Sunday, July 29, 2007

Wet and Still Walking

NJ / NY Line

(Phone Message Transcribed by Bethany)

Good Morning! It’s Sunday July 29, 2007. Lauren and I are calling from a pay phone in New York at mile 1,370. We crossed into New York yesterday morning and it’s kind of hard to believe that we’re even here. We were looking at the data book and we have just about 800 miles left of the Appalachian Trail, which just blows my mind.

Little Dam Lake

I didn’t know what to expect, but so far New York has been stunning. The rock formations have been big slabs following the ridge. Today the rocks took us by surprise, we’ve had to climb up and down and up and down and quite a few rock falls and it’s been very challenging. The weather is humid and hot and for this reason Lauren wishes she had packed her hair dryer, jokingly, so that we could finally get dry! We’ve been wet for basically the last 48 hours at least! We expect to be in New York through the end of the week and probably reach Connecticut by August 1.

The Lemon Squeezer

That’s it for now. Over and Out.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Update - Vernon, NJ (Mile 1342.5)

New Jersey Ridge Views

This morning we made quick work of the beautiful boarwalk into Vernon, NJ. This part of the trail used to be a road walk, but several years ago the 2.2 miles of boardwalk were constructed and now the trail heads straight through beautiful New Jersey wetlands.

The Real New Jersey Boardwalk

Figgy's Mom and Nan drove up a few hours from southern New Jersey to spend the afternoon with us. We shopped for three weeks of resupply, sorted everything in Dunkin' Donuts and then packaged the boxes on the lawn of the Episcopal Church.

Resupply with Mom and Nan

In the evening the four of us went out for a great dinner and shared stories from the trail as well as Lynda's recent trip to Romania. We wanted to give a special shout out to Figgy's Nan who has been following our adventure closely through printouts from Figgy's Dad. Recently when Lynda and Clyde were out of the country Nan went to the library on her own and got "inline" to read our stories on the computer for herself. Thanks Nan!

Thursday, July 26, 2007


(Phone Message Transcribed by Bethany)

Today is Thursday, July 26, 2007.

Old Sod Farm - Now A Bird Sanctuary

Lauren and I took off from the Delaware Water Gap on Tuesday morning and my hand was doing markedly better so we felt confident in the trail again. Actually, I was so excited to get back on the trail that I neglected to call or family to let them know what was going on or post a message, so, everyone who was concerned, yes I am doing GREAT!

Highpoint, New Jersey

I am calling from mile 1,321.9 and we’re more than halfway through New Jersey in High Point State Park and we’re looking to hit Vernon New Jersey by tomorrow morning. Supposedly we’ve reached the end of the rocky stretch and we’re going to be going through farm land and swamps and we’ll be in New York by Saturday morning. That is the news from the trail.

Over and Out.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Back on Track

(Phone Message Transcribed by Bethany)

PA | NJ Border

Today is Wednesday July 25, 2007 and we are at mile 1,307 near Branchville, NJ. My hand began to show signs of improvement on Tuesday, so we hiked into New Jersey from the DWG. We’re doing well and hopefully will hopefully check in with more news soon.

Over and Out.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Waiting for Improvement at DWG

It's a rainy day here on the PA/NJ border - the perfect type to cozy up with some steaming coffee at the town bakery. And that is exactly what we've been doing.

I started by antibiotics shot/oral cycle nearly 24 hours ago, and so far I haven't noticed much difference in my hand. Figgy and I will certainly be sticking around town until I see some definitive changes for the better.

Church of the Mountain

The pastor here, Karen Nickels, and a few fellow hikers, Peach and Rex, who are both pharmacists, are helping me keep an eye on it. They say it may take up to 48 hours. I've also been wondering about the possibility that I have a recluse spider bite, but I've got no real epicenter or bite mark, so that is doubtful and would be treated nearly the same anyway.

These physical/mental/financial obstacles have crept up quite frequently in our journey, but truth be told, we are not discouraged in the least and remain excited about our summer adventure. I'm looking forward to some healthy hiking, even rainy healthy hiking. Soon, I'm sure.

Looks like Kevin has uploaded the contents of my latest memory card. Thanks, man.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Update - Del. Water Gap, PA (Mile 1279.2)

(Phone Message Transcribed by Bethany)

Delaware Water Gap

It’s Sunday July 22, 2007. After seeing the swelling in my hand continue to spread and move to the next finger over, my middle finger, I had a helpful conversation with my dad and decided to head on over to the emergency room. I spent about an hour in the ER today. I got an antibiotic shot in my leg that was extremely painful - they said my buttocks didn't have enough fat! - and I got a prescriptions to treat both Lyme's disease and the infection in my hand as a safe guard.

Trip to the E.R.

We’re going to take an extra layover day tomorrow here in the Delaware Water Gap. It is a very nice place to be. We are tarping on the yard of The Church of the Mountain. Tonight, they have a free classical concert in their yard. We’re also right next door to a well known jazz club, The Deer Head Inn, where we enjoyed a glass of red wine last night and enjoyed some good music. We’re being well taken care of and we’re hoping that this infection subsides and we’re able to be on our way before too long. That’s it.

Over and Out.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The End of Rockiness In Sight

(Phone Message Transcribed by Bethany)

Update from Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania.

Today is July 21, 2007. Lauren and I arrived in water gap in the early afternoon and we’re enjoying the accommodations at the Church of the Mountain which offers a nice place to stay for hikers. We are extremely proud of ourselves because we reached the Pennsylvania border today! That means that we are nearing the end of the rocky portion of our trip.

Pennsylvania Rocks

Climb out of Lehigh Gap

The last few days have been ridiculously rocky at points causing us to laugh a bit. There were several points were Lauren just about lost it, but we supported each other and we helped each other get through this time.

On another slightly disappointing note, my left hand is very swollen; I most likely have Lyme disease which is a serious but not urgent condition. We are going to be taking Sunday and Monday to rest and visit a family doctor and hopefully I’ll be able to start up on the antibiotics on Monday. I did have a deer tick on my hand one day, and that’s the spot where my hand is swelling up. My fingers look like sausages.

Chalk that up for an additional inconvenience but it’s not anything that feels like a major setback at this point. I don’t exactly remember the mileage at the gap but I believe that we’ve covered roughly 1250 miles of the AT this far and we are happy to be taking a zero day at the cute town of Delaware Water Gap.

An Unusual Tarp Pitch

The weather has been surprisingly cool and mild providing gorgeous hiking conditions making it pleasant to hike this portion of drought and limited water. I’m feeling tired, it’s a little after 9:30 pm, and I’m looking to get some sleep. I appreciate everybody’s concern and I hope to post once I know the diagnosis.

Over and Out.

Friday, July 20, 2007


Blue Mountain


Dear Blue Mountain,

I fell for you the first time when you used to send me greeting cards on the internet, but it's been years since I received one of those. When we finally met this summer I was a little intimidated by how tall you are, but I guess I hardly notice anymore.

We've been together long enough now to see our ups and downs, but lately our relationship has been increasingly rocky. At first you said I was too sensitive, but now I realize this abusive relationship is causing me a great deal of pain.

I should have seen it coming since I've been warned by so many others about you. Sure, I'll miss our dinners by alcohol stove, long walks into the sunset and deep tissue foot massages, but I just can't go on like this. We're through.

Sincerely, Stitch

P.S. I'm leaving you for someone new. Her name is Jersey.

Walking Through PA Farm Country

The Appalachian Trail passes through a great deal of farmland in Pennsylvania's Cumberland Valley. This means much of that the trail corridor is very narrow, and is frequently bordered by, or even sharing right of way with private land owners.

Lauren with Hay Bales

Tractors on the Trail

Corn Field and Farm Houses

Pennsylvania Farm Country

Monday, July 16, 2007

Pine Grove, PA501 (Mile 1179.2)

After a short eight miles this morning we arrived at PA501 where we are taking the rest of the day off and visiting with Figgy's childhood friend Stacy. She and her husband live closeby and are letting us stay at their family cabin, just 1/2 mile from the trail, with expansive views south over the entire valley.

View of Duncannon from Above

On Saturday morning we made a quick trip through Duncannon. We took a quick gander at the notorious Doyle Hotel which is falling apart but charming in a hiker-trash sort of way. On the third floor we noticed a wanted poster for the legendary "Sled Dog" which requires another journal post altogether. Afterwards we made our way to the Post Office where we picked up some new trail shoes for fresh cushion on the Pennsylvania Rocks.

Pennsylvania View

Yesterday I was buzzed by a rattlesnake and found myself airborne and standing three feet in brush on the right before I was even aware of what happened. He was tucked behind a rock on the left, so I never saw him ahead of time. When I gave him his space and he slowly moved on across the trail I could see that he was a black rattler, over four feet and had recently eaten something quite large. Immediately I felt a deep respect for him, thanked him for giving me such ample warning and Figgy and I moved on with another unforgettable trail moment.

Taking a Break

The trail experience is changing a bit for us. Since Georgia we have had the trail mostly to ourselves with the occasional day hiker or northbound thru-hiker. But just before Boiling Springs we are finding ourselves leapfrogging with several packs of hikers, and have met nearly 40 more NoBos travelling within a few days of us. To be expected, I guess. We're hoping the 4th of July bottleneck will break up shortly and the trail will quiet down a bit.

Figgy and I are feeling like hiking machines these days. Gone are the days of injuries, sore muscles and wondering if we can hike five consecutive 20+ mile days. It's automatic. Our gear is transparent to our experience. Using it is second nature. Our minds are free to soar and we are enjoying ourselves immensely. What an incredible summer.

Gypsy Moths... No Thanks.

I don't know a lot about Gypsy Moths, but I do know that they are having a field day with the Chestnut Oak trees we've been hiking through. We heard that they were imported from Asia for silk production, and then accidentally let into the wild where they've been steadily spiraling out of control. Sometimes so much of the tree cover is gone it feels like we're walking back in the spring buds of north Georgia.

Gypsy Moth Devastation

Hiking through sections of moths can be a bit disheartening. Thousands of moths will be laying their eggs, flying in your face while the sun blazes down on your head.

Gypsy Moths

Halfway Where?

The Official Halfway Point

We're happy to be more than halfway to Maine and have that milestone behind us... since we "celebrated" being halfway a surprising number of times.

Confusing if you ask me. But fun.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Update - Boiling Springs, PA (Mile 1107.3)

The Playhouse

Yesterday Figgy and I made the short 15 mile day into Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania before the afternoon storm arrived. Our accomodations for last night and tonight are yet again another fun surprise... we're staying in the yard of a local lawyer in the 5x7' Victorian playhouse he built for his daughter who is now too old to use it. We found out about it on a bulletin board at the A.T. office in town and happened to be the first hikers to arrive there yesterday before the downpour.

A Rocky Squeeze

Pennsylvania is where the Mid-Atlantic heat and humidity ramp up for the summer. Additionally, PA is known for having dry springs and poor stream water due to agricultural pollution runoff. In turn we'll be carrying more water to stay properly hydrated and mentally preparing for some of the most challenging hiking conditions of the trip.

Hay Bales

We have passed through several spots of the old Underground Railroad - the route which slaves made their way by night along streams and over mountains to gain freedom in the north. We've seen such "stations" in Caladonia State Park, Pine Grove Furnace State Park, and where we are staying in Boiling Springs. Apparently if the slaves made their way north to Harrisburg they had made it since the ferry operators there were abolishonists. Although we are not following the exact route, it is powerful to experience firsthand this fascinating history.

At the A.T.C. Mid-Atlantic office we connected with Sally who has been a fun point of contact with the management of the trail. In early September she will be conducting a project to help protect the A.T. corridor in the Mahoosucs of Maine, which would help inform loggers to stop before they clearcut the trail. Sally invited us to spend a day or more as sherpas. We would carry equipment like chainsaws, fuel and pain to staging areas so their work goes smoothly. If we are able to continue loosely to itinerary it looks like it will work. Sounds like a fun way to give back to the trail.

Fly Fishing on the Yellow Breeches

In other news, Figgy and I successfully completed a workbook at the the coffee shop this morning, which means that we are Junior Rangers of the Appalachian Trail - the first ones ever. We have our patches to prove it.

The trail north of here crosses many roads and enters towns quite frequently. We don't know how that will play out, but again we're up for the adventure.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The OFFICIAL Halfway Point

(Phone Message Transcribed by Bethany)

Halfway Point

We’ve made it halfway! Today is Tuesday July 10, 2007 and I’m calling from mile 1,087.9 Pine Grove Furnace State Park in Pennsylvania. Today Figgy and I crossed the official halfway point. We are now closer to Katahdin, Maine than we are to where we started back on Springer Mountain, Georgia.

Ben vs. Half Gallon

We’ve had a little drama on the trail since I made the call yesterday. It turns out that Pennsylvania state legislature is having a budget crisis which put a freeze on all state park spending. What that meant for us, was that Pine Grove Furnace State Park, as far as we knew was closed today, they were certainly closed yesterday on the 9th, but when we showed up today the budget had been approved and they were open! That made it possible for me to participate in the half gallon challenge which is a writ of passage for any northbound AT thru hiker. I sat down with a half gallon of Neapolitan ice cream and I finished it in 26 minutes and 52 seconds. (Impressive!?!) We were joined by our friends Google and Sunshine who also joined in the fun.

In other news, we woke up this morning and noticed that our shoes are nearing the end of their life because our knees are feeling a bit stiff and our feet sore. It looks like we are just in time to receive our new shoes which will be coming to us at the end of the week. We will use a total 4 pairs each for the trip, which is right on track for what we expected. Rather than 1 pair of heavy, blister creating, leather boots, for about the same price, we have been using light weight running shoes which have been working amazing for us. We have only had one blister between the two of us for the whole trip so far!

Swimming in the Quarry

We expect to reach Boiling Springs Pennsylvania tomorrow afternoon and we will enjoy a ‘zero’ day the following. I am feeling invigorated and refreshed after our swim here at Fuller Lake in the park, and we are going to enjoy a leisurely stroll as we put on a few more miles before we camp tonight.

That’s the news for now. Over and Out.

Beauty Despite the Heat

(Phone Message Transcribed by Bethany)

Caladonia State Park, PA

It’s a little after 5 o’clock and Figgy and I are taking a break at Caledonia State Park, mile 1,068. We entered Pennsylvania this morning and have been making great miles despite the punishing heat.

We just saw a thermometer that said 106 degrees Fahrenheit! It sounds a little hotter than what my impression is, but regardless we are feeling it today. As a result we haven’t seen much wildlife at all. The only wildlife we have seen have been chipmunks that seem to scold us as we walk by, probably for hiking in such hot weather!

I have never been to this part of my home state, so we have been pleasantly surprised at how beautiful Pennsylvania is. There have been an abundant amount of hemlock trees along with beautiful rocky bluffs and boulder fields. We’ve also been surprised at the amount of state parks along this stretch. We have been in 6 State Parks in the last three days through Maryland and Pennsylvania. We are hoping to make a few more miles tonight which should put us in good shape to walk into Pine Grove Furnace State Park tomorrow where we will end our day, hopefully, a little early. Right now we are going to catch up on some journaling and wait out some of the last of this heat before moving on to camp.

That’s it for now. Over and Out.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Mile 1,049.9

(Phone Message Transcribed By Bethany)

Update from Penn-Mar State Park, mile 1,049.9! Today is Sunday July 8, 2007. Lauren and I have made it close to the Pennsylvania border which is where we will be staying tonight.

Dense Vines and Foliage

On Friday, we enjoyed a great evening with my parents and my little sister Hannah as we took in the sights and had a great dinner at Harpers Ferry. The next morning they escorted us to the Maryland side of the bridge at Harper’s Ferry where we said farewell and Lauren and I continued on our way.

Family Night in Harpers Ferry

Hannah on the Trail

That day was a bit challenging for us because it is often hard to switch gears from town mode to trail mode, and after such a wonderful time with my family it was difficult to get back into the trail mindset. Despite the difficulty, we hiked 23.5 miles today and finished very strong.

Dinner with Friends

Not only that, but we were quite surprised and rewarded to see some old friends Amanda and Leah, who ran cross country with Lauren back at Virginia Tech. Our continual trail magician, Matt, who is the same great guy who drove us to Trail Days, through a number of events helped Amanda and Leah track us down today. So, we ended up spending a celebratory dinner here at Penn-Mar State Park spread out on the picnic tables where we enjoyed watermelon, cold drinks and a bunch of snacks that they brought for us. We are at mile 1,049.9 which is two tenths of a mile away from the Pennsylvania state line, also known as the Mason Dixon line.

For our purposes it is extremely important because it is the division between where the trail is known as the “Appa-LATCH-in” Trail to where it becomes the “Appa-LAY-shun” Trail.

We reached the psychological halfway point a few days ago in Harper’s Ferry but on Tuesday we will reach the actual halfway point when we arrive at Pine Grove Furnace State Park and attempt the half gallon challenge. I hope to post more later but I just wanted to say thanks again: to my family for meeting us at Harpers, and to Amanda and Leah and Matt who all drove several hours just to come find us at Penn-Mar Park. That’s it for now.

Over and Out.

Friday, July 6, 2007

1,000 Miles

Our Halfway Photo

This morning we crossed the 1,000 mile mark and this afternoon we hiked into the "psychological halfway point" of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. By now we have each taken approximately 2,500,000 steps - more for Figgy.

Photo of Our Halfway Photo

Right now we're taking a break at the A.T. headquarters where we just had a polaroid mugshot taken for their records.

It's hard to believe we're out of Virginia. That's four states completed and ten to go.

Woo hoo!!!

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Mail to the Trail

Several people have contacted us asking how to mail something to the trail, so thanks for your interest. We love hearing from you guys!

Our First Resupply Package

The US Post Office will hold a "general delivery" package for us for 30 days, so mailing well ahead of time is a good idea. Just find and replace the Town/State/Zip from the list below as well as our estimated date of arrival.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

General Delivery
Hold for A.T. Hikers
Ben and Lauren Thompson
Town, State ZIP
(Estimated Arrival MM/DD)

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

We will be making other stops, but here is a list definites:

ETA - Town, State Zip

7/09 - Boiling Springs, PA 17007
7/19 - Delaware Water Gap, PA 18327
7/25 - Vernon, NJ 07462
8/10 - North Adams, MA 01247
8/17 - Hanover, NH 03755
8/30 - Gorham, NH 03581
9/03 - Stratton, ME 04982
9/11 - Monson, ME 04464

(We'll have to carry/consume/throw away anything we recieve, so please keep that in mind.)

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Singing [Joplin] In The Rain

No View Today at Dragon's Tooth

Thirty miles into our journey at the Walasi-Yi Center, the owner, Winton Porter gave the advice that the best training anyone can do to prepare for the A.T. is to hike every chance you get in the rain. Afterall, beyond the first 2 weeks, the trail is more of a mental journey than a physical one. So, to prepare our minds for this summer of living in the elements, we've kept low expectations for the number of sunny-days.

A temptation, when hiking in rain, is to gingerly step on the dryest parts of the trail and tip-toe around puddles - a fruitless exercise in delaying the inevitable. While taking a zero day at the Kincora we read another hiker's perspective about hiking in the rain, taken straight from some Janis Joplin lyrics "freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose."

Freedom comes when your feet are so soaked, you walk right through the puddles and streams of rain coming down the trail, because it doesn't matter anymore. There is a feeling inside of us that occurs at the moment this freedom is achieved, and it's powerful and playful! All of a sudden, our mood lightens, the day's enjoyable, and we're kids again! But it's how quickly you allow this change to occur within that brings total freedom.

Down the trail in the pouring rain I hike, sometimes singing "Bobbie McGee" as loud as I can belt out! If anything, it lightens the mood and makes Stitch laugh. We've had quite a few days of rain now, even three rainy days in a row through the Shenandoah, but I am still in the learning process.

So far, we remind ourselves of these things to keep our attitudes in check:

  • See the hidden beauty and each wet day as being the most beautiful in the rain
  • Stop walking and look up to see how tall the mountain is above me, how far the mountain continues below me, and realize how tiny I am, not the center of the world, and I can deal with this
  • Remember the importance of water and try to reflect of each of its life-giving properties
  • Keep a perspective that "this too shall pass" - reminding us that all good and bad times will not last forever so enjoy them for what they are and learn what we can

Janis, thank you for inspiring our journey. And to our readers, please let us know if you can think of any more to add to our list.

"What A Girl Wants, ..."

Figgy's New Threads

Supposedly, an approximately equal number of men and women hike the AT each year, but I beg to differ. As a female thru-hiker, I definitely feel outnumbered on the trail by my male counter-parts. It's nice getting the respect from them like I'm a hard-core chick able to withstand all the physical and mental challenges that the trail requires. But this is no substitute for my need for girlfriends.

I have emotional needs, and I'm learning how to deal with them in the woods. I want a listening ear, an understanding nod, and sympathetic hug when my tank of feelings gets full and I need to unload. So as my constant companion, Ben has been there for me and is learning what i need, and is helping me through these times. Several times this past month, I've just needed to share what's bothering me, and he just stops on the trail, turns around, tells me how sorry he is and gives me the hugest hug while telling me how proud he is of me. Wow!

It's refreshing when I do meet women who do understand, and they've shown up at just the right times when I've needed the presence of a woman most. Raindrop during the Smokies, Ping while in Hot Springs, Sunny from Elmer's Sunnybank Inn, Toodles in Kimberling Creek and Pat from Waynesboro are the names of some women out here who were there when I needed them most. And it's the feeling of connection and kinship I shared with them that I take with me up the trail.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Update - Leesburg, VA (Mile 988)

First of all, it is extremely difficult for me to refer to Figgy as "Figgy" after knowing her for 10 years as "Lauren," so I am trying to get practice and will try to use her trail name while writing about the trail. So...

Figgy and I have covered about 140 miles in the last week, cruising the length of Shenandoah National Park and most of the remaining miles of Virginia. It is hard for us to believe that we are closing in on the halfway mark, now at mile 988.6!

Figgy Explains Our Thru-Hike

One of our memorable moments was when we encountered a Ranger-led hike and about 15 other hardy souls who left the comfort of their cars to explore the park on foot. In our breif encounter we answered their barrage of thoughtful questions and felt like minor celebrities for a bit.

Shenandoah Cliffs Overlook

Although Shenandoah Park was a far-cry from a wilderness experience, we thoroughly enjoyed what that stetch for what it is - a nice walk through a historic park. Some distinctive points were the frequent concrete waypoint markers that noted our progress, camp stores to stop in for a quick snack, abundant scenic overlooks, fine dining at the lodge, and smooth tread over flat terrain.

Much to our surprise, we continue to see very few other "NoBo" (northbound) hikers. Figgy and I assume we are between pods of hikers travelling together, which suits us just fine. We haven't seen hikers from behind us all week and those ahead we gather are tring to reach Harpers Ferry for the 4th of July.

Last evening and this morning we cruised through most of the "Roller Coaster" - a series of ten rolling climbs and drops over 10 miles, each tree covered and without a view. Figgy was intimidated at first (I'm not sure why after all the climbs we have under our proverbial belts!) but the reputation turned out to be more hype than hurt. We were prepared for challenging monotony, but it turned out to be an enjoyable stretch with some interesting rock formations and more wild blueberries.

This morning we arrived at Bear's Den Rocks Hostel, just a short drive from Figgy's sister Amanda and her husband Jason. We're spending the holiday with them in Leesburg and will be resupplying our food and taking care of other details like laundry, bills, and Figgy's Spanish II final exam.

At Bear's Den it was a pleasant surprise to see our friend, Clearwater, a successful thru-hiker from 2005 who is hiking some of his favorite sections again this year. This was the third time we've met up and always enjoy his advice and interesting perspectives about the trail. This morning Clearwater taught us how to reclaim the remnants of partially-eaten pint of Ben and Jerry's while avoiding hiker plague. Fascinating stuff you'd never think of unless you were a thru-hiker.

Hydration on the Trail

Spring Water Worth Bottling

Water is one of our most essential needs on the trail. We each require approximately 1 or more gallons of drinking water per day which is over 8 pounds and would certainly be a considerable load to carry. Since water is relatively plentiful on the A.T. we don't need to carry it all at once. Typically we only carry 1 quart (1 litre) or less and move between water sources where refill our bottles and "camel up" (drink as much as we can, usually a full bottle).

At the beginning of the trail, within the first mile after leaving the terminus at Springer Mountain, there is a shelter with a water source. At that spring, while filling our bottles a sign caught my attention...

Fear of Water...

The sign had the typical strong warning for hikers to treat or filter all water on the Appalachian Trail because the quality of the water can not be guaranteed. What surprised me as I looked closer was that the sign was dually endorsed by the U.S. Forest Service and by one of the largest manufacturers of water filters. Go figure.

As hikers, we have been drilled to believe that giardia is lurking at every turn, and that this life giving blessing is actually something to be fearful of.

The greatest downside for us in filtering or treating water is not the time, weight or effort required to obtain it. The greater liability is that it encourages us to drink significantly less than we normally would, which leads injuries related to dehydration.

Although we are clearly in the minority, Lauren and I choose to drink our water directly from the source - untreated and unfiltered. We are very selective about where we fill up, we hike from spring to spring and evaluate the surrounding area on our map - and if in doubt we choose to move on a few more miles. However, we do carry Aqua-Mira as a backup treatment and have used it on occasion. Namely, The Great Smoky Mountains, where horses and millions of people share the A.T., and the handful of streams where we had no alternative sources.

Obviously we are taking a risk, but it is one we are willing to take, especially since studies have pointed to poor hygiene as a greater culprit of giardia. For that we carry gel alcohol (like Purell) and use it after answering nature's call or signing the hiker register.

If planning for a hike of your own, please weigh the options for yourself and make your own decision. We just wanted to give an accurate picture of our experience on the Appalachian Trail so far.

- - - -

Thanks to The Crow for her correspondence several months ago on this topic.

Photography from the Trail

I normally prefer shooting with a Digital SLR or even my Hasselblad Medium Format Film Camera when I can, but this trip called for something a bit different.

Up until a week prior to departure I was planning to take my 3+ pound Nikon D70 with a 28-105 zoom lens. I made a lightweight foam case for it, bought extra memory cards and was ready to bring it along.

Then, a week before the trip, my friend Kevin showed me his Canon SD1000. The thing is literally the dimension of a credit card and slightly more than 3/4" thick. Best of all, it takes video, makes sound recordings and is intuitive to use.

The trade off between the highest quality images vs. an easily accessible, compact, lightweight camera has been worth it. I have not regretted the decision once. And the ability to record video and sound clips has been an added bonus.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

A Reason To Celebrate

(Phone Message Transcribed by Bethany)

Blackrock Cliffs in Shenandoah

It is Friday, June 29th a little before 9:00 in the morning. Lauren and I have just crossed the 900 mile mark! We are at the Lewis Mountain Camp Ground store in Shenandoah National Park right now. The last couple of days we have had big rains and thunderstorms as we have been crisscrossing back and forth along Sky Line Drive. Sky Line Drive actually intersects the AT 28 times through this stretch in the park. So, for much of this we are close to the road or within ear shot of it.

Sunset through the Chestnut Oaks

We’ve had a ridiculous amount of bear sightings these past couple of days as well. Yesterday, we saw 7 including: a mother bear and 3 cubs, and another mother bear with one cub. It was really neat to watch the mothers interact with their cubs. At one point the mom sensed us coming and she snapped her jaw three times and sent the cubs running for a tree. All of the sightings except for one have been off trail by at least 100 feet so we have given the bears their space but have certainly enjoyed the spectacle.

Tonight we are going to celebrate our 900 mile accomplishment by going to a white tablecloth restaurant at Sky Land. We’re looking forward to celebrating with some good food and a bottle of red wine. We’ll be a couple of dirty hikers among a crowd of the upscale, I guess! Anyway, we have a few more days of the park and we’re getting very close to the northern border of Virginia and we’re still having a good time!

Over and Out.

Fine Dining at Skyland Lodge