Posted 01/12/2016 at 8:26 pm
Journey for a Cause
The Appalachian Trail (also known simply as the A.T.) runs from Springer Mountain in Georgia up to Mount Katahdin in Maine and—at almost 2,200 miles—lays claim to being the longest hiking-only trail in the world. While the traditional route begins in early spring and runs south to north, I will be dividing this journey into three roughly 700-mile sessions, hiking an average of 16-17 miles per day.
FIrst, I plan to tackle the middle section first – from the NY/CT line down through PA/NJ and into Virginia. Next, I’ll hike the northernmost section, from Maine down to Massachusetts, during which my son and a friend will join me. The final leg will start back in Virginia, where I will trek south to the trailhead in Georgia.
Hiking with a Purpose
On my 60th birthday last November, my mother Lillian passed away from pancreatic cancer. For 17 years, she had served as a volunteer with the Merrimack Valley Hospice (MVH) in Greater Lawrence, MA, providing companionship, compassion, and personal support to those nearing life’s end. She was a philanthropic supporter, advocate and friend for many years until she herself welcomed hospice for her transition from this world. I wanted to honor the memory of my mother and also pick up my quest of hiking the Appalachian Trail. My family and I have established The Lillian Prince Margolis Charitable Care Fund to support patients of Merrimack Valley Hospice. I'm going to try to invoke some “trail magic” to raise money for the Fund, which will provide access to hospice care to those who are otherwise uninsured or require financial assistance to receive services at Merrimack Valley Hospice House.
For more on the Lillian Prince Margolis Charitable Care Fund and to make a donation, click here.
Please visit this site for occasional updates on my journey.
Trail Prep 3.6.16
Right before Thanksgiving seemed like a good time to commit to a training regimen. Lined up a trainer, Mel Johnson @M3 Studio in Hopewell. We set a schedule and ran right into the holidays. Oh well, a little reset - not too much damage done.
December and January, things slowed down a little on the planning side but I did put up this website, my initial foray into social media. I have restarted my twice daily walks around Pennington and Hopewell as well as keeping up with my gym routine of weights and cardio.
The last weekend in January finished with another sweep through REI. Items addressed and purchased included: hydration system, stove, tent, and specialized clothing for my 'layering system'. The hydration system is fun. In the past, I would have just bought iodine tablets and dropped them in Nalgene bottles. It was fast, but the water tasted like chewing pens. This time, I plan to attach a small filter onto my 3 liter Platypus water reservoir and let the filter purify the stream or pond water via gravity overnight. Full disclosure, totally unoriginal on my part, I saw it on the internet. Thanks to my friend, the doc (Sandy Carney), I was able to procure an iv medical clamp to prevent the water from dripping out.
One word on rain gear: ARC'TERYX makes beautiful stuff but pricey. Not to mention, they are designed for people who are 6 ft. tall and weigh 155 lbs with 2.0% body fat. As Bill Bryson said in A Walk in the Woods, "You've got to be F.......ing kidding me". Hello, NorthFace. Got to have waterproof rain pants and jacket that fit.
I have tackled the cooking system. Laurie is thrilled to have the Jet Boil Camping Stove and several cannisters of jetpower fuel (which contain a blend of propane and iso butane) cluttering up the kitchen counter. I receive daily reminders to light it outside on the terrace, NOT in the kitchen. I am studying recipes for freezer bag cooking which seem to involve boiling water and adding it to some type of dry ingredients.
The logistics seem endless, especially when thinking about Maine (100 mile wilderness) and the White Mts. But I've made my reservations for a Lean-to at Baxter State Park for the Katahdin July 4. So one step at a time.
One final note for today, thanks to all of my friends and family for the generous support for the LPM charitable Care Fund. As of this writing, we are about 50% towards our goal.
Hey all. i'm packed and ready to roll. will drive to the NY/CT. state line tomorrow. Plan to begin hiking on friday, 13 may. Laurie will join me for a few days then she'll take off and leave me to it. I'm excited, a little nervous but mostly, ready to begin. Feel free to follow my journey on this blog or on instagram. my insta tag is halcurtis. thanks for all your support. best, hal
laurie and I did ten miles today. first day on app trail. we walked through the woods of NY, up and down rocky paths, over stiles, through a cow pasture, across train tracks and roads, on a cool boardwalk over a swamp with huge beaver dam, and high up on ridge. We had clouds and rain. My loyal stepbrother, Tim and his lovely wife ceci met us with hot soup and towels. We met three thru hikers: bones, ox and pastor john. we experienced our first "trail magic" where someone left a few gallons of fresh water by the trail. tomorrow i will go alone and spend my first night out on the trail.
Three days on the trail. I'm learning a lot. Freeze dried scrambled eggs and beef stroganoff aren't what they're cracked up to be. Rain certainly affects mood. But I've met some good people out here. Pitched my tent tonight and grateful for a warm sleeping bag.
Crossed over the Bear Mt. Bridge on Tues. the 17th. What a dramatic view over the Hudson River. Got a welcomed provision box delivered by Laurie with several new water filters. These are key to my well being. We spent Tues eve at the lovely Bear Mt. Bridge Motel, drank a delicious IPA at the Barnstormer BBQ and repacked my backpack. Tackled Bear Mt. early Wed.am 900 feet straight up. I find counting my steps helps both my pace and my psyche.
Day 9. I had the good fortune of two nights in the Appalachian Motel in Vernon, NJ. The nicest indian couple met me at the trail head and drove me to their motel, did my laundry and drove me into town for dinner and breakfast the next morning. They were some true trail magic. Was lucky to get a room as the alternative was setting up tent in a cow pasture. It was great to get a hot shower and sleep on a real mattress. Laurie and Sandy Carney drove up to replenish my food stash. Sandy checked out my right foot which was bothering me. A quick trip to CVS for some Dr. Scholl rx fixed me up. That, and the two beers at a biker bar.
Day 13. still in nj. making good time towards my goal of the Delaware Water Gap by friday. I did 18.4 miles today. Must be the home state advantage. Saw some of the most beautiful countryside. next time someone jokes about 'what exit', i've got proof plenty. I'm starting to get the camp routine down: collect water for my coffee, filter it, boil it. eat a little breakfast, take down the tent, pack up and go. then i do the reverse each night. i've slept in the occasional shelter but actually prefer my tent as I like having my own space. Just trying to take it one small stretch at a time. The biggest obstacle is really finding water. That has become my priority in deciding where to camp for the night. It is not as available as it would seem. And I'm very grateful for a good filter system because sometimes the water looks a bit sketchy. Before I move on any further, I have two big thank yous. I want to thank Christine Scaplen at Merrimack Hospice for all her hard work and support of this trek in honor of mom. It means a lot knowing your great organization has faith in me. And Phil T. at MPI, thank you for all your tech support. Laurie says she couldn't navigate the blog without your expertise - she especially appreciates your skill at turning pictures right side up. OK, onward and southward.
Day 16. Had a nice little respite in the Water Gap: dined at Hot Dog Johnny's, slept in a real bed, did my laundry by the REI approved shower method (turn on shower, soap up clothes while wearing them, take off, shower self, agitate clothes by stomping on them on bottom of shower floor, rinse and hang up to dry on any available rack. if not dry by early am, use motel hair dryer. ) Met up with Andrea and Rob Quincy and their two sweet daughters Annie and Ella. They drove up to the Gap to check on my progress and get a few quotes. Can't thank them enough for their encouragement and for the handwritten sign which i encountered the next morning written in the trail. Yesterday, I set out on what is probably the toughest stretch i've encountered so far. All i can say is PA is full of rocks, big ones. it takes much longer to walk over, around, in between, and i couldn't make the miles i had projected. It was also hot and humid. but the greatest obstacle remains finding enough water along the trail. yesterday, after i used up my supply, my choice was be thirsty or filter from a green scum covered puddle. obviously i chose the puddle. Gonna re think my priorities and walk from water supply to water supply rather than worrying about making a certain shelter. Looking forward to a visit from my buddy, B.T. and taking a day to fish. Surely I will find water then.
Water gap to Wind gap was a slap in the face. I wanted 20 miles today but fell far short of that. I was on the trail by 5:40 am but didn't get to wind gap til 5:40 pm. Dragged myself to the side of the road and waited for a ride to a crappy hotel. was praying the ride would come because i sure had no backup plan. I was dealing with the triple whammy: heat, rocks and no water. Felt pretty banged up. called laurie who was down in md cleaning out her parents' house & farm. She had her hands full with garbage bags and dumpsters but was v. sympathetic. Made it to hotel and crashed. It was a sobering moment: just because I want to be someplace, and just because I wrote it down, doesn't mean it will happen. Things fell into place when I realized there are things way out of my control. I woke up, plotted a new course, and was able to make a couple of 9-10 milers in the next few days; always on the look out for water. Took a zero day with my buddy, B.T. and fished the Lehigh River. Hooked a nice bow who broke my rod as I landed him. Napped by the river's edge. It was good for the soul. As I stood in the river looking up at the Apps, it gave me the chance to see the distance I had just covered. Now that I've had two 15 mile days, all of a sudden getting through PA is thinkable.
Laurie met me in Port Clinton yesterday eve and picked me up off the porch of the Union Hotel. Port Clinton is like an old time wild wild west town with little saloons dotting the road. I've been looking forward to seeing her for two weeks. We drove to Shartlesville (with the car windows well opened) checked into our trucker's hotel and after a much anticipated hot shower, headed for the Haag restaurant/bar. We walked smack into a "seniors dance night" where a 50's band was playing Elvis & Shake Rattle and Roll to name a few. After a beer or two, we hit the dance floor to Sugar Pie Honey Bunch. Note to self: don't dance in crocs. Up early this am, reorganized my pack and sent some gnarly looking clothes home with L. We had eggs & bacon at the Midway Diner (across from a very ripe dairy farm) and said our goodbye on the train tracks next to the Schuylkill River. Another week in PA, then god willing, on to Harper's Ferry by mid/late June.
Have had a great stretch walking between Port Clinton and Duncannon, PA. Was able to make miles and cover more ground which makes me very happy. Heard about a friendly oasis at Rock & Soul Hostel where there would be a hot shower, chemical toilet, a comfy bunk and a guy who shuttles you back and forth to the trail head. it was true. Definitely hit the jackpot there. met some good guys who were nobos (northbounders) and after some commiserating about life on the trail, they asked me what my trail name was. I said I didn't have one yet. Though I said I did have a nickname, affectionately dubbed by my son parker's WF friends. After a discussion about the movie, Stepbrothers, from whence it came, they said its official, you are the "old bull." Feeling rather bullish at the moment, I am pressing on and will soon be at the PA/MD border. Incredible views of the Susquehanna River as I make my descent. Plan to spend the night with John Ober & Jack Forestell in Lake Meade, PA. (Laurie's cousins) They have kindly offered to put me up. Looking forward to a lot of Ober/Hoff hospitality while in Md. Though I will miss seeing Hope Hollow Farm, the Ober family spirit is alive and well in the offspring and extended family.
6.11.16 - Reflections after 30 days
The eminent philosopher, Mike Tyson, once said that every fighter had a game plan until he got hit in the mouth. What has become painfully obvious is that it is one thing to plot out the hike from the comfort of an arm chair and it is quite a different thing to execute it.
On the negative side, I seem to have under allocated time for the first segment, Take It Easy (I named all three segments after Eagles' songs). This first one might have been slightly misnamed. The cold analytics are this: I have done about 50% of the miles but used about 60% of the days. Pennsylvania was tougher than I anticipated. In fact my first day in PA (Water Gap to Wind Gap) was a low point for me. Though I did about 16 miles that day, I had my eyes on 20. Just couldn't do it. Nothing left in the tank.
On the positive side, the relatively low cumulative mileage reflects the fact that one tends to start slowly with days in the 8s, 9s and tens. Lately, I have been able to get in the high teens and touch 20 once in a while. Two days ago, I went for 26 from Duncannon to Boiling Springs. That is not sustainable but I think a sweet spot might be 17 (8.5 hrs at 2mph).
So, I won't make Roanoke by June 30. I'll probably be 75 miles short (650 v. 725). But, I am encouraged that I can make up those VA short fall miles in segment three (Everything is Different Now).
For now, my immediate focus is to put the Keystone State in the rear view mirror. Then it's on to Harper's Ferry and then the great state of Virginia.
Segment two (Heart of the Matter) commences on July 6 from Baxter State Park in Maine. As I have done the first leg solo, I am really looking forward to sharing the adventure with my son, Parker. I think we will make a good team and put up some good numbers. After Eliza's wedding, I am looking forward to hiking with Shafe in the Whites and beyond. We will have some laughs no doubt.
Net, net, the Old Bull has found this to be the challenge of a life time. I thought it would be hard and it has exceeded expectations. But, it is growing on me and I am looking forward to getting up tomorrow and grinding out miles. There will be no talk of cutting it short or that I gave it a 'good try'. Absent injury or illness, I intend to see this through.
I am so incredibly grateful for all the support of friends and family. I have left everything on Laurie's shoulders and then I ask her for logistical and emotional support on top of it all. But as she wisely said, we're carrying it together.So the mood is good. I'm up for the fight and I have absorbed the first real right to the chin.
So last night, to celebrate my final day in PA, I walked into nearest town and had dinner in a restaurant.
Here is what I ate: two caesar salads, a large steak, garlicky green beans, mac and cheese, an ipa, a manhattan, a glass of malbec, brownie with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce and coffee.
A new state, a new day. So happy to be in Md.
Made it to Harper's Ferry, WVA on thursday. checked in with the AT conservancy and registered as an official through hiker. got my picture taken and put in a book at the AT center on High St. checked into very cool b & b, Stonehouse, in the historic part of town, run by young couple and baby George. Laurie joined me that eve after saying goodbye to the family farm in monkton, md. we were both entranced by this little town. It is literally a gorge. It sits at the intersection of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and at the borders of WVA, VA and MD. We heard the train whistle off and on all night as it passed through town. All the houses are built into the hill, most made out of stone. Not a doily in sight and as our room had a small balcony overlooking the HF train station and potomac river, i could spread out my tent, stuff bags and sleeping bag to dry. The owners were very laid back, cooked us a terrific breakfast of sausage, home fries and eggs and gave us a little of the history of their house. The Stonehouse was built by slaves; we could see the wooden beams in the ceilings were held together with wooden pins numbered with Roman Numerals. It was considered 'risky' to teach slaves math/numbers so they taught them Roman Numerals. Sobering. After Laurie left, I sat down with my little notebook and pen and crunched some numbers.
Here are the stats I came up with.
Total nights out: 36, Where slept: shelters: 4, tent 12, hostels 3, b&b 7, hotel/motel 6, friends'home 3,
random garage 1
Average Full Day equiv. mileage: 14.9 (4 zero days/5 partials)
Average Full Day equiv. mileage (last 2 wks) 16.5
Pair of boots worn out: 1
Pair of trekking poles demolished : 2
Total miles logged: 432.7
Miles to go by 6/30: 210
Weight lost: 25 lbs
States hiked: NY, NJ, PA, MD, WV (VA tomorrow)
Rivers swam: Lehigh and Potomac
Longest hike: 25.6 Duncannon to boiling springs, pa
Special thanks to John and Jack, Chipper and Peggy for putting me up for two nights. Loved the home cooked meals, the swim in the lake, watching baseball and catching up. Tomorrow, my niece, Deenie and her husband Will are joining me on the trail between Blackburn and Snicker's Gap, VA. Deenie is starting to prep for her upcoming trek on Mont Blanc in Switzerland in July. Looking forward to having their company. On to VA!
6.27.16 Day 48
Apologies for the delay in blog. For some reason, my secretary/better half has been tied up with wedding priorities and hasn't been racing to type up my thoughts. Interestingly enough, she counts her days until Eliza and Richard's wedding as I count mine on the trail. Apparently wedding is at day 38. But I am at day 48. I have every confidence.
There are some unexpected outcomes that might occur when one chooses to do what should be done rather than what is expedient. Last night, I wanted to go to a 'Way Side' on the Skyline Drive (VA). Way Sides are convenience stores which are famous with AT hikers for cheeseburgers and blackberry milkshakes. Way Sides are also generally 'off' of the Trail. I got to the Loft Mt. Way Side at about 5pm and devoured aforementioned items. The remaining problem was where to spend the night. Instead of returning to the AT (backtracking a mile) , I hoofed it about 2 miles up the mt. to Nat'l Park Campsite. The campsite could have been accessed by the AT but at about double the distance.
This morning, instead of just heading southbound, I returned back to the point on the AT where I departed for the Way Side. It was about a 4 mile add-on and it took about 1 3/4 hrs. But, I saw my first rattlesnake on the 'make-up leg.' Full on rattle, he caused quite the traffic jam.
There is something fun about pushing it a little bit and just dealing with what comes at the end of the day. As one young hiker put it, "you'll always deal with whatever comes up, so why worry about it?"
My new math is this: 600 miles is about 27% of the AT. 48 days out is about 27% of the time allotted. As such, it is time to think of Take It Easy as a success and turn all attention to The Heart of The Matter. Can't wait. 26 more miles in Virginia and then it's on to Maine.
Following those white blazes. No shortcuts.
"Oh Virginia, whence I came, I'll see you when I'm younger....." (R.Cash)
All for now.
Oh and this: 9 bears, 2 ankle braces, 1 rattler.
7.9.16 Day 60
Left VA early morning 6.30.16. Flew out of Roanoke and spent several, restorative days at home in NJ. All three kids were home so it was kind of a stolen weekend. I was thrilled to fit into clothes I hadn't worn in years, binged watched Game of Thrones, ate my all time favorite pomegranate molasses chicken, thanks to Laurie and relieved REI of slightly more than half their inventory. Park and I got our gear organized and took off for Munson, Maine, 3 July, full of optimism and good spirits. We began our trek July 4 up a side trail to Katahdin called "Owl", 8 miles straight up. then on July 5, hit Roaring Brook, then Helon Taylor to Knife's Edge and headed back down Hunt Trail. Little known fact, if you are a southbounder, you actually have to climb up to the top of Mt. Katahdin in order to be ATC compliant, as the peak is the official end of the AT. Made it down to Abel Bridge and succumbed to cheeseburgers and beer. On 7.7, we entered the 100 mile wilderness. right away, we dealt with a huge deluge; these were not the warm, gentle rains of va. we were late getting out our rain gear, my bad, and definitely not my nols training, so were drenched and cold by the time we made camp that eve. but we persevered, put up our tents and a tarp, cooked some mad potato bombs, and slept for 12 hours. On 7.8, we continued on, drier and wiser. Oh and park experienced his first taste of trail magic, literally, with a pint of strawberries given to us by two passing truckers. Won't be communicating a lot in the next 6 days as very little cell service. but thanks to all of you who are my loyal readers and supporters.
7.15.16 day 66
Well, With Park's assistance, i just passed 700 miles. We did Katahdin the "hard way" so that GPC could get on the Knife Edge. We actually bagged some "bonus" miles on Katahdin which do not count as AT miles, but we felt 'em all the same.We are now turning our attention to the next 100.
There are some amazing people out here doing extraordinary things. It is hard not being intimidated by folks (men and women) who churn out 20 to 25 mile days when I can barely eke out 16 or so. The truth is that neither Park nor I can rush down the steep descents. Too many basketball induced sprained ankles between us! We're good on the ups (though that is tough,too) and flat out good on the moderate grades, especially if the terrain is cooperative. Unfortunately, that's a small % of the AT. The other thing is water. The big mileage folks go light on water (like a liter for every 8-10 miles). We're way way over that and watery is heavy.
We are going to be a little more realistic in our planning as we gauge our actual daily capabilities better. I and slowly learning what is meant by "hike your own hike".
It has been a blast to have Park as company and I hope he is having some fun. We are a good team and he has helped so much, most particularly in his willingness to go get water. Which is Huge.
The order of the day is to lighten the packs and carry the optimal amount of food. We won't be out for 8 straight nights again (hopefully) so that should help.
The mood is good on we're on to the NH line!
7.23.16 Day 74
Park has proven a skilled cook and water finder. He is the master of the dinner entree: mashed potatoes bombed with chili mac and cheese, washed down with ibuprofen and parkay. What would I do without him?We are a little beat up but eager to keep on trucking. Got our ankles and feet looked at by a doctor in Monson. Now taped & braced, we are moving on. Claudia King, my brave & adventurous stepsister, joined us for part of a day on the Kennebec River. After driving several hours from Falmouth, ME, she picked us up friday at a trailhead by the road and drove us to Flagstaff Lake where we had lunch. She decided to camp overnight by the lake so we helped her set up her tent. We are pressing on to Stratton which is about 10 miles away. Think this will be our toughest day yet. We got a good look at Sugarloaf today. Funny seeing it from such a different perspective.
Well, July 30th marked the end of the hiking time together for Park and me. After consideration of the facts on the ground (we are pretty dinged up, the logistics of getting to the NH line and out in a timely fashion are iffy -- not good when we need to be home for Eliza's wedding! -- and we wanted to leave a little bit of Maine for Shafe) we decided to hit Andover (Me) clean up and head home to the Rock.
Park and I travelled 246.1 miles from Katahdin on July 6th to Andover. Hardly a world besting pace, but it gave me all I wanted! If you listen to crappy sports radio (like we do), you will be familiar with the "Mt Rushmore" list. Essentially, to fill dead air, the radio personalities come up lists of the top four of any topic.
Here is my Mt Rushmore of bad moments in Maine:
> Having to tell Park on the summit of Barren that I misread the map and that our "easy" 10 mile walk out for the next day was actually 19 miles (I really can read and there is a little more to the story, but you get the gist). We were out of food, by the way;
> Hiking the first two days in the Wilderness in a monsoon. A new definition of wet and cold. Team morale was poor;
> The water on Old Bemis. We filtered it, bombed it with iodine and boiled it. We still wouldn't drink it; and
> The dinner time squall at Safford Notch which led to the existential question "how do you get into the tent without getting everything wet"?
And the Mt Rushmore of great moments in Maine:
> Parker's birthday celebrated on the Ssddlebacks and in Rangeley. Dinner at the Rangeley Tavern with Journey, Breezy, Book It, and Hook;
> The moose who dropped by at the pond just as we were finishing dinner;
> The ice packs on the feet and ankles while drinking beers and watching the British Open on a zero day in Greenvile; and
> The blue berries on Old Bemis. We were coming in late and had just completed a pretty good uphill pull. We were still about 1.3 miles from the shelter when Park spotted a huge blue berry patch. "What should we do"?
"Let's take off our packs and eat 'em all". And we did.
I cannot possibly thank Park enough. There are a lot of things he could've done with the month of July, but he chose to hike with me in Maine. Maine is tough and I couldn't have done it without him. Though I didn't include it in the Mt Rushmore list, I will have the enduring memory of father and son emptying all the contents of wet back packs on the summit of White Cap (total yard sale) eating lunch, taking in the view and knowing that for one day, everything would be dry!
When I return to Maine in about 10 days, I will be joined by my friend Steve Shaffer. Incredibly, Shafe will get to reprise the hike we did 25 years ago through the Mahoosuc Notch. This time, we'll continue on through the Whites. In the mean time, I am really looking forward to spending some time at home and seeing my daughter Eliza get married.
All for now.
8.14.16 Day 96
Well, I'm sitting in a hotel room in Gorham, NH eating Doritos and having a beer before shuttling the truck to Grafton Notch, which is 31.1 miles up the AT. Tomorrow morning (in a new twist), Shafe and I will hike north to Gentian Pond, Full Goose Shelter and then thru the Mahoosuc Notch and out at Grafton. That will finish Maine (finally) and then we can turn our attention to the Whites.
Since the last entry at the end of July, I spent about 10 wonderful days at home. The drive home was highlighted by Parker's karaoke performance ( "Take it Easy") at a Ramada Inn outside of Portland. I was tempted to try my hand at the "Summer of '69" but one really should know all the words to a song before taking the leap.
When Park and I got home, we saw that Laurie and crew had been working harder preparing for Eliza's wedding than we had been hiking. We tried to make ourselves useful but the days leading up to August 6th were a whirlwind. We had a family dinner at our favorite place -- 153 -- in Rocky Hill, NJ; I snuck in a
round of golf with buddies Mike O'Connor and Ron Riemann; had a surprise birthday for Laurie; the rehearsal dinner; and, of course, Eliza's wedding which was such a success, that it drew a visit from the constables for violation of noise ordinances. Go Eliza and Richard! But seriously, the wedding was the highlight of my summer; lots of dancing, laughing, and swimming. Eliza was the most serene, happy bride. Their friends were terrific and, I think it's safe to say, everyone had a blast.
On Monday August 8th, Shafe and I headed north and were hosted by my sister Claudia (of Kennebec River fame). We then set off for Andover, Maine to start up where Park and I had left off on July 30th. We hiked 2 days, about 10 miles each day. Each day had several "ups" of 1,000 to 1500 feet with the corresponding descents. After the second day, looking at dire weather forecasts, we decided it was advantageous to deploy out of Gorham. Which is why we are heading north to finish the last (southbound) section of Maine.
Leaving home this time was really difficult. "But ain't any use in complaining, when you've got a job to do" (B Adams) Shafe wants to particularly thank Parker for leaving him the Mahoosuc Notch.
On to New Hampshire.
25 August 2016 Day 107
Thoughts from my spot near the summit of Mt Madison today.
Here are some random thoughts about hiking in Southern Maine and New Hampshire. What was extremely challenging 25 years ago was just down right brutal. Shafe and I logged 82 miles together (from Andover,Me to Osgood Campsite, NH) and I would estimate that about 8 of those miles were easy. These 82 miles encompassed Baldpate, the Mahoosuc Notch, Old Speck, Goose Eye, Mt Carlo, Moriah, Hight, the Carters and the Wildcats. As he aptly put it, it wasn't a walk in the woods but rather a series of sharp ascents and descents marked by scrambling and rock climbing, for lack of a better description. Shafe gave up over 2 weeks of vacation, of which 12 were actual hiking days, to join me and it is accurate to say that I couldn't have made it to Pinkham Notch without him. I will always have the image of passing my pack up to Shafe to get through a small hole in the rocks in the Mahoosuc Notch. Shafe didn't really want a "trail name" but I think he has earned one. I like "Nails" as in Shafe had no toe nails left or, he is as tough as nails. Either one works.
Today, I continued up Mt Madison on the AT which includes the Presidential Range. For the first time since late June, I am on my own. That is as it should be. But, I was particularly apprehensive of Maine and with a lot of help from Parker and Shafe, I am now on to Hanover!
5 September 2016 Day 118
Continue to make my way through NH. Had some solo days after Shafe left, then met a fellow through hiker, Skip, who's been navigating the presidentials with me. Skip began his hike in mid July. He's good company; smart and funny. We've had some good talks and more than a few laughs. Am about 20 miles north of Hanover and really pushing to get there by the end of this week. Hanover is significant because it marks the last major trail head in NH. Then I tackle Vermont and the Green Mountains. But before that, am planning to take a few days off. Really looking forward to spending them with Laurie. We haven't seen much of each other since the wedding. She was busy at the rock 'undecorating' and then drove up to Boston to bring Eliza and Richard some of their wedding loot. Think she also helped unpack a box or two as they moved into their new house. In addition to the usual provisions, she is bringing my third pair of Oboz boots and golf clubs. Ah. that will be a treat. Until then, will keep my eyes on the white blazes and one foot in front of the other. I feel everyone's encouragement around me.
6 September 2016
Guest Blog Post by G. Parker Curtis: GPC Takes A Hike
Egged on by my father, I picked up a microphone on stage at Seasons Grille and Bar, just off 95 South on the outskirts of Portland, and prepared to wow the masses assembled for karaoke night with a stirring rendition of “Take It Easy” by The Eagles. A timely choice, perhaps, since our journey through Maine from Katahdin down to Andover was in fact quite challenging. Furthermore, we had some important milestones of a different nature to celebrate when we got back to New Jersey, including a significant birthday and a wedding, so we were certainly excited to get home.
As we were running down the road the next morning, loads decidedly loosened, I couldn’t help but laugh about how easily the miles stack up on the highway. Our 366-mile drive home to The Rock was over with some daylight left to spare, but having spent the last 4 weeks on the AT with my dad, covering about 247 miles, I had a deeper appreciation for the true distance of 5,280 feet. Like snowflakes, no two miles are alike. There’s the infamously interminable last mile before the campsite, which clearly is due to some miscalculation by whoever repainted that last sign. Or there are the “bonus” miles, which require one to divert from the trail for minor details such as drinking water or a place to sleep, and shockingly these never feel shorter than advertised either. Not to mention the miles that are strictly uphill or strictly downhill, and all the challenges and creative vocabulary words they inspire!
All this is to say that the trail is hard work. When I promised my Dad a month on the trail, I knew that it would be a physically challenging adventure. I didn’t know how much mental discipline it would take to keep putting one foot in front of the other every day, even when the terrain is tough, ankles have rolled and callouses have warped themselves into exciting and painful new configurations. I have the utmost respect for all who have hiked the entire trail, and for all who are currently striving to complete it.
Most of all I’m incredibly proud of my Dad. The Old Bull is relentless – his mental toughness and dogged determination are undeniable. We covered a lot of difficult terrain together, and were rewarded with some spectacular views. I’ll never forget crossing Katahdin’s Knife Edge and looking down at Chimney Pond, or the Ledges on Barren Mountain, at the end of the 100 Mile Wilderness, which provided us with a wind whipped and stunning vista of Maine’s lakes and forests. Whitecap mountain boasted a 360-degree panorama of the Wilderness’ beauty – its second most appealing feature, behind its industrial strength clothes drying service in the form of a pack-emptying yard sale under the midday sun.
After the wilderness we were graced with the presence of my Godmother, Claudia King, who not only did some hiking with us, but also picked us up at multiple trailheads, met us for a great lunch at Flagstaff Lake, and crossed the Kennebec river with us. The Bigelow mountains challenged us with fog and steep ups and downs, but also showed us a great view of Sugarloaf Mountain, whose backside we camped on a few nights later to weather a sudden afternoon storm. On my birthday we were lucky to get a beautiful day as we went over the Saddlebacks, with a clear look at Mooselookmeguntic Lake and the town of Rangeley.
I’m so grateful to have been able to join my Dad for this time on the trail, and will always fondly remember the memories we made on the trail, and on those precious zero days. The Lake Shore House in Monson, ME was a godsend after our first 10 days out. Moosehead Lake may as well have been Lake Tahoe when we spent our first zero day there, and Stratton, Maine – aka Stratt-vegas – not only boasted the White Wolf Inn and its notorious Wolfburger, but was also home to the prestigious Harbor Club. Come to think of it, a map of Maine will never look the same to me after this summer – there are distinct memories for each mountain, forest, lake, stream, highway crossing and campsite we came across. Every mile has its own story to tell. GPC
20 September 2016 Day 133
Hello from the Green Mts. of Vt. Got a text message from my good buddy, Mike O'Connor, reminding me that I hadn't posted anything recently. He was curious as to my progress and was concerned that I may have forgotten that Tom Brady was suspended.
On September 8th, I walked out of the woods of New Hampshire onto the ball fields of Dartmouth College around 2:30 pm. With no real plan, I walked into the Hanover Inn and was given a "hiker's rate", negotiated by my Presidential Range-to-Hanover comrade in arms, "Skip". Skip is a 73 year old Massachusetts native who started south from Katahdin in July. Through the Whites, we covered such topics as Social Security, veterans benefits, compulsory national service, and the benefits of loading up on water for late afternoon climbs versus stealth camping. I am on the record for greatly favoring the latter.
The time in Hanover was heavenly. Dartmouth was just starting classes so the joint was jumping. In addition to a couple of pints and some fine dining, I brought some hiking amigos to the Theta Delta Chi house for some late night beer pong with the lax bros. Quite a scene. I'll try to a post a picture, which is clearly worth a 1,000 words.
After some down time in Hanover, I got shuttled out to Woodstock, VT for a 2 night trip back to Hanover, to ensure I could watch the Bradyless Patriots play the Cardinals. The hike from Woodstock was relatively easy and beautiful. I ran into large blackberry patches, apple trees, and a black bear. The bear was the second one I saw north of Virginia, the other one being at the foot of Mt Moosilauke.
So, with New Hampshire in the books, and a down payment made on Vermont, it was time to look forward to a trip off of the trail with Laurie. Laurie and I had not seen each other since Eliza and Richard's wedding so we booked 3 nights at the Equinox Inn in Manchester, VT. Non-hiking activities included steam rooms, a massage , 2 rounds of golf on the perfectly manicured Equinox course, waffles with vt. applesmoked sausage, a couple of pops and a visit to Laurie's Aunt Reggie Parker who lives in Manchester. She very sweetly greeted us for an impromptu visit.
After all that indulgence, on the morning of the 16th, Laurie dropped me off at the trail head for Bromley and I started back north to Woodstock. I am 3 days into that adventure and in a stroke of great good fortune ran into the Inn at Long Trail. After a sleepless night on top of Kiliington (Cooper Lodge Shelter leaks like a sieve), a couple of Long Trail Ales and Guiness stew hit the spot.
So, about 20 miles to Woodstock, i will find a ride back to Manchester and then it's on to Massachusetts (home of the 2-0 Patriots and the first place Boston Red Sox).
29 September 2016 Day 142
Earlier this week I made it to the great state of Massachusetts! What a good feeling. I expect I'll be trucking through the state for the rest of this week and weekend before stepping into CT. Getting closer and closer to my original starting off point on the CT/NY border and looking forward to putting this northern section in the rear view mirror. It's been quite a haul. But I've had phenomenal support: in the form of my son, Parker and my buddy, Shaff, not to mention numerous family members who met up with me, brought me food or ferried me from point to point from july-sept. The weather is starting to turn chilly so I switched to my warmer sleeping bag when laurie brought a bunch of new gear to vt. Shelters tend to be of the drafty sort with numerous little cracks in the ceiling where rain drips down, so my tent continues to be my go-to choice. Forging on. Go Sox.
21 October 2016 Day 153
On the afternoon of Friday, Oct. 7, 147 days into this adventure, I walked out of Connecticut and into New York State. The beard's a little whiter and longer and the clothes a little baggier. I was greeted at Hoyt Road by Laurie, Tim & Ceci (King) at the precise spot where i had kicked off the hike on May 13th. I had been accompanied on the trail for a few days in Ct. by fellow southbounders "Flicker" and "Ginger Tiger" who were pushing on that afternoon past Hoyt into NY. As I was able to text Laurie earlier in the day, she arrived with plenty of beer and Mountain Dew for them, the latter of which enjoys cult status with through hikers. The appeal of beer needs no further explanation.
We spent Friday evening with Tim & Ceci at their cozy house in Amenia, NY and were joined by our great friend, Margize Howell. I was dispatched to bathe and grab a set of clean clothes from Tim after which we all successfully navigated mountains of steak, a delish cake brought by Gize and some really good red wine. On Saturday, Laurie drove me home to Pennington with a view of chilling out for a few days and figuring out the next steps.
Here is a short summary. As of October 7th, I have finished hiking in ten states: Maine, N.H., VT., Mass, CT. NY, NJ, PA, MD and WV. I have completed about 30% of VA and have not yet set foot in North Carolina, Tennessee or Georgia. That's a total of 1, 333.4 miles. Facing the reality that the Old Bull is actually a Slow Old Bull (SOB?), I acknowledged that this hike of the AT will not be completed in 2016. However a hike of the AT is considered a "through hike" if it is completed within a 365 day period. As I started on May 13, 2016, I actually have until May 13, 2017.
In all candor, a part of me just wanted to hike through November 2nd (the original target completion date), see what number of miles I had compiled and call it a day. However, after much thought and discussing all the ins and outs with Laurie, I came to the conclusion that, for a lot of reasons, I want to complete a through hike.
So here's the plan. Back to Virginia today ( just south of Shenandoah Nat'l Park) to start hiking south on Oct. 22. I'm looking to log another 130 miles which will put me in Roanoke , VA and at 1, 461 miles by Nov. 2. Then, I will tackle the remaining 728 miles in March and April 2017.
That decision having been made, I started the process of enjoying almost two weeks at home featuring L's beef bourguignon, roast chicken with currents and dates (to name a few of my favorites), a few rounds of golf with friends, dinners out, debate watching, donkey herding and generally thinking about anything else besides hiking. It took me about ten days at home to put back on 10 of the lbs that I had misplaced since May.
I get asked frequently what I have learned from this experience or if I have "changed" in any perceptible fashion. The best answer I have come up with is that I am much more comfortable dealing with uncertainty than I was when I started.
It is great being home and I am truly looking forward to that day when this quest has been completed. Leaving home this time will be the toughest departure yet. But in a funny way, I am looking forward to the drive to Virginia and a return to hiking in the Old Dominion and..... not worrying where I"ll be spending the night on the 22 of October.
27 November 2016
Well, I am comfortably ensconced at home enjoying a respite from my leave of absence ("LOA") on the AT, which sounds funny to say. As it has been a while since I last jotted down any thoughts, I thought it might be a good time to reflect.
As I believe I had mentioned, by mid-September it had become clear to me that I would not be able to get the full 2,189 miles under the belt by the target date of 11/02/16. But, a "through hike" (a hike completed within one year of inception) was still very much in play. (Just a quick thought -- there are so many incredible folks I have met this past year who have finished the Trail -in that 6 month time period- and I tip my hat to them.)
With that in mind, I finished up the leg in Virginia and hiked from Oct. 22-Oct. 30. I walked from Rockfish Gap (near Waynesboro) 130 miles down to Daleville. There were some views along the Blue Ridge Mts that were beyond stunning. The weather was spectacular, the scenery was unbelievably beautiful; highlighted by climbing the Priest, crossing the James River (see photo on left) and seeing a bear at the punch bowl. The days were sunny, cool and crisp and nights got down into the 30's. The hiking had to finish up by 5 as the days were getting shorter. In fact, those ten days of hiking were perhaps the most enjoyable I've had on the entire trail so far.
Like many of the black bears I've seen, I have ambled home for the winter. I'll return to Daleville on March 1, 2017 with the intention of finishing the entire trail by May 1st.
I have now been home for about a month, found about 15 pounds I had misplaced, played some golf, attended to various family affairs and assimilated into life at 200 Pennington Rocky-Hill Road (aka the "Rock"). Laurie and I spent Thanksgiving in Boston with our daughter, Eliza and Richard in their new house. They gave us a relaxing, happy time and for the first time in a zillion years, I didn't have to sweat over the turkey. Richard and his brother AJ rocked it. We were even able to walk around Mt. Auburn and place some flowers on mom's headstone and check in on that front.
In an interesting development, I am starting back up at MPI on 12/01/2016 and we'll see if I can still "chew the leather". It will be different going to an office, but I am looking forward to it. The folks at MPI have been amazing and I truly appreciate all of the support I have received.
I am rested up and my gear is pulled together in my study. It's time to start the exercise regimen for both body (the gym) and brain (the office). I am looking forward to planning the final leg, but I am also looking forward to the time at home 'til March.
I have had so much to be grateful for this year and I wish all the best for everyone who is reading this. Until March '17. Best,Hal
3 January 2017
It’s a cold and rainy 2nd day of January, 2017 and I thought it to be an appropriate moment to check in. Having left the Trail in Daleville, Va. on October 31, 2016 with the plan to return on March 01, 2017, I am actually already more than half way through my “vacation” from my hike. It took several weeks to adjust to being home, but it was great adjusting! As part of that process, I have found about 25 of the pounds I had misplaced, and my feet don’t hurt. Christmas was celebrated with the whole Curtis clan (Parker, Suzanna, Eliza & Richard), brother John Margolis and brother-in-law David Ober. In the meantime, I returned to work, which has actually been a great deal of fun. In short, a lot for which to be grateful.
I started this adventure to honor the memory of my mother. I have been humbled by the support that has been given to the cause (the Lillian P. Margolis Charitable Fund). In all candor, I did not think this hike would span two calendar years, but that is what it is going to take. I am looking forward to March. I know a hell of a lot more now than when I kicked this thing off.
I am incredibly grateful to everyone who has taken an interest in this. What started out as a tribute to a wonderful lady has turned in to one of the profound experiences of my life. In eight short weeks, I’ll be on the road to Damascus (Va.) with thoughts of Georgia on my mind.
Wishing everyone the happiest of New Years. Hal
5 March 2017 Day 166
I took off from nj early the morning of tuesday, feb.28, my truck heaped full with extra supplies of freeze dried shepherd's pie, kind bars, instant coffee, etc. and headed back to daleville, va to finish the last 728 miles of my hike. The reason for taking my truck is so that I can store provisions and not waste time looking for stores to restock. I'm usually able to find someone connected to the AT to shuttle it to my next destination. Had one of those moments in a Denny's somewhere along the highway when asked if I was looking for the senior's discount. Hell yes. I proudly took it, then tipped the waitress the difference. I stayed the first night in the Woods Hostel, a self sustaining organic farm and kind supporter of AT hikers. see photo on left of house with red tin roof. I was fed delicious food and housed and given a lift to the trail head the next morning, Day 162. I decided to ease myself into this next phase by hiking with a day pack for the first two days, returning to the hostel at night. The first day I did 15 1/2 miles. The second day I hiked 15 miles; it was a much rougher terrain and most of it in snow. That was a novelty - haven't encountered snow at all on the trail until now. By the third day, I graduated to my 45 lb pack and did 13 1/2 miles. I'm sore but glad to be back out. The fourth day, I walked 15 + miles and reached the foot of McAfee's knob. See photo on left. This is the most iconic spot on the AT. And it is every bit as breathtaking in real time. I stood out on the ledge at 8:40 this morning and a fellow hiker happened by and took the pic. Though temperatures dipped below freezing overnight, I had an extra 'winter' layer for my sleeping bag. I put my water bottle in my sleeping bag to keep it from freezing but that arrangement definitely needs to be rethought. I made some killer bombed mashed potatoes with chili macaroni. glad to know my cooking skills are still sharp. There was a father/son duo camped out near me last night and they built a roaring fire this morning and shared their boiling water. Simple pleasures continue to astound and impress.
11 March 2017 Day 171
Bland, VA. I've had a solid week under my belt. Feel good, hiked 135 miles; been averaging between 15, 17, 18 miles per day. 602 more miles to go. Enjoyed some mild weather early last week followed by a quick drop in temps. One day as I was walking along, the temperature dropped 20 degrees within a matter of hours. Then a pounding of wind and rain. Once it let up, I stopped smack in the middle of the trail, pitched a tarp (for a little privacy) and changed into some warmer layers. Then I moved off the trail a bit and found a small bridge over a stream. I took out my stove and made myself a hot shepherd's pie. While I had my hot lunch, I aired out my wet stuff, then packed it all back in my pack and carried on. Logistics get a little tough when the weather is at/below freezing. I may have to adjust my sleeping arrangements for a few nights and try to locate more hostels/hotels within walking distance of the trail. I had one awesome night in some guy's converted garage. He tricked it all out for AT thru hikers with beds, lazy boy recliners, mattresses, tv's, radios, microwave, etc. There were random dogs, cats wandering around. He also had a van which he loaned out so that a hiker could drive it into town for supplies. Pretty good set up. See pics on left. I also kept warm by staying at the Woods Hostel again. Though I had already passed by them in miles, they were able to come pick me up further south and bring me back to the trail the next day. This time I attempted to earn my keep by helping put plastic greenhouse sheets over the hoops in their organic garden. It seems the lettuce plants and I share a common concern: that of keeping warm at night. Last Monday, I came across the monument to Audie Murphy, the most decorated combat soldier in US Army history who died in a plane crash in 1971 in Catawba, VA. Tomorrow, someone will shuttle my truck down to Damascus, GA which will be my next big town. As Hoagy Carmichael & Stuart Gorrel wrote and Ray Charles sang: "Georgia, Georgia, A song of you comes as sweet and clear as moonlight through the pines. Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind."
23 March 2017 day 182
After a very snowy start these past couple of weeks, I am finally seeing some bare ground. Things got a little complicated looking for the white blaze when the trees were covered in snow. hah. Virginia was a vast long stretch of a state but I am finally out and on the other side. I crossed into Tennessee this morning and with the advent of spring, I'm sensing a change in the air, as well as a spring to my step. Here's a little recap of the past few weeks in Va. I've slept with/near/in proximity to pigs, donkeys, and wild ponies. See pics to the left. I've gardened with gracious hostel hosts, chopped wood for a hot meal, and arranged to have my truck shuttled from point to point so that I can independently re-provision from my supplies packed in the back. I hiked along the ridge north of Atkins, Va with panoramic views of the Appalachians. The beauty of this great nation continues to astound me. I'm posting a picture of the last snow I saw and hopefully will see. The only tracks that day (human) were mine. I'm glad to be out of the deep freeze and will keep you posted on the trail in Tennessee.
2 April 2017 day 191
Ok, it's time to come clean for the followers of this site. You may have noticed stylistic differences from time - to - time in the various submissions. That is because the entries that are well written and humorous are actually produced by Laurie from snippets of information I provide. Occasionally, I will give her material which she posts directly. I'll let you figure it out from here on in.
Today is a "zero" day taken after 8 consecutive hiking days from Damascus. Va. ( It's funny, but I once thought getting to Damascus was a big deal. Damascus was the key to Tennessee and N. Carolina as Duncannon was the key to Pennsylvania and so on). So, what does one do on a zero day? First, I studied the next 102 miles and the plan of attack from the warm bed in a cabin at Uncle Johnny's Hostel. Then, I drove several miles to a Huddle restaurant (think Waffle House). I had a huge breakfast, read the Johnson City newspaper and over several cups of coffee handled email, checked the news and Bostondirtdogs.com. Then it was off to Walmart to purchase supplies not already in inventory in the back of the truck. Then to Subway to purchase a "foot long" which I would enjoy with Doritos and a couple of beers back at Uncle Johnny's.
First, my 10x10 cabin came equipped with a tv that carried Netflix (only). So, I put on a western (El Dorado) and sewed (yes you read that correctly) a rip in one of my stuff sacks and a hole in my glove. After that exertion, I proceeded to put my pack back together. The night before last, I got fairly well crushed by major rainstorm and everything had to be dried out and/ or washed. Then, I attended to the business of packing up 4 days of food for the leg from Erwin to Hot Springs, which starts at 6:30 am.
In the eternal quest for a satisfactory breakfast. I'm going to give Little Debbie's Honey Buns a shot.
So basically, a zero day is spent regrouping and consuming calories while trying not to obsess about the foregone hiking miles. A good zero day can have positive effects for the next week.
Days on the Trail tend to be hard to distinguish because it really is an exercise in sustained repetition. But, some days do stick out. On my first night of Mt Roan, TN, I had a short day because I had shuttled the truck to Erwin. After a late departure on a chilly and windy day on the Roan highlands, I made it in to the shelter, which was a converted barn.
The shelter quickly filled up with about a dozen Nobos and there was a fair amount of socializing as many of these guys have been traveling northward since Georgia. It happened that one hiker was from a town near our shelter and he was able to arrange for a delivery (way more involved than it sounds) of a case of PBR from a friend. Well, a case of PBR between 7 or 8 hikers is pretty tame stuff. However, a bottle (or two) of stronger stuff apparently made the trip in but was concentrated in a much smaller sub group. Thankfully I am older and wiser. Net, net here is my advice on the subject to all prospective hikers (Nobo or Sobo). Don't be the guy/gal who gets over served and vomits in a shelter. It engenders disgust and will lead, no doubt, to unflattering trail names. Anyhow, I booked out early in the am with the sincere hope that the beer cans were carted out as per the oral contract.
During the last day in March, I went over the half way mark for this last leg of the hike. With 342 miles to go it still seems daunting. But, this next week will fly by. I am meeting Doug & Martina Thompson in Davenport, NC on 4/08 to go through the Smokies. And, on or about April 15th, I have literally called in the Marines. Hopefully, Captain Alex Carney will join me and kick my ass if need be toward the finish line.
So, from the Trail, Old Bull's mood is good. I feel pretty strong despite dropping a lot of weight. My beard sucks (not impressive) but I'm going to roll with it anyway. While I do not yet really have "Georgia on My Mind", I am able to see that the way home is pretty clearly mapped out. I'll check in again from Standing Bear.
10 April 2017 day 197
Despite some weather issues, I made the 102 miles from Uncle Johnny's in Erwin to Standing Bear, on the doorway to the Smokies by April 8th in time to meet up with Doug and Martina Thompson. It was a good haul and I was pleased to get it done.
Couple of memorable moments. First, April 4th was a warm day with a late pm climb over Mt Bald. After a morning of sharp ups and downs, I was greeted with a sign that said "Trail Magic Ahead -- Eggs, potatoes oranges and cold drinks". Well, I doubled timed it and sure enough, Quiet Paul was serving "brunch". He asked if I wanted eggs and I asked him if that was a trick question. He then informed me that if I indeed wanted (a mound of scrambled) eggs, I would have to work. He handed me work gloves and dispatched me to an adjacent cemetery to rake a basket full of leaves and throw them in the woods. When I returned, I was greeted with a plate full of scrambled eggs and hash brown potatoes. I ate an orange, washed down the eggs and hash browns with an iced cold coke and topped it all off with an also iced cold PBR. As good as it gets.
April 6th was another story. Getting a late am start out of Hot Springs, I knew some weather was coming in, but if I pushed, I could get to a shelter 13.5 miles in, leaving a short 2 day hop into Standing Bear ( or, a long one-dayer). Well, I hiked through a snow squall that was irritating but not so bad. I made the shelter which was occupied by a nice young couple with two beautiful Siberian Huskies. Later, a third hiker came in. By that time the storm was intensifying. We all ate and went to bed around 7:00pm and hunkered down. The wind was gusting over 60 mph and the shelter provided little protection. (see photo to your left) In fact, we might as well have all just slept outside. There was as much snow, freezing rain and ice inside the shelter as there was outside. I remember vividly the sensation of my sleeping bag beginning to feel first damp then cold, then more wet and more cold. I put a light on my watch hoping that it was close to sunrise. To my shock, it was 10:00pm. I knew we were in for a long and really dangerously uncomfortable night. I was correct. Faced with some unpleasant scenarios ( 20 mile hike to Standing Bear with everything iced over and no sleep, or trying to spend another night out with same circumstances), all four of us (plus Odin & Luna, the Huskies) opted for an evacuation.
Fortunately, we were only 1.3 miles from an accessible road head (Lemon Gap). Odin sat in my lap for the 33 mile car ride out. I retreated to a Best Western and spent the afternoon drying my sleeping bag with a hair dryer, while watching the Masters.
The next day, I returned to Lemon Gap and finished off the 19 miles to Standing Bear.
My first observations about Doug and Martina is that they hike way faster than I do. We had a really fun day marked by very festive cocktails and dinner. It is so nice to have company! We're going to have fun and we are plotting an off Trail adventure to Gatlinburg.
Oh one small intro I need to make to all of you. I mentioned him in my April 2 entry. Meet Uncle Johnny of "Uncle Johnny's" hostel/cabins/store on the Nolichucky River: the man, the myth, the legend.
14 April 2017 day 201
Today around 3:30 pm, Doug, Martina & I walked out of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park on to Fontana Dam. The Smokies are impressive and we had the great good fortune of six days of good weather. The hiking was challenging marked by lots of elevation change. Today, in a run for the finish line of the Smokies, we did 17 miles and finished up at 3:30 pm. Doug and Martina head home tomorrow and they'll leave with my great respect as hikers and my gratitude for pushing me along on this segment.
One highlight was our Tuesday side trip in to Gatlinburg, TN. We had hiked hard all day and got to a very busy public parking lot at Newfound Gap. Cell service was poor and the options for an easy ride into G'burg seemed poor. Did I mention that there was no backup plan? We intended to get to town, get cleaned up and have dinner with a return to the Trail in the am. We sent Martina to search for a ride with the plan that after she secured it, she would mention her friends. The Vegas line was 7:1 that Martina would get us a ride before Doug, but in fact Doug stuck out his thumb and got us all a ride to town in the back of a pick up truck.
The 15 mile trip to town gave us a real perspective on just how spectacular the Smokies are.
We had a great steak dinner then a walk around town highlighted by a trip to the Moonshine tasting bar. A great idea before another day of strenuous walking.
As an aside, the town of Gatlinburg seems to have almost been burned down in the awful fires of late 2016. On our drive back to the Trail on Wednesday morning, we were amazed at how many structures so close to the center of town were actually destroyed.
Next up, secure a room at the Fontana Lodge saturday-sunday, welcome my Marine, Capt. Alex Carney, and ascend to the next ridge. 165 miles to go til Springer Mt.
21 April 2017 day 207
Well, Alex and Hal (the self styled Sobo Expeditionary Force ("SEF")) have decided that in the face of foul weather forecasts and impending travel deadlines, that we will lighten our pack loads to the barest of necessities and make a twenty mile run from Deep Gap to Rock Gap tomorrow. For tactical reasons, the SEF will be going Nobo on this jaunt, but we won't admit that to many people.
Hiking with Alex has been a blast, but I am generally in his wake. We have lit campfires In the pouring rain and set up impressive campsites with tarps and tents. We deal with continual questions as to whether we are through hikers or section hikers. We are generally dry, warm and well fed but a little let up from the rain would be ok. Alex came to the SEF with the express goal of getting me to the Georgia line. If all goes according to plan, tomorrow will be my last full day in North Carolina and I will go over 2,100 miles. I can't thank Alex enough for giving of his time so generously. It is absolutely true that I would be far short of these milestones without his companionship.
A fun development was running into "Skip" who was my hiking compatriot in the Whites last summer. He flipped flopped to Springer on April 9th and is completing his through hike as a Nobo. We caught up over beers at the Lazy Hiker brewery in Franklin, NC.
The next week should be fun high-lighted by Laurie's arrival on 4/25. I'll check in again from around Springer.
One final thought-- my Mom's older sister, the redoubtable Aunt Pansy turns 90 on 4/23/17. I regret that I can't move faster to be able to attend, but I send her my great love on the eve of this special day!
All for now. OB
22 April 2017 Day 208
Just got back from shuttling Ax up to my truck at Fontana Dam. We had lunch with "Zen" who is the proprietor of a hostel in Franklin, NC (Gooder Grove). He competes for the hiker biz with Haven's Budget Inn (think Bates Motel) where we stayed. See pic. Lots of intrigue in the business competition between the two enterprises including some decidedly unfriendly business tactics. All of which Ax and I took in with great amusement. Bates Motel caters to the hardcore hiker and provides plastic sheets on its beds. which does beg the question, "why"? But when you see 12 hikers in their twenties, sitting outside a motel room passing along a bottle of Jack Daniels (among a mound of beer cans) you realize it ain't the Bates' first rodeo. The plastic sheets actually made a rattling sound when one turned over.
Zen is looking for the more mature hiker who is probably a little more tuned in aesthetically. We tried our hand at a little constructive input, but in point of fact, Ax and I threw in our lot with Bates Motel because we were too lazy to move and we loved the interaction with the surly hotel keeper. The ruder he got, the more polite we would be.
So, for the first time in 2 weeks, I am back flying solo. That situation changes when Laurie comes to Georgia on 4/25. Hopefully she will find me and we will discuss the logistics for the last few days of the hike. I am 84 miles out from Springer and start the final push of Deep Gap tomorrow around 7:30 am. It will be strange pushing off alone and without faster hikers like Doug & Martina, and Alex. But I will be pushing out with a much lighter pack. (Alex gleefully told me what stuff had to go) and a sense that finally, Georgia is on My Mind. According to plan, I should hit the Georgia line around 10:30 am.
Forecast is for (what else) rain. Here we go.
27 April 2017 day 212 Last Day on the Trail.
I think I left off where Ax and I got to within 7 miles of the GA/NC line. After our mad dash from Deep Gap to Rock Gap on the 21st, we got shuttled up to Fontana Dam on the 22nd where Ax picked up my truck and drove it to the Atlanta airport where it would be there for Laurie when she flew in on 4.25. What could go wrong?
On the 23rd, a truly miserable day from a weather perspective (cold heavy rain), I headed out from Deep Gap toward Dick's Creek Gap, about16 miles down the track. At about 11 am, I walked into Georgia, which elicited a loud "WHOOP". Funny, the trail in Ga. didn't seem much different than NC (or Tennessee, for that matter). A note about rain wear. When hiking in the rain, you're not looking for dry; you're looking for warm(ish). If you keep walking briskly, it's amazing how much heat you can generate. It's when you stop that you have to address the wet layers. Anyway, by about 4pm, I walked in to the Top of Georgia Hostel which was a welcome refuge for the night,but for the fact it was an alcohol free hostel.
At this point, I was about 70 miles out of Springer and I figured out that, with some planning, and one big push day, I was not only within days of finishing, I would be able to avoid camping out for the duration. The benefits of not having to shove a wet tent and drenched clothes into dirty pack cannot be overstated. So, here's what I did.
1) 4/24 got shuttled down the track about 17 miles to Unicoi Gap and hike back to the hostel.
2) 4/25, hiked 21.2 miles from Unicoi Gap to Neel Gap. Laurie will have flown into Atlanta, found the truck, secured a cabin/lodging for us near Springer and find me at Neel Gap. Amazingly, all of that actually occurred. Laurie got to Neel Gap at 6:45 pm, 15 minutes before I did. I don't know how she found me. And I definitely don't know how she mustered up the courage to drive my big truck up to 3,109 feet with her well known fear of heights, large trucks and perilous turns. Neel Gap is pretty famous as the place where a significant portion of Nobo hikers out of Springer give up on the hike. A large tree is festooned with discarded hiking boots.
3) 4.26. Hiked from Neel Gap to Gooch Gap. L drove my truck to Gooch Gap around 2pm, parked it and she hiked Nobo (northbound), as well as solo, to meet me coming in. That went off without a hitch. She reported no bears, no wacko deliverance types. She enjoyed the wildflowers and seemed to enjoy the 5 miles up and back. We went back to the "cabin" L secured near Amicalola Falls and L cooked a great dinner after foraging at the Walmart in Dahlonega (pronounced Doh-Lun -aygah to all you yankees) I think she might have had more fun at the Walmart there than any other town along the trail. I downed several beers, L may or may not have consumed a glass or so of sauv blanc. Again, not sure where she procured that. Though apparently Walmart sells beer & wine down south.
4) 4.27 Go day. 17.1 miles remained. Light pack, early start and a steady rain. L dropped me off at Gooch Gap where I began the final descent. She found me after driving my truck 6.5 miles up usfs 42 (a forest service dirt road) Because of heavy clouds and light rain, it was difficult for L to find the exact spot where we were to meet. A trail angel, who was actually a hostel owner dropping off a new hiker, led L to the actual Springer parking lot. We rendezvoused at 3:15pm below the summit of Springer and walked up together. Again, went off without a hitch. At 3:50, I touched the plaque and had a quiet moment. Got a little welled up, but was definitely ready to start the trip home.
Wall of Gratitude:
Many many folks have contributed financially to the Lillian Prince Margolis Charitable Care Fund to support patients at Merrimack Hospice, in Lawrence, Ma. Your generosity was extraordinary and is very sincerely appreciated. It will be acknowledged personally (if it hasn't already) in the coming weeks. In addition, many many folks helped me or significantly contributed to my physical and/or emotional well being on this journey. I have tried to mention them in the order that they appeared along the way. They are owed a huge debt of thanks.
Firstly, my wife of 36 years, Laurie Curtis, who hiked with me on the first day, the penultimate day and the final mile to the top of Springer. Not to mention that, along with frequent food/supply drops, visits to remote trail heads up and down the AT and moral support, she kept the home fires burning and tended to everything in my absence; Suzanna Curtis, my oldest daughter, for her witty banter & clever texts which kept me chuckling along the way; Eliza Curtis, my youngest daughter, who believed in me all along the way, especially in early August, when everyone in the wedding party hoped that I would make it back from Maine in time to walk her down the aisle; Richard Worsman, her better half, who joined our wacky family in the middle of all of this, and who helped cut limbs and assist in the raising of the wedding tent in my absence, among other helpful things; Tim & Ceci King,who hosted us the night before the start at the NY/CT border and picked us up with much welcomed hot soup and blankets after the first day's cold, rainy hike. Tim and Ceci also put us up when I returned to the NY/CT border in October and wined and dined us. I believe I also stole a pair of trousers from Tim; Dr. Alexander (Sandy) Carney, our friend and best doctor in the world, who came to Vernon, NJ after my first 100 miles to see if I was OK. We lunched at a biker's bar and had a quick field trip to a local CVS for bandaids; Mike Houston, from Brockton, Ma, an accomplished hiker, with whom I travelled for two days from Harriman State Park to NY 17; Bruce Turner (B.T.), who met me near the infamously challenging Lehigh Gap (ugh!) and took me fishing for the day. We also had several beers; Bob & Andrea Quincy, of Ridge Marketing, who met me at the Delaware Water Gap and took me to lunch at Hot Dog Johnny's. John Ober & Jack Forestell, who picked me up from the trail head near the Mason Dixon Line and brought me to their house in Lake Meade, PA. They cooked me dinner and literally told me to "jump in the lake" which I did. It was easier than showering; Peggy & Chipper Hoff who picked me up off the trail in Maryland and brought me to their house in Frederick where, in addition to a delicious dinner, we had beer, bourbon and watched the Red Sox hammer the Orioles; Maureen (Deenie) & Will Renner, who met me at the border of WV/N.VA for a steamy hot day of hiking which included the renowned "Roller Coaster". Maureen & Will are strong hikers who kicked my ass ("kma"); Parker Curtis, my son, joined me for a big portion of the trip from Mt. Katahdin down to Andover, ME or about 257 miles. This was a particularly challenging section including the 100 mile wilderness and the longest continuous stay away (10 nights) from civilization. We had a blast and know more about the sleeping habits of each other than any other father and son should know; Claudia King, my sister, who found us on a remote dirt road in the middle of nowhere Maine, crossed the Kennebec River twice and hiked with Park and me for two days. Steve "Nails" Shaffer, who drew the short straw and got to hike with me from Andover, Me. through the Mahoosuc Notch over the Wild Cats and into Mt. Washington. I truly would still be up there if not for Shaff. He is one tough outdoorsman; Steve "Skip" Estee who hiked with me for about 10 days in the Whites through to Hanover. Skip rocks the pink crocs and is now completing his through hike as a NOBO. I had the pleasure of running into him a few days ago in Franklin, TN; Neo Welbourn, Laurie's beloved aunt, who died on 9.11.16 while I was walking on the trail in Mass. She had total faith that I would finish the hike and urged anyone who walked into her room to read A Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson. When her eyesight became too poor for her to read this blog, her daughter, Nancy Edds would call her on the phone and read each entry aloud to her. Margize Howell, who came for dinner with Tim & Ceci King when I reached the NY/CT border in early October. Margize also was there in Dahlonega where Laurie had arranged a surprise party to celebrate the finish; both times, toting champagne; My brother, Dan Curtis, who provided emotional support from afar, as well as much help in organizing a memorial service for our father, Harry L. Jr. in early November; My brother, John Margolis, who tirelessly kept up the communication thread between Merrimack and our family, along with writing dozens of thank you letters on my behalf; Doug & Martina Thompson, friends of mine from NJ who are avid outdoor enthusiasts. They joined me for the trip through the Smokies. They are very strong hikers who kma. I"m sure we will all fondly remember the hitchhike into Gatlinburg and the moonshine tasting bar - right Martina?; Captain Alex S. Carney ("Ax") USMC, son of the afore mentioned Dr. Carney, who flew in on a Sunday night from the west coast, and the following morning, led our assault on the Georgia line. Ax also kma but was a pleasure to be with. Our 20 mile run from Deep Gap to Rock Gap set up my final push; Trish & Rick Samonski, our dear friends who love our dog, Henry. Their kindness allowed Laurie to leave home and come find me over the course of my 7 month sojourn, particularly the last week. (not to mention presenting me with a framed photo of my first moment at the top of Springer); My brother-in-law, David G. Ober, an accomplished mountaineer, who came to Dahlonega from Fla, to celebrate the end of my hike; our friends, Jimmy & Ibby Mills, of Atlanta, who drove up with David and Margize, to celebrate with Parker, Laurie and me. Margize renamed the town, Hal-lonega. What a bash. Thanks to each and every one of you. Thanks also to all the unnamed trail angels out there who gave of themselves with no hesitation including rides to town, jugs of water placed strategically in dry areas, free beers, hitchhikes, starbursts, blueberries and countless other acts of kindness.
Well, it's finished. What started out as an homage to my mother became something else. It's hard to put into words, but "Everything is Different Now." I don't feel old or washed up and I am eager to get after it. In a way, I feel mom's hand in all of this. I can almost hear her chuckle and say, "Well, dear, what next?"
Hal (" Old Bull" )