Monthly Archives: March 2014

Day 25: In which University of South Florida became my favorite Florida school

Miles Hiked: 7.2
Miles Left: 1989.3
Ending Location: Double Spring Gap Shelter

One thing that amazes me is that I seem to get dirtier when sleeping in shelters vs camping. There’s always a layer of dirt and dust that covers everything and it’s harder to give yourself a hiker bath, (rubbing yourself with hand wipes). Getting changed into your camp clothing is trickier too, (though I am getting more adapt at changing in my sleeping bag), and B and I are usually the last people in to camp so everything seems rushed.

This is another way of me saying that three days into the Smokies I’m feeling filthy despite the fact that it has been absolutely beautiful weather.

I really need to stop referring to Brian as B and instead use his trail name of Owl. As for me, I’ve fully settled on going by Scrambles. Other variations like scramble or scrambler were suggested but I figure Scrambles is the hardest to take seriously which is why I like it.

Dundee hiked with us again today but no boars were seen which we all agreed was a good thing. We did stumble across a couple shooting topless photos on the summit of one of the mountains though. It just goes to show that you never know what to expect on the AT and we amused ourselves for the next hour batting back and forth various inappropriate URL names for those photo shoots.

I love saying that 7.2 miles was a short day, (our hiker legs are starting to come in), so it was a rare treat that we arrived at the shelter early in the afternoon. The shelter also had a privy so Owl left to make use of it and I started texting with my girlfriend. All of a sudden I heard Owl screaming! I jumped up and was about to run over thinking that a bear or a boar was attacking him when he yelled out, “Poo squirrel!!!!!” I then proceeded to sit back down and continued to text with my girlfriend since there was no part of that scenario I wanted to be involved in. It turns out a squirrel had run out of the privy hole when B opened up the door. Did I mention that the AT is full of surprises?

Later in the afternoon another guided spring break group showed up and started getting settled in. This bunch was from the University of South Florida and they had a whole different setup from the Notre Dame crew. They were only doing about four/five miles a day and the amount of food they were carrying was staggering. They had leftover pizza from lunch which they gladly shared, they cooked turkey and stuffing and gravy for dinner which they also shared, and (spoiler alert), the next morning they cooked us blueberry pancakes! At the end we were getting acclimated to all the free food just like a bear that makes its living raiding campsites.

The food was much appreciated by everyone. “Everyone” turned into a pretty big group as more and more through hikers showed up. This was the last shelter before Clingman’s dome and a natural stopping place so as the shelter filled up tents started popping up everywhere. A lot of the hikers I hadn’t met before so as the students got a fire going, (for s’mores of course!) it was fun hearing everyone’s stories.

After seeing three, (ok four but one was going to a different campsite), spring break groups one thing that struck me was that as a whole guys do not choose to go on guided backpacking trips during spring break. Pro tip: If you are a college guy, you really want to go on a guided backpacking trip for spring break! It reminded me of the BOW, (Becoming Outdoor Women), retreats that Owl’s wife Theresa goes on. At them they teach people how to do things like properly shoot a rifle, fish, whitewater raft, build an ice shelter, prepare game animals, and all sorts of other cool skills. Heck Theresa’s skinned a bear, how hardcore is that?! Both Owl and I would love to do something like that but there’s no guy or mixed gender version of BOW classes that we know of. When Theresa asked the instructors about it they replied that there isn’t much demand since most guys assume they know everything already, and if guys do show up one or two always cause problems because they get in pissing matches with the instructors. Come to think of it, that was our experience when we took the wilderness first aid classes too with it being mostly women and a couple of the guys causing problems. So Pro Tip #2: if you are in the wild make sure you pay attention to advice given to you by girls since they are more likely to have formal training and know more about what they are talking about than the guys.




Day 24: Lions and tigers and wild pigs oh my!

Miles Hiked: 12
Miles Left: 1996.5
Ending Location: Derrick Knob Shelter

Last night we followed the instructions and hung our packs up using the bear cables. The end result was they were intact but damp in the morning. In the future B and I agreed we’ll risk the raccoons and bears and hang our packs in the shelter. We’ll still bear bag all our food though since those mice are vicious! So far they’ve been the most destructive and dangerous animal on the trail.

Well maybe not… All yesterday we had seen wild boar marks along the trail where they had been digging up roots and grubs. Today though we had a couple of encounters with them. While hiking we ran into Dundee Frost, (surprisingly not an Australian), who was scanning the bushes. He said that he had just seen three boars and what freaked him out was they weren’t particularly scared of him. Hey if you had razor sharp tusks you wouldn’t be scared of a through hiker either! We all agreed to travel to the next shelter together in case we ran into more boars. That was a good plan since we did end up seeing some later. During daylight hours wild pigs usually aren’t aggressive but still “usually” isn’t the most comforting word when you are hiking in the woods. We all agreed if we did have to defend ourselves we’d roast that sucker on our hiking poles after killing it! What’d really happen in reality is I’d cower in a tree if one charged us, but it’s a nice fantasy to have.

Luckily no boar slaying was required. It was a nice day hiking and we all took a half mile detour to another shelter off the trail since it had a privy vs a “bathroom area” plus a shovel. It’s amazing how what we consider a luxury changes as time goes on.

When we arrived at our final shelter for the day we found it was mostly full of Notre Dame students doing a guided tour for spring break. It was a good group and it was fun seeing the instructors teach them how to cook and camp. I’m very glad I have my basic Jet-boil for boiling water and Mountain House dehydrated meals as it’s a heck of a lot easier to prepare than real food. Through hikers are some of the worst campers since if things start getting complicated, heavy, or take too long we just don’t do it. It might help though if when preparing for a through hike we actually took more classes to learn how to do things the right/fun way vs endlessly discussing pack weight on Facebook….

Brian fashioning his hiking poles into pig killing instruments of death20140314-013605.jpg



Not the most effective way to repair your boots…20140314-021032.jpg

Day 23: Entering the Smokies

Miles Hiked: 12.8
Miles Left: 2008.5
Ending Location: Mollies Ridge Shelter

After waking up in a nice bed and enjoying a great breakfast B and I reluctantly headed out to the trail. The first mile seemed like wasted time since we had to hike around a road that lead to the shelter. Once at the shelter we met up with Priest, Three Mile, and Little D who were staying there. After chatting for a bit, (both B and I were glad we stayed at the lodge even though everyone was happy with the shelter), we headed out for Fontana Dam.

I didn’t expect to be impressed by the Dam, but dammmm! That was an impressive hunk of concrete. Fontana Dam is the highest dam east of the Mississippi so they had all sorts of visitor plaques up explaining its history as well as the local wild life of the smokies. The AT actually runs right over the dam and I have to say that was some of the most enjoyable road walking so far.

On entering the Smokies B and I dropped off our permits and started hiking up. Both of us still had our 0-day legs so it was slow going. Luckily the Smokies were experiencing a heat wave so there was no ice/snow and we had been able to ship back our snowshoes the previous day. What was disconcerting was the amount of bear poop on the trail. They certainly aren’t hibernating! That explained why several of the campsites were closed due to all the bear and wild boar activity.

A note about camping in the Smokies: You really can’t do that, (legally). That’s for your own protection. Instead you have to stay in the shelter. As an AT hiker we have a park pass vs shelter reservation so there’s a chance we’ll have to camp regardless if the shelter is full. On the plus side, all the shelters have four AT hiker spots so if you’re one of the first four through hikers you can start getting set up without waiting to see if anyone else with a reservation shows up.

We lucked out and there were only a couple other hikers at Mollies Ridge shelter when we arrived. We rolled in late so that was much appreciated as we ended up cooking our food in the dark and then trying to make the least amount of noise possible inflating our ground mattress, unpacking our sleeping bags, and going to sleep. That’s one of the biggest problems staying at shelters since you really have to be careful not to annoy your fellow hikers.


Do not drop your glasses down the overfill conduit!20140314-012714.jpg


This fire tower was “completely” safe to climb20140314-012816.jpg

Not the safest thing I’ve done but the view, (and thrill), were worth it.20140314-012904.jpg


Day 22: In which it is agreed that pants are required

Miles Hiked: 0
Miles Left: 2020.6
Ending Location: Fontana Dam Lodges

B and my original plan was to spend the night at the lodge and then take a one mile “Nero”. We’d then stay the next night at the shelter which is commonly known as the Fontana Hilton. That is because there is a nearby restroom facility with working showers. The night before after getting settled in we decided that was a dumb idea so we booked another night at the lodge. Turns out we weren’t alone as everyone had similar experiences. A free shower has a hard time competing with a soft bed!

So the morning was spent lounging on my bed, catching up on the internet, and eating chex mix as the hotel restaurant still hadn’t opened for the season yet. After gaining some motivation the next three hours were spent doing laundry and watching House of Cards. Who says you can’t multitask on the trail!

We were later informed due to the influx of hikers they had decided to open the restaurant early so we had lunch there. To our surprise, the same awesome waitress that had served us at the Pit Stop was working there too. Did I mention the number of permanent residents at Fontana Dam is eight? After that I went to my room for a nap and then to catch up on emails while B hung out with everyone. Around five I started getting numerous texts extolling the virtues of the bar so I went out to be sociable. It turned into a great night where we all just got silly eating baked spaghetti, telling trail stories, and gossiping about other hikers we’ve met. One of the funnier things is we’ve now met two male hikers who basically just wear leotard bottoms with no shorts or pants. When we asked one of them why, he said pants were just “wasted space”. Everyone at the table agreed that no, pants do serve a purpose and should be worn at all times when in public. So if you were ever curious, given days to contemplate deep subjects this is what AT hikers talk about.

A personal touch in my latest care package courtesy of my awesome girlfriend20140307-231044.jpg

Day 21: In which we take a wrong turn

Miles Hiked (of the AT): 11.6
Miles Left: 2020.6
Ending Location: Fontana Dam Lodge

I stayed in a tent but apparently it was an interesting night in the shelter. B had forgotten to bear bag his trash so he spent the night with mice jumping up and down on his sleeping bag trying to reach his pack. More perplexing was that Vegemite lost his underwear which he had stored at the bottom of his sleeping bag and it was found in Wiki’s stuff, two spots over. The jokes write themselves…

We were all eager to get into town which was made worse by the fact that we could see Fontana Dam off in the distance. It was a long day of hiking though, made longer by the fact that at one point we accidentally started following a forest road. If you look at the video below of us climbing through the trees, that was the filmed on the road and didn’t even count towards our AT mileage for the day! On the way back we bushwhacked around the trees which turned out to be even harder. So in short, we were all glad to see the main rest area and get picked up by the resort van for a ride back to the hotel.

After we checked in we made our way down to the Pit Stop, a combination gas station , restaurant, and bar. I never thought hot dogs could taste so good! Everyone else was there so we had a grand old time and ended up closing out the place, (it closes at five). Such is the life of an AT hiker.



Day 20: In which things started to feel normal

Miles Hiked: 9.1
Miles Left: 2032.2
Ending Location: Brown Fork Gap Shelter

Both B and I got off to a slow start this morning so by the time we were packing up our tents their covers were soaked by the melting ice that had built up the previous night. We were greeted by a beautiful view though as the clouds had pooled into the valleys like a lake. Unfortunately this turned into another example of things that don’t translate well into pictures. Vegemite put it succinctly the other day by saying pictures just didn’t capture the ruggedness of the mountains. There’s a big part if me that wishes I had brought a real camera vs using my iPhone.

Oh, on a very good note B actually got some sleep last night without his back causing him problems!

The one negative event was I did catch the college kids adding graffiti to the shelter. I said that wasn’t cool but I pretty much wimped out as I really should have given them a good tongue lashing. Oh for the record they were University of Florida students. Figures.

Hiking today was fairly uneventful. There were lots if little things, like running across a homemade cross overlooking a town, or the fact that B and I spent at least an hour trying to find a good spot for lunch, but nothing that stood out. Oh Jacob’s Ladder was a real climb at the end which removed any thoughts of us bypassing the shelter but I’m sure me talking about tough climbs is getting old by now. I guess the most extraordinary thing was how normal today felt. I guess that’s a good since we probably have a little more than five more months of this left!

One other thing before I forget. B’s new trail name is “Owl”. The story behind it is we ran across a guy named Caribou from Alaska, so B decided it was appropriate to go with Owl since he likes them so much. It’s a lot better than Red Beard or Lucky which were the two major competitors, but my vote is still for Full Roll. As for me I still haven’t settled on a trail name yet but it’ll likely be “Scramble” based on how I like the rocky climbs. I’m mostly just waiting until I get through the Smokies since I figure by then I’ll be a true through hiker.




Day 19: In which the Americans are outnumbered

Miles Hiked: 6.3
Miles Left: 2041.3
Ending Location: Sassafras Gap Shelter

Waking up in a bed is so nice! After a shower B and I packed up our stuff and headed down to breakfast at the restaurant. Great coffee, great food, and their music selection was quite appropriate. Lots of Jack Johnson and other mellow songs. It was also interesting seeing all the hiking packs laying around as there were a lot if hikers arriving and leaving. Long story short, it was a good morning.

That helped since the entire rest if the day was climbing up out if the valley. The weather had improved a bit but it still wasn’t what you would call sunny. That actually was nice since we didn’t get too hot. Up near the top all the plants were covered in hoar frost which was very pretty though we did have to throw rain covers on our packs since it was melting on us. We also briefly met several new to us through hikers as they blazed past us.

When B and I arrived at Sassafras Shelter it was absolutely packed. Unlike most of the North Carolina shelters so far this one actually had two levels and it was still filled to the brim with people. That was shocking considering how empty out last shelter was. Part if that was due to five college kids who just started hiking for spring break. I was joking with Wiki that even with them us Americans were outnumbered by the two Australians and six German hikers there. It turns out we had a couple extra Americans tucked in the back if the shelter already sleeping so that was an exaggeration, but things are starting to get more of an international feel with words like kilometers and Celsius being thrown around. A special shout out goes to Young Beard who portered an entire six pack of beer up to the top and gave some of it away because he didn’t want to carry any to the next shelter.

B and I ended up tenting which was a good decision since apparently the college students stayed up all night talking. You really do get a different mindset if you are through hiking vs camping for a week. I can’t really comment though since I spent about two hours after dark updating my journal and texting with Liz. If I have one bar of signal or more I can at least somewhat stay in touch with the outside world. I will say that major events like what’s happening in Ukraine take on a weird unreal feeling. On the plus side, I didn’t feel bad about missing the Oscars.




Day 18: In which there was no whitewater rafting

Miles Hiked: 6.9
Miles Left: 2048
Ending Location: Natahala Outdoor Center

Well the storm came as expected and woke everyone up around midnight. No lightning but the rain on the metal roof made quite a racket. It was still drizzling in the morning so Vegemite, B, and I spent a lazy couple hours waiting for it to stop. Around 11 it had slowed to a dribble so we all put on our rain gear and headed out.

Almost the entire day consisted of “down” with us loosing over two thousand feet of elevation. Combined with the fact that the trail was covered with wet leaves and slippery roots hiking required a lot more concentration than normal. I actually liked it because it was technical but not too tiring. Also the conditions forced us to take it slow which was good since many through hikers blow out their knees on this section. B and I were both joking that the views would have been spectacular if we could see them, as we spent most of the day in a cloud with about 20 feet of visibility.

We ended the day at the Natahala Outdoor Center, (NOC), which is an amazing rec park decided to whitewater rafting. Their setup was impressive with a river they periodically dam up to add new obstacles, busses with raft racks on top, zip lines, a big store, restaurants, lodges, and bunkhouses. Unfortunately since it was the off season almost all of it was closed. It took B and I about an hour to check into the hostel, (finding the building was a challenge and the staff was a bit … disorganized. Basically imagine if your family had to fill out paperwork during Thanksgiving dinner.

Our room ended up being on top of a hill as far away from everywhere else as possible, though considering how hikers smell I can’t blame them for the placement. It also only cost 15 bucks for a bed and a shower so you get what you pay for. Side note for any other through hikers: You buy the laundry detergent from the outfitter store and NOT the general store where the washing machines are. This was an issue because the outfitter store closed early so B, Vegemite and I were the only ones able to do laundry that day since we got in early and made that a priority.

We were also very disappointed they were not renting kayaks yet since their rapid setup looked downright wicked. This may have to be one of those places I come back to visit after I finish the AT. We consoled ourselves by grabbing “lunch” at the restaurant. The food was excellent with both B and I resisting the temptation of the Mile 137 hiker burger and going with the healthy “Sherpa” option instead. Of course we then each ordered a pizza to go for dinner to balance things out. As we sat there we saw through the windows several other members of our bubble arrive and then wander around the complex like we did. They all eventually migrated to the restaurant as well so we grabbed a few drinks with the crew.

One question I’ve been asked by a couple of people is what do B and I do about food? Warning, it’s almost impossible to talk about this subject without also referring to the “out” aspect of things so this section may be TMI.

B and I both started out with the same basic menu:

Breakfast: Cliff Protein Builders Bar
1st Snack: Cliff Mojo Bar
Lunch: Regular Cliff Bar
2nd Snack: Snickers Bar
Dinner: Mountain House dehydrated meals

This provided most of the nutrition we needed but everything but dinner and the Snickers got old fast. Also it’s a bit more pricy than we’d like and will be hard to resupply throughout most of the trail where we’ll have to rely on gas stations and grocery stores. Finally, (TMI), we needed more fiber in our diet which a coworker of mine had warned me about.

In Hiawassee the outfitter store wasn’t open on Sundays so we decided to experiment with other options we saw our fellow hikers eating. Comments inline:

– Fiber One bars: Not bad but not all that filling
– Granola: Really good but we made the mistake of buying individual serving packages of it which were a real pain from a packing perspective. Of course trying to keep a whole container of granola from causing a mess is another problem… We probably need to buy a lot more ziplock bags
-Dried cranberries: Mmmm cranberries .

Cliff mojo bars: They are like candy. What’s not to like
Sweet & nutty trail mix: Very good since it takes so long to eat. I think I like the sunflower seeds the best since once all the other stuff is gone you still have a bunch of them at the bottom if the package.
Dried fruit: Very tasty but I have to remind myself to eat this in moderation to avoid digestive issues.

-Tortillas with peanut butter: a huge win. Good calories, protein, and fiber. Plus it gives me an excuse to eat peanut butter with a spoon.

-Marie Calendar’s Mac and Cheese: Total disaster on the order of the Hindenburg. Didn’t fully cook in the boiling water, tasted chemically, and about 4 hours later left us running for the outhouse yelling “Oh the humanity!” Because we were idiots we tried this twice. Adding a half of stick of butter helped the taste but not the “end” results.
-Rice Sides: Not that bad but very salty. This is one of the most popular through hiker foods since it is high calorie, filling, and cheap. The biggest problem is you have to cook it in your pot which then means you have to clean it and then throw it in your bear bag. Basically it’s a real pain.

Various Others:
Block O’ Cheese: This was suggested to us by the two southbounders. They recommended going through one block a day for the protein. I tried it and liked it but it had the exact opposite effect on my digestive system that I expected. I might try this in smaller portions going forward

Pepperoni slices: You can eat these whenever. The jury is still out on if I like them. Basically pepperoni in moderation is good. In large quantities it is questionable.

Going forward I’m going to try and limit my use of bars when it comes to breakfast and lunch but they are so compact and easy that I’ll still have them. I plan on using tortilla wraps for lunch and experimenting with various fillings. For dinner I’m going to try and stick with dehydrated meals whenever possible simply due to their convenience, nutrition, taste, and the fact they are warm. Yeah they are pricy but they are totally worth it. Also one of my goals is to make a fluffer nutter on the trail. I’ll probably do this when the weather gets warmer.





Day 17: In which we find out soda is not an energy drink

Miles Hiked: 10.6
Miles Left: 2053.9
Ending Location: Wesser Bald Shelter

This morning was surprisingly very nice. It was chilly, but not too cold, and B and I had spent the night in the shelter so packing up was easy. Having space in the shelter is the nicest thing about getting away from our original group.

We’re supposed to get a pretty good storm tonight, but I don’t know if the weather has read that script yet as it went from sunny to cloudy and back to sunny all day. Because of the storm B and I decided to pull another 10+ mile day so we could end it in a shelter again. Both of us are starting to find our trail legs so it’s nice to be able to do higher millage days.

We met a trail angel today. He’s been camping out for the last 15 days in a tent with a wood stove, handing out soda and snacks to hikers and offering them a place to stay for the night. He’s retired and apparently travels around America doing this for the various trails. So far this season he said he’s seen around 48 through hikers so B and I made it an even 50. We both accepted a Coke and some cookies and chatted for a while before continuing on.

About halfway up the next mountain both B and I were regretting those Cokes as we were burping pretty much constantly. I guess that’s why you never see Olympic athletes chugging them before an event… As we were joking about that B got his foot caught in a branch and took a pretty nasty spill. Luckily he only bruised his shin but it gave him problems all day. To tally up our current injuries right now I have the issue with my thigh, and B has his shin and his back. The new sleeping pad helped him a bit last night but sleeping on the ground is still a big issue for him.

We encountered what was quite possibly the most unsafe lookout tower in America near the end of the day. Of course we both went up it but the stairs were rickety and part of one of the metal support beams was buckled. The view at the top was worth it though.

We ended the day at Wesser Bald shelter and were joined later on by Vegemite who had caught up to us. Whoever built the shelter should have studied prevailing weather patters since it is directly downwind if the privy. It did have Sone of my favorite graffiti that I’ve seen so far though:

It has been 17 hours since I have updated Twitter. I fear for my survival. #Help #NeedWiFi #Croatoa #Croatoa






Day 16: in which we break away from the pack

Miles Hiked: 11 miles
Miles Left: 2064.5
Ending Location: Wayah Bald Shelter

Waking up in a nice hotel room vs. freezing temperatures in a tent was a welcome relief. Also breakfast at the hotel, while not fancy, was very nice.

Ended up spending the morning playing phone tag with several shuttlers trying to get back to the trail. Apparently it’s still to early in the season for most people, but I ended up being referred to Carol who dropped us off at the trailhead around 11:30am. Before leaving we had a chance to talk to Three Mile who said that he just checked and the Smokies should be largely free of snow when we hike them! While we’ll certainly call the ranger station for an update once we get to Fontana Dam that was very welcome news. We also said goodby to Three Mile and Little-D since they will be taking several zero days because their son will be flying in to hike with them for a bit. I think he’s in for a rude surprise with how fast his parents hike now!

It was an overcast day for most of the hike and the trail was quite muddy. Apparently there was sleet and rain all throughout the night, so once again. “Yay hotel rooms!” We passed several advertisements for the Aquone hiker lodge stapled to various trees and shelters. That wasn’t cool so we took them down and threw them out in a trash can near one of the road crossings. We also saw some graffiti for the Outdoor 76 gear shop so I’m very glad we went to Three Eagles instead.

Talking about road crossings, boy did we see a lot of them today as we were going up the various mountains. I can see why Bill Bryson said it was so discouraging to see people driving somewhere that you struggled to get up to.

A couple of day hikers had strongly recommended that we should take a 1/2 mile side trail to see the view from one of the balds. B and I almost skipped it since that was a full extra mile of hiking and quite honestly we’re almost getting jaded of all these amazing views. We ended up going to it anyway. I’m glad we did it since not only was the view great, but I didn’t want to spend the rest of the day regretting passing it up.

I’m starting to have some issues with my upper thigh. It doesn’t really hurt but it feels hot and tight when I walk. After stopping and stretching a couple of times it got better but it’s a bit disturbing to me. I guess I should be thankful that’s all I have to complain about since besides that I’m feeling great with my feet, knees, and back all holding up.

The day ended on a high note with us getting to the stone lookout tower on top of Wayah Bald. The view was jaw dropping and the tower itself was really neat. At the top of it they had plaques with outlines of all the mountains along with their names next to them. It was cool to match that with our guide books to see where we’re going. We could even see Climgman’s Dome which is the highest point on the entire AT!

We arrived at the shelter shortly after that. None of our original bubble was there. They had all either taken a zero day in town, stopped at the previous shelter, or skipped Franklin altogether and gone past us. We did meet a nice couple though we had spoken too briefly the previous day while we were attempting to get a hitch. In the real sold they worked as a nuclear physicist and a paleontologist so was neat hearing about their research. One thing that surprised me was how much the paleontologist’s work applied to modern problems. She was studying periods where there weren’t many fouling seaborne creatures, (like barnacles), and seeing what conditions might have caused that and if those conditions could be replicated in areas where things like barnacles are a real problem.