Pete and Mark on the Appalachian Trail May 2016

160510 map AT

Day 0 Monday 04 May 2016
Mark drove up Sunday so he could see Dave and Amber and the boys and so we could leave for the trail Monday. I wanted an extra day so I could make a kilt. Jackie got me a kilt for Christmas and I was excited to hike in it on our March AT trip. However, it is 100% cotton and kind of heavy canvas type material. It rubs and gets really heavy when its wet. I thought it would be great to have a nylon kilt. I looked for one online and in the stores. The only ones making a hiking style kilt are mountain hardware and I think it looks more like a pleated skirt than a kilt. The pleats go the same direction all the way around and the belt is a little too dainty. So, I decided to make one myself. I bought some black nylon like you would make a kite or a flag out of. I started to try to figure out how to make a kilt and decided that material was not what I wanted to use. So, I went to all the fabric stores and looked online. I finally found an online store selling the same material that REI makes their cheaper hiking pants from. I have a pair of hiking pants but I have meaty thighs. I’ve never found a pair of hiking pants that fit the way I would like. Anyway, the material arrived and I spent all day Monday making a kilt to wear hiking.

Day1 Tuesday 05 May
We left Durham around 0730, got gas in Mebane, got lunch on the way and dropped off a car in Hot Springs around 1330. We found the parking area at Roan Mountain a little after 3 and were on the trail around 3:45. We made pretty good time hiking 5.5 miles and set up camp around 7:30. We were in bed by 9. It was really cold in the hammock. It didn’t occur to me how cold it would be in a hammock with wind blowing underneath.
The first day we came through Ash Gap and it occurred to me that Jackie told me that Morrel mushrooms like ash trees. There were birch trees in ash gap and I mistakenly assumed they were ash trees. So, I looked for mushrooms around fallen birch trees the rest of the trip. Spring is much later at the higher elevations and was just coming to the section we were on. I don’t think the Morrels are out yet where we were. Some of the trees are just now getting their leaves and there are tons of wildflowers.

Day 2 Wednesday 06 May
Mark woke me up at 0645. I wasn’t super happy about it but it was a good idea to get going. We were on the trail by 8 and made good time at first.
I felt good most of the day but hit a wall around mile 9 or 10. My body felt really sore and my lungs got really irritated. I think I am allergic to Pemican bars. We stopped at a shelter at 12.7 miles at 2:45 and decided to press on and camp at Low Gap at 13.7miles right at the foot of Unaka Mountain for th morning climb. We passed 132 North Bound Hikers between 0800 and 1830.
I need to put another snap at the bottom front corner of the kilt to keep it from blowing open in the wind. I had an idea for belt attached pockets instead of zippers or sewn on and an idea for a muff pocket in the front for your hands.

Day 3 Thursday 07 May
Rained starting at dark (2100) last night. I worried all night that the fly was going to fail or the wind would just blow the rain under the fly and I would get wet anyway. I imagined I felt water drops hitting me and had to remember that I was in a sleeping bag, so, even if there were raindrops hitting me, I wouldn’t feel them as rain drops. I used my ¾ inflatable sleep pad in the hammock which made it much warmer but it was hard to keep it in position. I finally got up at 0400 to pee and check on all the lines and finally got some sleep. Mark let me sleep until 0745 which was appreciated. Luckily or not, he didn’t bring a watch. We got going by 0900. It was very cold. We had to wipe down our wet gear and it was painfully cold. We had a big climb up Unaka Mountain first thing. The top of the mountain had ice in the trees and it was snowing and sleeting at the top. We had sleet off and on the rest of the day. We pushed past the shelter but heard the hostel (Uncle Johny’s) was full. So, we made camp before we came into town. We were planning to go into town in the morning and restock on toilet paper rather than trying to make it before dark, rush through, and try to find another place to camp.
We went by a big creek that was running mostly underground. There was a huge amount of water going by and you could just see it under a big rock but you could really hear it. It was amazing that there was that much water moving that fast all out of sight. We also saw these orange flowers that were really pretty. They kind of look like honey suckles but were different and grew on a sort of bush type plant.
Raining now, 1915. Wet night ahead. Hope will stay dry in hammock.
I left a note for my friend Anita at No Business Gap Shelter (5/6/16 at bottom of page) She is scheduled to hike this same section in the other direction next week.

Day 4
We camped by a creek last night. It rained all night but we could also hear the creek running. I like hearing the running water while I sleep. It is really relaxing. We planned to go into town this morning. As we were fixing breakfast and breaking camp, I had a sudden and overwhelming need to use up the rest of my toilet paper. That incident made stopping into town even more important since neither of us had any toilet paper at that point. We missed the trail to the first hostel and campground that we thought we were aiming at. We thought the trail went into Erwin. It does not. However, right after you walk across the bridge over the Nolichucky River, you are at the front door of Uncle Johny’s hostel and outfitter. We were able to get toilet paper and hot cocoa mix but no hand sanitizer and no breakfast. So, our trip “into town” didn’t exactly happen the way we imagined it and our hot breakfast with eggs and bacon turned into a granola bar and no breakfast at all. We were a little disappointed and hungry. Right after the river and Uncle Johny’s was a big hill with lots of switch backs.
We passed around 60 hikers heading North today, about the same number as yesterday. Wednesday we passed around 140 hikers heading North. I think there was a big push to try to get to Manassas for Trail Days. It was also nice weather and we were on a section convenient to day hikers, so, we ran into several hikers out for the day. We didn’t discriminate in our count. We counted day hikers and through hikers the same. We also counted dogs and people the same. I think the big day there were around four through hiker dogs. There was one that we decided should only count half because it was a tiny puppy riding in a guy’s jacket. She was not carrying her own pack or walking on her own legs so we weren’t sure if we should count her… I think the last couple days there have been hardly any day hikers because we weren’t on convenient sections and the weather has been kind of crappy (cold and wet)
I ran into a girl called Fern who is from Maine and hiking home on the trail. She had just been talking about kilts with her hiking buddy and saw the one I was wearing. She asked where I got it and was super excited when I told her I had made it. She asked if it was possible for me to make her one. She was so nice and so excited about the kilt, there was no way I could say no. Jackie and I had briefly discussed selling them anyway and I thought it was a good opportunity to try to figure out how to make them in different sizes. So, I said I could make one for her and we talked about her size and after a minute talking about it I asked if she wanted to try it on and see how we needed to change the original design. So, I ended up standing in the middle of the trail in my underwear while this friend, whom I had just met was trying on my kilt! It felt like a special moment (maybe partly because of the vulnerability one allows when you strip down to your underwear in front of someone else) but mostly because Fern was so excited about the idea that she was just talking about getting a kilt and then someone who could make her a custom kilt that doesn’t exist in the commercial marketplace manifested from the trail. The trail will provide. Im excited to go home and make a custom kilt for Fern and I hope it will serve her well on the trail.
We are camping at something gap. Its windy and cold but I’m hoping for no rain. Tonight is the latest night yet. Looks like Ill be in bed by 2100. So far its been 1900, 1930, and 2000 bed times.

Day 5
I left a note for my friend Anita at the Bald Mountain Shelter (5/7 at the bottom of the page)
We spent the night at Whistling Gap. It was super windy and cold. I had to pee twice before midnight. The cold wind meant that I ended up in the fetal position at the bottom of the hammock trying to stay on the 2/3 inflatable mattress pad.

We got a decent start this morning and took a good break at Big Bald Shelter. Then we ran into a group who have cabins in neighborhood on the mountain who were setting up “trail magic” in the gap between Big Bald and Big Stamp. They had hot dogs and beer and all kinds of food for folks. They really enjoyed sharing with the hikers and we really enjoyed eating hot dogs and having a beer as a surprise in the middle of the trail! They kept offering us more food and we probably could have had a second hotdog but we have some identity issues with feeling like the through hikers deserve things like that more and so we don’t want to take more than our share. At the same time, these folks had a lot of food and we probably could have eaten a lot more and they would still have had lots of leftovers. It was super cold and windy in that gap and it was really nice to have hot food.
After noon, the weather warmed up and was really nice the rest of the day. There was more trail magic at Sam’s Gap where the trail crosses I-26. A lady had a bunch of BoJangles chicken and soda. It was nice there too but not as nice as when you are cold… We got to the shelter a little after 5 to use the privy and get water. Then we pressed on to get in another couple miles. 15 something for the day. There was a campsite we were aiming for but we didn’t find it. So, we’re camping backwoods style. Luckily, our hammocks are pretty low impact on the environment and allow us to camp right off the trail and really embrace the leave no trace imperative of the trail. We have a long day planned for tomorrow. Somewhere between 13 and 20 miles depending on how we are feeling.

Day 6
Today was great! It rained last night with a lot of wind and we had to get up and reset all the stakes for the rianflys but everything was dry when we got up. We hiked up a hill and along a ridge to a shelter for a break around 11. When we first got going, we had a great view of a valley with low clouds with holes in them and low sun shining through the holes and sun rays going in different directions. Since it was early the rays went in all the directions and was really cool. Then we hiked down a mountain that was very green and followed a little creek were there was a nice little waterfall part way downWe stopped at another shelter where we had planned to stay around 4. We decided to push on to get in some extra miles and have a short day on the last day. Then we realized we were are going to be done on Tuesday and not Wednesday as we thought. We also realized we’ve been carrying two extra days of food the whole time and were going to have a lot left over.
After we pushed on from the shelter we were getting tired by the time we got to the top of the hill. There was a split for the exposed ridgeline trail or the inclement weather trail. We, of course, opted for the exposed ridgeline trail. We ran into a couple that said, “Hey, there are some crazy rocks ahead.” And we said, “Sure, there are some crazy rocks back a little ways too.” Then we ran into two older gentlemen who seemed worn out and they said they were behind their schedule and they hadn’t expected such technical hiking. We should have taken a hint form these people we met but we were still unprepared for the ridgeline trail once we got to it. The trail follows the top of a bunch of plate like rocks where they shoved up through the earth. It was really nice at first and the views are spectacular but it kept going and going and by the time we got to the end of it, we were pretty sore and had slowed down a lot. It was our longest day so far and the longest day in the plan. The views were amazing. We could see across this huge valley into Tennessee on one side and across three or four mountain ranges into North Carolina on the other side.
We finally got to a campsite around 7:30 and had just enough time to set up hammocks, prep dinner, pump water, eat and call Mom for Mother’s Day before it got dark. Now it is dark and time for sleep.
I got up to pee after I had been in the hammock for a while. It was pitch black but clear. There were no lights and no clouds and it was the first night I could see the stars. There were so many stars and they were so bright because there were no lights around anywhere. It was really amazing and I stood there until I was cold and went back to bed and slept soundly.

Day 7
We got up and got started so we could make good time today. We found the campsite we had been looking for the night before. It would have been really nice but the campsite we ended up staying in was fine and we were comfortable. We hiked up to a fire tower with a 360 degree view which was nice to see all the way around at once.
We stopped at a shelter to use the privy and take a morning break around 9:30. We were making good time but ended up talking to this guy who said he was CIA Clandestine Service. He was pretty interesting and the most forthcoming of any CIA person I’ve ever met. He explained how he was in the Air Force as a combat controller and had been recruited by the agency after some unpleasantness in Kosovo that he was worried about prison time but lead to another career and had been able to have parallel careers in the CIA and the spec ops world of the Air Force. He said he was a senior operations officer in the CIA and an O6 in the Air Force now. He mentioned he hadn’t had a vacation in four or five years and he could do his job in an office or on the trail and so he was out here for a break. However, he mentioned that he had been pulled off the trail to go to Belgium after the bombing in the airport there. We talked a little about politics and he mentioned Patriot Acts 1 and 2 and asked if I knew anything about 1540. He says it is legislations that slipped through while the country was interested in racist comments by the duck dynasty patar familias. It allows the US government to send people out of the US and strip them of their citizenship effectively leaving them stranded as persona non gratta and an international pariah. He wasn’t sure if it was a house bill or senate bill or what but he was confident in the 1540 part. I need to look it up and find out what that is all about. The way he talked about it, as a CIA guy, he seemed to consider that a tool at his disposal rather than as an abomination of citizens civil rights but I wasn’t quite sure of his take on it.
We finally broke away from that conversation and hiked some brutal hills today. We were both pretty tired and sore from the day before but we ended up hiking somewhere around 19 miles with about 4 miles left over for tomorrow morning. I think we are both looking forward to getting up and hiking into town for a hot breakfast of eggs and bacon.
We hiked through a big section of burn today. I think it was a prescribed burn that got out of hand and burned a lot of the mountain pretty badly. The section of trail around Hot Springs was closed for several days just before we got on the trail. We will hike into Hot Springs tomorrow. Apparently the burn is worse the last three miles into Hot Springs.
It was late when we got to camp and we had just enough time to get set up before it got really dark. I turned on the SPOT to send our location just before I was ready for bed. I got in the hammock to write this stuff down. I thought about leaving it on and just turning it off in the morning but decided I should get up and turn it off to save batteries. It is cloudy and there are no lights. We are in a burn area so everything around us is black. When you turn on your head lamp, you can see all of the green spider eyes shining back at you. It’s like the shrimp on a reef at night. When I got up to turn off the spot I noticed a firefly near the hammock. Then I looked around and realized there were fireflys everywhere but they were different than any fireflys I had ever seen. These fireflys didn’t really blink like I was used to. I’m used to lightning bugs that are mostly off and then blink on. These fireflys were mostly on and sometimes blinked off. So, it was pitch black with clouds and forest fire burn and these lights just sort of slowly flew about. It looked like hundreds of fairies flitting about in the forest and it was the only thing I could see. I couldn’t see the trees or any other lights, just the fireflys as they did their dance with their little lights. It was awe inspiring and even without any mushroom based chemical enhancements was pretty trippy. I could have stayed out and watched them all night but I was exhausted and turned in for another solid sleep.


Day 8
Tuesday we got up with the sun and broke camp without making breakfast. We hiked down the mountain to get some breakfast. We were the first people on the trail which meant we had to walk through all of the spider webs from the night before. We stopped as we came over the ridge to look down from an overlook to see Hot Springs and the French Broad River. We didn’t take the side trail to lovers leap. We enjoyed a great breakfast of eggs and bacon and then set about collecting the other car. Its funny to drive back to the beginning after walking 100 miles. It seems like it should only take a few minutes to drive the distance you walked but 100 miles is a long way. By the time we got the other car and made it to Ashville for lunch it was nearly 3pm. We enjoyed a burger and beer at Mark and Susan’s favorite brewery and set off for home. I had about a 4 hour drive in front of me back to Durham and Mark had about 6 to Wilmington.
It was a great week and turned out way better than our November attempt. I really enjoyed and am thankful for the time I had to spend a week with my brother walking through the woods. I cant wait till I get a chance to do it again!