“Baby Bears Ahead”

That is what the handwritten note said that was attached to a tree we encountered as we walked along a sunlit portion of the Appalachian Trail on Day 9. The rain had stopped and we were enjoying a carefree moment until we saw the note. It said baby bears had been spotted the previous day and hikers should walk in groups and make lots of noise. “It’s not the baby bears I’m worried about,” said Chief. If you know Chief he always states the obvious. “It’s the hungry protective mother bear that will get us.”  (Not funny). We waited several minutes for Jeff who had stopped a while back to try a phone call but he didn’t show up so we tentatively proceeded along. We had met Jeff earlier that morning on the shuttle ride from the Best Western back to the trail. Jeff, age 23, is from Connecticut and shared that he is hiking to get in better physical shape so he can become a police officer. Again, if you know Chief, he had lots to share with young Jeff. The two hiked together for several hours earlier and talked cop shop.  I kept a safe distance behind happily engaged in my own thoughts.

Jeff eventually caught up with us and was moving at a fast pace so we guessed he had also seen the handwritten warning about the baby bears.   Thankfully, we never saw a bear that day and the three of us camped at Sassafras Gap that night with one other hiker from Salt Lake City.  We have noticed in this second week that our stamina has improved and we are able to hike a couple more miles each day. Although we are popping Ibuprofen like skittles, these old bodies seem to rebound the next day with renewed energy. It also helped that Jeff gave to us a tube of Pain-a-Trate, a cream that saved my aching Achilles. Old Jack from Walasi had told us to slow down and give ourselves 2-3 weeks to get “trail legs”. He said most novice hikers try to do too many miles early on and that causes the body to overwork and shut down. Maybe hiking in the sunshine just felt better, nevertheless our packs seemed less heavy and we felt stronger.  I am enjoying the time with my thoughts as I hike.  It is hard to find quiet time to think in our world.  There is so much “noise” and distraction, constant media and such.  The devotion on the Jesus Calling app read, “The mind is the most restless, unruly part of mankind.  Long after you have learned the discipline of holding your tongue, your thoughts defy your will… When the Holy Spirit controls your mind, you are filled with Life and Peace.”  I can relate to needing a more disciplined thought life.

We awoke to another gorgeous day on Day 10, even though a little groggy from awaking several times during the night due to coyotes.  We’ve found it takes about an hour to pack up our backpacks and tent and get ready for another day of hiking. We both think there has to be a more efficient way to do this task but so far it has escaped us. During our hike that afternoon I heard a faint growling sound in the brush above the trail. Chief stopped in his tracks and looked back at me so I knew he had heard it too.  “That sounded like a baby something,” he said.  “Definitely a baby something,” I echoed.  We quickened our pace down the trail and about 15 minutes later we heard a hiker let out a scream presumably to frighten off that something. A hiker that evening at the shelter talked about several bear sightings he had experienced in the last few days.

Day 11 brought our first milestone as we hiked from Georgia into North Carolina at Mile 78.  That’s one state down and thirteen states to go.  We have found that the A.T. attracts many foreign hikers.  We met Max and his friend from Germany who recently finished the equivalent of high school and have a six month visa to finish the trail. Their biggest challenge is calculating miles into kilometers.  We have also met hikers from Australia and the United Kingdom.  The majority of hikers overall are very young and men. We have only seen a few “senior hikers” and women.  One woman came up behind me and startled me so badly that I almost fell over the hillside.  She asked how I was doing and I replied, “Fine.”  (But in my mind I screamed — How do you think I am doing since you snuck up behind me and scared the crap out of me almost causing me to be killed falling off this mountain!?!?!?). I really need to work on those thoughts.

Day 12 started off with a bang as Chief was walking to the privy (without his glasses) and ran head first into a large tree branch.  The force of the blow knocked him to the ground where he sat stunned and dazed.  Again, if you know Chief you are not surprised by this incident and I shouldn’t be thinking my thoughts…  Unfortunately, I wasn’t trained in concussion protocol, which might have come in handy that morning.  Either way he wasn’t getting out of hiking that day.

On Day 13 we hiked up Albert Mountain, one of the highest peaks on North Carolina’s A.T.  The rocky ascent was wet from last night’s thunderstorms and the dense fog prohibited us from seeing what is reported to be an amazing view.  We hiked far enough to catch a shuttle into Franklin, North Carolina on Day 14.  After six days in the wilderness we were in DESPERATE need of a shower and clean clothes.  It also allows us Internet access to keep you updated on our adventure.  In our first two weeks, by the grace of God, we have hiked 107  miles and Chief still puts up with me.  Now I just need to work on my thoughts…

Until Next Stop,  Chief and Toad



Where’s That Ark When You Need One

Greetings!  First we want to thank the many friends and followers of our Appalachian Trail hike. Hundreds have visited this website and written comments and many have text or emailed words that encourage us daily. Thank you for your prayers and support –they are needed–and for your support of the Hike for John.  Together we can show our love and support for the Gurney Family!

We have so much to share from the past few days.  Days 4 & 5 we continued hiking in the rain and camped at Lance Creek that night in preparation of a climb of Georgia’s A.T. highest mountain the next day.  That 4,461′ ascent was challenging and took several hours.  Every time we thought we cleared the summit, there was another bend of the trail revealing a higher plane.  At one point we heard church chimes, which was odd because the only things we typically heard were pelting rain drops and an occasional bird singing.  The chimes were playing, “The Old Rugged Cross”.  Interestingly, the name of the mountain we were climbing was Blood Mountain.  How symbolic!  There is an old stone shelter atop Blood Mountain (see photo page) that contains a journal for hikers to sign.  We jokingly referred to it as a clue for CSI in case we didn’t make it down.  The rock face descent was so treacherous our fate was questionable.  Of course we made it down the mountain to Neels Gap before nightfall and spent the night at Walasi-Yi Center.  This historic stone building is well known in the hiker community with its quaint store to resupply and a bunkhouse for thru-hikers.  It is also the only place on the entire A.T. where the trail actually goes through a building.  We met an old hiker named Jack who likes to hang out at Walasi and tell stories.  Jack is a throwback with long gray hair and hippie necklaces and says he thru-hiked the A.T. nine times (seven of which were in consecutive years).  Jack and the Walasi staff were very helpful and even did a shakedown on some of the hikers.  We pause here to share…

Hiker lingo–  Shakedown:  when an experienced thru-hiker goes through the contents of your backpack and tells you what to discard to lighten pack weight.

Out in front of the Walasi-Yi building is a large tree with hundreds of pairs of hiking boots and shoes hanging in its branches.  Legend says it is the tree of shame.  Hikers who come down off Blood Mountain and quit the trail throw their boots into the tree.  Committed to continuing, we spent the night at Walasi for $17pp which got us a towel, shower, and a bunk in the basement bunkroom with seventeen  other rain-soaked hikers.  As you can imagine the hiker funk was off the chart.

Hiker funk:  a smell resulting from the combination of sweat, mildew and foot rot that typically takes multiple cleanings to eliminate.  It may garner you private seating in many restaurants.

Moving on… the hikers were treated to a hot dog and hamburger cookout that night by members of a local church who brought enough food and desserts for a small army.  Talk about a ministry!  It also opened up opportunities for conversation with hikers about their worldviews. Chief talked to three hikers, one of which is an atheist and two recovering addicts, trail names Detour and Machinegun, who have struggled with faith and religion.  We continue to pray for them and see two on the trail.  Detour sprained an ankle and is heading home to Pennsylvania.

Day 6 brought a few hours of sunshine and lifted the fog long enough to catch our first sights of the beautiful Georgia mountains and valleys.  The views were breathtaking as we looked from a mountain top over the many other mountains and green gaps in between.  Several  dogwoods in white bloom dotted the landscape.  The rain returned by afternoon and the wind kicked up so there was a definite chill in the air.  We experienced our first trail magic in the late afternoon when we hiked down a mountain and across the road.  A man named Bob was serving piping hot vegetable beef soup and sandwiches out of the back of his truck to hikers.  We were sharing with Bob about our Hike for John and he prayed for John and for the success of our endeavor.  We then hiked to the top of another mountain and dealing with pure exhaustion we pitched the tent in a remote clearing while the rain continued.  The continuous rain drops on the tent has become a familiar sound at night but something unfamiliar caused us to awake during this night.  The sound of footsteps on the leaves surrounding the tent conjured up all sorts of unwelcome thoughts.  We know there are deer, bear, raccoon and other wildlife in the area and we follow protocol with tying up all food in a bear proof bag.  The steps stopped close to the tent and then thankfully went off in the opposite direction.

We awoke the next morning to even harder rain!  How could that be?!  Good thing we were atop a mountain because we may have needed an ark.  Packing up the tent and backpacks in the downpour resulted in heavier packs due to the saturation of practically everything we carry.  We had a long hike planned this Day 7 to get to Blue Mountain shelter about 9 miles away.  We first had to get drinking water at a nearby stream, which in hindsight  was silly due to the numerous waterfalls we encountered the entire day.  The torrential rains continued all day.  The trail, once muddy, turned into small ponds and we couldn’t avoid the soaking sloshing feeling with every step.  The fierce winds kicked up around each bend and blew our packs with gale force.  Think Lieutenant Dan on the boat during the hurricane scene in the Forrest Gump movie.  That is how we felt!  Even with all our rain gear we were chilled to the core.  The only way to keep warm was to hike faster so we started at 9:00 a.m. and didn’t stop until 5:30 p.m. covering about 11 miles over jagged rocks and trail ponds.  When we got to the road at Unicoi Gap we were given a ride into the town of Helen, Georgia by a nice lady who rescues cats.  She didn’t understand why we were out hiking and kept asking us where our car was parked — LOL.  She dropped us off at the Best Western  motel that has rooms for $55 for hikers.  Finally this was our ark!  Thank God for the protection of a dry hotel room!

Day 8– We are taking a zero day at the Best Western.  There are lovely people here and they serve a mean southern breakfast for FREE!

Zero day:  when a hiker takes a day with no miles due to injury, bad weather, utter exhaustion, or to enter the sanctuary of the ark.

Until next time,  Chief and Toad


Go Into the Rain

Dear Friends:

We began our A.T. hike three days ago at Springer Mountain, Georgia. Torrential rains and cold weather have made for muddy trails and less than ideal conditions. Day 1 was a rough climb over a mix of slippery rocky terrain and mud which caused Toad to slip and fall not once but twice. Chief had a mishap by missing a trail blaze after a creek crossing causing us both to hike a quarter mile on the wrong trail before discovering the error. By the end of the day we were cold, wet and exhausted and wondering WHY we were out in these elements with aching muscles and pruny feet.  We met several hikers who also planned to go to Maine but several have dropped out already.  We were told that 20% of hikers quit within the first thirty miles.

Day 2 was not only a hike up and down one mountain but TWO mountains. The going up was a killer cardiovascularly, but the decents wreaked havoc on these old knees. The view would have been amazing if there wasn’t so much fog.  Nevertheless, we enjoyed the woods carpeted with last fall’s brown and red leaves and the young green plants of spring popping through.  Wild violets were a welcome sight of color and a reminder to find joy in the small things.

So it’s Day 3 and the rain was so penetrating today that we finished mile 21 and got a ride to the Hiker Hostel to dry out ourselves and our gear.  It has been hard to focus on anything but our discomfort.

Before we left, I downloaded the Jesus Calling app on my iPhone. Today’s devotion read, “When you are shaken out of your comfortable routines, grip My hand tightly and look for growth opportunities. Instead of bemoaning the loss of your comfort accept the challenge of something new. “. Ok, God we get it. We need to embrace the opportunities you provide starting on Day 4…

Chief and Toad

Anticipation for the Journey

“Let me recommend the best medicine in the world: a long journey, at a mild season, through a pleasant country, in easy stages.” –James Madison

We are excited that our Appalachian Trail journey finally begins April 13th at Springer Mountain, Georgia. The weather forecasts show rain the first five days of our hike, (at least it isn’t snow, right?). A recent correspondence from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy stated the trail length this year is 2,189.2 miles. That is 9.2 miles more than we expected. Oh, well — merely a drop in the bucket at that point and a bit more beauty in nature to enjoy!

Much thanks to Erin at the Shelby Daily Globe for a wonderful article on the Hike for John in last Saturday’s edition. Mark from the Mansfield News Journal and Curt from Richland Source are writing articles for this week. Thanks to both! We will provide these fine reporters with updates and photos during our hike that they can share with their readers. So many folks are following our adventure and praying for us. What a wonderful community of friends! Words cannot express our appreciation and the support shown for the Gurney Family.

Our next post will be from Georgia after we step foot on the AT.
With Great Anticipation,  Chief and Toad