Wednesday, June 24, 2009

AT hike trip recap

It's taken me awhile to get to my recap post of the AT backpacking trip. I guess that's because I was actually in Argentina...

But seriously, thanks for your patience. My Dad and brother showed up on Saturday afternoon. After a quick look at the gear, we, with Rachel, hit the Reds/Cubs game at GABP. I had sold our good seats on StubHub (at a nice profit) thinking we would be hiking, so we had to settle for upper deck seats because the game was nearly sold out. The Reds won in extras. Despite our early departure time the next morning, we stuck it out.

We headed down the double-A toward WVa and Va the next morning, mostly listening to the Reds/Cubs game on XM. We finished up the game, another extra innings affair, at the hotel. We had the "hiker" rate at the TraveLodge in Daleville, Va. for Sunday night. When I walked in to check in the manager said to me with skepticism, "You're some kind of hiker?" I responded, "Starting tomorrow." The room was fine and we did some last minute grub shopping (mostly for dinner that night and for gorp) at the Kroger next to the outfitter.

On Monday morning we headed to the outfitters. We had to wait around for our ride, and didn't get it until about 11:00 a.m. But we only had 2.5 miles planned for day one. At the trailhead (for us) we set out. We put in at Rte. 311, about 20 miles (by trail) from Daleville. We blew by the shelter at the 2.5 mile mark (it was full anyway) and headed up to the top of Mcafee Knob, one of the best views on the whole trail. We climbed about 1000 ft. in elevation over a 4 mile stretch. At the top, you could see the whole valley and from one angle the entire city of Roanoke, Va. After .5 miles of down hill, we settled at the shelter 4.5 miles in. It was about 3:00 or 4:00 in the p.m. We filtered our water and cooked dinner, hashbrowns with beef jerky. There was room in the shelter, so we set-up in there.

I had this great idea that I would take an air mattress and two sheets rather than a sleeping bag. In case I got cold, at the last minute I threw in our Reds fleece blanket which is very light (and about 2 ft. square). My idea was better than my execution, as I actually brought a sheet and a pillow case. That didn't matter because I didn't sleep much anyway. We hung our food in the shelter on these special hooks that kept mice off. But I was awakened by a loud squirrel or even a raccoon right in the shelter. Of course, I freaked out. When I did get a chance to put the light on it (from a safe distance) it was a mouse, about two inches long. But it sure made a lot of racket. There were three or four other through hikers (hikers doing the whole trail) at camp, but they all slept in tents.

The next day we hiked 6 miles, including Springer Cliffs. The whole trip we hiked along a high ridge and the trail was almost entirely up and down. The second day we saw a retired man and his dog (Oliver Twist, "T" for short) hiking the other way. He had only a small book pack. He said he walks the entire 20 mile stretch (our three-day trip) three times a week. We saw him again the third day, also. In fact, we saw numerous other hikers, doing the whole trail or some part. One guy was just going from Ga. to W.Va., another guy was out for a month. One guy, a legendary (on the trail) New Zealander (by way of New Jersey) was hiking the whole trail, something he does every five years. On the other years he does at least 100 miles. He was writing a book on the trail, mostly dealing with the mental aspect of hiking the trail. One young guy was doing 25 miles a day. Another doing the whole trail on $900.00, including bus fair from Texas and back.

At our second night shelter, we were basically there by ourselves when we arrived. There were a couple of wasp nests in the shelter, so we put our tent up in the shelter. It really only took up about the same amount of room as if we just laid out our stuff. But by the time we went to bed the entire shelter was full. It was too late, however, to try and rethink our tent. One thing about the trail, and the main thing I took away from the trip, is a sort of laid back attitude. Everyone just seemed very relaxed. I guess months of walking in the woods will do that for you. I'm going to do my best to take these two things away from the trip. Walk all the time, and try not to let things aggravate me.

Day three was tough. We knew it would be our longest day, but we thought it would be less hilly. We planned to do about 9.6 miles and go all the way to Daleville. We would have been fine, but we were low on water (there was no source on this stretch and we left the shelter with full bottles). Plus, my Dad tripped and fell. He was fine, but bumped his head so we were super cautious, with my brother and me taking a lot of his weight. Plus, my bother was suffering from a foot injury that was very painful. Plus, I just ran out of gas near the end and really struggled to finish. All in all, we made it back to Daleville and the car about 3:00 in the afternoon, and even saw some of our buddies from the night before in town.

On the trail, everyone had a trail name. I think some folks picked their names while others were assigned. One guy for example was pigpen. Another was Quaid. I said, (it was dark at the time) "is that because you look like Dennis Quaid" and he said, "yeah." I said, "well that's better than Randy Quaid." Of course, the next morning, when it was light, the guy was the spitting image of Randy Quaid. We were Old Zahnie, Big Z and the Kid. But I was a little disappointed that we weren't assigned names, although maybe we were and we just didn't know it (greenhorn, tenderfoot, etc.) But I think we held our own on the part that we did. And our gear was top notch. That was thanks to my Dad who did a ton of preparation for the trip. Without his efforts and planning we never would have been able to do the trip. He spent weeks preparing, including loading his pack with the gear we needed and trekking around Greenville with it. Great preparation, but not enough hills.

We had no exit plan other than to see my Grandmother in Southeastern, PA the next day, so we added a night at the Super 8, drove the couple of hours up and had a big meal at the Italian Garden (with ice cream after).


Matt.Zahniser said...

What a great narrative. Thanks for posting it. One correction I think the cliffs were called Tinker Cliffs, parallel to Tinker Creek, our mythic destination for the next day. That is, we knew when we got to Tinker Creek that it was, althoug uphill, less than a mile to a cold drink of water and a hot coffee.
Congratulations on the posting,
Old Zahnie

Laura Zahniser Pierson said...

What a great recap, Dave. I wish I'd been there. I'm inspired, too, by your new laid back attitude! You all should be very proud of yourselves!!

Dave Zahniser said...

Thanks, L.Pie. We're already talking about another trip next year. Your group should join us.