The Trail Provides

View from Tray Mountain

I’ve heard this phrase “The Trail Provides” so many times already and for good reason. I can hardly believe that there is this beautifully maintained 2,200 mile trail designed just for you to get away from it all. On top that, it is surrounded by real live trail angels that are there to make your experience that much better. It’s overwhelming how kind people can be out here.

Chuck checking out

The hotel bed was comfortable but I was itching to get back to the trail. I laid in bed last night wondering what the trail conditions were like and if our trail buddies made it to the shelter they planned. Joyce picked us up right on time and we shared a shuttle with Gunnison who was cool with Chuck snuggling up to him in the back seat. As soon as we got to the trailhead we ran into Sidewinder and he found my sit pad that I left at the last shelter and hiked it out for me. I think he was just as happy to be able to do the favor that I was to get it back.

Joyce is good people

The conditions were perfect for our 14 mile hike to Deep Gap shelter. They were calling for rain but it held off and we hiked in 60 degrees with cloudy skies. We were loving the climbs out of Unicoi and didn’t make far until we ran into a guy doing trail magic with cherry pies and dog treats for Chuck.

Cherry Pie Trail Magic

Near the end of the hike we ran into a guy named Pop Rocks. He did the AT last year and was back out to do magic between Unicoi and Hiawassee. He was great to talk to and I soaked up his deli and ice cream recommendations farther up the trail. Apparently, parts of NY are called “Deli Blazing” because you hike between awesome delis. I can’t find a single thing wrong with that.

The rest of the hike was perfect. We felt strong and so lucky to be out here. Chuck had a blast and hiked ahead all day looking back at us to pick up the pace. When we got to Deep Gap shelter he had a big dinner and napped on the shelter porch.

Nap time

The trail definitely provided today. Great conditions, shuttle rides, pies and friends.

Weight Drop and Reset

Wet and Wetter

We had a pretty dry night last night but woke up to some showers and it was a challenge to pack up our gear in the rain. Fortunately it wasn’t too cold so putting on our wet clothes and heading out early at 7:30 wasn’t too bad. As we climbed out of Low Gap Shelter we felt really good and so lucky to be on such a beautiful section between Hog Pen and Unicoi. The clouds hung low in the blue mountain ranges and several times we stopped and took in the views.

Blue Mountain

It rained pretty steady for the rest of the hike and we stopped for lunch at Blue Mountain shelter. As we left the lunch stop we decided it would be a good idea to head into town and get our gear clean and dry for the next few days. I called and got us room and we hung out at Unicoi Gap until we made a connection for a shuttle driver. Our shuttle driver Joyce was great and she outfitted her back seat with covers and we piled in with Chuck. We immediately apologized for the smell but she took it in stride.

Lunch at Blue Mountain

We got to our room and headed to the laundromat. In only have 2 pairs of clothes so it was a challenge figuring out how to clean the maximum amount and not be naked. I ended up sporting my sleep run pants and puffy jacket around downtown Helen. It being hiker season I was in good company and saw some some similarly weird outfits. During laundry time, I went to the post office and mailed a bunch of stuff home. After 4 days of hauling this gear I got real particular about what I really wanted to carry. I sent home my GoPro, Kindle, Chuck’s Marty the Moose Toy (he was totally uninterested) and some extra batteries.

Chilling at the Laudromat

I spent another hour or so further reducing weight. I started to really think hard about all of the little ways to lighten the pack. Rubber bands instead of a binder clip for cash, ditch the envelope for the Smokies permit, dump the ibuprofen bottle and keep the pills in a bag. It all adds up (or down) and I think I’ll feel it tomorrow.

Today was also for Chuck. After two days of hiking in the rain he was needing a break. He is doing great but I wanted to give home some rest time on a comfy hotel bed. He has been a perfect hiking and tent buddy and deserves to crash for a good long sleep. Joyce is picking us up tomorrow at 8:30 and we are looking forward to some long challenging climbs to our next overnight shelter.

Neel and Neil

We have a few extra hours of tent time ahead of us as we got into camp early to hide out from the rain. Here is a short recap of the last 2 days.

Racists

I slept in a little at Gooch Shelter and then had an easy hike to meet Neil at Woody Gap. We should have done a better job of coordinating our outfits as Neil showed up in his matching Boston Marathon run shirt. They are perfect for the hike but totally killing the laid back hiker vibe out here. I used to run with the Hash House Harriers and it was forbidden to run in a race t-shirt. The few poor newbies that showed up with them were called “Racists”. We headed out across Blood Mountain and although I have hiked and run this route many times it felt really good doing it as thru-hiker. The ascent up Blood was steady but not too hard and the views from the top were amazing.

Blood Mountain Ohhhhh Ahhhhhh

We had our first trail magic in form of a 12 pack of Mountain Dew. I normally wouldn’t touch the stuff but it sure tasted good and the sugar rush was a great boost. The back side of Blood is pretty technical and we took our time getting down and got to Neel’s Gap around 5:30 and found a quiet place tucked behind a hill to camp next to a friendly hiker named Paul.

Trail Magic

Our hike today was soggy but not too cold. The rain started around 10 and it was steady but not a down pour. We decided against a lunch stop since we would get too cold and pushed on to our overnight here at Low Gap Shelter. Setting up the tent in the rain was a mess and I dumped all my wet stuff inside and got Chuck settled in and fed. Not sure what I’m going to do with this pile of wet muddy clothes but I think it’s going to be in the same pile when I get up in the morning.

Wet mess

Chuck has quickly taken to his sleeping bag and is tucked in and taking a nap. Neil and I are planning our next few days and are going to resupply and do laundry in Hiawassee. It turns out that the place we send our box of food to is out of business so we are working on plan B to shuttle into town and stay in a hotel. Looks like another rainy day tomorrow but looking forward to sun on Wednesday.

Chuck snuggled for a nap

One Day. Day One.

The Official Start of the Appalachian Trail

One day I am going to take a break from work and set out on a long hike with Chuck. We are going to take our time and enjoy the experience fully. I am going to give myself permission to go slow and work on being in the moment. We are going to take breaks along quiet streams and meet new friends. I’m going to try to stop the stories that I tell myself and work on a few things that need healing.

That day started today. We woke to Chuck pacing around the hotel room in Dahlonega not wanting to eat his breakfast. He knew something big was happening and could sense the weird mix of sadness, anxiety and excitement coming through us.

Drew and Bryan

The shuttle driver showed up right on time and I was at the start by 9AM. My buddy Andrew decided at the last minute to meet me at Springer to hike a few miles with me as a sweet send off. Andrew is my crazy adventure racing buddy and we’ve done some insane stuff together. We joked all morning about all the miserable but fun multi day adventure races that we’ve done together. Our favorite story is from a race in the Poconos we did with Neil as few years ago where we had to hike our mountain bikes up the side of a mountain for 3 hours in the middle of the night to get to the next section of the bike course. It felt like it was nearly vertical and we pushed through dense underbrush. What adventure racing nerds lovingly call “bike whacking”. I don’t recommend it but it sure is funny to look back on it now. It was a blast catching up with Andrew. I miss spending time with him and it was so nice of him to make the trip up here.

Andrew and Drew

We left Springer at 10 and Andrew hiked a few hours before turning around. Chuck and I had a perfect first day. He was “tail up” happy!

The snow quickly disappeared and it was sunny and cold all the way to Gooch Shelter. We saw quite a few thru hikers but still got plenty of quiet time to soak up the experience. I think Chuck could have hiked a lot longer today but I am going to take things slow at the beginning. The north Georgia mountains were showing off off their deepest blues today and the trees were swaying in a steady breeze. That is my favorite sound in the world. All of those beautiful tall trees moving together in the wind doing their best ocean sounds.

We got to Gooch around 5 and ate dinner together in the tent. Chuck got a mini massage and his paws rubbed down with Mushers Secret. After dinner he curled up in his own warm sleeping bag and we listed to those trees sway in the wind. Hiker midnight came early today and although the campground is nearly full it is peaceful and quiet. A damned perfect day one.

Until I Get Another Message From Myself

Susie Greene

If you could invite three people to a dinner party who would they be? I have to cheat a little on this one because a couple of my guests would need to come in character. I would invite Larry David & Susie Essman (in character as Susie Greene from Curb Your Enthusiasm). Larry is just Larry, right? Please count that as one since they have to come together and preferably in the same car. Next would be Alanis Morissette. I have some questions for Alanis, like why she writes the lyrics that I was just thinking about. Is she following me? She scares me worse than Google. Finally, I would save the head of the table for Jennifer Coolidge (in character as Sherri Ann Cabot from Best in Show.)

In Best in Show, Jennifer plays a delightfully clueless and self-absorbed Sherri Ann Cabot. Sherri Ann is married to billionaire octogenarian Leslie and appears to spend her days primping ridiculous outfits and stumbling into a lesbian relationship with her dog trainer Christy Cummings played by Jane Lynch.

The Happy Couple
Christy and Sherri Ann

Sherri Ann is very nervous about the possibility of her third win at the dog show and hides out back stage scarfing popcorn and waiting for another message from herself. As my last bit of preparation for the Appalachian Trail I am doing the same (without the popcorn, billionaire husband or lesbian relationship). Click link below:

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=NI3Zm-VILa4

I have meticulously packed 10 boxes and am sending them ahead to meet me along the trail. This should get me through the first few months and then I’ll phone in my orders to Bryan for the rest of the trip. I’m sending them to Post Offices and hiker hostels in NC, TN and VA with a plea written on the address to “Hold for Thru-Hikers Drew and Chuck.” This is definitely the “Art” vs. “Science” part of trail planning. It is hard to gauge when I will arrive and if it will be a day when said post office, store or hostel will be open. For many of these I will need to shuttle or hitch into town to pick up. All part of the adventure!

These are indeed messages from myself but these come packed with dehydrated vegetarian food and Twizzlers for me and 4 pound bags of Chuck’s Honest Kitchen Limited Ingredient Chicken meals. He LOVES this stuff. We’ve been working him into this and he barks and dances at mealtime now. The ingredients are all first rate and it has the highest number of calories per volume on the market. I am going to triple his caloric intake and see how that goes. Hopefully that will be enough (plus a few hamburgers and tacos for him when we are in resupply towns.)

I am nervous about taking Chuck and am going to start super slow with him and make sure he has more than enough to eat. I think he is going to have a blast but like Sherri Ann I love my dog and would do anything for him. We are going to enjoy the trail and all of its wonderful sights and smells. There will be tons of stream crossings for Chuck to enjoy and we are going to take nice leisurely breaks at lunch to rest and soak in the views. When it comes to mealtimes I guess I just need to wait until I get another message . . . from myself.

Dinner Time

Missing My Underwater Friends

As my AT start date gets closer I am really getting nervous and also starting to think hard about all of the wonderful things I’m going to be missing while on trail. I am going to really miss Bryan and even our cat LD. Even though he is a jerk (LD that is) I still love the little guy. Bryan is being an absolute saint about this crazy adventure and I couldn’t even begin to think about doing this without his love and support.

I am also going to really miss my underwater friends that I’ve been hanging out with the last few years. I discovered scuba diving thanks to a dear friend that we vacation with in the BVI every year. In 2015, JP told me wonderful stories about his experiences diving the HMS Rhône in Salt Island BVI and made me promise him that I would get certified before I saw him again the following year. I agreed and signed up for classes the day I got home to Atlanta. Let’s just say that it stuck and have been an avid diver ever since. I especially love all of the different training courses and recently became a PADI Divemaster. I have also enrolled to become a certified instructor later this year in the Philippines so I can help share this with others.

The ocean is an amazing world and I feel an intense connection with its creatures. My favorite moments are times that I spend alone with a turtle or school of fish. The shark encounter dives are really special and helped me see these beautiful animals in a new light.

I took one last trip this weekend to Palm Beach to say goodbye to my new friends. They will be missed while I am on trail but I have these great memories to carry with me in the meantime. Check out the video below to see what my underwater friends have been up to.

Introducing My Super Bestie Neil

There is a new book out by Lydia Denworth called Friendship – The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond. Lydia explores two main questions: how friendship works and why friendship works. It turns out that it may be life’s most important bond and actually improve our evolutionary fitness and chances of survival. I am thankful that I have such a great friend in Neil – my super bestie.

Neil is going to hike the first week of the Appalachian Trail with me so I wanted to make sure that you were properly introduced. I met Neil in 2005 while we were on the same swim team. We were desperately into triathlons back then and he was the only person that I knew that wore a heart rate monitor in the pool. Like me, Neil is a gear junkie. We spent the first few years buying all things absolutely necessary for a successful triathlon: power meters, carbon fiber bikes and wheels, aero helmets, computers and those weird drink holders that strap onto your handle bars.

When we ran out of things to buy for triathlon we started adventure racing together. All of the above was purchased but specially designed for mountain biking. No, really – they are TOTALLY different. I bought things I had never heard of like portage wheels and map cases.

Adventure racing led to scuba diving and there just isn’t an end to the amazing stuff you can buy for this. Wetsuits, drysuits, more computers, regulators and BCDs. Tec diving is the next big plan and we have our purchases planned out for the 12 months. It’s a problem but a great one to have.

This is just the tip of the iceberg for Neil. He is also into climbing, fly fishing and welding. He also takes excellent care of his gear and is ready for any adventure. If we need to invade somewhere, Neil could be ready in 20 minutes. Seriously.

Neil is also such a great friend because he is practically unflappable and that will be a great buddy to have for the first week of hiking. It’s a perfect temperament for his chosen profession. Neil does high-end renovations for the Decatur elite and this is a very special group indeed. Generally friendly and polite but boy they want it their way. Neil calmly responds to things that would drive me crazy. Last minute picky changes that require a tremendous amount of work. He really just has one answer. “No problem. I can get someone out there next Tuesday.” I just didn’t think he could be pushed too far – until recently.

We drove down for a scuba dive trip last week. It was a long haul from Atlanta to Jupiter and we got to our campsite near the beach pretty late. It was a nice flat spot in a quiet section of the campground and I jumped out of the truck and started setting up my tent. Neil hesitated a bit – walked around the site a few times and then back and forth to the truck. He says, “Huh, where are we going to set up?” There as a large open sandy area that was a perfect spot for our tents so I wasn’t sure what he meant. “I’m just going to set up here on this nice soft area – looks great.” I could see the wheels turning. He was in panic mode but trying to keep it in check. Desperate for an alternative, he said, “Well, maybe we don’t need to set up both tents.” That’s when I understood that I had found Neil’s kryptonite. Sand in his tent. “Man, I hate sand in my tent,” he finally admitted. He pushed through and we had a great trip but that wasn’t the last I heard of it. I know for certain that the poor guy stayed up late the night we got home and got every single grain of sand out of that tent.

I’m pretty sure the campgrounds on the trail don’t have sand but I’m going to make 100% sure. What are friends for?

The Gear is Here and the Trail is Near – You are way overthinking this . . .

Planning for the AT has been a blast and the very best part of that has been studying and tracking down all of the gear. I’ve put in tons of research and talked to everyone that I would listen. I have test-hiked everything and woke many a night to make notes and minor adjustments. Sure, most of of them ridiculous minutia but it has been fun all the same. My go to source has been Mountain Crossings at Neel’s Gap. They are amazing – zero BS in this place. Everyone that works there has done a through hike of some kind and they cut right to the chase. I started working with them about a year ago when they did a pack “shake down” for me. They go through all of your stuff and throw out just about everything that you thought was cool and useful. It’s humiliating. A few weeks ago, I had convinced myself that I needed to spend $500 on a new sleeping bag to save 1 ounce of pack weight. Yes, I am what they call a “weight weenie.” I cultivated this expensive and unnecessary obsession in triathlon and its stuck with me. So, after hours of online research I drove 2 hours back up to Mountain Crossings and told them that I absolutely had to ditch that crap of a bag that I have and save that precious ounce. In the nicest possible way the salesperson told me to shut up and hike. Seriously, she asked what my set up was and told me that I was way overthinking this. Just stop planning and go hike was her advice. She told me that she didn’t start pulling things together until the day before she started the AT and she was able to figure everything out at the first few resupply places along the trail. I left elated – and with $500. You just couldn’t ask for a better retail experience.

After all that, here is what I’ve ended up with. Total weight 19.4 lbs (without water, food or the pit)

ULA Circuit Back Pack
Montbell Rain Shell
Arcteryx Down Jacket
REI SubKilo 20 degree F Rated Down Sleeping Bag
Thermarest Neoair Ultralight Sleeping Pad
Sawyer Squeeze Filtration and Two Bags / Camelback Bladder
Big Agnes Fly Creek HV UL 2 Tent
Tyvek House Wrap (for tent pad)
3 Sections of Thermarest ZLite
Noble Camper Dog Bed
Travel Pillow
Two Dog Bowls
Ruff Wear Dog Back Pack
Dog Jacket
Bear Bag Cable
Gloves
Hat
Two Pair of Darn Tough Socks
2XU Compression Shorts (Hiking)
Running Pants (Sleeping)
Long Sleeve Running Shirt (Hiking)
Short Sleeve Running Shirt (Sleeping)
Altra Lone Peak 3.5 Trail Shoes with Superfeet
Oofos Flip Flops
Bandana
Dr. Bronners Soap
Toothpaste/Toothbrush
Camp Towel
Blister Kit
Musher’s Secret
Coconut Oil
Headlamp
Toilet Paper & Trowel
Lighter
Swiss Army Knife
Batteries
Hiking Poles
iPhone
Kindle
Go Pro 7
Tough Tested Solar Charger
Mess of Charging Cords
MS Isopro Fuel
Pocket Rocket
Titanium Bowl, lid, cup and spoon

MSR Wind Screen
Coffee/Tea Filter
Black Plastic Garbage Bag

Pit Bull Mix -Tuxedo

The Appalachian Adventure

This is happening. After 10 years of planning and dreaming I am finally heading out on the trail with my hiking buddy Chuck to have fun and figure a few things out. Please join me starting February 29. In the meantime, here is a poem by David Wagoner that I love.

Lost

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

— David Wagoner 
(1999)

My Hiking Buddy Chuck