Monday, March 30, 2015

Day 3: Here Comes the Rain Again....

Hikers at Gooch Gap try to warm up before
hitting the trail.
March 10: It rained on and off during the night, and by morning, it had mostly stopped. But not entirely. A light drizzle persisted and would continue to persist throughout the day. Not hard enough for me to pull out my umbrella, but annoying enough to make everything feel wet.

Early in the morning, though, it was largely dry and by the time I reached Woody Gap a couple of hours later, the rain had stopped completely and what little water had fallen on me had dried.

Woody Gap is notable because it's the first paved road that crosses the Appalachian Trail, and Amanda was waiting for me when I arrived. I remembered the first time I hiked the trail I was amazed at how fast cars traveled down the road. It was as if it was the first time I had ever seen a car traveling at highway speeds, but this time, it didn't phase me a bit.

Amanda provided a couple of Krispy Kreme doughnuts and orange juice which I happily accepted, along with a roast beef sandwich which I took for later. Because Amanda wanted me to go another 11 or so miles to Neels Gap, the next road crossing.

She didn't have to twist my arm to make this happen. Although it had been raining and looked like it would start again at any moment, it wasn't a hard rain and the weather forecast for the next few days looked to be much worse. I didn't have to be talked into taking advantage of the mediocre weather for hiking and then take the next few days off for sightseeing off the trail in genuinely bad weather!

The fog starts rolling in!

I also dropped off some of my gear--no sense in carrying a full pack if Amanda was just going to pick me up again later in the day! I dropped off my sleeping bag, camp clothes and extra food, lightening my load by 5 to 10 pounds.

Then off I went. The drizzle started up again, and for about five minutes, it rained hard enough that I finally had to pull out my umbrella. Then the light drizzle returned and I put the umbrella away.

An hour later, the trail entered a thick layer of fog, reducing visibility to perhaps 50 feet. It gave the trail an eerie look and I rather liked the photos I was taking. They had a ghostly feel.

Not much happened on the rest of the hike. I stopped at the Woods Hole Shelter for lunch and chatted with a few other hikers who also stopped to eat. Then onward I continued.

The last section of trail climbed Blood Mountain, the highest point on the AT in Georgia, then dropped down a steep, rocky trail slick from the rain. I'd call it the most treacherous part of the trail so far, but I got down without any sprains or injuries.

Woody Gap is the first paved road the AT crosses.

When I arrived at Neels Gap, Amanda was nowhere to be seen. I told her that I expected to arrive at around 4:00 but made it about 15 minutes early. No problem, though! Neels Gap has all sorts of entertainment available because that's where the Walasi-Yi Interpretive Center is located.  They provide showers, give hikers a chance to replace bad or overweight gear, provide lodging and just are a place for hikers to hang. A large tree in the yard has hundreds of pairs of old boots hanging off of it. It also has the distinction of being the only place where the Appalachian Trail passes through a man-made structure.

Amanda showed up about 10 minutes later. She hadn't been here yet and wanted to go inside to browse, so I threw my pack in the car to follow suit, but headed back when I remembered the passport I acquired at Amicalola Falls. I knew this place would have a stamp for it. Amanda continued on without me.

I got my passport and went inside where I was ambushed by Fireneck--a letterboxer and fellow long-distance thru-hiker who's done the Appalachian Trail, Long Trail and Colorado Trail. (I think that's all of the long-distance trails he's done so far.) We had never met before--not in person, at least--but I immediately recognized him from his photos. And I was stunned--how did he know I'd be there just then?!

As it turned out, he worked there, and had read that I was starting the Appalachian Trail and keeping his eye open for me knowing I'd have to pass by soon. He never told me he was working there so I had no idea he was even within a thousand miles of me. (I thought he lived in Illinois or Ohio or something!) But it was a really fun surprise.

He couldn't talk for long--he was actually working, after all. But we probably chatted for about 5 minutes before he went back to working and Amanda and I browsed the rest of the store.

When we finished, Amanda drove us back to Atlanta for the night. Well, Marietta, to be precise, but I know a lot of you folks who've never been to the Atlanta area probably don't know where that is. ;o) Amanda has family who lives there (hello, DeAnna and Zoey!) and we headed there where we talked most of the night and ate spaghetti for dinner. Good times! =)

Total steps for the day: 37,426
AT miles for the day: 15.9
Total AT miles: 40.5

I like to think that ghosts inhabit fog like this. =)

The Blood Mountain Shelter is among the oldest shelters on the AT, built in 1934. It's also at the top of Blood Mountain, the highest point on the AT in Georgia. I told other hikers that the mountain was named for a  thru-hiker massacre in '93, but it's actually named after a battle that took place between two Native American groups. (Or so the story says.)

The trail down Blood Mountain is steep and particularly slick when wet!

Neels Gap is the only place where the AT passes through a man-made structure. That hole in the building ahead--that's the official AT!

This tree was filled with dangling abandoned shoes!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Day 2: Gooch Mountain Gap

The Benton MacKaye Trail overlaps the
Appalachian Trial for a bit. I think I'm the only
hiker that cared about it, though!
March 9: It rained overnight, but by morning, it had stopped. Except for the occasional drop from the leafless trees, rain was not an issue.

Almost immediately out of the shelter, I crossed paths with the Benton MacKaye Trail. None of the other hikers cared about it, but it had a certain sentimental value for me since when I walked here from Key West, that was the trail I followed. I can't say I particularly liked the trail--I remember quite a bit of road walking and less than ideal trails, but good or bad, it had been a part of my journey. I had followed those white diamonds painted on trees to get me to Springer Mountain and it was there where I finally connected my hike from Key West with my previous hike of the Appalachian Trail. It had been an exciting and thrilling moment for me.

I passed paths with a thru-hiker named Fozzie. I didn't know that was his name at the time--we just crossed paths with not much more than a wave. It wasn't until I walked about a tenth of a mile off trail to view Long Creek Falls that I bumped into him again. We had both stopped to admire the waterfall and started a conversation. I was a little surprised to see him. I didn't stop at this waterfall the last time I hiked the trail and I know most thru-hikers aren't going to walk extra off the trail to do so either. The sign marking the turnoff didn't even say how far off the trail the waterfall was located, but I knew there was a creek nearby and assumed it was probably close.

Long Creek Falls, a short distance off the AT.
So I walked over to it for a photo and lo and behold--there was Fozzie. We started walking together and chatting.  Just in case you wanted to see what he's up to, this is his blog: Jordan Hikes.  =) He had never thru-hiked a trail before, but he did do the first 500 miles of the AT last year in an attempt that failed because he ran out of money. That's a pretty good hunk, and he hadn't visited these side trails on his last trip and didn't want to miss them this time around. I thought it somewhat interesting that so far as I knew, the only two people who may have visited this waterfall were both people who had hiked this section of trail before and both of us had skipped it the first time.

At a road crossing, we found the lid of a toilet seat with the words "shed" and "cemetery"with an arrow pointing off trail. We thought it odd that it would be pointing to a shed, and hikers generally aren't much interested in cemeteries either. We also had no idea how far off trail either was located, but I wasn't in a big rush and figured I'd at least go to the turn in the road and see if I could see anything past it. I did see something not far away, although I couldn't be certain what it was at first. Fozzie followed when I told him it didn't look like it was far.

How can you say no to a sign like this?!
Not only did we find a giant shed--or rather, what I'd normally call a shelter except they probably didn't want to do that because it might confuse hikers who thought it was a "trail shelter." In this case, it was merely a roof with no walls covering a picnic area. Behind it was a small cemetery. And off to the side was what we at first thought was a see-saw, but as it turned out, this see-saw didn't do up and down but rather spun in circles. Fozzie and I got on each end of it and spun each other in circles. To think, probably every other hiker was going to miss this! I found myself really enjoying these off-trail jaunts.

Throughout the morning, we could hear military helicopters flying around and gunshots being fired. We were near some sort of military base so shenanigans were afoot! A lot of training was happening in these mountains.

We stopped for lunch and then headed back down the trail, stopping for another break at Hawk Mountain Shelter. A couple of people were already there including Ridge Runner Tom from Springer Mountain the day before. He told us that a maintenance crew had just replaced three of the legs of the picnic table at the shelter. The old ones were left with a pile of wood--presumably for hikers to burn later. The register was brand, spanking new--also left by the trail crew. By the time I got it, only two other people had signed it: Laugh Track (who I figured couldn't have been more than an hour or so ahead of me) and Ridge Runner Tom who was still right there.

Tom also warned us that there were quite a few people at this shelter and the previous one, and almost everyone was headed to the Gooch Mountain Shelter for the night. It was looking to be quite a large crowd there. My main concern was that I wanted a space in the shelter. It was expected to rain overnight again, and I wanted to be in a shelter whenever it was raining.

I filled up with water and this was where Fozzie and I went our separate ways. Well, technically, we were both going the same way, but we left the shelter at different times and we were now hiking separately.

At Cooper Gap, there was a water tank. An empty water tank, and I was told it's actually called a buffalo tank--a new term for me. It can be attached to the back of a vehicle and driven around, and it was left here for hikers, I assume. I found it a little strange that it was left there at all. This was one of the longer waterless sections of trail so far, but that amounted to maybe six or seven miles. I don't consider that particularly dry!

In any case, the buffalo tank was empty so it wasn't going to help anyone anyhow. There were also two hikers out for a few days along with their dog. We chatted for a few minutes before they headed north and I stopped to sit down for a snack break.

The shed is hiker friendly. It says right on that
sign at the top: "Campers welcome."
I continued onwards, climbing over one of the longest sustained climbs of the trail thus far: Sassafras Mountain. I always joked the last time I hiked the trail that I suspected "Sassafras" was a Native American term meaning, "Big mountain kick white man's butt" or something to that affect.  It seems that everywhere on the trail that has the word Sassafras in the name can be counted on to be exhausting. It was steeper and more difficult than most of the trail had been, but not so bad that I'd complain about it now. It didn't seem particularly memorable at all, which surprised me because I definitely remembered it being more of a struggle last time. I must be in better shape this time around--or have seen much worse so my perspective is a lot different! I'm not really sure. Oh, yeah, I sweated going up it and huff and puffed my way up, but I didn't consider it very hard either.

At Justus Creek 2.3 miles later, a whole bunch of people had set up tents. Honking large tents for the most part. I suspected that they probably weren't thru-hikers given the sheer size of the tents, but this early in the trail, there might be thru-hikers carrying tents that are way too big. It's a tough call.

Two guys sitting by the trail asked if I had seen two other guys with a dog behind me. In fact, yes, I had. At Cooper Gap, by the buffalo tank. Except... they should have been ahead of me and I never passed them on the trail. "You didn't see them?" I asked, somewhat of a dumb question because obviously if they had, they wouldn't be asking me if I had seen them.

I told them where I had seen them--Cooper Gap--and that they had walked north on the AT in the correct direction, but that I never saw them on the trail. I didn't remember any trail intersections where they might have taken a wrong turn, so I was perplexed at what could have happened to them and said as much.

The cemetery behind the shed. I have to admit,
I kind of wanted to camp here. =)
I didn't want to freak out the two guys that their two friends were missing, but basically, that's what it amounted to. There could have been any number of reasons that they had stepped off trail for a bit and I walked right on by completely oblivious. For instance, maybe the dog chased a squirrel off the trail and they followed suit.

But I made certain that they knew I had definitely seen them at Cooper Gap. I thought to myself that if they didn't get down by dark, they should probably call for help. Darkness wasn't more than a couple of hours away, and I felt sure it wasn't something serious. What could have possibly happened in 2.3 miles where no other trails intersected the AT? They must have deliberately stepped off trail for some reason. But I told them everything I could and continued onwards. I hoped they were okay, but it left me with an uneasy feeling. If, in the unlikely chance they had gotten lost, at least they had all sorts of backpacking gear to survive the night and their last known whereabouts could be narrowed down to a mere 2.3 miles.

I arrived at Gooch Mountain Shelter just as the first sprinkle of rain started. The shelter was crowded with people. I worried it was full, but when I asked, they said that there was plenty of room. As it turned out, many of the people at the picnic table in front of the shelter had set up tents around the outside and weren't actually staying in it. Awesome!

I threw my stuff down on the first floor and mostly eavesdropped on the ongoing conversation. I didn't recognize anyone from earlier on the trail--I think everyone from the night before was still behind me. All except Laugh Track, who I learned, can hike crazy fast. Apparently, she had beat me to the shelter by nearly two hours and still felt like going on and had already left again.

Perhaps an hour later, Goosebumps arrived at the shelter. I knew Goosebumps having met her the night before at Springer Mountain, and it was nice to see a familiar face. I didn't feel like I "clicked" with the other hikers at the shelter--probably because they had already formed a group of sorts and I was the new guy.
Holy giant holes!

But I was a little amused at their response when Goosebumps arrived, who--in case you've forgotten--is a cute, young girl with long, wavy hair. When I arrived, the other hikers were cordial and friendly, but not really interested in my story or where I had come from.

When Goosebumps arrived, however, she got a much different reception. The guys started asking her, "What's your name? How far did you come from?" They certainly had a much stronger interest in her than in me! I can't say that I blamed them, but I found the difference in our welcomes more than a little amusing. I'm not even sure if they realized they had done that either. It seemed almost like a subconscious thing in the group. I wondered if I had ever done that myself. Probably. =)

Goosebumps had been hoping to catch up with Laugh Track, but upon learning that Laugh Track had left the shelter hours earlier decided to stop hiking. She was beat and done for the day. She wanted to set up her tent outside of the shelter rather than stay in it which I suspect disappointed the rest of the men, but off she went.

And that was the end of day #2. All-in-all, a very satisfying day. =)

Steps taken today: 35,816
Miles today: 15.6
Total miles: 24.6

Ridge Runner Tom

The buffalo tank at Cooper Gap. The dog I mentioned earlier is even in this photo, although it was the water tank I was trying to record. His two owners--who I hope met up with their other friends okay eventually--are off to the side and not in the photo. (Duh!)

Justus Creek was crawling with all sort of hikers setting up camp.

My home for the night!
Just in case you wanted to see Fozzie and I goofing around on the not-a-see-saw thing. (I'm not sure what it's actually called.)

Monday, March 16, 2015

Day 1: Springer Mountain

The pack weigh-in at the Visitor Center.
The official weight: 35 pounds.
March 8: I had flown into Atlanta at 11:30 PM the night before. A mere 12 hours later, at 12:30 PM, I stood at the visitor center for Amicalola Falls State Park ready to walk to Maine. I know, some of you are about to pounce saying that 11:30 PM + 12 hours does not equal 12:30 PM the next day, but lest you've forgotten, there was a time change and I lost an hour since my arrival into Atlanta and my arrival at Amicalola Falls. =)

Originally, my plan was to spend a few days in the Atlanta area and do some sightseeing with Amanda, but looking at the weather forecast, Sunday was expected to be gorgeous. Monday.... kind of iffy, but probably no rain. At least not during the day. Tuesday, rain was definitely expected, although not heavy or consistent. And after that, the weather forecast just got worse.

So I changed plans--start hiking now, then have Amanda pick me up in a couple of days so I could go into town during the bad weather. =)

I weighed my pack on a scale at the front corner of the building and was disappointed to see it sitting at 35 pounds. It was better than the last time I started the trail and it weighed 40 pounds, but I had been shooting for a 30 pound pack.

Speaking of packs, once again, I made my own. This is the fanciest pack I've ever made. The construction is solid and I used a new fabric that's shines and practically glitters in daylight. It's a heavier fabric than I've used in past packs, but I wanted this one to last for a long, long time. It's multi-colored like before--Amanda said it's my "signature" and it's required now. I believed her. *nodding* I made some minor modifications based on my complaints from previous packs as well.

When it came time to pack it up in the morning, I decided I'd take my Therm-A-Rest as a pad. I don't normally use a pad to sleep on. I bought this one specifically to sleep on snow during my hike around Crater Lake, and I used it on the Long Trail knowing that the shelter floors were hard and a little padding would be quite a luxury, but those are the only times I've used it. Since I'd be sleeping on hard, wooden shelter floors so often on this trip, I figured I'd use it again.

My shiny new pack in action. I especially
like the silver stripe at the top. I call it a
"racing stripe" because it helps me walk faster.
Except I couldn't get it to fit in my pack! This pack is smaller than my PCT pack which I deliberately made quite large for the gear and food I knew I'd have to carry at times. Bear canisters, 10 days of food, ice axe, etc--I knew there would be places on the PCT that a large-capacity pack could be useful. On the AT, not so much....

However, I might have made it a bit too small because now I couldn't even fit in my Therm-A-Rest. Eventually, I just ditched it. I didn't need it the last time I thru-hiked the AT and I certainly don't need it now. The irony wasn't lost on me, however, because I intended to start the AT with a foam pad last time and had even cut it in half to save weight but eventually ditched that when I couldn't get it to fit in my pack either. History seemed to be repeating itself!

At the visitors center, I signed the register completely failing to note what number I was. I definitely remember it was in the upper half of the 200 range. Maybe around 280-290? I noticed the number, but I didn't look at it, if you know what I mean, failing to remember that it was a good guide to how many hikers were already ahead of me.

Amanda took the obligatory start photos for me, then we parted ways with a plan for her to pick me up in two days at Woody Gap when the weather looked like it would start taking a turn for the worse.

I followed the Approach Trail at Amicalola Falls, climbing a steep series of exhausting steps (hundreds of them!) I was a bit worried that maybe I took a wrong turn.... last time I thru-hiked the AT, I didn't remember the Approach Trail going directly up the falls. I remembered it being a little off to the side with occasional glimpses of it through the bare trees. But I didn't worry too much about it--I hadn't ever seen the falls close up and personal like that so I may as well enjoy it! I was sure it would hook up with the Approach Trail at the top if somehow I had already missed a turn, but I continued seeing "Approach Trail" signage along the route. Had the trail been rerouted in the last 12 years?

The section along the falls was crowded with people. On a beautiful weekend afternoon, I'd have expected it to be seeing as this was among the tallest of waterfalls in the east. I passed a lot of day hikers, but nobody carrying a heavy pack such as mine.

And I'm off! This arch marks the start of the
Approach Trail--or A.T. for short ;o)
Once I got past the falls, I started seeing more folks with heavy packs. Usually, I'm pretty good at identifying a thru-hiker from a non-thru-hiker just at a glance, but I couldn't be sure of anyone at this point. Anyone else who might be starting would still be clean-cut, out-of-shape and looking like they just got off the couch--just like me! I couldn't even dismiss folks carrying overloaded, unsteady packs as weekend warriors because this early in the trail, some people planning to thru-hike haven't figured out how to pack lightly yet.

Once I got away from the falls, the number of people on the trail started to thin and I started talking with more of them. The first (known) thru-hiker I met was a young girl probably carrying more weight than she cared for (both on her back and on her body), and I asked how far she was headed and she told me Maine.

I gave her a high-five. "The adventure has begun!" I was happy to see her doing the Approach Trail as well. I'd estimate that only about 50% of thru-hikers do. It's not "officially" part of the Appalachian Trail so technically, it's not needed to do a thru-hike. But back when the trail was first created and the start of the AT was at Mount Oglethorpe, what is now the Approach Trail was official Appalachian Trail. And to miss the legendary Amicalola Falls? I think not! And have you ever noticed that "Approach Trail" can be abbreviated to AT? Coincidence? I think not!

So for me, I consider Amicalola Falls as the real start of the AT. That's why I started there last time, and that's why I started there now. It's a legendary trail in its own right. People have quit their thru-hikes even before reaching the Springer Mountain summit. A lot of people on the trail will be talking about it and if you haven't done it, you won't have anything to contribute to the conversation. Any future thru-hikers out there--do yourself a favor and don't skip the Approach Trail. It's a right of passage.

But I digress.... (and this won't be the first time!) I asked the girl if she had a trailname yet, and she did not. I didn't ask what her real name was--I felt a strange urge not to know people's real names on the trail. I could wait until she had a trailname, and she didn't offer a real name. I introduced myself as Green Tortuga and we chatted for all of about a minute. She complained about the difficulty of the Approach Trail, and I tried to encourage her saying that the most difficult part was just getting up those falls at the very beginning! The rest o the Approach Trail is pretty easy by comparison!
I can't fit all of Amicalola Falls into a single photo,
but this was one of my better photos. It's more of a
cascading series of falls than one long drop, but
it's still pretty!

"Yes, but I'm still huffing and puffing," she replied.

Huffing and puffing.... A little lightbulb in my head went off. "You know, that wouldn't be a bad trailname: Huff and Puff." Or maybe Huff 'n' Puff. Or maybe spelled out as one word: Huffnpuff. I didn't need to confuse her with how to spell such a name. Not yet, at least! =)

She thought about it a moment and said that yes, that would work.

"Really?!" I had just named someone! How cool was that! Barely an hour on the trail and I had already given someone a trailname! =)

I assured her that she didn't have to take it--I wouldn't feel hurt if she didn't want it. But she said no, she liked it. Maybe after she tries it on for a couple of days she might stumble onto name she liked even better, but for the time being, she was now Huff and Puff.

I waved goodbye and continued hiking ahead at a faster pace, eventually catching up with another hiker sitting on a log on the side of the trail with her leg detached and laying on the ground nearby. A one-legged hiker! I love that people with such obviously severe handicaps won't let their challenges stop them from doing something like this. I hear so often from people that they couldn't do something like a thru-hike because of some perceived difficulty, but I think about people like this and know that their main difficulty is that they just don't want to do it. That's okay--hiking isn't to everyone's taste. I don't much care for organized sports, or running, or whatever. I might say I can "never" run a mile, but the truth is I probably could. I just don't want to. =)

But a person with one leg.... I'd grant that that's a good reason why someone "can't" hike, but this woman obviously didn't think so, and good for her! She's an inspiration to anyone who sees her!

She had her leg off and was rubbing some sort of ointment into the stump that was left and told her how great it was to see her hiking the trail. She asked if I could do her a favor. Sure! She pulled out her GoPro and started a video going asking me to film her and I did that for a minute or so as she documented her hike.

Turns out, she wasn't a mere hiker or backpacker, but is going to attempt to thru-hike the entire Appalachian Trail which impressed me even more. I'm not even sure if I'd have the gumption to do that! I sure hope she makes it. The trail is plenty hard for people with two legs. I couldn't imagine the difficulties she'd have with just one. Although she certainly won't have to worry about blisters on that foot!
This part of the Approach Trail really is the most
difficult section of the entire Approach Trail!

We kept talking as she put her leg back on and I walked with her for the better part of a half hour fascinated by her story. She had thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2006 and assured me that she knew what she was getting herself into, but during that thru-hike, she had both legs. She had lost her leg only 15 months earlier in a climbing accident after falling 40 feet. She spoke with a distinct foreign accent and when I asked her about it, she said she was from Germany. Yep, that would do it. *nodding*

She called herself the bionic woman, and when I asked her what her trail name was (I figured she probably already had one from her PCT hike), she told me: Bionic Woman. Ohhh! I thought she was calling herself  "bionic woman" as a joke or something. I hadn't realized it was her trail name. Well, one thing about that trail name--nobody has to ask how she got it! 

Eventually Huff and Puff caught up with us and they started talking, and eventually I pushed on ahead. I didn't want her to feel like I was crowding her too much, but I really hope she makes it the whole distance. She said she's done some research on it and found someone who has done the trail who was missing both legs, but not as a thru-hike. As far as she knows, she'd be the first person with a missing leg to do the entire trail as a thru-hike--if she succeeds. It's hard for me to tell how realistic the goal is. The fact that she's done a PCT thru-hike already is a great sign--she knows what she's getting into and knows it'll be more difficult than ever! She seemed young and healthy and certainly capable of a successful thru-hike baring the whole missing leg thing, but the missing leg thing is a wildcard that I can't even imagine how it might play out. We hadn't even reached the "official" start of the Appalachian Trail yet! I'm not even sure if she knows all of the difficulties having one leg will pose to her yet. She's blazing new ground and probably feels not unlike Earl Shaffer--the first person who ever thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail.

The rest of the hike up the Approach Trail was largely uneventful. I stopped to chat with some other hikers. Many were out for a few days. Others were planning to thru-hike, but none of them had any "stories." Not yet, at least!

The summit of Springer Mountain was crowded with nearly a dozen people when I arrived. Most appeared to be day hikers. Not even backpackers, but just people out for the day. A few of them were backpackers, though. I stayed at the summit for about an hour and the faces changed as some people left and others arrived, but the crowd of people stayed constant.
View from the top of Amicalola Falls.

One arrival was David who told us that he worked for Backpacker magazine and asked if we minded if he asked us a few questions. (Does that count as the first question?) He wanted to know what we all had to start fires. Almost everyone had a lighter--no surprise there. Some people had weather-proof matches. Another had some sort of material that was supposed to make starting fires easier, but he didn't seem to know what it was called. (Neither did I, for that matter.)

David kind of amused me because his pack looked like it was among the heaviest of packs that anyone had. I've certainly seen a lot worse, but it wouldn't have surprised me if his pack weighed 50 pounds which is rather heavy for a thru-hiker. I figured a guy working for Backpacker magazine would have had a much lighter pack! Maybe it was just a "bulky" 40-pound pack, though.

He might even be testing gear. The pack looked brand spanking new and probably hadn't seen daylight until today. Perhaps he'll be complaining that some of the gear he has to test is too heavy. =)

Three of the people were among a group who had thru-hiked the PCT last year, one of whom (Laugh Track) was from Seattle. Go Seattle! =) Then I saw the summit register and noticed she had signed her location as Vashon Island.

"Hey!" I said, turning around toward her. "Here is says you're from Vashon Island! That's not Seattle...."

I was just teasing her, of course. Most people out in the woods would not be familiar enough with Washington geography to know where the heck Vashon Island is located and it makes sense just to say the largest nearby city. I did that when I lived in Hillsboro but would tell people I lived in Portland because not many people outside of the Portland area are going to know where Hillsboro, Oregon, is located.

Then she asked what part of Seattle I was from--hoping to catch me "in a lie" as well. I think she was a little disappointed to learn that I really did live in the city of Seattle. "I even vote for the mayor there!" I told her. Actually, technically, I hadn't voted for our current major, but you know what I mean....

The ridge runner at the summit, Tom, welcomed everyone as they arrived and tried to make sure everyone understood the leave no trace principles. (Amanda is making me write this update: A ridge runner is essentially a ranger, and his job is to help maintain and educate people along the Appalachian Trail. The ridge runners you see inhabiting the top of Springer Mountain--and I've seen one all three times I've been at the top of Springer Mountain--keep an eye out on the first 80 miles of the AT. There are two ridge runners and the other one was a woman currently hiking south along those 80 miles. There are ridge runners on other parts of the AT as well--not just these 80 miles he's currently working.)

Anyhow.... this ridge runner--Tom--had a deep, gravely kind of voice that I swear I've heard before, but for the life of me I can't think of where. Every time he talked, though, I expected to see a face I recognized. He's got a voice double out there somewhere, but I'll be darned if I can remember from where.
Bionic Woman, rubbing some sort of ointment into the
stump of her leg.

I eventually headed another 0.2 miles to the Springer Mountain Shelter for the night. I particularly wanted to be in the shelter tonight because the weather forecast did predict rain during the night and I like the space and dryness of a shelter when it's raining. It also saves me the effort of having to set up my tarp. =) Being so late in the day, I figured the shelter would already be full but was pleasantly surprised to only see two people set up in it. I staked my claim and set up camp.

For my first night on the trail, I had the Cheesy Enchilada Hamburger Helper. Laugh Track had an onion she offered to share, so I chopped that up and added it in. (I had to borrow her knife to do it since I didn't carry one.)

The clear day from the afternoon was turning into cloudy skies that portended rain. Sunset looked like it would be a bust and I didn't go back to Springer Mountain summit like some people to watch for it.

After it got dark, several of us wandered over to a campsite where a couple of industrious hikers had started a campfire, cutely named Taco and Shell. =) If they had kids, they told us, they'd have to name them things like Cheese, or Sour Cream, or Supreme or something. The ridge runner said that there was firewood already collected at the firepit in front of the shelter, so I grabbed a bunch of it on my way up to the campsite to contribute to their fire. Sort of a peace offering. "Hey, I came for your campfire, but I brought firewood! Can I stay?" kind of thing. =)

I got to recite The Ballad of Blasphamous Bill and Paul Revere's Ride which seemed popular. I stumbled in a few places since it had been so long since I had last told them, but I eventually made it all the way through.

Then we all scattered to our separate camps. One of the hikers asked for help on how to use the bear cables to hang her food bag, so I detoured to show her how those worked. It's not a particularly difficult contraption, but there are hooks and multiple cables hooked up to the same line which can make them look intimidating if you'd never seen one before. So I explained how it worked and she got her food safely hung from the bear cables.

Then I headed back to the shelter where I read for a bit from my Kindle before falling off to sleep.

* 21,530 steps for the day
* 8.8 miles up the Approach Trail
* 0.2 miles up the Appalachian Trail

In other news.... as you can guess, it's difficult to blog live from directly on the trail. The lack of computers and Internet tends to be problematic for me, so here's the schedule I intend to follow. For the month of March, I'll post each Monday (starting today, of course). By April, I hope to have written enough blog posts that I can post every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and each day I'm on the trail will be one blog post. So there won't be a lot of activity this month, but it should pick up in April and the blog will probably go on for the better part of a year! Assuming, of course, I actually make it to Maine. ;o)

Bionic Woman, all put back together again. =)

Huff and Puff (for now, at least!), acting goofy. =)

Blue blazes mark the Approach Trail.

I pose with the plaque marking the start of the Appalachian Trail
and the first white blaze.
The summit of Springer Mountain was crowded with people. The three here, from left to right, are Goosebumps (a PCT hiker from last year), Ridge Runner Tom, and David--who's writing down notes for articles he'll be writing for Backpacker magazine. That's my shiny new pack in the foreground. =)

Springer Mountain Shelter--my home for the night!

Bags hanging from the bear cables.

The campfire started by Taco and Shell. =)