Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The White Whale is Dead

-Needham, MA-

Right after I finished the last post, the crew of Brown Chicken, Brown Cow, and Cloud informed me that we were not leaving Rangeley after all. Turns out they met a former thru-hiker in town, who invited us all over for a night of libation and merriment. We left Rangeley two days later.

The terrain coming out of Rangeley was incredible. The never-ending rock slabs started to dissipate and well-worn and open trail became common place. Instead of being locked in a pine cave all the time, we now had views of the distant and uninhabited valleys of Maine, and what a sight it was. To look out over thousands of acres and see nothing but trees and lakes is something to be experienced. You would think that after being in the middle of the woods for months, I would have plenty of experience of feeling alone, but rarely did it happen before Maine. There was always the whine of an engine off in the distance, power lines strung across the landscape, or a road cutting its way through the forest. Not in Maine. Just you, trees, and lakes - that's it. An eerie but peaceful calm I've never experienced.

It was a couple days later that we came across the last major mountain chain before we made our way into the Hundred Mile Wilderness (more on this later), and the Bigelows did not disappoint. We caught them on one of the best days of the trip - no clouds, a calm breeze, and consistent sunshine. With enormous Flagstaff Lake to one side of the peak and Sugarbush & Friends on the other, the panorama was breathtaking. I almost fell on my face a couple of times because I couldn't peel my eyes away from the colossal expanse of nature all around me. I hung out on the summit for a good hour and a half, staring into the horizon, thinking about how after hundreds of summits and the thousands of steps they took to hurdle, there was now only one mountain left - Katahdin.

I stumbled down from the Bigelows and settled into camp earlier than expected because of a cold night ahead. Cloud dressed up in some hilarious flannels he found in the shelter and tended the fire looking like a 300lb Kid Rock with an alcohol problem. After a - let's go with, "refreshing" - night's sleep, I noticed that there were some new hikers that had pulled into camp after I had gone to sleep, named Wing-It, Don't Panic, and Tarzan. I had met them earlier in a town a while back, but I did not realize then that they were the appointed bearers of the Bad Wizard.

The Bad Wizard is a relic of long distance hiking, having already traveled the length of the Pacific Crest Trail in years past. This year it was going up the Appalachian Trail, and at the Trail Days festival, Rainman and I had put in our names to be considered as the new bearers of the Bad Wizard, but we did not get the honor. Few have ever carried the Wizard and those who have tell stories of its mystical powers and the misfortune it brings to the one who carries it. It is both a spiritual and physical burden - spiritual, with the bad karma it instills upon you, and physical, because the Bad Wizard is in fact a four and a half pound solid brass dildo.

Needless to say, I needed to carry it. So, when I asked, they were happy to let me carry it for the day to the next camp. No bad luck for me - a smooth 21 miles to Pierce Pond where I gladly returned the dildo to its rightful carrier.

I woke up the following morning unaware that I was about to get into one of the best trail magic experiences of all time. First, as most good things do, it started with a bout of cliff jumping with Space and Brown Cow near a waterfall not far from the Kennebec River (thank you to the both of them for convincing me to jump). We then rode our adrenaline to the Kennebec itself, where we crossed via creepy canoe boatman guy, and met up with the rest of the crew of Chicken, Cloud, and Suzy Creamcheese.

That morning we planned on going a good distance, but the crew was now bent on getting a good breakfast in town, and since the place was willing to pick us up from the trail, I was happy to go along with the new plan. Then we saw a note left from a mutual friend to us, explaining that she knew a raft guide in town and we could all go rafting for free. This was too good to pass up and so we started calling. From hiking 20 miles to free whitewater rafting in about 10 minutes. That's life on the trail in a nutshell.

Turns out she could only take three of us, so being a good doobie, I took myself out of the running just to make life easier for everybody. I believe that this move is what led us what happened next.

The place we went to for food was called Northern Outdoors, a family resort in Caratunk, ME with everything a person would want and more. Food, beer, huge hot tub, pool with volleyball net, small pond with kayaks, basketball court, footballs, game room, comfy couches, and cheap camping across the street. When we learned that we could stay for $6 a piece and have access to everything the resort had to offer, we were in.

It got better when we learned about the "logdominiums" (it's like a condominium, only its like a cabin in the woods!). With a mini-fridge, stove top, and plenty of bed space for the eight of us, it was worth the extra money to have this pad for the night. We ate a quality meal, burned the midnight oil, and had ourselves a night for the ages.

Alright, we've had our fun - it's time to go hiking, right? Nope.

I'm sitting in a comfy chair, watching some Sportscenter, when an attractive girl at the bar asks those words every hiker loves to hear, "Any of you hungry? Would you like the other half of my burger?". There was no hesitation and the next thing I know I'm introducing myself to Keltie Mullen, a local raft guide on the Kennebec. After about 10 minutes, she then says the second best thing a hiker loves to hear, "Well, I'm having some friends over tonight at my camp (this is Maine lingo for property) and you guys should come!" After some deliberation, we were in.

After a short stint of bridge jumping (because all good things, after all, start with bridge jumping) we made our way to her camp, enjoying the midday sun with cold drinks, snacks, and Playboys courtesy of our guest. I don't know why Keltie had a stack of Playboys lying around the house, but for a bunch of guys who have been away from regular contact with women, this move was a big hit. Her friends came over, the bonfire was lit, the dance party began, and we had yet another epic night of fun with our new friends.

Later that evening (either right before or shortly after the dance party comprised of Brown Chicken slapping a tambourine he had around his neck) one of the girls there asked me what we were doing tomorrow. "The same thing we do everything Pinky," I replied "Go for a walk."

"Ahhh don't do that. You should come rafting with us!"

Walking 15 miles or go whitewater rafting....hmmm...let me think about this....

"Well, don't twist my arm about it. Fine, I'll let you take us whitewater rafting. Jeez."

So, all of us got to go whitewater rafting on the Kennebec for free, courtesy of our new entourage of attractive female raft guides. While I didn't get to go on the first offer, I was extatic to take advantage of the second. Armed with the lingo I had picked up from Rainman earlier, we were shredding some serious gnar, slammin' our boat broadside in some nasty holes and rippin' through killer whitewater while the river was juicin' around 5000 cubes. Righteous.

We then headed back to her house again and relaxed the rest of the night away, exhausted from a long day on the river. After a good nights sleep in a comfortable bed, we put off leaving her house as long as we could until we couldn't delay the inevitable any longer. We set off for the trail once again, but we didn't like it. Keltie and Friends - thanks so much for one hell of a time I'll never forget!

We hiked the 11 miles up to the summit of Moxie Bald, the last bald summit on the trail. I had not "cowboy'd" (sleep with no shelter, just on the ground) yet since I had been on the trail, so with a gorgeous sunset and an even better sunrise in the forecast, I piled on all of the clothing I owned and enjoyed a beautiful night under the stars. The moon was like a spotlight in the sky and it was amusing to estimate how long you had slept by comparing where the moon was when you woke and where it had been from when you could last remember. Besides the cold, I was very jealous of Brown Cow, who cowboy'd practically every night that I hiked with him. One thing I'd change - spend more nights under the stars rather than under a rainfly.

We enjoyed good BBQ and an awesome night at the Lakeshore House Hostel in Monson, celebrating our last town stop before the end (at this point, there were a lot of "last" this and that, but any excuse to celebrate is a good one). Next was the Hundred Mile Wilderness, which is just that - one hundred miles with no major roads, towns, or civilization. If I thought I was in the middle of nowhere before, it wasn't even close to what followed. Truly alone.

However, while it is one hundred miles of nothing but the best nature Maine has to offer, it is relatively easy terrain to walk across, so the crew was able to pull big miles to get through it. There is a nice warning sign before you enter this stretch of the trail, warning you of the dangers of the Hundred Mile Wilderness, and how you should have at least 10 days worth of food and supplies before you enter. Pssshhhhtttt...we had five and I had extra at the end. Guess that's the payoff for having walked from Georgia - doing 20 miles a day for five days straight is no problem at all.

Then I saw it - Katahdin. Brown Cow and I had separated from the pack and I remember seeing him sitting atop a rock, staring North, speechless. I joined him and we marveled that after all this time, all the days, miles, and adventures we had each been through, we stood there with our massive beards puffed from our faces and our wind-ripped eyes squinting at the finish line. It was a surreal realization. It was right there. It was then that it became clear that I actually did walk there. There was no question about it now. I had walked the entire East Coast of the United States, and now I was a mere 15 miles from completing this adventure.

You may or may not know, but I had been carrying a full copy of Moby Dick with me since Franklin, NC. For the entire trip, I had chipped away at it, reading a chapter or so most nights, and I had reached the final chapter. Some said that I had to finish the book before I made my way up Katahdin, but I couldn't bear to read that chapter. I knew how the book ends. I know that Ahab doesn't kill his Moby Dick and is consumed by the sea while trying to slay the beast he had pursued around the world. I did not want my adventure to end this way. I was going to write my own ending. This Ahab was going to kill the White Whale after all.

The next thing I know I'm laying in my hammock at the Birches campsite, located at the base of Katahdin. A moment later, my pack is on, and the moment after that, the crew is atop the shelf, a mere mile from the summit. We could see the clouds streaming across the sign, and while we couldn't see it, we knew it was there. I flashed memories of all the things I had done in the past 173 days and all the friends I had made - and how the one person I wanted to be there was on the otherside of the continent. I thought about how, in a very Good Will Hunting, Ben Affleck-to-Matt-Damon-at-the-end-of-the-movie (the second time he pulled a Good Will Hunting line on me I now realize), Rainman had threatened I arrived at the Birches me to finish the trail. "If you use me and my reason for getting off the trail, I'll fucking kill you." I hadn't even said anything alluding to this connection, but that's what best friends are able to see whether you like it or not. He was exactly right. I was thinking about it. I was thinking about how we had both agreed to do this trip together, so to do it with out the other wouldn't make sense. Rainman knew exactly how what I was thinking and he called me on it. He knew the thought had crossed my mind once or twice and he wanted no part of it, because he didn't want to crush the dream for both of us. This is the only time I think I will ever smile after someone threatens my life.

200 yards away - my face gets that tingly feeling and I'm not alone. All of our voices start cracking and waffling. There is no appropriate conversation, nothing to say, nothing that would even come close to building up this moment further. No big speech or zany one-liner. It was just time.

10 feet away - I stared at the famous Katahdin sign for a good minute. I wanted it to look back at me and see me there, to recognize that I did not quit despite injury, pain, weather, social pressure, or any other of the hundreds of reasons an aspiring AT thru-hiker leaves the trail. I made it, you son of a bitch, and now it is time for me to finish.

I touched the sign, threw my pack and poles down the mountain, and screamed to part the sky itself. All that I had been through, all that I had endured, all of that was now over. It was back to cotton clothes, regular showers, and hugging my girlfriend. I was excited to get back, but my life as a nomad, free of stress and responsibility, was gone as well. could wait.

We shot photos on the top, soaking in our final moments as professional hikers, before we parted ways at the summit. I made my way to the bottom, greeted my parents, said goodbye to my hiking entourage, and drove for home. Apparently I smelled so awful that my mother grew nauseous and had to pull over to vomit a couple of times. Despite changing out of the dirty clothes, wrapping all my gear in an industrial garbage bag, and hanging my feet out of the window, my mother was incapacitated by the smell and retired to the front seat, curled up into the fetal position, trying to get to her happy place. Thankfully, we made it to the hostel without further incident and I got my shower. Five hours later, I was asleep in my own bed, dreaming about the past 24 weeks of adventure.

And now I'm back. My brother just got married, my girlfriend broke it off having moved on to one of my good friends, and I'm living at home with $500 to my name and no plans for the future.

Welcome back to reality.

Anyone up for another adventure?

To all that helped me along the way, by either welcoming me into your home or offering a kind word, thank you. I could not have done this without you.

To all who are thinking about doing something like this, do it! You won't regret it.

To my hiking family - I'll never forget you or the moments we shared. It was one hell of a time. If you need anything, just call and I'll get there. God knows I can walk there if need be.

Thanks for reading,


Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Only Perk is Better Weather

-Rangeley, ME-

It's official. It took five months of long days and painful steps, but it's official.

I have walked from Georgia to Maine.

A lot has happened in the past couple weeks, so I'll try and make this brief. I left Rainman's place in Manchester and met up with Fly-By, Hardcore, and Apache, and had an awesome four days with them up to Hanover. It was very tempting to skip some miles after my time off in Hanover and haul ass with them to Katahdin to let the good times roll, but it just didn't work out. They all finished the trail yesterday by the way. In the timeless words of Apache, fuck yeah dude!

I had five awesome days off in Hanover with family and friends and got some much-needed and I think well-deserved R&R from the trail. Got to see Gen's new restaurant, hang out with the Tilley family, go speeding around Little Sunapee in a speed boat, hang out with Jacquie a bunch, see my CITs over at Coniston, enjoy some good Grandma time, and answer all the same questions about the trail to anyone who would ask. Fantastic.

I got back on the trail, hiked 11 miles, and called it a day, not knowing that I would meet my new hiking partner Cloud. I think it's pretty ironic that I traded Rainman for Cloud, and I still joke that at least the weather was getting better. Trust me - I would kill to have Rainman back on the trail right now, but since he's got moves to make north of the border, I'll enjoy the better weather with a clean conscious. The funny thing is, the weather really has gotten better.

We stumbled into the Whites on a week of nothing but clear skies and sunshine. It was as if Mother Nature was saying, "Ahhh, you've been through enough shit on this trip, so I'll let you enjoy this part as much as you can. Have fun!" And boy did we ever. Cloud, a former Croo (that's how they spell it) member of the AMC Huts (Lakes in the Clouds for those who are curious) was looking forward to seeing some old friends he made from the past season, and hopefully, get some good treatment along with it. And since I was riding shotgun with him, he was sure that I could get in on the fun too.

In short, we stayed at 7 of the 8 huts, took zeros at two of them, and were taken on as temporary crew for 4 nights, helping with dishes. We sang Bob Dylan to wake up the guests. We did skits to teach the guests how to fold their blankets. We even got introduced to the guests as crew members. I wore a florescent mumu for two days at the Madison Hut. I put on a skin-tight spider print ski racing suit to dishes at Mizpah. I danced, I sang, I laughed, I played, and I kicked so much ass as a Hut Utility Nomad for the week, I have a couple hutmasters writing me recommendations that I must be put to work next summer. I even had a guest ask me if he could write me a general recommendation for future jobs because of my enthusiasm and general bright character. Yes, thank you, I know. I'm the greatest. And humble too.

Cloud and I took a couple more zeros, fell behind the crew we were hoping to meet up with, and got our asses kicked by Southern Maine. People talk up the Whites as being the toughest part of the trail. No sir. The Whites are beautiful, sure, and steep, yes, and the trail isn't always the smoothest, I get that. Southern Maine is all rock slabs, so their is no hope of decent footing, or boulders, which need to be vaulted over or scrambled under. It's humid at the time because the thick pine traps it all in, so you sweat buckets all day and it's impossible to get dry at night. When there aren't pines, you are exposed to the extreme wind that freezes the sweat in your clothes, so you're only salvation is to dive back under tree line, sliding down slick rock slabs, hoping and praying that a knee or ankle doesn't give out every step you take. And anything that resembles flat? It's either covered in moose shit or is a three-foot deep bog of mud. Fun, I know.

In seriousness, it has been fun. Sure, Maine is tough, but now that the sun has dried some of the puddled rain off, the true beauty has come out. It's one hell of a state.

Here are some highlights:

Mahoosuc Notch - Arguably the hardest mile of the AT and I did it in the pouring rain. Rainman actually warned me before I left to "set off half of my day to do the Notch" (it's bad enough to have moved from being "a notch" to "the Notch"). Thing is, it was the most fun I've had hiking in a while. Monkeying over boulders and squeezing through narrow passages for an hour was an awesome change of pace and made for a great time. It's slow, no doubt, but it's one hell of a mile.

Mahoosuck Arm - Note the change of spelling. This was no fun. One, big, giant rock slab that is as slick as I am. And hiking up it? No fun. One hell of a mile, but not in a good way.

Moody Mountain - Flanked by two notches, the trail goes straight over Moody Mountain, and is an absolute bitch to get over. It sure was moody that day - almost bi-polar.

Pine Ellis Lodge - Fantastic place where we spent a night off the trail in Andover, but their is one fact that you need to know about it. It's run inside the house of Ilene, a very nice old woman, and she has help from her son-in-law David. David gave us the tour of the place and what we were welcome to use. He then showed us that he also sells jewelery he makes in the garage. Thing is, his specialty, and, I'm positive, his monopoly of this particular jewelery niche, is making pieces out of moose shit. You heard right - nuggets of moose shit. There is moose shit earrings, moose shit keychains, and moose shit necklaces with diamonds jammed into them. He would then drop lines like, "Only hikers get to buy my shit," and "This is some of the cleanest shit around," or "Nobody else sells this shit." I can't believe that I was able to hold a relatively straight face when he was explaining his craft. I should just win the World Series of Poker, retire, and live on a yacht, selling lessons of willpower with videos of me keeping it together during this conversation. Amazing.

And now I'm in Rangeley, ME with 216 miles to go. Gotta keep on truckin'!

It's time to finish this trail.

Miss you all.



Friday, July 24, 2009

All Good Things Have A Hand Signal

-Manchester, VT-

Aunt Joanna dropped us off with full bellies, fresh legs, and our eyes set on getting to Vermont in good time. We decided that after making the big push to to Warwick, there was now no need to rush. We didn't have anywhere to be and finishing earlier only meant that Rainman's time on the trail would be cut short. Finally, for the first time since getting hurt in the beginning of the trail, we were going to slow down.

And that mindset last about three days.

Give us some credit - we did three days with less than 16 miles a piece. One day we only did 11! I'm most impressed with Rainman, who for once, reined in his own fire for impressive miles. I fell into the same flame for some time, so enjoying the new scenery of the North was a nice change of pace. However, three days later, it came time to pick a date for the Xtravaganza.

With our father's wanting to join us for the trail and us not wanting to lose the main crew we have been hiking with or around for the past three months, we had no choice but to shift back into high gear and pull some big miles to get to VT in about two weeks. At first, the miles per day didn't seem too bad, but because we wanted to hang out with people rather than blow right past them for Rainman's last part of the trail, we sacrificed our mellow days and set ourselves up for a 100 mile push in four days. More on this later.

The night of our 11-mile day, we stayed at Native Landscapes and Gardens, a nice place right off the trail that had free showers, camping, and good location to a fantastic deli. It seemed like the perfect place on paper, and just like the paper-perfect Yankees, this place ended up blowing it long and hard in the end. I'm talking A-Rod in October-type blowing it.

On one side of the building was a two-lane highway and the other side was an active commuter railroad track. If this wasn't bad enough, the place was also patrolled by a rooster going through puberty. Put them all together, you've got whizzing truck traffic as your background, the occasional commuter rail busting through on the hour, and at 5:30am, the prepubescent rooster cracking out a shrill cock-a-doodle-doo. It was a cocktail of insomnia for us all, but it did make for a great story. To Native Landscapes - thanks for your generosity, but it may be a good move on your part to not allow camping, for both your sake and all future hikers.

The next notable stop was the Birdcage in Dalton, MA. My mom had told me about it during her "research" (stalking) of the trail, and other confirmed that the Birdcage was worth the visit. Rainman and I busted out a 28-miler to make it to his doorstep and he did not disappoint. We rolled in around 9:30 at night, not sure if this guy would even be awake, but sure enough he picked us up, washed our clothes, offered his shower, provided fresh clothes, a bed, and beer within the first five minutes we were in the door. This man - no, no - this MAN is the man and his name is Rob Bird.

Chugging down cigarettes and helping people out is what Rob does best and he does them better than anybody I know. He opens his house and says exactly what you want to hear, every time, without fail. We had only one big mountain to conquer before getting to Vermont and Rob slackpacked us over it. I got an itch for cream soda while I'm hiking and sure enough, there are cold ones waiting for us in his fridge. For a guy who has never set a foot on the trail, he sure knows hikers well, and god, I'm grateful for it. The Birdcage is one hell of a place.

We hiked a bit more to get to Bennington, VT and Mr. Rainman was set to join us. While 10 miles a day for next four days was a break for us, we knew it was not going to be easy for our fathers. However, slowly but surely, Mr. Rainman chugged out mile after mile and held his own for all four days. My father was only able to come out for two, but boy was it awesome to see.

Melville (my father's appointed trail name) isn't the backpacking type and while he prides himself on having a quick and long stride moving through airports and strutting around the block, it's a whole new ballgame when you add a backpack, some hills, and some weather. Thankfully, he had all three to deal with, and his underestimation to the trails difficulty became evident oh so quickly. The fresh spring in his step died out, the constant conversation silenced itself over time, and the beaming smile of excitement was replaced with the emotionless stare of exhaustion I know all too well. I couldn't help but laugh, only because I saw myself go through the same thing and see the "What the hell have I gotten myself into?" face. I can only imagine what my face must have looked like. Much worse, I guarantee you that.

However, even at the age of 61 and 63 respectively, Mr. Rainman and my father did very well for their first couple days on the trail and it was awesome having them out there. On top of that, Rainman's sister Hilary, who I've known since she was very little, came out for two days as well and rocked it. It was cool to combine our trail life with our off-trail life for those few days and was really a lot of fun. Thank you guys and good work!

We pulled into the parking lot outside Manchester to meet the Mama's, give smelly hugs, and get ready for the madness that would be the Xtravaganza.

Five words: The most epic event ever. It will never be repeated and shouldn't be out of fear that it won't compare. 63-hikers in one house, everyone helping making massive meals, movie marathons galore, cliff-jumping in a rock quarry, shuttling everyone to where they need to go, and laughing all the way. If you want more details than that, just ask. My fingers would fall off if I even tried to type it all out.

The worst part of all of this? Rainman is done. The dynamic duo of Rainman and Ahab must split and I'll be the first to admit that it sucks. No more squabbling over useless arguments, no more funny stories from our childhood, and worst of all, no more laughs on tap. He single-handedly kept me on the trail during the beginning of this trip, through pain and anguish, and he'll be the reason that I finish it. I said it before and I'll say it again: he's the best friend I'll ever have and he's the best man I know. Rainman - I can't thank you enough for everything, buddy. Our trips of the past were pretty good, but this takes the cake. I can't wait for the next one. Thanks for being there, kicking my ass when necessary, and keeping the good times coming. I just want to shout it from the rooftop - I love you, man. Booop!

Alright. No more whining.

It's time to be a champion.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

I Am Optimus Prime

-Warwick, NY-

A lot has happened since my last entry, so get ready for the lightning round of blog entries. You ready? Ready...go.

4-state challenge? Pssshhhttt....done and done. We knocked out those 42 miles no problem, starting at 1:30am and finishing at 9:30pm. We then illegally camped in a public park and were woken up by a guy named George, warning us that if we didn't pack up quick, the ranger was going to smack us with a $135 ticket. So, hopped out of our hammocks (well, it was more like fell out of our hammocks) and broke down camp as fast as our taut bodies could handle. We made a break for the pavilion with rain clouds over our shoulder, and then we met Traveler.

To call this man a legend of the AT would not do it justice. He is THE legend if you ask me. Baltimore Jack's seven runs of the AT are more than impressive and his willingness to share knowledge and lend a helping hand along the way has always been nice, but after spending a day with Traveler, even Jack's mortality is renewed. I talked with him (which means mostly listening) for close to eight hours that day. Turns out, Traveler started the 4-state challenge in the first place, and took an immediate liking to us when he learned that we did it.He was hiking south on the trail, but after we told him we just did the 4-state challenge and were doing a light day, he decided that he didn't want to hike in the rain and would join us for a Chinese buffet in the next town. So, he turned around and hiked five miles out of his way to have Chinese with us. This was only the beginning.

Five hours in a Chinese buffet, I left stuffed of General Tso's and passionate advice about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. With story after story and one heartfelt declaration after another, this man single-handedly changed my outlook on the trail in those five hours. It was hard to believe that such a man has done so much and has been so unselfish in life, but thank God that people like him are out there. Hopefully, its my goal to join his ranks, or at the very least, follow his lead. I've never been a very religious man, so now I simply ask myself: WWTD?

I could go on for hours about the man, but there is much more to be said. After sleeping maybe 11 hours in the past 48 hours, which included at 42-mile haul, we were both extremely sore and dead tired, so we passed out in the middle of the woods a mile from the Chinese food place. Well deserved I'd say.

Two days later was the unofficial half-way point at Pine Grove Furnace, a small store famous for one reason: the 1/2 gallon challenge. It is tradition that through hikers consume a half-gallon of ice cream when they reach Pine Grove to celebrate having an unstoppable appetite and the metabolism of a hummingbird. Rainman bet me that he could do it in 15 minutes, which I happily accepted, knowing full well that I would lose, but I wanted to see it done. I was hesitant to try it, but decided that if I could will myself through four state in one day, I could muscle down a 1/2 gallon of ice cream.

Who do you think was victorious? Who is the one asking this rhetorical question? The answers are the same. It took me about 50 minutes to polish it off, but 1.89 liters of chocolate ice cream got taken down by the Cap'm, while big-talkin' Rainman silently threw out his box of ice cream only halfway done. One point on the Alpha male count to Ahab, but still so so far from the lead.

So, laying there in a lactose comatose, a man named Highjack came by and asked us three questions. 1 - "You all thru-hikin'?" Yes, sir. 2 - "You all know my wife Rusty?" Yes, some of us have met her. 3 - "Well, it's supposed to storm pretty hard tonight. I don't think I have enough beds, but if you'd like, you can stay at my house up the road." Hmmm...I'm going to have to - yes, yes we will gladly take you up on that.

So Highjack put us up for not one, but two nights! Hot tub, Yuengling, Indiana Jones movies, comfy carpets, a roof, and a Brady the Sheepdog made this house an oasis of refuge for us all. So, when we were planning to leave into the rain after the first night, our pathetic looking faces worked again and he offered to slackpack us for the day (meaning he'd pick us up at the end of the day and bring us back to his house). He was even about to offer a third day of slackpacking, but his wife Rusty, who had recently returned home for there 38th wedding anniversary, quickly muzzled him before he could offer. Highjack - you are the man.

Some walking here, some talking there, picture, picture, walk walk walk, laugh, hop over rocks, stub my toe, yada yada yada and were in Duncannon. After having conquered the half-gallon challenge, the group proposed a second challenge of a half-gallon of orange juice. I love orange juice and the Vitamin C would make me the healthiest person ever, so I was excited to give it a shot. I downed it in under two minutes no problems, had myself a beer and burger to celebrate at the Doyle, and set out after a couple fun hours in town. Then came the nausea, the intense dry heaving, the vomiting, the returning to town, and the passing out in bed with water bottle in hand. Details are not required - it was miserable. After flushing my system with Florida's finest, I woke up the next morning feeling fine and grinded out 29 miles the next day to catch Rainman and set the rumors straight about what happened.

Hiking, hiking, sweating, talking, step step step, jump, music playing and we're in Port Clinton. I get invited to a member's only bar, I find out Michael Jackson, Farah Fawcett, and Ed McMahon are dead, we pick up our resupply (thanks parents!), we hike some more and we're in Palmerton. We stay in jail for the night, get Chinese food, meet up with some old friends, hike over some rocks, pick massive amounts of wild blueberries, hike some more and get to Delaware Water Gap.

In the DWG, some friends of ours that we started the trail with were celebrating Joker's 27th birthday, and since they slowed up and we were hauling ass, we all met up to have an epic bash in Stroudsberg. Lots of laughs, stories, and rocking out took place and too many funny stories to type. Joker had a spot in her room at the Quality Inn, so I took that spot and made a funny realization. I remembered that my father, when were driving back from my college graduation, made a stop in Stroudsberg and stayed at the very same Quality Inn. I knew my way around, enjoyed the awesome pool, watched Jaws, and prepared for a nice zero day at Dorney Park.

An amusement park seemed like a great way to spend the day, but I found out this logic had a minor flaw. Now, I was now used to moving three miles an hour through the woods under my own power and noticed on occasion that whenever we got rides into town and such, it felt remarkably fast. Many hikers can attest to this sensation. So, jacking up the speed to 75 mph and tacking on loopdie-loops, barrel-rolls, and banked turns, it all made for sensory overload. Thankfully, Fly-By and myself were battling the same queasy feeling all day, so I wasn't alone in this regard. We opted for more low-key options, like bumper cars, the lazy river, and the antique carousel, to keep us occupied in between the bigger rides like Steel Force and the Talon. I must say though, what an incredible day it was. Great friends and great times - can't ask for anything more. Thanks Bob and Beth (Joker's parents) for taking us! Thanks Rent-A-Wreck for the Dodge Stratus!

We hiked 24 miles the next day, 26 the day after that, and 20 more to get to Warwick, NY to make our second stop on the Rainman Aunt tour (sorry to the one in New Mexico - I'll get myself out there soon enough, I promise). The biggest shout out of them all has to go to Lauren and Joanna for taking us in on the front end and back end of this blog entry. I'll speak for myself - I've never been more comfortable in my life and the way you both went out of your way to make sure we were well-rested and taken care of was amazing. I can't say it enough - thank you thank you thank you!

Joanna even sat through Transformers last night, which earns amazing props. The movie also inspired me to change my trail name to Optimus Prime, so we'll see if it sticks.

Next stop - Mama Foxy's in VT!

Let's roll!

-Optimus Prime-

Sunday, June 14, 2009

It's A Tough Job Being Unemployed

-Potomac, MD-

Ahhhh, some peace and quiet. No library limits or Wi-Fi ranges to worry about. I get to type to you all at my own leisure and make this last post a good one.

First, let's go over some highlights on the past week. We were ready to rock into the Shenendoahs in good spirits after an excellent and extremely comfortable time in Waynesboro. Definitely one of my favorite trail towns thus far - the people are nice, the amentities are plentiful, and the accomodations get better the cheaper they are. Instead of paying for another night at the Quality Inn, we heard the Grace Lutheran Church runs a hostel for thru-hikers free of charge. With a limited number of spots, we lined up outside the door in the rain and shouldered for position like the church was about to hand out Red Sox-Yankees tickets and Rainman and I, armed with our forced Boston accents to intimidate the other thru-hikers, rightfully earned our spots on the roster. It wasn't nearly that dramatic, but if any of us knew exactly what was behind those doors, I would have been slingin' Southie one-linahhhs, tellin' dah othah fackin' thru-hikahs to clear tha' fackin' way 'cause I'm rounded th'errrd like Ellsbury on six or seven Red Bulls and I'm comin' home ready to throw some fackin' bows!

But it didn't. What a shame.

This place was great. Cots to sleep in, big screen to watch movies, fresh fruit, excellent showers, and my very own box of Honey Bunches of Oats with Strawberries. I killed the box in one sitting. It was magical. So magical in fact that I bought two more boxes and powdered milk on my resupply so that I could enjoy that wonderful taste on the trail. Did I mention that I like Honey Bunches of Oats with Strawberries?

So after we settled into our divine abode for the evening, myself and my friend August Rush decided to visit the YMCA down the road to shoot some hoops. At first, we were both awful. I didn't hit rim in my first 15 shots, and each time I let out a groan of frustration, each one louder and more pathetic than the previous. Finally, someone mentioned it. "Hey, you wanna play a game?" My ankles quivered, telling my brain, "No! We'll twist and this trip will be over! Don't let him do it! Murphy's Law!!", but it was no use. It was time to ball up.

I looked to the other side of the gym to see three high school kids, all athletic-looking and comfortable with a basketball. They were messing around, shooting threes and doing trick shots, but as soon as they heard "You wanna play a game?", the warm-ups came off, the looks got serious, and they accepted our challenge without a verbal response. We were asking for it.

However, with the competitive fire now lit underneath us and these young lads looking to take us down, Team Nobo Hobo decided to step up our game and take these kids to school. I drove the lane and kissed winners off the glass right off the bat. I drove and dished to Rush who was hitting elbow 15-footers with ease. I backed down into the post and worked my game downlow, pulling spin moves and hitting hook shots that both Doctor J and my father would be proud of. We went up 17-3 at one point, and while they got hot late, I smothered the flame with two three-point daggers to close the game at 21-9. We shook hands and left the court with our egos stroked to a shine.

We slept and awoke to a downpour outside. We all tried to keep our spirits high, but with each minute that passed, the rain drained us of motivation to set out for our first day with 21 miles ahead of us. We made it all the way to the trailhead when we all decided that Chinese buffet sounded much more appealling. So we went back into town, back to Ming Garden, and pounded General Tso's for another two hours. When the rain finally let up, we stumbled out of the restaurant and headed back to the trail. Thankfully we only had seven miles to hike so it was nothing too strenuous.

The rest of the Shenendoahs was a vacation. No need to pack a week's worth of food with you because you can buy that dinner at one of the many stores or restaurants. We enjoyed breakfasts with waiters and dinners with beer. The terrain was forgiving and the rain held off until the evening. Life was good and we thought we deserved it.

However expensive it was or boring the scenery (it was nice, but repetitive and boring compared to earlier views on the trip), the Shenendoahs were good to us. We marched into Front Royal after covering over 100 miles in six days, and that's with that first day of only seven miles. Now the one thing on our minds was the tubing with Kickass Cove.

The plan was to hitch ahead on the trail to Bluemont and head south so that we walk into Front Royal the day of the event. Pretty uneventful two days - met a family of Pennsylvania Dutch (Dave, Steven, Mark, Mailan, John, and David - we're old friends now), watched Winston chase down a rabid raccoon and kill it, hiked over the famed Roller Coaster with ease, saw three Copperhead snakes....

Yeah, I know. Winston is a badass. And he did it after throwing up all night! Yeah, it sucks it was all over Wheeler's tent, but give it to the dog! Winston is the alpha male of the AT and that's that. Alright, I'll tell the story.

So Wheeler is up early (4 am) after Winston blows chunks in his tent. The only reason I know is because Winston came up and hung out under my tarp with me, embarassed to go back to site of the explosion. Anyways, Wheeler decides that after three days of messy poops and vomiting, he has to take Winston to the vet. Only 3.5 miles to US 50, get a hitch back to the Front Royal, and he'll be on meds by dinner time sleeping in a motel room. Beautiful.

About 2 miles into the morning, we cross upon Carpenter with his eyes bugged out of his head and fighting for air. "Don't go up there man! There's a raccoon that just chased me! It's got rabies man! It's out for blood, like 10 yards back. If I was you, I wouldn't go up there!" As soon as he finishes this warning, Winston perks up, slams his nose to the forest floor, and is running down hill on the trail of a strong scent. Wheeler tries to call him back but it's no use. We hope for the best.

No more than 30 seconds later, we hear Winston yelping for help. Wheeler, Joe Kickass, and myself drop our packs and bound down the hill and through the brush to find Winston standing unscathed with a twitching, foaming raccoon at his feet. It's back broken and body twitching uncontrollably, we ended its misery and while Winston gave his final staredown, as if to say, "Yeah, that's right. Alphamale, bitch."

Thankfully, Winston was already on his way to the vet, so with a rabies booster shot and some meds for his stomach bug, he's back to being the best dog ever (rather than the best dog ever with the worst gas imaginable. I'm talking room-clearing, sharp-enough-to-make-your-eyes-water gas. Thank god it's over)

Then came Tubing Day. To celebrate having marched 1000 miles (or damn close to), we bought beer, rented some tubes, and floated down the Shenendoah river for a couple hours. Soaking my feet in cool water while soaking up some sun was a well-deserved prize for all of us, and we marveled at just how far we've come. Old friends who are far ahead of us came down for the event, giving Rainman and I more motivation to get moving to catch up. Four State challenge anyone (42 miles in 24 hours? It's worth a shot.)

That begins tomorrow. And I need some sleep to pull it off. So, if you'll excuse me.

Thanks for reading.

Miss you all!


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Rule #7: If In Doubt, Do It

-Waynesboro, VA-

Last we left off, the epic bash that is, and was, Trail Days 2009 had officially ended, and it was now time to handle my parents. It was great seeing them and they helped us out a bunch with a clean bed to sleep in, a ride anywhere we pleased, and Chinese food. It wasn't a buffett, but damn it was good. It was also bad at the same time, but only by association with its inspiration with a meal I planned that went horribly wrong. Let's just say that the brilliance of General Tso's chicken cannot be recreated by simply adding a seasoning packet with his name on it to pouch-sealed chicken and macaroni. Far from it, my friends. My stomach still hates me.

Anyways, the parents saw us off into the woods and Rainman and I, who have yet to seperate despite our gear seperation, hiked a short day to Rice Knob Shelter. The only reason I remember the name of it is because it came with the best sunset on the trail thus far. A bald right out front with a perfect view of the West, and with a clear day, made for a spectacular display. We continued to hang out until sunlight became starlight and feast our eyes on the twinkling spectrum above. A great first night back on the trail.

The next notable spot I remember is pulling into Catawba, VA which is the location of the greatest restaurant I've ever been to. Sorry Redbones - you still have the tastiest ribs around, but the Homeplace is the titan of southern comfort. All-you-can-eat mashed taters, mac n' cheese, beans, slaw, roast beef, ham, fried chicken, and cherry cobbler is a combination of country delicacy that I rolled out of the Homeplace about a bean or two from popping. We jokingly asked if we could sleep outside because we weren't sure if we could make it across the street to camp at the store, and the owner surprisingly agreed. So we rocked our food babies on the porch chairs outside and spent the night planning the coming days and sleeping in the gazebo. A perfect night.

We realized that we had Memorial Day to deal with that coming Monday, and because most of us had packages to pick up in Daleville, we decided to hitch into town. I put on my best puppyface and sure enough, Greg Johnston decided that he could take a detour into Daleville. We piled on his flatbed pickup with his wife and two kids in the cab and got to Daleville to take care of errands. Props to Greg Johnston. If you read this, you are the man.

We got a ride back to Catawba and hiked into Daleville under our own power and made our first stop at the outfitter where I saw it. It clearly had been on the shelf for some time (with good reason) but as soon as I saw it, I knew that I had to drop the cash to have it. What "it" is is essentially a rice farmer hat made by Kavu - circular brimming coming to a point on top. It's undeniably practical but pretty unfashionable at the same time. The choice was obvious - I had to have it. There's even one girl on the trail who now calls me "Rice Patty Daddy". Yeah, that's right.

Time is ticking and the librarian is glaring at me so I'll wrap up the rest real quick. Left Daleville with dreams of Waynesboro and seeing Star Trek (which didn't happen). Jumped off a 30-foot bridge which was a great time. Rainman hit Bambi with his Buzz Lightyear kite. Got some excellent trail magic at the Dutch Haus and had a stuffed bell pepper. Grooved into Waynesboro with some light days and spent most of the day drinking beers and doing errands all day yesterday. Met up with some old friends from earlier in the trail who agreed that if we catch them in the Shenendoahs, they would buy us lunch or dinner (oh, it's on like Donkey Kong). Made some river float plans to celebrate making it halfway in Harper's Ferry. Ate at the Ming Chinese restaurant which was EPIC! And now, we finally get to enjoy some flat terrain of the Shenendoahs and get to really bust out some serious miles. 30 miles in one day? Oh, I'm doing it!

It's been great hearing from you guys and hearing of the support from all of you. It certainly makes being out here for this long easier. Just know that I can't wait to see all of you and after I get back, I'll bore you with as many stories as possible.

Also, I saw the Coniston montage and got really jealous. Douce, ZZ, and the Doc coming back? God damnit! Ahhh, I'll visit the beginning of August and get my Coniston fill.

Whew! That's my story right now and there will be plenty more once I get to Fort Royal (Port Royal?) and Harper's Ferry. Coming up on halfway!

Boo yah.

Love you guys!


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Welcome to Kickass Cove

We hiked into Wood's Hole, a small hostel right off the trail, where the owner was just heading out for Damascus with two open spots in his car. Without missing a beat, we were on our way to Trail Days a day early. For those who don't know, Trail Days is by far the biggest hiker bash on the AT. 25,000 people fall upon the small town of Damascus for a four-day festival of free food, festivities, and debauchery. All I could expect was pure insanity.

Turns out I was right.

We got together with some old friends from the trail, staked our claim on some prime real estate in Tent City, and Kickass Cove was born. It helped that one of our friends was aptly named "Joe Kickass", but over the next four days, we proved why we earned the title.

First was our undeniable sense of a good time. We arranged the parties, we stayed up the latest, and we brought a good time wherever we went. People knew us and those who didn't wanted to. Soon word spread that Kickass Cove was the place to be and it lived up to the hype. That's how we roll.

Second was the complete domination of the festival's competitions. Winston (the best chocolate lab ever) won the "Best Trick" contest in the dog show. The dog can climb trees for crying out loud - that was a lock. Snarl (a friend from the first day) won a pair of trekking poles in a raffle. So did his girlfriend. However, the biggest pull of Kickass Cove from the whole weekend was my own.

I caught wind that their was a Hiker Talent Show on Saturday. After I hired Rainman as my manager, I began spreading the word of my vocal percussion skills and I rolled up to the competition with a posse about 20 deep. One act after another got on stage and either sang a song or played the guitar. I could see the crowd slumping and losing interest. They chatted amongst each other and checked their watches so they didn't miss the next raffle.

I hit the stage to an ovation from my posse and started fast, kept it up, switched it up, did the beat and the chorus at the same time and my mark was made. It was a lock - I was deemed the 2009 Trail Days Hiker Talent Show champion.

Don't worry - Mama Ahab knows.

It was great to see old friends, make new ones, and put a face to the names we had heard over the past two months during Trail Days. Free food, free gear, and a great weekend to just get off of our feet for a while. To make things even better, my parents picked me up from Damascus and treated us to a much needed detox day. Good to share stories and get the renewed support every hiker out here needs to keep going.

I'm refreshed, healthy, and happy to be back on the trail. There are so many stories it's incredible, so you'll all just have to wait until I get home. The anticipation is killing you, I know!

Right now it's time for bed.

Later guys!


Sunday, May 17, 2009

And Then There Were Nine...

Toenails that is. And there's probably one more on the way. Oh, happy days.

With a little over a week of hiking before heading back to Damascus for Trail Days, Rainman and I looked to take down some big miles. The terrain looked good. The weather looked alright. We felt good after a day of rest. We were ready to go. And then we ran into wild ponies.

I heard rumor that the Grayson Highlands had wild ponies, but I didn't think they would travel in packs and be interested in hanging out with people. Well, they do and they are. Our shelter was overrun by about 10-12 ponies our first morning in Grayson, and after about a half-hour of freaking out because of this unexpected equestrian swarm, it actually was pretty cool. We fed them, kicked them, and tried to ride them, but they were unphased all the while. I got some funny videos of it all, so just wait and you will enjoy.

The person - well, more the animal - that enjoyed the wildlife the most of the past ten days, was Winston, the greatest chocolate lab to ever live. Like a kid running after a group of pidgeons, Winston would charge ponies full tilt and send them into a frenzy, only to strut back into line with the biggest smirk on his face. And he's not prejudice - he'll go after cows too. He got into a staredown with a sow the size of a Ford Escape who was trying to protect her young and was loving every minute of it. He snapped, ran circles, and toyed with this cow, seemingly laughing all the while. I got this on film too so you can all see for yourself. Hilarious.

So the plan of long miles quickly became a plan to enjoy the sweet group we had formed and make our way North at our own easy pace. The rain kept coming which kept us cooped up in shelters for days, but we finally got a clear day to set up our hammocks for the first time. I'll admit I was a little nervous of making the full transition to a hammock for a good nights sleep, but boy, are they comfortable. It lives up to the hype, so if you're thinking about it, definitely give it a try. And if you buy a Hammock, go Hennessey. More on my renewed alligence to Hennessey later.

We managed to trudge 150 miles into Wood's Hole, where we snagged a ride back to Damascus for the Trail Days festivites. This event is hailed as the party of all parties for hikers, with free food, gear, and entertainment for 4 days straight. What we thought was going to be a time to relax became the hardest four days of work I've had thus far.

I'm in the car pulling away from Wi-Fi so you'll have to wait for that later!

Rock on.


Monday, May 4, 2009

Topographic Maps Are the Work of the Devil

-Damascus, VA-

I almost stepped on a rattlesnake the other day. I also hiked 50 miles in two days, hung out with Bob Peoples at Kincora Hostel, got myself a nice...

Oh, you wanna hear more about the snake? The 5-foot poisonous rattlesnake that nearly nabbed me in the leg? That rattlesnake? Besides it being the scariest moment of my life, it was nothing really. Just the AT's way of keeping me on my toes. Nice work AT. Now I'll never be able to look at sticks or any debris on the trail again without thinking that at any moment, that Maraca of Death will pop up anytime it likes. Didn't I say this trip was peaceful?

I don't have that much time, but there have been some notable stories to tell. There is obviously the views we've been able to enjoy over the last stretch, which have been absolutely incredible. Once you haul yourself over the steep, rocky, and unforgiving hump that is Roan Mountain, you are happily rewarded with the best views, terrain, and scenery the trail has to offer in the Southern 500 miles of the trail. Wide landscapes of rolling mountains, 360-degree panoramas of the mountains you've climbed and have yet to climb, all accented with hills of sun-bleached grass. Pretty amazing stuff. You can bet that my finger was on the trigger on my camera to bring those views back home.

There is a shelter in this section that is called Overmountain, which is a barn that was converted to hold AT hikers and give them one of the best views of the valley. To steal a line from my father, it's got a view that will knock your sweaty, bloody socks off. Really, it does. Mine flew off my feet and Foxy and I enjoyed a pleasent afternoon just hanging out, sipping fresh water, and enjoying the day. Since Erwin, it's been a lot of that, and that has been plenty to keep the eyes and mind busy. It's nice to have these kind of stretches to get you through those rainy days.

Like today. Right now Foxy and I are sitting pretty indoors while the rain tumbles down outside. We've been running around taking care of errands before we set out on our hiking blitz before Trail Days on the 15th back here in Damascus. The idea is to bust out as many miles as possible before we enjoy four days off, so the hope is cover 160 miles in 10 days. If there was ever a test to see if my body is healthy, this will be it.

However, Foxy and I may enjoy it at different paces because we have decided to go independent from each other. Now, we'll be able to go at our own paces (mine being slower) and cover the miles we feel like. No more getting in each other's way, messing with each other's stuff, or being around each other 24 hours-a-day for 6 more weeks. We're still friends and we think this move will help us keep it this way.

Before my time runs out, some highlights:
-Intense philosophic discussions with Foxy
-Our stay at Kincora with Bob Peoples (This man is so legendary he has earned himself a flurry of Chuck Norris-like jokes. My favorite is "Paul Bunyan apparently got his axe on loan from Bob Peoples". He's basically Elmer Fudd with a Boston accent and a big heart. Amazing.)
-Covering 50 miles in two was a schlep, but we made it.
-Foxy and I cursing topographic maps for hours with every uphill that was not outlined in detail on our map. They are the work of the Devil!

Saw Pirate again today in town. He says hello.


Saturday, April 25, 2009

I Eat Hills For Breakfast...And Lunch.

-Erwin, TN-

And like that, we're at mile 340. Cha-chow!

The first day out of Hot Springs was light - only 11 miles to the first shelter. We enjoyed good fire, good whiskey, and a meteor shower that morning. I had caught wind from previous thru-hikers Johnny Thunder, Chaco Taco, and others that the 200+ miles out of Hot Springs was some of the best hiking there is on the trail. It was time to take it slow, enjoy the weather (for once), and appreciate the hike rather than pulling out long miles.

Sadly, that didn't last long.

We cleared 70 miles in four days, but don't think I didn't appreciate the good views. The sun cooked the clouds that had been following us since day one and we've been basking in sunshine since we left Hot Springs. Hiking in shorts has been fantastic and has given me optimal time to show off my fancy white knee brace. (For those Moby Dick fans out there, Ahab actually had a leg made of a sperm whale's jaw bone, making my white knee brace all the more accurate to my character. Yes, I am that good. And yes, I am that much of a nerd.)

So with good weather came the desire to enjoy it and we did so with long days, and as a result, long miles. Some new blisters popped up (ba-dum ting!) but nothing major. Knee held up with all the ups and downs, and I've actually though of weening myself off of Vitamin I in the coming weeks (gasp!). But not yet (whew).

While we flew through the past 70 miles, some awesome things happened. The best of which came when we met Hercules and Fall.

After leaving Hot Springs, Rainman and I marvelled at the fact that we haven't killed each other yet. We have our daily arguments and marriage-like scuffles everyday, but no blood has been shed (which, if there was, would be mine). Rather than push our friendship to the brink, we thought it'd be best to split up for the day and hike by ourselves and just meet at a landmark up the line. So, that first morning, he left a bit earlier than I did and I enjoyed rocking out down the trail while I belted "Simple Man" at the top of my lungs.

I round the bend at the bottom of the hill and see Rainman sitting atop his pack reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (which I recommended to him but now regret doing so - Rainman has now taken on an ability to perry and manipulate arguments with a Phadreus-like grace, making it impossible to reason with him. For example, I ask him repeatedly to move over in the tent so that he does not roll into me during the night. Simple request. Five minutes later, he's telling me that my perspective or interpretation of my tent space is just as true as his perspective of the space, so therefore my claim of encroachment is simply my interpretation and understanding of the situation, which is just as viable as his own opposite claim. Therefore, we are both right and wrong at the same time, so I have no reason to complain. Fuck you Phadreus.)

Anyways, Rainman points me to a sign telling us about some Trail Magic down the road. I'm expecting the usual burgers and beers routine in exchange for good stories, but we walk up to the most gorgeous country house I've ever seen with Hercules waiting at the door. "Welcome home," he tells us and welcomes us inside where he sits us down at the dining room table, hands me a drink menu (I had Golden Delicious Apple Cider) with the weather on the back. I ask my friends if this is for real and then just chuckle and shake there heads, silently telling my to just wait for what's next.

What came next was a Belgian Waffle with a muffin quiche, a bowl of Beef Stew, and a Brownie Sundae with fudge, nuts, and a cherry on top. All homemade and all incredibly delcious. All I could do was laugh out loud at this scene that was both ridiculously absurd and incredbily generous. They made their pitch for Christ and finding your inner truths along the trail (I kept my Judaism to myself at this point and instead told them that my father was an ordained minister for the UCC. That's what earned me a second waffle. Thanks Pops.) and sent us on our way with full stomachs. The only bad part was carrying all that extra weight to the next shelter.

With good terrain, good weather, and good legs, we got put on our packs and hauled 17 miles two days ago and 20 miles yesterday, bringing us into town to a nice hostel and catching us up with a good friend of ours. Now, we're settling our stomachs before all-you-can-eat pizza (the second-best five words a hiker can hear, right behind all-you-can-eat chinese) and then we'll relax the rest of the day. Hike out a bit tonight and then plan our next coming week - sounds pretty good if you ask me.

Truly, this trip has been remarkable thus far. Never have I gotten lost in my own head for so long, and while it is a struggle to get used to at first, time has slowed down. You can decide things in hours and not seconds and ask yourself the big questions. You find the melody in your own breathing going up and down hills or in the squeaks of your pack. The stupidest things make you smile and moments that annoyed you before simply bead off of you like water on wax. I've tried doing writing exercises in my head, one of which is describing the hike in two word phrases. Here are a few I've come up with.

-Eerily Inspiring- This was when we had very heavy fog, where the lack of a view seemed just as beautiful as if we had one.
-Remarkably Peaceful- You wouldn't think that something so diffcult and painful could be peaceful, but I assure you it is.
-Painful Reminder- Oh, it hurts so good.
-So Simple-It's just walking, but oh, it's so much more than that.

You don't need to be out here for five months to get it. Hell, a lot of it came in the first week. If you're thinking about it, do it. Cut out as much comfort as you can (electronics is a good start) and spend a couple nights outside. You'll thank yourself, and then you can thank me. (You're welcome)

There are plenty more stories, but you'll just have to wait for when I'm in person. I've gotten better at keeping them brief, but who am I kidding, they will probably still be boring.

It's pizza time! Thanks for the vibes and keep 'em coming! It's working!

Much love,


Monday, April 20, 2009

Ever Read My Little Puppy?

-Hot Springs, NC-

I just got back from soaking my ragged stack of bones at the Hot Springs Spa and for the first time in a while, I feel good.

When I last left you off, I was getting out of Hiawassee, GA trying to mend my knee and after two days on the trail, the pain came back worse than ever. I thought my trip was finished. Game over. Do not pass go. Do not collect 200 dollars.

However, hobbling to the next shelter, I was pissed off that my trail may be over, frustrated that I got this industry in the first place, and angry that I'd have to have my brother pick me up off the trail after less than two weeks on. So in this fit of rage, I told Rainman (that's Dan) that instead of setting up camp for the night at 1pm, I wanted to push on and get off the trail as soon as possible. We checked the map - 1.1 miles down the AT and 5 more miles on a cut-off to get to the highway. At my pace, I could be in Franklin (the nearest town) that night and be able to sleep in a real bed. Then, my belief in a higher power was restored.

Walking the one mile to the cut-off, I had no pain. Not a wink. It was like I was never injured in the first place. It didn't make any sense. After 800mg of Vitamin I (Ibuprofen), it would certainly help out a bit, but not numb it completely. I thought the pain would come back during the one mile approach, but nothing came back. I continued on the AT for 4.5 more miles - still no pain. Then, Rainman and I enjoyed some Trail Magic in the form of free beef stew, chili, beer, burgers, sausage, biscuits, and a warm breakfast in Deep Gap, I made my way on a cutoff trail to Franklin and got myself into a motel bed for cheap - still, with no pain.

I don't know what to tell you. But the knee is working and since then, there is some pain here and there, but nothing two Vitamin I and some Bengay can't handle. Needless to say, I'm happy about it.

So all the problems I had are now solved. Blisters? Got new boots and no more problems. Knee? Vitamin I and Bengay - done and done. My torn up side? Ordered a new ULA pack off a reccomendation from a man named Pirate (we became good friends) and the thing rides like a dream.

Funny story about Pirate - I had just picked up Moby Dick at the Franklin book store (need to do some research on my character, you know) and a discussion about good books broke out on our shuttle (which is a washed-up mini school bus - hilarious). Anyway, we start talking about the classics we should/want to read, from Vonnegut and Melville, to Michaelangelo and Homer. Suddenly, Pirate chirps into the conversation with the line, "You ever read My Little Puppy? It's only 8 pages and has plenty of pictures - great book." with a straight face and everything. And from a man with a bushy peppered beard and a weathered face, it was comedic genius. That's Pirate in a nutshell.

Back to the knee - one fact I noticed about my knee was the correlation between my nagging knee pain and my Chevy hat. I realized that the miracle cure happened when I wasn't wearing the Chevy hat, and that was the first time I had not worn it. I thought about the flurry of crap I had to deal with in the first two weeks and it all came while wearing that hat. So, I did the most logical thing I could think of.

I burned it.

I burned that fuckin' hat and watched it burn with all the future injuries that would have come along with it. And since then, I have no new injuries to speak of.

To wrap it up, we cleared the Smokies in 5 days, saw 3 bears, trudged through Narnia when we had freezing temperatures, pulled two 20+ mile days, met some crazy people, did a work for stay at the Standing Bear Farm, drank tons of beers, slept on Max's Patch and had the craziest sunset ever, got some more Trail Magic, got to hike 20 miles without my backpack, dipped my body in a 105 degree mineral bath, and now I'm gonna hitchhike to a party and enjoy some free pig roasted by a man named Rock Hound.

Hell yeah.

All you need to know is life is good, the trail is great, and I've already got less than 2000 miles left to go.

Keep sending those good vibes!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Ups and Downs, Highs and Lows, Physically and Mentally

-Hiawassee, GA-

Sup party peoples. One week down and I'm still breathing. Barely.

It's been a fun but challenging first week here on the AT. Plenty of injuries while my body gets broken in to the trail, sleepless nights, and tough days of hiking, but Foxy and I are still rocking and rollin' over the hills of the Chattahootchie (sp?). However, we don't go by those names anymore.

Foxy is now Rainman because our first 4 days on the trail were between drizzle and downpour. His philosophy is that if you can't beat the rain, join it and your spirits will be higher. It's worked for him so far.

My trail name is Ahab. I got it on my second day hiking when a tweaked my knee somehow and was forced to keep my left knee straight on the downhills for the remainder of the day's hike. With my ass peg-legging down each little decline, I made the smartass comment that I felt like Captain Ahab struggling around. It stuck.

A number of other injuries have followed the knee. There are the obvious blisters which are working themselves out and I pulled my hip flexor the first day - no biggies here. The knee has been a bitch and has put me up for today (which is why I'm able to write this) to give it time to heal. The nastiest wound has been how my right side has been shred by the hip belt. I was wearing the pack too low, and the advertised "Waffle Construction" of my pack soon became a cheese grater for my waistline. It's left a serious gash has impressed many a fellow hiker, but that's about all the fun it's given me. Rainman and I are putting our First Aid training to the test keeping it clean and protected and it's already on the mend.

So while I've come down with some bumps so far, I am hopeful that my knee will heal with this day off (and most of tomorrow too), my side will not become infected, my blisters will callous over, my spirits will strength, my sleep will make it through the night, and that I get on top of being dehydrated all the time. Other than that, I'm a happy camper.

Truly, this trip has been epic so far. Great people, great sights, and a great change of pace. Hike for 6-8 hours a day and relax for the night. It's genius! While it has been tough at parts, both physically and mentally, to keep going and to stay focused, the people along the trail and the times you all share has been worth it. When you're grueling through miles day after day with these people, you get close pretty fast. It's brings together an interesting modge-podge of people that bring something new to the table every day. For example: There is one guy Gorgonzola (who I simply refer to as Bluech) who was a martini bar owner but looks like he could be the bouncer. FeatherFoot - a retired engineer for ITT, a goverment military weapons systems manufactuer. Ewok - a former soldier, physiologist, philosophy buff with a beard you could make a nest out of. Snarl - a wrestler from South Carolina. Joker - a world traveler looking for the next challenge. LeeBo - an adventurer who has biked (like peddle-peddle, not vroom-vroom) the circumference of the US...twice. And that's just a few.

The people along the trail have been great to us. Already had my first trail angel - a woman named Pat who pulled out of her Suburban with a shopping bag filled with cookies and water. There's the guys at our Inn who have been amazingly generous. However, if there is one person who tops the list, it's George. George works the Blood Mountain Cabins in Neels Gap and this guy should have a halo above his head. Let's count the acts of saint-hood this guy gave us in about 15 minutes of interaction:
#1 "Hey George, do you sell beer?"
"Nope, but here, have this. (He hands us a six-pack) Sometimes people leave it in the cabins. You can have it"
#2 "Hey George, we left some laundry out front. Do you know..."
"Yup, I already put it in for ya. Should be ready for the dryer pretty soon."
"Oh thanks! How much we owe ya?"
"Oh it's free.
#3 "How much for this Duraflame log?"
"Oh, I'll just add it to you tab" (Which we later found out was George-code for free)
#4 "Oh man, we forgot to pay for the wood we took"
"How much you take? One bundle? Ahhh, don't worry about it." (Only after I threw cash at him would he take it)

George - you're the man.

However, if there has been one guy that has made this trip so far - it's Foxy. He's carried my bum, peg-legging, complaining ass and has really stuck by me to help me all through it. With help with injuries, added motivation, support, advice, reason, and general a settling attitude, he's kept me level and prepared to give each day my best shot. He even chose to stay put with me in Hiawassee when he could have hiked on with a group of friends and made a big party bash this weekend. He's put up with a lot from me and I can't thank him enough for it. If he wasn't my best friend before, he sure as hell is now.

That's all from me for now folks. Sends some good vibes, specifically healing ones, and wish us luck for the next week. Hopefully we'll make it into Bryson City a week from now.

Hoo rah!

Friday, March 20, 2009

It Just Got Real

I've always known that this day would come, but now it is finally here. It's time to pack my bag, sleep my final night in my own bed, and prepare for life in a backpack.

The past week has been a hectic one which is why I haven't had the time to post anything lately. I took my $500+ worth of the best that Costco and Ocean State Job Lot have to offer up to Foxy's place to make our mail drops for the trip. All unperishable and all fantastically delicious. Ahi tuna steaks, beef jerky, vegetable orzo, cheddar broccoli soup, Annie's Mac N' Cheese, quinoa, dried fruit, and enough gorp to fill a kiddie swimming pool. While our mail drops will be few and far between, we will eat like kings for those couple of days.

However, the trip took a backseat when I found out my girlfriend was going in for surgery the day I would have started hiking. So, after a little finagling, we pushed the trip back five days so that I could be there. The surgery went great, but as she got better, I was getting worse. The trip that had seemed so far away was now the only thing left to do.

Now it's time to say goodbye to all of my friends, my family, and to the comforts we all know. Time to say goodbye to Mama's meals, the El-R, and a real mattress to sleep on. To my cell phone, to my computer, to movies, television, and screens in general. To nights out, to paychecks, and to the real world - and damn, it sounds good.

Foxy and I sat down one night in Vermont and tried to answer the simple question of, "Why?"

I gave a long-winded answer, exploring the many morals positions one can take when facing a challenge like this - to test myself, to find myself, to learn about what I'm capable of, to grow as a person, to follow-through with what I said I was going to do, and in general, to simplify. All noble and all true. Is it the right answer? After 25 minutes of rambling through all of these reasons, the only answer that felt right was the simplest one.

Because it's there.
If it was good enough for Sir Edmund Hillary, it's good enough for me.

I guess that's why I have to start walking. I know where I'll be going, but where will the trail take me? We shall see.

Hopefully to a better answer.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Serious Mental Debate

For the past 48 hours, my mind has been in serious mental debate of what to do with this trip. I had set in my mind that going for the entire AT was the only thing that I wanted to do, but as soon as Coniston calls me up, the trip was cast in to doubt. Do I play it safe and take up a contract with Coniston and have one more of the classic Coniston summers that I've learned to love? Or do I go all-in and risk it all to see if I can actually pull of the feat of hiking 2171 miles with my own two feet? This debate raged on.

First off, you (meaning me) know that Coniston is always a great time.
Who says that the AT won't be even better? I mean, you have worked at Coniston for six summers already
Yeah, but this position is the type of managment position that you can prove your worth?
Prove what? That you can do a job you've held for the past 6 months? It's true it will be good, but you know you can do it.
Sure, but do I know that I can really hike the entire AT? It's 2171 miles for god sakes. Besides, hiking 1200 miles isn't exactly cake and lollipops. What if you hate it after a month? Break your leg? Get sick? Get poison ivy all over your balls? Then you'd wish you had the security of being able to go back to camp, that's for sure.
What if you get three months in and realize that you could actually pull it off. You - Eric Rightor - could hike the entire AT, but noooo, you have to report to Coniston. Sure, it's not even close to the worst fate ever devised, but this is something you've been dreaming about for years now. Is your dream worth selling for one more summer at Coniston?
Well, the trail isn't really going anywhere.
Neither is Coniston.
Three months isn't bad. Not bad at all.
You're right, but stop being a pessimist. 5 months and finishing what you started is a lot better and you know it.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. But what if...
What if what? You can "what if" yourself up to your eyeballs and you won't get anywhere.
OK. You're right.
I know.
We're both right.
If you say so. We're both you, remember?
Right. Still, 1200 miles after 3 months on the trail, then a summer at Coniston is a great 5 months by any standard.
But is that the goal? You can take that deal, but then you will never know if you could have ever done it all at once. It's not the biggest deal that you finish it all at once, but you will never know if you could have if you don't try.
But you were willing to leave for...
Yeah, yeah, I know, but you can't think about that. That's a special circumstance. This is right now.

This is your one shot at doing this. Pure and simple.

And that's how it ended. After talking with friends and family for hours about this and a couple sleepless nights, it came down to that: This is my one shot to do something truly remarkable and to see it from beginning to finish. No cutting it short. No excuses. This is my one shot to go for it and if you don't take it, it won't come around again. So I made the call, and for the first time since age 10, I'm not going back to Camp Coniston. I'm 23 today actually, just so you know. Whew.

There was a lot more that went into it, but that sums it up. However, there is one more clever tidbit that made the decision a little easier.

Last night, before going to bed, I get a text from Wilson Roberts, a CIT of mine last summer out West. Expecting a "Happy Birthday!!" message to come up, I didn't think much of it when I was scrolling down. It read: "You won't hike all 2000 miles of the AT! You won't"

The boys from Needham know EXACTLY what this means, but many of you may be puzzled by this. Let me explain: If someone told you that you wouldn't do something, you undoubtedly had to do it. It was unwritten law - an formal declaration questioning your very manliness, and if you didn't act upon it, you were doomed to at least of week of ridicule. I told this to Wilson out West who thought it was hilarious. Hence the message.

My response? It's the response that any fine gentleman would have to give.

Say I won't.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Preparing for Life in a Backpack

Well, it's go time.

Foxy and I are ready to strap life onto our backs. The gear is bought, the menu is in place, and now we are just waiting for the 21st of March to come by. So what does one bring on a 2000 miles trip? I thought you'd never ask.

-Osprey Atmos 65 Backpack (light and built for ventilation - and with how I sweat, I need all I can get)
-Lafuma Extreme Kilo 35 degree bag (light and compact)
-Ultralight Hennessey Hammock (besides being light and versatile - it's a hammock! What's not to love?)
-Halulite Pot (light, durable, and a good conductor)
-8 Inch Knife (For cutting cheese and stabbing bears)
-Orikaso Fold Flat Ware (Save space and totally lickable to save from washing)
-Gold Bond (Never leave home without it)
-Merino wool boxers, tights, t-shirt, and socks (doesn't stink and it feels so nice)
-Patagonia Micro Puff Jacket
-Magnesium Fire Starter
-First Aid Kit
-Gloves, hat, pants, long sleeve, food, water, hiking poles, pack cover, paracord, blah blah blah...

That's it. Foxy and I will be swapping books back and forth to keep up the conversation. He'll start with "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenence" and I'm going with Walden. I think they are pretty fitting books for a romp in the woods.

Hopefully I'll be able to keep this blog going and keep you all posted on life on the trail.

This should be one hell of a trip.