31 Miles

Appalachian trail progress has been a challenge so far. The first day I started from springer mountain with Merrill and Devin by my side. We were full of spirit and excitement as we hit the trail! The day was nice being a warm 65 degrees.

We started our journey with the intention of making 8.1 miles for the first day allowing us to work our way up to bigger miles later on the trail. Leaving the top of springer at 12:30 we were staying to a steady pace for our first true day on the trail with our gear. Little over 3 miles we stopped for a shot break by a stream to tend to some hotspots we had encountered. (Always take care of a hotspot when you feel them) Trying to make it to the shelter before dark, we picked up the pace and covered the remaining miles by 6:00. Along the way to hawk mountain shelter, Merrill took a spill downhill rolling over his pack. Luckily it looked much worse from behind than it actually was. Knowing it was going to rain we shared the shelter with Kevin from Virginia, Sarah from Knoxville, and Mark from London England. Sleeping out of the rain was great, but there were rats in the shelter that woke up when the rain hit at 11:00pm.

Packing up our gear and collecting our bear bags from the bear canister we selected our next point to reach on the trail. All of us at the shelter decided to hike together. Starting around 9:00AM today we had more time but knew it would rain again that night. Having this play role in our decision we decided to shoot for another shelter, this time being Gooch shelter. We were not alone in thinking this but luckily the shelter was more accommodating. It allowed for 10 instead of 6 like last shelter. Arriving there just before 5 we had plenty of time to make dinner socialize a little and then catch some rest. There were about 12 people who all stayed here at the Gooch shelter. Here is where the Gooch gang was formed. It consists of Merrill, Devin, Sarah, Kevin, Mark, Prof, Watata, and myself. Tonight a campfire was the source of entertainment and gathered people around to share stories and get to know each other. With the trail you may meet someone you hike with for 500 miles or never see again so every encounter is special. Tomorrow holds a hurdle that cuts out 25% of all thru-hikers, Blood Mountain. It will be a 13 mile day the longest yet and one of the toughest as well.

The sky opened on the third day and rain covered the area around 3:00AM. I couldn’t go back to sleep after hearing the rain hit the shelter. I knew I would be waking up in the next 3 hours and really wanted more rest but could only get about 30min sleep sessions. Once the rain let up I knew it was time to filter water and get packing for the long ascend up 1000ft to Blood Mountain. The shelter atop is described to us as a stone structure. Leaving earlier than the prior day we shove off at 7:30. The whole day is a wash walking through rain and fog that soaks the packs and makes the trail much more slippery. I hike ahead knowing that I will be moving at a slower pace today knowing that I might have problems with my knees. I felt a little winch yesterday day but nothing too terrible. Half way through I popped some Tylenol and put in my iPod and scaled the mountain. The last third was all wet rocks that took a while longer for all of us. The summit was just as described a stone structure and that’s it. No door, no windows, no nothing. It is going to be another cold windy night and we all are struggling together. This is where you really see people’s true caring nature in helping one another out. Being that there was no water source for 2 miles in any direction, people were sharing food, fuel, and water. True trail experience at its finest. The night it got down to 30 degrees and I felt for the first time to be actually comfortable sleeping.

The days are only measured by destinations along the trail and not time. Not having a watch on my arm is such an odd feeling after having one on for 4 conservative years every day. I was so happy to see Neel’s gap after not seeing anything but woods for three days. I went in to get a shake down and the lowered the pack for some weight but not much. Most of it was in photography gear. My knee still hurts but it’s getting better. I bought an ankle brake at Neel’s hoping it will help stabilize my leg better. This day is our first “0” which is a day to relax, rest, and take away some worries.

Right now I am writing this from the blood mountain cabins with the Gooch gang minus Prof and Watata eating pizza and drinking beers. The first non instant meal I have had in 4 days. Internet is hard to come by on the trail but it is nice to take a break from always wondering what is going on in the world and just living.

Till the next WiFi stop I’ll be walking to Maine!

The Journey Begins

Over the past six months I have been planning my biggest journey to date. A Thru-Hike of the Appalachian Trail with two of my friends, Devin Culpepper and Merrill Charette. A Thru-Hike is exactly what it sound like, a hike through the entire duration of a trail, in this case, the 2,190 mile AT. Every year approximately 2,000 people attempt to complete an AT Thru-Hike. Only about 10% achieve this goal. To put it into perspective, the AT is equivalent to running 80 marathons and climbing Mount Everest about 18 times. So what would make a sane person do this? Some hike for pleasure, to others its a get away, and for a few, it is a deciding factor to how the rest of their lives will be spent.

I have always wanted to hike the AT after hearing stories from one of my good friends Clayton Harvey (Trail name Pogue Mahone) back in 2006. Twelve years later, my inspiration is having dinner with myself, Merrill, Devin giving us advice and stories of what to expect. Late July is when I committed to Thru-Hike the AT without knowing entirely what I was getting myself into. Many cups of coffee and conversations with Merrill and Devin occurred before I was confident in my decision to put my life on hold for 6 months. However, I realized the most incredible thing during this time. The more people who I told about my upcoming journey, the more there were willing to lend me support. There have been the occasional “Dude you’re crazy!” comments, but they are always followed with a smile.

But I would be lying if I said I was completely confident! The realization of what I am doing is finally setting in and it is all I can think about. With a 50/50 split of excitement and nervousness I do not know how my entire being will change over the next 6 months. It seemed like it was just 3 months ago that I was telling people about my hike and now I am 3 days away.

Above is some of the gear that I will be taking. With a base weight of 22lbs I am by no means an ultralight hiker, but am sure that as I progress through the trail I will learn what is needed and what can be sent home. Some items are not pictured like the camera I took the picture with. As a photographer I am willing to sacrifice some extra weight for good quality camera gear. I am taking a Sony A6500 with a 50mm prime and 18-105mm zoom lens which is where all of the pictures for this blog will come from. Like all artist, sometimes a person hits a wall where their creativity fizzles. I am no exception, but am excited to have this time to re-kindle the flame during the hike and bring some of the beauty of America to others through my photography.

(An entire gear list will be available in a later blog post)