P-Burg to P-Burgh and back again

By now, lots of you may know that M and I left the trail for the weekend to surprise his little sister for her graduation. We didn't tell a soul we were coming and had great fun surprising people all weekend.

We rented a car in Pearisburg and are headed back there to return the car and get back to the business of hiking. Stay tuned for a spirited descriptiton of the events of this weekend.


A Call To All...

For those of you who know me, it's fairly obvious that music plays a large part in my life. Hiking the trail hasn't removed me completely from music, though, as I did think to bring a couple of minidiscs and a small am/fm radio. However, many of the few albums I was able to carry along grew stale from lack of variety, and the endless stream of Nashville 'country', religious chat, and right-wing talking heads on the radio kinda had me down (to be fair, WETS is an awesome station when it comes in, I suggest you all check out 'Roots and Branches' on the online stream. VA's public radio is ok, too, but jumps around the dial a lot as it's broadcast on like 20 frequencies, and the music... well, not that good. The standard public radio classical or jazz mainly... but i digress, a lot.)

So, a solution was needed. And here it is found:

Basically, it's an iPod Shuffle, except it has a microSD slot to add more space and an FM tuner to get radio built in. Here's where you come in, my loyal readership...

Imagine you're on a desert island. A desert island made of mountains. Where you have to walk a lot, all the time. Up and down hills. Sometimes quickly. Now think to yourself... if I had only 1GB of space, one solitary Gigabyte, what would I like to listen to for eternity (or 4 months)? Would it be a batch of favourite albums? A special 'i sure have a long way to walk every day' mix? Ace of Base's 'The Sign' on repeat?

Whatever that special list of stuff would be, I want you to

  • put it in mp3 format
    (don't worry too much about quality - lower=smaller=more songs, but I can't use AAC's, so if they're apple files you'll need to convert)
  • burn it to a CD
    (or if you're feeling particularly generous or happen to have a spare microSD card lying around, directly on the card)
  • and send it to me at the following address:

M (use my whole, real name)
c/o General Delivery
Waynesboro, VA 22980
Hold for AT Thru-Hiker
ETA 5/14/2007

Send a letter or something, too, and let me know who you are and why you chose what you did. or don't. I'll be grateful for some new tunes...

Also, if you're super-fast you can try to reach us in Daleville, VA 24083, ETA 5/5/07. If you're too late, just leave a comment or send an email and we'll let you know where we're gonna be. Many thanks in advance!


Fried Pickles, in response to Aunt Laine's question

Fried pickles are just what they sound like. I suppose there are probably several ways to do them, but the ones we had were kosher dill spears, battered and fried. Sort of like a mozzerella cheese stick or a fried mushroom, except with a pickle inside. Mmmm.


Southwest Virginia Musings

Southwest Virginia has been pretty nice so far. Everybody says that Virginia is easy - well, I would NOT go that far. We are still in the mountains and there are plenty of ascents, descents, rocks, and roots. However, there also seems to be a fair amount of relatively level trail, with a nice clear footpath. We can listen to the pocket radio and get NPR programming from pretty much anywhere, now that we are close to towns on a regular basis. Some nice church group has been leaving bottled water at a lot of the road crossings, which is awesome. The weather has been absolutely gorgeous, and the spring plants and leaves are starting to come out. The aroma of the forest and fields we walk through can only be described as the scent of Green...a rich, lush, perfume-y smell. A few days ago, M and I ditched about ten pounds of gear, including our tent, and have been...

strolling along with lighter packs. We had our first adventure in tarp camping, which was largely a failure in simply dewy conditions, and would have been disastrous if it had rained, as the weather report predicted. So we are at the library, looking up tarp pitching methods so we can try again. The tent weighed almost six pounds and the tarp weighs just over one pound, including all stake and rope, so we are highly motivated to figure this out.

We've been hearing a lot about the shootings at Virginia Tech, since we pass pretty close to Blacksburg. A lot of VT students come from this area, and it's been evident that several towns we've come through have been personally affected by this tragedy, by the memorials set up and the names of students posted on every gas station and Dairy Queen sign along the road.

A couple of days ago, we met some awesome people from a Methodist church, who picked us up at the trail, gave us an all-you-can-eat breakfast, provided cards and stamps for us to send a note home, and sent us back to the trail with goody bags filled with home-baked muffins and cookies. There are a lot of churches along the trail who minister to hikers, and I have to admit, it's been somewhat puzzling to me. After all, none of us HAVE to be out there, so whatever supposed suffering comes from living outdoors and walking on punishing terrain is self-inflicted. Hikers are not a demographic that seems particularly at-risk, at least in the traditional definition. Isn't it kind of like being on vacation?

I was talking to M about this the other day, and we came to the conclusion that these churches see hikers as seeking something important, something that has been missing in their lives. It's a pretty big leap to give up everything you have at home, including your home itself, in a lot of cases, and do this long hike. If you are satisfied with what you had at home, you wouldn't do this. So I guess what has been troubling to me about all this ministry is that I am among that group of hikers...the church ladies see a void in me that I have been ignoring. By pretending that this is just a vacation, that I will just go home at the end of this and resume life, I've been ignoring the very things that drove me out here. It's not too often that I've been in a group that is ministered TO or served, usually I am among the providers.

The church ladies of Bland, VA "did Jesus right", as M and I said as we were leaving, by feeding body and soul, and loving us without knowing us.
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Photo Relo...

Good day all... I've updated the photos from here in Pearisburg, VA, and have made a few changes to the organization. As previously the photos will be updated in sections, grouped by portions of our journey. I have, however, separated out the growing numbers of photos of plants (especially as the wildflowers are coming out in numbers) and animals (separated only the wild ones, cows &c. will still end up in the regular albums), as well as the photos of our old pal B. Hippo. I'll try to change the dates as new pics are added.

As the picasa albums allow for commenting, and I have no idea what many of these flora and fauna are, if any of you have a handy field guide to wildflowers or other things, please feel free to make a call on the species identification and leave a note. Hope you enjoy!


Bland is anything but...

Greetings, all from Bland, Virginia. Sorry for lack of updated photos, the library access here won't allow for it, so we'll have to put them up in a few days from Pearisburg. All is well and we were treated to the most phenomenal breakfast this morning by the ATOM (Appalachian Trail Outreach Ministry) group from a local church, and are staying in town at a motel by the I-77 exit. More detailed updates of our exploits should follow within a few, but for now other errands call... Keep checking in!


Troutdale, VA

We had an unexpected trip off the trail yesterday. We were at a road crossing, getting ready to hike the last 6 miles of the day, when a guy pulled up with about 8 hikers in the back of his truck. He was Jerry, of Jerry's Kitchen and Goods, and drove us to his little store/restaurant, where we dined on a variety of delicious fried pickles and potatoes. Yes, you heard that right. Then he took us up to the free hiker hostel at the Baptist Church. We had a hot shower, slept soundly under a proper roof, and returned to the store for breakfast. Now Jerry will drive us back to the trail. We are grateful for the hospitality. For any hikers reading this out there, Jerry's is the former Troutdale Trading Post, but is new and improved and the food is quite good.


Snow Blankets the Country, Once Again

We were informed by some locals that the Southern Appalachians don't have just one winter. The majority of the snow comes in the late winter and early spring, and they name the "winters" by what is in bloom at the time of the snowfall. For example, Dogwood Winter, or Blackberry Winter. We've just experienced another one of these winters, here in Damascus, VA. We had intended to leave this morning, but the prospect of climbing a 5,500 foot mountain in wet snow was not that appealing. Instead, we have joined droves of other restless hikers, roaming this quiet, little, stop-light-free town.

What hikers do best is walk, so what happens when we are prevented from doing so? At first, we appear to enjoy the rest. We will clean and dry our tents, and prop up sore feet. We will unpack and repack our gear, carefully looking for something that can be sent home to save weight. We will read decades-old issues of Backpacker and National Geographic from the hostel library. We will search the town for televisions, internet connections and a warm place to make a long-distance phone call home. Some of us will knit. We will contemplate heading out in the snow anyway...we have the gear, it's supposed to warm up by Tuesday.

Eventually, we will find ourselves down Main Street, at Sicily's Italian Restaurant, run by an Arabic-speaking family with an adorable toddler, the only restaurant in a Baptist town open on Sunday. They will be surprised by a steady stream of hungry hikers, on a day they expected to be very slow because of the snow.

While the rest of the town is quietly blanketed in snow, the windows in Sicily's fog up, groups of strangers-turned-friends dressed in colorful Polarfleece drinking coffee and playing Scrabble.

It's so pleasant, I forget that I'd rather be hiking....



In response to the concerned comments of some readers, we are indeed inside for the weekend. At least most of it. Damascus has been quite welcome to us, and we're enjoying real food, beer, and beds, at least until tomorrow. We swapped out some heavy gear for some lighter stuff at both outfitters (thanks Mt. Rogers and Sundog) and decided to 'zero' (walk no miles) a second day, thus allowing sore knees (m) and feet (k) to heal up.

Barring something ridiculous, we're planning on heading out again tomorrow, and staying in the lower elevations south of Mt. Rogers / Grayson Highlands until monday, when it's supposed to stop precipitating. It'll be cold, but we've dealt with worse, and if the snow is bad we'll stay in town. Tuesday it's supposed to get warm again, too... For now it's back to the room for a nap, then to Dot's or the Baja Cafe for some foods and drinks.


40 Days and 40 Nights

Well, we've been at it for 40 days...a rather biblical amount of time. However, we haven't been wandering, or lost, that much, since the AT is well-blazed and easy to follow. We just made it into Damascus, Virginia, which feels like a real accomplishment for some reason. We've hiked over 450 miles in weather ranging from about 10 to 80 degrees. We've hiked through 3 states (Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee). We will be in Virginia for a long time - about 550 miles...but for now Virginia is a new and novel thing.

Last night we made it to the Abingdon Shelter, about 10 miles south of Damascus, not 10 minutes before a truly torrential rain began. We had been hiking on a ridge all day - not particularly difficult terrain, but the wind was incredible, and it was really starting to affect our mood. I know that may seem funny, but try walking 20 miles with 35 mph gusts of wind knocking your 35 pound pack from side to side; sweating from the effort of walking, but too cold to take off your jacket. After a couple of hours of this I was feeling desperate to get out of the wind, but there WAS not place out of the wind. So on we trudged.

Our spirits were not particularly high when we got to the Abingdon Shelter, but when that rain started and we realized how lucky we were to have arrived before it, they lifted considerably. We ate a second dinner and dessert to celebrate, and read a few more chapters of "Travels with Charley" before turning in for the night. The rain poured down all night on the metal roof, the wind howled, and around midnight the thunder and lightening started. We slept soundly, though, and in the morning, when M nudged me awake, I opened my eyes to see a glorious sunrise over the valley, with a clear blue sky overhead. I can't say enough, how fortunate we feel to have the chance to be out here.

I have some more details to post about some other adventures we've had along the way, but first, some shout-outs....

Thanks, Sloan, for putting up my previous posts about the Smokies. We will be in touch about how to mail perishable items to us. Smile.

Endless gratitude to our parents, the Belskis for putting together all those mail drops and sending encouraging notes and pictures with the packages, and the Freys for caring for Rosie the Cat and watching out for important mail.

We are feeling more than a little homesick for our friends and family, and are so grateful for the comments and emails that you've been sending. Thank you!


It's COLD down here / Happy Easter

Greetings, all, from Tennessee. The cold snap that's been affecting much of the east has hit hard down here as well, and the last few days have been very, very chilly.

Two nights ago we camped at Ash Gap, just shy of the summit of Roan Mountain, and above 5500', the temp in the morning was about 19 degrees in the tent (which is ususally substantially warmer than ambient air temp - I'd guess we had low teens or high single digits).
Chilled to the bone by this experience, and with lower temps yesterday and today, we opted to hike in the day and hostel at night. Last night we stayed at Mountain Harbour where the trail crosses US19E, and the accommodations were excellent - hot hot woodburning stove in a fantastic bunkhouse over a barn, there was coffee, a hot shower, and a great bed. Plus the owner, Terry, drove us to the Times Square diner, where we enjoyed sweet potatoes, fried okra, tater tots, salad, and of course sweet tea. Thanks for everything Terry nad Mary!
Tonight we're at a new hostel called Abby's Place, which is about halfway between US19E and Dennis Cove Road. The bunkhouse is in a toolshed, also furnished with a woodburner, and the folks that run the place are gracious and interesting. Plus it's a whole lot warmer than outside! Tomorrow we hope also to find indoor lodging, and by monday the overnight lows should be back into the 20's, which we can weather outside.
Yesterday evening it snowed about 3 inches, and today's hiking was fun and challenging. Pushing through all that snow gets heavy quick, and gives your legs a workout like no other - and of course the snow covered trail is quite beautiful. Enjoy some of the new pics that we put up by following the link at right - I assure all of you they'll be captioned as time permits. For now it's time to fuel the fire... I've got wood to split.
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Hot Springs, NC

3-29-2007 - It's going to be really hard to leave this town. We spend so many days without showering and doing laundry that we really smelled like hikers when we rolled into town on Tuesday morning. But, since the AT actually goes right through the center of Hot Springs, they are used to it. We went directly to the Smokey Mountain Diner and ate mounds of toast and home fries. Before we were served, the waitress brought out a binder of letters and drawings from the 4th graders of the town. They had adopted the 3 miles of trail leading into town, and the letters were all about the hike their class went on, as well as questions for thru-hikers. Some of the questions included:

1) Do you have a real home?
2) Where do you go to the bathroom?
3) Have you seen any animals, or dangerous animals?

We were delighted and wrote letters back.

We are still hiking with Flick, and we met up with another married couple, Shadow (who takes a picture of his every day) and Numb Toe (figure it out). They are from North Carolina and have many excellent stories to tell. Shadow loves to sit around a campfire.
We did our first "slack-packing" while in town. Flick's parents drove us to a place where the trail crosses the road and we hiked from there back to Hot Springs... without our giant packs. We did 15 miles in about 6 hours and M (also known as Monkey, now) even stopped to take about a million pictures of wildflowers, which are starting to come up everywhere.
We are staying in the cutest little cottage by the creek here. If I had endless money, I think I would stay here forever.
I'm sitting here drinking a Sun Drop and eating potato chips, listening to Willie's Choice, which is one of the channels on satellite TV, that plays music picked by Willie Nelson. Does it get any better?

Next stop will be Erwin, TN.


"... and then the Mama Bear threw her cub up to the food line..."

3/25/2007 We spent the past week in one of the most visited national parks, Great Smokey Mountain National Park. Famous for it's hazy ridge lines, wide variety of salamanders, and of course, the bold black bears. The back country of the Smokies can be an exciting place. But first, you have to get there. The AT is a ridge line trail, and the ridge line here is between 4,000 and 6,500 feet. At Fontana Dam (the southern entrance to the park), we were about 1,700 feet. Up we went. Our packs bulged with 8 days of food (in case we were stranded in bad weather), and the climb was continuous all day. For eleven miles, we trudged up never-ending hills, including Shuckstack Mountain, which had a rickety fire tower on top, providing 360 degree views of even taller mountains. Because so many people visit the Smokies, special regulations apply. To concentrate the areas of impact, thereby protecting the surrounding wilderness, you must stay in a shelter. Only if the shelter is full, are you permitted to set up a tent, and then you must do so right next to the shelter. However, it would be impossible to actually patrol the hundreds of miles of back country for violators, so they do their best to scare you into staying in the shelters before you even get into the park. Here are a few of my favorites.

1) Do not attempt to hike at dawn, dusk or god-forbid, dark, lest you run into a wild boar. Worse than an angry bear.
2) Carry 10 days worth of food. Back in 1996, it snowed 18 inches and hikers were stranded for weeks.
3) At the Siler Bald shelter, there is a legendary bear who will throw her cub up to food-hoist cables so it can rip the bags down and feast while you sleep.

None of these warnings seemed to pan out. Instead, we found the first section of the park to be physically exhausting, and I was not too happy about the park's convention of not having a privy at the shelters; instead they use "toilet areas" which are disgusting, designated areas where you are supposed to dig a hole and do your thing. However, everybody else has been there already, so it is hard enough to find an unused spot. Plus, the siting of these areas was somewhat questionable. I spent far too long one chilly morning clinging to a tree on a nearly vertical hill, while gale force winds whipped up the side of the mountain onto my... well, you get the idea.
Other than THAT, the smokes were awesome. The views from the ridge were very clear. I decided that I want to paint my bedroom walls with the over-lapping, grayish silhouettes of these ancient mountains. It would be very relaxing to wake up to that every morning.
Although most of the "front-country" (visitor center, campgrounds, lodges and roads) is still closed for the winter, there were tons of people in the back country, most on spring break trips. We met some very cool people, including 3 boys from Alabama who wowed us with their salamander-catching skills.

So we survived the Smokies.


Staying Clean on the Trail

I just received some correspondence from M&K , albeit a few posts out of order. Enjoy! - sloan

3/22/2007 Many people have questions about personal hygiene while long-distance hiking.

Let me just say that you begin to adopt new standards for cleanliness rather quickly. But, we do go through some trouble to make sure we stay clean enough to be healthy.

1) Keep a pair of clean, dry socks at all times. Every chance we get we stop, take our boots off, air out our feet and dry our socks.
2) When we stop at night, we take a Wet Wipe sponge bath and change into dry, clean(er) camp clothes.
3) We carry hand sanitizer and use it religiously before eating and after going to the bathroom.
4) Hair - I haven't figured this one out yet. I keep my hair braided or tied up under a bandana part of the time, but if it is sunny and windy, I let it down to (sort of) air it out. It actually doesn't bother me as much as I thought it would.
5) We wash out our pot with biodegradable soap after we eat every night. Every couple of days we boil our eating utensils.
6) We get our water out of the ground, but we always treat it, either by using Aquamira Drops, or filtering it with our pump.
7) We shower and do laundry in town when we resupply, and boy does that feel good!



New Pics!

Greetings, all! Posting from Miss Janet's House in Erwin, TN, I'm happy to report that we've finally gained access to a suitable internet connection. In addition, we've uploaded more pictures for your viewing enjoyment!

I'll post the links below, but from now on they'll appear in the sidebar on the right as well. In addition to viewing the entire trip's worth, there will now be galleries subdivided into chunks of trail, so you can take a look at just the new pics without waiting for EVERYTHING to load. enjoy!

Amicalola Falls, GA to Neel's Gap, GA
Neel's Gap, GA to Fontana Dam, NC
Fontana Dam, NC to Hot Springs, NC (Including Great Smoky Mountains National Park)
Hot Springs, NC to Erwin, TN

Miss Janet's in Erwin, TN

Once again, someone happened to pull into the trailhead parking lot, as soon as we stepped off the trail yesterday. It was somebody who works at Miss Janet's hiker hostel, and he whisked us off into town. Miss Janet's is a big, old house on a tree-lined street. Outside backpacks and boots line the front porch. For $20 you get a bunk, laundry, a shower, and breakfast. While in town, we also enjoyed Erwin Burrito, with delicious vegetarian options. I had a fajita with broccoli and spinach in it!

M is uploading more photos, and working on captioning them, so you know what you are looking at. I will post a blog about the hike of the past week or so while I am here.


Hot Springs, NC to Erwin, TN

It was tough leaving a town as nice as Hot Springs, but we were eager to get back on the trail, and the weather was good. Since we had already slack-packed the first 15 miles of this stretch, we got a ride to Allen Gap, and did a relatively easy 14 miles to the Jerry Cabin Shelter. When we got there, M found a bit of trash that was sure to attract some critters, so he spent some time picking it up. The shelter was in a little clearing and had a decent spring that was close. We knew there were a lot of people out on the trail, but once again, we ended up with the shelter to ourselves.

The next day we ended up at a shelter with a bunch of other people, and even more showed up after dark. Shadow and Numbtoe tented out back, and we also met the famous Umbrella Lady, the Habitual Hiker and their 13 year old dog, Mac. Elsa and Nat also came after a 21 mile day, and Golden Boy was the last to arrive. We awoke to fog and a little rain. The weather just got worse all day, and we walked through a steady rain up until Big Bald - which is supposed to have fantastic views, but we saw nothing but fog. We did only 10 miles that day and made it to the next shelter, where Flick and I took afternoon naps and M conversed with Bronco Billy, a southbound section hiker. The next day, we felt refreshed, so we did the 17 miles into Erwin with no problem. M got some cool pictures of lizards on the way down.
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