For-bear-ance On The Trail

In a prior post, we shared about the nasty rattlesnake that spooked me as we hiked the Appalachian Trail. Well, Chief had his own encounter with a rattlesnake the other day.  Early in the day, we had found Walkie Talkie sitting on a rock at the bottom of a hill.  Walkie said she hadn’t felt well and was struggling to hike in the Virginia heat.  We encouraged her to get back up and told her we expected to see her at the top of the mountain.  A few minutes later, Walkie came up hiking behind us and successfully climbed that mountain. We shared a frozen Gatorade with her and she continued hiking with us.  Suddenly, we heard the sound of a rattlesnake and Chief stopped on the trail.  He didn’t see the snake at first until Walkie told him it was right beside his left foot.  One more step could have been Chief’s mistake.  We backed away as the rattlesnake seemed to guard the trail, moving toward us and coiling into a strike position.  The situation required patience as we waited on the snake to slither away.  Walkie had no problem with passing the snake, a move that I questioned and pondered how I would explain to her parents how we allowed such negligence had she gotten bit.  Nevertheless, the rattlesnake moved into the bushes enough for us to finally pass on the trail.

On Days 71 – 75, we had the privilege of hiking through the beautiful Shenandoah National Park.  With anticipation, we walked the A.T. that was nicely manicured and with shorter ascents than we had previously experienced.  For hikers, the Shenandoah is known for three things – bears, Skyline Drive, and waysides (restaurants).  During our 96-mile hike, the Appalachian Trail crossed the Skyline Drive 28 times.  We decided that our future hopefully will include a car trip on Skyline Drive since we have now experienced the stunning Shenandoah Valley views from high on top the mountains.  Hiking the Shenandoah has a definite benefit of several wayside restaurants or campground stores near the A. T.  Nearly every day in the park, we enjoyed a cold drink, sandwich, or ice cream.  For a hiker this is a real treat.  One question we are often asked about our A.T. adventure is if we have seen any bears.  We hadn’t. Since the Shenandoah is known for a large bear population, we were hopeful of seeing a bear from a safe distance.  On Day 74, we actually saw SIX black bears!  Early in the morning, Chief and I were hiking with a Massachusetts police officer, Tiger Mike, when I spotted a black bear about 15 yards to our right.  We then noticed two cute cubs in front of mama as they were running away.  We never felt threatened, and the bears went on their way – no harm, no fear.  That experience wasn’t mirrored the same evening when another hiker, Scout, called out that there was a bear on the trail.  Chief, Tiger Mike, and I were not far behind and when we caught up we saw two cubs climbing a tree right beside the trail.  Mama bear was at the foot of the tree pounding the ground and not letting anyone pass the trail.  For an hour we waited for the cubs to come down from the tree and for mama to “open” the trail.  It was getting dark and we still had a good two miles to the shelter.  Every time Chief and Tiger Mike walked up the trail, mama bear would make aggressive moves toward them.  No cop training had prepared either of them for this type of hostage situation.  They finally decided we would have to hike off-trail, way out around the bears in order to pass.  The bushwhacking proved challenging as we navigated thorny bushes, large rocks, and fallen trees, but we finally found the trail further north and safely made it to shelter at dusk.

On a side note, Scott Jurek is currently traversing the Appalachian Trail in an attempt to set a speed record of 42 days (Georgia to Maine).  Scott is covering an average of 50 miles per day in a supported hike.  You can follow Scott’s progress online. We unfortunately didn’t have the opportunity to meet Scott because he passed our trail point when we were off the trail one day, but we wish him the best in this endeavor.

We are excited to be close to completing the Appalachian Trail in Virginia.  Twenty-mile days have gotten us to mile 969 and we are closer to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia than anticipated.  Considered the spiritual halfway point, Harpers Ferry is at mile 1,023 and is very near on our horizon.  We then expect a short break over the July 4th weekend, celebrating our own independence from the trail – then back to hike July 5 with patience and forbearance.

Almost Halfway, Chief and Toad



Cool Water

Welcome to our new friends from Oregon, Maryland, and the Virginia cycling club.  We continue to meet new folks as we hike the Appalachian Trail and share our story of the Hike For John.

In the last post, we shared about our weight loss and the food-calorie dilemma.  This post deals with a very important aspect of our hike – water.  Just to be clear, there are no spigots along the A.T.  Finding, obtaining, and purifying water is a priority every day on the trail.  Because water is heavy, hikers must choose how much water to carry, taking into consideration the temperature, mileage and elevations to be hiked.  A few hikers each year end up being treated for dehydration, something we want to avoid.

Finding water on the trail is a priority!  The A.T. Companion manual lists streams, springs and other water sources along the trail and the approximate mile marker.  We have also downloaded Guthooks trail app that shows exact locations and descriptions of water sources.  Some springs are piped which makes it easy for Chief to obtain water.  One hiker told me that I trained Chief well to always get the water.  But he is so good at it that I let him continue to excel at this task.  Some water sources have merely a trickle and Chief will use a leaf held by a rock to get a flow in order to fill the “dirty water” bag.  Once in the bag, the water is filtered through a Platypus system into a liter bottle.  That’s sufficient for most people to then drink, but since Chief is extra cautious  he uses a secondary ultraviolet SteriPEN to sterilize the filtered water.

Each day, we need enough purified drinking water for the Camelbak bladder in our backpacks.  There is a hose attached to the bladder so that we can drink water as we hike without having to stop (yea?).  Additional water is needed to heat for our freeze-dried dinner meals, clean dishes and brush teeth.  Because one liter of water weighs about 2.2 lbs., it is important not to carry more liquid than is needed until reaching the next water source.  Only ONCE did we run out of water about six miles short of a source.  It was a 90 degree day and tough terrain – a horrible lesson learned!

Recently, we felt like we were living large by adding a little flavor to some of our drinking water, such as cold brew tea, lemonade and Gatorade.  Chief needs some calories anyhow so it’s a good excuse to try a little variety! Besides, we have hiked 861 miles and that’s cause for celebration!

As we prepare for Day 70 to hike into the Shenandoah National Park, the water sources become less frequent.  We are now hiking 16-20 miles per day so proper hydration is critical.  That will require careful planning on our part – or Chief’s part – so he can continue to excel and we can be…

Well watered, Chief and Toad

The Ultimate Weight Loss Program

You, too, can eat ALL you want and still lose up to 30 pounds!  That’s right!  This is the most effective weight loss opportunity ever!  Just one catch – you must be willing to walk 800 miles to benefit…

One interesting side effect of our Appalachian Trail hike has been significant body weight loss.  Chief has lost over 30 pounds and I am down fifteen pounds since our hike began two months ago.  Truth be told, we started with some fat reserves but the reserves have quickly fallen off and we are now challenged with getting enough nutrients and calories.  The average hiker can burn 4,000 to 6,000 calories per day by walking 15-20 miles and carrying a full backpack.  If the terrain is challenging with lots of ascents the calories burned can be even greater.

Since a lighter pack weight is important most hikers try to carry food that is high in protein and calories but isn’t too heavy with which to hike.  Having just enough, but not too much food is the balancing game we all play.  Our meals typically consist of a Clif protein bar for breakfast; tuna, cheese or peanut butter with crackers and an apple or dehydrated fruit for lunch; and a freeze-dried meal for dinner.  We also consume a Snickers candy bar in the afternoon to try to stave off tummy rumblings. The freeze-dried meals are lightweight and tasty and only need two cups of hot water added to prepare.  Our favorites so far are beef stew, sausage gravy and biscuits, and mashed potatoes with grilled chicken.  We have also discovered a way to get some fruit with a kick – blueberries covered with Dove dark chocolate is a new favorite snack.  Chief has started freezing a bottle of Gatorade when we are in town and taking it with us the first day back on the trail.  Anything cold on a humid June day is a real treat.  Even our water is usually lukewarm unless we are fortunate enough to find a cool mountain spring.

Going into town to eat at a restaurant or convenience store is a central focus to hikers. We spend our days walking and often thinking about food.  Keep in mind that the Appalachian Trail rarely passes through a town.  Getting into town requires finding a road then hitching a ride or successfully obtaining a shuttle to town and back to the trail.  Before a recent trip to visit our daughter, Chief and I text to her a list of foods we were craving.  That list included strawberries, raspberries, watermelon, steak, KFC, potato salad, Barq’s root beer, and ice cream.  She happily complied and filled our every food request!  Consuming as many calories as the stomach can hold is our main nutrition objective at this point.  We know that once we get back to the trail, those calories will be quickly burned.  Our secondary concern is that we don’t continue to eat in that manner once we are finished hiking ten hours per day!

On a side note, we continue to make our way NOBO (northbound) through the state of Virginia, which holds the most miles of any of the 14 A.T. states.  Virginia contains 550 miles of the A.T.’s total of 2,189 so it is taking us about five weeks to traverse this state.  We expect to be in West Virginia by July 2nd, and complete that state’s six miles in a mere three hours.

We have some new hiking friends to tell you about.  Log is thirty-something from Oklahoma and is working on a second (yes, SECOND) thru-hike with her dog, Yoyo.  Log and Yoyo completed a successful thru-hike of the A.T. in 2012.  Rocket and Timber are two young ladies from New York.  We pass each other on the trail usually once or twice each day.  Juice is an electrical engineer from Alabama that we have seen off and on for weeks.  He is ex-military and a strong hiker so he may be far ahead of us at this point.  We passed an older hiker this week who started the trail in February and is trying to hike 10-14 miles per day.  He isn’t fast but he is determined.  What we have learned is that every person needs to “hike your own hike” and that looks different for every individual.

So what we’ve experienced so far is that hiking the Appalachian Trail is grueling work, it’s rewarding, it builds strength, stamina, and perseverance, is an adventure, and it’s the ultimate weight loss program!

A Little Leaner But No Meaner,  Chief and Toad


Rattlesnakes, Dragons and Snares! Oh My!

We are sharing two posts today so please read both this story and the post about Virginia’s History.

As a protective measure, Chief usually walks ahead of me while we hike the Appalachian Trail.  He says he watches for animals and any other trail danger, but on Day 56 Chief unknowingly walked right past a hazard.   It didn’t make a movement or a sound as I hiked merrily along with a carefree spirit.  When I approached, the rattling sound was unmistakable and I knew immediately it was an Eastern rattlesnake.  I froze in my tracks, heart pounding, and visually took a quick scan to the left side of the trail to see where the rattlesnake was located.  My fear was heightened when I saw the rattlesnake was positioned less than two feet from my left leg and its head was poised in a strike position.  In a split second the following thoughts went through my mind:  This isn’t good.  Chief hasn’t heard the snake.  He’s moving on.  How do I get his attention?  That snake is a big sucker.  3 feet or longer.  It’s darker colored and fatter than I expected a rattler to be.  The rattling sound is SO loud.  I could very likely get bit and die.  Lord, I need some help here…  I mentally jerked back and very slowly took one step to the right.  The rattlesnake didn’t move except for that loud tail.  I took a second step to the right, then a third.  I  then yelled to Chief that there was a rattlesnake.  He came running back up the trail telling me to keep moving slowly.  I made a wide circle and came in behind him on the trail.  He then saw the rattlesnake and exclaimed, “Wow that’s a big one!  I need to get a picture of that!”  Meanwhile I am on the verge of a mini stroke and trying to breathe again, only to watch Chief get closer to the rattlesnake I thought might kill me!  I can only say that I am grateful for all the prayers from family, friends and blog followers for our protection.

On Day 58, Chief and I hiked one of the most challenging areas on the Appalachian Trail.  Dragons Tooth is a particularly dangerous outcrop of rocks and boulders that required more rock climbing skills than we’ve had to use in hiking 695 miles to this point.  The high point resembles a dragon’s tooth and was named by Tom Campbell who was active during the 1930s-1950s on the A.T.  After receiving advance warning of this hiking challenge, we contacted 4 Pines Hostel about picking up our backpacks early that morning so that we could slackpack this section.  That decision turned out to be a lifesaver as we spent a portion of the day climbing up and down some very high and steep rock faces.  Doing so with a pack would have been nearly impossible for us.

There were other snares that we have experienced recently on the A.T.  Chief was hiking through one very rocky area of the trail when his trekking pole got stuck and snapped in half.  That action caused him to lose balance under the weight of a 40-pound backpack and he fell backwards onto the rocks.  No such luck that he would come down on his backpack, rather he hit his tailbone.  Having survived that incident, the next day we were hiking on the top of Bushy Mountain when the sky turned dark and it began to thunder and lightning.  We were traversing some steep rock faces and tried to get through before it rained.  The downpour came so quickly and forcefully and the wind was so strong that we put on our raincoats and hunkered down for fifteen minutes to keep from being blown down the rocky side.  Storms seem to be a reoccurring theme with us while on mountain summits!  This storm was thankfully short-lived and we continued hiking, dripping wet, but otherwise unscathed.

Although there are obvious dangers on the Appalachian Trail, God is always our protector and the source of our strength.  By His grace, we have hiked 725 miles in the past two months, which is about 1/3 of the A.T.’s total miles.  Our adventure has brought us all the way to Daleville, Virginia and we are taking a couple days off the trail to visit our daughter’s family in the northern part of the state.  We sincerely thank you for your continued encouragement and prayers!  On Saturday we continue hiking northbound in Virginia.  We remain…

Securely in God’s Grip, Chief and Toad


Experiencing Virginia’s History on the Trail

If you recall from our last post, Chief and I were headed to a hostel after six straight days hiking the Appalachian Trail in the rain and deep woods.  It was Day 53 of our A.T. adventure and we were both in desperate need of a shower and a laundry facility.  Only a half mile off the trail, the Woods Hole Hostel in southwest Virginia boasts an original, beautifully preserved, two-story log cabin built in 1880.  We marveled at the large hand-hewn timbers and the way they were perfectly stacked in the living area to the open pitch of the roof.  The section above the large wooden dining table sported a loft where hikers could sleep.  The original cabin shared some more modern additions, including a large kitchen, office area, bathrooms and several private bedrooms.  The hostel constructed a separate bunkhouse for hikers in 1986 and this structure’s character resembles the original log cabin.  Woods Hole has been serving A.T. hikers for thirty years and incorporates massage therapy and food from organic gardening techniques in its services. The owners, Neville and Michael, raise their own livestock, vegetables and herbs for the business.  After a thoroughly enjoyable shower, Chief and I enjoyed a warm loaf of Neville’s delicious homemade bread and marbled goat cheese.  We had eagerly anticipated the hostel’s famous smoothie made with their homemade strawberry ice cream and served to the brim in a quart Mason jar.  Chief and I each had one and polished off every delectable drop.  For dinner, Neville and Michael prepared a wonderful pork and vegetable dinner with the help of nearly twenty hikers.  We all ate dinner in the original log cabin area in a family style setting.   Before the meal, all the visitors held hands in a large circle and shared our name and something for which we were thankful.  Just looking around the 19th century cabin, I wondered how many dinners had been shared in its history.  I do know that it continues to provide a homey and inviting atmosphere to weary A.T. hikers.

We had wanted to stay a second night at Woods Hole Hostel but they were already booked up so we hiked into Pearisburg and called the MacArthur Inn in Narrows, Virginia.  The inn was constructed in 1940, next to the New River, and was a popular stay for celebrities and politicians who enjoyed hunting and fishing.  The inn eventually fell into disrepair and closed.  The village was prepared to demolish the inn but a sympathetic resident bought it and has already invested half a million dollars in its renovation.  A friendly stay for hikers, the owner welcomed us by picking us up at the trail and transporting us to the inn.  He sported a large handlebar mustache and a deep southern accent and willingly transported us all around town at no cost.  The owner’s daughter prepared our dinner that night which consisted of a yummy salad, nicely seasoned ribeye steak, crab cake, country green beans, fried potatoes, and a homemade roll.  The meal culminated with a piece or angel food cake topped with fresh strawberries and chocolate truffles – all for a mere price of $10.95 each!

Our little piece of Virginia’s history was enriched with a stop at a one-room schoolhouse that silently stood right next to the Appalachian Trail.  The Lindamood School was originally constructed in 1894.  The wood siding of the schoolhouse has grayed and warped with age.  The front steps and porch have bowed but nevertheless welcomes hikers to the front door.   Inside, wooden desks line both sides of the schoolhouse and look like they are replicas from an earlier period, but in the middle of the the room stood a rusty wood stove, no doubt original to the structure.  There we met another hiker, Walkie Talkie Nightingale, who was reading a trail journal with comments left by hikers that had previously visited the schoolhouse.   Walkie Talkie is a recent college graduate from McLean, Virginia, and is the youngest child of parents who are both teachers.  A local church uses the schoolhouse to provide plenty of trail magic to hungry hikers.  Chief was quick to find an icy cold cola in a large cooler, as well as a nice selection of Little Debbie snacks and chips.  We three sat at the little wooden desks of the one-room schoolhouse, enjoying a cold drink and snack, and discussing education.  Although this quaint schoolhouse no longer is used to educate children it provides a much needed respite to fatigued hikers on the A.T.

Lastly, on Day 57 Chief and I hiked by the Keefer Oak.  This white oak tree is believed to be over 300 years old and holds the title of the oldest tree on the Appalachian Trail.  Its massive trunk was so large that Chief and I both couldn’t reach around its circumference.  The limbs were larger than most trunks of a tree, reached higher than we could see and were too numerous to count.  You couldn’t help but wonder about the many hikers, pioneers, soldiers, old men and dreaming children that have passed by or took shade from the Keefer Oak over the past three centuries.  Oh what stories that majestic tree could tell… we could only imagine and appreciate another interesting piece of Virginia’s past.

Historically Speaking, Chief and Toad

S(t)inking To A New Low

Hiking on the Appalachian Trail has certainly taught us humility.  Learning to live with only what we carry on our backs is a lesson in simplicity.  In addition, we have realized a need to be more grateful for the comforts in life especially when quality of life is severely compromised.

This week, Chief and I hiked through a portion of southwestern Virginia, a beautiful ecological area, but with no place for a hiker to shower or clean up.  We were somewhat prepared for this six-day stretch in the woods until we could arrive at a hostel nearly 100 miles away. We weren’t prepared, however, for six straight days of rain.  Add in the sweat of 10-hour hiking days to everything that is already wet and mildewed and it equals an odorous disaster of epic proportions.

Keep in mind that over the past seven weeks I have been meticulous about spraying our gear with Febreeze at every stop.  Regardless, our soaked shoes were the first things that began to smell on Day 49 so they stayed outside the tent at night.  We brought in the inserts with hopes they would somewhat dry overnight.  The damp, sweaty backpacks started to reek about Day 50.  Imagine wearing something all day that carries a gut-wrenching  odor AND holds all of your food and water.   The packs have to go in the tent at night so the stench was inescapable.  We experienced some really cold temps so the big question was whether to zip the tent up tightly or keep air flowing to mitigate the horrendous smell.  Great options – either we freeze to death or suffocate on the inside of a garbage bag.

I will tell you that over the years Chief has lost a bit of his sense of smell, which turned out to be a blessing this week.  I, on the other hand, have very effective olfactory senses that have contributed to more nausea this week than I care to share.

The crap really hit the fan on Day 52.  We were then five days into the rain. Chief and I each have three pair of socks and I calculated that I would have to wear each pair of socks two days before putting on a clean dry pair. I was looking that wet morning for my last pair of dry socks but to no avail. I asked Chief if he took my socks because he has the same type only in a larger size.  He emphatically denied having my socks and said I must have forgotten them at the last stop.  I was forced to put on the same wet cold dirty stinky foul socks for two more days.  Each day the stench grew stronger.  Every morning I put those socks on and every evening that I took them off my gag reflex kicked in.  On Day 53 Chief was packing up HIS dirty clothes and I counted an extra pair of socks – MY socks that he had worn!  He said it was a “simple error” on his part but by my calculation he had four pair of clean dry socks in six days.  In his defense, Chief is battling some major blisters on both feet and a deep sore on his left heel, all of which has been exacerbated with the wet weather conditions.

To make matters worse, Chief found a tick crawling up his thigh while we were in the tent.  Ticks are known to crawl to dark body areas before burrowing in.  This was enough to freak out anyone and Chief “felt stuff crawling on him” the rest of the night.  It makes no difference whether it was real or perceived.   I had fallen into a deep sleep only to be awakened by Chief frantically telling me there was something crawling up his groin.  He gave me the head lamp and told me to take a look.  Now this isn’t a great way to wake up anyone.  I saw no bugs but the experience made my stomach lurch.

Our baby wipe baths became less and less effective so that by the end of the week even Chief said he got a whiff of us.  “We stink,” he said grimacing.   “Are you JUST noticing this?!” I asked, already resigned to the fact that we had stunk to a new low.

To Better Times,  Chief and Toad