Seasons of Change

Yellow leaves drifted softly to the ground at the top of Bromley Mountain in Vermont.  As Chief and I quietly hiked the Appalachian Trail, it dawned on me that autumn is nearly upon us.  The fall season will mark our third of this A.T. adventure, having begun our hike last spring on April 13th.

If you have followed our journey you know that we hiked the Appalachian Trail NOBO (northbound) from Georgia to the middle of Pennsylvania, then at the end of July flipped up to Maine to hike the remainder of the trail SOBO back to PA.  Currently, we have completed 1,734 miles with 455 miles yet to hike to complete the entire Appalachian Trail in one year.

Flipping has proven to be a good decision for us.  We recently heard a statistic that the A.T. in Maine and New Hampshire accounts for 20 percent of the trail length but takes 80 percent of a hiker’s effort. I don’t know if that is true but it could explain why Chief and I were so utterly exhausted after our trek through those two states.   We are, thankfully, reinvigorated and making good time as we continue SOBO.  Other hikers tell us that the hardest part is over and “It’s all downhill from here.”  We can validate that the trail is smoother, the mountains are not as high, and the temperatures are cooler.

The number of NOBO hikers that are passing us is dwindling. We did see Rocket and Timber the other day – two young ladies we knew from hiking in Virginia.  They remain determined and spirited in their thru-hiking efforts. NOBOs have about 500 miles to reach Katahdin in Maine before the weather gets too brutal and their hiking season is over for this year.

Interestingly, we have met several SOBOs who began their thru-hike in Maine during June/July and are planning to finish in Georgia sometime before Christmas.  McGhee and Frisbee are a young couple on such an adventure that have been hiking the same area as we are for the past several days.  Their hike may include a bit of winter season where we anticipate a season with a long hibernation!

Last week, we camped at the home of Stash and Scooter who for years have allowed hikers to pitch tents in their yard.  Stash and Scooter have a beautiful vegetable garden brimming with tomatoes, peppers, green beans, and herbs.  The limbs of their mature apple trees are heavy with ripe fruit that Stash plans to use for cider.  Chief and I were given free access to all of the seasonal vegetables and fruits.  What a delicious treat!  Also, a special thanks goes to Trail Angels in Vermont who gave rides to us – Super Kate and Nancy.

Chief and I ask that you please pray for John and the Gurney family. John was recently in the hospital and, although now at home, is struggling with a serious infection and new medications.  Thanks to the many contributors who have already donated or who have pledged money for the “Hike For John”.   It is greatly appreciated!  John’s faith and trust in the Lord is a continual inspiration to us.

“He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers.”   Psalm 1:3

Embracing the Season, Chief and Toad



Dad Used To Give Advice…

…”Whatever doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger.”

Although Dad has been gone for over twenty years, that advice keeps coming to my mind as Chief and I hike the Appalachian Trail.  The challenges we have faced are more difficult than we ever imagined. We are at Day 133 on this arduous journey and by the grace of God have completed 1,494 miles in eight states (Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Maine).  As we enter New Hampshire and hike SOBO (southbound) back to PA, there are 695 miles yet to complete.

We are passing more NOBOs who are close to finishing their hike. On Day 127, we passed Briar and Nettle, two sisters who needed to finish by the end of August due to work schedules.  We first met the girls in Virginia, noticing that one hiked barefoot, and then they arrived at the halfway point in Harpers Ferry the same day we were there (June 30).  Both girls are now wearing shoes. Then on Day 131, we passed Old School and Blue Pants and had a short reunion with photos. Old School provided some advice about the upcoming New Hampshire trail before each of us continued in our own direction.

The A.T. in Maine was the most difficult section we have encountered so far.  One hiker we passed gave to us this helpful advice about hiking Maine.  He said, “Wake up each morning and tell yourself, ‘the trail will kick my butt today’, and that way you’ll know what to expect.”

In one day we completed two particularly dangerous sections – Mahoosuc Notch and Mahoosuc Arm. The Notch is a one-mile section of scrambling over, under, around and between large boulders. Another hiker shared her advice about the Mahoosuc Notch, “Just think of it like a rock playground.”  They say hikers either love the rock scramble or hate it.  We would fit into the latter category after three hours of exhausting, frustrating navigation.

The Arm for a SOBO was a steep, slippery mile descent from the mountain. Chief offered his own advice about going down a steep descent, “Let your momentum carry you down the hill.  If there are large rocks at the bottom, momentum may not be a good idea.”  That section took us nearly two hours to complete.

Interestingly, a group of incoming freshman from Harvard University were hiking behind us as part of an orientation program.  I overheard an upperclassmen tell one of the freshman that college is the last opportunity to try new things.  I thought that was terrible advice but what can you expect from his 20-year old worldview.  I would advise that we can try new things at any point in life– but maybe something a little less crazy than hiking 2,189 miles.

Another hiker shared that when we returned to civilization to remember that we just can’t pee wherever we want.  Good advice to keep in mind!

Maybe the best advice we failed to take came on Day 1 as we began our hike. A former thru-hiker who operated a hostel at the start of the Appalachian Trail simply said, “Don’t do it.”  Well, it hasn’t killed us (yet…). I guess if we had heeded that advice we wouldn’t have obtained our newfound strength.

If you have some advice to share, feel free to share in a comment.  We’d love to hear from you!

Getting Stronger Every Day, 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




Hike for John

We have had many visitors to the Chief and Toad blog, as well as those who plan to follow our progress on the Appalachian Trail.  Please check out the “Hike for John” page on the menu.  This is a fundraising opportunity to help  a very close friend of ours, John Gurney, who is fighting melanoma.

Right now, we are packing our backpacks and getting ready to head to Georgia in April.  We are following online other thru-hikers who have started hiking the trail and the weather conditions they have encountered.  It is still rather cool in the south, especially in the higher elevations.  Hopefully, we experience more mild temperatures when we begin.

More details to follow soon…