Another Big AT Kick Off Celebration!

I love the annual Neel Gap AT Thru-hike Kickoff Party at the Mountain Crossings store. This year it will be Saturday, Feb. 24, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The CCC-built Mountain Crossings building is a great gift shop, a full-service outdoor store with a great hiker shake-down service and hostel. If you come, consider car pooling, because parking is limited.

You might want to park early down the road at the Byron Reece parking lot, hike up the access trail from the lot to the AT and then north on the AT to the celebration. That way you can get in a nice hike and still have fun listening to music, getting a signed copy of THRU: An Appalachian Trail Love Story from me and talking to the many hiking experts and equipment salesman who will be there. What it boils down to is that if you like to hike, this is the place to be.

You will also get a chance to see some thru-starters who have come just over 30 miles from Springer. Here is how I describe the thru-hiker experience in THRU: This is where SOBOs blow through quickly, taking just enough time to fuel and freshen up before blasting up Blood Mtn.’s easy switchbacks, eager wings on their trail shoes for the last 30 miles to Springer. NOBOs are another story. Thirty miles is a triumph. Neels Gap is a victory. They hobble in feeling an ill-earned sense of entitlement to the goodies within.”

If you are paying attention, you will notice a mistake in my THRU quote. It is actually called “Neel Gap.” Regardless, stop by. You might want to start a THRU dream of your own.

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Kicking off another THRU-hike season!

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As sure as night follows day, another AT thru-hike season is gearing up. I plan to spend a few days working the Visitors Center at Amicalola Falls working as a Trail Ambassador for the lucky crowd showing up to get their AT hangtag and start on the Approach Trail toward Springer Mtn.

I will also be a speaker at the Amicalola Falls Annual AT Kickoff gathering on March 3-4 at the Amicalola Falls State Park lodge. If you are planning a thru-hike — or just dreaming about one — stop by and say hello. I will, of course, be happy to sign a copy of THRU: An Appalachian Trail Love Story for you. There is so much to learn at the Kickoff as well as a chance to meet legends such as Gene Espy, the dean of thru-hikers.

Then, on March 5, the Len Foote Hike Inn will feature an after-dinner program celebrating the beginning of the 2018 thru-hike season. Hike Inn employees Diane Duffard and Gayle Edgar will join me to talk about the heritage of the trail and the thrill of a modern-day thru-hike. Thru-hikers share an almost evangelistic fervor about their adventures, so I imagine the three of us will generate some fun and energy.

The next morning, Diane will lead guests out to the Approach Trail and up Frosty Mountain as they head back toward the trailhead at Amicalola Falls, a great way to wrap up a Hike Inn trip.

If you want to join us, go to http://www.hike-inn.com to make an on-line reservation. You can also call 1-800-581-8032. As the Beatles once said: “A splendid time is guaranteed for all.”

 

 

 

Here Comes the Sun!

Oh, how I love sustainability and alternative energy. So it stands to reason I have to love the “Above the Grid” program we recently kicked off at the Len Foote Hike Inn. I’ve been hanging around the AT and the AT Approach Trail for years. And for nearly 20 years, I have been associated with the Len Foote Hike Inn — just one mile off the Approach Trail. We have pushed solar hot water heating for our bath house, solar photovoltaics for our Sunrise Room, rainwater catchment to water our native plants, composting toilets to conserve more than 200,000 gallons of water each year, worms to eat our waste paper and food scraps, a composting cube to dispose of other waste and a number of other practical technologies we use every day to save water and energy and to reduce pollution. That’s one reason we proudly wear Gold-level designation from the U.S. Green Building Council, among other honors.

“Above the Grid” takes us a big step farther down the sustainability path. Thanks to a grant from All Points North Foundation, a loan from the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority and installation by the experts at Radiance Solar, we are now using state-of-the-art photovoltaics to supply more than two-thirds of our electricity needs. We are still looking at ways to use improving battery technology to boost the percentage of power. And we are doing all this in a practical and sustainable way. Guests who visit the Hike Inn learn that solar power is a practical and economical alternative to the conventional power grid. I’m not bad mouthing utility companies. Heck, I spent a career in the oil and gas business. I’m just saying that sustainability is coming. The Hike Inn is a great example of how it can happen.

Our new solar display — cleverly mounted on an actual photovoltaic panel — tells the story of our new solar project. Hike up to the Hike Inn to see it. Check http://www.hike-inn.com for details on how to make a reservation. Stay vertical and keep walkin’!

 

 

 

 

Dropping Down to Erwin

When I thru-hiked the AT in 1973, my parents visited me where the trail crossed the Nolichucky River near Erwin, TN. I recall that the bridge was an old trestle affair in those medieval days, but my Medicare-eligible brain may be fuzzy. What I most cherish about the visit was the steak I scarfed down that night in Johnson City.

The next day I headed up out of the river valley on a steady series of switchbacks that seemed to keep me hanging out over the river — sort of a lovers leap sensation. Years later — when I was working on a 15-year section hike — I came from the other direction headed north and descending to the river. That’s the spot where Uncle Johnny’s hostel is now, not as desolate as it once was. Lots of hiking and rafting in the area, not to mention good smallmouth bass angling.

My hiking chums Stoneheart and Trailbeard went through there this past fall and captured the heart-in-your-throat view down into the river. (Thanks to Stoneheart for the pic.) A northbounder has plenty of thrills ahead over the next few days heading toward Roan Mountain and the gorgeous balds north of there. Many AT lovers consider this region among their favorites.

Get out and hike this winter. Cold weather gets the juices flowing. Stay vertical, keep walkin’ and use your Christmas money to buy a copy of THRU: An Appalachian Trail Love Story.

Early Bird at the Hike Inn

On the educational tour at the Len Foote Hike Inn, I show off the worm beds. For two decades, the Hike Inn has used worms to dispose of waste paper and food waste.

The worms do three things: Eat, defecate and copulate. I joke that worm activity is similar to what goes on at most college campuses. But when you think about it, the worms provide a useful service. They keep waste out of landfills by eating it and  converting it into feces which we euphemistically call “worm castings.” The castings resemble black soil, a material rich in nitrogen and useful as fertilizer on our native plants. I delight in teaching Hike Inn guests these simple lessons.

The Hike Inn is a back country lodge. I am privileged to serve as president of the board of directors. To get there guests hike 5 miles from Amicalola Falls State Park. The trail winds through oak and hickory forest, over crystalline streams and underneath laurel and rhododendron tunnels. Delicious meals, hot showers and linens are provided — a great overnight wilderness experience for people of all ages. Check http://www.hike-inn.com for details.

Remember, read THRU, stay vertical and keep walkin’!

THRU’s a Black Friday Natural!

8175LT3PJ6L._SL1360_.jpgHiking pals, it’s Black Friday, time to consider multiple purchases of THRU: An Appalachian Trail Love Story for holiday gift giving. Anyone who loves the outdoors will enjoy this gritty — sometimes wacky — novel about a group of Katahdin aspirants who encounter each other early in their 2,000-mile odyssey. THRU captures the day-to-day texture of life on a long-distance hike and answers the question asked by thru-hikers: “What have I gotten myself into?”

All proceeds go to the nonprofit publisher, the Appalachian Trail Museum. The humble author receives no monetary remuneration, but he sure has fun on the ride. Make your shopping easy and boost a good cause. Stay vertical and keep walkin’!

 

Pine Mountain was calling

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So much good hiking thus far this year, but I still hadn’t had enough. So, my buddy Steve Skinner, and I headed down to Pine Mountain to spend a few leisurely days on the Pine Mountain Trail. Most mountains run south to north, but the Pine Mountain ridge runs east and west between Pine Mountain, GA and Warm Springs. The area is famous for  Calloway Gardens and for the time FDR devoted to the region.

We started on the Pine Mountain side of the 23-mile trail about noon one recent day and hiked about eight miles to a backcountry campsite. Along the way we spotted a handful of day hikers. Otherwise we had a gently undulating hardwood ridge to ourselves. The campsites are completely primitive, and from what I can tell, they have excellent water.

The second day started with Steve spotting a bobcat. Then, we hiked about nine miles with lovely views, moderate trail and a stretch through a tornado-damaged area that must have been brutal to clear. After another nice night at a good campsite (we did have to pack out a few beer cans left by inconsiderate geeks), we finished with six miles that ended up being my favorite part of the trip. Much of the trail paralleled a meandering stream with a few little waterfalls spilling into limpid pools. The photo above is yours truly at Cascade Falls, one of Roosevelt’s favorite spots.

You will not be surprised to hear that there are rules and regulations for backpackers on the Pine Mountain Trail. Just check http://www.pinemountaintrail.org for details. Then, go out there. It’s a good way to stay vertical and keep walking.

Aside from day hikes, I do not have hiking plans for the near future. But you never know what might come up, do you?

 

40 Yrs of Effort Rewarded by a Man Hug!

About four decades ago, Tom LeVert (trail name Tortilla Tosser) began hiking the A.T. He likely was not thinking of completing the entire 2,190-mile epic walk until 2006 when he and I took on a three-and-a-half week hike from near Connecticut down to Swatara Gap in Pa. Over a dozen years, Tom and I found opportunities to knock off miles — sometimes long backpacks and other times stringing together long day hikes.

Finally a few years ago, Tom took on the 100-mile Wilderness in Maine, the single most difficult stretch he had left to finish. A couple days in, Tom got sick. To make a long story short, he got off the trail,  ended up in the hospital and took a while to recover. I have to believe he was beginning to wonder if — past the age of 70 — he had enough left in the tank to carry out his long-held dream.,

Hiking pal David Hiscoe and I joined Tom a couple of years ago for a second try. This time the Tosser was ready. I won’t say he breezed through the 100 miles, because few can. But he made it through without incident — even knocking off Mt. Katahdin.

Last year and this year, Tom finished miles in Virginia, W. Va., Maryland, Pennsylvania, Connecticut and Massachusetts, bits and pieces he needed to complete his trip. All he had left was what he saved for the very end, .9 miles from the Springer Mtn. parking lot to the top of Springer Mtn. Tom’s wife, Joan, prepared a party at Amicalola Falls State Park while a small army of us joined Tom to Springer for the glorious completion of the hike he so desperately wanted to finish.

Tom is not a touchy feely guy. But he was accompanied by trail buddies who had journeyed with him on the long section hike — myself (left in the photo), Kevin Tanner (behind Tom with the beard) and Eric Graves (right). We know Tom is uncomfortable with man hugs, so we grabbed him in celebratory fashion while lots of pix got clicked. Tom’s face reflects the tolerance of a man who can’t wait to be released.

Later, as we enjoyed the celebration festivities, Tom described his struggles to complete the journey and focused on a couple of critical factors — his ultimately successful battle to conquer blisters and dehydration. Long-distance walkers know that these are among the most important factors to success, and Tom managed to work through the challenge.

Tom and I have discussed new hiking horizons. Tom loves his work as a CFP, so free time is precious to him. Still, I hope he and I — as well as others of us who delight in hiking together — will have fresh new adventures on open trails across the globe.

By the way, if you want to know how Tom got the trail name “Tortilla Tosser,” stay tuned. Someday I’ll tell the story on this blog.

No sheep jokes please!

Before I turn the page on the adventure in Wales, I need to display this photo taken by hiking pal Susie McNeely (triple crowner, i.e. CDT, PCT and AT). We had just climbed through morning mist out of the town of Knighton where the Offa’s Dyke Path HQ is located. It was a steep, relatively short climb to the grassy ridge where we came to the spot in the photo which had a sort of Mediterranean look to it. The inquisitive sheep added whimsy to the moment.

My friend Jay Dement who will soon be prez of the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club observed that the Welsh word for Richard is “BAAAAAAA.” Clearly, I command little respect among my companions, nor do I give a sheep’s butt if I do. Jay and I spent several days swapping sheep jokes before we exhausted our repertoire. Wandering along the Wales/England border certainly provides a sheep jokester with plenty of inspiration.

I am moved to note that the agricultural element of the British Isles is a big part of the joy of the experience. We hiked through fields of corn, sugar beets and all manner of other cultivated vegetation. At other times we hiked through dark forests and across windswept moors covered in purple blooming heather. In other words, there was variety of experience. Each day stood out as an individual memory.

At the end of each daily hike, we bent over — testing our aging, aching vertebrae — and scraped mud and sheep/cow/goat excrement from our boots and trail runners. It’s just what you do there, and it isn’t as bad as it sounds. I’ve experienced the same thing in Ireland, the Balkans, South Africa, Nepal and myriad other adventure venues. Sheep and other livestock — even yaks — are part of the deal. You enjoy their curious countenances and live in the moment. Stay vertical, you all, read THRU: An Appalachian Trail Love Story, and keep walkin’!

 

 

The End of the World in Wales

This photo taken one recent morning was in a part of Wales known as The End of the World. The path we followed tracked along cliffs and escarpments with views of sheep grazing in pastures, hedgerows, forests, streams and ancient dwellings.

My trip lasted three weeks starting in Chepstow in Wales and hiking north about 180 miles to Prestatyn on the Irish Sea. We followed long ridges topped with blooming heather cloud-walking with beautiful pastoral tableaus on either side of us. At times we dropped into the heart of the countryside traversing hardwood forests, across grazing land, past castle ruins and centuries-old houses, up incredibly steep ascents and down the inevitable precipitous descents. We kept score on falls, and I was tied on the last day with one of my companions with a total of three. She managed one last fall on the final downhill to Prestatyn, so I was spared the ignominy of being championship stumbler.

We followed an established trail known as Offa’s Dyke, a large berm and moat construction thought to date back to the eighth century A.D. A ruler named Offa required landowners under his domain to build the dyke as a way to establish a boundary and perhaps to fortify the territory. No one seems to know for sure. Regardless, at times, we actually followed a path directly on top of or beside the dyke.

Each night we dropped into a valley to a village, town or settlement and stayed in a local hotel or B&B. We feasted on pub food or whatever was considered best in the area for supper. At least three times I opted for fish and chips accompanied by a local lager. For breakfast we had a choice of any combination of the so-called full English breakfast which can include cereal, toast, coffee, tea, juice, black pudding, baked beans, stewed tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms, two eggs any style, sausage and bacon. Obviously, the full monte was a bit much, so we picked what we wanted and were never disappointed.

Along the way we chuckled at the Welsh use of multiple consonants and minimal vowels in city names. We thrilled to the beauty of Welsh and English accents and wit as we meandered along the England/Wales border. We scraped all manner of mud and assorted livestock turds from our shoes at the end of each day. And we reveled at the shimmering beauty, clear sky, magnificent pastoral scenery and delightful culture we encountered — seemingly at every turn of the trail. Each day had its individual charms.

Setting up the trip for us was Will Ainsley of Discovery Travel. I don’t do plugs in this blog, but this guy became a friend for sure, and I would recommend him to anyone who wants to enjoy a trip thoroughly. Email them at info@discoverytravel.co.uk

Wales is not a wilderness. Still, the trip did provide a magical feeling of remoteness. At other times, we had the feeling of walking back in time, exploring ancient sites and wondering if much had changed since laborers more than a millennium ago toiled at building the earthen mound we followed for weeks. If you’re thinking of doing this, don’t let me discourage you. I still can’t quit thinking about it.