Too Much of a Good Thing?

Welcome to our new friends and followers, especially those we have met while hiking in Pennsylvania.   We also want to thank Mark Caudill of the Mansfield News Journal for a recent article about our Appalachian Trail hike.  Views on this website reached over 1,000 on the day the article was printed!

To bring you up-to-date, Chief and I returned to the Appalachian Trail in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia on July 5.  That marked Day 84 of our adventure and we were well rested after four zero days.  Let’s pause for some hiker lingo…

Zero day – no miles hiked;
Nero – nearly no miles hiked (typically less than 10 miles);
Zeek – a zero week.

As we were hiking out of Harpers Ferry, we met a hiker named Splitter.  He said he got his name after five days of splitting wood at Neels Gap, Georgia.  Splitter was a middle-aged comic and jokingly said he had rolled a lot of joints while on the trail–mostly his ankles.  We can relate to that.  The A.T. in West Virginia only encompasses six miles so we were in Maryland within a couple hours.  About midday, we hiked into Gathland State Park where Trail Angel Vickie greeted us with cold soda and fresh fruit.   Trail magic is always a welcomed treat even though it was our first day back on the trail.  We spent some time talking with Vickie and met another hiker, Maestro, a middle school and high school orchestra teacher from Charlotte, North Carolina.  This is Maestro’s fifth year of section hiking the A.T. during the summer.  The three of us would spend the next nine days hiking together, completing 41 miles of incredibly rocky trail in Maryland and on into the middle of Pennsylvania.  Although Maestro is a much stronger hiker, he stayed at our pace and led the way most of the time.

During the past few days, we had several opportunities for stops near the A.T. that sold ICE CREAM.  If hikers are known for one thing it is a voracious appetite, and ice cream is one of the best things to eat!  Pine Grove Furnace State Park in PA has a small general store that promotes a half-gallon Hershey’s ice cream club.  To join the club, a NOBO (northbound) hiker eats an entire half-gallon of ice cream to mark the halfway point on the trail to Maine.  This challenge is well publicized in hiker circles. When we arrived at the park, a thru-hiker named T.M.I. was slowly working to finish a container of ice cream.  A petite gal about age 30, T.M.I. looked a bit sick as she just gazed vacantly at the melted chocolate liquid in the bottom of her container.  “Are you feeling alright, T.M.I.,” I asked.  She said nothing but the look of nausea in her eyes spoke volumes.  Maestro, Chief and I ordered sandwiches for lunch and then we chose to split a half-gallon of butter pecan ice cream to celebrate our hike.  Chief gladly took the brunt of this dairy challenge but it never slowed him down a bit!  Just down the road stood the Appalachian Trail Museum, which we toured before we resumed hiking that afternoon.  As we were leaving, T.M.I. had successfully joined the ice cream half-gallon club but she wasn’t hitting the trail very quickly.

The next day Maestro, Chief and I crossed a road that led to Green Mountain Store and Deli.  Not willing to pass up an opportunity to eat, we walked the short distance and ordered deli sandwiches for lunch.  Chief purchased an entire bag of ice for his Coke but I stole some of the ice to sooth my swollen feet.  The store also sold Hershey’s ice cream so I chose a milkshake made with raspberry ice cream.  It was amazing!  Maestro looked on his phone and saw thunderstorm warnings so we sat on the store’s front porch for a while.  Not long after, terrible wind and rain ripped through the area.  The lights at the store flickered and we were so thankful for a dry spot instead of being out on the trail.  As we were preparing to leave after the storm passed, we saw T.M.I. walking up the road.  She was soaking wet from getting caught in the storm and we again felt bad for her.

On Day 89, we found several large trees had blown down across the trail from the previous day’s storm.  At times it made the hike difficult as we climbed through limbs and briars.  At other times, the trail through Pennsylvania paralleled corn and soybean fields and passed several farms.  I felt a pang of homesickness as this terrain reminded me of Ohio.  Our trio hiked into Boiling Springs, a tiny town in central Pennsylvania and had a wonderful lunch at Caffe 101.  As with our previous stops, the meal was completed with homemade 4-berry pie and vanilla ice cream.  Our stay that night was at the infamous Doyle Hotel in Duncannon, PA.  Now I have to clarify that the Doyle Hotel was built in 1905 and is one of the original Anheuser-Busch hotels.  It has amazing woodwork and architectural features; however, it has primarily served A.T. hikers for the past several years.  Having said that, the rooms are a bit rough and the decor looks as though it was last updated during the Nixon administration.  It happened to be Chief’s and my 35th wedding anniversary so he asked for their best room.  The “honeymoon suite” differed from other rooms in that it had a ceiling fan and a recliner that appeared to last belong to Archie Bunker.  I will say the bed was semi-comfortable and the sheets were clean.  At $35 per night, it was appropriately priced.  A real positive was that the food at the hotel was tasty and substantial.  Maestro, T.M.I., Chief and I walked to 3Bs for dessert — you guessed it — ice cream with homemade blueberry topping!

It was a hot July week of hiking 124 miles and we have no regrets for consuming a gazillion calories of ice cream.  There is no such thing as too much ice cream!

Enjoying God’s Good Gifts, Chief and Toad

A Ticket To Ride

Our Ohio friends are quite familiar with Cedar Point Amusement Park and the amazing roller coaster rides at that park.  Chief and I, along with fellow hiker Tiger Mike, recently experienced the dreaded “Roller Coaster” on the Appalachian Trail in northern Virginia.  This was not a thrill ride completed in seconds, rather a grueling eight-hour hike that covered more than thirteen miles of rocky ascents and descents.  The highest climb was a challenging 2,000 feet and then immediately descended.  Over and over we put one foot in front of the other as we navigated the steep hills and tricky rock-studded terrain.   The Roller Coaster left us gasping for air at the top of each hill and nursing sore knees and feet at the bottom.  It was undoubtedly one of the toughest days of hiking we had experienced in the last 78 days.  About halfway through the Roller Coaster, we crossed a county road and were unexpectedly greeted with trail magic.  A former thru-hiker, No Pants, was there to share cold soda, fresh fruit, chips, and Little Debbie snacks with passing hikers.  No Pants also interviewed us for a documentary that he is producing about A.T. hikers.  Chief, Tiger Mike, and I agreed that the trail magic was the only thing that got us through the rigorous Roller Coaster.  That day the three of us hiked a total of 21 miles in order to get to the shelter by dusk and position ourselves for a short hike into Harpers Ferry, West Virginia the following day.

On a side note, this is a point on the A.T. where some of the younger hikers take on the “4 State Challenge”.  Over a 24-hour period, a hiker attempts to travel a 43-mile section of the Appalachian Trail across the borders of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Just to be clear, we are NOT pursuing this ride!

On Day 79, Chief and I awoke early, packed our gear and hit the trail with Tiger Mike by 6:30 a.m.  We were all experiencing swollen feet and fatigued muscles but nevertheless were mentally invigorated by our accomplishment over the Roller Coaster the previous day. We had only eight miles to hike to Harpers Ferry, the “spiritual halfway point” on the A.T.  Harpers Ferry (Mile 1,022) is the home of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy that registers and tracks thru-hikers.   Our hike took less than four hours when we descended a hill and were met with the stunning site of the Shenandoah River.  We were joined by one of Tiger Mike’s friends, Home Fry, who hiked the remainder of the way with us.  Since the date was June 30th, many thru-hikers arrived at the Conservancy as this seemed to be a goal date for thru-hikers to reach this halfway point.  The Conservancy is housed in a small historic stone building and the front was lined with backpacks and weary hikers when we arrived before noon.  Chief and I had the ceremonial photo taken in front of the building and then took advantage of the cold soda and ice tea available for hikers.  Chief, Tiger Mike, Home Fry and I met up with Log, her dog Yoyo, and Old School, and then walked the short distance to the historical downtown for a celebratory meal.  We were surprised to see No Pants in town and he joined the group for lunch.  As Chief and I enjoyed a delicious hamburger and crab cake, Yoyo slept peacefully under our chairs.  Our time at lunch was enjoyable and relaxing as the group reminisced about our Appalachian Trail journey thus far and the many hikers we’d met over our first thousand trail miles.   When we returned to the Conservancy, we found fellow hiker, Juice, who had made his halfway point.  The afternoon was even more joyous when our daughter and granddaughter arrived to pick us up for a few days of rest and relaxation.

In a bittersweet turn, our time with these hiker-friends has ended as Chief and I will fall behind the others by taking four zero days to visit with our daughter’s family over the July 4th weekend.  We will return to Harpers Ferry on July 5 to hike NOBO (northbound) for ten more days.  We have decided to then flip-flop our Appalachian Trail hike so that we don’t get into bad weather in Maine in October and not be able to finish our hike.  We have purchased tickets to fly to Bangor, Maine the end of July and then hike SOBO (southbound) for the remainder of the trail.  We will still cover all 2,189 miles, just in two different directions.  In Maine, we will first summit Mount Katahdin and then hike SOBO until we get to the point where we stopped hiking NOBO.  Our chances of avoiding bad weather will be greatly increased, although the higher elevation mountains in New England can still have cold temperatures and snow even in summer.  We also have the added benefit of potentially passing NOBO hikers with whom we’ve lost contact.

As we write this post, Chief and I are enjoying a much needed rest and realizing we already need our third pair of hiking shoes.  This journey has been exhausting yet exhilarating, grueling yet rewarding.  Thanks go out to YOU – our family, friends, and followers for your support, encouragement and prayers.  God’s grace and your support keep us moving forward.  Please remember the “Hike for John” – the fundraising efforts for the Gurney family.

We can’t wait to see what the next 1,100 miles will bring.

Halfway On This Wild Ride, Chief and Toad

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 is done with a diving rod.  Not hardly!  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

A Message In a Baggie

Messages while on the Appalachian Trail sometimes appear few and far between. Then again, sometimes messages are more frequent than we realize if we know how to spot them.

Cellular service has been unattainable in southwest Virginia but over the past few days we have received messages in less modern ways.  On Day 43, Chief and I took a zero day and stayed at the Lazy Fox Inn in Damascus Virginia. Damascus is a quiet little town, population less than 1,000, except during Trail Days .  This festival brings in 20,000 hikers, artisans, and visitors the third weekend each May.  We arrived the weekend after Trail Days and stayed at the B&B owned and operated by 90-year old Miss Ginny.  Our room looked like something at your grandmother’s house with lots of knick-knacks and a claw foot bathtub complete with Epsom salts. Miss Ginny told us where she hides the key to the house in case she had to go out. The next morning she made a huge breakfast with some amazing cheesy grits and homemade biscuits. Miss Ginny’s message to us was that we would complete the entire trail and she wanted us to send to her a note when we finished. She said that she would remember us and we have no doubt that is true.

We hiked to a campsite later that evening and in the middle of the night had an unwelcome message from a bear!  He seemed to be telling the campers that we were invading his domain by snorting and growling and pounding on the ground. No one dared exit their tent but there was much talk about it the next morning.  Thankfully we were all protected!

One message wasn’t even for us rather we had the pleasure of being the messenger.  As we were hiking the trail, another hiker was approaching from the opposite direction. He stopped to chat and told us he was from Mississippi and that his wife was picking him up at the next crossroad. He asked where we were from and when we said Ohio he told us that he had been born in Newark. The man said he knew the location of Marion,  Bucyrus and Shelby. That sparked a further comment from Chief that he had been on the police force there.  The man said that he had served in the Navy about forty years ago with someone from Shelby, Bruce F.  Just so happens that we have been friends with Bruce and his wife, Cindy, for  many years. Our girls grew up together and we went to the same church for years. The hiker told us his name and asked if we would let Bruce know he would like to speak with him.  As soon as we had cell service, Chief contacted Bruce and delivered the message. Bruce knew who the hiker was as soon as we mentioned Mississippi and said he had been thinking the past couple years about making a contact.

Day 45 was especially difficult as we hiked the rocky paths to and from Mt. Rogers.  The day was sunny which made traversing the trail hotter than we’ve normally experienced on a mountain.  We also hiked through the Grayson Highlands State Park and encountered the wild ponies on more than one occasion.  At one location four ponies were grazing in the woods, including one all brown foal that wasn’t very old.  As we walked along the trail, Chief spotted a yellow piece of paper in a baggie that had been strategically placed next to an A.T. marker.  On the note was written, “Chief and Toad”.  Now hikers will sometimes leave messages for other hikers but we couldn’t imagine who or why a note would be left for us.  It turned out this message was from Tara, an accountant friend we know from Columbus, Ohio that has been following our blog.  Tara’s note said that she had travelled to the Grayson Highlands.  She must have been out hiking the area and knew that we weren’t far behind.  Tara’s message came as a great surprise and was a source of encouragement to us on a day we were challenged both emotionally and physically!

We are truly grateful for the simple ways the Lord has provided for our needs.  Those messages of His love are worth sharing.  On Day 46 we were hiking a 19-miler and passed a trail volunteer who gave to us a banana.  Fresh fruit is such a luxury on the trail and we enjoyed it immensely!  We also met a ridge runner who gave us a message about a motel we had planned to use in two days.  He said we would be better served by catching a shuttle bus into Marion, Virginia the next day.  We heeded that message and woke early on Day 47 to hike the ten miles to the pick-up point.  On our way, we met a day-hiker named Sly who blessed us with a Snickers candy bar and said she would give us a ride to town if we didn’t make the shuttle.  That nourishment was needed and propelled us faster toward the pick-up point.  We couldn’t have been one minute later after hiking those ten miles because the bus arrived just as we were getting to the pick-up point!  God sent a message that he understands all of our needs.  There is no limit to God’s communication with us if we will only listen with our heart.

Until our next message, Chief and Toad




When the Trail Throws a Curve

It’s been nice to hear from several Appalachian Trail hikers, soon-to-be hikers, and HISOs (hiker in spirit only).  We hope you all enjoy our stories and will share your hiking experiences as well.  Our internet access in eastern Tennessee has been sporadic the past couple weeks and several followers have wondered about a new post.  Thanks for your patience — we never want to disappoint you!

In this post, we wanted to share with you some stories of when the trail has thrown us a curve.  This is an unexpected event, with no prior warning, that may be positive, negative, or just plain weird.

In a prior post, we shared about the other Chief we had met on the trail.  We referred to him as Chief 2 Feathers for clarification purposes and he is section hiking the A.T. over a period of years.  Chief 2F had spent a few days with some friends so we lost track of him for a while.  On Day 29, Chief 2F found us in Hot Springs, N.C.  This was a very nice surprise because we like Chief 2F.  We scheduled to meet for dinner at a local Mexican restaurant where Chief 2F told us that he was leaving the trail for this year.  An unexpected family situation and a tough couple days of hiking had forced him to call it quits.  Chief 2F is one hiker with whom we genuinely bonded on the A.T. and we were sad that he wasn’t continuing.  Over dinner, we reminisced about our days of hiking together and planned to meet again in the future off the trail.  When we parted Chief 2F wouldn’t say goodbye, rather he said, “See you…”.  Funny how a friendship can begin on the A.T.

On Day 30, we slackpacked out of Hot Springs and had prepared ourselves for a long day’s hike.  Let’s pause for…

Hiker Lingo:  Slackpacking — paying someone to deliver your backpack to your next location, leaving the hiker to navigate the trail with only a light-weight daypack.

Some hiking purists don’t believe in slackpacking, but even elite hikers take advantage of slackpacking to conserve energy.  Hiking without an extra 25-35 lbs. on your back allows your legs to move faster and keeps pressure off the feet!  We felt free and easy on the trail until Chief suddenly saw a huge snake actually on the walking path. The snake wouldn’t move so we had to pass it in the brush without creating a disturbance.  From that moment we were reminded how important it is to watch for snakes as many a hiker has stepped or nearly stepped on a rattlesnake.

Days 31 and 32 were spent climbing some of the toughest but most beautiful mountains in Tennessee, Big Butt and Big Bald (ironically this could describe me and Chief — LOL)… Anyhow Big Butt was some of the rockiest terrain we have navigated.  Big Bald is covered with grasses instead of trees and offered a breathtaking 360 degree view of the surrounding majestic mountains — an unexpected but wonderful surprise.

Not so wonderful, Chief has really been struggling with a sore left shoulder.  Not one to complain, he probably needs to see a chiropractor or doctor and needs to reduce weight in his pack.  My problem is a nasty case of poison ivy.  It’s not the little bubble poison ivy like I’ve experienced in Ohio, this is huge welts with monster bubbles.  I picked up some herbal soap at one of the outfitters and it is helping to relieve the itch and remove toxins.  I fear that for the entire hike I will be relegated to wearing long pants and long-sleeved shirts as a proactive measure.

We do hate missing church on the trail, but on Sunday, Day 35 another hiker, Brother Timothy, passed us hiking.  We have seen Brother Timothy on a few occasions.  He is a young man from Chicago who says he is hiking the A.T. to share God’s love and speak His truth to whomever will listen.  On this particular day, Brother Timothy was wearing only a T-shirt and his underwear in addition to his hiking shoes.   As he passed, I could hear the King James Version Bible on tape coming from his pack.  “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  Blessed are those that hike only in their underwear, for they shall not chafe.  (Disclaimer — that last sentence isn’t in scripture, just a thought to a weird curve we’ve experienced on the trail…) It reminded us of The Gnome — another hiker with a long white beard who wears brightly-colored purple tights.

On Day 36 we were looking forward to a hike up Roan Mountain in Tennessee.  The A.T. thru-hiker book promised a majestic view atop one of the tallest mountains.  As we began the arduous climb a soft misty rain came down, which was welcome on this warm day.  It quickly turned dark and the mist became a downpour that lasted for more than four hours.  By the time we reached the mountain’s summit, lightening was cracking around us and water was flowing down the trail in currents like the French Broad River.  We felt like salmon trying to swim upstream, navigating rocks and tree roots.  Unfortunately Roan Mountain also boasts some of the coldest temperatures on the Appalachian Trail.  It became apparent that tenting was out of the question and we needed to make it to a shelter before dark to escape the wet cold storm.  The shelter was another mile hike and by the time we arrived there were seven other hikers claiming space in the shelter.   The only place left to roll out a sleeping bag was on the floor.  With no private area, I asked the men in the loft if I could have ten minutes of privacy and quickly changed into dry clothes there.   Both Chief and I promptly got into our sleeping bags and shivered for three hours before we started to warm.  About 11 p.m. I realized that I hadn’t gone to the bathroom.  I woke Chief thinking he would go with me into the woods and watch for bear and snakes in the dark.    He sleepily said, “Don’t go far,” and hunkered back down into his sleeping sack.  So I put on my headlamp and prayed for a safe solo journey to the “ladies room”.  This was only our second night in a shelter and for good reason.  The snoring is awful (and I’m not even talking about Chief).  When I was able to finally fall asleep, I suddenly awoke at 4 a.m. to a mouse crawling on top of my head!!!  It is a moment like that when I think about the perfectly good house with indoor plumbing we have in Ohio and no vermin squeaking and playing pat-a-cake on my head during the night.

Morning couldn’t come soon enough and we hiked down Roan Mountain sixteen  miles and headed straight to the nearest hostel, Mountain Harbor B&B.  We planned to pitch the tent and get a shower for $10.  The owner said they also had a nice room with a king-sized bed and a bath for $125.  I must have been an emotional mess because Chief took one look at me and said, “We’ll take the room.”  The beautiful room in the old farmhouse held a wrought iron bed with a lovely handmade quilt.  The bathroom was immaculate, smelled of jasmine and had plenty of fluffy towels, hot water and soap.  I shampooed four times to make sure there were no remnants of mice.  The bed was amazingly comfortable and Chief and I agreed it was the best night’s sleep we had in the past 37 days.  We awoke in the morning to the fragrance of fresh coffee and Miss Mary’s homemade breakfast of egg croissants, sausage gravy and biscuits, fried potatoes, fresh fruit, French toast with honey pecan topping, and raspberry sweet rolls.  This place was truly an unexpected but magnificent find!

On Day 38 we left the B&B well rested and well fed.  We were told by another hiker, O2, to take a curve that is off the A.T.  The curve led to a magnificent waterfall about 150′ high.  It was a spectacular sight!  We probably would have missed this had we not been open to the curve.

Chief was able to get an appointment with a chiropractor who is also a hiker.  After a spinal adjustment, Chief was feeling better but then fell TWICE on the trail landing both times on that shoulder.  Those incidents, however, didn’t seem to negatively impact his legs.  Over the past week our daily mileage has steadily increased to a high point of hiking 22.7 miles on Day 41.  Today is our 42nd day on the Appalachian Trail and we arrived in Damascus, Virginia– Mile 469.  So three states are completed (Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee) and a multitude of curves are yet to experience.

Until next post,  Chief and Toad