Just as a quick refresher, the last section of New York was easily the worst maintained part of the entire trail. I remember walking through chest-high weeds/shrubs that covered the trail, scrambling over broken boards, and crawling on all fours (with my pack on) to get under fallen trees; all happening in the rain and mud as well. It seemed like the last time someone checked in on trail conditions was several years back. I had lost my group of friends I was with at this point because they had all ventured into NYC, while I decided to hike on. All the more fun to maneuver these obstacles with no one else to complain with. Little did I know, I was just beginning the wettest stretch of the entire trail.
Connecticut had a good chunk of just about everything for only 48 miles of trail. The area was more urban than preferred, but that’s the same story as the rest of the mid-Atlantic. The trail followed alongside the Housatonic River for several sections, including a relaxing 5-mile flat stretch. Although, the most memorable part of Connecticut were the PUD’s (Pointless Up-and-Downs). There were so many times where the trail would jump straight up a hundred feet or so, then immediately go straight back down on the other side. There were still enough boulders that these PUD’s would require And there would be stretches where these PUD’s were one right after the other for miles, like riding a rollercoaster except you have to physically work for the ‘thrill’ of going over a hill. As I mentioned earlier too, it rained a lot in Connecticut. Not every day, but enough to keep your gear damp, wake the bugs up, and keep the rivers rushing. In fact, I actually had my first major river ford in Connecticut.
The final stretch of CT was definitely my favorite section. The trail descends into a heavily wooded ravine while running along a river for the last few miles. The way the light shown through the tree cover, casting shadows and glowing beams of light all across the trail, seemed almost dream like. Sages Ravine was incredible. A section hiker advised me prior to my descent into the paradise that it reminded him of Rivendell from Lord of the Rings. I couldn’t agree more. I decided to spend my last night in CT in the ravine. It rained all night and my tent flooded out, again. But the next morning in the ravine made up for it. There was still a nice morning haze across the ravine which added all the more character to the beams of light peaking through and giving life to the trail.
JenniferPharr Davis – Becoming Odyssa
Jennifer Pharr Davis (JPD) is an AT legend and absolute beast of a hiker. In 2005, she through-hiked the AT for the first time after graduating college. In 2011, she set the overall (both female & male) fastest known time on the AT finishing the trail in 46 days (roughly 47 miles/day). She has accumulated over 14,000 miles hiked by through-hiking several other trails across the world, while setting many fastest known times along the way. In 2011, she was appointed as National Geographic’s Adventurer of the Year. She currently resides in Hot Springs, NC, where I actually ran into her providing trail magic to hikers as we passed by her house. I am bringing her up because my parents bought her book Becoming Odyssa: Adventures on the Appalachian Trailas a gift after finishing the trail. The book follows her journey of her first through hike of the AT in 2005. I have been blown away at her ability to put into words the way the trail communicates with hikers. She is spot on with the emotional, social, physical, and mental challenges I encountered on trail. So, if you readers are interested in learning more about the AT and different perspective on the experiences hikers encounter, I highly recommend reading her book. Obviously, with her hiking the trail 16 years ago, and each hike being different for every hiker, there are things she runs into that I never encountered, along with her hiking insane miles relative to what I did on my hike. She is a huge inspiration for hikers and people all over the world, and a great author as well. Below is a link to her website and book.
Also known as Massa-Two-Shits. I had a friend who created a challenge of only taking two massive shits on trail the entire time through Massachusetts. The state has about 90 miles of trail, so only taking two poops is nearly impossible. Legend has it that she completed the challenge. Every time I read or hear Massachusetts I can’t stop thinking of Massa-Two-Shits and it’s ridiculousness.
Massachusetts was nothing but rain and mosquitoes. I swear it rained everyday, at least once. Unfortunately for us hikers, the state was experiencing record levels of rain for the month of July. I was always wet, carrying damp to sopping wet gear through the whole state. For some reason, the trail always has something worse to throw at us up ahead. Every time we hit a wall and think ‘it can’t get any worse than this,’ it does get worse somehow. This was one of those moments. Massachusetts wasn’t supposed to be hard, but the only thing I remember was the rain, and all the repercussions that come with rain in the woods.
After encountering the muddy/swampy conditions of southern MA, my buddy I was hiking with and I decided it was time to get into town and escape the horrors of the trail. We made it to the road crossing just in time for our friends to be driving by with a trail angel, pull over and pick us up, and take us to dinner, right before it started dumping on us all over again. When we arrived in Great Barrington, MA, it seemed like every other hiker in a 50-mile radius had the same idea, and hitched into town before the two days of rain. Every hotel was nearly booked and ridiculously expensive. Fortunately, I had accumulated enough hotel points over the last year I was able to reserve a room for two nights for free. We spent the next day in our hotel room watching TV, enjoying town food, and staying dry while it rained outside all day. Unfortunately, the next morning when we set back out to trail we had to deal with the consequences of all the accumulative rain. Here is a brief series of one of my most iconic mornings on trail…
Literally within 50 yards from leaving the road crossing, the trail was looking like this. I knew right away it was going to be an interesting re-entry to the trail.
As I progressed further, the water depth got deeper and deeper, the mosquitoes got more vicious, and I just kept thinking ‘it can’t get worse than this.’ Little did I know, the AT can, and will, always get worse before it gets better. Not only that, all the precautionary structures (like these flood boards) to help in such situations, were utterly useless.
As mentioned previously, this bridge appeared like a sweet escape from the flooding, but it didn’t last long. The water was so deep at this point I could literally see small fish and tadpoles swimming around my feet, on trail. And I’ll remind you, every part of my exposed skin was getting attacked by mosquitoes. The only safe place for my skin was under water.
The water now reached my pelvic area. No place was safe. I was literally wading through the water, hoping that I was still stepping on the trail and not on any loose logs and rocks.
I made it through the 0.5-1 mile long stretch of trail with no major problems. In fact, because I was so blown away that I was wading through the flooded trail, it didn’t even bother me. It was so insane that I enjoyed the excitement of it, rather than basking in the sorrow of being wet on trail. Once again, I reminded myself, no way anything will ever be as crazy as this. And to an extent, I was finally right. I never did encounter water issues this bad again, (but rather more physically demanding obstacles waited ahead…). Later that night, I arrived at camp and checked social media to see that the ATC had closed and rerouted this section of trail earlier that day. I had other friends who hiked through this same section today and dealt with the flooding as well. The water level was so variant, though, that friends who hit this section the day after, or even the day before, said that the water level never got deeper than ankle-high. To this day, I will always remember how I had to wade through waist-deep water after leaving Great Barrington, MA.
The rest of Massachusetts, was fairly uneventful. It was still wet, muddy and raining, but nothing quite like the flooding of Great Barrington. It was manageable.
I did get to spend a wonderful afternoon with some great friends canoeing at Upper Goose Pond, basking and swimming in the sun. We had decided to stay at a specialty shelter that was actually a 2-story house with a lovely caretaker couple. The next morning the couple made us all pancakes and coffee for a small donation to ensure supplies for the next round of hikers. Of course the side trail to the shelter was flooded with ankle deep water. So we knew we’d be starting the next morning out with wet feet… classic.
The final mountain in Massachusetts, Mount Greylock, was incredible. It was the first time, in what seemed like forever, we were back in the mountains. I remember stopping near the summit because the trail was completely silent. No cars, no planes, no muggles, no birdsong, and no wind; this pure solidarity was one of the reasons I came to trail. It was just me and the woods. It made me so happy to know that the trail was escaping the commotion of the mid-Atlantic and reentering the peace of the wild I had craved when hopping on trail.
The summit had a beautiful lodge where my friends and I stayed in a bunk room. It was the perfect spot to shower, eat dinner, and enjoy a beer with friends while looking down at the world below. There’s also an iconic obelisk that allows 360 views of the flatlands of Massachusetts and the Green Mountains of Vermont. We could see it, the great peaks of real mountains again. Intimidating, but welcoming as well; I knew I was headed in the right direction.
The next morning, my friend and I both awoke early to catch the sunrise. The last one of Massachusetts and the mid-Atlantic. But also the first sunrise of the final quarter of trail, my favorite section, and most challenging of all. The promised land of the AT was waiting for us.
Hello all! Just a quick update before I start finishing up this journey for good.
I summited Mt. Katahdin and completed my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail on September 8th. What started with a naive, energetic young lad on March 26th, ended 167 days and 2,193.1 miles later with an exhausted, mountain man with a unquantifiable appreciation for the trail and the world around him. I will be providing future details on my summit and final days on trail in future posts, but there is something more important.
I will be closing down my fundraiser on Wednesday, September 29th. I was hoping to do a full week’s heads up on the closing, but the GoFundMe Charity platform I am using will be changing their set up, thus ending donations on the 30th. So I will be finishing mine up one day early to ensure all donations are processed and sent through to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).
I can not thank you all enough for everything you have done. I found myself falling in love with the other-worldly community of the AT and their generosity for hikers. It became hard to think that the world I left, and would soon be returning to, could be anything like the haven I found on trail. But all of you, like the community of the trail, renewed my faith in humanity. From my family and friends, who from the start, shared my story with all their friends, continued to donate, share, and support me on my journey, I say thank you over and over again. To all the complete strangers, who went out of their way and did the same with the story of a random guy on the internet, you all are incredible and I thank you! I truly can not wrap my mind around how so many whole-hearted, genuine people can come together and help make a crazy dream come true. If you haven’t noticed, you all have raised far more money than I ever could’ve imagined. Our goal has not only been reached, but drastically surpassed. On trail, I didn’t reach out much to acquire donations, as the money part always seemed a little odd to me. But the conversations started, the stories shared, and the outright support of each other is something I am completely blown away by. I can not express how much appreciation I have for everything you all have done. You all have made this journey incredibly special not only for me, but for anyone who has randomly stumbled upon it and maybe needed a little more push to get them through their day. So to all of you, go enjoy a beer, treat yourself to some nice town food, take a leisurely weekend hike (or a 6-month journey on the AT), and enjoy yourself. You all have done something incredible that I will hold dear to my heart for the rest of my life. I feel like I need to write more to express how much you all mean to me, but there really are no words I can write down that will tell the immensity of what you all have done. Thank you, thank you, and thank you again!
Before coming out to trail, I never anticipated the amount of family that would reach out to me and want to meet on trail. Fortunately, they were all very enthusiastic about doing trail magic and meeting the AT through-hiker community. The trail became a long term family reunion for me. I started telling other hikers on trail that if they hiked with me long enough, odds are they’d run into my family doing trail magic. I am extremely grateful for my family’s support on this journey. There were times on trail where the only thing that kept me hiking was that I was meeting an Aunt or Uncle in about a week further up trail. This post was put together by my Mom (PokéMom), as a collection of all trail magic received from my family. Each Trail Angel wrote their own piece on their trail magic experience. Enjoy!
April 25, 2021
Kevin & Cathy Markey (parents)
Although it doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as smoothly as Cathy’s AT trail name, this blogger would be proud to be known as the “PokéDad.” 🙂
On the chilly morning of April 25, Cathy and I pulled off a remote highway outside Hampton, TN, with a trunk load of trail magic we hoped would provide a bit of joy and relief to a band of worn and weary AT thru-hikers. We brought 30 homemade smoked ham/cheese subs, four loaves of Cathy’s legendary banana bread, other assorted sweets and treats, and a cooler full of cold beverages. The canine beasts Cole and Luna tagged along as well.
Our tailgate opened about 10 a.m., and our first customer emerged from the woods moments later. Shawty smiled when she saw us and hollered, “Hi. You must be Mr. and Mrs. HokeyPokey!” (I guess word travels fast when there’s trail magic in the area). She dropped her pack and dove right into the goodies. Moments later AAA showed up, then Bugbite, Gourmet, Wilson, Shredder, Dumbhorse, Creature, etc. Soon thereafter Hokey Pokey wandered out from the woods with a big grin on his face.
It took the dogs a few minutes to acquaint themselves to Seany’s new aroma before properly greeting him with a wet tongue bath. Initially the beasts barked at all hikers when they arrived, but pretty quickly realized these individuals were all part of a friendly community sharing a common bond with Hokey Pokey and therefore members of our pack.
After six hours, the food ran out, and Cathy and I packed up to leave. The immense, sincere appreciation the hikers expressed for the small favors we offered was incredible. As we drove home, we realized the only thing better than meeting all these courageous individuals was the pure joy we received from having served them.
* This trail magic is still pretty iconic on trail. I still have friends who bring it up as one of their favorite trail magics of their hike. We then progress into dreaming about my Mom’s banana bread and my Dad’s smoked ham sandwiches and how we wish we could have more on trail – Hokey Pokey *
May 23, 2021
Kevin & Cathy Markey (parents)
On our way home from Charlottesville, VA, Kevin and I made an impromptu Trail Magic stop just outside Roanoke. After quick stops at Sam’s Club and Subway, we found ourselves driving through extremely remote and gorgeous Virginia farmlands and forests. A small niche in the trail alongside a gravel road provided the perfect spot for Trail Magic. There were other Trail Angels making hot grilled-cheese sandwiches. Just when you think there’s too much food to be consumed, it’s gone. The thru-hikers emerged from the woods slow and steady. Honestly, I was taken aback by the change in their appearance from just a month ago: hair everywhere on theirbodies was longer, beards thicker, clothes and bodies dirtier, skinnier physiques, faces more haggard, legs infested with chiggers … and the smell. Unbelievable. Yet, the body odor reflects the true integrity of these hikers. They had just finished crossing high VA ridgelines completely exposed to sweltering heat and sun for days on end. Water was difficult to find, requiring long treks down off the ridgelines only to retrieve water and haul it back up to the ridge. It’d been quite awhile since they’d crossed a town and potential showers. I noted to Kevin afterward I had never smelled anyone as bad as Seanythat day. Kevin didn’t think Seany smelled bad; he thought the girls smelled the worst. Interesting … I didn’t notice the girls’ smell even as some asked for hugs coming into Trail Magic “camp.” Hmmm. Primal.
It was a quick visit, and we always enjoy hearing everyone’s stories as to why they’re doing the hike, how they managed the time off from responsibilities, etc. One woman was hiking to find herself again after a bad break-up. It felt like she had found herself already. I know this may sound sexist, but I continue to be amazed at the fearlessness, strength, and perseverance of the female hikers. Maybe because I can put myself in their shoes and know I’d be scared of snakes, getting lost, sounds in the night, bears, creepy people, etc. And, I’d give up after awhile … I think. I know at points I’d be crying in a fetal position. Male or female, they are all amazing, and we continue to be so proud of them for pursuing their goals, pushing themselves beyond all physical/mental/emotional limits. In many ways, we find ourselves jealous.
If you live anywhere near the AT – or are just passing by the trail during hiking months – Trail Magic doesn’t need to be highly coordinated or complex. Some of the best Trail Magic is a Styrofoam cooler left on the trail packed with ice and coldbeverages: “Help Yourselves.” Beer in the cooler is akin to striking gold.
May 30, 2021
Laura, Henry, & Turner Monroe (aunt and cousins)
As his favorite aunt (kidding! he has so many!), I knew bringing Trail Magic was going to make an impact on Seany’syounger cousins, which it did. The phrase “Seany is a beast” was thrown around a lot that day. Providing Trail Magic for an unknown amount of people at a location only known to us by Seany’s longitude and latitude coordinates did not disappoint. I was amazed how many of his thru-hiker buddies did not know his name was Seany. Hokey Pokey is fully Hokey Pokey on the trail. Those trail names are legit, and it was fun to speak to the other hikers on how their names were founded and what was behind their life choice to pursue this task. Despite their lack of showers, I was inspired by so many. One gentleman I think of often was 65 years old. He shared his personal story of having cancer and how he knew innately that when he turned 65 walking the AT was not just an option but a rite of passage long overdue after his illness. Even when he left the trail for nine days to have an unexpected lump checked out (it was nothing), he returned exactly where he left off to continue his journey. How can you not be inspired by this?
Two days after Trail Magic, I was fortunate Seany stayed at my house for a night as he needed to get his second Covid shot. He’d heard from other hikers the second shot can kick your butt, so taking a “zero” (no mileage on that day) in case you need to recoup was well worth it. I was able to feed him, let him sleep in a real bed, and try to do some laundry. It was a gift to speak with him at such a contemplative time. He was a third of the way through the trail and beginning to hear of others he met who were done and had “gotten what they needed” out of the AT. He thought deeply about those no longer continuing, always retaining respect for their decisions. After a few well-deserved beers, we were able to dig deep into why he was doing this and what this meant for his life. As with any rite of passage, the journey is the gift, and Seany was feeling it. Read his blog post about the Virginia Blues,https://smontheat.com/2021/06/04/the-virginia-blues/, and you will see where he was mentally at this time. Life lessons in abundance. What a gift to have had this small glimpse into his world! I consider myself a pretty avid hiker, and I often refer to the woods as my church. It is rejuvenating and grounding. As I do my daily hikes, I think of Seany and what he endures to be in service to others by raising money for this very important cause. Even out there day after day, he knows he is not alone. I know he wants those who are struggling with their self-worth to remember that as well. He is making a difference. Hokey Pokey, you got this! Your visit with me was in May, it is now August. I can only imagine how much more you have learned. You are amazing and an inspiration. I look forward to hearing about your crossing the finish line in Maine.
I was planning to meet up with Seany just short of the halfway point of the trail in West Virginia, during a heat wave. It’s hard to plan the “Trail Magic,” because you don’t know how many hikers you’ll feed or what they like. I went with gazpacho (cold soup), fresh Einstein bagels and cream cheese, boxed Indian food meals, fried plantains (for bulk), squeezable peanut butter and honey packets, celery, various single tea bags, fruit, sparking fruit sodas, and a few Starbucks Frappaccinos. There was a gentle rain during my drive from DC, but thankfully itstopped as I rolled into Harpers Ferry.
Seany was punctual. The parking lot where we met was full and kind of off-trail, so we ended up about a mile away at the ATC. It worked out great. I unloaded my Trail Magic on the ATC front table, complete with a computer-generated “Half-Way Café” sign. Seany gulped down the StarbucksFrappaccino in less than 2 minutes, and then ate slowly and methodically for about 3 hours straight, sampling everything. We talked about the trail and our family. Seany completed some kind of log they keep at the Conservancy for thru-hikers. The guy who ran the ATC agreed I “went overboard” with the food, but being from a family of 11 (Seany’s dad being one of them), that’s how I operate. The food fed a dozen or so hikers, and even more the next day. I know this, because one of the ATC volunteers was so crazy about my gazpacho that he asked me to email him the recipe. So I made a new friend. Everyone was so friendly.
It was a mix of hikers and other people coming and going. There was a family of four with two daughters showed up off the highway and approached me to ask if they could “leave” some Girl Scout cookies for the hikers. I guess I looked like an authority figure. “Of course,” we told them, and the girls added to the table. They went on enthusiastically about how they sold more cookies than anyone in their hometown – I think it was in Michigan. Seany and I couldn’t figure out what they were doing in Harpers Ferry so far from their home with all those Girl Scout cookies, and why they stopped at the ATC, but their Trail Magic was much appreciated.
It was a great experience to share a bit of magic with Seany and the hikers on their journey of a lifetime.
July 5, 2021
Fran and Dave Deacon (aunt and uncle)
July 4th weekend, 2021, brought with it an unexpected visit to the Appalachian Trail thanks to our nephew Seany, who crossed over the border from Pennsylvania (aka – the rocky road) to New Jersey a few days before the Fourth. He walked (and apparently ate lots of deli sandwiches) for four days before finding himself 45 minutes due west of our house in Glen Ridge. Dave and I set off on Monday late morning with a trunk full of sandwiches, Gatorades, chips, pickles, watermelon, bananas and cookies to coordinate points given to us by Seany that took us to nothing more that a small pull-over spot off the side of a country road. Our timing was perfect as day-hikers sensitive to the heat who had gotten an early start were coming off trail, opening up space for us to pull over and park. We quickly took occupancy of a large swath of the gravel lot and set up our Trail Magic that included some comfy camping chairs. No sooner had we gotten ourselves situated and Seany emerged out of the woods on what was nothing more than a narrow footpath you would miss if you weren’t looking for it.
Sensitive to the fact we know Seany is on a (hiking) mission, we expected we might spend as little as 15 minutes with him before he would cross the road and continue on his way. Instead, he blessed us with a three-hour visit, during which time he sunk into one of the chairs and was even able to wash and cool his feet with melted ice from one of the coolers. We had about 6 other visitors who stayed a while with Seany and us before moving on. When it was finally time for Seany to put his shoes back on and return to the trail, we packed up and took Tucker, our Labradoodle, to walk a small ways with him. While the trail seemed so unassuming from the road, it immediately opened up and showed off its incredible beauty to us only a few feet in. While we didn’t walk far, we caught a little of the infectious trail bug and felt our first pangs of envy that Seany has made this magical place his home for this season of his life.
Saying our good-byes to Seany on the trail, we turned and walked back to find a whole new set of thru-hikers crossing the road. We invited them to our car and, once more, unpacked food, drink and chairs and ended up having a very unexpected visit with upwards of 10 hikers over the course of the next hour, two of whom we gave a ride to the drive-in theatre up the road in Warwick where they — just like Seany did in another town the day before — would camp for the night. In all our conversations, including with Seany, we heard a lot about an ice cream place just up the trail a ways, so we asked Siri for some help and found our way there. While we did have to stand in line for a while, it was well worth the wait as the views and ice cream were amazing, and it proved to be a magical way to end our day of Trail Magic.
We have lived in New Jersey for 21 years and, sadly, have never hiked any of the statewide trails Seany has now covered in a matter of only a week. The things he had to say about the New Jersey trail in its walkability, views, small towns and, of course, delis peppered along the way make us feel terribly remiss we have not taken advantage of this amazing trail practically in our backyard. So, for Dave’s recent 60th birthday, I bought him the exact walking sticks Seany uses as well as a couple of other items off his packing list. We will be headed out to the trail this fall when we are back from our current trip to Seany’s parent’s house in North Carolina. It has been said that the greatest compliment one can pay another is to emulate them in some manner. This one is for you, Seany. Thank you for blazing the trail for us.
July 11, 2021
Jody Markey (uncle)
Parked alongside the road where the AT crossed and heard conversation from far off, interrupting the silence. The conversation got louder until Seany and his trailmates emerged from the woods. Seeing me greet Seany with a hug, the others immediately took their packs off, sat down, and began to devour the fruit and donuts I had brought for them. They clearly knew the routine. I was impressed with the camaraderie and friendship among the group and was happy Seany had friends to share the AT experience. I sort of wanted to go with them when they left, disappearing into the woods. Sort of.
July 13, 2021
Yvonne Locke, Ross Markey and Siera, Rose Markey (aunt and cousins)
Bull’s Bridge, South Kent, CT
On Hokey Pokey’s recent post, I learned I am a Muggle. And, you know, I am okay with that … more than okay actually. Being a Muggle is terrific! Muggles have the pleasure, and it is a pleasure, to bring Trail Magic to the Wizards (aka thru-hikers).
I was able to catch up with Hokey Pokey and a few of his posse not far from my hometown of New Milford, CT. What a truly amazing and odd experience. Amazing, because as a Trail Angel you get to bring REAL food and JUNK food to the Wizards so they can continue on their journey filled with sustenance and a good old-fashioned sugar rush. You have the pleasure of hearing their stories, meeting their family members who drove from IL through the night with fresh-baked cookies for their loved ones (makes me feel like a bit of a slacker).Once you’ve done Trail Magic, you have the pleasure of knowing your Wizard is alive and doing okay. You also get to put faces to trail names: Hello Potters! Hello Baby Hands! Hi Tech and Swift! All of this leaves you filled with hope for humanity and all that Kumbaya touchy-feely stuff — you know, pure joy.
Why odd you ask? You show up in the middle of nowhere with food and drinks and you, well, wait. Wait for Wizards to come off the trail, wait to make sure they all have had enough to eat and drink, and wait until everyone is ready to say good-bye and hit the trail (or take a zero day and spend 24 luxurious hours at Chateau Locke—lucky Hokey Pokey!!!) Odd, because you are not sure how to interact with your nomadic nephew, your hunter-gatherer husband, your determined dearie …okay, I will stop. You get the idea. As the marvelous Muggle, you want to jump up and down waving your hands shouting, “Yay, it’s Hokey Pokey!” but you also know your Wizard extraordinaire may not be quite ready for the parade (again Hokey Pokey, so sorry for the song and dance show). Odd too, because as much as you LOVE your Wizard, they STINK and are DIRTY! But, you hug and kiss them and somehow you hardly notice the stench and dirt. Finally, it’s odd, because once you part from your Wizard, you return back to your life. You have a split second, no a split nano second of the thought,“Hey, I should do this!” But, then you realize it takes a truly special person to embark on the journey, and you remember every detail of Pokemom’s experience on trail with Hokey Pokey, and you quickly come to your senses. There’s an odd mix of pride and worry, elation and exhaustion, joy and sadness … mostly joy. Trail Angels may provide Trail Magic, but the real Trail Magic resides in the Wizards.
July 13, 2021
Lyn Primack (aunt)
Bull’s Bridge, South Kent, CT
Ever since we marked her location on the laminated A.T. trail map that stretched across her dining room table, Gloria and I had looked forward to meeting Seany as he passed through Connecticut. It was great fun following his progress as we moved his sticker along the map, and researching the favored food items from earlier family angels. So we had a big assortment for our own Trail Magic buffet, including those amazing Honey Peanut Butter Squeeze Packs, sugar snap peas and Sour Patch Kids. Gloria made big sandwiches to fill the stomach, and she brought a tiny blessed medal to pin on the backpack and feed the spirit.
Seeing the thru-hikers emerge from the pristine trail, glowing with health and idealism, was to witness humans in a certain state of grace. Their bulging backpacks are a marvel of self-sufficiency, and their openhearted good cheer a true breath of fresh air. All are there for different reasons, but they are a special tribe, for sure. We talked of meal planning on the trail, tick prevention, the inspiration of Walden Pond, “trail integrity,” and the mountains to come. And they ate and ate. It was very rewarding when the last sandwich disappeared.
Seany, thank you for giving us a wonderful excuse for a family reunion, including a 92 year old and an infant! We are all on a journey, but yours has a special kind of magic that propels you forward through the woods, day after day after day. Thank you for sharing a glimpse of what the trail is teaching you. Honestly, we are still glowing!
July 13, 2021
Gloria Markey (grandmother)
Bull’s Bridge, South Kent, CT
The magic of the trail drops its dust on the Markey clan as you carry us – in your backpack – vicariously over the hills and through the mud. Onward, Christian soldier!
July 23, 2021
Father Greg Markey (uncle)
North Adams, MA
It was wonderful to cross paths with Seany in the small town of North Adams in the northwest part of Massachusetts. The Appalachian Trail hugs the western border of Massachusettsand only consists of 4% (90 miles) of the entire 2,200-mile trek. North Adams is the last connection hikers have with civilization before heading over the border into the wooded mountains of Vermont.
Seany and the men he was travelling with had just spent the night on the peak of Mount Greylock, which is unique on the trail because it has a shelter with beds and showers for the hikers. Seany said they may get to shower once every four or five days. At the height of 3,469 feet, the peak has a marvelous view looking east toward the sunrise. It was clear that morning and they all got up at dawn to watch the morning sun break over the horizon. However, they then went back to the cabins and slept to enjoy this rare luxury on the trail of a real bed. Seany was in disbelief: “They even gave us two pillows!”
Seany was barely recognizable as he emerged from the woods with a full mountain-man beard, oversized hat, and enormous backpack. But the spark of his eyes and friendly smile quickly assured me it was Seany. He seemed in great spirits, especially considering he had been hiking since March and lost 20 pounds. I laid out “trail magic” for them of sandwiches, fruit, and homemade cinnamon raisin bread. No matter how much they eat, they can’t keep the weight on them. The cans of Sprite went quickly and were obviously a favorite.
Seany and the other hikers had formed a “band of brothers” who were bonded by the joys and hardships of the trail: rattlesnakes in Pennsylvania, bears in New York, and heavy amount of rain this year. They did not always walk together, but their paths crisscrossed continually over the 3-month journey. Seany had just “blown out” his third pair of hiking shoes and his toes were sticking out the side of his right shoe. He had just ordered a new pair to be dropped off at the next day’s stop. We spent a lot of time talking about feet and how to manage them on the trail. I had brought one of the students from the College with me, Ian Cummings, who enjoyed hearing about their adventures.
The Trail through Vermont and New Hampshire had a reputation among the hikers, both for its challenging heights and beautiful views, and there was a lot of excitement because they were about to enter Vermont. Certainly, one of the highlights will be climbing over Mount Washington in New Hampshire, which is 6,288 feet above sea level, and boasts of having some of the worst weather in the world.
I was happy to talk with one hiker from Texas who had walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain prior to walking the Appalachian Trail. I had also walked the Camino to the tomb of Saint James in 2009 and we compared notes. The two walks are very different because although the Camino has a lot of mountains, farms, and rivers like the Appalachian Trail, it also is filled with many historical and cultural monuments, and sometimes goes through cities. However, this American trail of 2,200 miles dwarfs the mere 500 miles of the Camino.
The hour of talking passed very quickly and we all had to get on our way. They kept referring to “Katahdin,” and that they must be going. It had a legendary ring to it, and I learned from Seany that Katahdin refers to the mountain at the very end of Trail in Maine. Mount Katahdin is the highest mountain in Maine, at 5,269 feet. Seany seemed happy and confident he would finish the entire journey as he disappeared into the woods heading north.
July 24, 2021
Grace and Maggie Chadwick (cousins)
It was great to see Seany’s smiling face underneath his iconic multicolored hat. We sat and had a chat and ate snacks in the shade beside the car. Maggie made everyone egg sandwiches, and I brought some homemade baked goods. Seany introduced us to all his trailmates, who were all so wonderful and friendly. Everyone was in good spirits, happy to be enjoying some rest and sunshine. They shared stories with us about their time on the trail, favorite spots to hike, weirdest places they’ve been, and enduring all the rain they had to hike through recently. Seany told me he hikes an average of 15 to 20 miles a day, all while carrying a 40lb pack. I brought Seany a much-needed new pair of shoes. His old shoes were soaked and falling apart from hiking on the muddy trail. We shared lots of laughs and hugs before saying our farewells and wishing the brave hiker Hokey Pokey happy trails. Maggie and I both left feeling so inspired by the whole experience and hope to someday maybe hike the trail ourselves.
After PokéMom left me on the trail, the terrain hit the fan. In the way that God threw a giant boulder into the fan, took the scraps, sprinkled them across the trail, and said “Have Fun!” All the rumors of what was coming came true. Our greatest fears became reality. We hit Rocksylvania. The trail became nothing but rocks, for miles at a time. And the larger boulders aren’t even the worst ones. Those are actually kind of fun. You get to mountain goat hop the whole way through them while the muggles watch on enviously.
It’s the small, pointy ones that stick up a few inches out the ground, that tear your feet to shreds. Imagine walking barefoot on legos, but for what felt like weeks on end.
There really weren’t that many great views or overlooks either. I spent the whole time staring at my feet and the rocks. So my views, all day, were rocks.
Pennsylvania sucked. If you want to live a happy life, don’t hike the AT in Pennsylvania, north of Harrisburg.
After Pennsylvania, it seemed like lots of people started Yellow Blazing. On the AT, all the blazes are white; so to stay on trail, you just follow the white blazes. Yellow blazes are the yellow lines in the middle of the road. People yellow blaze when they hop in a car, drive further north, and got dropped off at the trail. Technically speaking, they’re not really hiking the whole AT. But each person comes out here to get from the trail what they want, whether that includes actually seeing and hiking the entire AT or not. Hike your own hike. I think most people who yellow blaze first do it to catch back up with their tramily. So they may get off the trail for a few days, fall several days behind their tramily/friends, and just drive up to them instead of trying to catch up on trail. Either that, or just to avoid an awful section of the trail. I haven’t yellow blazed yet, and don’t plan to.
If I’m being honest, New Jersey was one of my favorite states on trail. Maybe, finally defeating Pennsylvania has something to do with it, maybe not. New Jersey was surprisingly jam packed with incredible views, scenic locations like glacier ponds and murky swamps, historical monuments, fire towers to climb, and just overall great trail.
For the 4th of July, lots of us hikers hitched into town to camp out at a drive-in theater. The people were super nice and let hikers stay overnight and enjoy the movies for free. Being there on the Fourth was fantastic. There were several firework shows going on around us that we could watch while the movies were playing. It was a great place for a show. The theater was playing Boss Baby 2, Fast and Furious 9, and the latest Purge movie. So all very American movies for the Fourth.
Once entering the New Jersey and New York area, we began the delightful journey of Deli Blazing. Theoretically, you could pretty much hit a deli on trail every day. So we did (or at least it seemed like every day). This was incredible for several reasons: one, we got to eat real food; two, we could pack out real food (pack out a sandwich for dinner); three, we didn’t have to carry as much backpacker food; four, NJ & NY have divine delis. The delis were almost all off trail, anywhere from a quarter to a full mile away. But, we didn’t care about the distance. We would’ve killed for another hot, egg, sausage and cheese on an everything bagel. Or a nice, warm, pastrami, cheese and coleslaw on rye bread with an icy cold Arizona peach tea. Oh the things I would do for one of those right now. The morning of the 4th of July, we walked into town for the deli to find they closed early for the holiday. Instead, we went to the local bar and ordered beers and food. Only to later walk the next 11 miles to the drive-in theater with a nice 4th of July buzz going. Deli blazing was great and I miss it. Sooo much delicious food.
The Big Apple! In New York, there were several times that we could see the NYC skyline from the trail. It was super cool. Obviously, it’s a bit of an anomaly because why would we want to see one of the largest cities from a National Scenic trail? It was a little strange. But the initial idea for the idea behind the Appalachian Trail was to act as a place where people from the city could escape their work life and return to nature. So it makes sense that the trail would be relatively close to the city.
There was actually a train station on trail we crossed that you could take all the way to NYC. In fact there were many opportunities to get off trail and take a train to the city. And lots of people did. I did not, because it just didn’t work with my schedule.
Believe it or not, lots of people got off trail in New York. The state wasn’t tough, or anything we haven’t seen before. I just think it was another breaking point for people. The blues came around again. Also, I think most people who got off, had already started yellow blazing. So when you start skipping parts of the trail, the trail doesn’t mean as much to you, and there’s much less reasons to keep putting yourself through misery of hiking the trail. That’s the crazy thing about the trail. You’d think that once you get past halfway and closer to the end, most people would finish. But people keep getting off trail. (I’m in Vermont at this moment, and there was someone who just got trail yesterday).
The trail went right through Bear Mountain State Park, along with Harriman State Park. I liked Harriman a lot more. Bear Mountain was cool, just too big of a tourist spot. Visitors could drive up to the top of Bear Mountain, while the AT went up and over it. There was lots of trash on trail. Harriman looked pretty much untouched, with much more beautiful views. I’m pretty sure I saw at least 8 deer in the park too.
We did get to cross the Hudson River, which was sweet.
Even at the end of New York, the trail threw another curveball at us. It was easily the worst maintained part of trail I have ever seen. There were times where it literally didn’t look like a trail and we were walking straight through brush. It was so overgrown. Also, there were little to no water diversions. So the trail was either flooded or muddy for a big portion. Little did I know that this wet trail would continue all the way into Vermont…
Awhile back, a new term for day hikers, locals, or anyone not through-hiking the AT has been Muggles. If you are not familiar with Harry Potter, Muggles are all the non-wizarding folk, or just normal people. Therefore, the trail is equivalent to the Wizarding world of Harry Potter and us hikers are the wizards. It’s been a fun and easy way to distinguish the normal world and the trail. Plus, through-hiking the trail has a sort of magic to it that us hikers all understand and appreciate. Muggles are good for food, refreshments, hitches to town, and even maybe a place to stay, if they’re a nice muggle. It’s easy to spot a muggle on trail because they don’t have the magical trail smell or look that comes natural to us hikers. The muggles don’t seem to understand a lot of things we do, whether on trail or in town. Most muggles don’t even know that we’re out here in the woods, and it’s probably best that way.
* Today’s post is brought to you by my Mom, “PokéMom.” *
Thursday, June 17
Hey, this is “Pokemom.” (Thank you “Maple” for the trail name.) I drove to Gardners, PA, along with our dog Luna, to meet up with Seany (aka Hokey Pokey) and spent a fewdays on trail with him. We met at the General Store in Pine Grove Furnace State Park, where Seany undertook the “Half Gallon Challenge” — a 40-year-old AT tradition where hikers down a half gallon of Hershey’s ice cream – in one sitting — at the midpoint between Georgia and Maine. Seany rose to the challenge consuming 1.5 quarts of chocolate bliss followed by 1 pint of mint chocolate chip. While physically shaking from the excessive cold of the ice cream, he clocked in at an impressive 24 minutes, 15 seconds … and later reported freezer burn on his gums.
Who wouldn’t be envious watching someone who burns upwards of 5,000 calories a day being encouraged to eat a half gallon of ice cream. I was jealous.
We spent the night in the 1829 Ironmaster’s Mansion next door – currently functioning as a hostel and wedding venue — where I treated Seany to a private bedroom and bathwhere he was able to take a long and overdue shower, and we slept in a bed adorned with vintage pillows and comforter. Despite the shower, he still smelled. Sorry, Seany. I think he’ll need a long soak in a chlorinated pool when he finishes this incredible journey. I am assuming when the thru hikers refer to themselves as “hiker trash,” it references their appearance and odor and not actual trash. In fact, after spending four days amongst this community, I was so impressed with their respect for the trail in their cleanliness and efforts to keep the trail immaculate at all times. For example, did you know when you poop on the trail, you’re supposed to dig a hole and bury your “droppings”? (Even animals don’t do that.) Getting things to land in the hole creates its own challenge.
Friday, June 18
Today we put boot to ground and set out on our journey. Seany helped me organize my pack the night before; he is an expert. He didn’t prepare me (nor did I prepare myself) for the weight of carrying a backpack nearly my height on my back for hours. No one prepared Luna, either, for having to carry her own saddle bags. But what’s the worry?! We were just so excited to start out on this adventure!!
The 11.2 miles we did today were gorgeous. The beauty of the forest is amazing over and over again. You can’t help but marvel at the expansive variations of the color green. Even a mound of moss is captivating, imagining a whole biome for microscopic beings.
Oh, and did you know rocks breathe? I didn’t either! As Seany would search behind himself to see how I was fairing crawling up a hill, he’d call back to me that there was a “breathing rock” ahead – a big rock I could back myself up to and rest my pack on so “I” could breathe. Needless to say, I soon recognized breath in rocks, trees, fence posts, and bridge trusses … regarding them with the same level of respect and thanks one holds for the HVAC repairman on a 100-degree day.
Seany is an excellent outdoorsman and hiker, but even more so, he is a wonderful human being — full of patience, encouragement, kindness. Not only did he wait patiently for me as we made our way up, down, and all around the trail this first day, but he encouraged me and made me feel so welcomed into his world. When we set up camp, Seany did all the work – setting up the one-man tent (for me and Luna), filtering water from a stream, and cooking me a bag of freeze-dried Pad Thai for dinner. At 6:30 p.m., Luna and I crawled into our tent for the night, drained and bruised and filled with the weight of “How do we do this again tomorrow!?!?” Seany, who planned to “cowboy camp” (sleep outside under the stars) stayed up and fraternized with some nearby thru hikers who hauled in a case of PBR.
At 2 a.m., the rain joined the party, and our one-man tent quickly became a one-man, one-woman, one-dog tent. Luna, whose space was reduced to the size of a placemat, knew to just curl up and shut up. The next morning, Seany: “I slept great.” What?!?! How??? Must have been the PBR.
Saturday, June 19
Again, Seany did all the work – packing up the tent, cooking breakfast (oatmeal in a bag), and refilling our water supply. I was way too busy trying to figure out how to stand up. Today’s trek, though only 7.7 miles, would prove grueling. Hiker vocabulary defines this segment as PUDs – pointless ups and downs. Going up, your cardiovascular system in taxed; going down, your knees turn to spaghetti. The summit brought a hiker highlight:“The Rock Maze” – a labyrinth of tight boulder climbs and crevices. I imagined these geological wonders were of fascination to Seany, the Geological Engineer. To me, they were an oxymoron: nightmares and breathing rocks.
When I bought some supplies back home at REI, the cashier commented, “Oh, you’re going to hike in Pennsylvania? There’s a lot of rocks there.” What an understatement, and okay, now I get it. He wasn’t talking about places like The Rock Maze; he was talking about the miles and miles of today’s trek (and others like them) where you are walking on trail on top of rocks – big rocks, little rocks, medium rocks. Think of putting your feet through a meat grinder. Got that visual? My fantasies of food and getting horizontal at day’s end quickly were replaced with the fantasy of taking off my boots.
With Seany’s quiet charge, though, we made it through the PUDs and out of the maze, where the trail opened up to the most gorgeous, expansive views of rolling corn and wheat fields dotted with far-off barns and old farmhouses with crooked front porches and American flags waving in the wind. It dawned on me then that not only are these thru hikers experiencing Mother Nature, they are also walking through small town America – our nation’s backbone. At this point, I feel extremely blessed and half dead.
We make it to an AT campsite, set up our “home” (okay, I didn’t help, really) then walked another half mile into the adorable town of Boiling Springs, PA. Boiling Springs (one of 23 designated AT communities) is also part of the Network to Freedom, a series of noteworthy sites along the Underground Railroad. The town gets its name from the natural artesian well springs located in and around town – in fact, 30 of them dotted across 2 acres that produce about 22 million gallons of water per day. The water is not “boiling,” but its temperature in Children’s Lake stays at 55 degrees Fahrenheit 365 days a year. All fascinating, especially to a geological engineer; I soaked in the Americana quaintness and kept my sights on Café 101 and dinner on a plate.
Luna and I were “in bed” by 8:30 p.m. while Hokey Pokey lingered at a nearby picnic table with Simba (okay, he just looked like Simba) and Monkeytoes (she could tie her shoes with her toes). We didn’t quite realize the campsite was positioned within a gum spit of an ACTIVE railroad track with freight trains barreling through, blowing their whistle, and screeching their brakes All. Night. Long. The blessing: Every time a train came through, the guy sleeping in the hammock three feet from me stopped snoring (momentarily) and Luna (out of fear) would start licking my toes. The closest thing to a bath yet. The next morning, Seany: “I slept great!” Must have been his ear plugs. The things I’m learning too late.
Sunday, June 20
Today was going to be our longest stretch – 14.7 miles. We needed to cross the Cumberland Valley … where the next water source loomed 13 miles away. It doesn’t take a genius to realize every day brings its own challenges. Maybe there’s no rocks or PUDs or rain today, but there’s scorching 90-degree sun melting your clothes as you walk unprotected through the amber waves of grain. (Think crayons under a 500 volt hair dryer.) Your pack is way heavier, too, because you have to carry a lot more water. Oh, and you fall and sprain your ankle and bruise your rib and tear your shorts and yell obscenities you’re hoping your 24-year-old son didn’t hear … four miles in. Someone asked me after this hike if Seany and I talked a lot. Hmmm. Not really. There’s an unspoken language when you are defeated, dehydrated, dehumanized. Take, for example,when you reach a crossing in the trail with a sign that reads “Concession stand with beverages and food at sports fields 800 yards this way!” The unspoken language: “Are you kidding? Add another 1600 yards to this daunting day?!?Why didn’t you just bring the cool drinks and food to the trail for us???” Hence why Trail Magic is provided truly by Trail ANGELS.
As Luna reached her brink, trying to find slivers of shade amongst the corn and wheat (impossible), God and Mother Nature combined forces and produced a river, a flowing, big beautiful river. Seany and Luna lowered their body temperatures by double digits and rehydrated their skin, soul, and minds.
I couldn’t go in for fear if I took off my boot, my ankle would swell … and we still had a good many miles to go to reach camp. Instead, wonderful Seany made me an electrolyte cocktail. Refreshed and alive again, we carried on to the base of a ridgeline – only 1.5 more miles … uphill. But the thought of getting horizontal and another dinner in a bag can motivate even the feeblest amongst us to trudge onward.
By 8:30 p.m., we and about 10 others all nestled into our tents and a shelter … just in time for the deluge that fell from the sky along with the clapping of thunder. Did you know you can eat dinner from a bag lying completely horizontal? Yes, you can! Then you lick your spoon, simply roll over, and sleep.
Monday, June 21
We needed to wake up early to trek two miles to a pick up point by 9 a.m. Here was my salvation – Dana the volunteer shuttle driver who would take me and Luna 40 minutes back to our car, a shower, Dunkin Donuts, air conditioning, music, and a real toilet. It was nice hiking in the morning and watching the sun light up the forest floor and the intricate handiwork of Charlotte (see web below).
After Dana arrived and I hugged Seany good-bye (holding my breath; again, sorry Seany), he carried on – at a much faster speed – and caught up in Duncannon with fellow thru-hiker buddies he had not seen for a month. And so it goes: Seany and the others will continue putting one foot in front of the other … for another 1,000 miles.
• Under the canopy of the forest lies a world without television, politics, pandemics, bills, cars, traffic, microwaves, etc. It is a truly magical place. These thru hikers are seeing, hearing, absorbing a richness that doesn’t include decimal points and dollar signs. We all can experience such wealth by investing in the great outdoors.
• Wow, kudos to those incredible AT volunteers who maintain all 2,193 miles of this world-famous trail! As you hike any part of the trail, you can’t help but appreciate their efforts and try to figure out how in the world boulder steps are built on top of a mountain or footbridges constructed miles into a trail. Who carries all those supplies?!? Well, the largest organization of volunteers in the world spends 240,000 hours a year building and repairing shelters, managing rare plants and invasive species, building those footpaths and boulder steps, moving fallen trees off trail, clearing natural overgrowth to protect, maintain, and celebrate the longest hiking-only footpath in the world. Anyone can volunteer!
• These thru hikers are a puzzle of many different adventurers hiking for a myriad of reasons (or no reason at all) who together make up a unique and beautiful community. I was so privileged to be able to step into their world and witness the camaraderie and support and understanding they all share. They are individuals and a collective group simultaneously.
• At this stage of the game, they are fast, fast, fast and fit, fit, fit. They walk and walk and walk and eat and eat and eat. By the end, it’s said the men reach Mt. Katahdin in Maine as skeletons and the women as goddesses. They ALL arrive heroes.
• I am proud of all of them — those I met, those I never met, those who came before, and those who will come afterward. I’m especially proud of Seany (hard not to be as Hokey Pokey’s mom). He is brave and kind, patient and thoughtful. Every ache and pain was worth the very special opportunity to join him. Seany is taking this journey for his own reasons but not without trying to raise awareness and funds for others. Everyone is on some kind of journey, and those walking with mental health or fighting thoughts of suicide need our support … and some breathing rocks.
The Virginia Blues is a commonly used, and feared, trail term to describe the emotional state as we hike through Virginia. It usually involves the loss of love for the trail, low morale, and lack of motivation to continue the hike. Some people don’t get the Virginia Blues at all, while others are overcome by the Blues and resign from the trail. It’s almost like the second wave of hikers to get off trail, after the initial 2 weeks of dropouts. I personally believe the Virginia Blues are very real and active. And not because of Virginia as a whole. Virginia is the largest state on trail, with 540.6 miles (nearly 1/4 of the AT); so there is a long period of time we spend in Virginia for the Blues to develop. But the trail, and views, here have been spectacular. Every gap in the trees, or mountain overlook, is a little escape to all the rolling mountains around us, the small towns and farms locked in the nearby valleys, and a quick reminder of how high up we really are. All the plants and wildlife are thriving now. From mesmerizing fern pastures, to rocky alpine ridge walks, and deep jungle-like valley strolls next to a rushing creek; Virginia has been stunning. Some of the most iconic trail views and milestones are in Virginia too. But I believe the Virginia Blues grow from the comedown of the initial high of “we’re hiking the Appalachian Trail and this is amazing!!” We’ve been on the trail over two months now and the hike has now become our job, rather than just a joyful escape. And a lot of people weren’t prepared for this new chapter in the hike. Another part of it, is that everyone who has hiked the trail, always says Virginia is one of the easiest states, and that you’ll just fly right through it because it’s relatively flat. And it’s not. Some of the hardest stretches of trail, have been here in Virginia. There was a week, where everyday was sunny and 90 degrees out. We had to hike straight up a few thousand feet to get up on the mountain ridge line. The problem was, there would be no water on the ridge line. So, we’d hike the rock covered ridge line, exposed directly to the 90 degree sun, with no water for roughly 9 miles, on average. We would have to carry a lot of extra water to make it through these sections, and water is easily the heaviest item to carry. Once we’d reach the end of the ridge line, we walk back down a couple thousand feet, refill at the first spring we’ve seen in hours, only to hike right back up the next mountain, and do it all over again. This routine lasted several days, and was definitely one of the most difficult sections, we’ve had to deal with. Morale was at an all time low. We were lucky enough to encounter trail magic and make everything alright again. Thank God for trail angels.
A difficult resolution that I’ve come to, (I’m guessing other people have come to this conclusion as well), is that maybe Virginia really is the easiest and smoothest state on the AT. And that can only mean one thing: that it’s only going to get more difficult moving North. And that’s tough to process. Because right now, we’re just 1/3 of the way to Maine, with 2 months on trail under our belts, and we still have to go through the actually strenuous and most demanding parts of the trail. It’s daunting. Personally, it’s kind of exciting, because I know I’ll be exposed to all new hiking terrain and challenges. And any change in the usual routine, is exciting to me. The monotony is what makes you go insane out here.
I’ve had several friends quit, with no warning, these last few weeks. Most of them stating that they got what they wanted out of the trail, know what they want to do with their lives, and are ready to return back to the normal world. The Virginia Blues got them. And honestly, good for them for realizing they achieved, and took away from the trail, more than they could’ve imagined, thus, being okay with getting off trail. I can’t imagine how difficult the decision to get off trail can be. When we hear about this on trail, everyone is usually shocked and saddened at first. Because we’ve made it so far, you’d think we’d all have it figured out by now and be able to finish the whole thing. But each time, it reminds us that we can still get off whenever we want. And this feeling spreads like a virus. You start to remember how nice everything is back in the real world. We could be sleeping in a bed every night, watching movies/TV all day, enjoying air conditioning and running water, have easy access to some of the best foods and drinks; and yet, we’re still out here hiking the trail, sweating our asses off everyday with no showers, destroying the physical condition of our bodies, all for an end that seems too far away to be real. Whenever someone quits, these thoughts jump back into your head. They linger there when your climbing another mountain with no views at the top, when you can’t fall asleep because the mice in the shelter keep running over you, when it’s rained for the 4th day straight and your gear still hasn’t dried out. And if other people are feeling this way too, it’s hard to motivate yourself to keep going. You just have to find ways to push these thoughts out. I try to remind myself that there is nowhere else I’d rather be. Even if things are going rough, it’s better to be out in the woods, with fresh air blowing everyday, seeing animals and plants I’ve never even imagined before, and away from all the nonsense happening in the real world. I get to sleep wherever I want, drink the best water I’ve ever had, pee whenever and wherever I want, and eat as much food as my stomach will hold, while still getting skinnier each day. I’d never get to see any of these incredible views if I was stuck sitting on the couch all day. And, in Hokey Pokey fashion, ‘that’s what it’s all about.’ I like to imagine my final climb up Katahdin in Maine. What an achievement it will be to complete this journey and all the emotions that will follow. I think of how I don’t have to worry about work, my responsibilities and stress-inducers are minimal out here, and I get to do whatever I want each day. For each day, a new and different sun.
Personally, the act of quitting has never passed my mind as an option. I’m making it to Maine no matter what happens. I knew it was going to be real hard, and I was mentally ready for that. There are definitely things I wish I could still enjoy. But like my Aunt just told me, you have to give up some things to do what you really want. So, I’m not worried about quitting. It’s just that the emotions, and the state of us hikers on trail, has changed here in Virginia. A new chapter on trail has begun.
5/5/21 (9.1 miles, 437.7 cumulative): After spending the night at Boots Off Hostel, I ended up hiking up a few miles to meet back up with some friends. The hike was awesome because I spent the whole morning hiking around Watauga Lake and Dam. The rain did come, and put a damper on some things. But it was still awesome views all around. I just had to hike up to the top of the mountain, so I could then follow the ridge line all the way into Damascus the next few days. This was right when the terrain started to get much more moderate and easier to book miles.
5/6/21 (14.5 miles, 452.2 cumulative): Just a beautiful day with lots of incredible views. Almost to Damascus.
5/7/21 (18.8 miles, 471 cumulative): Made it into Damascus! This area is the first part where the trail is pretty smooth rolling. So a lot of people pushed out a marathon to get into Damascus. I did not. Because that just doesn’t sound fun. Also, it poured and hailed in the morning too. You can’t ask for too many nice days out here.
I ended up taking a zero day in Damascus the next day. I got to eat good food and drink good beer with lots of friends. Also, I guess there is a chicken wing shortage?! I could only order 6 wings from a wing place because of this. And supposedly there’s a gas shortage going on too. Seriously what the heck is going on in the real world…
5/9/21 (12.9 miles, cumulative unknown): A group of friends and I decided to shuttle north 85 miles to hike back south into Damascus the following week. It was honestly a great idea and worked out super well. We had a lot of fun. The problem was, we had to go SOBO (SouthBound – hiking Maine to Georgia). As a NOBO (NorthBound – hiking Georgia to Maine), SOBO’s are the worst. There is this kind of unspoken rivalry and war that goes on between NOBO’s and SOBO’s because each of us is obviously doing it better than the other. So, when I did run into our normal NOBO friends while hiking SOBO, we had a lot of mixed reactions. The people we saw first, who had been hiking a few days to a week ahead of me normally, were all super excited and shocked to see us. It was a nice surprise reunion. But once I caught up to my group who was still hiking NOBO, there was a lot of trash talking and arguing. I was expecting a brawl with some of my closer friends, but luckily I evaded them on trail. So all things worked out great. I made it all the way back to Damascus with no blood spilled. It was cool because I got to see my friends who were ahead of me and behind me on trail.
5/12/21 (16 miles, cumulative too hard to calculate): This was easily one of my favorite days on trail. The night before I met at girl who was finishing up her full SOBO hike from 2020. She had been hiking last fall until it got too cold to hike, and decided to wait till the spring to finish it up. She had a ton of great tips on the hike and future hostels to stay at.
But this morning it started sleeting, so we waited in the shelter until that stopped. Within 1 hour of us starting our hike, it began snowing. No one expected it to snow. It was never forecasted. And it stuck too! The entire trail was a winter wonderland.
I was so happy to see snow on trail. The snow in the Smokies was cool, but it didn’t stick at all. This was dry, fluffy, and good packing snow. It was amazing. It was still warm enough I kept hiking in my shorts.
We arrived to an open field, and I saw a guy waving to me from the top of a hill. He yelled that they had a fire going and that we should join. It was still snowing, so we obliged. As a hiker, you gotta take advantage of anything and everything that comes your way. We meandered our way through the snow until we found the trail angels’ camp. They had a raging fire, and two bladders full of whiskey and rum. This was at 10am. They also had two yellow lab dogs. One of them wouldn’t stop licking my legs because of all the salt on them. So we spent a good hour drinking whiskey and rum around a fire in a snow storm. On our way back to the trail, we ran into a small herd of wild ponies! We were entering the Grayson Highlands which are known for the wild ponies.
The ponies were a little shy. They wouldn’t let us touch them, but they did come up and investigate us. Once we moved on a mile or so, there was some cattle. Oh yea, the snow still hadn’t stopped.
I made it up to a shelter and stopped for lunch. The rest of my crew who had been heading SOBO for Trail Days finally caught up. They unfortunately missed all the ponies and cattle in the snow. Their day was not going well. They were all cold, wet, and tired of the snow. I, on the other hand, was having the best day ever. It’s crazy how different someone’s day can be just because of the time they hit different parts of the trail. Luckily for them, three ponies joined us at the shelter. And they were super curious about us.
After the shelter, we headed into the Grayson Highlands State Park. About a mile in, my friends all got off trail to spend the night at the park’s resort. They had enough for the day and wanted a warm shower and bed. I decided to push on alone. At this point, the sun was shining, it was hot, and there was no more snow on the ground.
I made it up to the top of the ridge line and found more ponies! And longhorn cattle! Everyone was out feeding. I am so glad I kept on hiking. It was very surreal to see all the ponies and cattle on top of this mountain.
One of the funniest things was that one pony would not stop licking my legs. I started the morning with a yellow lab who wouldn’t stop licking my legs, and ended the day with a pony who did the same. Funny the way things work out on trail.
I ended the day by exiting the Grayson Highlands and camping out by a road. I actually ran into an old trail friend who was camping there alone, so it was great to catch up with him before continuing South the next day.
5/14/21-5/16/21 (Trail Days): I made it back to Damascus the morning of Trail Days. Trail Days is pretty much an outdoor enthusiast festival designed for AT through-hikers. There were tons of outdoor equipment companies there, offering discounted rates and raffles on equipment. There was also tons of food and live music. One of the coolest things about the festival, was all the different groups that came into town to offer free services to us hikers. There were church groups from all over Virginia who had tons of free food, they offered free laundry and showers, I got my feet hand washed and massaged for free along with a complimentary pair of socks. There were free COVID vaccinations, free hair cuts, charging stations for electronics, and lots of other neat stuff. The community around AT through hikers is incredible. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Just so many people, from all walks of life, doing whatever they can to help out random hikers make it Maine. Truly amazing.
One of the most significant parts of Trail Days was Tent City. All the hikers and visitors all camped out at a nearby park and woods near a creek. There were at least hundreds to several thousand people all camped out together. Some people were obviously not hikers, but had massive tent setups with music, food, gifts, and games for everyone. It was unlike anything I had seen before. One night, a group roasted a whole pig and made tacos for everyone from it. Tent City was also pretty weird. I won’t go into too many details, but you can imagine what a ton of hippies and outdoor enthusiasts camped out in the woods together might do. There was a cult as well. They were constantly making free food for everyone (which was amazing), but would then follow up with trying to make you live with them at one of their group farms/communities. So if you can’t find me after my hike, I probably joined the cult.
I didn’t take any pictures at the festival. I guess I was too busy having fun, and didn’t feel like documenting everything. But I didn’t take this shot of some of the tents. It’s only about 1/10 of the full area of tent city, and I took it mid afternoon on the first day. So, the area is only about half filled up. Maybe that will give you an idea for the size of Tent City
One of my favorite things about Trail Days was that almost everyone on trail was there. So I had seen friends from my first week on trail, people I hadn’t seen in weeks, hostel employees from all over the trail, and trail angels who have been supplying trail magic all along the hike. A lot of familiar faces for a lot of fun times. Definitely a highlight of the hike.
Just a quick update. After trail days I’ve been hiking around 18-22 miles a day. I spend most of the day hiking and find it hard to find time to blog. I’m currently at mile 730.3 in Daleville, VA. Almost 1/3 of the way through! I will be providing another, more detailed, update on these last few weeks. Just a bit behind schedule.
I want to give a shout-out to the Windsor Park Elementary students and staff. Thank you so much for the posters you made with words of support. It was all amazing things to say and definitely helped me get over some real tough mountain climbs. All the other hikers reading them appreciated the support as well. You all are so kind and thoughtful.
4/25/21 (11.3 miles, 317.3 cumulative): My parents came to the trail to be the best trail angels!! And they brought the dogs. It was amazing. My Dad smoked a whole ham and made sammies for everyone, while my mom made her legendary banana bread. There was also chocolate milk, Gatorades, fresh fruit, brownies, cow tails, and starbursts. It was fantastic. Everyone loved it and loved my parents. The dogs, Cole and Luna, made the trip as well. They were loved by everyone. I think Cole wanted to stay with me on trail though.
Once I arrived to the shelter that afternoon, everyone was talking about how amazing the food was and that they all loved my parents for bringing the food. There were quite a few people who came up to me saying they would’ve ran out of food, if my parents hadn’t been there. So they were literally lifesavers for us through hikers. I think we all dreamed about my Mom’s banana bread and my Dad’s smoked ham sandwiches for days afterwards.
5/1/21 (11.8 miles, 386.1 cumulative): So we hit Carver’s Gap today, and began the Roan Highlands. It was flooded with day hikers. And, oh my gosh, day hikers are the worst! They take up the trail and walk sooo slow. And they don’t let me pass even when I’m stepping on their heels. Most of them didn’t say ‘hi’ or even smile at me. Barely any of them had trail dogs I could pet. They all smelled amazing. And they didn’t even offer me any free snacks! It’s like don’t you care to feed the animals at the zoo.
I guess I’m just ready to return back to the woods with the rest of the savages.
I ended up cowboy camping for the first time. Cowboy camping is sleeping under the stars in just your sleeping bag. We were camping out at an old barn that was previously used at the shelter. It was a pretty great set up, except for the 30 middle schoolers who also decided to camp there that night.
5/3/21(17 miles, 413.7 cumulative): Ended up staying at trail friend’s hostel last night. It was in the basement of his house, right on the edge of a hill with a great view of the ridge line we hiked the day before. Plus, he built the whole thing himself. It was incredible. We were his first group to stay there too since he just opened it up a couple weeks ago. I would share pictures, but I didn’t take any. So here’s their Facebook page instead.
The next day I felt amazing. My feet have been accumulating a lot of pain the last few days, but somehow they feel great. I was booking miles while catching lots of cool waterfalls and rivers. Something about genuine people providing incredible hospitality and care to us hikers that rejuvenated the body and soul to keep hiking. Maybe it was the 3 cups of coffee I had too.
Made it to the 400 mile marker today too 😁
5/4/21: (14.9 miles, 428.6 cumulative): The rain that didn’t really come yesterday, finally arrived today. It was actually pretty fun. There were a lot of slippery rock climbs along with beautiful views of waterfalls and rivers. Also, the trail is usually more open because most people try to avoid hiking in the rain.
I pushed it into Boots Off hostel to try and get new shoes. My feet have been killing me the last few days. I think I might be developing tendinitis in my right heel. But I can still hike, so no problem. The town here doesn’t have a shoe store. So I’m guess I’m pushing through to Damascus, VA for new shoes. Luckily the hike to Damascus doesn’t look too bad. I’m going to rest up here a bit before I head out.
There has been a huge norovirus bubble that I’ve been hiking through the last few days. Everyone had been warning about norovirus getting spread throughout the upcoming hostels and shelters. The group of girls I was hiking with, nearly all got it and had to stop hiking. They had taken a zero at a hostel while the boys and I kept hiking. It does not sound like a fun time. All the girls seem to be doing better now though.
Oh yea, almost forgot, I got my first COVID vaccine in Erwin, TN. One of the easiest things I’ve done on trail.
Just a heads up, I’ll probably be posting updates more sporadically like this, with not as much details. I feel like trying to write a daily update and worrying about this blog/journal takes away from the experience of being out here at times. Plus it uses up battery on my phone when I’m low on juice. For example I had no battery power in any of my electronics for part of the smokies, so definitely have no photos/videos/updates for that time. Just personal memories.
Leaving Franklin, I did not feel good. Stayed up wayyy too late the night before having a bit too much fun with the other Hiker Trash (thru-hikers) in town. Somehow I still managed to clock out 11 miles. Honestly, looking back, 11 doesn’t even sound like that much mileage.
There were some super interesting Trail Angels offering up Trail Magic for all us hikers. One group, when I walked up to them, I thought I travelled back in time. They had come from Alabama to camp out for a weekend and feed all the hikers who came through. Trail Angels are the greatest people on trail.
The trail can actually be quite scary at times, in terms of the terrain. Almost like one misstep and your either dying or breaking every bone in your body. But it gets your blood pumping and makes you feel alive. No place I’d rather be.
The mountain tops do get a bit windy sometime too.
Before making it to the Smokies you have to stop at Fontana Lake and Dam. When I arrived, I stopped in at the Marina to resupply on some much needed toilet paper. I was not about to enter the Smokies while having to ration out my TP. The owner actually used to live in Brookfield, WI about 10 minutes from where I grew up. While talking with the locals, a random hiker came up and asked if my friends and I wanted to hop on their rented pontoon boats for the afternoon. When an opportunity like this arises, there is only one appropriate answer. We ended up spending the afternoon drinking beers on the pontoon boats, swimming in the lake, and just behaving like the Hiker Trash we are. Looking back, it still feels like a dream.
And finally, of course, I got to cross the iconic Fontana Dam just before entering into the Smokies.
The Smokies were incredible. There were times where it felt like I was walking through a fairy tale. As if the seven dwarves were going to appear one day hiking and singing along the trail. Some of the most beautiful views of the trail so far as well. The shelters felt very rustic and original. The weather worked out super well for us. Everyone had been hyping up that there was gonna be snow and rain the entire time in the Smokies. We only got one morning of snow flurries that didn’t even stick to the ground. But the Smokies did kick my ass. My pack weighed the heaviest yet. I had to pack out 7 days of food, while hiking the most miles/day yet. The first two days were pretty much up for 30 miles. Not fun. But then everything else was pretty steady just hiking up on the ridge line. Water sources were far and few. And you usually had to hike down, what felt like a quarter mile, to get to them. Only to have to hike right back up to get back on the trail. Glad to be done with the Smokies, but sad to see them go.
Towards the end of the Smokies, there was one shelter closed down due to bear activity. And in the smokies you can’t stealth camp (camp wherever you want), you have to stay in the shelters. So this left, a 14.6 mile stretch, where you could not camp, but had to hike through no matter where you were the night before. Myself and a few others decided to camp out in a lookout tower 0.6 miles off the AT instead (shh don’t tell anyone. I don’t think we were supposed to be there). This was one of the best views I had on all the trail. 360 views of the Smokies and the valleys below. We caught both the sunrise and sunset. Unfortunately for you all, my phone died when I arrived, and I had no juice left in my battery pack.
Sadly enough, throughout the entire Smoky Mountains National Park, I did not see any bears.
I saw 4 black bears. One momma bear and her 3 cubs. Literally hours after leaving the Smokies. I was so happy and excited. I can check that one off the list for AT goals. Not the best videos, but the cutest little cubbies.
When I arrived at Mack’s Patch (grassy bald with beautiful 360 views) there was a growing group of hikers camping out there. It was starting to look like a music festival. I set up and prepared for a beautiful sunset and sunrise which did not disappoint.
Craziest part was, a pack of raccoons stole 10 people’s food bags in the middle of the night and nobody knew until the following morning. Some bags were found, with torn up food, nothing salvageable. Some bags were not found. Luckily, my bag was untouched.
4/4/21 (9 miles – 78.2 cumulative): Started the day off by leaving my sunglasses at the hostel. I decided to jog the half mile back to the hostel and get back to hiking. The people camping at Dick’s Creek, who I left my pack with, were so nice they gave me a lunch beer and a small bag of chocolate Easter eggs to help turn my day around. Unfortunately, I did not sleep well at the hostel the night before, and felt exhausted and dehydrated later in the day. But I did reach the NC/GA border! Goodbye Georgia, hello North Carolina!
Also, I guess there was some special oak tree that everyone who hikes the AT shares. For some reason it’s a big deal. I thought it was a bit anticlimactic when I finally saw what everyone had been talking about. It was cool, but did not live up to the hype
4/5/21 (12.1 miles – 90.3 miles): Popped a Benny (Benadryl) the night before and had my best night of sleep on the trail. I got destroyed by the first hill in NC, but then felt amazing making my way up Standing Indian Mountain. The view at the top was phenomenal. We could see all the mountains we had hiked over in Georgia. Pretty gnarly.
Also, I’ve now been meeting up with the same people at camp these last few nights. But we’ve been talking about how sad it can be that you become great friends with someone one night, but then they may hike ahead the next day, and you could never see them again. It’s already happened to me a couple times. Everyone just hikes their own hike. Although, sometimes you do catch up and it’s awesome when you see each other again.
4/6/21 (11.9 miles – 102.2 cumulative): pretty phenomenal day that I couldn’t have asked to have gone any better. First we summited Albert Mountain and climbed the iconic fire tower.
Definitely had some of the most beautiful overlooks and views I’ve seen on trail yet.
We made it through our first 100 miles
And I think I got my trail name as Hokey Pokie.
4/7/21 (7.2 miles – 109.4 cumulative): Trail name is finalized as Hokey Pokie. Also, easiest 7 miles I’ve hiked all trail. I think we all did it in maybe 3.5 hours. Also hitched a free ride into town from a very nice fella who also ended up letting me and a couple other guys rent a room for the night. I’m staying with two brothers from Maryland tonight. Franklin is a super cool town. It’s got its Main Street with all the stores and gift shops. Most importantly, there’s a local brewery called Lazy Hiker Brewing Company where all us hikers are planning on enjoying the afternoon/night at. Should be a good time.