Tuesday, 7 August 2012


Unfortunately, I can't really see myself updating the blog much anymore. I lapsed on it when Suzanne was here and am so far behind that it seems a bit irrecoverable. The main reason however is the lack of computer availability.
A lot of the computers I've come across have limited timeslots with a waiting list of hikers wanting to check email or upload photos.
Sometimes (like right now), I can find a library where I can actually sit down and type a few e-mails but library hours are usually the best walking hours and not every town (there's a lot of small ones on the trail) have a library or their hours are irregular and sometimes the library is a 2-3 mile walk from the center (American towns are built for cars)
That and early on a found a lot of computers in hostels and motels. That was in the southern states where accommodation prices were cheap so I was quite happy to stay at a motel and use the computer there after hours. Now I'm in the northern states the prices have skyrocketed and on average the prices have doubled and in some places tripled which means that my cheapskate personality rules that I don't spend nights in towns and my access to computers has drastically reduced.

I don't really want to do blanket updates because for me most of the fun/good stories are in the small details and when you do big updates you miss those ones out .

Friday, 6 July 2012

DC Collective

Well... It's been a month since my last confession..
I know I was going to try and keep the blog updated as possible but circumstances dictate..
One of the main reasons for my lack of correspondence has been that I've been traveling with someone else. This means that the limited time I do get to spend in towns I haven't had much of a chance to get onto the computer, and the limited time I've got onto one has been taken up either checking mail or organising logistics.
Be that as it may, unfortunately I won't be able to do much of an update now. I am currently in Washington DC, capital of the great US of A, epitome of 1st world opulence, the epicentre of humanities scientific progress and can I find a computer for more than 15 minutes?


Well that's a bit of a lie, the George hotel doesn't have a time limit, but it charges $6.95 per 1/4 hr.

That unfortunately is the way of America.. if you don't have your own laptop, tablet, bookreader, smartphone or other miscellaneous device that uses wifi, you are off the interweb grid.
Still I can use this computer in 15 min doses until I get chucked off so I'll try and do some update now

Thursday, 31 May 2012

Trail Days!!

Trail days.. where thousands of sore, dirty, tired some current, most past hikers converge on a small town at the bottom of Virginia and the town goes into party mode.
Tents spawn wherever the grass will accommodate them, especially in a lawless (apart from the sniffer dogs and cops in hummers) region called ‘tent city’. Infrastructure becomes stretched to the limit with the churches and portable facilities filling the void, whilst emergancy services such as the fire brigade become large mess halls to fill the hungry masses.
Sheila (Suzanne) and I rode into town on the Friday a bit apprehensive about camping in tent city as we were looking for something a little quieter. Luckily as we drove through I spotted LadySlipper (now renamed Thirsty) and he and BushGoggles had found a nice camp spot by the river behind the Lazy Fox which turned out to be a perfect spot as it was close to town, fairly secluded and the running water provided a nice background accompaniment which drowned (hoho) out the snorers.

Me and the Redneck (at the jukebox)
The rest of the day for us was spent walking around checking out the retailers of which there were plenty. A theory that one of the hikers had was that the retailers see the thru-hikers as an opportunity market as they put the equipment through extended wear and tear and then act as good advertising, both on the trail and when they get back home. In that regard they tend to treat AT hikers as VIP customers and are more than happy to fix or replace gear for them. I’ve heard stories of people getting worn shoes and hiking poles replaced multiple times from some people which makes me a bit sad that most of my gear is Katmandu and I doubt they would be so forthcoming about shipping replacements to the US.
We also went to a medical station where I found out that my heart rate and blood pressure had risen to much higher levels (probably due to being stuck in town with thousands of other hikers) and that I’m down to 85 kgs which means I’ve lost 10 kilos so far. That was pretty much it for the day apart from catching up with people and going for a few drinks later that night.
AWOL (author of the main guide book) and I
Saturday was the big day however. It began with ‘Mountain Mocha Bourbon’ which was a hair of the dog starter created by ‘Pops’ with fairly obvious ingredients.
  Sheila and I then went to a talk by Jennifer Pharr Davis who is the current holder of the speed record of the At (46.5 days) http://blueridgehikingco.com/ who spoke very eloquently for about an hour and didn’t seem that crazy despite walking 47 miles a day on her last hike.
After that I went and saw the ‘Lion Kings’ 2003 movie – Walking with Freedom which was great as it was a bit of a snapshot of the trail so I could reminisce over the ground that I recognized and quake in terror when I saw what was up ahead. At 2pm the ‘Hiker parade’began an it is the main event for the weekend where all the hikers walk down the main street and get bombarded with water balloons, pistols and cannons by the waiting public. I managed to catch a couple of balloons coming my way but sadly I didn’t get to nail the kids who threw them at me instead my aim was off and I watered some concrete in try greek fashion.
We had some food and then watched the Hiker talent show where it seemed most of the contestants where hikers from previous years as I didn’t recognize too many current hikers out there. This probably was a good thing as in all the talent wasn’t too bad all things considered.
Finally to cap off a big day we went and saw the premiere of the ‘Lion Kings’ new movie ‘An Ocean to Ocean’ which was his hike along the American Discovery Trail. We timed our arrival well as the filmmaker turned up in a limo to a makeshift red carpet entrance which I caught on camera. The movie itself I didn’t rate as good as his first because even though it was a little more polished it was much more of a solo endurance hike so it didn’t really capture the essence of a trail like his AT movie did - http://walkingwithfreedom.com/ if you want to find out more on the movies.

The 'Lion King' red carpet entrance
In all Sheila and I enjoyed ourselves, taking it easy, catching up with people and seeing the trail from other viewpoints.  

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Sectioning Suzanne

Writing this update from the plush surroundings of a 1950s style hotel in the ‘metropolis’ of Marion, Virginia. I’m not even being sarcastic in labeling Marion a metropolis as it is the biggest town I’ve come across (Atlanta excepted) whilst on the trail with big towny things such as street lights and a Wallmart.
We arrived here after hiking a couple of days out of ‘Trail days’ which may seem a bit early to have a town break after just leaving a town but as the laundry in Damascus was still out of commission and Suzanne was hell bent on getting her clothes properly laundered.
So I guess this is as good a time to introduce Suzanne to the blog readers. She’s here to walk the Virginia section which is the longest section on the trail at around 550 miles to which she’s set aside 6 weeks to complete. She booked to arrive at Damascus on the 12th and unfortunately my predictive powers on when I was going to arrive there was out by about a week and I got there on the 6th. This, coupled with the fact that the weather was pretty bad meant I got to spend a whole zero week in Damascus.

Poor Suzanne then had to weather my minimalistic inspection of her gear and food.. “FIVE shirts??!!? TWO fleeces??! Oh nothing..” and then listen to all the horror stories that I’d stockpiled over the previous month.

Leaving Damascus involved a rather steep ascent heading into Mt Rodgers and some highland country so I was a bit worried that the first couple of days would be a bit of a baptism of fire. Luckily however there was a bike trail (the Creeper trail) which ran parallel to the AT with a couple of intersection points. This meant that for the first day we had a nice easy walk along a pretty river section with a slight gradient which was fortuitous as the first few days are always really tough for a new hiker. The 2nd day however was back onto the trail and Suzanne got to experience some climbing and realize that my warnings weren’t all fictional.
Mileage wise we were doing around 10 miles a day which is quite a bit slower (around half) of what I’d been doing previously and by the third day Suzanne was getting annoyed with my restless character. This led to a bit of a confrontation where we discussed the best way for us to walk together which in a sense involves us not walking together but rather meeting up at rest and camp spots. Unfortunately this fairly involved discussion began when we were at a junction with another trail and so intense were our deliberations that we meandered straight off the trail.

The AT has 30,900 white blazes, someone actually counted them all
The AT is an extremely well trodden path
The AT is the best marked trail in the world with a blaze every 50-100m

Despite this we managed to walk 2 miles before working out that we were off the trail which is something I probably shouldn’t own up to. Luckily the horse trail that we had followed re-intersected with the AT and it turned out to be a big shortcut as we had somehow jumped 9 miles further along the trail. Unluckily, that 9 miles included a section through Grayson Highland park which Suzanne really wanted to see so we decided to walk that section in reverse so in the end all we managed to do was walk the horse trail twice which was fine by me because the trail followed a bald saddle and had some really nice views.

We found a really nice campsite so we camped early as Suzzies feet were sore and it would give us a chance to do some washing. I had got some drinking water from a stream which I had a few reservations about and should have trusted my gut instincts because that night my gut paid me back and I ended up fully emptying my stomach.
Luckily it wasn’t gardia or anything long term and despite the uncomfortable night I was fine if a little weak the next day. The water however did steal my appetite and all of the previous nights food (and calories L) and by the time I reached the designated shelter that we were aiming for the next day I was as shattered as I’ve felt on this trail despite only walking a pretty easy 10 miles. I was in bed by around 6 pm and slept for something like 14 hrs as recovery.. the body is an amazing thing though as by the next day I felt pretty good and seeing as we were heading back to Damascus for Trail days I was excitable as well!!

Friday, 18 May 2012

Crazies #3 & 4

Time for another update..
As always, a lot has been happening but I've had trouble finding the time or the facilities to write about it. Now we (Sheila and I).. (Suzanne and I) are back in Damascus for trail days and I'm in the basement of the First Baptist Church which has been converted into a mini internet cafe to deal with the mass overflow of hikers in this town hungry for their www fix.

Before I talk about the days on the trail with Sheila or the beginning of 'Trail days' I need to tell you about Crazies #3 & 4 because it's a story worth telling..

I'm not sure exactly what night it was but Gandalf was camping up in our little spot along with the couple that had been there since I arrived in Damascus. I think the mans name was Richard and I can't remember her name but from now on I'll refer to them as #3 & 4. They had spent the past couple of nights in town because it had been raining and I hadn't really seen them at all.

Gandalf decided that we should get some beers so he headed into town to pick up them and some ice whilst I kept busy collecting firewood and starting a fire up. I'd got the fire going and was stoking it up into a blaze when a local came past called 'Timber' and offered me a beer. We got talking and he asked if he could pitch his hammock a little up the trail which was fine by me. Gandalf got back with the beers and we sat around the fire having a chat and some pretty quiet beers.
The couple (#3&4) then arrived and said they were pretty tired and were going to bed (it was still light) to which we all wished them a good night and stayed around the fire.
Night came and we still weren't loud as we could hear the couple having a bit of a domestic. All of a sudden the #4 (the lady) came out and asked if she could sit around the fire which we of course agreed with. At that point #3 (the bloke) started abusing us with really foul language which I don't want to repeat here but the general gist was that we were all welcome to sleep with his wife.

We were all quite taken aback by his outburst as there had been no precursor to it then Timber told him to come out and have a beer with us and sit around the fire as we were all friendly here and there wasn't any reason to be mad.
#3 came out and once he had a beer in his hand the change was instantaneous as he went from borderline psychotic to ambivalently friendly. Kind of disturbing to witness I have to say.
A brief description on the couple.. #3 was an older bloke fairly mundane looking, 6 ft, 60ish whilst his 'wife' (who we found out later was by 'common law' so not marital) #4 was at least 10 years younger maybe 15, kind of hippyish who liked to talk about fairies.
After they had spent a tiny amount of time around the fire, it was obvious that they were on something, which after some gentle questioning they said was wine but these guys were off their rockers so I sincerely doubt it was just that (my guess was cocaine or mushrooms). #3 liked to think of himself as a pseudo intellectual and kept naming Russian authors and asking if we knew them whilst #4 talked about chasing butterflies in Costa Rico and would begin singing whenever #3 annoyed her. As you can imagine it was kind of awkward having mentally fragile people big noting themselves especially as Timber was delighting in playing with them as they were so scattered you could say anything to them.
I was quite over their company especially as #4 kept trying to get cosy with all of us so I excused myself and went to bed which led to a mass exodus as Gandalf couldn't wait to get away as he had been trapped by #3 for a while and is too nice a guy to get himself out of it.
#4 stayed by the fire as she didn't want to go into the tent with #3 and they began to have their domestic again. It started out fairly tame but then it escalated and there is no way I'll repeat what they said to each other but I was disgusted with the words that they called each other and still can't believe that an older couple could even use that sort of language, especially in public.
As this was happening #4 began shaking my tent and asking if she could come in to which I gave a disbelieving and definite “No”. She then tried to come in but luckily she tried to come in from the side of the tent by burrowing under the fly. For you non-tent users thats like trying to enter a room through a wall when the door is a few feet away.
After her failed attempt and my more forceful rejection she went into the tent with #3 which was around the time that #3 couldn't find his wallet.
Now this is verbatim.. give or take a few words of the conversation that they had for the next three hours.
#4 asks “Where is your wallet”
#3 responds “I gave it to you”
#4 says “No you didn't you put it in the front of the pack”
#3 spits out “Now its gone, your boyfriends took it, don't you understand they've taken everything, we have nothing now”
#3 “the guy up top, he's a cop, he's recording everything”
#4 asks “Where is your wallet”
… You get the gist.

Sometimes #3 wouldn't even need provoking he'd just skip into the middle of the conversation and it only got worse when she couldn't find her phone.

The other dispute they would have was over zipping up the tent which could last up to 15 minutes and at least we weren't to blame for that one and that would have some finality to it when one of them would finally cave in and zip the tent.

Timber yelled at them to shut up, I yelled at them to shut up, hell even Gandalf yelled at them to shut up but our efforts would only give us 5-10 minutes of silence before their cyclonic conversation began again. By about 2 am, I'd given up trying to sleep and was reading my kindle and then Gandalf and I began joking about them, I mean in hindsight it was pretty funny as it isn't anything I've ever come across before and as frustrating as it was at the time I knew it would make a good blog entry.
I fell asleep soon after that but was woken up at 5 am by them having a huge domestic which more ridiculously foul language that can't be repeated here. Then she left to go to town and I went back to sleep. Finally rising at around 10, I headed into town and saw #3 coming up the path. He was all apologetic but I wasn't having a bar of it and forcibly inferred that he was leaving the campsite as we weren't going to put up with that charade again.

Postscript.. She found her phone, he found his wallet and they left our campsite and us some memories.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Crazy #2

OK, now for the Damascus stories;
I like Damascus, it's a hiker focused small town (900 people) which hosts the biggest trail event of the trail which is starting next week. Apparently they are expecting 30-35,000 for 'Trail Days' as it's the 75th anniversary of the trail and the mind boggles at how their infrastructure is going to cope with such an overload of people.
I got into Damascus on the 6th and am waiting here til the 12th for Suzanne to arrive and in those days (and especially last night) I have met #2,3 & 4 crazy people that have got me thinking that I should make a list of the 10 craziest people I meet on the trail. I mean, I'm around a fifth of the trail through and up to 4 already.

So onto these weirdos and why I call them such..

A few nights ago I was at Quinceys which is a pizza shop cross bar. I was there with Smores/Gandolf who had arrived that day and we had finished our dinner and had decided to have a beer before heading back to our campground. At the bar we saw 'Gator' who was a hiker we had met in the Smokey mountains and to be honest I was a little surprised to see him there as I didn't have him pegged as much of a hiker. He is a pretty rough looking guy with a star of david tattooed next to his right eye (he has a jewish son he told me) and another tat next to his left eye which kind of looked like a jail tat.
He had chewed my ear off the night in the Smokies telling me all about the dangerous creatures in Florida once he'd found out I was an Aussie.
The night in Damascus however he was pretty sloshed and didn't recognise me which was fine by me. The bar tender had called last drinks and Gator kept avoiding his bill until he started wandering off and then made a run for it. The kitchen was right next to the bar and the bar tender yelled out 'We go a runner' so both the chefs ran through the kitchen to the back door and 4 patrons took off after him through the front.
I was pretty full from the 2 serves of bean soup, 10 inch pizza, apple strudel and a couple of beers so I quickly judged that there was enough people chasing him. Instead I stayed at the bar (guarding it) and checked out his tab - they print it out for you.
Gator had done a runner on a $9.65c tab. Slowly the guys that had chased him came back and he had got away so I just paid his tab with a $10 bill.
I mean seriously, you're in a small town in which the word spreads like a bushfire, on a trail where the word spreads just as quick why on earth would you do a runner for the cost of half an hours work?

Later on as I listened to the people bad mouthing him I heard that he was supposed to be part of the 'Circle of Light - Rainbow family' which the locals had little respect for as they explained to me they were a group that masqueraded as hippies but were more like anarchistic gypsies, stealing and taking advantage of everyone they came across.

So Gator comes in as crazy #2 -risking life, limb and incarceration on a $10 bill
For the record crazy #1 was Dexter/Lazy Susan - trust fund kiddie with scary eyes

Crazies # 3 & 4 will have to wait until tomorrow as I've used up my hour and a half library allotment

Stay safe... Trev

How many miles is it worth?

Ok, I didn't manage to update as quickly as I intended to whilst waiting in Damascus, but have I got some stories from this little town...
However, before I share them I wanted to talk about a new understanding I had come across with the valuing the worth of an item, I call it a 'Mileage Cost' (MC).
'Why MC?' You may ask, and 'Why would that be a more accurate valuation technique for a hiker compared with traditional techniques such as money?'
Myself as an example, money is important up until the point of acquiring everything you really need. Past that point money is only good at buying things that you want, luxuries or upgrades. Sure these things are nice but their worth to you aren't nearly as important as the things you need and so your financial estimation of their worth may be iffy at best. That and compiled with the fact that if you have more money than you need then you are prepared to pay inflated prices for things as money loses its worth to you.
The concept of Mileage Cost however came to me when I was 3.5 miles out from the hostel I had stayed at and realised I'd left my watch behind. Then the stark realisation came to me that I would have to walk 7 miles (3.5 miles both ways) to get it back. Now my Mum may not believe this seeing as I never wear a watch back home but I went through some serious deliberation over whether I should go back for the watch or just pick up another later on the trail.
Seven miles = around 2.5 - 3 hrs walking.
Seven extra miles would mean I wouldn't get to camp on a river just outside of a town and eat pizza, shop and have a wash.
Seven miles meant I would lose almost half a day on the boys up ahead of me because I would be doing my town shopping during the day (the next day), instead of that night and setting off on the trail straight away the next morning.
The watch I had left behind was worth around $20
Now I don't know if this an old wives tale or a fallacy but I remember reading once that if Bill Gates dropped a $1000 it wasn't worth his time picking it up because in the 4 seconds it would have taken him to do it he would have earnt the same amount.
I'm no Bill Gates, I walked back and got my watch. The main reason I decided to walk back to get the watch is because I got it when I went to the World Cup with my old man and it continually reminds me of that trip so I now know that watch is worth more than 7 miles to me.
This got me thinking about the other gear I was carrying and how far I'd walk for them and surprisingly the MC didn't really relate to their financial cost. Things with sentimental value accrued a much higher MC than expensive but replaceable items.
So I ask you, is it really worth the miles?

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Damaging Damascus

Hey everyone,

Well it's been a little while since I've written up but I have plenty of updates to do it's just that I have been busy.. well, the truth is that it's been raining non-stop so I've been camping in my tent reading.

I arrived in Damascus on the 6th and seeing that I'm meeting up with Suzanne on the 12th I decided to camp about 500m out of town on the trail to avoid accommodation costs. Seeing as I am going to be here a little while I've bought an esky and have been providing a little trail magic via cold drinks for hikers before they reach town.

This had the unfortunate side effect of my breaking my kindle because I didn't realise it was in my pack when I loaded it up with a couple of cartons of drinks.
I was crest-fallen at this mishap seeing as I had become quite attached to the kindle and it's become part of my nightly camping routine reading for an hour or so before it got dark, so I've ended up ordering another from Amazon to replace it and it just arrived today and I'm charging it up.

That'll have to do for this quick update, as the library is about to close but I'll definitely be doing more write-ups soon..stay tuned

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Handy Hints to Hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT)

My first experience of solo traveling was around Australia for a couple of years when I was 'finding' myself. That was when I wrote the first thing that I ever got published 'Ten Handy Hints to Backpacking' which got a double spread in the West Australian.

Many years later, I really haven't changed that much so lets see if I can pull out ten handy hints for the AT..

1/ Look after your feet
You're here for a hike, a long one so be good to them. Break in your walking shoes before the trip because you are going to be overweight.. perhaps physically, definitely packwise, not as fit as you will be in a months time, confronting big mountains with the enormity of the trip before you so the last thing you need is blisters early on. Try to keep your feet dry and as soon as you feel some rubbing get some tape on them. Yes you heard me right.. tape; bandaids are pretty useless as they quickly rub off. Your feet are going to get sore from all the rocks and roots you walk on so give them a rub every now and then and talk to them if you think that'll work.
Ointment such as dencorub or tiger balm.. anything you can think of to make them happy and they'll repay your kindness.

2/ Blazing
A blaze is a marking, usually painted on a tree, post or rock which is used as a navigational guideline. The trail is extremely well trodden and well marked by predominately singular white blazes. Double white blazing means there's something of interest coming up, usually an intersection, switchback or change of direction. However there are a lot of other trails and side routes which you will come across which will also be well trodden and marked. The most common secondary blaze is a blue one and that is used to indicate a side trail to water or shelter or a shortcut around a mountain. Blazes come in many colours but if you're sticking to the AT then you get to ignore the other ones. Blazing is also a term to distinguish what type of hike you are walking and the definitions are as follows
White Blazing - The purists, traditionalists. They walk every single step of the trail and revel in their superior accomplishment
Blue Blazing - Will walk probably just as many miles as the whites but they take the 'shortcut' trails contouring certain summits instead of peaking them
Yellow Blazing - Involves going on roads (the yellow lines) sometimes skipping portions of the trail to the disdain of the white blazers
Pink Blazing - Chasing a girl on the trail
Green Blazing - Hiking whilst under the influence of a certain green substance
Slack packing - Involves getting shuttles out of town then walking with a daypack back into town. Can be used to speed up your trail due to walking downhill instead of up (towns are usually in gaps) with a light pack.
Section Hiking - Walking a portion of the trail due to time or fitness constraints. A lot of people section hike the entire trail over the course of a few years

3/ Nothing is essential
That's right anything you might think is essential someone has probably done the trail without. But Trev, I hear you say 'What about boots?' nada, two ladies walked the entire trail (albeit slowly) barefoot.. 'What about clothes?' and I counter with the hike naked day sometime in June. 'What about food?' ok, you got me there but the reason for this point is that minimalism is the way to go. Work out your comfort zone and work back from there shedding unnecessary gear that will lighten your pack. There are 'hiker boxes' along the trail at hostels littered with expensive gore-tex clothing and other hiking paraphernalia that people realise they dont need and end up ditching.
This one is personal though and everyone has their comforts that they'll happily endure the weight of (like clothes etc..) but do you really need that machete for wood collecting?
That and there are 'Outfitters' (camping stores) liberally strewn all over the trail starting from Neels Gap (31 miles in) that can supply you with anything and everything you need for the trail so it's better off starting light and then finding out what you really need.

4/ Embrace your Foreignness
You're Australian, an Aussie, the yanks love Aussies, well the four they know anyway (for the record thats Paul Hogan, Steve Irwen, Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman). Deepen your voice, embrace your inner Ocker, words such as Hey, Howdy, Hello, Hi shall never pass your lips instead they are universally replaced by G'day. You need to sprinkle some slang into every sentence you can, gallah, yobbo, fair dinkum, gammin, bloody, missus, sheilah, hell if you cant think of one make some up, they don't understand you anyway.
Vegemite is your condiment of choice and enjoy the effect it has on those sugar loving softies. Tell them tales of the multitude of deadly creatures we own and don't forget to embellish them.. "yes the Death Adder is also called the three step killer because it has enough poison to kill 100 elephants", "You've never heard of dropbears? Well they kill soo many people they try and keep it quiet.."
Bonus points if you can toss in some Aussie rhyming slang (Hit the frog and toad) or quotes (Flat out like a lizard drinking)

5/ Learn surburiginal
This one is a bit of a subsection of the previous entry but anyway.. It may be different down south but up here in Darwin there are a lot of suburbs that sound like completely foreign words to Americans.. Tiwi, Alawa, Millner, Parap, Wanguri, Malak, Wagaman, Nakara etc.. These words can be blended together into sentances to show off your great understanding of the local indigenous culture and language. For example "Sure I speak Larrakia lingo... 'Alawa tiwi wanguri parap nakara' it roughly translates to 'My feet are sore, bloody mountains'. I'm sure southerners could even use city names like Wollongong, Wagga Wagga etc.. I mean most Americans knowledge of Australian towns doesn't get past Sydney and Melbourne and for many it doesn't get even there. As an aside, surburiginal works quite well on the aforementioned Sydney and Melbourne folk. I mean lets face it, generally all that they know of Darwin is that it will be "Fine, sunny with the chance of afternoon showers" 

6/ Trail Names
Your introduction to trail names will happen early on in the trail. Mine was within a few steps of landing onto the trail and meeting 'Rock-Scar' and 'Ten-Gallon'. Trail names can have a meaning for example Rock-Scar had hit his head on a rock and had a scar from it, they can be self named like mine 'Walkabout', or you can be named by other hikers for personal traits.. ie: Bush-Goggles so named for once he hits town no female is safe from his gaze.
I was a bit skeptical about trail names in the beginning but I've come to embrace them as they are a great ice breaker and are a lot more identifying (and easier to remember) for when you're talking about other hikers.
Some of my favourite trail names that I've come across are as follows
Bush-Goggles - He was already named 'Stew-ball' when I met him but after watching him in town i had to rename him :)
Lightning and Lady Bug - Hit by lightning 6 times (with scars to prove it) doesn't stop him going outside.. Lady is his partner.
Day Glow - named after his fluorescent shirt
Yogi and Boo boo - hiker couple, bear lovers

7/ Trail Magic
What is it?
It is the magical moments when you come across people that just want to help hikers in any way they can. Trail magic could be a lift into town and then the driver giving you $20 out of the blue to go and buy lunch with.
A more common version of trail magic, and it's a kind that has happened to me fairly regularly along the trail is when people set up a bbq at a road intersection with the trail and feed the hikers as they come past. So far I've seen complete spreads put on by church groups (two by baptist churches) with oodles of food (but no alcohol) and drinks, bbqs with kegs and moonshine set up by former thru-hikers (people that have walked the trail), support vehicles for a group that also have snacks that they give to other hikers and one time just a car making scrumptious turkey sandwiches in the middle of nowhere.
Trail magic is a thing of beauty that has never failed to put a smile on my face and now whenever I come to a road intersection I invariably check out any parked car with hope in my eyes and a rumble in my belly.  

8/ The American Way
You are in the Great U,S of A. Food is sweet (literally) processed and cheap (thanks Aussie dollar)!! People have strange sounding accents and say weird things like Y'all, Howdy and old men call you 'Sir'. They walk the street carrying guns and despite everyone acknowledging that metric is simple they still use the imperial system, yes my 1.5 Lt water bottle also shows that it is 1 quart, 1 pint, 2.7 fluid ounces. No-one can work out what the temperature converts to in centigrade which can catch you out if you dont realise that a 20 degree night means it's going to be below freezing (for the record 32^ F = 0^ C). Pavements seem to be an optional extra in rural towns which are the domain of 8 cylinder pick-up trucks (big utes).
Still, enjoy the wacky place you find yourself in. Southern hospitality is real and people are quite friendly and gregacious once you show you aren't a threat (and dont carry a gun). The towns are beautiful and varied with strange 'genre' towns like the Bavarian 'Helen GA', circus like tourist towns 'Gatlinburg TN' and idyllic, picket fenced, flag marked, neo-colonial style buildings of Erwin TN.
Food, cigarettes, beer hell pretty much everything is cheap, especially coming from Darwin and the states are varied enough that they all have their own delicacies for you to try. A personal favourite of mine is the breakfast bowl from a servo at 'Hot Springs NC' which contained grits (porridge like), scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, cheese and something else all mixed up together in a bowl. 'Biscuits and Gravy' is really quite nice and they are sweet scones with a white pepper sauce.
In short there's lots to discover in the ol USA and the best way is to chat to the locals to find out whats happening.

9/ Trail Food Syndrome
Do you read the back of packages and get excited when you see a high fat content?
Have you ever tried to work out the percentage of calories per ounce? (Bonus points if you can then convert it into grams)
Whilst shopping do you look at a box and wonder how small you can compress it once you get the food out of the box?
If the cooking instructions is anything more complex than ‘add water’ do you think to yourself “useless”
Are you convinced that ‘Iced Frosting’ will make a good lunch as it’s over half the calorie RDI in one tub?
If you answered yes to 2 or more of those questions then you have ‘Trail food syndrome’. The RDI (regular daily intake) for an average adult is around 2000 calories, this they will burn off over the course of the day going about their business. Most people will fill the RDI easily with a couple of good meals, some snacks and a few drinks. On the trail however every extra kilo you carry makes your work harder. The more you carry, the slower you go, the greater your exertion conversely the more food you need.. A kind of catch 22.
The average hiker is burning a lot more than 2000 calories a day and as weight is at a premium shopping becomes an exercise in not “what will taste good?” rather a more prosaic mindset of “how am I going to get the calories?”
This usually involves eating a lot a processed food as they are generally light and keep well rather than water inundated fresh food. As a bonus you will lose weight as a side effect of the trail and this is whilst eating anything you want.. Chocoholics rejoice!!

10/ The Hiker Grapevine
News travels quickly along the trail. It isn't a homogeneous progression of people walking from South to North. People take days off (zero days), they slackpack certain areas, they skip sections etc.. and of course people love to gossip so a good story moves quickly up and down the trail.
This combined with trail names and hiker logs means that it isn't that uncommon for people to have heard about you before you've even met them. Ahh so you're that aussie 'Walkabout' hmm. This should be kept in mind when it comes to your conduct as you don't want to be known as the guy that leaves trash at campsites or couldn't find the tent zip after a night of excess and ended up with a wet tent (Tree Hugger you've been immortalised).
There's a group of hikers ahead of me as I speak called the 'wolf pack' that I haven't met that are supposed to be pretty rowdy at nights and I heard that they were refused entry into one of the hostels in Erwin based on their reputation alone.
The grapevine is also good at keeping tabs on people and how far they are ahead or behind of you which is great for motivation to put in extra miles or for those pink blazers out there.

So that's my list of hints and info about the AT, I'm almost a fifth of the way through so still have a long way to go and info to find out

Til then Walkabout out

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Prophetic Poetry

Not too sure how to pen this one, I think I'll just tell you how it went and you'll have to believe me that its the Gods honest truth..

Soo.. I left excitable Erwin on Sunday which probably can't get too excitable as you cant buy alcohol there on a Sunday but the border isn't far away and the locals have a lot of experience in moonshine running around these parts. It was a beautiful sunny day and I was hiking on my own as our little hiking group has pretty much split up as John didn't stay the night in Erwin, Dallas left early and James decided to have a zero day to rest his feet.
Ahh I've got my days mixed up but I'll continue this story, soo, Sunday was fairly uneventful. I left the hostel late and it was mainly uphill walking punctuated by some beautiful views from bald summits. That night I find a nice solitary camp and found out that the defect in my stove that hadn't been working very well wasn't due to fuel shortage but due to some blockage and now it wasn't working at all. Still this wasn't too big a problem as I just made a fire and cooked with that.
Monday was another beautiful day and I stopped at a shelter for some lunch and began reading through a 'shelter journal'
Shelter journals are journals left at each shelter which is a way for people to communicate along the trail as well as fill in idle time by drawing pictures and cartoons. Well this journal had a really bad poem in it and as I continued walking I began musing about adding my own really bad poems into the journals. Pretty much straight away I came up with one which I penned into my trail book for prosperity (and also because my memory is horrible)
So word for word here it is..

In the nettle
You can settle
With a fire of pine and spruce
Then some thunder
Makes you wonder
Should I tent to avoid that juice
A deep rumble
Makes you stumble
As you grab your pegs and poles
Your cooking fire
No longer a pyre
The thunderstorm swallows it whole
Pouring rain
No refrain
Looks like muesli bars for dinner again

I was quite proud of my little poem even though I have little doubt to its quality and showed it off to the inhabitants of the next shelter (which included yeti) so I have proof to my prophetic powers although I with complete hindsight I'd change the last three lines to

Now the hail
Big as snails

Yes, it was still blazing sunshine when I left the shelter and I was happily climbing a hill when I heard some thunder. Hmm I thought to myself, then thinking to my little poem, HMMM...
Still I wasn't too worried, the thunder sounded a fair while away behind me so I kept going. Then I felt some drops of rain so I donned my parka and put on my backpack cover but still wasn't too worried. Then.. the rain started lashing and the lightning became frequent and on top of me and I was starting to think of 'Lightning Bug' and worrying that if I did get hit by lightning then I wouldn't be able to go walking out in a storm again. By now I was soaked and desperately looking for a place to camp as the storm was getting a bit scary. I did eventually find a place and just as I did the hail started. Now I'm not too accustomed to hail, so I was too sure what it was but it wasn't too different to rain so I kept setting up my tent. I'd almost finished setting up the tent when the hail started to get serious. I mean the haildrops were getting huge and hurt when they hit you. My bag was a little away from where I'd set up the tent but as soon as I finished I dived into the tent and left my bag outside to the mercy of the elements until the hail finished.
Needless to say I had a cold dinner that night and a slow start to the next day as I had to get a fire going to dry my gear out and cook up the previous nights dinner.

So that's the story of my prophetic poem, I've decided after that experience to leave poetry alone for a while and if I do go back to only write nice stuff.. sunshine, smiles and trail magic I think

Sunday, 29 April 2012

If a picture is worth a thousand words

Then I have to write a lot of words because it'll be a while before any pictures get uploaded. A few words can be spent on a couple notable spottings of fauna recently.

Firstly, I've seen quite a few deer now, there was a trio of deer that came by our tent city in the Smokies (a bevy?) and another that was on top of the mountain that I startled and it bounced off. Apart from the deer not a lot more mammals except for the smaller ones such as squirrels and mice.
Birdwise though I've come across a lot more species. Probably the most impressive sighting was of a Great Horned Owl during a misty wet day. It flew straight past me and initially I thought it was a Pheasant Coucal as it had such a large wingspan and similar colours but it nested on a tree in plain sight and rotated its head 120 degrees so that I could see its distinctive owl features.
Then there are the Grouse (maybe the Ruffed Grouse) which I haven't seen but have a distinctive mating call. It is a well paced almost vibrating bass noise that I kept wondering about every time I would hear it. Various explanations to the noise included a moonshine brewery backfiring, a diesel generator starting up and a hydro-electric dam turbine until someone said 'Oh thats just a Grouse"... try to describe that with a picture :/.
Then there was a sighting of a bald eagle here at the hostel this morning which unfortunately I missed by seconds although I did see a heron flying over the river. I also had a bit of an altercation with some geese that were along the bikepath into Erwin. There was goslings (baby geese) sitting on the path maybe enjoying the warmth and they were hesitant to move off the path so one of the parent geese reared up and started hissing at me whilst the other parent correld the goslings slowly back into the water.
There have been a lot of other little birds but I have no idea what they are and I'm still hanging out for my first sighting of a woodpecker because I hear them all the time but the noise echos through the hills so much that it's really hard to pinpoint an exact location.

As for news on the trail... I may have said this already but the trail works as a grapevine. It isn't a homogeneous progression of people from South to North. People take days off (zero days), they slackpack certain areas (get a shuttle from a hostel and then walk back into town with a daypack on), they skip sections etc.. and of course people love to gossip so a good story moves quickly up and down the trail. The latest story we heard was about 'Lazy Susan' who we'd met at Fontana Dam and had renamed 'Dexter' as there was something not quite right about him. Apparantly as the story goes he got drunk somehow (he's only 18 so underage in the states) and made threats to a girl which were obviously scary enough because she called the police onto him and they picked him up at gunpoint.

That'll have to do for now because I'm about to head off but I will probably have a lot of time on my hands soon as I'm meeting a friend in Damascus on the 12th so I might take a few days off as I'm way ahead of schedule for that one and do a big writeup of the topics that are floating around in my head.

Til then.. happy trails

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Morel Massacre

Morchella, the true morels, is a genus of edible mushrooms closely related to anatomically simpler cup fungi (thanks wikipedia).

That information is about is useful as the spotter information I received from my fellow hikers.. "It looks like a thumb", "It grows near some other plant", "It could be hidden under leaf litter so look under that".

John and Dallas had spotted a potentially favourable habitat for this edible mushroom so sticks in hand we were digging underneath the leaf litter for about half an hour looking for something that I didn't have the faintest idea of what it looked like.
It probably didn't help that the 'favourable area' was the side of a mountain... a big one or that the bugs were out in force and biting.
We gave up on that area but within 10 minutes there was another more favourable one so out came the sticks again.
In the end I gave up and went on hiking and obviously I was the unlucky charm because as soon as I had left they found a batch.

Later that night the morels were lined up on the log at the campsite. The boys weren't too sure what to do with them as they weren't too impressed with the colour and the general consensus was that the snow a few days ago had frosted them.
All thoughts on the matter however were moot as I, water bottles in hand, water collecting on my mind and big foot the culprit managed to wipe out half the morels in one step.

In some way I might have helped morel hunters in the future by spreading the seeds to an easily discoverable spot but I still fill guilty for my part in the Morel Massacre.

If a tree falls near a camp

Does anyone hear it?
Yes.. yes they do!
Greetings all from Erwin Tennessee, a town of around 5,000 people (Katherine size) which is about where the similarities end as I don't know if Katherine has ever publicly executed an elephant.

I will get around to writing up an entry about the towns I visit and my observations of the brief snapshot I have had of them but that isn't going to happen tonight as it's almost 11pm, it's been a long day and I have a couple of other stories to cover with my last 4 days of hiking.

Those last few days have been almost a cross section of the trail so far, rain, sun, pasta packs and probably the best summit view I've seen (on top of Big Bald mountain).
We also had an interesting opening to the day on the first day out of Hot Springs. We were just starting to stir out of camp when we heard thunder. That was a general sign to get back into tents as no-one really wants to start the day with a wet pack. The thunder was quickly followed by a fierce localised lightning storm which managed to blow down a sizable tree about 30 metres from the camp.
At the time it really wasn't that distinguishable a sound as there was howling winds but there was a loud whoosh and the sound of cracking timber.
After the storm had passed we inspected the tree and took photos of us standing on it making sure we got the tents in the background, and I can say for sure over the next few days I was inspecting the fallen down trees and potential campsites with renewed zeal.
Whether or not it was my new interest in the woody carcasses, there definitely seemed to be a lot of them in the surrounding area which made me wonder whether it was a design fault in the local flora. I mean I know that the woodpeckers would weaken them but the local firs and pines grow very tall and thin which makes them very susceptible to blowing winds. I guess they can grow that tall and thin due to the good soil, rainfall and temperate weather. The eucalypts back home however have no chance to grow that tall due to the poor soil and extreme climate... another victory for the tropics!
We may kill you with poisonous snakes, crocs, dropbears and a myriad of other bitey things but at least our trees are safe.

Aussie Aussie Aussie, oy oy oy

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Trail Food Syndrome (TFS)

Do you read the back of packages and get excited when you see a high fat content?

Have you ever tried to work out the percentage of calories per ounce? (Bonus points if you can then convert it into grams)
Whilst shopping do you look at a box and wonder how small you can compress it once you get the food out of the box?

If the cooking instructions is anything more complex than ‘add water’ do you think to yourself “useless”
Are you convinced that ‘Iced Frosting’ will make a good lunch as it’s over half the calorie RDI in one tub?

If you answered yes to 2 or more of those questions then you have ‘Trail food syndrome’. The RDI (regular daily intake) for an average adult is around 2000 calories, this they will burn off over the course of the day going about their business. Most people will fill the RDI easily with a couple of good meals, some snacks and a few drinks. On the trail however every extra kilo you carry makes your work harder. The more you carry, the slower you go, the greater your exertion conversely the more food you need.. A kind of catch 22.
The average hiker is burning a lot more than 2000 calories a day and as weight is at a premium shopping becomes an exercise in not “what will taste good?” rather a more prosaic mindset of “how am I going to get the calories?”
Some people don’t mind carrying heavy packs and going slow. I’ve met people walking who carry tubs of salt/sugar, fresh produce, meat etc.. They have big packs.. it looks kind of painful.
Me I sort of have a standard menu when I’m on the trail..

Breakfast – 2-3 little oat satchets with dried fruit, generally cold but sometimes hot if I brew up a cuppa as well
Smoko – muesli bar(s)
Lunch – Dry biscuits and vegemite (almost out.. it’s going to be a sad day when that happens), chocolate bar

Arvo snack – more muesli/chocolate bars.. sometimes jerky
Dinner – Pasta pack & tuna pack, or double pasta/rice packs. If it’s the first night out of town then maybe something a bit special (heavy).

It’s a pretty grim menu, it’s all processed which some of my friends back home will note with disdain but trust me it tastes really good when you’re hungry. MmmMmm.
The menu I’ve described still doesn’t cover your RDI so I’ve had to balance this by making a pig of myself whenever I go into town.. something I’m about to do right now… No tuna packs for dinner tonight…. yeeha

The Smokies strike back!

Ok, back from a dip in the springs…

Nothing sexier than 6 grown men with blistered feet wearing hiking shorts crammed into a hot tub. Despite that it was great to soak in the mineral waters and chew the fat and I feel a lot more relaxed.

Ok so where I left off last post I was soaked but drying ok, running a little short on food as I had underestimated a little but still nothing too bad, I still had 2 power bars, 2 ‘granola’ (museli) bars, 2 packets of pasta and a packet of tuna. The rain kept going all night and into the morning and I wasn’t prepared to take a ‘zero day’ (no mile day) as we planned to take one at Hot Springs and I didn’t really have enough food to do that. Instead I packed as much of my gear that I could whilst into the tent, put on my wet hiking clothes (and boots.. squelch) then tore down the tent and shoved it into the backpack.

Day 6 walking, whilst technically not in the Smokies anymore I still group it together as I regard going into town as the start/end point of each ‘session’. Day 6 was wet, soaking, continual dripping wet. Day 6 was cold, freezing, bitterly cold. Day 6 added a new dimension to the walk, some unvegetated summits which were more like the rolling moors in scotland with icy cold wind blasting unhindered by any trees.

I hiked onward, there was no point stopping anywhere as there wasn’t any shelter and I wanted to catch up to John and Dallas (who were actually behind me. I hiked for 10 miles until I came to a shelter frozen, numb and cold. I’d eaten one of the pasta packs for breakfast and had planned to only have 1 power bar for lunch but the cold had leeched everything out of me so I ended up putting on warm clothes and eating everything I had except the tuna and pasta pack (for dinner) and 1 muesli bar (for breakfast). After lunch I was feeling a bit more human and luckily there were no more windswept summits ahead so I pushed on. As I came across other crazy hikers I’d ask them if they’d seen the boys and I would get vague responses which convinced me that they were still ahead. Then the temperature started to drop and when I got to the next shelter the hikers there told me that it was forecast for 20 degrees farenheit. Now I knew that was going to be cold, but for some reason I thought 0 degrees farenheit = 0 degrees celcius, so I thought well at least it wont be freezing. However as I’m now aware 32 degrees farenheit = 0 degrees celcius and believe me it makes a difference. Blissfully unaware I found a nice campsite about 10 miles out of Hot Springs, at altitude and set up my wet camp, unfortunately a stick had ripped my garbage bag and the bottom of my backpack had got wet which meant the end of my sleeping bag had got soaked. As I was cooking dinner Dallas came into camp, he’d been chasing me all day and even run up Bluff Mountain in order to catch up. There wasn’t much time for civilties though as it was getting really cold and we had to try and warm up for the night ahead. It was a miserable night for me.. I couldn’t stretch out my legs or else my feet would get wet and I only had the bare minimum clothes on as everything else was soaked. Still I managed to sleep eventually and woke up to find the tent covered in snow and everything that had been wet frozen.

Try to picture this, me with numb hands trying to take down my tent (of which the fly is held by clasps which had frozen) every 10 seconds or so blowing onto my hands to try and get them to work. I couldn’t for the life of me get the poles out as they are tensioned into slots but luckily Dallas is from cold country and did it for me. He also had to tie my shoelaces as I couldn’t grip them either lol.

Finally the nightmare of breaking camp was over and we ran down Bluff mountain (2-3 miles) by which time my feet began to get feeling. Dallas said it was just a bit of sleet but I’m not calling my 2nd time in snow sleet and I’m also calling the small specks of falling snow that morning a blizzard.

I’ll definitely give the points to the Smokies for that morning as I felt like a big baby having to ask to get my shoelaces tied. Still at least I feel like I’ve earnt this zero day today, it’s a hard life when you get to have a holiday inside a holiday

And no… there’s no ‘Return of the Smokies’ planned

Smokey Wars

I fell for the old trap of commenting in my last post how good the weather had been and set myself up for a fall, and what a fall it was...
In my last update I was on the verge of the Smokey mountains, a national park which is loved by the locals for its soaring peaks (the highest on the trail at 6643 feet), pristine nature and of course the bears.

The pristine nature is guarded on the trail by enforced camping at the shelters which are of a much larger size than their preceding kind, so I guess I should talk a little about them. Shelters are small building usually made of wood, sometimes stone with three walls and a flat wooden base allowing people to camp underneath without the need for a tent. Generally they are 5 to 10 miles apart and can fit between 5 to 12 people underneath depending on the size of the shelter. They are usually near a water source (spring or creek) and have a privy (bush toilet) on the opposite side to the water.
Sometimes they are on the trail itself but just as often they are a short walk off the trail (or in one case 1.2 miles off the trail as in the rarely visited Whitely Gap Shelter)
Up until the Smokey mountains I hadn't even visited any of the shelters on the trail because there are plenty of campsites where those of a solitary bias (ie me) can camp in peace and usually at a much more scenic location. That and the weather had been great.
In the Smokies however, you have to stay at the shelters and are only allowed to camp if the shelter is full. The shelters at the Smokies are much bigger given the increased traffic in them and had a double storey wooden platform so that up to 14 people can stay in them. They include such luxuries as extended roof awnings, stone construction, wooden benches/seats and even indoor fireplaces.
All of these luxuries however dont really compensate for the loud snorer that invariably picks the sleeping spot with the greatest acoustics and falls asleep before anyone else.
Despite the regulations, I only have only had to sleep in a shelter for one night so far (Silers Bald Shelter) as the rest of the nights the shelters were full due to the abundance of thru and section hikers so I happily pitched my tent which gives me my happy little space.

The walking through the Smokies... The night before at Fontana Dam a group of us hikers hitched a ride (6 hikers and 1 dog into the back of a pickup truck) into the local servo which also doubled as the bar. We had a few drinks, played some pool and then headed back to the shelter (the Fontana “Hilton”). I was primed for the Smokies albiet camera less because I am a hopeless luddite, I had laundered, swum in the dam, showered, resupplied, updated blog, filled in my permit form and on a mission to get to Hot Springs. The start of the walk was all uphill which I tackled with gusto and soon caught up with James (Gandalf) and Dallas (Bush Goggles) who had started a little earlier. I've ended walking with them and John (Lady Slipper) through the whole Smokies. Well walking together is a bit of a misnomer as sometimes we do but generally we walk at our own pace and meet up in town or at a campsite.

The first day the weather was grey but the rain held until the afternoon which was just before I got to a shelter. As the next shelter was 7 miles away that was it for the day so I set up my tent as the shelter was full (well technically it wasn't but I was sure it was going to fill :)). The rain went through the night and continued through the morning so I decided to read my kindle instead of braving the elements like the rest of the hikers. Some may call it 'soft', I prefer 'safely negotiating hazardous environments' which I did until 11 am. By then the rain had stopped so I packed and walked to the next shelter where as I arrived the rain started again so out came the kindle and I waited for another hour until it stopped. Once it had I made a bit of a dash to the next shelter and only got a little caught out by the rain so by the end of the day I was quietly satisfied that I had 'dodged' the weather. For the Smokies however that was only round one.
Round two was day 5 in the Smokies which came after some great scenic walking through clingmans dome, a visit to Gatlinburg (which I'll go into some more detail later) and some awesome ridgewalking (great views on either side) on day 4.
Day 5 was at the northern boundary of the Smokies and pretty much involved the descent out. We'd (James, Dallas and I) had camped just outside Tri-corner knob shelter in a bit of a tent city as the shelter was full. We had just passed the 10% mark of the AT trail and were planning to push hard that day so that we could get out of the national park and go back to camping away from the shelters. John caught up with us early in the morning and seeing as he and Dallas are the fastest walkers they took off together. Then the rain came and there was no avoiding it. Walking downhill in the rain on a hiking trail is pretty much like walking down a steep creekbed. You're trying to avoid walking in the puddles as much as possible as you want to keep your feet dry but seeing as the kickers on my boots have separated from the soles a little due to all the times I've kicked stomes or tripped on roots it was kind of a lost cause.
Still I plodded on, trying vainly (both in the hopeless sense and the ego one) to catch the boys ahead of me. I found some shelter at an overpass after I had finished my descent and I managed to ring my socks dry and pushed on hoping to find the boys camping nearby.
Unfortunately for me, I walked past their campsite as I was climbing Snowbird Mountain and so I kept pushing on, soaked into the cold rain cursing the boys for their indifference to the weather. By 6.30 odd, I'd had enough so I warmed my hands enough to pitch my tent and set up a soggy camp. Luckily my 50 cent black garbage bag (instead of a $50 bag cover) had kept my bag dry so my gear was dry and I was in pretty good spirits that I'd catch them up tomorrow.

TBC.. got to go meet up with the boys to go for a dip in the springs

Monday, 16 April 2012

Trail Names.. the list

Like the camp sites I thought I might keep a list of the trail names I come across.. lest we forget

Walkabout...    obviously the coolest one out there
Rock Scar...    falling onto rocks is not fun
Ten Gallon...    after a hat, i think
Sketch...          rodeo rider, artist, over 100 broken bones, will I see him past the smokies?
Yogi and Boo boo...  hiker couple, bear lovers
Bucket list...     doesnt need too much explaining
Day Glow...     named after his fluorescent shirt
White Wolf...   didn't ask, but he has ear spacers so I'm guessing it's a new age thing
Lightning & Lady bug... I remembered the second part. Hit by lightning 6 times didn't stop him going outside.. Lady is his partners.
Miguel...         real name Michael with a Porto Ricean wife
Croc...           I didn't actually meet him, just heard about him
April and Fool...   They started the walk on the 1st
Simple See...   Apparantly he was Normal See because he is a straight talker and then someone found out his surname was Simple so they named him Simple See. I don't get what the See means
Scatter...   Great for topics, low on continuency
Old Skool...   For her backpack
Smores (Gandalf)... James - Named after a marshmallow snack, I renamed him Gandalf for his awesome walking stick
Bush Goggles... Dallas - Had another trail name that I cant remember which was a song he would whistle, I renamed him Bush Goggles seeing as soon as hit town no woman was safe :)
Lady Slipper... John - Named after the state flower of Minnesota but could also refer to the cute girl that walked past us and he hasn't been able to catch since
Weelow... Named after a toy she carries
Snickers... Pretty self explanatory
Ivy... Not too sure, could have been because of the poison ivy on the trail
Yeti... and her dog Jada
Mr Incredible and Elastic girl
Apollo... red hair again
Ambassador... slow southern drawl makes for the ambassador way
Cackles... she laughes at anything
Pops...   He's of the older generation
Sheila...  Suzannes trail name, 'chick' in ocker

Flora and Fauna of the trail

After Gai's post in regard to birdsI thought I might add in a section of the flora and fauna of the trail..

Well currently I'm walking through the 'Green Belt' which is a bit of a misnomer because due to the deciduous nature of most of the trees and the fact that it's still early spring a lot of the trees are missing leaves. It is quite easy to see though that once the trees get into full leaf and bloom the area will be ablaze with green (I doubt that was the right adjective but I'm running with it.)
So far theres been a lot of trees that haven't been eucalypts, or acacias, or turkey bush, billy goat plum or pretty much anything that I can identify. I have seen a couple of conifers (pine trees) and some rhotodendrums (which are supposed to flower in a month or so).
I was mildly disappointed when I camped at Black Gum Gap last night that I didnt see any eucalypts which I put down either to false advertising or the fact that a gum tree might mean something totally different here.
The ground is littered with the leaves from last 'fall' and they are large leaves which makes me excited to see how the trees flesh out and look rather than the big sticks with tiny leaves that they currently are. There are lots of herbacious plants on the ground as well and John (no trail name yet) who I camped with a couple of nights ago could identify a sweet onion plant which he dug up and I put in that nights stew.
Thats about it for my botanical knowledge.
My ornothological is much worse I'm sorry Graham and Gai. So far I've seen a small black bird with a white belly fairly regularly. I'm guessing his common name is 'white bellied small black bird'. I've heard a lot of woodpeckers and I see their debris everywhere but I haven't been able to spot one yet.. probably because I usually have my eyes to the ground to make sure I dont trip over those roots and stones that jump out at me.
I know it's turkey season and I've heard gunshots a few times so I'm guessing that I've been close to turkeys on a few occassions.
Fauna wise.. I've seen a lot of squirrels and a couple of chipmonks. My crowning fauna spotting achievement so far was that I got to within 10 metres of a white tailed deer. She was a real cutie, a proper bambi (except different species, I mean age and size wise) and she was grazing on the trail. She looked up at me as I stopped and then went back to grazing. My first thought was "Where is her Mum and Dad" and then I was like, "Oy get off the trail". She wasn't worried about me at all so I had to clap to get her moving but she only moved a few metres off the trail then went back to grazing as I went past.
Bears... I havent seen any but the stories, oh man the stories, so many of them. So far the only direct incident that I have come across was a Pom (I cant remember his name sorry) who had his food stolen a couple of days out of Franklin. The fact that it had happened to the only Pom I've met on the trail so far kind of vindicated my personal theory that you should always take a Pom camping with you because anything bad will always happen to them.
Bears however are real and they are great poachers. If you believe the stories they are one of the few animals that can think along the 'cause and effect' principle (theres probably a good single word such as sentinence for that) and theres lots of stories of how they get into peoples food. The standard way of protecting your food is by hanging on a tree limb a few metres up and out of range of the tree. This isn't infalliable though as bears have been known to swing the wire to get the food swaying so that it is reach of the tree then climbing the tree to get the food.
Me? I dont mind if the bear gets my food, in some way I would be paying back the 'trail magic' I've received. So long as he doesnt eat me, which I'm pretty sure neither of us are interested in.

Trail Magic...shazam

Trail magic...
What is it?
It, as I found out 2 days ago is the magical moments when you come across people that just want to help hikers in any way they can.
Trail magic could be a lift into town and then as an incident that happened to Sketch the driver gave him $20 to go and buy lunch with.
A more common version of trail magic, and it's a kind that happened to me twice in the space of 10 miles is when people set up a bbq on the trail and feed the hikers as they come past.
On the 14th, I was happily in my own little dreamworld when I came across a bbq complete with tents, chairs, fire and a full breakfast spread. It was set up by the local baptist church (unfortunately I didn't get their name) and they were serving eggs cooked to order, bacon, biscuits and gravy, fruit, chocolate cookies, brownies and most importantly.. coffee.. everything a hungry hiker could wish for.
Of course I gourged myself and chatted away until I was full and moved on to a chorus of farewells and 'god bless'.
Oh.. as an aside, how do you answer 'god bless' as a non religious person. I mean I feel like a bit of an impersonater saying 'god bless' back seeing as I dont believe in god but you want to answer with something in a similar vein.. If anyone has any suggestions I'm all ears.
Anyhows (I'm learning yankee) I walked along the trail until I came to a section where it crossed a dirt road and there was a couple of guys setting up a bbq for more trail magic. 'Red Man' had done the trail in 2010 and the other guy his son had done the AT with Red Man and the PCT (Pacific Crest trail) in 2011 and they just wanted to pay back the trail magic they had received.
So of course I had to sit down and eat away. Their fare was a little different to the baptists in that it contained beer, wine, and moonshine (my first taste) but I love the concept of trail magic.

Fabulous Fontana

Hey all, back in from the well sunshine.
I know the short last post I had complained a little about the weather but the truth is that I've been blessed with beautiful weather pretty much the whole trail.
Apart from the cold mornings and the one misty day, it's been constant sunshine and I've even had a chance to wear my 'wife beater' (blue singlet) on numerous occassions.
Once again I may be pressed for time on the computer. I'm currently at Fontana Lodge a beautiful (and well spaced out as only Americans can) lodge at the base of the Smokey mountains. There is one computer terminal at the guest lounge which I'm monopolising and seeing as I'm not even a guest I dont know how long I will have it for.
As for the shape of this blog I'm kind of thinking that I'll keep updates on where I'm at as I come across these computers with limited access and then do big writeups when I find a machine that I can spend some time on.
The plan for my next week is well the 'Smokey Mountains'. There's only one town on the way (Gatlinburg) and I dont know if I'll drop into it so I've bought up 7 days worth of food and have set my sights on Hotsprings (which has a library with computer).
So there is a good chance that you wont hear from me in a week but I'll try my best to make up for it once I hit the 'Springs'


As I was walking I thought I might make a list of all the campsites I stay at and their mileage seeing as I have an extremely useful guidebook (The AT Guide) that marks the mileage.
I should be able to constantly edit it along the walk..
Day   !  Site Name                               ! Mileage
1       : Ramrock Mountain                   - 19.6
2       : Bull Gap                                   - 32.9
3       : Site of former Rocky Knob Shelter - 49.6
4       : Helen                                       - Town
5       : Sassafra Gap                            - 63.3
6       : Spring (past Blue Ridge gap)    - 76.3
7       : Albert Mountain bypass           - 99.8
8       : Franklin                                   - Town
9       : Licklog Gap                             - 122.1
10     : Grassy Gap                              - 139.7
11     : Black Gum Gap                       - 160.6
12     : Fontana Dam Shelter (Town)    - 165.8
13     : Spence Field Shelter                 - 182.5
14     : Silers Bald Shelter                     - 194.3
15     : Gatlinburg                                 - Town
16     : Tri-Corner Knob Shelter           - 222.4
17     : Spanish Oak Gap                      - 243.8
18     : Old roadbed, spring                  - 264.5
19     : Hot Springs (Town)                  - 273.9
20     : Hot Springs                               - Zero day   
21     : Deep Gap                                 - 286.7
22     : Spring (past Flint Mountain)       - 306.5
23     : Spring (past Little Bald)             - 327.4
24     : Erwin                                        - 341.5
25     : Unaka Mountain                        - 355.7
26     : Stream (past Little Rock Knob)  - 370.2


27     : US 19E                                      - 391.9
28     : Vango/Abbey Hostel                   - 404.0      

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Fortuitous Franklin

Howdy folks
Walkabout here fresh from the hills.
And by fresh I mean frozen ready to be microwaved..
Today I arrived in Franklin, the last place to formally surrender in the civil war, nominally because they didnt have a telegraph office and didnt know that the war was over but I reckon it was they just werent quitters.
This is going to have to be a shorter update than the last one because I only have a 30 min allocation on the computer (although I'll try and push the limits a little) but I'll try and recount the last few days a little.

Firstly Helen.. I didn't have to hike to and from the town as Southerners are very forthcoming with hiking hitchhikers. In fact the ride I got back to the trail the guy who gave me a lift was very apologetic because he picked me up in a little honda coupe. "I've got a F150 back home but I drive this little fellow around town to save gas" he explained erasing any stigma I may have held to be a passenger in such a small car. Americans love their big cars and Larry was a 5th generation Georgian so he made sure I knew he had a big car.

Anyway I digress, after writing up my blog in Helen, I went to get something to eat. I walked past a number of colourfully Bavarian restaurants but I didnt feel too comfortable eating on my own in there so I ended up walking into a pub. I ordered my meal and a beer, then saw a guy go up onto the stage. Then the TV started scrolling the words he was about to sing and the horror hit me. Yes I'd walked into karaoke night.
The guy finished his song and he was the compere so he urged me onto the stage. I warned him, but I'd finished my first beer and hadn't had anything to eat since breakfast so I caved in and went onstage to butcher 'The Gambler'. After I'd finished the song to the stunned reception of the crowd my meal had arrived and I got to finish it in peace.. there wasn't any calls for an encore.

I got back onto the trail the next morning after doing a little shop and sending some superfluous items that I didnt want to throw away to my parents (Mum, please dont throw away that tshirt) and then I started walking again to warnings that a cold front was coming in.

Walking was good apart from my left hamstring which was giving me grief whenever I went downhill. It got so tender that I started to walk backwards down step downhills and decided to finish my day early at 4pm to give it some rest. Following the RICE formula (rest, ice, compression, elevation) I decided to sleep on a downward slant to give the leg elevation which had the interesting effect of me waking up every other hour and sliding back up the tent. Still the hammy was better teh next day so I think my quickfix worked. If Emmanuelle (my yoga teacher) is reading this I know she would be screaming.. Treeevor, your Humstrings (shes french).
The cold front came through that night and I think that brought the 'ice' portion into medication. I mean it was cold. There was water on the trail which had frozen into frozen water crystals.. without the help of a freezer.. out in the open.
The couple that I camped next to that night. (April and Fool.. they started their hike on the 1st) said that the temperature was around 30. I expressed my disbelief seeing as I know what 30 degrees is like and they explained that they meant fahrenheit which must mean at least -30 degrees celcius.

Anyway my time is up so I'll try and add more later.
Today Franklin.. next town stop is hopefully Fontana which is around 54 miles away

Sunday, 8 April 2012

I see the light!!

So, I’ve written a lot in the past couple of hours but nothing about the actual walking along the trail. To date I’ve walked around 55 miles, 40 on the trail, 15 off in 3 days and a morning. On the trail I think an average day will be around 15 miles as the trail is pretty undulating and it has a lot of climbs and descents. For me the descents are the harder parts as I find them hard on the joints but all in all I’m pretty happy with how the body is coping.
The weather is interesting. The first day was beautiful sunshine and I reveled in it. The second day we were completely enclosed with mist and it rained (sparingly) intermittently. However when I climbed blood mountain which was the high peak of the day I cleared the mist at the peak into sunshine which was an amazing contrast. The mist returned as soon as I descended however.

As an aside on the 2nd night I shared my campsite with a couple of girls (I’ve forgotten their trail names) we were sharing stories of the day and remarked at what a change it was coming out of the mist on blood mountain. When I had got to the top there was a large Christian group that were there as some sort of youth group outing, so as I was talking to the girls I said something along the lines of maybe the youth group had managed to ‘claim the light’ and clear the mist.
The girls gave me a weird look and for the life of me I don’t know whether it was because they were religious and I had offended their sensibilities or if they had taken my statement at face value and thought I was some sort of evangelist. Either way the conversation kind of ended and I was left wondering if my sense of humour will get me in trouble here in the US.

Back onto the trail.. the weather was cold on the third day but clear and I managed to get some amazing mountain vista views. That really is what is giving me the buzz as I’m walking. The countryside is extremely pretty and its quite exuberating walking along a saddle and seeing the rolling mountain range on either side. Don’t get me wrong, the walking is quite hard yakka and the descents and ascents are hurting. I have confidence however that my body is going to adapt to the strain and it’s feels so good to be out in the fresh air just walking.

It’s true that I’ve already come off the trail after only 3 days, but that was more because I knew that I was behind on updating this blog and I thought it would be a good idea to have a clean up. That is one thing of the trail so far, I haven’t come across a stream big enough to wash in. Most of the water I’ve come across is from pipe springs that have been set up for hikers. That’s all well and good for drinking water but I was kind of expecting to be able to wash in streams which doesn’t look like it’ll be the case which does mean I’m going to get very smelly over the course of this trip.

That’ll have to do for my blog updates. I’m currently in a town called Helen which is a tourist town where all the buildings and businesses have a Bavarian or Swiss theme. It’s kind of like a cross between Sovereign Hill meets Oktoberfest although I cant ever remember seeing a Wendy’s in Baveria.

Next update in a week or so


They call me Walkabout

“G’day” I said in my best ocker to the two hikers sitting at Coopers Gap. “I’ve finally made it!!” I expressed with exuberance. “Howdy” one of the hikers said “I’m Rock Scar”, “Hi, hi, I’m Ten Gallon” the other hiker said. “I’m err Trev.. um Trevelyan.”
This was my introduction to the Appalachian and Trek names. Either you make one up or one gets made up for you if you spend enough time on the trail.
Rock Scar was a thru walker (someone that walks the entire trail) in 2009 and he got his name because he banged his head on a rock and got a scar from it which I guess is fairly explanatory whilst I’m not exactly sure about Ten Gallon although I asked if he was from Texas and he smiled and said ‘That’s the idea’ so I guess he must have a ten gallon hat.
So far the hikers I’ve met with trail names that I can remember (as I type this) are as follows
-          Sketch – an ex-rodeo rider turned artist who is walking the trail for inspiration
-          Old School – a girl with the old style steel frame backpack taking her dog (with a doggy backpack) for a 250 mile walkies. The dogs trail name is Jelly bean
-          Saturday – I forgot to ask
-          Lightning (I cant remember the 2nd part, I think it was beau) – a guy from the Oconee Hiking club who I hitched a ride with. He has been struck by lightning 7 times. The last time only 6 weeks ago and he showed me the various entry and exit points of some of the strikes. His arms were still swollen from the last hit. He only treks in good weather nowadays.
-          Scatter – another Oconee hiker, she switches topic mid sentence, I didn’t ask how she got her name.

Initially I was a bit skeptical of the whole trail name thing. I think it’s because I think that I feel like a name is a defining thing probably because it took me a long time to come to grips with mine. That and I think I found it a bit goofy people introducing themselves by their pseudonyms. However, as I’ve met more people with them I’ve become converted.. it’s an ice-breaker and an easier way to remember the people you meet on the trail.

I’ve come to introduce myself as ‘Walkabout’ because.. hey I like it.

Trail Bound

I’m on a bus!!
Not quite like "I’m on a boat"
For those of you that don’t get the reference google it (It's a song by Lonely Island)

A bus to Gainesville, the closest I could get to the trail by bus but still 38 miles to go. As I got on the bus though I spied a girl carrying an AT booklet and a sleeping mat so once we both disembarked at Gainesville I enquired how she was going to get onto the trail. She had a shuttle booked that was going to take her to Dahlonega and I managed to catch a ride with her.

Only 15 miles to go…

Unfortunately the hostel (they do exist!!!) she was staying at was booked out so I ended up staying at another cheap motel as it was getting late. There was a Wallmart closeby so I walked there to get my supplies.

Walking seems to be less catered for in the US than driving is. Pavements appear to be an optional extra in rural towns that start and end at fairly random intervals. Shops too if they are not in the town centre are well spread, each with their own carpark and not with guaranteed pedestrian access. My trip to Wallmart was down one road which I crossed twice to try to stay on the pavement or at least on the largest portion of runoff with a quick road sprint to get into the carpark. Wallmart supplied me with all my supplies and I found a roadmap which showed me where the trail was which I guestimated to be around 15 miles so I went into Taco Bell (via the road access) to celebrate.
I took a long time perusing the menu and got a weird smile from the attendant when I told her it was my first time to her enquiry if I wanted to order. I think the smile was linked to the thought “He’s not from around here is he”. That thought made me smile so it was all smiles at Taco Bell.

All packed I went to bed early and woke full of beans (Taco beans) at 5am. Maybe it’s jet lag, or a time zone shift, or the excitement of the trip ahead either way I was out the door by 5.30 am and walking. Maybe it wasn’t the traditional start to the trail as most people get dropped off at Springer Mountain (the official start) and I was planning to join the trail where the road intersected the AT (about 10 miles in) but in my book near enough is good enough and walking down the highway waving at cars as they drove past I felt the freedom of my last big trip (Cycling Solo: Ireland to Istanbul, copies still available see www.hazeledwards.com).
I was in high spirits and that didn’t even stop when I felt a blister forming on my left heel. So if anyone had bets on how long a blister would take it was -5 miles. Yep that’s right, I got one before even getting onto the trail. Luckily I was prepared for this eventuality so I bandaided up and kept going. Walking strongly I made it onto the trail (at Cooper Gap 12.4 miles into the trail) by around 1 and met a couple of guys there that welcomed me to the trail and the concept of ‘trail names’