Friday, October 31, 2008

My nemesis

Don't know how well they show up in this video. My biggest challenge for steady footing hasn't been rocks, ice, roots, or leaves. But squirrels like 'em. Little bastards. Not the squirrels.

What month is it?

Oct 30th. BRRRR! I wasn't really counting on this.

Inside the NOC

For any of you interested in what the accommodations at the NOC motel are like, here's the inside scoop. Not too shabby but kinda overpriced.

Bryson City

The nearest town to the Nantahala Outdoor Center is Bryson City, about 14 miles away. It's a good spot for resupply and has a cute little downtown with shops, a train, restaurants, and various tourist distractions.

Freezin on Cheoah Bald

Boy oh boy! It was a tough climb up this steep, rocky, icy bald. I can't believe I was sweating profusely in GA a couple weeks ago. The icy conditions mad for slow going yesterday (10.30) but I still managed to crank out 15 miles. I'm about where I need to be distance-wise.

Thanks to all my Peeps

Just wanted to say thanks to all my friends who have been following my hike and providing encouragement. Shout out to Atlantic Beach, Asheville, Norton MASS, Houston TX, Orlando, Kailua HI, Maui, and Jah! Special thanks to Harry-O for ground support and Patty Sev for minding the home fires.

I'm at The Fontana Resort 10/31

Got to Fontana Dam today around noon and checked into the Fontana Resort overnight. It's a beautiful spot right at the foot of the Smokies. This isn't exactly what I would call roughing it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

On Top of Wayah Bald

After a long day of hiking, I persuaded a tourist to snap a pic of me atop the Wayah Bald observation tower. Hiking is good.

Tellico Gap

In this kind of cold, hiking burns up an incredible amount of human fuel. It's the first day I've experienced the "hiker hunger". But no wonder: it's 30 degrees and I'm doing 16 miles today.

Nanatahala Outdoor Center

Brrr...can't believe it's winter already. It's Tues 10/28 and I'm current: took this video this morning. I decided to get off the trail for a day to rest, but also to miss the winter weather advisory since I'm not really geared for it. The NOC is kinda deserted this time of year but it's still an oasis on the AT. I hiked 16 tough miles in the cold yesterday to get here. Yay.

The Jump Off

This spot mark the start of the steep decent into Nantahala Gorge, about 2500' over 4 miles. Even though it's not as taxing as the uphills, the steep downs are much harder on my knees. I have to go slow or else... But the views just keep getting better. The Nantahala National Forest is some of the best in the east.

Wayah Bald Shelter

Thank God for these shelters. It was really chilly on Sunday night--had to set my tent up inside the shelter to stay warm.

Wayah Bald

By Sunday evening I'd reached Wayah Bald for the awesome 360 view. This AT stop is also serviced by a road, making it popular with tourists. And why not?

Hawk flying at Siler's Bald

Sunday (10/26) was gorgeous. I stopped for lunch at Siler's Bald (I was actually there I later realized, I just took a different trail). The sun felt warm and I caught this hawk circling overhead. I feel better hiking now: have been doing 12-13 miles a day on average, slightly better than I'd hoped. And the terrain keeps getting bigger and steeper.

Waterfall at Winding Stair Gap

The drenching rains on Friday made hiking a nightmare, but it sure was blessed relief for this drought-starved area. So good to see water flowing. Scarcity of water has been the biggest challenge of the hike.

Albert Mtn Firetower

What a beastly climb! Anybody who's hiked the AT knows about the dreaded souther approach to Albert Mtn. That last 1/4 mile seems straight up with stairs and rocks (and my 50+ lb. pack full of wet clothes and 5 days food). But the payoff is tremendous. Here you get the 360 view from about 5200'.
And such visibility too.

The Storm Passes

Just as quickly and threateningly as the bad weather moved in, the next day cold, dry air came in from the NW. Thank God. Friday was really a hard day. But every day is different up here.


You get the idea. Rain and cold all day. Every hiker's nightmare. Both me and my stuff got so wet I had to make an unscheduled stop to regroup.

The Hiawassee Inn, Ron and Co.

Had a great stay at the Hiawassee Inn. Ron and his crew took great care of me: did my laundry, let me borrow the van for dining and shopping, and took me back to the trail. Here we see Ron, his mom (age 88!)and a couple guests enjoying a late afternoon cookout and socializing. Ah, life in these trail towns looks sweet and simple.

Muskrat Creek Shelter, my first stop in NC

Brrrrrr.... This video gives you the idea: cold stuff coming in. Fortunately, with some decent gear and camping skills, I've been able to be realtively comfortable even as the weather turns.

Crossing into my 2nd state

Just as I crossed the NC-GA border, things seemed to change. The terrain gets steeper, the trail more rocky, and there's a chill in the air. I think Indian Summer is gone for '08.

Crossing into my 2nd state


Walking around the little trail town of Hiawassee, GA. Good place for a rest stop and to regroup.

Vista of Hiawassee GA

Stopped at this vista point on Oct 21st before heading down to Dick's Creek Gap at the end of my first week of hiking. It pays to take time to navigate these little detours.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Passing the 100 mile mark

Yesterday, I passed the 100 mile mark on the AT somewhere north of Albert Mountain. Still have a way to go, but it's the farthest I've ever walked. Feet, knees, legs, feeling okay so far (knock on wood).

Hiking the AT with Thich Nhat Hahn

When planning for this hike, keeping pack weight down was a big consideration. I wanted to bring something to read, but needed something small yet engaging. On a hunch, I chose For a Future to Be Possible by Thich Nhat Hahn. The Power must have directed me, because this tiny book would be worth 10 lbs. of packweight. The foreward begins with this poem:

"The Road is Your Footsteps"

Wanderer, the road is your
footsteps, nothing else;
wanderer, there is no path,
you lay down a path in walking.

In walking, you lay down a path
and when turning around
you'll see the road you'll
never step on again.
Wanderer, path there is none,
only tracks on the ocean foam.

Antonio Machado

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Crossing the NC-GA Border

On Thursday afternoon I passed this small sign indicating that I'd hiked my way through one state and into North Carolina (about mi 76). Just as I crossed the border the weather seemed to be changing too--goodbye to Indian summer, here comes some cold stuff.

Franklin NC

After getting hammered with wind, rain, cold, and fog over the past few days, I decided to make an unplanned detour to Franklin, NC to regroup. My stuff is still damp and filthy so I hope to get cleaned up and repacked for the next section to the Nantahala Outdoor Center. The weather today was beautiful--clear and cool. One of those perfect Fall days, but there's some cold stuff on the horizon. Probably down in the low 20s Mon and Tues. BRRR...What has this Florida boy gotten hisself into?!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Tray Mtn Shelter

The end of my 6th day winds up on top of Tray Mtn at an AT shelter. It's a beautiful spot but at 4233' was REALLY cold. Had a nice dinner of polenta with garlic, onion, and sun-dried tomatoes garnished with cheese sauce. Not bad for roughing it. There's even WATER at the shelter spring.

View from Rocky Mtn back to GA Plains

Whew! That was a steep one. But at least I made it up without stopping, a mile and a half of up in less than an hour. That's good for me. But what a reward! The skies are so clear you can see the curve of the earth.

Unicoi Gap

55mi into my hike, pausing on morning of day6 before the big uphill climb out of Unicoi. It will be my first 1000' climb--YIKES! Planned a short day today because of the extreme elevation change, 4500' total. Hold on knees.

Camping at Blue Mtn.

This is the first night I built a fire. It's been so cold, most nights I'm in my sleeping bag by 7 or 8 and aslep by 9PM. I figured that on Sunday I deserved a treat. Nothing like cooking by the fire, listening to a little Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" (sorry purists, I did bring my Nano), and looking at the stars. This whole day was nearly perfect, such beautiful hiking reminded me of my youth. Thank you God-Buddah-Universe!

Low Gap Shelter

Stopped for a lunch break at the Low Gap shelter at approx mi 40 on the AT. I was pleasantly surprised at how clean and well-maintained the shelter is. Part of my discipline hiking, especially early on, is to make frequent stops and make sure that I eat and drink plenty. What a nice spot.

Geez I'm Thirsty!

Thank you trail angels for this gift of H20 you brought to us.

Tesnatee Gap

Hiked out of Neels Gap about 5 mi to a lovely campsite at Bag's Creek Gap. The only drawback once again was lack of water. The next morning (Day 5) rewarded me with this awesome view.

more Walasi-Yi at Neel's Gap

A fine Fall day with a crowd of leaf-peepers at Neel's Gap. As nice as the resupply stop is, it's really distracting with all the activity. I ended up staying too long and still forgot a couple things. Didn't sesume hiking until 3:30 in the afternoon with a steep up leading out of Neels Gap.

The historic Walasi-Yi Center

The only building on the AT--it runs right through it! Did the backpack shakedown with one of the guides at Mountain Crossings and got rid of 5 lbs. of packweight. Sometimes you gotta sacrifice comfort to make it up those big hills.

Walasi-Yi Center at Neel's Gap

After 3 days of hiking the Walasi-Yi center seems like an oasis with hot shower, laundry, and supplies. The caretaker, "Pirate", a long-time AT hiker himself, has decorated the place in holiday spirit.

View back to Springer from Blood Mtn

Start of Day 4, about mile 28. A break in the rainy, foggy weather allows for a view back to Springer Mtn. The hike has been great so far, making good time. The only issue has been lack of water. With the extended drought, several water sources were dry. Had to make it through last night on cold food and half a quart of water. So it goes...

Hawk Mtn on the AT

Morning of Day 2, camsite at the Hawk Mtn shelter, mi8 on the AT. Starting out the day's hike with some beautiful weather.

Three Forks

Harry and I stop at Three Forks for a lunch break. A beautiful spot at the confluence of three streams at mile 4 of the AT.

Taking off from Springer Mtn, GA

We headed north on the AT on a beautiful Indian Summer day, Wed., Oct.15th. My dear friend, spiritual advisor, and hiking coach Harry Siegel and I touch off from the famous plaque marking the southern terminus of the trail. Awesome.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Zen Pig dropping LA off at Springer...

This is Harry S AKA Zen Pig blogging on for Laree. I'll be checking in to make an entry here and there to report on Laree's progress and to post a few photos from Springer. I picked up LA at his place in Asheville @ 6am on Wed morning the 15th. We drove down to Georgia to check in at Amicolola falls State Pk. Laree signed the book at the visitor's center to make it official. We took another 45 minute drive to the trail head at Springer Mt., about a mile from the southern terminus of the great Appalachian Trail. We put on our packs at noon, and hiked in. There was lots of preparation and discussion leading up to this point over the years. I'm so grateful to have coached and counseled Laree a little in Prep for this hike. It's an honor to help someone attempt to achieve a goal like hiking a big section of the AT.

We hiked the 20 minutes or so to the plaque at Springer. Tagged the plaque, took some photos, then hiked back to the parking lot, and beyond, about another 7 miles or so to Hawk Mt shelter where we set up tents for the night. Noisy hikers in the shelter made for some disrupted sleep. Low impact hiking ethics folks!

It was an absolutely perfect day. The fall foliage is near peak in N. Georgia now. The trail was beautifully maintained and cared for. About half of the hike was down hill slightly, on a wide old logging road. Cathedral hemlock forest all around. Rushing streams and just about everything you expect the AT to be. I have hiked all of the AT, but the first 4 miles or so of it are hard to beat. We had a pretty challenging up the second half of the hike, and we got to the shelter around 5. Plenty of time to set up camp, and cook dinner.

I left Laree in good spirits about 8:15 the next morning and hiked out to my car. It was sad to only be in for an overnighter for me. But this time, I get to be the support team for someone else having a wonderful experience that only the AT can give you in my opinion. He gave me a quick call last night to report on his day. Had a challenging up and down day as far as elevation gain and loss. Got into Gooch Mtn shelter for his second night of about 30. There will be a little rain today. He's getting the full treatment out there. Hike on Laree!


Wednesday, October 15, 2008


6 AM. Waiting for Harry to ride down to GA. I'm excited and nervous. Got everything packed, ready to go. See you at Springer.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

It's that tiime of year

Ah, Fall is in the air and I'm one day out from the trail.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Adios la Florida

Geeez. Finally got vehicle situation worked out, truck loaded. North Carolina here I come. Can't believe I'll be on the AT in just TWO days!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

It's Always Something. . .

What diabolical forces of the universe conspire to force us to abandon our dreams? It's down to crunch time and I've had gear trouble, car trouble, and knee trouble within 48 hours. Dammit!! I'm so close--if I can just get to Asheville. . .

Supposed to be heading out tomorrow early AM, but I'll settle for early afternoon. Got my pack loaded, wanna see some mountains. I can't let these setbacks get me down.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Five days until Liftoff

Well, here it is: my first post, so I guess it's official. I'm going out for a late season section-hike on the AT. I've talked about this for years but now it's finally happening. The physical training is winding down and I'm focused on the final planning and prep: food mail drops assembled and sent out; itinerary being finalized; one or two more gear checks before heading out. It's both exciting and scary going out for a month, especially since my longest outing was 3-4 days. For now, time to sleep.