Home » AT Blog Archive – 2011

AT Blog Archive – 2011

 This archive file is all of the text portion of my AT Blog.  The blog still exists with pictures and a link has been added to the links directory.  There are references in this text only version to pictures and videos. All At pictures and videos are available in the AT gallery page. Portions of this blog are journal entries by me and parts of it are written by my Dad as I reported back to him along the trail.

Ryan Iker on the Appalachian Trail, Summer 2011

This Blog is a journal of Ryan Iker’s journey on the Appalachian trail from Springer Mountain, Georgia to Maine. Ryan began his trip on 4/9/11. This site will be updated as we hear from Ryan along the trail.

The Appalachian National Scenic Trail, generally known as the Appalachian Trail or simply the AT, is a marked hiking trail in the eastern United States extending between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin in Maine. It is approximately 2,181 miles long. The path is maintained by 30 trail clubs and multiple partnerships,and managed by the National Park Service and the nonprofit Appalachian Trail Conservancy. The majority of the trail is in wilderness, although some portions do traverse towns and roads, and cross rivers. The Appalachian Trail is famous for its many hikers, some of whom, called thru-hikers, attempt to hike it in its entirety in a single season. Along the way, the trail passes through the states of Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

Why the AT?

Why? …… I have been questioned more than once what this trip is all about. I’ll try my best to define it in words. I don’t think anything I say will completely describe my thoughts but I need to try to put it into words. I have been working and going to school for 6 and a half years. I haven’t had more than a week off at one time since I was 17. I wouldn’t trade it for the world but it is time, time to go down a different path. Since I was a kid I have been going to the Smoky Mountains. I grew up playing in the woods. I still do that now. It is where I am happiest. I love feeling the fresh air rush by, hearing the crunch of leaves as animals run around, and being able to think without the distraction of the “real world.” Perspective is gained in the woods. Challenge is gained by the trail. Some call me crazy but those who really know me get it. My dad told me, “live for the day.” How long has it been since you didn’t have to worry about what you are doing tomorrow or next week? Can’t answer that question? Me either.

I went over to my dad’s house one day about a year ago and he had a National Geographic special on the Appalachian Trail recorded. I sat down and watched it with him. I was sold. This is exactly what I want to do I thought. At first it was; I’m going to do this in a year or 2. Then the realization of in a year or 2 means “things come up” and it never happens. About 6 months ago I pulled the trigger. It was one of the best days of my life. Now it’s time to start an adventure that will stay with me for the rest of my life.Nothing will define my hours. I have no schedule to meet but my own. I have no one to hold responsible for the quality of my day but me. If you stop and think about it when have you ever not had someone telling you what to do, when to do it, and how it needs to be done? It all tends to remove personal responsibility. It put your control in the hands of others. I’m not completely sloughing off normal society. I just want to step outside its bounds for a while and test my will and taste the ability to have complete control over every aspect of my life.

 

April 8 – Night Before (2011-04-09 18:39) SPORK

I sit here in a hotel room in Cleveland, Tennessee, the door propped open with my pack listening to the passing highway traffic, knowing that tomorrow is the day, the day that I will embark on a 2,200 mile journey from Springer Mountain, GA to Mt. Katahdin, Maine. This fact is something that is still sinking in. You would think that this would be pretty real at this point but it still seems like a dream. I am ready. Ready to put down the books. Ready to stop staring at a floor full of band aids and freeze dried food thinking, ”am I forgetting anything?” Ready? Who the hell knows? I’ll figure it out as I go just as I do everything else. I am as ready as I can be. What I do know is that I am just as excited today as I was the day I decided this was what I wanted to do. I still remember the feeling, the exhilarating and the smell of the unknown. Unknown and adventure is what I am looking for. Tomorrow is the day I officially clock out.

Trail Head April 9 2011

The trip up to Springer was about 3 hours off the interstate. It ran from 4 lane to 2 lane to 1 lane to gravel to dirt. The morning was very foggy and it was often hard to see much more than a car length in front. The final road was nothing more than a logging trail that wound 7 miles around the top of Springer. It was like driving into a movie set. Much to our amazement once we got to the top there was a dirt patch parking lot with several other day hikers and a few through hikers preparing their equipment. Much quicker than I was ready for him to go Ryan was outfitted and ready.

We snapped a few pictures, exchanged goodbyes and off he went. It wasn’t easy watching Ryan walk off into the fog. Parental anxiety aside, I felt at ease with his preparedness, his lack of hesitation, and his conviction to the trip. I’d be lying if I said my heart wasn’t a little heavy.

Ryan knows his family and friends love and support him. We’re all proud of what he’s doing but more proud of the man, brother, son and friend he’s become. He’s now on his own but he will never be far from those of us who love him.

Call from the trail 4/12

Ryan called this morning from the downhill side of Blood Mountain. He was at the first restocking point on the trail, an outfitter on the trail called the Walasi-Yi Outfitter at Neal’s Gap. He met and is currently hiking with a group of 3 guys from Germany, Florida, and New Jersey. He said they all met at the first shelter and have hiked together for the past few days. Ryan sounded in good spirits and genuinely seemed to be have a great time. He reported a thunderstorm last night but said his equipment kept him dry. He said he’s not sleeping a lot because he feels too hyped up. He also said that the guy from Germany got his food broke bag into by a bear last night. I got the impression the experience gave them all a different perspective on the possibility of meeting bears.

He said that every day is tough and he was starting to feel a little beat-up as was the rest of the group. Ryan said he was getting his first good blister. He was pretty matter-of-fact about it all. He also commented that the hardest part of hiking was going downhill. They had just climbed Blood Mountain this morning, which is the highest peak in Georgia. The long downhill hike shifted weight and put different pressure on his feet. At this point on the trail you are either going up or down, nothing in between. He’s already rethinking his whole eating regime. He’s giving up on cooking a hot meal twice a day and giving in to cold “snack” stuff for lunch.

He discussed his next food shipment to Blue Berry Patch Hostel and that he may be sending a few things home but in general he was handling the weight in his pack well.

For some reason his GPS ping did not come through last night so he re-sent from the outfitter. He will mark his location tonight when they camp.

He said he’d been doing a lot of writing and would be sending some stuff to post on the blog along with pictures one he gets to Hiawassee.

All in all he sounded great. There was a completely different tone to his voice. It was almost a cautious cockiness. I think he has crossed a mental and physical boundary.

Voice from the Woods – 4/16

Ryan called at 11:30 this morning. He and his tribe is at the Berry Patch Hostel in Hiawassee, Georgia. Ryan talked non-stop with trail details and stories. He sounds like he is having the time of his life. They camped last night at Tray Mountain in a driving thunderstorm. This was the first night he stayed in a trail shelter. This morning he had a 3 mile hike to Route 76 where they were immediately picked up by the guy who owned the Hiking Hostel. They planned this day as a down day. After getting a shower he and his friends are headed into Hiawassee to destroy an all-you-can-eat buffet.

He says he feels great and his feet are holding up. After learning a trail trick of taping your feet he has his blisters under control. Today marks 1 week on the trail. Many have given up by the North Carolina border. Ryan is 1 day from making that crossing at Blye Gap. He has hiked approx 70 miles this week. He says he is tired and really needed this down day but he feels strong and he sounds strong. He said that the Georgia Mountains are very difficult. Yesterday in 3 miles he went straight up 1000 feet of elevation, down 1000 feet and back up another 1500 feet.

It sounds like the group of hikers plan on staying together. They all hike at equal rates and all get along well. Although they plan on a common destination each night, all hike alone through the day. Ryan said one of the advantages of a group is being able to move into a shelter and take it over. He talked about campfires every night and said it is one of the more pleasurable times on the trail.

Ryan talked about the group and finally gave me some names. The guy from Germany’s name is Bear Bait, from losing his food to a bear the second night. Chris from N.J. is called Data from constantly checking the maps and setting alarms for wake-up. Bill is called Beer Burger. He and Bear Bait blue blazed off the trail into town the 4th night and met up with the pack the next night with 6 cheeseburgers and 6 beers. Ryan said it was the best food he has ever eaten. There is also a married couple hiking with them, Fish and Lemon. Fish is from Florida and is an avid saltwater fisherman and his wife, Lemon.

AT through hikers are always given a trail name. Most often those they hike with assign their moniker. Ryan is now known as Spork. He got it last night in camp when someone offered him a taste and Ryan whipped his spork from behind his ear. Apparently he carries his spork behind his ear all of the time. So, he’s now known as Spork.

Ryan said he will be mailing a data card home from Hiawassee with pictures. These will be posted as soon as they arrive. He said his boots are already getting worn and splitting at the seams and he will be looking to buy new boots in the next few days as soon as he comes to a good outfitter. He is evaluating his equipment and really only questions water purification going forward. Ryan is using a purification pump. All water he consumes on the trail comes from springs and creeks and has to be purified. There are several options and he’s back and forth on which is best. He asked that I try to find a certain protein bar for his next food drop shipment. Today he received his first package that was mailed to Berry Patch Hostel. His next will be sent in the coming week to Fontana Dam.

Since he got into Hiawassee before noon today he plans on getting back on the trial tomorrow. They are starting the day with the traditional Berry Patch Hostel breakfast of Blueberry pancakes. He says there is as much conversation about food on the trail as anything.

He should be camping in North Carolina Sunday night. They are calling for rain and thunderstorms for the next few days.

Apparently Ryan was in proper condition for this effort. They say Georgia and the first week is the toughest. He seems to be cruising. The coming two weeks will take him through the Smokies and across the tops of the highest mountains in the southern section. He currently has his site set on being at Clingman’s dome by the 25th.

Ryan checked in one more time last night to give directions for his next food shipment. He said they were lounging around the Hostel and eating a pizza. He also said that he is sending some pages from his journal and asked that I post them. He ran down the entire list of the wildlife he had seen. He was hoping for a good night’s sleep and seemed anxious to get back on the trail. Hearing how well he is doing sure puts your mind at ease.

Siler’s Bald – 4/19

Ryan (Spork) called this evening from the top of Siler’s Bald in North Carolina. He is currently hiking well above 4,000 feet and said everyone got good telephone reception tonight. So they are ordering food and supplies off the internet to be sent to their next resupply mail drop. He’s ordering a new pair of boots. He’s happy with all of his equipment choices but says his boots are too heavy and too small. He needs to go up another size. Feet can swell up to two sizes larger with hard hiking. They say an AT hiker will usually go through 5 or 6 pairs of hiking shoes.

Today was “100 mile” day. He completed his first 100 miles. They covered that distance in 8 days of actual hiking. He said they did 19 miles yesterday and 14 today. Both are beyond what they should be hiking at this point. He felt they need to cut back a bit. Tennessee will do that automatically.

He’s lost 10 lbs. So, he gave a list of protein bars, carb gel packets, and Protein Powder I’m ordering to try to get to him by Gatlinburg. He’s discussing food every other sentence. He was fantasizing over easy-mac with packets of tuna mixed in like it was a Big Mac and fries.

He said last night they hiked about a mile out of camp to a ridge on Big Spring Mountain to watch the sunset. He described it vividly and said the best part was once the sun dipped over the mountain in front of them, the moon came up over the mountain behind them. He said it was very gratifying to spend the day hiking straight up when you could reap the benefit of a sunset and moonrise over the mountains.

He sounds really good.

Package From Ryan – 4/21

Received a package from Ryan today with a SD card with about 150 pictures and 12 pages of his journal entries. I’ll be getting these posted Friday and Saturday. He checked in on GPS this evening and he is just about to Fontana Lake. The Map function has not worked very well today. The site appears to be down. I’ll get this corrected ASAP.

Ryan’s Journal Entries – 4/9 thru 4/14 (2011-04-22 13:07) 4/9/11

I’m sitting here on my first night around a camp fire with a German named Ollie, Mike who just got off the phone with his wife who’s going to see Gallagher tonight, and Bill. Our boy Sweeny has not stopped talking about gear and the “right” way to hike the trail for a couple of hours. That’s why we have separated ourselves from the shelter. Hawk Mountain shelter is a two story wood building with a tin roof. A lot of tents are sprawled out around the shelter. At first I was reluctant to go out and socialize on the first night. I was half right. It was a fun day and with only one “holy shit” moment but it was brief. The first 6 miles of the day was pretty easy and extremely enjoyable. It is going to take a while before I can really let my mind go. I kept catching myself thinking about things that really don’t matter now. Live for the day. I live in the woods now. Walk, eat, drink, and enjoy. Frog Paw just showed up with 3 packs on. One main pack, a pack strapped to that pack, and an extremely big front pack. Good gracious.

There was one tough stretch in the 8.7 miles I hiked today. Right around 6.5 miles the trail was pretty steep for a mile. I felt great at the end of it though. One thing I found to be helpful is to pop the boots and socks off for about 15 minutes. Once I put them back on it felt like I had just started hiking.

It was a great first day. Low mileage, beautiful scenery and I found some hiking buddies. It is funny how the younger and not so bitchy group instantly found their way to the same part of the campground. I’m very excited about tomorrow. I have 7.5 miles, I think, and some new friends. Should be an easy day other than the 900 feet of elevation in a quarter of a mile. Until tomorrow.

4/10/2011

Got 7.8 miles in today by 1:00. I started at 8:00 this morning. It was a little bit of a hard day but hiking with Ollie and Bill was a lot of fun. I kept a very good pace and saw a lot of great views. The top of Sassafras Mountain was beautiful. Saw my first snake today on a water break. I didn’t filter the water from a fast moving creek. Let’s see if that comes back to bite me in the ass.

Taking a break at Gooch Mountain shelter. It’s a pretty new shelter and is in very good shape. Laid down on the loft and saw 3 mice in 10 minutes. That supported the idea that I have no interest in staying in shelters.

Getting some food cravings but not too many. Bill was eating a bagel with peanut butter and it looked amazing. The freeze dried stuff is good but I think there needs to be some balance. I had a steak craving yesterday and I had Skyline on the brain for about an hour today. Once I got it shut out, 5 minute later it was back. Time for lunch, freeze dried chicken pot pie.

We took off from the shelter once it started to fill up around 3:30. The goal was to find somewhere that didn’t involve the likes of Sweeny. No one could handle another night of that. We hiked about a mile down to Gooch Gap. We set up camp at a grassy wooded area pretty confident it would be secluded away from the group. Turns out we were wrong. A couple from Hawk the night before were there when we came back from getting water – (not filtered).

The attempt at a bear bag hanging was a big failure. Not really too concerned about bears at this point but everyone else did it so we felt obligated. We had a 10-minute conversation about all of the different kinds of crackers there are and how we wanted all of them – first really strange craving. This must be like being pregnant.

Time to crash. Another early day planned tomorrow. Headed 11 miles to Slaughter Creek Campsite.

4/11/2011

I was the first to rise this morning. I figured I’d go get the food bags out of the trees. Then I realized this had to be the worst attempt at a bear bag ever. Had a lazy morning getting everything together and eating breakfast – granola and blueberries again. My feet started burning pretty quick today. They were numb after about 10 minutes of hiking.

At the first stop I put a piece of moleskin around a blister that was forming on the ball of my left foot. I DON’T GET BLISTERS! The AT doesn’t mess around. It’s beating everyone up today. Our new friends Fish and Lemon are all banged up, knee and ankle issues. Luckily no one is all that mentally beat up. Spirits are high. No one in this loose group has given any thought to giving up. It’s great! I’m sore and beat up but I’m loving every minute of it. You hike up a tough 900 foot incline and at the top you are rewarded by an amazing view of the Georgia countryside. There are random farmhouses and rolling hills that get greener the further you go. The trees above 3,000 feet still haven’t put on leaves. The only green is the pines and hemlocks and some wildflowers just breaking through. The trail is pretty rocky through at this elevation. Lots of great views, and wonderful breezes. It’s been hot during the day especially in the sun. I’ve almost rolled my ankle quite a few times. You can’t help but get lazy and careless with your steps from time to time with the views. Going downhill is by far the toughest on your body. The climbs get you winded and your legs burn but you get over that once you stop or change elevation.

Camped at Slaughter Creek tonight, 11 miles today. It feels good. Blood mountain summit is a mile away and 2 miles past that is Neels Gap. There is an outfitter there that the AT passes straight through. I’m going to send a couple of things home. Rainpants, radio, food bag, extra notebook, under armor cold gear are just excess weight. Should shave 5 pounds. I normally carry 2 liters of water. There have been some stretches I carried 4 which brings my total weight up to 45 lbs. That weight is somewhat brutal.

There is a 70 % chance of thunderstorms tonight. It might get interesting. None of us has yet to see any rain. We all think we’ve got this down. Ha, we’ll see when it rains for 6 days straight. They say some go off the trail after just two days hiking in the rain. Up at 6:30 to get to Neels by 9. The mind is starting to get right. It’s almost gone!

4/12/2011

Today was the day I gained understanding of the whole bear issue. I was woken at 5:30 this morning to Chris running around with his headlamp on. He was yelling that Ollie’s food bag was pulled down and scattered around the camp. Needless to say I was awake for the day.

After the mornings festivities the day started with an ascent to Blood Mountain. At the top we met Norman, Kevin and Lunchbox at the shelter. I heated some water for a cup of coffee and signed the trail register.

Looking around we noticed bear claw marks in the tree limbs 8 feet up. Bears had climbed and taken the entire bear bag here last night. Blood Mountain shelter is a two story stone hut. It has 4 walls, unlike most shelters. Definitely the coolest looking shelter yet.

It was 2.6 miles from Blood Mountain to Neels Gap. The outfitter at Neels was a very welcome sight after 2.6 miles downhill. First it was kind of a milestone but I was also out of food. After resupply and some junk food gnarling Bill and Ollie decided to stay and take showers and do some laundry so the rest of us moved on. Chris and I pushed on to Boggs creek so we could have a nice and easy day the next day. So we pushed on to Low Gap shelter making for a 14 mile day.

My feet were sore and aching but there were no blisters. I haven’t had a problem with blisters since I started taping the balls of my feet with athletic tape. The blister I had is almost completely gone. I feel like I’m becoming what I need to become on the trail – malleable, resourceful and adaptive.

Low Gap was packed so I moved on to a spot at the top of the hill. Chris showed up about 45 minutes later. I’m starting to get back to hiking by myself. I’m starting to enjoy that more. I can move at my own pace entirely. I have seen more wildlife and have been able to take better pictures. We cooked dinner, lasagna scooped onto saltine crackers with Oreos for desert. Delicious!

It’s getting very cold and supposed to be much colder tonight. My tent and sleeping bag are great. I’ve not been cold yet. Still haven’t got much sleep. It will happen soon.

4/13/2011

Not a lot of sleep! I feel fine though. Today was an awesome day of hiking. Didn’t get out of camp till 10:30 and only had 7 miles today. The trail was smooth and very little grade. I was in no rush. The rhododendrons made a tunnel down long stretches of the trail. Spring growth is just getting started and the leaves are just barely budding. They seem to be in less of a hurry than I.

Bill, Ollie, Fish, and Lemon caught up with us at Blue Mountain Shelter. It was good to see all of them again. The mood was great at camp. We got a huge fire going and all sat around talking about Sweeny 1,2,3, and 4 and smart ass gear inventions. For instance a gore-tex snuggie and eagle head leatherman. The idea of leading cattle out into the woods and eating them as we see fit has been discussed on multiple occasions.

Blue Mountain shelter is a pretty basic wooden shelter. There is a tarp up on the open side because winds from the North are known to be pretty brutal at night. So far it’s a very calm night but we’ll see. Getting tired. Think I’ll crash.

4/14/2011

The day of the burger and beer at camp. I finally got some sleep. Thank Jesus. The sleep came with some pretty crazy and vivid dreams but, hey, I can’t be choosy. Sleep is sleep. As I unzipped the top of my tent I was greeted by a beautiful sunrise right in front of me. It was as if the entire production was for my benefit. It can’t be beat.

I thought about going into Helen today with Bill and Bear Bait. Bear Bait was voted in as Ollie’s trail name. He was the first to have his food eaten by a bear. I decided against going to town because Berry Patch was coming up in two days. I would like to conserve some money and spread my town days out for places I want to visit. Who know maybe that will change. Maybe I’ll become a town junky. The woods just feel right at this point.

I had a nice lei surly pace today overall but there was 3000 feet of elevation change in 3 consecutive miles. The inclines are getting owned but the declines are just so tough on the joints. The hills were steep and long. I knocked out 8 miles in 3 1/2 hours today. The feet are feeling great. The blister is very close to being gone. I think it’s time to go to a mid boot or low top shoe. I like my boots but they are so heavy.

Bill and Bear Bait went into Helen to eat and get a beer. The town is a Bavarian town so BB wanted to see what it was all about. Helen is called the Gatlinburg of Georgia. Fish, Lemon, Chris, and I were at camp building a fire pit up with rocks as high as we could get it. It ended up looking like an old well with a fire in it. Bill and BB rolled into camp with big smiles on their faces and busted out the beers from BB’s home town and 6 Cheeseburger from Wendy’s. To top that off they had 3 different kinds of fudge. It was a great night at camp! The view we had at Troy Mountain shelter was ridiculous. It was such a clear day. You could see forever. After the burger and beers everyone made a double batch freeze dried meal.

Food is such a common subject. It’s all based on mileage and food. I love this group of people. The Wolfpack. It all feels like a dream at times. Another really fun day. The places I get to everyday are unreal. I saw two snakes today and got a lot of pictures. I really need a book on wildlife. I am starting to see a bigger variety of thing.

Got a bit of trail magic today for the first time. Got a bar and crackers from a couple of folks at the road crossing that goes into Helen. Let’s see if I can string together a couple of nights of sleep. Got a sunrise to see!
Ryan

Bob and Renate (2011-04-23 09:57:12)
Hi, great to read Ryan’s blog. We are the parents of Bear Bait (Ollie), living near Munich in Bavaria (good beer!). We’re getting regular emails from Ollie and he sent us the blog link.. He is just as enthusiastic as Ryan. Sounds like they are are really getting into their stride now. Hope the wolf pack has many happy days, weeks and months ahead! Bob and Renate Taylor

Call from Ryan – 4/22

Ryan called last evening to let us know that he was taking a down day. Not exactly sure where they are, other than where they show up on the GPS. He said they all rented a cabin and were taking it easy. Everyone has mail drops at Fontana Dam and if they pushed on it would be Sunday when they arrived and the post office would be closed. They are making very good time. The two boys Ryan and I picked up in Gatlinburg to take back to the trailhead were running almost 2 weeks behind where they are.

He continues to sound like he’s having a great time. We worked out the next food drop. Sounds like he’s getting tired of the freeze dried meals so he cut way back. He said they’re finding other, cheaper and tastier ways to eat on the trail. He mentioned easy mac with a pack of tuna mixed in as a great option.
I got some of his pictures posted yesterday. Go into the file and pick slide show to get them at higher resolution. I also added excerpts from his Journal pages he sent home. Still having issues with the map locator. Looks like it will work best if only showing the last GPS check-ins.

Tennessee – 4/26 (2011-04-26 16:42)

Looking at today’s GPS location it looks like he is right on the Tennessee / North Carolina border. I received a package delivery confirmation from Fontana Dam that his package was delivered to him. I’m expecting a return package this week with some more pictures and journal entries. He was also supposed to have new boots delivered to Fontana.

He clocked in today at around 4:30. Looking at the location he is right now at 4,800 feet of elevation. This part of the trail is a long uphill climb out of the Fontana Lake valley. He and his fellow hikers should be in the Smokey Mountain National Park by tomorrow.

Entering The Smokies – 4/28

Ryan called Wednesday evening. When I asked how he was doing, his response was “sitting on the top of a mountain waiting for the hail to start again”. They pulled up short of their planned destination to hunker down in a shelter. They had been hiking most of the day in 50 mph winds and sleet. The worse exposure was on the mountain top balds. They are in a shelter for the night about 3 mile N.E. of Thunderhead Mountain. His description of the past two days was “rough”. Since leaving Fontana Lake they climbed to 5000+ ft and have been hiking at that elevation for the past two days. This part of the trail follows along the Tennessee / North Carolina border.

In addition to the rough weather, Ryan said he sprained his ankle on Monday climbing out of the Fontana Valley. He said he stepped wrong and bent it 90 degrees and heard it pop. He was able to get back on it and has been able to walk. The first night it went black and blue and had doubled in size. He said it is getting better each day but is still black and blue. He also mentioned that on the day he sprained it Fish and Lemon hiked ahead to the camp site and dropped their packs and back hiked to help carry Ryan’s pack. He was very appreciative of that. He mentioned matter-of-factly that he was glad he got this first injury over with. Injury is inevitable and he was glad it wasn’t worse.

On the lighter side, he saw his first bear out in the open. He said it was on the trail in front of him. His reaction was to grab his camera and chase after it but half way up the trail, he realized it probably was not a good idea. Even with the weather and a sprained ankle he is still in great spirits, his conviction seems solid. You can hear it in his voice and words. They plan on being at Klingman’s Dome by Friday and will make a trip down to Gatlinburg to resupply and find an all-you-can-eat anything and everything. He also reported that everything is good with Lemon, Fish and Bear Bait. Data decided to push on several days ago and they’ve not seen him since. It appears he may have left the group. Ryan said he had a detailed and agressive agenda, hence the name Data.

Picture and journal entries will be sent from Gatlinburg. His next food drop will be at Hot Springs

New Pictures 4/28

I added the rest of Ryan’s first group of pictures to the slideshow. There are about 75 additional pictures. This is everything he’s sent so far. Expecting another disk the first of next week.

Gatlinburg – 4/29

Ryan called this evening from Gatlinburg to set up his next mail drop at Hot Springs. He said they had just left McDonald’s where he had eaten 2 chicken sandwiches, 2 double cheeseburgers, and a large fry. He was currently looking for something else to eat because he was still hungry.
As of today he has hiked 215 miles from Springer Mountain. He has covered about 10 % of the trail.

He said that they had reached Klingman’s Dome last evening and watched the sunset from the tower. They night hiked 4 miles to the next shelter where they camped for the night. They got up this morning and hitched a ride to Gatlinburg. The plan was to resupply and get back to the trail this evening but decided to stay in Gatlinburg. They found a hotel that cost everyone $10 each so they split a room and are eating their way through Gatlinburg.

He reported that his ankle was almost healed, everyone was doing well, and civilization has become a novelty. Unless he’s doing a really good job of faking it he sure sounds like the excitement of hiking has not worn off.

hyndness (2011-05-02 09:24:42)
thanks so much for creating this site Spork, it helps us follow you all better, i love it!

16f9d082-7522-11e0-b004-000bcdcb8a73 (2011-05-02 21:10:10) I agree!
Thanks

hyndness (2011-05-04 14:27:30)
It’s been 5 days , we need to hear from you all
Hot Springs, N.C. – 5/4

Ryan called this evening from Hot Springs North Carolina. They arrived there late yesterday in a driving rainstorm after their first 20 mile day. They decided to lay over in Hot Springs for the day. They are headed back into Tennessee in the next few days and will have little opportunity for resupply. Since leaving Gatlinburg they have pushed pretty hard. The last 4 days have been 12, 15, 17 and 20 miles on some serious ups and downs. He said the 20 miles into Hot Springs was particularly rough. The maps had shown a water supply point on the trail that they were never able to locate. They hiked 4 or 5 miles of incline without water in 80 degree heat. The final 4 hours was in a torrential downpour. He said everyone got seriously soaked and their wet boots caused quite a few blisters. He managed to work the word “fun” and “sucked” into the description of the day.

He said they were on Max Patch Monday. This is one of the biggest balds in the Smokey range. Ryan said it was quite a hike to the top. Lemon and Fish had friends in the area and they met the hikers at a crossroads with a picnic lunch. Awesome was the description.

He said they are seeing more and more greenery as they work down out of the Smokies. The trees are in full leaf and the wildflowers are in full bloom. He said the rhododendrons are just now coming out and smell beautiful. With the leave on the trees and flowers in bloom he said the trail was like walking in a fragrant tunnel. He was enjoying the change in scenery and color. He also mentioned that everyone had noticed a huge change in their sense of smell. He said whenever they got into a town they noticed every smell.

It’s hard to have much of a discussion with Ryan and not talk about food. He’s obsessed. He said the food conversation on the trail and at camp is never ending. He’s also backed down off his high protein freeze dried meals and is stocking up with a lot more calorie rich grocery products. Bagels, peanut butter, honey, easy mac, packaged tuna seem to be his current craze. He went into an entire discussion about olive oil and garlic. I’m not sure if that was fact or fantasy. He seemed to black out for a few seconds. We ordered Ryan some protein shakes, carb gels, and high protein bars that were sent in his Hot Springs drop package. He said overall he’s lost about 5 lbs. This is a correction to an earlier claim of losing 12. He didn’t start the trip with a lot of weight on him. Maintaining his weight and energy will be a continuing battle particularly with a long hot hike through Virginia. The trial will start to flatten out a bit and heat up in the coming weeks. They will need to start pushing harder for 20+ mile days.

He said that last night was the first time they had seen fireflys. While sitting around the campfire their first inclination was that the glowing lights were the eyes of animals watching them around the campfire. They were so convinced they walked into the woods before they realized what it was.

They are starting to catch up with an entire new group of hikers on the trail. There are new faces every day and had picked up a new hiker named Tabatha. She went into Hot Springs with the group. I asked Ryan to update me on the group. Fish and Lemon are the couple he has hiked with since the first few days. Beer Burger, Bill is with the group still. Tabatha, a new hiker. Ollie, Bear Bait is still hiking with them but elected not to go into Hot Springs. They will catch up with him on the trail tomorrow or the next day. Chris, Data has left the group and has pushed on. He reported everyone was doing well with the exception of the blisters they received from the 20 mile wet hike yesterday. Ryan said Lemon had a blister that would make you pass out. But that she was pretty tough and was nursing it along. He said his sprained ankle was about 95 %.

I asked Ryan directly if he was going to make the entire hike. This was the first time I asked. He said yes. He was getting his rhythm down and getting it all figured out. He felt like the last few tough days with rain and heat had really sealed his doubts and solidified his resolve. Right now they have hikes 290 miles. 12.7 % of the trip to Maine.

They were all headed down to soak in the natural hot mineral springs and crash for the evening. The next opportunity for resupply will be in Erwin, Tennessee, about 6 days out. We worked out his drop package. Ryan said he was sending journal entries and pictures from Hot Springs and they all planned on shooting a video this evening. He’d get that in the mail before they left Hot Springs.

He sounds like a guy planning on hiking to Maine.

Matthew (2011-05-04 21:52:20) Totally tits

hyndness (2011-05-05 09:04:51)
sounds like everyone is committed, hang in there & have fun

30 days – 323 Miles – 5/9

Today marks 30 days on the trail. Ryan has hiked 323 miles which is 14.8 % of the 2181 to Maine. He should be in Erwin, TN in the next two days for a package and hopefully to call home with some details for the blog. He has sent pictures and journal entries. I hope to receive these in the mail and posted by this coming weekend.

Ryan is carrying with him a Spot GPS broadcaster which he uses mark his GPS location nightly. He has three levels of communication with this device. He can send an ”I’m OK” message, a ”Minor Emergency” message which communicates with a variety of phones and emails he has pre programmed, or and Emergency beacon which alerts multiple government and private rescue services. All broadcast a precision GPS location. The Emergency beacon will broadcast hourly until turned off.

hyndness (2011-05-09 20:04:49)
thanks this is so beneficial ( Lemon’s mother)

Erwin, TN 5/10

Ryan called from Erwin, TN this evening. They had just got off the shuttle to Uncle Johnny’s Hostel. I overheard the welcome speech and laundry, showers and breakfast was mentioned. The hostel offers a bunk and transportation to and from the trailhead. Ryan said they had a long hot and humid 17 mile day trying to get into Erwin this evening. They decided to push on into Erwin because rain was in the forecast for the next few days and they all wanted to get rested up for the wet hike ahead.

Ryan said he, Lemon, Fish, and Beer Burger are all doing well. They have a new hiker with them, Habitat (Tabatha) from Ontario. Ryan says her pace and personality fits the group well. Bear Bait has moved on to Damascus for Trail Days. He plans on getting a ride back to the trail and meet up with the group in a week or so. Everyone else in the group has decided to avoid Trail Days over concern for too many hikers getting back on the trail at one time.

Ryan reports 340 miles as of today. He expects they will be crossing into Virginia in 10 to 11 days. They are planning their next down day at Watauga Lake, Tennessee in 4-5 days. He said the group has made an informal decision to get back to their previous practice of getting on the trail early, hiking until 4 or 5 in the afternoon and setting up camp early. Everyone felt they were pushing too hard into the evening and really missing out on one of the more enjoyable parts of the trail – camp. He felt that even after 30 days they are still working out the details for such a long hike. He’s finding that even out in the woods some sort of a schedule and discipline is important.

He said they have hiked in very dense wilderness over the past 3 days. The views have been spectacular. The Rhododendrons and wild Azaleas are just starting to bloom. I didn’t get much other info from him because of a very bad phone connection. He’s sending another picture card home tomorrow. I’ll have these and the last posted by the weekend. I’m currently out of town myself.

hyndness (2011-05-10 21:37:22)
as lemon’s mother i can’t tell you how much i appreciate these deatails…thank you

New Pictures 5/15 (2011-05-15 07:35)

We received over 800 pictures from Ryan in the mail. There is a new link with a selection of these on the right column. This group covers his trip trough the Smokies and ends at Erwin TN. Still waiting for some journal entries. Hope to get these soon. Here are a few pictures and the rest are in the Picasa Web Album.

Ryan called Monday to set up his next drop package for Damascus, VA. He was camped Monday night at Pond Mountain Wilderness, TN. Today, they should reach the Watauga Lake Shelter. At that point, they will have hiked a total of 424 miles. This is slightly under 20 % of the total trip.

Since leaving Erwin, the group has been wilderness hiking some of the higher mountain peaks in the eastern Appalachians. Midweek they crossed Roan Mountain at 6,275 feet. This is the highest mountain they will climb until they reach Mount Washington in New Hampshire. They are a day’s hike from Watauga Lake where they had planned a down day. Ryan said they have had a lot of rain over the past few days and it is forecast for the next 4. If it is raining when they reach Watauga, they will resupply and move on to Damascus, VA. Damascus is about 5 days out of Watauga. Damascus is a milestone destination. It represents the start of Virginia and a significant change in topography. Mileage should pick up at this point. The elevation is a little less aggressive. Damascus caters to hikers and has several outfitters and hiker hostels. It is a major trail stop off.

He proceeded to fill me in on the past week’s wet trek. On the way into Overmountain Shelter, he said lightening struck 20 feet away while crossing a bald. Hail the size of marbles pelted them for an hour. He almost stepped on a 4’ Cottonmouth snake. He turned his ankle again. His sleeping pad developed a hole he can’t get plugged. His water bag is leaking. He lost his knife. He ran down the list with humor in his voice. I can tell when Ryan is faking. He’s taking it all in stride. He said he and everyone else has had their “moments” this week, both positive and negative.

The scenery is starting to change. Spring is in full bloom even at the higher elevations. They have passed 4 beautiful waterfalls in the past two days and Ryan said the Pond Valley Wilderness looks a lot like Red River Gorge in KY. He reports Lemon, Fish, Beer Burger, and Habitat are all doing well. Everyone was wet but they all recognize they have been very lucky with the rain.

The group has come to the realization they are carrying far too much weight. Ryan said he weighed his pack in Erwin at 50 lbs. In discussions with other hikers, some report hiking with as little as 25 lbs. No one in this group has yet to figure out how to pull that off. They all vowed to investigate the topic in detail once in Damascus. Ryan guaranteed things would be shipped home. In the coming weeks they will be moving into lower elevation and warmer temperatures. It’s time to go to summer weight sleeping bags and Trail Runner type shoes. I am shipping new shoes, protein powder, carbohydrate energy gels, protein bars, packs of tuna, toilet paper, a new knife, Virginia maps, camera cards, and candy to Damascus. I was told to never send a package without toilet paper. It apparently is almost a currency on the trail. Ryan will be buying a new sleeping bag, water bladder, and sleeping pad in Damascus. He did mention that he absolutely loves his tent.

I have had several requests as to how to ship things to Ryan. Due to weight, he is very particular as to what extras he carries. I’ve thrown a few niceties into his box and they’ve all come back in his bounce box unless they can be eaten immediately. He appreciates the thought. One concern he has is the speed at which he is moving through his budgeted finances. As free as the experience seems to be, equipment, food, and an occasional town stop brings the whole experience back to monetary earth. As he continues to advance toward Maine I will be adding a Paypal donate button to the Blog for those interested in helping him along.

He apologized for not sending journal entries with the last pictures. He’s not really found a good way to get these home. He does not want to tear pages out as the book will fall apart. He said he writes nightly and has almost filled a notebook. I get the impression verbalizing the experience in not easy. He’s used the term indescribable frequently. He promised to spend some time at the Library in Damascus and get some files emailed. The past 6 weeks has had very limited telephone and internet access. Virginia should offer more opportunity.

He sounded good.

hyndness (2011-05-18 09:01:11)
thanks Ryan & Chuck this last post is very comforting, as I have not heard from Lemon in over a week, but I have been watching the weather & stressing!! I’m glad ” all is well” (that is a Fish saying)!!

Damascus, VA – 5/21 (2011-05-21 09:59)

It’s me, Spork! Greetings from Damascus, VA. First I’d like to thank everybody for all of you support and interest. Thanks Dad for all of the work you have done keeping the blog up and running, it looks incredible, and for the help and support along the way. This is really the first time since leaving Georgia that I have had a chance to get to a computer and answer some emails. It’s amazing how quickly typing and a computer gets away from you. I’m at the Damascus library and am pretty limited on time but I just wanted to let everyone know I’m doing well.

It’s been 41 days since I left Springer Mountain. That may not sound like a long time but it’s amazing what changes take place in your frame of mind and perspective in that amount of time when everything you are familiar with is not longer in reach. I expected this to be tough but there’s really no way of knowing how tough until you are out here. I thought, oh, I’ve got this &. ha! I got my butt whooped and am getting it whooped daily.

As tough as it is, it is so rewarding hiking 2,000 feet up over 2 miles and seeing a view that words do not do justice. It’s moments like that that keeps me going. The days are starting to run together, time doesn’t really seem to matter anymore. Most of the time I don’t know where I am exactly. Maps and books are useless for the most part. I’ve been pretty unimpressed with the quality of trail maps. The best way to get lost is to follow the maps. The trail is clearly marked with blazes but there are occasions that you wonder.

My body is in some sort of constant discomfort at all times but you learn to ignore it. I have rolled my ankle twice, had many blisters, a constant tightness in my shoulders, sore knees, ankles, and back. It’s great! My body is being put to the ultimate test and so far it has been resilient. I realize our bodies are meant to handle way more than what is normally expected. The most important thing so far is that I am having a blast. Sure there are bad days where I wake up and really don’t want to hike but once you get going everything is good. Mornings can bring on your moments of doubt. Wet days can get rough. It’s not like you have a roof to get under in a driving thunderstorm.

It is really hard to write this, It’s been a while since my fingers have touched a keyboard and my brain is in an entirely different place. I write daily in my journal but I mostly ramble on about my frame of mind or a bug I saw this morning. It only makes sense to me. My favorite things out here are the little things, the flowers, strange bugs, mangled trees, and the ability to stop and just take it all in just because I feel like it. I try my best not to get too firm on destination and just enjoy getting there.

The people out here are great. The community of hikers was what I was looking for. People take care of each other and genuinely want to help. I am slowly regaining a bit of faith in humanity. There are a lot of good people out there. Well, I am running out of time at the library. I am taking 2 zero days in Damascus and I will send more tomorrow, possibly by regular mail. I’ve got to get a few new pieces of equipment and will be sending some stuff home. Damascus has some good outfitters and will probably be the last I’ll see for quite some time. It has been 15 days since I have taken a true zero so i am really looking forward to the time off. The last day into Damascus was a 27 mile hike. That’s the longest day so far. Part of that was anxiousness to get in and get my package and part was the trail. There are still lots of ups and downs but the 6,000 foot mountain are behind me for a while. Damascus has a feel of change. For some reason it feels like a new beginning. I am anxious to get into Virginia and the added mileage it will offer. Although the higher peaks are behind me Virginia is still very hilly and will definitely be a lot hotter.

hyndness (2011-05-23 14:54:14)
thanks so much Spork I have enjoyed everything you have written so far, you make us feel as if we are almost there with you all! take care of my Lemon & Fish as i’m sure they will have your back also! & HAVE FUN!!

New Maps, Donate Button – 5/24 (2011-05-24 21:55)

I added a new progress map for 5/7 to 5/24. These are located at the bottom of the right column. If you click into these links you can get a detailed progress map and look at Ryan’s day end locations on either a map or satellite photo. I also got the donate button set up several people have asked for. You can donate to his trip by either a Paypal account or a debit or credit card.

We’ve not heard from Ryan since Damascus. I believe they got in there late Friday and left sometime on Sunday. He had a terrible phone connection so I was only able to talk for a minute or two. He did receive his package because he returned quite a bit home in the same box. I weighed the stuff he took out of his pack and he’s about 10 lbs lighter. He’s completely out of trail boots and is wearing short trail runner type hiking shoes. He sent his mid weather sleeping bag home, his blown out sleeping pad, and a LOT of small items.

500 miles +, Marion VA 5/25

Talked to Ryan this afternoon. He’s in Marion, VA. He was in a shuttle into town to do some restocking and will return to the trail this evening. He will be staying back on the AT at the Partnership Shelter. Since leaving Damascus, he’s done 13, 16, 24, and 18 mile days. He is currently at 520 miles. Ryan separated from the group in Damascus by deciding to lay over an additional day. He’s currently hiking off and on with Habitat and Kipper. He caught back up with Lemon, Fish, and Beer Burger this afternoon.

He describes Virginia as awesome. He ran down a long list of wildlife they encountered since entering Virginia that included wild ponies, a variety of snakes, turtles, salamanders, and an equally large list of small mammals. He said they hiked though Grayson Highlands yesterday and met up with wild ponies that came up to them unafraid. He said they were friendly and like licking the salt off hikers arms. It was a close as he has come to a shower in 4 days.

He was amazed at how quickly the terrain and views changes after crossing the Virginia border and lists Virginia as by far the best state yet. He will be dropping a SD card in the mail today with pictures. Telephone reception was good since they were within 15 miles of Interstate 81. Looking at the map he will have little reception in the coming week.

I always ask the question of how are you doing. Ryan responds positively and then I ask how are you really doing. His answer has always come back again positive but he seemed exceptionally upbeat and excited this time. He said something clicked over in Damascus and he still views the milestone as some sort of change or new beginning. Hiking 500 miles is exceptional from any perspective. Applying this to the entire AT puts you right at 25 %. It’s unfortunate that the accomplishment of hiking 500 miles has to be diminished by being compared to the overall objective. But I really don’t get the impression that someone at 500 miles on the AT is ready to discuss a through hike. They are just hiking. He said the key to the final destination is completing and enjoying today’s destination. That was a rather profound ”poet but don’t know it” statement.

He sounded great.

New Pictures 5/28 (2011-05-28 22:32)

I received the package from Ryan he mailed from Marion. It included quite a bit more weight reduction items from his pack and a new picture SD card. Most of these pictures are from the trip into, and a few days out of, Damascus. There are well over 600 pictures and they are some of the best he has sent. I’ll rotate these in and out of this web album to get as many posted as possible. There is a limit on Picasa Web albums. If you go into the link on the right side of the page you can view the pictures as a slide show.

Two full days of this section were in rain and thunderstorms. There are also some pictures of the wild ponies they ran into. There are several pictures of the various shelters on the trail. Tonight’s GPS ping puts him right at the Lick Creek foot bridge. There is no listed shelter in that area.
He should be crossing I-81 in the next day or two and may have enough cell reception in that area to call in. He needs to get his next drop box arranged.

hyndness (2011-05-29 10:44:37)

great pics looking forward to seeing more! Lemon told me about the ponies & how they circled their campsite during a thunderstorm!

Memorial Day Call

Received a call from Ryan Memorial Day morning. He was just getting ready to cross over I-77 right around Bastian, VA. He called at 10:30 and had already covered 9 miles. He said with the heat he’s been trying to get out of camp at sunrise and cover as much trail as possible before it warms up. He reported that he hiked 21 miles the day before and was planning to cover 23 miles on Memorial Day. He also reported that he had rolled his ankle again on the 27th and ended up stopping early at a shelter to give his ankle a rest. This is the third time he has rolled his ankle. We talked about this for a while and Ryan tells me it is a common thing on the trail. He said every shelter has a person nursing a black and blue ankle. He said that although Virginia has had less altitude the trail is very rocky. Hiking downhill on rocky ground is difficult with a pack because you don’t have a good view of foot placement. His plan is to hike 18 miles today and get into Woods Hole Hostel where he can ice his ankle and try to stay off it for a while.

Ryan continues to rave about the beauty of Southern Virginia. He’s hikes the past few days alone. He lost Habitat and Kipper after his ankle layover. Everyone has plans to meet up at the Woods Hole Hostel. Lemon, Fish and Beer Burger should be there as well. As much as he enjoys company Ryan also enjoys hiking alone and at his own pace. He felt that you just can’t get the entire AT experience unless you spend time alone in the woods. One issue he has had since entering Virginia is drinking water. He_s run out a few times. Most of the trail runs along the mountain ridges and stream and spring are rare. Earlier on in the Smokies he was consuming about 4 liters a day and rarely carried that much because water access was good. With the added heat, he’s pushing 6-8 liters and has to carry more when it is found since there is not guarantee of access.

He’s run into several cases of Trail Magic this past week. Trail magic is simply unexpected or timely acts of random kindness or good fortune along the trail. Trail magic generally occurs when least expected or often most needed. He’s run into a couple of instances of a cookout along the trial for hikers. He also camped with a group of day hikers that packed in meat and vegetables for kabobs for all of the thru hikers.

In talking to Ryan something occurred to me when he talked about days of hiking without seeing a house or a road or other hikers. He calls when he is at a location where he can get phone service. Days go by without this being the case. Most blog entries are based on town stops and the ability to connect. Most of the solitude and wilderness is between the entries. This can only be seen in the pictures. On his last picture SD card, I found a movie clip that was accidentally started on his camera. The camera was hung from it’s strap and moved around quite a bit. It captured the crossing of a high mountain bald in driving rainstorm. You can hear the wind howl. You can hear the rain pelt his pack and thunder in the distance. You can hear the effort in his breathing. You can almost feel his footsteps. You see a bouncing panorama of a muddy trail, ominous clouds and distant mountain horizons. It brought an audible “damn” from me. This gave me a better perspective of the challenge he faces than anything I have seen so far. He seemed very far way.

He was in good spirits. We’ve set up a mail drop for Daleville, VA. It’s about 6 days out.

tina (2011-05-31 15:28:43)

Chuck, the last paragraph gave me Goosebumps. It’s amazing that he is doing all of this and you put everything into words so well. Can’t wait to see the rest of the pictures!

hyndness (2011-05-31 19:01:51)
I agree with Tina you tell the stories as if you were there, makes me teary, knowing my daughter is out there also! but thanks so much if not for this blog I would worry to death about her(i do anyway) looking forward to the next set of pictures:)

maego (2011-07-26 14:54:18)
Chuck, what you say about Ryan is exactly the reason that he remains one of my oldest friends. As soon as he said this was something that he wanted to do, I knew it was something he would do, and do well. I saw him as he passed through NYC, and I have to say, he looked vibrant and happy. (And that beard!) Unfortunately, we did not have time for me to hear as many stories as I would have liked, which led me here. And I am extremely glad that you, and him, have put his experience into words. Thank you!

Anonymous (2011-07-26 15:23:05)
Be sure to pass his blog around to some of his old friends. I’m pretty sure I know who Maego is. I only know of a couple of CNE’ers that ended up in that part of the world. I’d like to see if I’m right about who. If you want to contact me the best way without me posting my email is to go to www.ikerbonsaipots.com and come in that way by sending an email through my website.
620 Miles – 6/2

Ryan called Wednesday afternoon from the front porch of the Woods Hole Hostel. He was icing his ankle down and was in a talkative and spirited mood. He got in there Tuesday night and was taking the day to rest his ankle and resupply in Pearisburg. He is currently at 619 Miles. He said the miles are flying by in Virginia. He’s done 3 20’s in a row and that was on a tweaked ankle. Lemon, Fish, and Beerburger are at the Hostel as well.

One of the things we talked about was how he was doing relative to a “purist” hike. Ryan is committed to no shortcuts or blue blazing. He’s planning on walking every inch of the trail. Often when hitching into town hikers will pick up the trail on the other end of town cutting off a few miles here and there. A purist hiker will return to the trail head where they got off. Throughout the system there are blue blazed side trails that shortcut bends in the AT or work around the sides of a mountains. These are often day hiker trails. Ryan said he is noticing more and more hikers that started with a purist mentality taking advantage of these opportunities to trim a few miles here and there. So far he has not. He said the volume of thru hikers is falling fast. Many came off the trail in Damascus.

He is very satisfied with his progress and timing. He’s 8 days ahead of the plan he started with. He’s also decided that the plan is useless and unnecessary pressure. Hiking beyond your comfort level for the day only drains you for successive days. He feels that he has finally reached the point where he can read his body and its limits. He said that learning when to stop and for how long is the key to success. He said the AT was an unmovable entity that humbles even the most arrogant. He’s lost his cockiness and learned to respect the trail. He just can’t seem to say enough about Virginia. He listed several sections that he was sure he’d return to one day to hike again. He went on for quite a while about Grayson Highlands.

He talked a lot about some of the people he has met on the trail. He noticed that the age group for committed hikers met one of two categories. They are either mid 20’s or over 65. They are either post college/pre-career or retired. He was amazed at the diversity of reasons, occupations, motives, and personalities. They are either seeking a challenge or running from something. Those seeking challenge talk freely. Those running from something say little. With a single exception, he really hasn’t run into anyone that falls into the nut category. He said they had run into a woman back in Tennessee that appeared to be off her meds.

Some of the more interesting characters included an 88 year old oriental gentleman that was section hiking and claimed to be one of the original chemists responsible for the develop of ibuprophin. His trail name was Cimmaron. He’s crossed paths with several hikers trying to set trail records. These folks have a back up team and slack pack up to 35 miles per day. He met a guy last week who was on his third thru hike. Ryan said he was a Colorado logger who referred to the trail as adult summer day camp. He also met a guy doing a trail documentary. He hiked a few days with an ex-FBI agent. One noticeable exception has been the lack of any type of authority figure. He said they have not seen one Ranger or official in any capacity. He said it felt a bit like the old west.

The trail has it’s own communication system and society. He said that information travels quickly up and down the trail. Anyone trying to do anything off base is pegged quickly. Food and supplies are much like currency on the trail. There is a lot of swapping and trading that takes place. Ryan said that you could almost make the trip from Georgia to Maine and not spend a dime just by living off other hikers. There are those that attempt just that, they are quickly identified as mooches and dealt with much more cautiously. With the economy the way it is there are a lot of hikers that are on the trail because they are unemployed and took the opportunity to hike. There are expenses on the trail in equipment, town stays, food and travel  It’s not free and it usually ends up costing a lot more than people expect. Running out of money is one of the bigger reasons for coming off the trail.

He’s talking a lot about New England and Maine. He’s starting to come across southbound hikers and getting a lot of details about the northern part of the trail. You can tell his mind has worked it’s way to Maine. In the coming two weeks he will enter Shenandoah State Park which run a good part of the length of Virginia. His next mail drop is Daleville, VA. It’s about 120 miles out. We probably won’t hear much from him until then.

hyndness (2011-06-03 10:20:55)
it is so exciting to read the progress the hikers are making! thanks again Spork, & keep up the good work!

2 months, 1,605,500 strides – 6/10

Today Ryan has been on the trail 2 months. He has covered 700 miles. He has taken 1,605,500 steps. He has been in Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Virginia. He has experiences 171,000 feet of elevation gain equivalent to 6 ascents of Mount Everest. Taking down days into consideration, he has averaged just over 15 miles per day. He is currently just outside Catawba, VA. Based on his GPS location it appears he may be at a shelter around Dragon’s Tooth. He has been out of contact since last Wednesday and should be in Daleville today or tomorrow. He has a package waiting at the Daleville Post office. If he makes it into Daleville before noon on Saturday, he should be able to get it before the Post Office closes for the weekend. His package includes his normal mix of protein bars and powder, a few packages of Tuna, flour tortillas, candy bars, cash, toilet paper, tooth brush, maps for central and northern Virginia, shoe inserts, and some advil. He also asked for an ankle brace.

Over the past two weeks his equipment has started to show considerable wear and failure. He has gone through his third pair of hiking shoes, his water bladder has sprung a leak, his sleeping pad is leaking, and his pack is starting to show seam damage. He was able to contact the equipment manufacturers while he was in Pearisburg and all have agreed to replace the equipment and will have replacements available at a trial outfitter in Daleville.

I expect to hear from Ryan this weekend and will update the blog then. He will need to set up his next mail drop. He should be moving into Shenandoah National Park early next week and will remain in the park for most of the balanced of his trip through Virginia. The “Virginia Blues” are legendary on the trail. Virginia has the most trail miles of any other state, 550. The trial is deceptively difficult as many hikers expect reduced elevations but find considerable ups and downs and long days. Many hikers call it quits in Virginia. It will be good to hear how he’s doing.

Call from Daleville, VA – 6/11 (2011-06-11 17:52)

Ryan called this morning at around 7. He was about 2 hours outside Daleville and trying to make it into town to get his package before the post office closed at noon. As anticipated, he’s had an interesting and offbeat week. His map progress just did not seem to be adding up and he’s missed a few days sending his GPS location. He had raised some curiosity from those on this end.

He and Kipper ended up spending around 3 days in and around Pearisburg and Woods Hole. They decided to take their time through that area and let Ryan’s ankle and Kipper’s shin splints heal up a bit. After leaving Woods hole they decided to move on into Pearisburg and stay at a hostel there to get cleaned up and rest. He reported that the hostel was not to their liking so they decided to hike out at night due to the 100 degree heat they are having. They hiked though the night with headlamps and found a place to camp. Just before dawn they set up their tents to get some rest. (This must have been the night he sent a GPS location at 4:10 in the morning.) After about 10 minutes sleep they discovered that they had set up camp a few hundred feet from the railroad. Their location was near a road crossing where the trains sound their whistle. He described the awakening as violent. He also said the track was heavily traveled because a train passed almost hourly. Too tired to move they endured it for most of the morning but got little sleep.

The next leg was another hike into the early morning and a stay at a location where the owner allows hikers to stay in their barn. It was near dawn when they crashed only to be jolted awake an hour later by a flock of roosters and chickens I didn’t get all of the exact details, as I was laughing pretty hard, but I believe that was last night. They got a couple of hours sleep despite being overrun by chickens.

I’ve had a hard time with the exact time frame and locations this week. He has covered around 100 miles. He’s had an extra down day and a few short days and/or nights. Ryan described the past week as brutal on two fronts. This part of Virginia has not seen rain for several weeks and the temperature has been in the high 90’s and 100. The humidity was also extremely high. Much of this section of Virginia is through open fields with full sun exposure. They have found that æ of the water sources listed in the trial guide are non-existent. They ran out water a couple of times. Ryan’s issues were exacerbated in that his water bladder was leaking.

He called again from Daleville to ask about me handling one of his equipment exchanges. He got his package and was at the outfitter that was going to replace some of his gear. He got his water bladder and sleep pad replaced but wasn’t able to get the issue with his pack resolved. He has decided to go back to a lightweight mid-height hiking boots to support his ankle better. As soon as they picked up a few supplies they were headed back out on the trial.

The trials and tribulations of the week were described with humor. He feels his ankle is slowly getting better and the mid boots would give him added sense of security. They will be moving into Shenandoah in the coming days. The trail and campsites are reported to be sparse but nice. Most of the trail is back under tree cover. The weather is forecast to cool down. He’s got some new equipment.

He still seems to have his will but described the past week as humbling.

Central Virginia, 800 miles – 6/15 (2011-06-16 08:07)

[We received a box from Ryan yesterday with some additional weight reduction effort and a picture SD card. Based on his last GPS location it looks like they are just east of Buena Vista, VA. This would put him right at 800 miles.

He sent 300 + pictures. I’ve picked the best and added them to a Web album listed in the right column. This part of Virginia appears to be a mix of rolling farmland and mountains under 4,000 ft. This week they have still night hiked. It appears as the heat has backed off they have moved back to a day hiking schedule. There is a picture of the railroad track camp location and also a few shots of a bear on the trail. I talked to Ryan Saturday and there was no mention of the bear so this must have been Monday or Tuesday.

The pictures of the bear are the darker haired animal. The one with the hat is Ryan. I understand the tradition of not shaving on the trail but his beard is growing 3x his hair. He will be tripping over it by Maine. I may offer some incentive to see him shave but I’d don’t think I’d get anywhere with it.

They are paralleling Interstate 81 through most of the Blue Ridge and I would expect to hear from him this weekend. He’s been hiking with Kipper this past week. It looks like they’ve done at least 20 mile days since Saturday.

 Call from Cold Mountain – 6/16 (2011-06-16 14:10)

Minutes after completing the last post Ryan called. He and Kipper were atop Cold Mountain and were taking a break after the first real hard climb in several days. They completed a 26 mile day yesterday. He said he’s doing real well. His ankle has settled down and the new hiking shoes have made a big difference. In his last package he was sent an ankle brace. He said it fit well and really helped if only from a psychological perspective. He was thrilled to have a water bladder back that didn’t leak. One thing he asked for in his next mail drop is books. I got his list and placed an order on Amazon. The reading list includes: Last American Man, Eiger Dreams, and Cactus Eater. All three of these are adventure based, man against nature, books. Single purpose, single minded. He specifically asked for paperback due to weight and their emergency recycled use as toilet paper. Toilet paper was second on his list of wants. He said you’d be surprised at some of the awesome places he’s found to sit and read. I don’t think I would be.

He told me that last week he and Kipper had been as much as 5 days behind the group of Beerburger, Fish and Lemon but had closed the gap to 7 miles. Trail logs at the shelters allow the hikers to pinpoint people up and down the trail pretty well. They estimated catching up to them by this afternoon. Ryan and Kipper encountered a case of trail magic yesterday by an older “country” couple who had set up a table on the trail and was making white bread, cheese and mayonnaise sandwich with hardboiled eggs. The couple said the group had passed through the previous morning. Two nights ago they camped near a mountaintop air traffic control station. The next morning a guy from the station invited them in and gave them a tour of the facility and some food. Ryan said the bear encounter was just after Pearisburg. They later discovered it was a big female with cubs off in the brush. He said she checked them out closely but made no advances.

He talked a bit about the wildlife he had seen this week. He sat and watched a group of wild mink play along a riverbank. I looked up the weather for him while he was on the phone and to my surprise they were hoping for rain. He’s seen very little rain in the past two weeks. Currently the weather was in the 70’s but will be headed back up in the coming week. Rain is forecast off and on for the next week. They were looking forward to getting to Waynesboro to resupply and enter the AT trail pancake eating contest at some restaurant that caters to hikers. As with ever call, I always feel good about his frame of mind, physical health, desire, and true enjoyment of the adventure. The best word I can find to describe it is – grit.

Waynesboro, VA – 6/20 (2011-06-21 07:34)

Ryan called Sunday. He had just got into Waynesboro, VA. He and Kipper were planning a stay at the Waynesboro YMCA. He was in great spirits and very talkative. Apparently quite a few thru hikers had converged on Waynesboro at the same. He hung up several times to talk to other hikers he’d not seen for a few weeks. Waynesboro will be a resupply point for what he called a launch through Shenandoah National Park. The park is around 100 miles long and they are going to try to make good time through the park. He said he hiked 25 miles yesterday with a considerable climb over the Priest, a summit in Nelson County that climbs to 4,026 feet. He ran into Lemon, Fish and Beerburger in town and had a report that Habitat was on her way in that evening.

Ryan commented that they have been extremely lucky with rain and that the Priest summit was the first real hard rain they had seen since leaving Tennessee. It was almost a novelty to hike in the downpour. Ryan likened it to playing in the puddles as a kid. He has become so accustomed to mild discomfort that being wet, getting wet, and slogging in the rain neither affects their progress or state of mind. He called it a nice change of pace. The blackberries are in full fruit and he compared the trail to walking down a grocery aisle. They have enjoyed free blackberries for the last 3 days.

He has had a great week as far as trial magic is concerned. He got a ride from the trailhead into Waynesboro from a 2004 thruhiker that has started his own ultra lightweight hiking gear company. The name of the company is Alpin Lite Gear ([2]http://alpinlitegear.com/). He gave Ryan one of his ultralite tents for a trail trial and asked that Ryan provide reports as to how the tent performs and holds up. The tent uses the hiker’s trial poles for support. Ryan said it was almost 2 lbs lighter than his current tent. Weight reduction is an effort Ryan continues to pursue. The tent came at a nice time. He will be mailing his old tent home from Waynesboro.

He said that the caliber of hikers on the trail at this point was extremely high. Most of the asses had fallen off. The arrogant, cocky and over or under equipped had long since gone home. He spoke of the many and varied personalities he had met and how he enjoyed hearing their stories and perspectives. He has kept a record of ever hiker he has met with notes to remind him of who they were. He was amazed at the brotherhood that was developing amongst the thruhikers as they proceed up the trail in rough groups associated only by geography and a common goal. Many days you will go all day without seeing anyone and then they will bunch up and come together almost by happenstance at camp sites or town stops. Everyone takes a down day or two a week. This tends to separate them on the trial but over time they all seem to cross paths again.

The end of Shenandoah represents roughly the halfway point on the trial. Ryan talked of a discussion amongst several hikers this week about the idea that you really don’t get your true trail feel until somewhere in th 400-500 mile range. It was the consensus of this group that it happened more in the 700-800 mile range. Either way, he felt good that others were hitting their stride at a similar point as he. Ryan says this every time we talk. He was really starting to get it dialed in. He’s approaching midpoint on the trail. He’s hiked well over 800 miles. I think he’s dialed in. He is certainly a legitimate long distance hiker.

We’re putting together a mail drop for Front Royal Virginia. He’s asked for the normal mix of food, toilet paper, and books. He claims to have some writing to share as well.

Blasting through Shenandoah – 6/23 (2011-06-24 08:52) 

Ryan called in last evening. He was at Big Meadows in Shenandoah National Park. He was giddy with cheeseburger and ice cream poisoning. Big Meadows has a snack bar and they invaded it with gusto. He had 3 cheeseburgers, 2 orders of fries and 32 oz of ice cream. The ice cream was a training exercise for the Harpers Ferry 1⁄2-gallon ice cream challenge. He has covered 75 miles in 3 days and is putting together some high mileage days. He is hiking with Kipper and two other hikers I have yet to identify.

As of last night, he has hiked 914 miles.

They are all less than enamored with Shenandoah other than the ability to move through it quickly, too many ranger and civilization, which does not seem to jive with adding three more bears to his total bear count. He’s up to 5. Shenandoah require hikers to stay at designated campsites. Ryan has been avoiding trial shelters and finds the regulation forces mileage based upon location rather than hiking comfort. He has decided to bypass Front Royal altogether. He is calling to have his packages forwarded to Harpers Ferry. He hopes to be in Harpers Ferry in 4-5 days. Harpers Ferry represents the psychological halfway point on the trail. It is actually about 80 miles short. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is located in Harpers Ferry. A visit to the headquarters and a picture for their wall is a tradition trial stop. He will take a down day there.

He said they were all lying in a grass field absorbing their food. The three other hikers were convinced they had Lyme disease. They had all removed ticks over the past few days, one in a very compromising rear location. It was a joking discussion but ticks and Lyme disease are a true concern on the AT. Ryan is fortunate in that his Doctor loaded him up with antibiotics and directions as to when and how to administer them. They finally concluded that their malaise was probably 75 miles in 3 days and 32 oz of ice cream on top of multiple cheeseburgers.

Ryan seems to be taking on a new perspective with regard to safety and illness. Listening to him talk, I think he realizes what could potentially end his trip. He no longer views his will or physical ability to be the limiting factor. He is concerned over getting hurt or sick ending what he knows he can accomplish. There is a change in the way he is approaching the trial. His confidence seems to have reached a new level. He seems to be transitioning from an adventure to a mission.

He said that his ankle still bothers him off and on but he expected that would be the case for the balance of the trip. Pain and discomfort is constant, the ankle just refocuses attention from other parts of his body. He is pleased with the new tent and the weight reduction. He said you would be amazed just how much difference a few pounds make. At Waynesboro he had his pack down to 36 lbs with a fresh food resupply. He carried almost 50 lbs for the first month. He was down in the mid forties at 500 miles. I suppose it takes a while to figure that all out but it seems like a hard lesson learned and apparently, one that take some time.

He sounds strong, confident and happy. He sounds like someone forging memories that will last a lifetime. I hope he is proud of his accomplishment thus far.

Sunday Call – 6/26 (2011-06-27 09:08)

We heard from Ryan Sunday afternoon. He is out of Shenandoah National park and was near Front Royal, VA at an outfitter resupplying. They only plan on staying off the trial long enough to get some supplies and find some kind of low cost, high calories, high volume lunch. He has hiked almost 30 miles each over the past two days. He was glad to be out of the park and be able to camp where they choose again. The park requires hikers to stay in designated camping areas at park shelters. Shenandoah was celebrating their 75 anniversary and tourist traffic was greater than normal. Many of the shelters were clogged with day and section hikers making accommodations tight for thruhikers.

Over the length of the Appalachian trail there are shelters averaging every 10-15 miles. Shelters run the range of 4 sided barn-like structures to 3 sided lean-to’s. Ryan has avoided sleeping in shelters as much as possible but often camps at the shelter locations. He says it is much more comfortable in his 1 man tent and sleeping pad. Snoring is a common problem as well as the general odor of 4-8 hikers that haven’t bathed for weeks. Most often the shelters are overrun with mice which can eat through your pack and provisions. He’s commented more than once about how much he likes having the tent. He considers the tent and a book to be his best luxuries. The benefit far outweighs the weight.

The hikers Ryan has been with over the past few weeks are Chimp from Knoxville, Achilles from Charlotte and Kipper. Ryan has had his drop packages sent to Front Royal forwarded to Harpers Ferry. The assault on Shenandoah will carry into Harpers Ferry where they plan a down day and celebration of half way point. Chimp has some relatives in the area that have volunteered to pick the four hikers up at Harpers and take them home for the night for a shower and meal.

He was right at 970 miles yesterday.

Harper’s Ferry, WV, 1015 miles, 6/29 (2011-06-29 19:56)

Ryan called for the front porch of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia this afternoon. He was getting his picture taken for their 2011 hiker wall. Harper’s Ferry marks the end of Virginia, a brief hike through the corner of West Virginia, and the psychological half way point of the A.T. He was very excited about this milestone. Earlier this morning at the Virginia border he said they all turned around and cursed Virginia. This was a much different attitude than he spoke of when entering Virginia. Virginia represents the longest state on the trail at right around 500 miles of trail.

The friend of one of the current group of hikers was picking them up for dinner, showers, and a roof. He said they would go back into Harper’s tomorrow and take the entire day off to rest and get ready for the Pennsylvania.

He was on his way to the post office to pickup his packages and hopefully the new pack that was being replaced under warranty. They plan on being back on the trail by Friday morning with plans for their next break in New York City around the 20th of July. He promised to get a picture card in the mail and call back before leaving Harper’s.

Congrats, Ryan. 1,015 miles in 2 months, 3 weeks. He is about 10 days ahead of his planned progress. He feels this should put him on the peak of Mt Katahdin around the end of September.

Pennsylvania – 7/3

spork Noun /spÙrk/ sporks – plural

• A spoon-shaped eating utensil with short tines at the tip
• An Ohio based Appalachian Trail Thru Hiker known to carry an eating utensile behind his ear

Ryan called again before leaving Harper’s Ferry. They got into Harpers late Wednesday and spent the night with friends of one of his hiking companions. They got cleaned up and got to sleep in a real bed. He said all 4 of them slept until 11:30 Thursday. They then took Thursday off in Harpers and did some sightseeing and resupply. They were back on the trail Friday morning.

Ryan asked that I send a specific shout out and thanks to Chimp’s friend’s parents, Fred and Melanie, for the hospitality and willingness to take a bunch of stinky hikers in. He said it put more pep in his step than he’s had in a while. Ryan lost his ankle brace and Melanie drove up and hung one on a tree for him to find. He said this experience has really given him a new perspective on how good and kind people can be. He felt it would forever change the way in which he interacts with others.

THANKS !! Spork

They’re currently back on the trail and camped last night just inside the Pennsylvania border. Since Wednesday they have been in Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Ryan was pretty talkative on Thursday and we discussed a lot about the trail and Harper’s Ferry. He said Harper’s was the most interesting towns they had gone through to date. The town still had cobblestone and brick paved roads with old original architecture. He said it was definitely a place he would visit again. The area was rich in Civil War history. Over the past week he passed through several battlefield areas both in parks and in the wilderness. Several times they came upon foundations, dug trenches and rock walls where you could see the gun placements and trench layout. He did some research in Harper’s about the areas. He spoke fluently on the battles and history of the area. He said it was amazing how many Civil War battlefields were just out in open wilderness as opposed to protected park areas. The house he stayed in on Wednesday dated back to the Battle of Antietam.

The bear activity is much higher in this area than the Smokies. He’s seen about a dozen bears, seen one fall out of a tree, and sees bear droppings on the trail daily. One of the other hikers experienced a false charge from a mother protecting her cubs. He said that for every bear he has seen he has heard several more. He explained the sound of a bear running in the woods to be unmistakable. You never know if they are running toward or away from you. If they are just lumbering around they appear clumsy and almost clownish. On a dead run they exhibit speed and a lot of noise.

The bears are drawn in to the valleys by the berries. Ryan said they eat black berries, blueberries, raspberries, and wine berries daily all along the trial. Unfortunately, bears are after the same treat. Early last week he met and hiked with an older couple who were trail and wilderness experts. Their names were Free Thinker and Firehawk. He was excited about the time he spent with them because they taught the group a lot about wild edibles and plants in the forest. When you spend that much time in the woods you get to the point where you notice every plant, nut, mushroom, and berry. It was great to meet someone who could identify and apply names to the flora. Ryan said they were some of the coolest people he has met.

At this point on the trial minds are turning toward New England and the change in scenery and trail. There is a lot of hiking to be done through Pennsylvania and New York. Pennsylvania is reported to be full of rock scrambles and rocky trails. It is a part of the trail where a lot of injuries occurs from falls to sprained ankles.

He said they spend a ridiculous amount of time fantasizing about food. The cravings are endless and very specific. They rarely go 20 minutes without food coming up. His current favorite meal and resupply items are flour tortillas, real Bacon Bits, String Cheese, and peanut M &M’s. He said they’ve had great success over the past week with Trial Magic and Yogi’ing (Yogi Bear). That’s where you stop at a picnic area and look hungry and tired in hopes that a picnicking family will send some fried chicken your way. He said it’s amazing how well it works. One of their best hook-ups was a Mennonite family that invited them over for an incredible meal and discussions of beard length. Ryan said the elder asked him how long he’d been growing his beard. He seemed disappointed to hear that Ryan’s was only 3 months old. He’d been growing his for 20 years and it wasn’t much longer than Ryan’s.

Ryan said it’s amazing how well know the AT is in this area and how people go out of their way to help or offers food and water. A few days ago the trail crossed an interstate highway and they noticed as they walked along the overpass that cars were honking their horns. They stopped and noticed that the people in the cars were all waving and giving thumbs up. They spent 30 minutes on the bridge waving back and feeling like Rock Stars.

Ryan is doing well physically, although his ankle still bothers him at times. He’s lost a total of 12 lbs since Georgia. He said his calves look like wire ropes. They’ve heard of several hikers getting Lyme disease and keeping an eye out for ticks is a constant battle. Ryan has asked that I forward his other dose of Lyme disease antibiotic just in case.

We’re getting a drop box together for next week. One luxury item he has asked for is a can of Skyline. They are hoping to get up on a mountain somewhere to get a view of some fireworks on the fourth. As I’ve said before we only hear from Ryan when he hits civilization. Almost all of the time between contacts is in the woods. He said that thruhikers are down to a very few at this point and they often go days without seeing another hiker or a paved road. In his words it bears, birds, and pooping in the woods.

Hope to have some new pictures posted mid week.

He sounds great!

PaintedLady (2011-07-07 17:59:19) We love those utensils. I’ve really enjoyed reading these posts and it’s always good to hear he’s happy and healthy. as for realizing there are good people in this world full of endless kindness, they’re just a rarer bread. Blessings, Strength and Peace to his continued journey.-Sarah Lewis

Pictures, Pine Grove and Ice Cream 7/5 (2011-07-06 10:39)

We received a SD card in the mail yesterday. New pictures are listed in the right column. These are through much of Virginia ending in Harpers Ferry. The last pictures are Ryan’s entry in the Appalachian Trail Conservancy register of thru hikers. Ryan was number 650 for the year that’s made it approximately 1⁄2 way as either a northbound or southbound hiker.

Yesterday he reached the actual 1⁄2 way point at 1090 miles.
Ryan called late yesterday asking that we renew his prescription of doxycycline. He feels that he has Lyme disease and has started a cycle of antibiotic. Approximately 20 % of the thru hikers are reporting it this year as a result of deer ticks bites. Lyme disease is a very serious condition if not treated promptly. Ryan is fortunate in that he received a prescription from his Dr in the event. Finding an attached tick and developing a bullseye ring around the bite is a pretty good indication. He said they are averaging 5 ticks a day. They are sometimes nearly impossible because to see they are much smaller than the ticks he’s used to seeing in Ohio. Symptoms are rash, joint pain, flu-like symptom, fever, and headache. He reported all. He started feeling bad yesterday and that the last 7 miles were the most difficult of his entire hike thus far. He started the doxycycline in the afternoon was feeling better today.
He must have felt better because he took on the ice cream challenge at Pine Grove, PA.

“For the past three decades, long-distance hikers arriving at the midway point of the 2,180-mile Georgia- to-Maine footpath have made it a tradition to stop at Pine Grove Furnace State Park in south-central Pennsylvania and eat an entire brick of ice cream. The reward: bragging rights, a small commemorative wooden spoon stamped in red letters with ”Member of Half Gal. Club,” About 350 thru-hikers each year successfully complete the gastronomic feat.”

Ryan said it was a breeze and still had the appetite to eat some more. He said the trail in Pennsylvania so far has been rocky and relatively hilly. There has been many rock scrambles. Over the past 3 days they have averaged 20 miles/day. He’s still hiking with Kipper, Chimp and Achilles. Monday they encountered their first rattlesnake. He’s looking forward to getting into Duncannon later this week to get his mail package and pack replacement. The replacement pack he was sent in Harper’s ended up being too small and was causing some rubbing issues. The manufacturer is sending the next size up to Duncannon.

Other than the Lyme he still sounds strong. He promised to report in on how he’s feeling in a few days.

Duncannon, PA – 7/7 (2011-07-08 14:20

Ryan checked in last evening from Duncannon, PA to let us know he was feeling much better. The antibiotics apparently did their job and his fever and flu symptoms were 75 % gone. In spite of feeling a little weak, he covered 24 miles yesterday. He reports eastern Pennsylvania to be exactly as predicted – rocky. The past two days have gone from open country to rocky outcrops. Most of the trail is washed clean by rain exposing fist sized rocks. He said it was very tiring to constantly shift position and weight to find good foot placement. You have to watch every step.

Trail magic has abounded so far in Pennsylvania. He commented that the people in rural PA are very welcoming to hikers. Wednesday night the trail passed through a small town and they were invited to set up their tents in a local’s field. They made pizza’s for the hikers and they all stayed up till 1:00 in the morning answering question and talking about the hike and trail. The next morning the people drove sandwiches and breakfast out to the hikers at 7:00 a.m.

He felt he was finally 100 % on equipment. He got the right pack delivered in Duncannon and the package from home included another cycle of tick antibiotics, the ankle brace he wanted, and some clothing he’d asked for.
Since leaving Harper’s he has covered 125 miles in 6 days. Pennsylvania has about 260 mile of the AT within its border. New Jersey will be the next state he enters. He should be in NJ before next weekend. Ryan’s efforts to reduce his pack weight have paid off in a 10-15 pound reduction. He has taken on a minimalist attitude about necessities. The only real luxury he’s carrying is a book. In these more populated areas he can resupply more frequently and carry less between resupplies. He also said that the water sources have been much better than in Virginia. He’s had to do very little water filtering since leaving Harper’s. All of these benefits help to add mile per day. He feels his stride had increased considerably. He said after walking this far you get a real good feel for the miles and the time it takes to cover them. Earlier on he felt was walking at about a 2 mph pace. He thinks he is consistently walking at about 3 mph now.

Talking to Ryan 2 months ago he was just walking. Now, he is a walking technician. Stride, foot placement, use of poles, pack position, shoe style, and trail surface all add or detract to forward progress. Now, it’s all about the miles. For the first time he talked, not about how many miles he has walked, but how many miles he has yet to walk. Tomorrow he should be under 1,000 miles left. Tomorrow he has been on the trail for 3 months.

There is not an ounce of “quit” in anything he’s said or done since being dropped off on the trial head that cool day in April. He is determined – and hairy. I offered him a cash reward to shave that badger off his face – nothing doing. He posesses the fastest growing beard on the planet. Didn’t that guy used to play a bass in ZZ Top?

(2011-07-15 09:43)

Not heard from Ryan this week. He did get a refill on his Doxycyclene in the event of another tick attack. He also received a pair of boots he’d sent home in June. He’s giving up on the low top hiking shoes until he gets up the coast a bit and away from the rocky trail in this part of the country. Looking at his GPS location, he is just about through Pennsylvania and should be getting into New Jersey sometime this weekend. This map shows his progress through Pennsylvania.

Anonymous (2011-07-23 23:54:48)
Hey guys….this is Rita from Carlisle. We are still talking about your stay with us that night with the pizza & the conversation…..just wanted to see how all of you were doing…..think about you guys and worry…guess that is the would be mom in me since all of you are almost young enough to be my kids!!!!!!! almost i said!!!!! be safe and let us know how you make out…..

9th State, 1,357 Miles – 7/21 (2011-07-21 21:32)

Ryan called Tuesday night (6/19). He was in New Jersey. He describes New Jersey as having a lot of rolling hills and small mountains in the southern section. Over the past week he has seen more wildlife than anywhere yet on the trial. He has seen 4 rattlesnakes, 5 bears, and the usually small mammals, turtles, snakes, and deer. He promises pictures of all. He said his bear count is at 16. This week he has seen much of the same weather we have been experiencing in Southern Ohio. It has been consistently in the mid 90’s with high humidity. (As of this writing he has crossed over the New York State border and is camped at Greenwood Lake. The temperature there today was 103. At this point Ryan has crossed into his 9th state and has covered 1,357 miles of the AT.

The trail remained rocky through the last of Pennsylvania and all of New Jersey. He has walked another pair of trial shoes off his feet. He will be looking for new shoes as soon as he comes to a decent outfitter. He said the soles of his hikers are smooth. He is now in a full size larger shoe than when starting the trail.

He describes the week as brutal. The mosquitoes and black flies have been relentless. Bug spray only seems to incite them. In spite of the heat and bugs he has averaged well of 20 miles per day. He had one stretch heading into Lehigh Gap where he covered 42 miles in 24 hours. Much of this was night hiking. Much of this was hand over hand climbing. Lehigh Gap has some of the more challenging rock scrambles south of the White Mountains.

The biggest single challenge has been consuming enough water to avoid dehydration. He’s been taking every opportunity to bathe in creeks and wherever he can find running water to stay cool and to rinse the salt that builds up with that amount of sweating. He described Tuesday night as a particularly challenging day and night. The group he is hiking with often breaks up for a day or two and Ryan was catching back up with the group after a drop package pickup in town. He hiked the day and late into the evening alone and got caught in an all night downpour complete with hail and lightning. Bear activity in the area was extremely high and he was forced to camp off the trial, away from a shelter, and alone. For the first time he decided to hang all of his food on a bear rope just in case.

He caught back up to Kipper and Chimp on Wednesday around noon. They are all hiking together again and all plan 2 off days this coming weekend in New York City. Kipper has a sister that lives in NYC and a close friend of Ryan’s lives in Brooklyn. They hope to be at Bear Mountain by Saturday and catch a train into the city until Monday. They’ll take the same train back out to Bear Mountain and, as always, pick the trail up at the exact spot they left it. Ryan has maintained his purist approach to the trail and has walked every mile since leaving Georgia. He has done no blue blazing or walk-rounds.

The past two weeks have been difficult with the heat and rocky trail. Ryan said they are all pretty beat up. He has a lot of blisters and a few days with dry clothes and feet will do them all good. He’s hoping the weather will break a little cooler after the weekend. His spirits seem to be holding up better than his feet, but, he’s confident both will carry him to Maine. He will need to average 12.5 miles per day to make it to Baxter State Park by the end of September. His response was “no sweat”. He’s looking forward to New England and fall.

I should have a new film disk and pictures posted by the weekend

Pictures Harpers to NJ 6/30 – 7/17 (2011-07-25 10:12)

There are new pictures in the right column. These are the balance of pictures from Harper’s Ferry and the trip throughout Maryland, Pennsylvania and into New Jersey. There are several rattlesnake and bear encounters. Ryan shot a movie of a bear and her cubs and we’re working to get this on the blog ASAP. He saw 5 bears, 5 rattlesnakes, and a copperhead on this leg.

There are pictures of the ice cream challenge at Pine Grove and lots of rock scrambles. It hard to fully understand the rock scrambles until you see the pictures. Note in many of the rocky pictures that the white trail blazes go right up over the rocks.
Ryan also sent some journal entries and these will go on in the next couple of days. He is currently in Brooklyn visiting Matt Oliver for a couple of days. When I talked to him on Sunday he was web surfing pictures of the trail in New England. He said he’s really enjoying a day of street clothes and AC but is anxious to get back out on the trail. He’s meeting back up with his buddies on Tuesday morning to take a train out to the trail head.

Journal Entry, Spork – 7/20 (2011-07-25 18:36)

Almost 1,400 miles behind me. 1,400 miles, that doesn’t even seem possible. It feels like I’m talking about someone else. I get these frequent rushes of just how much I enjoy this. I learn something new every day about myself. I’ve gained a different perspective of who I am, why I am, and what life is about. The woods tend to take on an alien feel at times but less and less every day. The woods are where I sleep. They are where I eat, spend my day, and think. I appreciate a soft spot of ground to set up a tent. I appreciate the natural placement of a stump for sitting. I appreciate the convenient scattering of dead wood for a fire. It’s the little things out here and it’s the appreciation of the little things that makes the woods home.

All my days are basically the same and totally different at the same time. I normally wake up around seven or eight, stumble out of my tent and find out what new part of my body is sore. Food is the first thing on my mind. Food is always on my mind. I grab my food bag and take out a couple 430 calorie honey buns. I’ve fallen from the engineered hiking food tree right into the junk food aisle at the gas station. I’ve come to realize that food is just fuel. It’s like gasoline. There are several grades but all propel the vehicle. I try my best to eat as much protein as possible but calories are the gasoline that makes you go. I am averaging around 10,000 per day and still having a hard time maintaining my weight. 6 months ago you couldn’t pay me to eat a honey bun. This week, it’s my treat du jour. Next week it will be something else. I take them down in four bites. 860 calories in… Check. The sweat starts to bead while I take my tent down and mentally prepare myself for the day. Before I know it my pack is full and my campsite is empty. Some days I start to hike and feel great right away and others it takes 15 minutes to get my stride, but then, it’s on. I turn into a machine.

I walk, I smile (sometimes breaking out into fits of laughter at a chipmunk that gets startled), I live. I have found myself cackling like a hyena at the antics of a four inch mammal. Around 12 or 1 I grab a seat on the ”perfect” rock or log. Sometimes it takes a while to find. I have walked an extra two or three miles in search of a sweet spot for grazing. Bacon, string cheese, and tortillas, maybe some Snyder’s pretzel nibblers if it’s a very good day. What do I do now? Walk. By this point I’ve seen 30 chipmunks and squirrels, maybe a snake, a bear on a good day, birds, birds and more birds, and maybe one or two other hikers. Savages, how dare they intrude upon my home.

Long distance hiking is a funny thing. It takes a portion of your mind to keep you going but once the switch clicks the zone-out take over. My mind is all over the place. Random thoughts invade my head. I think about what was going on 200 years ago where I’m walking, what the frog that just looked at me is thinking, how anyone could ever order a good steak well done. I haven’t seen a snake in a while and every root morphs into one. I make up new lyrics to old songs. I make up new songs to old lyrics. Sometimes I’ve walked 10 or 12 miles deep in thought before I have to stop and check where I am. I quit long ago looking for white trail blazes. My subconscious sees them and directs my movements. You could solve the world’s problems on a long distance hike.

Every day is a constant search for water. Your world revolves entirely around water. My day is like the spread of civilization. People always settle near water. I now know exactly why. Where you have lunch, dinner, and camp must have access to water. Thirst is a powerful motivator.

My world has recently turned into a friggin’ sauna, all day, every day. Water is tough to come by. Many of the springs marked on the maps are dry. Often potable water sources are mis-marked. The heat this week has averaged well into the upper 90s. The humidity is beyond description. The air is thick and soupy. The vistas are smoky blue. Planning your distances on the report that water exists at some point in the distance requires a lot of work. Being out of water is a crisis in this heat but it happens sometimes. I used to flip out about these things but little rattles me these days. I feel much more in control. When things go wrong the trail has a way of fixing it with something awesome that you didn’t expect. Maybe a cooler filled with water and Cokes, maybe an unexpected stream, or a fellow hiker that will hook you up with a liter of water. Trail magic is more than folk lore. It is an almost expected and certainly anticipated part of the experience. It’s really the last link to society. It’s also a wonderful statement about the same.

The pack always feels a bit heavier at the end of the day. Once you find the campsite, the pack comes off and the tent goes up. Now it’s time to eat. I believe that I will remember every camp site I stayed at on the trail. I think back over them now and they all seem clear. I have never slept so soundly.

I continue to surprise myself. My latest surprise is the ability to walk 20 miles in temperatures over 100 degrees. I’ve done it, several times. Yet another challenge behind me. I suppose you could say that you can do anything if you have to. But the truth is it’s not what I have to do, it’s what I want to do.

Tabitha/Habitat (2011-08-07 13:26:09)
Spork!!!!! I miss you! Love this post. Hope you continue to enjoy the hike!! Say hi to Kipper and Chimp from me! Happy trails!!

Back on the Trail – 7/26 (2011-07-26 19:14)

Ryan took a train out of New York early this morning and is back on the trail today. Monday morning a reporter from the Clermont Sun interviewed him. I emailed her some pictures this afternoon for an article that will be in this Thursday’s Clermont Sun Newspaper. I talked to Ryan a couple of times while he was in New York and he was anxious to get back on the trail.

He is now officially in New England. He has a little under 800 miles to Mount Katahdin. This will be the most challenging part of the trail. He will enter the longest stretches of wilderness, the highest mountains, the most significant change in scenery, and hike for the first time above tree line. He was really pumped up about it. His plan is to be at Baxter State Park in Maine by the end of September.

Pawling, NY – 7/30 (2011-07-31 08:26)

Talked to Ryan on Friday. He’s been hiking by himself since leaving New York City. He said it was a nice change of pace but expects to reconnect with the group some time after Pawling. He had just made it to Pawling, NY where he had a drop package at the Post Office. He said the trail has smoothed out nicely through NY. The weather has cooled down and was in the low 80’s Friday afternoon. The rockiness of PA and NJ has given way to much larger boulder fields making for new scenery and a smoother trail. He commented that he’s been very surprised just how wild the woods have been through NJ and NY. Wildlife has been abundant and he’s run into very few other hikers.

He said much of the real hot weather has moved out of the area. He plans to walk 6 days per week and may end up taking a down day near Pawling depending on how nice campsites are around Pawling. He said his pace has quickened to the point where he’s often covered 20 mile by just after lunch. The tendency is to push forward but time on the trail has taught him to set realistic goals and stick with them. Saving his feet and not risking injury has become the priority. He’s averaged over 20 miles for the past four days. He should be in Connecticut by Sunday evening. He bought his fourth pair of shoes in NY. The rough trails in PA and NJ went through a pair of shoes in a little over 300 miles.

He sent a picture disk home from Pawling. These should be on the blog by mid week.

4 months, 11 states, 1500 miles 8/2 (2011-08-03 08:08)

NYC down time to Massachusetts

Ryan camped last night about a mile from the Connecticut/Massachusetts border. This represents the completion of his 11th state and 1,500 miles of hiking. Today he has been on the trail for 119 days. Based on actual hiking days he has averaged 16.3 miles per day. He has about 2 month to complete the last 680 miles of trail through Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. It’s unlikely that he will be able to average anywhere near these numbers through New Hampshire and Maine so it is important that he keep up an aggressive pace for the next few hundred miles. Ryan said over the weekend that it was important to him to take the time to enjoy New England.

Most of the trail this week has been through dense State Forests and Reservations. He said he was starting to see a significant change in the forest from new grown to older growth forest. While it’s still been hot, nighttime temperatures are starting to fall into the 50’s the further north he progresses. He will be changing gear in the next few weeks. We’re planning a mail drop for Vermont.

Looking forward to new pictures this week.

Massachusetts 8/3 (2011-08-04 10:34)

Ryan called just minutes after making that last post. He was in Massachusetts and was in particularly good spirits. He said it was the prettiest day on the trail since leaving Georgia. The temperature was in the low 70’s and they were sitting on top of a mountain eating lunch. In the valley below they could see three lakes and no roads or houses for as far as the eye could see. He went on about the drastic change in scenery and temperatures. He said it had been great sleeping weather and the woods in Connecticut and Mass were perfect for hiking. The canopy shades the trail and undergrowth is minimal.

The only down side he has found with his new latitude is a disturbing lack of honey buns in any of the trail stores. He explained that honey buns are his latest trail craving and he considers them the perfect trail food. They have lots of carbs, lots of calories, light weight, and they tasted as good smashed in your pack as they do fully inflated. He said that water has been abundant for the last hundred miles and is coming primarily from natural springs along the trail. A good water supply means less weight and better hydration. So far the springs in New England have been abundant and clean. He’s not had to filter water for days. The water is pumping out of the ground cool, clear and clean. Trail Maintainers and Rangers say that as long as you can see the source and it’s pumping right out of the ground you are safe to drink without filtering. Water filtering on the trail is not only time consuming but expensive.

Although I’ve never heard Ryan speak of the trip as anything but enjoyable, he spoke with particular reverence for the trail and the adventure. As far away as the end still is, he seems to be looking forward to that day with both joy and sadness. He really seemed intent on enjoying every moment of the next two months. He refuses to leave Maine without a picture of a moose. He’s very excite about hitting the White Mountains. Southbound hikers often start in mid June and they are running into quite a few south bounders at this point. Apparently, they are telling some intriguing stories of the Whites.

He used that worn out phrase of finally “hitting his stride”. He’s been saying that since South Carolina. I think he’s there. He is starting to get back into some elevation and was surprised just how easy the ups-and-downs have become. He said he is doing 2,000 feet of elevation change without a break, a drink, or even getting winded.

It hard not to be somewhat envious.  Still waiting on that picture disk!

New Pictures, Rattlesnakes, Beards, and Bogs – 8/4 (2011-08-05 12:45)

There is a new group of pictures in the right column. These are from entering New Jersey through New York and into Connecticut.

Vermont 8/9 (2011-08-09 14:53)

Based on his GPS ping, Ryan entered Vermont this morning. His hike has taken him 1,588 miles with 592 to go. Ryan called Saturday and again on Sunday. His Saturday call was upbeat and filled with trail details like a mouse getting into his food bag and more talk about the changes in weather and scenery he has seen through Massachusetts. He talked about how great the people have been in New England. The weather has been consistently in the 70’s. He’s been averaging well over 20 miles per days for quite some time and felt that it was time to pull back a bit. This is the part of the trail he’s been wanting to see since Georgia. He describes the trail here as smooth and pine needle covered. There are ponds, lakes and streams everywhere. He was starting to see a lot of ferns and interesting new undergrowth. He describes the woods here as having an almost Jurassic feel. They will be hiking Mount Greylock in the coming days and he was looking forward to that.

The only real negative he’s mentioned about this area is the size and veracity of the mosquitoes. To quote the Spork: “Holy shit, they’re like rats with wings”. He’s asked that we help find some non Deet mosquito spray. He’s not had much luck finding any. His quest for honey buns has been equally unproductive.

Ryan started the trail at 162 lbs. He weighed himself yesterday and weighed in at 137 lbs. His beard continues to grow at a 2/1 pace over the other hikers he is with. He must be getting adequate protein or the beard is robbing his body of nutrients, or, the additional weight and wind resistance of the beard is burning extra calories. He doesn’t appreciate the beard jokes nearly as much as we like telling them.

He’s been hiking fairly steadily over the last month with Kipper, Chimp, Caboose, and Kwai. Achilles who’s been part of this group is about two days behind and should catch up in the coming week. He has talked about who they are and where they come from but I’ve not quite tied the names to the stories yet. Their plan was to spend the night at a Hostel in Dalton, Mass. They heard of the place from other hikers. The owner of the Hostel caters to through hikers and provides rides to and from the trailhead. As a former through hiker he refuses to accept a dime from any of the hikers. Again, Ryan really praises the generosity and kindness of the people of this area to hikers.

The call on Sunday was less pleasant. Ryan and two other hikers had the unfortunate experience of running into a group of less than friendly locals in Dalton. He also had the unpleasant experience of losing his money, wallet and identification. The wallet issue has created many issues over the past two days. It is simply impossible to replace a driver’s license if lost out of state. The phone calls have been endless and futile. As it stands right now his Checking Card is being replaced and we’re setting up a mail drop to get it and what forms of identification we can find. There was some discussion of coming back to Ohio for a couple of days to get his driver’s license but without photo ID he cannot get on a plane, train, or bus. Renting a car is also impossible.

I am sure Ryan will be more than willing to regale you with the details sometime this Winter. But for now, it’s being taken care of and Ryan has made the decision to push on and finish the trip to Maine. He felt that leaving the trail at this time would really put him in jeopardy of not finishing. It is all part of the experience and not discussing it would only be telling part of the story. He had the wind knocked out of his sails for a day or so but he’s back on track. Again, trail magic has come to the rescue. The gesture came as a simple act of kindness from a complete stranger, exactly what he was talking about on Saturday. He lost track of the positive on Sunday but had regained it by Monday evening with an added note of caution. People are generally good but the world also has a sprinkling of evil. It adds contrast and keeps us from becoming complacent. Everything is working out. A small post office in Vermont has agreed to let him accept a package without photo ID. It should be to him by this Friday.

He is fine and stomping through the woods somewhere in Southern Vermont. Hopefully, he will send home some pictures on Friday.

Chilly in Vermont 8/12 (2011-08-12 07:53)

We had a brief call from Ryan Thursday afternoon. He was on a fire tower on the top of a mountain. Phone service is very sketchy throughout Vermont and for the balance of his trip. He said he was doing well. He’s averaging right around 20 miles/day but it is taking a lot longer to make this mileage than it has been. He needs to get into Wallingford before noon on Saturday to get his package. If he doesn’t make it he will have to hold over in Wallingford until Monday. This package contains what ID we could get together, cash, and his ATM card replacement. Oh yea, honey buns.

We’re immediately trying to get another drop set up for Hanover, New Hampshire. He’s in summer weight clothes and sleeping gear. He wants his sleeping bag and some warmer clothes ASAP. They were taken by surprise by the rapid drop in temperatures in Vermont. For the past two weeks he’s headed almost due north. Right now they are about level with Upper Michigan so the temps will continue to drop. The average temperature in Vermont is still fairly high but there can be wild swings due to storms and the altitude through the White Mountains. Night time temps under freezing is not uncommon. I checked yesterday and the temperature on Mount Washington was a low in the 30’s with 85 mile per hour winds. He’s still a few weeks out from here but will be near this elevation several times in the coming weeks.

He’s been using a ”pay as you go” ATT phone. Looking at the coverage map he will start to completely lose service by the first of next week. There appears to be some 3G coverage through N.H. and Maine. We’re going to try to get his Iphone hooked back up so he will have some sort of phone service in the coming month. He has his Iphone with him but is mainly using it as an Ipod.

As long as he gets his package in Wallingford he’ll be fine. I should know by Saturday afternoon. He told me Monday he was carrying enough food to get him into this coming weekend. I’ll post as soon as I find out. He sounded in good spirits and was really enjoying Vermont. He’s never excited about hiking with a specific time agenda but making it into Wallingford is critical.

Moose Poop and Hummingbirds in Vermud 8/14 (2011-08-14 18:51)

Ryan called Saturday morning to say that he was not going to make it into Wallingford on Saturday. He would be there by Monday morning to get his packages. He also asked that we move his warm clothes and sleeping bag shipment up from Hartford to Killington. Over the past few days they have only been able to manage 13-15 miles per day. They are getting to 4,000+ feet mountains again and progress is slowed due to the climbs and mud. Night time temperatures are staying consistently in the 50’s with days running in the low 70’s.

The woods continue to thicken and pines are becoming the predominant growth. Sunlight making it to the forest floor is rare. Even without rain the trail tends to be wet and muddy. Hikers refer to Vermont as Vermud. He said he has fallen more in the past 75 miles than he has the entire duration of the trail. Every hiker you pass has a muddy rear end and pack where they have slipped and fallen. The trick is to go immediately on your rear end and back to keep from getting hurt. Lower elevations were needle covered but the slopes are exposed slick roots, rocks and mud. No one has escaped busting their rear end.

For the first time they are seeing signs of Moose. The trail is littered with droppings. He referred to it as deer poop on steroids. Everyone is keeping their cameras ready to get a picture. He said the woods here are also filled with hummingbirds. They are constantly buzzing around and hovering briefly as if to look you over. At first they thought the mosquitoes had grown to ridiculous proportions.

They camped Saturday night just outside Manchester Center. They should have a couple of relatively short days getting into Wallingford. Even without ID he was able to replace some of his worn gear at an Outfitter in Manchester Center. His sleeping pad sprung a leak for the third time. His water bottle developed a leak and his gaiter’s strap broke. Here is the advantage of purchasing good outdoor gear. They have replaced every item without question.

This next week will be a good warm up for the White Mountain to come. They will be at elevation for most of the rest of the trip into Maine. The Whites through New Hampshire will be the highlight of this section of the trail but wild swings in temperatures and weather are possible. Ryan should have everything he needs to hike in the conditions.

He will be calling from Wallingford Monday morning to let us know they made it in and hopefully send a SD card home.

He openly admitted that the past week was fairly stressful, something he was avoiding, but he was settling down and once he gets his packages he’ll be fine. He continues to hike with Kipper and the same group he’s been with for the past month. They plan on staying together through the balance of the trip. Many sections of the trail ahead are difficult and remote. Having other hikers to rely on is the safe bet.

In spite of the past week he is still upbeat, committed, and strong.

Ryan specifically asked that I thank several people for the donations they have made this week. He appreciates the assistance. Every dollar helps.

Wallingford, VT 8/15 (2011-08-15 14:17)

Ryan and Kipper made it into Wallingford, VT right after noon today. Ryan was able to get his packages and now has ID and money again. He said it was a great load off his mind. It had been raining steadily since yesterday afternoon and the trip into Wallingord was a wet and slipper hike.

NEW PICTURES 8/19 (2011-08-18 18:57)

There is a new batch of pictures over in the right column. These are from the start of Connecticut to Wallingford Vermont. Kipper, Chimp and Spork all got packages in Killington. They took a down day, shared a motel room, got their clothes washed, showered and rested up for the balance of Vermont and the Whites through New Hampshire. Everyone got their warm clothes and bags back in the mail.

Ryan called Wednesday evening. He has a new phone and is getting good reception. They should be breaking 1700 miles some time today. They have under 500 miles to go and expect to finish the last week of September. Ryan said he’d keep in touch as much as possible and send updates for the blog.

 Glencliff, N.H. / White Mountains 8/25 (2011-08-25 15:17)

We have not heard much from Ryan and Company since Hanover, NH. They spent a down day near Dartmouth College sometime last weekend. He made a couple of attempts to call but the connection was bad and the call was short. He sent a GPS ping around 3:00 this afternoon putting him in Glencliff, NH. They are officially in the White Mountain National Forest. At Glencliff, he has hiked 1,782 miles. He has exactly 400 to go.

From what I could understand a few of the hikers he is with are running out of money. There was a prospect of staying in Hanover an extra day and doing some kind of work for someone. I never was able to get the details. Ryan appeared to be on the move by Monday morning. He did miss a couple of GPS pings but his progress indicated he has been on the move the entire week.

The Whites and the Presidential Range promise to be a challenging hike by not only altitude but also weather extremes, bears, and moose. Checking the park bulletin board, they are warning of considerable bear activity in the park. The ultimate challenge in the Whites will be Mount Washington. At 6,500 feet Mount Washington holds the world wind speed record and many temperature records. During a wild April storm in 1934, a wind gust of 231 miles per hour (372 kilometers per hour) pushed across the summit of Mount Washington. This wind speed still stands as the all-time surface wind speed observed by man record. 80 mph is common on most days.

The predicted track of the hurricane heading up the east coast takes the storm right up through Hew Hampshire and into the White Mountains. That should add another level of excitement. Last week Ryan was telling me how much they enjoyed heavy rain and hail. His theory was that after walking 1700+ miles it took a lot to add challenge. A good storm added to the challenge and excitement. They looked forward to bad weather.  There will be few chances to hear from him for the next few weeks. I believe he sent another picture card from Hanover. If so, it should come today or tomorrow.

Hurricane Irene 8/26 (2011-08-26 09:57)

Without fail, if I say I don’t expect to hear from him, he calls. He is in Glencliff. They spent the night at a trail hostel. His phone is not working well in the area but the hostel had a phone they let the hikers use. Most of the discussion revolved around Hurricane Irene. He said he’s been really surprised at the local reaction. There are a lot of preparations being made for the storm which is predicted to center over the area Sunday morning. With the White Mountains to the north and a predicted path over central New Hampshire the locals are predicting heavy rain and high winds. They are throwing around the term nor’easter.

There are many people moving inland from the shore. In anticipation of being stranded in the mountains in a tent Ryan and Bluefoot have made reservations at a motel in West Woodstock for Sunday night and Monday if necessary. They will need to cover 28 miles Friday and Saturday. Kipper stayed behind in Hanover and should catch back up mid week. Chimp is off the trail for a week to attend to some personal things at home. He rented a car in Hanover and is driving back to the Midwest.

New Hampshire so far has been described as “awesome”. The terrain is rocky with lots of shear rock faces and rock scrambles. A good day in this terrain is 13-15 miles. Glencliff marks the start of the Whites and they will have their first 4,000 ft + climb today in order to get to Woodstock. This storm represents the first time Ryan has decided to hunker down for any weather since leaving Georgia. The banter of the locals have put some concern in his head and it’s probably a good thing. The Whites can be rough in good weather. He said the absolute priority now is to protect the dream of finishing the 2,181 miles of the Appalachian trail.

Woodstock, New Hampshire 8/27 (2011-08-27 19:56)

Ryan checked in from a motel in West Woodstock, New Hampshire. They made it in around 3:00 this afternoon after two 13 mile days through the Whites. As of 6:00 PM this afternoon the White Mountain National Forest has been closed until Monday at midnight due to the anticipated storm. Ryan and Bluefoot’s decision to call ahead and get a motel was a good one. He said the entire town is sold out. The national forest can be closed for weather but it is extremely rare for this time of year. They are expecting considerable blow downs in the mid elevations. Due to the mountain elevation in the Whites wind speeds can be as much as twice as strong as they are at lower elevation.

Ryan was really pumped up about the first two days in the White Mountains. He describes them as freakin awesome. Friday they scaled Mt Moosilauke at over 4,000 feet and above tree line at the summit. He said the last two days have been perfect weather and they got a rare glimpse of Mt. Washington from the peak. There are only about 30 days per year that Mt Moosilauke is clear enough to see Mt Washington. He described the climb as brutal. Most of the climb up and back down was on shear rock faces and was hand over hand climbing. He said there were many places where the trail club has drilled pitons into the faces for hand and foot holds.

They are hoping the storm fizzles out or moves through quickly because they are very anxious to get back on the trail.

While I was on the phone with Ryan Bluefoot broke into the room to announce that the deli next door to the hotel was incredible. The phone call was over at that point. I’m sure we’ll hear more from him this weekend. They are pretty well motel bound.

Clermont Sun Article 8/27 (2011-08-27 20:16)

The Clermont Sun newspaper ran an article on Ryan a few weeks ago. They also plan on doing a follow up after the trail. I recently realized that they had the article on their WEB site as well. The link is:

http://clermontsun.com/2011/07/28/batavia-man-is-hiking-2180- mile-trail/

Flooding in Woodstock, N.H. 8/28 – Trail Closed Until Further Notice (2011-08-29 07:39)

maego (2011-08-29 14:08:42)
The storm over NYC was considerably less severe than predicted… then again, I have shelter. I have been dying to hear how Ryan is doing with the storm, and I hope all is well and he can be on his way soon. Can’t wait for an update!

Trail Closed Until Further Notice 8/29 (2011-08-30 09:53)

Talked to Ryan Monday evening. He, Bluefoot, and Kipper are still holed up in a motel in Woodstock, N.H. The White Mountain National Forest webite is now saying that the trail is closed until further notice. At this point it’s hard to say when it will open. Ryan said the weather has cleared nicely but the streams around Woodstock are still raging. Most have dropped but they are still impassable. They are hoping for a Tuesday opening. He said there are quite a few through hikers piling up in Woodstock. Several of them attempted to get back on the trial Monday morning and were returned to town by the Rangers.

They were working through their options. They can wait it out. They could go north and hike southbound back into the Whites. Ryan is committed to finish the trail as a northbound hiker. The next few days will drive that decision. One thing they were all sure of was that they would have to check out of the hotel today. While the trail may seem like a free and unencumbered adventure the cost for a through hike averages around $5,000. Everyone is getting tight on their finances. Motels are not part of the budget.

He’s still very upbeat and talked about how hard it is to “relax”. The down time is nice from a healing up perspective but he said they all feel like trapped animals. After six month outdoors, anything over a night indoors loses its novelty quickly. The weather is supposed to be sunny and in the high 60’s over the next week so they are anxious to get back in the woods.

On the Trail Again 8/30 (2011-08-30 10:01)

Ryan called this morning and said that as of 8:00 am portions of the park are reopening. The majority of the blow downs and trail flooding is in the southern part of the park. The AT takes a more northern route. They have opened the AT with the caveat that you travel at your own risk. There is a group of 15 – 20 north bounders getting on the trail at the same time so they will remain bunched up for a few days. Ryan said he’d make an extra effort to keep his GPS pings coming.

Mt. Garfield 8/30 (2011-08-30 20:45)
It looks like they had a good day. They are camping on Mt Garfield, the first mountain in the Presidential Range. They are camping at around 4,000 ft of elevation.

Mt Washington Climb 9/1 (2011-09-01 22:06)

Based on the GPS ping they will be making a run at Mt Washington tomorrow morning, weather permitting. They are at Lake of the Clouds tonight at 5,000 ft of elevation. This is well up the side of Mt Washington and above tree line.
I received a picture disk from Ryan today with 500 pictures and 7 videos. These should be on the site Friday.

Mt Washington Summit, Videos and Pictures – 9/2 (2011-09-02 10:06)

I received a GPS ping at 8:30 this morning from the summit of Mount Washington. It’s impressive that they made the climb that early in the day. It’s rare that they even allow a summit attempt due to high winds and bad weather. They will have plenty of time to make it off the mountain this afternoon.
There are 3 new picture and video links in the right column. The last is pictures from 8/16 through 8/28. These are from Vermont into New Hampshire and run right up to the closing of the park for the hurricane. The other two links contain videos he shot on the trail. They are definitely worth watching.

1,900 miles, 5 months – 9/6 (2011-09-06 10:35)

Ryan called Saturday from a land phone in Gorham, NH. His ATT GoPhone has reached its Northern Limit. We are trying t get his I phone fixed in time to get it to one of the few mail drops available prior to getting into the remote parts of Maine. It is reported that the 3G capability of his I phone may work at elevation. He said the hike up Mount Washington was perfect. There are less than 30 days a year that the fog and weather do not diminish the view from the top and he was there for one. The hike was enjoyable but difficult. He said it was a little like walking through a rock quarry. He is anxious to get his photo card home to share the experience. He saw his first moose on the descent. They hiked back off the trail to get water and ran into her. Unfortunately, he did not have his camera but Kipper did and got plenty of pictures.

The weather is getting much colder with every day of hiking. He said it has been a perfect week with daytime in the 60’s and night temps in the 40’s. Unfortunately, their first week in Maine is forecast for rain most of the week. Based upon Sunday’s GPS they should be entering Maine sometime today. Barring any major setbacks he is still estimating a September 30 arrival at Baxter State Park. He admitted that the 20+ mile days are over. The trials here are rough, rocky, and wind considerable due to rapid elevation changes. A good day is around 12 miles. The Maine / New Hampshire border is exactly 1,900 miles from Springer. He has less than 300 miles to go. In three days, he will be on the trail for 5 months.

Maine 9/9 (2011-09-09 14:32)

I received a short and crackling phone call this afternoon from Ryan. He was on a mountain peak high enough to gain phone access. He was on a borrowed Iphone. His go-phone will not be usable for the balance of the trip to Baxter. We are still trying to get his Iphone fixed and back to him. We are running out of drop package options as he moved further into the Maine wilderness. It’s likely he’ll be without through most of the trip to Baxter. Reception will be very limited regardless. There are only a handful of trail towns left. He will try to make contact when he comes to a land line.

The first 50 miles of Maine are the hardest miles of the trail. This is the section of trail he has hiked over 1900 miles to experience. Yesterday he passed through Mahoosuc Notch which is the hardest mile of the hardest section. It has been raining for the last 3 days and is forecast to continue through the weekend. The weather is cold. The trail is wet and slippery. He claims to be in heaven. His enthusiasm and excitement is very high. You can hear it in his voice and his struggle for the right words to describe his surroundings. He said the only description he could come up with is “awesome” but he’s worn that one out. Apparently the woods of Maine are somewhere beyond awesome. He said he couldn’t explain it and you couldn’t imagine it if he could. Grand ideas often lose their luster when the reality sets in. Talking to Ryan today it became crystal clear that his reality is at least as good if not better than the idea. He has not only conquered a significant portion of the idea, he has turned it into the realization of a dream. He has not hesitated or backed down since announcing the trip. He has never mentioned quit and listening to him I am confident it has not entered his mind. The trail is simply a matter of will. He demonstrated to himself his own power over his will.

These are very rugged and rocky mountains. He said most of the hiking is hand over hand. You do as much pulling yourself up as you do pushing yourself along. Mahoosuc Notch is a cut between two rocky peaks. The trail is littered with car and bus size boulders that have fallen from the peaks from either side. Many times he had to remove his pack and drag it behind to squeeze between the boulders. The climb out of the notch rose 1500 feet in a mile. While this section is particularly rugged it is typical of the trail ahead for the next 300 miles.

I don’t expect to hear much from him in the coming week. Hopefully he will be able to send GPS pings so we can track his progress. He is still hiking with Kipper, Chimp, Bluefoot, and the young lady in the last pictures. I cannot remember her name. I will get it. This group will finish the trail together. Most of the thru hikers around them are all pairing up for the final weeks. Fellowship has advantages in this wilderness. I get the impression that they all need to share the experience with someone capable of understanding the accomplishment.

Jill Stegemann (2011-09-13 17:57:43)
Amazing journey- thanks to Jess Thacker for telling me about this site! So incredible, Ryan!

Rangely Maine 9/13 (2011-09-13 18:47)

Talked to Ryan for a few minutes this afternoon. He is near Rangely Maine. He is doing well. They have 220 miles to go and are not in a hurry. He said Maine has been beautiful. He will be hitting an outfitter tomorrow and is in bad need of some new shoes. These are worn through. They had wild grouse and trout for dinner over an open fire. Best meal he has ever had. From here on out – no motels, hostels, or inside camping. He said it is as wild as you can get.
They are now figuring an Oct 4 finish date. While the first part of Maine was the roughest he’s seen, this section has been very enjoyable hiking. The climbs are gentle and the trail is soft and easy on the body. As anxious as everyone was to make it this far they are all less anxious to see it end. He said they will make the most of every mile and miss nothing.

Progress Through Maine, 2,000 miles 9/18 (2011-09-18 20:26)

Ryan called Saturday afternoon from Stratton, Maine. He had hiked into Stratton to resupply. They will return to the trail before dark. The cell connection was bad and he could only talk for a minute or two. They have run into snow, sleet and hail several times in the past two days. The temperature was down to 27 degrees Friday evening.

This afternoon he passed the 2,000 mile mark.

We quickly exchanged a list of supplies and a mail drop location for this Thursday. He’s asked for his heavy boots, heavy socks, rain pants, and picture disks. He is down to one disk and can’t send one home until he gets his others in the mail. He and hopefully his package will be in Monson Maine on Thursday. He was in good spirits and continues to talk about making the most of what he has left.

Roads Rivers and Trails (2011-09-20 13:11:09  This is Great!!! Thanks for the updates. I’m planning on picking up a thru-hiker on 9-5 at Katahdin, it would be a pleasure to meet your son maybe.

Monson,ME and the 100 Mile Wilderness – 9/22 (2011-09-22 15:17)

Received another short phone call from Ryan last night. They arrived in Monson, ME around 5 last evening. He reported that they have covered 19 miles per day this week. They’ve been trying to make the last few hundred miles last but he said the trail is so nice and flat in this area that it’s hard not to cover 20 miles in even a half a day.

I received an email from the post office at 9:00 this morning that Ryan got his package. We’re still a little tentative about packages since he still doesn’t have a valid photo ID. Apparently taping his picture to the package did the trick. They gave the package up.

He sounded nearly romantic in his description of the Maine woods. In the past few days, he has seen two moose. He went on and on about the loons on the lakes and the awesome sound they made in the evening. He described the forest as primitive, Jurassic, and isolated.

He’s sending a picture disk home with 4GB of pictures and videos he promises to be the best stuff of the trip.

They are camping this evening in the back yard of a trial supporter in Monson who is trading dinner, breakfast and stay for feeding the chickens and pigs in the morning and picking up all of the apples in his yard. Ryan felt it was a good deal and a nice change of pace.

At Monson they are at 2066 miles. That leaves 115 miles to Mount Katahdin.

While writing this Ryan called again to let me know he got his package and to say we’d probably not hear from him again until after Katahdin. They are entering the 100 Mile Wilderness and Baxter State Park. There is no telephone reception at all. He was glad to get his rain pants and heavy boots as they are predicting rain for the next 4 days.

Ryan will finish the trail with Chimp and Kipper. These three have been together off and on since Virginia. They have one last goal for the trip other than to climb Katahdin and that is to do a 30 mile day. They plan on doing this in the 100 Mile Wilderness after Monson.

He said their packs are heavy with food and supplies and he is looking forward to this week with excitement as well as dread. He said it was really going to be weird not being in the woods after 6 month on the trail. He knew he was going to miss it. The adventure is winding down and is finishing with the most remote section of the trail yet. I copied this description off the web and pasted it here:

THE 100 MILE WILDERNESS

The 100 Mile Wilderness is the northernmost section of the Appalachian Trail; the 2181 mile footpath running along the mountainous region of the Eastern seaboard from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Katahdin in Maine. Surrounded by more than 15 million acres of virtually inaccessible woodlands, this is also one of the most remote sections of trail in the entire United States. This is the land that time forgot; unspoiled, uninhabited and seldom traveled. This is a land of harsh contrasts; pleasing to behold, yet unforgiving to the ill-prepared. Make no mistake about it; this is nature in the raw. Treking across a rough and ragged footpath through an impenetrable forest of dense spruce, fragrant fir, mixed hardwoods and stately pines, the trail provides the traveler with a true Maine wilderness experience. Fording swift moving icy rivers, skirting pristine lakes and ponds, past narrow slate canyons flowing with cascading waters, thunderous waterfalls and deep pockets of emerald pools, the mind begins to wander as the miles slip by. Ascending high mountain ridges with far reaching panoramic views, the Appalachian Trail through Maines’ 100 Mile Wilderness is not only a journey of epic proportions, but a true test of ones own physical strengths and resolve. For many, this is a dream hike; a once in a lifetime experience that calms the soul within. This is a place of solitude and quiet contemplation; an opportunity to explore not only the vast wildlands, but the chance to look within ones own inner self. The 100 Mile Wilderness offers the visitor an outdoor experience rarely found elsewhere. Savor the natural beauty with each awe inspiring mile as you make your way along a path encountering but few, yet marveled by many. In many ways, your life will be changed; never the same. A new awakening to a world that once was and still is. This is Maines’ 100 Mile Wilderness.

Makes you wonder how fast you can drive up to Maine and walk that last 100 miles with them. I hope to get the picture drive from him by the weekend. I’ll get the pictures posted ASAP.

Emails and Comments 9/22 (2011-09-22 15:24)

Ryan has received literally hundreds of emails over the past months from friends and strangers. He got this one today, for some reason I thought it appropriate to post it here.
Hey,
I just checked out your video, and i’m in total awe. In the moment, living one step at a time. love it. i have books about hiking the AT, but haven’t mustered the guts to do it…yet. you are inspiring.

Peace and Love my friend, A…

Anonymous (2011-09-24 10:54:27)
Chuck,
So are you going to pick him up when he finishes or has he decided to walk home? I’d be willing to contribute to the weed wacker to remove the beard.

-Dave A.

Chairback Mountain, ME 80 miles to Katahdin (2011-09-26 12:13)

Haven’t heard a word from Ryan since Monson. Wasn’t really expecting to. He’s in the 100 mile Wilderness somewhere around the Katahdin Ironworks road. As best I can tell from the GPS ping they camped last night at the Chairback Gap Pond.
As of last night they have about 80 miles to go. That should put them at Katahdin some time this coming weekend. Depending on weather they may get held at the park headquarters before being released for the climb.

New Pictures and Videos (2011-09-26 19:33)

I received a picture disk in the mail today from Ryan. This one covers New Hampshire into Maine through the White Mountains. It has over 500 pictures and 45 videos. I will post them all. The pictures are in the right column and it may take a few days to get all of the videos loaded. This is by far the best group of pictures and scenery he has sent.

Videos Posted 9/27 (2011-09-27 07:30)

There are around 30 new videos posted in the right column. There may be a few more added but some are too large to get transferred. These came from the same picture card as the latest pictures. Both are listed as 8/29 – 9/20.

Jess Thacker (2011-09-28 10:07:38)
The videos are awesome!!! I can’t believe he is almost finished!! So impressed! Great job Ry!!

Katahdin 9/30 (2011-09-30 07:34)

Based on last night’s GPS ping they camped within Baxter State Park. By air it appears they are within 10 miles of Katahdin Peak, the northern terminus for the AT. It’s hard to say how many trail mile that equals. They will need to check in with the park headquarters and request permission to make an assault on the peak. The park is a very highly regulated wilderness area where human come second to the wildlife and flora. The amount of people allowed in the park is controlled to very low numbers and those climbing Katahdin are required to sign and gain permission for the climb.

It’s hard to say if they will climb today or if they plan on waiting a day or two. The weather calls for rain until Tuesday. Based on Ryan’s comments last week they may hang out around Baxter and soak it all in for a day or two. It was also important that they have a certain group together to make the climb together. While you would expect exuberance over finishing the 2,181 miles there seems some sadness for it all being over. I would expect there have been some very strong friendships and bonds formed over a 6 month 2,200 adventure from Georgia to Maine. You have to wonder how the whole experience would change a person.

I’ll post as soon as I hear from him again.

Congratulations, Ryan! 10/1/2011 (2011-10-01 16:26)

I received a call from Ryan at 10:10 this morning from the peak of Mt Katahdin. He was exited and emotional. He summited with 6 other hikers. He only spoke for a moment and promised to call back when they got off the mountain. I’ll post his comments when he does.

Congratulations, Ryan, you’ve accomplished something few have. You’ve gambled everything you’ve done up to this point in your life on a dream. It was a roll of the dice where the odds were dictated not by the house but by you. You can now say you’ve completed the entire 2,181 miles of the Appalachian trail, not almost, not nearly, but completely. One thing is clear; regardless of your reason or motivation you have won a great victory of the spirit and mastery of the will.

No matter what you do with the rest of your life you will have this one 6 month period as testament to your conviction, strength, and commitment. It’s hard to imagine any tribulation that would come close to the effort required to conquer this feat.

Anonymous (2011-10-02 17:56:17)
Spork- give a holler when you come through Tucson. Maximus. Max9071641 at yahoo.com

Oliver Taylor (2011-10-07 10:39:05)
Hey Sporc! Congratulations, it’s nice to see that you made it all the way!
It’s me, Bearbait(since McAffee knob known as Handstand). I finished the trail on sept. 23rd.
I want to thank you for sharing the first 4 weeks of this journey with me, I really enjoyed hiking with you, it was good to have some hiking companions at the beginning, it made the adaptation phase a lot easier…
Ever since i left you in hot springs I regularly checked your blog to see where you are…
Well, I know how you feel now after completing the trail…
We lived a dream and it became reality…
Take care…

Home 10/3 (2011-10-05 13:46)

Ryan arrived home last evening. I have added the pictures of the last week in Maine to Katahdin and the drive home. I had the pleasure of meeting Kipper and Chimp on their way through Cincinnati to their destination of Knoxville and Jacksonville Florida.

It was difficult to watch the parting of this group. They obviously shared an experience few have. None of them were ready for it to end. They looked like a band of homeless Mennonites. I truly enjoyed getting to spend their last time together with them.
Once he wakes up Ryan will take over the blog and provide some thoughts on the trip.

I will be adding the videos as soon as possible.

K. S. (2011-10-08 02:38:51)
I will be there in 5 days. Awesome place. So awesome Ryan! Such an accomplishment! So touched by your journey and proud to know someone who has accomplished such a feet! It has been amazing following your journey. 

After more time than it should have taken me, I realize I finally need to put some of my thoughts to paper. It has now been almost 3 months since coming off the trail. I find myself in Tucson, in December, in shorts. The trail seems like yesterday but it also has this dream-like quality of something that has occurred in my distant past. I am now on the other side of the country surrounded by deserts and mountains. I guess I couldn’t have found more opposite surroundings than east coast forest.

Here I am an Appalachian trail thru hiker. How does it feel people ask? I wish it was easier to explain. The truth is, it’s not something tangible that happens the moment you come off the trail. I talked to Kipper the other day and we were talking about how we find ourselves at night walking outside and staring at the sky. Looking for something? Not really looking because we found it during those 6 months in the woods. Can I explain easily what we found? No but I can try.

I knew after the first night on the trail that I had entered a place I was familiar with but never really knew. We spend countless hours driving through and past woods and forest, looking but not seeing. I was now officially and completely in the woods. Glimpses of the world I knew were fleeting but just frequent enough to make you realize it was there and you were here. Going to the woods is a life changing experience. It was an experience that was so exhilarating, intimidating, exciting and foreign all at the same time. The entire experience has almost taken on a dream quality. It is a period of my life that I will hold onto for the balance of my days. What still surprises me is that it grabbed me, it held me, it changed me.

I started the trip with the same knowledge that most people have – minimal. That’s part of what made it so exciting, the unknown. The people who did well were the ones who adapted and were resourceful. You must be able to stay calm and positive even when facing near freezing temperatures with only a light fleece blanket. You must learn to be comfortable with sleet and 70 mile an hour wind gusts. We coined the phrase on the trail; vomit of randomness. It seemed to fit and it became the explanation as to why adaptation and acceptance were the only way to survive. I didn’t hike the trail by myself. Sure I started by myself, but I made some amazing friends. They became family. I had those who I loved with me every step of the way.

And now I try to make some sense of this crazy dream…

Georgia was absolutely beautiful, though still looking like the tail end of winter, the feeling of a new season in the woods was very strong. The rhododendrons were about all the green you saw. Some starting to bud, eventually turning into one of the most beautiful things on the trail. Excitement and an overwhelming urge to see what was around the bend. I met some hiking partners early. People don’t understand the community aspect of the AT until they experience it. The trail operates the way the world should. Giving, caring, and respect for fellow man. (Let’s be honest though, there were definitely some turds out there. Some things you can never get away from.) The first steps on the trail were taken while sporting a massive ear to ear smile on my face. I had a huge face woody. The start of the trek for me was almost 50 % hiking and 50 % camping. While not hiking much over 12 or 13 miles, I made it to camp around 1 or 2 in the afternoon a lot of days. The rest of the day was full of fires, eating, and laughing. This somewhat relaxed start didn’t last too long until hiking more than hanging out was the norm.

Not too long after I took off from Springer came the Smoky Mountains. This felt like my old stomping grounds. I treasure the early memories of going to the Smokies as a kid. I have a tough time thinking back on specific moments on the trail but my time in the Smokies were very clear. Living for the moment created a blurry vision of a lot of the trail. I rarely looked at my guidebook. I pretty much hiked until I saw a familiar face. I rarely knew where we were, how much we had hiked already, where the next shelter was, and what anything was actually called. A lot of people were somewhat obsessive (in a good way) about looking at “the book.” Which was great because I could just ask them where I was. I wanted to let go as much as possible.

Coming out of the Smoky Mountains was the first time I smelled Spring. The elevation dropped considerably and the forest was green and scattered with wild flowers. Every time the forest drastically changed there was a warming feeling of rejuvenation. The hunger for the next turn was overwhelming. I think I told my dad about once every 2 weeks that I was “getting good at this whole hiking thing.” Every time I said it I realized there was still a lot to learn and a LOT of miles still to hike. It all came down to being proud of what you did that day and have an open mind for what the next day would bring.

Another question a lot of people ask is; what was the craziest thing you saw on the trail? Kipper was telling me that this was one of the hardest questions to answer. I totally agree. We came up with this answer; Almost everything we saw seemed crazier than the last. So many things came up with little warning, most good and some not as good. Nothing was bad. It was just what the trail had in store for us. I mean we were the ones who decided to walk 2,181 miles, you can’t do anything but be grateful for every rock, tree, flower, and animal you see. Start getting negative and you will find yourself on the couch wondering where it all went wrong. I now find myself wondering at times how it all went so right. Answer… positivity, stubbornness, great family and friends, and my dad.

I need to take some time and say that there were multiple hardships that I faced on the trail. For how much the mental aspect of the trail affected the outcome, I always knew that I had my Dad there to get my back. I had my ID stolen/lost, I needed supplies, I had a sweet blog, I got antibiotics shipped to me when the fear that I had Lyme disease set in, I had moral support, I got to bounce feelings and ideas off of someone who knows me better than anyone… All this due to you Dad. I love you and am forever grateful for all that you have done through the trail, past, present, and future. Thank You! I felt like you were right there with me when I stumbled through the clouds and reached out for that sign that I walked so far to touch.

After the Smokies came some great southern trail highlights like Hot Springs, Erwin, Pond Mountain Wilderness, Max Patch, and Roan Mountain just to name a few. Through all of these places is where I developed the mindset and physical strength needed to make it. Through this stretch I got a good sense of how crazy weather can change how you go about your day and night. I saw hail, 70 mile an hour wind gusts, lots of rain, and the heat started to kick in a bit. I could go on for days about the beauty and challenge of this section. If I did, things would start to get a bit redundant. I’ll say this… It was sweet!

DAMASCUS! WHAT UP! The first major milestone. There was a lot that happened for me around Damascus. I took 2 days off here to rest and game plan. Up until this point I had been hiking with Bierburger, Fish, Lemon, Bearbait, and Habitat. I owe a lot to these people. We were a tight knit pack that supported and helped each other every day. I had a blast and it got the hike off to a great start. There was a certain need to venture out of Damascus with a new start. I felt at this point that I was missing a part of the trail that I had looked foward to, solitude and a do whatever I want, whenever I want kind of mentality. Thanks to the crew for everything. I’ll always cherish the memories and friendships. I took some time to relax and figure out my gear. While in Damascus I met Kipper. With no definite plans we set out and quickly met up with Habitat. It was on. We quickly made it to one of the coolest sections of the trail, The Grayson Highlands – wild ponies, crazy changing landscapes, awesome campsites, and nice trail. Shortly after the Highlands we started hiking with Achilles. It was an extremely fun group of people to hike with. Next came the only time on the trail that I really thought I might be done for. Sprained ankle number 3.

The pain that everyone went through was probably the number two most common topic of conversation on the trail, just behind food. Something hurt at all times. You had to learn how to make friends with the pain and eventually start to find a strange joy in it. It made you feel alive and tough. I dealt with a nagging ankle issue for about 1,800 miles. The first sprain coming in Fontana Dam, the second… I think was around Pond Mountain Wilderness, and the third which was pretty bad right before Pearisburg, VA. The first 2 times I had to wait about 10 or 15 minutes before I could begin putting pressure on it and then it eventually loosened up. Not this time. I couldn’t go on. I walked back about a half mile with Habitat, who is one of the nicest people I have ever met, and set up camp. I ended up taking the next day off which was a bummer for multiple reasons. I was falling behind the people I was hiking with. The next morning I couldn’t put much weight on it. The day passed as I lay in my tent watching the butterflies. I occasionally walked over to the stream to soak my ankle. The next day it hurt but I could put pressure on it. I had 64 miles to Woods Hole Hostel where I was trying to catch up with everyone. I got it done in 3 days with 20 plus miles a day on a busted ankle. Wake up early and hike late. Slow and steady. This was my triumphant moment over pain and adversity. These three days defined my hike.

I met Kipper in Pearisburg. He was with Chimp. This was the first time we had met. Can’t say enough about these two guys. Kipper and I decided to take 4 days off and let my ankle and his shin splints heal. Chimp headed out on the second day. Through the next 4 days we slept in a hotel room with 6 hikers, camped by a set of train tracks where there was a train that passed every hour or so, even through the night, caught some fish, and paid a visit to Blacksburg where Virginia Tech is located. Did I mention we ate copious amounts of food during our time off? It was a lot of fun but we were both eager to get back on the trail. Shortly after we left Pearisburg I met Bluefoot for the first time. I hiked off and on with Bluefoot for the remainder of the trip. Awesome person! A lot great times on the trail were with Bluefoot. You’re my boy Blue!

After Pearisburg Kipper and I were in a strange bubble where we didn’t see many other thru hikers for days on end. It was starting to get hot and water was becoming more and more scarce. Kipper and I decided to try our hand at a little night hiking. The night before we stayed at Four Pines Hostel and ended up staying up until 3 or 4 in the morning. We decided to set our tents up in the barn. Bad idea. At 5:30 in the morning were woken up by about 15 chickens circling our tents squawking. They would not stop and we had only gotten a couple hours of sleep. We hung out all day and then around 8 at night we set out for Daleville, 26 miles away. This being one of the crazier hikes I was a part of. We got tired and incredibly loopy around 4 in the morning. We would have just set our tents up but we had to get to the post office in Daleville by noon that day. We pushed through and made it. After a nap on the patio furniture outside the Kroger we grabbed a hotel and headed out of Daleville early the next morning. Destination Waynesboro, the official start of Shenandoah National Park.

More to come…………

Habitat (2012-04-04 07:07:06)
Spork!! You have such a gift for writing. I love your reflections… You’re right, it is impossible to really explain what the hike really means and feels like. But you do a great job of trying! I hope you keep a PCT blog… Can’t say I’m not incredibly jealous!!

ON TO THE PACIFIC CREST TRAIL (2012-04-04 18:36)

As some of you may know and some may not, I have decided to do the Pacific Crest Trail this summer from Mexico to Canada with my AT hiking buddy Chimp. I’ll be setting up a new blog to record the trip and will post the address here ASAP. I have more to say about the AT and promise to finish up some of what I started in the last post but right now I’m in Tucson training and trying to put some funds away.

Ryan

Pacific Crest Trail Blog (2012-04-21 08:32) This is the link to my Pacific Crest Trail Blog:

http://ikerhike.blogspot.com

 

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