-time friends Dave and Kati and their adorable daughters Maggi and Hayli.

I tried to leave an update during the middle of the week, from a payphone at the road crossing in Atkins VA, but I guess I forgot to hit "publish" when I was done.

We certainly hope to post stories and updates this weekend.

Grayson Highlands

Elk Garden, Grayson Highlands

The Grayson Highlands were rugged, lush and spectacular, although we felt the trails were a bit overused and deteriorating somewhat. This is a very popular area and might show the effects of being over-loved.

Grayson Highland Ponies

The wild roaming ponies were certainly a highlight of this section.

Boulders and Evergreens

We've never been to Scotland, but couldn't help wondering if this is what it feels like over there. After all, the Appalachian Mountains actually continue in Scotland, although divided by the Atlantic.