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
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’

Lumbering logistics

There are things that I'm good at.. going bush, tackling people in hockey, guessing the time from the sun. All of which are important life skills!! Unfortunately logistics is not in that list and by logistics I mean planning and organising. Why this is I'm not sure as the rest of my family are very good at it but I guess I am a bit of a black sheep and that gene just bypassed me.
The lack of logistics is the reason why I found myself in Atlanta after a year or so of knowing that I wanted to do this trail bereft of any bookings for shuttles, hotels or maps and just a general idea that the AT (Appalachian Trail) was to the north and that I had to get there somehow.
Oh well, I like to call myself a reactionary traveler, and as a reactionary traveler I make do with my lack of logistical skill by immersing myself in whatever place I find myself and trying to find my way to the next place I want to be generally in the cheapest and least painful method.
This usually involves walking around aimlessly asking for directions until I get there.

So how did I get to Atlanta in the first place with my poor logistics? That’s a good question. Mainly by prodding from Terry (cup of tea Terry) at the pool who forced me to book my plane tickets, then by Dawn (see.. I finally mentioned you 6 years too late) who booked the tickets with gentle overseering from my family who kept enquiring if I’d booked, if I had insurance covered and asking for the details (which I finally sent today) as proof.

So despite my logistics failings I managed to board Delta airlines enroute to the land of supersize it!! The plane flight was agreeable. I chatted to the two ladies I sandwiched in between and then spent most of the flight watching movies.. Due to the temporal distortion that is time zones we actually arrived in LA before we left Sydney and I got to watch the sun rise a second time whilst we were stuck on the tarmac. We were stuck on the tarmac for an hour after landing as there was a problem with the plane in the terminal where we supposed to dock into which meant it was a bit of a rush to catch the transfer to Atlanta. This wasn’t helped by the fact that I got knocked back by customs as I put my projected address as ‘backpackers’.
“Backpackers isn’t an address, where are you going to stay when you’re in America?”
“Well I’m going to be walking the Appalachian Trail so I’ll only be staying one night in Atlanta and I was going to stay in a backpacker hostel”
“Well put the address on the form”
“I haven’t booked one, I was just going to go into town and find one”
“Put the address on the form, Next”
So I went to the back of the queue and put YHA on the form as I reasoned there had to be one in Atlanta. This got rejected as well so I upgraded my address to the Hilton hotel and it was third time lucky. Take note all you reactionary travelers out there who haven’t booked ahead.. there’s always a Hilton hotel.
I slept most of the connecting flight to Atlanta, landed, grabbed my kit and found the information booth confident that I could find my longed for backpackers.
“Backpackers? What’s that?” said the distracted booth attendant who I’d rudely made work interrupting her texting.
“It’s like a cheap hostel where backpackers stay” I tried to explain.
“A hotel?”
“No a hostel.. like YHA”
“We have motels” she said, “Now where are you staying?”
I was a bit annoyed with her as she had an extremely indolent demeanor and I’d seen a sign for a shuttle into the city so I said don’t worry about it I’ll just catch a shuttle much to her relief.
I caught the shuttle with a large afro American lady with a strong southern accent and a Japanese guy.
Where you heading? The shuttle driver asked. “The Hilton” the other two passengers chimed and I squirmed wondering if that customs official in LA was behind all this. Nethertheless I continued on my fruitless crusade to find a backpackers of which the shuttle driver had no idea but the lady found on her smartphone in seconds. In the end I finished up in cheap motel downtown Atlanta which was walking distance to the Hilton so I think my universe balanced itself nicely on that one.
Highlights of Atlanta..
-          Spotted a skyscraper with roman style arches on the roof that would have made Dan Brown suspicious so I went in to ask the front desk about them. The building interior was amazingly ostentatious with oak and gold trim everywhere and even a gilded shoeshine seat. The front desk couldn’t tell me much about the arches saying that the architect had gone for some pseudo greek design.
-          Spotted my first ‘homeboys’ or at least spotted two groups that looked like they were wearing colours. Escaped without getting mugged
-          Found no internet cafes despites numerous enquiries. I did manage to get on a library one for half an hour which I spent trying to work out how to get onto the trail (successfully!!)
-          Saw police and ‘Information Officials’ scooting around on people movers

My impressions of Atlanta (which incorporates all of a few hours wandering around and waiting at the bus station) were of a pretty tough town. Really it’s all just down to feeling but I saw a lot of police patrolling and it just felt like you were either in the rich skyscraper crowd or the poor street one. The skyscrapers even had enclosed bridges connecting themselves, some travelling for up to a block.

Anyway the city was not my destination so I headed off to the bus station to continue my journey to the trail.


Monday, 2 April 2012

Surreal Sydney

I guess this is officially the first post of the trip seeing as the first one was more of a drunken ramble after I'd got home from the farewell bbq.

Soo.. I'm not sure exactly how I'm going to do this blog, but I think it will be along the lines of once I find a computer I'll relate all the things I can remember since the last update. So I guess this blog will be a bit of a timeline detailing the accessibility of intenet cafe's from the Appalachian trail!!

So what's happened since the bbq? Well a lot of cleaning.. the unit is that clean I almost wanted to stay a couple more days to mess it up and give it a more humane edge. In between cleaning,I went for a hit of golf with Mark and Lee. They told me off because I didnt mention them in the last blog (or Dawn either) so I'm making sure I mention them straight away for prosperity. While I'm in the mentioning mood, I might as well mention that I won the round.. hit a 42 and Lee despite making a bet back on Cup day didnt throw his golf clubs into the lake (Thats Leigh Considine for posterity).
I enjoyed the round, it was good to catch up with the boys and relax as everything had been gogogo for the last week. It did mean that I had early beers.. and that led into later beers as a few people came to visit before I headed off. Soo by 1130 I was half cut but fully packed, fed and cleaned so I decided to walk to the airport.

It was fairly humid.. in fact it was really humid so I ended up walking topless and sweated non-stop. By the time I got to the airport, my feet were killing me and somehow I have managed to get a carbuncle like
rash on the inside of my knee, I'm guessing where my shorts were rubbing. Once I got onto the plane I collapsed into fitful sleep and slept with my legs in a weird position so once I'd got off the plane I was practically hobbling and exhausted.
"Great" I thought "Walked 5 kays with a pack and I'm already broken". Luckily Lee (thats 4 mentions!!) had told me there was a Formula One motel near the airport and all I could think of when I got my bags was to find it and crash. I found it.. slept for three hours then woke up to cancel a run with Meg (if you read this sorry.. wanted to go but couldn't) then went back to sleep for another 4 hours.

After waking up the second time, I felt a lot more human and after a bit of a stretch, clean and treatment felt like maybe I will be able to do this walk. I then opened the window to see a "Krusty Kreme Donut" shop across the road which I thought was fairly humorous seeing as it felt like America was reaching out to me.

So what to do?? 24hrs in Sy--der--ney with no real responsibilities. First stop coffee (but no donuts), then I found the train station and headed into town with a brief mental list of finding an internet cafe to get this blog rolling and maybe to find some new shorts (which dont rub). Got off the train at circular quay walked across to customs house and made fleeting eye contact with one James Packer.. hows that for freaky. I dont know what the word for it is.. maybe something like iridology where you look into someones eyes and get a feel for their character/current emotions. Well as a amateur iridologist, I would say that James has strong eyes (kind of officious) and there was definitely some nervous tension in them. So if you've got any stock in Foxtel  SELL NOW..
After my hobnobbing with the rich and famous I walked around inner Sydney. I found a mall that went forever and had like 5 stories, a camping store that wanted to sell me shorts for $100 and a bridge next to a shell like building where everyone either took photos or jogged around.
I finally found an internet cafe (pretty much back where I had started) so all in all it's been a good recovery day and now I just need to find something for dinner and then it's off on the next stage :)

Till then, may all your bridges have 8 lanes