From Gooder to Great

Gooder Grove Zero Day

I spent my first zero day at Gooder Grove hostel in Franklin NC and it was a restful and fun break. Zen Gooder has turned is sweet home near downtown Franklin into a peaceful place for hikers to choose a bunk or private room, share food and gear and socialize together. Chuck was happy to spend most of the day chilling out on the bed while I ran errands in town and went out to dinner with some new hiker friends. After we got back we sat out in the front porch and one of the hikers played guitar and we swapped stories about our adventures last week. It could not have been a better way to rest up for the next 5 day push to meet Bryan in Fontana Dam.

Drew and Chuck with Afib and Dfib at Rock Gap

Zen drove us back to Rock Gap and we started with an easy climb in perfect weather. We had a pretty mild day of rolling terrain with a few steeper climbs but nothing too bad. The only real challenge I had was trying to keep Chuck calm for about an hour while we hiked near some gun fire. He pulls his leash off trail and tries to bury himself in the leaves but the only thing we can do is keep moving and hope we get to the other side of the mountain. When we came over Wayah Bald, he calmed down and we stopped and listened to some bird calls together and he felt better.

Chuck at a Wayah Bald

Wayah Bald has a beautiful historical fire tower made of stone and a magnificent 360 degree view of the valleys. I’ve notice something really sweet about Chuck on this hike – I think he enjoys the views as much as I do. As we are hiking along the trail he will pop over the overlooks and stick his long beautiful neck out and look at the horizon.

We are also settling into a great pattern to our day. He likes to power through the hike with a short food break with me and when we get to camp he has a big dinner and then makes his rounds to the shelter and the other tents to say hello to everyone. When he gets back to our tent in dives into his taco style bag and takes a long warm nap.

Taco Chuck

We stopped at 15 miles today at the Wayah Shelter and built a fire and had s’mores with the other hikers. It was a warm night and we chatted until it got dark and helped each other hang our bear bags. Nobody is really good at it yet but it’s fun trying together and pretty hysterical how bad we mess it up. I don’t think we have any real bear danger this early in the year but need to get in the good habit of hanging our food and toiletries.

Cool Winter View

The people I am meeting are just great. Funny, engaging and they all love being outside as much as we do. I’m learning a lot from them and they are generous with their tips and special food treats. The s’mores were hiked up from the Dollar General by The Weatherman. He brought enough for a crowd and walked around the camp and invited everyone to share. We are headed to Nantahala Outdoor Center tomorrow and looking forward to the long but mostly downhill hike to the river.

2 Big Days + 1 Great Dog = My First 0

Headed Back to Dicks Gap

We spent a rainy day on Thursday with Glider in Hiawassee doing some resupply chores and watching The Office reruns. I thought I was coming down with a cold so took enough vitamin C to kill a horse and stayed in bed instead of hitting the AYCE (all you can eat – it’s a big acronym to look for in all of the hiking guides) restaurant with the other hikers. Glider and Neil stayed in with me and we had fun planning our the next few days.

No Vacancy

As we boarded the shuttle for the trail I got a kick out of the fact that the Inn was full but the only vehicle in the parking lot was the van. We started hiking at 9:30 and we knew today was going to a big day and we weren’t disappointed. It was really cold and super windy as we started our 17 mile day of climbing to Standing Indian shelter. The topo map didn’t look too bad but there were a series of really steep (like leaning over and poles down) kind of steep that wrecked my quads and hip flexors.

It was cool to pass into North Carolina at mile 79 but Georgia didn’t give up easily. The wind didn’t help either and when we finally got into camp at 5:30 it was in the low 20s and the wind was howling.

Hiawassee to Standing Indian Shelter. Up and more up!

First priority was getting Chuck in the tent and getting him warmed up and fed. We all piled into one tent to maximize the body heat and stayed in our bags for about 30 minutes until we could get to our camp chores of cooking, gathering water and trying to use the privy. We got 2 out of 3 accomplished but there was a 20 mph wind coming up the hill through the privy and well . . .


We slept surprisingly well and waited until the sunrise to get going. As bad as Friday was Saturday was just about perfect. The sun warmed up the trail quickly and the terrain was much easier. We were blowing through the miles today and quickly realized that we could easily get 20 done and catch a shuttle into Franklin NC for the night.

Chuck and Neil on Albert Mountain

It was a big day and frankly too big so early in the hike but it really helped logistically for Neil to get in today and Chuck seemed like he was doing fine to push through. We stopped for a nice long lunch and Chuck had a chance to roll around in the dirt for a while. We picked up a shuttle at a Rock Gap and Chuck had is first taco! The shuttle driver had an extra meat soft shell taco and offered it to Chuck. It was gone in 3 seconds.

We had to navigate around some weird hostel rivalries (our shuttle refused to take us to a competitor) so we ended up in some basement but for $35 it is really clean and has the miracle of running hot and cold water. Being on the trail immediately resents your demands when it comes to where you stay and I have to say the people that run these places are great. We dropped our bags and headed to Lazy Hiker for a beer, dinner and a game of Farkle.

Lazy Hiker Brewing Company

My buddy Neil is going home tomorrow and I’m not happy about that. It’s been great having him on the trail and it was so generous of him and his sweet family to take the time out here with me. He would be the perfect friend if he didn’t cheat at Farkle all the time.

Neil – the “Winner”

We get along so well and enjoy the quiet together. I will be sad to see him go but I am looking forward to him coming back out later this spring. I am going to take zero day tomorrow to rest myself and Chuck and then I have a leisurely 58 miles to get to Fontana Dam by Friday.

My “Buddy is Going Home” face

Nero Hero

Shuttling into Hiawassee

A Nero is not a day off of hiking but shorter morning miles and then high tailing it into town for rest and resupply. We got up early today at Deep Gap and headed out with Jessica aka Glider for an easy 4 mile hike to Dick’s Creek Gap to meet our shuttle into our hostel in Hiawassee. Pop Rocks was waiting at the gap with more trail magic. He has converted his Chevy into a mini house van and even has an iPad mount in the ceiling so he can watch movies. This guy has figured a few things out!

The top reads “Congrats on (Almost) Finishing Georgia”

The shuttle showed up right on time and we headed into Hiawassee for a resupply. I sent a box ahead to another hostel that closed recently but luckily the post office was holding the package for me. We are all geared up for the 3 day hike into Franklin and my first zero. Chuck got another massage and paw treatment followed by a long day of resting with Glider on the hotel bed. He’ll be ready for tomorrow for sure.

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.


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:

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?