Archive for Appalachian Trail

My Walk in the Woods, Ch 1

Posted in My Narcissisms, Trail Tales with tags , , , , on June 26, 2017 by A lo Hawk

This is the tale of A Lo Hawk’s 132 day, 2200 mile traverse of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in 2008.

Chapter One (April 7th-13th)

Day 0: Motel 6 in Gulfport, MS to camp two miles up Springer Mtn approach trail

Launch day begins at 5:30 am in a Motel 6 room in Gulfport, Mississippi. Everything I need for the next four months is stuffed into or strapped onto an REI backpack. Charlotte and Greg are in another room getting ready to drive me to Georgia where I will begin my northbound traverse of the Appalachian Trail.

I think back three years earlier when this same trio was on their way to the California/Mexico border in the arid hills near Campo where a monument marks the southern terminus of the Pacific Crest Trail. Just like in 2005, we find a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop and I ingest gluttonous quantities of warm, sugary goodness washed down with cups of straight black coffee.

With a jittery energy rush we head towards Atlanta. Slow congested traffic increases my nervous anticipation. We stop at a McAleister’s Deli in the northern suburbs for my last supper as a civilized member of society.

We finally arrive at Amicalola Falls State Park at 4:30 pm. The ranger station contains a hiker registry for the intrepid souls who hope to follow the white trail blazes all the way to the summit of Mt Katahdin in Maine. I am the 588th person to start this year and several others have left earlier in the day. There is a large grocer’s scale hanging in the back for weighing my pack–43 lbs.

It is a beautiful afternoon, 67 degrees, and I feel strong and confident as I step through the arch after saying aloha to Charlotte and Greg. The worn trail is shady and gently climbs into the mountains of northern Georgia. I see an inviting rock so I sit and have a toke of weed I got from my botanist friend Thomas. I take a moment to reflect on the journey that brought me to this place. Remembering a promise made to Pele (goddess of fire) on Maui earlier this year, I whisper “mahalo” then yell at the top of my lungs “Haleakala!”

About a mile later, at a bend in the trail, I stop at an empty campsite, sit down and write these notes in my journal.

Day 1: (GA) 22 miles from trailside camp to Gooch Mtn Shelter

I begin a habit that will last the entire trek by rising before the sun. Technically, the Appalachian Trail begins at the top of Springer Mtn so I have six more miles of the ‘approach trail’ before I see the first strip of white paint which marks the trail for the next 2000 miles.

I stop for a moment at the summit to take a photo of a plaque then begin a descent which leads to another climb. I am trying to conserve energy, trying not to get overheated in this hilly terrain but excitement keeps me going for eleven hours until I eventually stop at Gooch Mtn Shelter.

As I will soon see, shelters come in all shapes and sizes and can be found every 8-12 miles along the trail. They are supposed to be first come/egalitarian places to spend the night and there are usually several campsites nearby. They are the hub of communal activity among the hikers and they provide a conduit for communication and information sharing.

As I expected, the shelter is already packed with boisterous, excited strangers. Luckily, this is one of the more modern structures with a loft where I find room for my sleeping bag. Although I love to tent camp, I am drawn in by the camaraderie and fellowship this early in the trip. I meet a young man who uses the trail name UPHILL. I don’t know it yet but UPHILL will be an occasional hiking companion for several hundred miles.

Day 2: (GA) 15 miles from Gooch Mtn Shelter to Neels Gap Hostel

I sleep badly. There is too much snoring in the shelter so I get up and hit the trail while most are still sleeping. It is a warm day and I spend much of it climbing up and over Blood Mtn. In the afternoon I arrive at a road crossing and Neels Gap Hostel.

Hiker hostels are an upgrade from a shelter. For a nominal fee you get electricity, shower, laundry, bunkbed and possibly meals. Neels Gap Hostel host PIRATE makes sloppy joes, has pints of Ben & Jerry’s in a giant freezer and apple cobbler in the oven. In the evening he hosts a game show and gives out prizes (I win a tent stake mallet) which all secretly get placed back in the ‘do not want to carry’ box.

There are many hikers showing up in the evening and space is scarce. I enjoy the festive atmosphere until I get tired and go to bed.

Day 3: (GA) 18 miles from Neels Gap to Blue Mtn Shelter

I wake up and PIRATE has coffee made and is stirring pancake batter and flipping slices of spam on the griddle simultaneously. We have a nice chat while I eat the first stack. Apparently my watch battery has expired and I toss the useless bracelet in the trash. I feel an additional level of freedom and lightness as I step out of the door into a beautiful morning.

Once again I give thanks, or mahalo, to Pele (goddess of fire, lightning, volcanoes) for my good fortune. SIDETRACK: In January, while on a 20th wedding anniversary trip to Maui, I hike deep into the crater of dormant Haleakala volcano. I was completely alone in this silent powerful landscape when a voice told me if I bring the island spirit of aloha to the trail I will have safe travels and an abundance of wealth. Even before starting the hike I was saying ‘Aloha’ instead of ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ to everyone I meet.

I walk along a ridge in the cool morning, signs of spring showing everywhere. I stop to look at the broad view of forested hills. A shadow catches my eye and I see a hawk calmly floating over the treetops below. Suddenly two thoughts collide in my mind creating a new identity for this humble hiker trash: aloha + a low hawk = A LO HAWK

Later UPHILL and RED catch me and I tag along with them to Blue Mtn Shelter. There is a nice spring, I pitch my tent, make a big dinner and watch a lovely sunset. Happy Tails!

Day 4: (GA) 15 miles from Blue Mtn Shelter to Deep Gap Shelter

It is a cool, overcast start to the day. The best views occur at some lookout rocks early in the morning. The weather is unsettled, something is in the air, I feel a change coming. I pitch my tent near Deep Gap Shelter where UPHILL, RED and others are staying. I question my judgment when a light rain begins to fall. Tomorrow I should cross into North Carolina.

Day 5: (NC) 20 miles from Deep Gap Shelter to Standing Indian Shelter

Today starts out with great hiking and continues into the cool afternoon. There is a small sign on the trail at the GA/NC border but too many hikers are standing around to stop. I keep trucking until I get to Standing Indian Shelter which is full of rowdy young men so I set up my tent far away. It is a very cold, windy night.

Day 6: (NC) ??? miles from Standing Indian Shelter to Rock Gap Shelter

It is a very chilly morning and does not improve. I break down camp and begin hiking asap. I am not conscious of the miles, only the need to keep moving and stay warm. I get to Rock Gap Shelter which has a large blue tarp covering the normally open fourth wall. The shelter is packed with cold hikers but they make room for me. It begins to snow and hail as we fire up our stoves.


Appalachian Trail Trash 2008, Part I

Posted in Trail Tales with tags on September 16, 2009 by A lo Hawk

ALOHA! I am in Damascus, VA, called the ‘friendliest town on the trail’ and host of the annual Trail Days festival.

The planners wisely segregated the hikers into a ‘tent city’ on the outskirts of town. It is affectionately known as the FREAKSHOW where anarchy and mayhem reign. In the evening, there are bonfires, drum circles, and the obligatory over consumption of intoxicants. In the morning, ‘homo inebrias’ staggers off to their tents. In the afternoon, the ritual begins all over again.

The cake eating contest was won by a hiker named ‘CHEWBACA’; the talent show featured a stand-up routine by a hiker named ‘PUNCHLINE’.

Other trail highlights:

In Franklin, NC, I overheard a woman call me “one of them hackers”.

I saw feral ponies and men in kilts at ethereal Grayson Highlands State Park.

Best business name: HOG TROUGH LIQUOR

Best restaurant slogan: “You don’t need no teeth to eat our beef”

Shenandoah NP GA.ME.08 Summary: Beers 16 vs Bears 11 (I love this GA.ME)

My favorite shelter name: FULLHARDT KNOB

My favorite tart: Little Debbie’s Cherry Pie

My souvenir t-shirt says: The Appalachian Trail, like climbing Everest 17 times, 504,000 feet

Happy Trails, A Lo Hawk, May 2008

Appalachian Trail Trash 2008, Part II

Posted in Trail Tales with tags on September 16, 2009 by A lo Hawk

ALOHA! Feast your eyes on these megabytes of infotainment:

One night I camped with an easygoing hiker named ‘SLIGHTLY’. The next morning, we came upon some trail magic in the form of a large canopy full of boisterous hikers, the mouth-watering aroma of chili cooking, and the sight of a washtub of cold beer. ‘SLIGHTLY’ immediately drops his pack and declares, “That’s it, I’m done for the day” and proceeds to make himself at home. After a few breakfast beers and a bowl of chili, I waved goodbye to my new friend as he sat hunkered down in a lawn chair. Turns out he was only ‘slightly’ interested in hiking.

‘SKYSURFER’, named for his love of hang gliding, decided at Harper’s Ferry he’d had enough of his feet on the ground and left the trail to head back to the skies.

Trail angel Stuttering Ron handed me an apple with one hand and a religious comic book about Adam & Eve & forbidden fruit with the other. I don’t think he saw the irony.

There was a strange little man I call the Virginia Creeper. When I came upon him, he was standing in the middle of the trail with his eyes closed waving his arms about wildly. He confided to me he knew every detail of each hiker’s on-line trail journal and he was waiting to stalk, I mean talk to them.

Trail groupie Wendy Wannabe looked like she stepped out of an L.L.Bean catalogue. On weekends, she drives up from Philly to stay at the hiker’s hostel at Pine Grove Furnace. She explained she really wanted to hike today but she wasn’t sure she had all the right gear and besides, tomorrow was supposed to be a nicer day.

For the last few days I have been traveling with a hiker named ‘ABOMAN’. He is a sophisticated southern gentleman who likes his Kentucky Bourbon in the evening. He told me a story of the time he spent the night in a motel in Pearisburg, VA. While he was packing his gear to leave in the morning, he discovered his wallet was missing. He searched frantically, turning his pack inside out. He even walked the streets in town where he had been the night before–nothing. He finally found it; but you will not believe where it was hiding. IT WAS IN HIS SHOE THE WHOLE TIME. His feet were so hammered he could not feel the big lump in there!

I’ve had my 16th bear sighting. While on the subject of bare, June 21st was Hike Naked Day. To answer the question lurking in your mind, my new trail name is … A Swing Lo Hawk.

Appalachian Trail Trash 2008, Part III

Posted in Trail Tales with tags on September 16, 2009 by A lo Hawk

Wed, 2 July 2008: ALOHA!

The best thing about hiking the AT in New Jersey and New York is the daily deli stop. I love listening to New Yorkers talk; every once in a while they throw in “that’s all I’m sayin” and then keep on talking.

Loyal viewers, I know what you want. You want to be entertained; read a thrilling story or an amusing anecdote or two. WELL ITS NOT ALL FUN AND GAMES OUT HERE PEOPLE!

TICKS are the most frightening thing on the trail for hikers because they carry LYME disease. We have to constantly check our…wait, is that a mole back there or a tick? It was parasite paranoia which led to this embarrassing hiker trash moment: “Excuse me, sir? Would you come into the restroom with me and take a look at my…No? Okay, sorry to bother you.”

GYPSY MOTHS are a huge problem on the East Coast. Billions of catepillars are chewing up the forest. That sound you hear as you are walking is not a gentle rain falling, its catepillar turds! The picnic is over when you reach into your pocket for a snack and pull out one of these vile creatures.

You know you are having a bad day when you run out of toilet paper and you realize too late the leaves in your hand are poison ivy.

The most horrific thing of all? Getting up every morning and putting on the same wet, sweaty, smelly clothes you had on yesterday and the day before.

That’s all I’m sayin. Eh, Yo Hawk