16
Apr 15

Short Circuit

Hey All,

We are currently 349 miles into the adventure!
It’s been an adventuresome week and a bit of a blur.
Left Hot Springs for a 10 miler that was mostly uphill, as it tends to be when you leave town. Nothing remarkable. At Bald Mountain Shelter, I made a process error that ended up with my phone being soaked in water. It subsequently died. Big bummer. Photos, audio books, GPS logger info for the blog map, blogging app, etc all on it, and with no external SD card, likely gone for good. Luckily, between here and Flickr, I have uploaded most of the good ones. I will keep the old phone for a future salvage attempt.
That meant that the next day, Arizona and I ended up on the road after a quick 9 miles. His phone was working so he called down the road for the shuttle from Devil’s Gap to the Laurel Trading Post and Hostel. Weird how doing 9 miles (and being done at noon) now makes me feel lazy. But it was threatening rain and I needed to deal with the phone situation.
I called Robin at Newport Bio and she and Meaghen stepped up for me! They got me a shiny new phone (and some peanut M&Ms!!), got my number assigned to it and had it shipped here to the hostel in Erwin. Very nice job!
So that’s why there are no photos for this post.

:(
:(

Spent a lazy afternoon with Arizona and Smoky Bear, playing rummy and doing laps with the TV remote. We opted for the off-menu sandwich special which is: Fried Egg, Sausage patties, cheese, hash brown on a grilled bun…with mayo. Ugh. I am sure it reminds Ginger of the Clement St. bagels with hash browns…mmmm.
At this point it was 33 miles to Erwin.
Knocked out a 16 mile day from Devil’s Gap. It was a long but nice day, lots of ups, and I walked basically from 9:15 to about 6pm. I did stop at a shelter for lunch, which is rare. Right after I sat down, a cardiologist from Vanderbilt sat down with some trail magic: A cooler of icy sodas, strawberries, chocolate and other snacks. Super nice. I had a couple photos but alas.
We knew the rain was coming. The storm started at night, so I got to pack a wet and heavy tent. To be clear, the tent itself was dry but the rainfly was soaked.
It basically rained all day. The next shelter was 11 miles out and town (and my new phone) was 17. It was a wet slog all day. Rain gear doesn’t seem to do much, and eventually you are so sweaty from the inside, it’s a moot point. I ran into 61 at the shelter and since it was only 2pm, it was too early to quit and since I was Wettus Rattus already, we agreed to pizza at the hostel and knocked out the remaining miles, getting to the hostel at 5pm. 17 is my longest day to date.
Besides the phone, I was hoping for a shoe store to get something a bit more robust for my feet. Alas, it’s not that kind of town. Looks like I will have to tough it out until Damascus, VA, about a week+ away. No problem. Overall, my feet are doing quite well. My profile is noticeably slimming, despite a ways to go and a diet as above. There’s a salad out here somewhere with my name on it.

Usually I try to write a bit each night because it all very quickly blurs into one. I was thinking yesterday in the rain that I didn’t really think of anything at all all day since each slippery step demanded my attention. I did fall down for the first time in weeks when one of my poles wouldn’t come out of the ground in proper time.

But the days are getting warmer, the earth growing greener. I generally don’t need to wear gloves and a hat when I go to bed now, which is nice.  A few more weeks before we can send the winter stuff home for good.

Got a message from Tortoise and Garmin (last seen at the NOC) and learned they were up ahead. I just about caught up to them here in Erwin but the phone/shoe thing has me a day or two behind. I will catch up soon I hope!

Feet are good. Getting stronger and faster. Having a good time. All is well for now. Thanks for reading!


06
Apr 15

Smoky Joe’s Cafe

Frosty Ridge

Woke up to a brisk morning. Getting out of the truck in Gatlinburg there was 20 degree gain in temp, almost summer like. It was shocking. But this morning it was cool in town and that means colder at altitude on the trail. Indeed it was positively cold and windy when I was dropped off back at the parking lot. But up we go and once into the woods, we were out of the wind. A cold but beautiful day, it was all along the ridge for 10 miles. One side cold and windy, the other warm and sultry.

Frost on the Ridge

 

All day: hat on, hat off. Due to the cold damp wind, the very tips of the ridge line were coated in a beautiful frost, with clouds whipping by and the sun trying to break through. It was an Ansel Adams moment for sure.

Clearing Storm
Clearing Storm

But it was a long ten and the feet were tired as I got to the sign for the shelter. It’s warm here in the sun as I type but it’s going to be a very cold night in the shelter.

Gorgeous frost on the ridge.

 

Beard Update

Easter Sunday broke cold but cloudless. A few section hikers showed up late and since they only walk for a couple of days, they tend to pack whiskey and wine, so we had fun whispering in front of the fireplace in the shelter. And it also meant I slept pretty well. Add it was so cold, it was my first night sleeping in the shelter proper.

Breakfast Time

Also, turns out that 5k Man, the World Banker we met some time back was behind me due to a knee issue. He showed up last night and so we spent today hiking together, chatting about this and that.

5K Man on the trail

It was a long slow 12.7, up along the ridge line with some pretty good ascents. Took a while but it warmed up as the day progressed and we started the big descent out of the Smokies. Now I have to decide whether I want to do a short 7 to the next shelter and then a short 4 to the hostel outside of the park or do the 11 in one day. Two short days gives me a nice, long day at the hostel. An 11 gets me there one day earlier… We shall see.

Tree

Monday- Woke up lazy but decided to push through. Caught up with 5k and walked the rest of the day with him, quacking away about my Helpx experience. We are now at the very cool and rustic Standing Bear hostel just outside of the Smokies. Caught a bit of trail magic as we exited the park, which is always nice.
For Dor: Smoky Joe’s Cafe


27
Mar 15

What do we think about?

Days on the trail are quiet. Most of the social activity happens at the shelters. Every once in a while, you chat with someone as you walk, if you are on the same pace. (Keep in mind, it’s only been 2 weeks on the trail, so we are all still finding our tribes)

It’s quiet and peaceful on the trail. When you stop for a second and listen, you realize you are the loudest things out there, your trekking poles are like cymbals in a marching band. I haven’t wanted to listen to music or books yet, since that would then be the loudest thing in my ears.

So you have lots and lots and lots of time to think. It’s goes something like this:

“I want a BLT. That sounds great. But what would be the ULTIMATE BLT?

Well, let’s start with the bread. Probably should do sourdough. Loafs are usually wider so a bit more room and it has a bit more strength. Like between the too soft wonder bread and the 18 grain, can’t bend around a hot dog crap.

Toast it? Hmm…but now both sides will be crunchy. Is that optimal? Need those holes to hold the mayo. How about grilled with butter? Yes, surely. But let’s only grill one side so the inside stays soft and the outside is golden, with a light crunch, and buttery good. Mmmm.

Bacon. Well we all know that a BLT is really a bacon sandwich with some veggies. In the same way that, as a Chart House manager once told me: ‘A martini is a classy way for an old lady to order a shot of vodka.’.
Thick cut of course. Don’t skimp on this. Get the good stuff.
Straight off the grill is vital. Hot greasy bacon is where it is at. Of the 3 ingredients, bacon should be the preponderance so make sure you cook enough. Or maybe you bake the bacon in the oven and put on a hint of brown sugar? Unorthodox for sure but certainly worth a try. The sweet/savory is usually a good combination.

Lettuce. Hmm…not my forte. Iceberg is always the go-to when you need coolness and crunch, but not a lot of flavor. Romaine is a good choice. Don’t want to get too fancy and turn this thing into some artisanal greens salad bullshit. But definitely chilled for contrast.

Tomatoes: Got to go heirloom here. Donnell Peters shattered my idea of tomatoes with her magnificent heirlooms, bursting with flavor and deep, rich colors. So, no bland, weak supermarket versions. We need the good stuff. This might make the masterpiece slightly seasonal, but it’s worth it.

Now: Do we want to blue blaze this a bit and go deeper? In New Zealand, I recall, they do BLATs, where the A is for Avocado. I don’t see anything wrong there…a bit more creaminess and subtle flavor. Sure, sounds good.
Cheese? Let me stop you right there. This sandwich, comrade, is not designed to be raised on a flag pole in Red Square. While there is a time and a place for cheese, this ain’t it.
There is always grilled cheese, which we can think about tomorrow. A slice of pear with a chunk of Parm Reggiano with a drizzle of honey is the snack of the gods. No one is going to complain about a thick slice of brie in you turkey and cranberry sandwich on toasted whole wheat. A Caprese salad is a marvel of simplicity and freshness, sure. But the BLT, it has no place.

In building things of quality, order of operations can be vital.
Cut tomatoes and lettuce first and keep in fridge. Lettuce should be as big or just slightly bigger than the bread. Don’t need stuff sagging out of the sandwich.
Cook the bacon. Golden brown; not too dark so that it shatters and falls out. That’s no ok. And limp, undercooked bacon: Like cold butter, a sure sign that someone doesn’t like you.
Perfectly done is perfectly right. Always cook more than you think, for sampling and principle.
And if you are real good, you pan will be big enough that you can grill the bread IN the bacon grease. Remember that we are only grilling one side. A perfect golden brown is where it’s at.

Mayo goes on the bread directly, coating both inner faces generously. Lettuce and tomato go on one side. Then bacon, still warm gets generously stacked. Flip to complete and eat!”

Repeat, with edits and nuance, in your head, for 6 hours and/or for days, until you can eat an actual BLT.


12
Mar 15

Trail Education

 

It doesn’t take long to learn how to hike.
After a night at the hostel, I decided to skip the 8 mike approach hike to the start line, opting instead to take the task head. This entails repeating one mile but saves a day. 30ft from the start of the true hike, I bent a hiking pole. Turns out I had it extended too far, so that was a quick fix. Then I screwed up arrow reading and missed the first shelter, so my initial 8 miles turned into 10.5. Found a camp site and settled in. My water management was poor and I was thirsty. Food and water quickly becomes very important to your day. Luckily, there were some truck ruts with dirty water. My filter made quick work of it and I was happy. Food is weird the first few days. It was tough to eat enough… Just didn’t feel it.
But that just meant that day two was that much shorter.
Day 2 was relatively easy, 5ish miles and the first time in a shelter with a lot of other campers.
Day 3 was cold, windy and rainy all day and put us into Lance Creek. The rain stopped just after we got our tents up. Then it fired again and kept up all night and through most of today. It’s tedious packing up a at tent. All my clothes are wet from rain or sweat.
Day 4 (today) was for me the hardest day so far. Rainy, but not too cold, Blood Mountain was tall, rocky and mucky, wet leaves and swampy feet all day.
But it brought us to Neel Gap, Ga. It’s our first shower, food, laundry and inside sleeping since we started. Everyone is pretty ecstatic. Frozen pizza were flying out of the ovens, making everyone giddy. 4 lemonades, a pizza and a cupcake later, we are all warm and dry. Tomorrow starts 3ish days to Haiawasee. Rumor had it that we might see the sun for the first time!
(Slowly adding pics to the Flickr feed below the map.)


04
Mar 15

What’s in a name?

Trail names serve to leave your usual identity behind and perhaps permits a freedom to be someone else for a while. Most hikers don’t know others real names.

I first read Papillon when I was around 14. I found a copy in the Redwood Library and at this stage, it’s about 30 years overdue…

A true (for the most part) story of a French criminal sent to jail in French Guiana. He spent the next 14 years trying to escape, as he thought he was wrongly accused and convicted.
He escaped from a series of prisons many times over those year, spending terrible years in solitary in horrific conditions.
Eventually, he is given asylum in Venezuela where he lives out his life.

It was the first book that hooked me into stories of human suffering and endurance. Others followed like The Long Walk: the true story of a Polish soldier in WWII who gets sent to Siberia. He and a couple others escape from the gulag, walk across Siberia, cross the Gobi, cross the damn Himalayas into India. A truly amazing feat.
The Narrative of Robert Adams is a story about an American sailor that shipwrecked in Africa and spent 3 years as a slave.

I am not saying that my little adventure is in the same league as these stories by ANY stretch. They serve to enlighten about real trials and the ability of people to adapt, persist and survive through amazing hardship. Plus, later research has thrown doubt on the authenticity of some of these stories. Lame, but the idea persists.

But as this adventure will demand stamina, dedication, working through adversity and keeping your eye on the prize, Papillon seems an apt name.

Papillon
Book
Audiobook
Movie

The Long Walk
Book/Audiobook

Narrative of Robert Adams