From Springer Mountain Georgia to Mt. Katahdin Maine

Monday, April 8, 2013

Amazing & inspiring video

35 from ARC'TERYX on Vimeo.

Every year we get a little older. How you choose to celebrate is up to you. Take the birthday challenge. Writer Brendan Leonard delivers a dedication to the joys – both big and small – of the climbing life. What are your 35?
Creative by Duct Tape Then Beer
Directed by Nasa Koski, Austin Siadak and Matt Van Biene
Edited by Nasa Koski
Written by Brendan Leonard and Fitz Cahall
Produced by Fitz Cahall
Music – Gregory Alan Isakov – The Stable Song

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

1st day of Spring: 1 year since Springer

This day a year ago, March 20 & the first day of Spring I started the biggest adventure of my life. I woke up in my cozy room at my parent's house in Chattanooga. It was a Tuesday and I had just celebrated St. Patrick's Day that Saturday in Savannah with about 20+ friends. Earlier in the month, I said goodbye to New York City - a place that had been my dream since the age of 10. New York no longer harbored those dreams and had become more of a burden than an adventure. I'd worked at 4 different magazines, 1 design studio, had a brief stint in part-time retail, and countless freelance design jobs. I was ready to pursue another life-long dream: hiking the entire Appalachian Trail. 

After reading Becoming Odyssa, A Walk in the Woods, attending Warren Doyle's Appalachian Trail Institute, and many hours on the internet researching gear, I finally reached the conclusion that I was as ready as I would ever be, that the time had come to just go. On the morning of the 20th, with the help of my parents and their basset hound, we loaded up the Outback and drove east to Springer Mountain. My good friend Monica was going to hike with me for a few weeks in the beginning and we met her and her father at a sandwich shops in Dawsonville (where the race car driver "Awesome Bill from Dawsonville" is from). The day was full of joy, we were so excited for the adventure ahead. On one hand, we had done the research and felt we were as ready as ever. On the other hand, we had no idea of what was ahead. 

After navigating our way to the Springer parking lot, the whole crew walked the 0.9 miles to official southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.  I touched the plaque, signed the register, and took pictures. We walked back to the parking lot, and began loading up a mix-match of food. I'd decided to go stove-less to save time and weight, and so Monica had gone to Sam's club and bought us a vast medley of ClifBars, Larabars, granola bars, snickers, and dried fruit. We also packed some fresh fruit, but with food - there really was no real plan. We even had the at-the-time-genius idea to unwrap all the bars and put them all a big gallon ziplock. (By the next morning, we realized our ClifBars had become one big Clif Clump..). I don't remember feeling particularly confident about our food plan, but I also had no better ideas and figured we would learn as we went. We weighed ourselves & our packs, as a reference point. Finally, we shouldered our packs, said goodbyes, took a few last pictures and around 3pm, finally started walking north on the Appalachian Trail. 

Spring Mountain: Southern Terminus
Signing the register
On Springer
"Organizing" our food
Weighing my pack
Now, a year later, I look back fondly to my memory of Springer. What I didn't know in food planning, I made up for with an open heart. I had no expectations of the trail. I was open to whatever adventure was ahead, and whatever lessons I was to learn - which turned out to be many.

I learned to appreciate kindness, no matter the source. While some found the southern churches too preachy, I was so grateful for the Little Debbies & Cokes they left by trailheads. I gave up my snobbery toward junk food & fast food, and became grateful for any source of calories when I was hungry. I appreciated shelter in the rain - something that has really stayed with me. After hiking full days in the cold rain, I now look out from my window and remind myself how wonderful it is to be dry and warm. 

I became friends with all kinds of people - from 18 year old boys to 50 year old women. We all were called by the trail for our own reasons, and each person brought their own perspectives, wisdom, and humor. With the vast array of experiences, everyone had the opportunity to learn and also to teach. Together we laughed, hurt, expressed frustration or fear, and learned, all while continually hiking north. 

I also learned how strong my body is. My mind was constantly shocked with my body's ability to get up again every morning and hike all day, no matter the hurt and fatigue from the day before, or the rough terrain and weather that I knew was ahead. It was amazing to observe the transformation in my endurance and also my leg muscles. For the first time, I felt pretty ripped. The downside though, was I learned to watch out for my knees and my joints. Some parts of the body get stronger, others get weaker - nothing is constant.

Possibly my favorite aspect of my hike though was truly living outside. Last July was recorded to be the hottest July in North America - OF ALL TIME! I woke up in this heat, hiked all day in the heat, stayed soaking with sweat, slept in the heat, and woke up again in the morning to put my still soaking hiking shirt back on. I hiked in the sunshine, and slowly got wet when it began to rain, and slowly dried back out when the sun came back. I started my hike on the first day of spring, when the Georgia mountains were still brown and barren from the winter. I noticed the first peeks of green, and observed as they slowly bloomed into flowers and eventually luscious green plants. One of my favorite weeks was in Virginia when all the rhododendrons were in bloom. Later in Vermont in August, I noticed out the very slightest hint of gold on the mountains - autumn was coming. Never before have I been so aware and grateful of the changing of the seasons. 

Spring beginning to bloom in TN
Rhododendrons in Virginia
Hot & sweaty in New Jersey in July
A hint of Autumn in August in Vermont 

Hands down, hiking the Appalachian Trail was the best thing I have ever done. I hope to hike it again one day. For now, I am in Asheville, NC pursuing my next adventure - running my own design/letterpress business. I have become a member of the local letterpress co-op, Bookworks, and am printing there for the first time today. 

Today on March 20 - the first day of Spring, the season for new beginnings, to quote Jack Kerouac, I "lean forward to the next crazy venture beneath the skies."

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Zealand Falls Hut, Thoreau Falls, Ethan Pond, and Webster Cliffs

Greeting readers! I apologize for my almost three month hiatus from this blog. I still have dreams of finishing, at least for my own sake. As I immerse myself deeper into "real life" the details of the trail become blurry memories of the past. I know if I don't take the time to document everything now, it will continue to slip away. That is not to say that I don't think about the trail every day, or that I wish I could start all over again in March.

Anyway, to pick back up where I left off:

From the glorious view, we hiked one more mile to Zealand Falls & Hut. Hungus & Pace were already there and had snagged work-for-stay spots, as had Warrior & Honest Abe before them. Gribley and I asked the girl in charge, and I could tell she wanted to tell us no, but somehow we convinced her to agree - on the condition that we would have to turn down other hikers, since she hated saying no. Haha that was fine! Lots of other hikers came by asking for work-for-stays, and we did feel bad, but I think everyone understood that there just wasn't more room. Gribley had the task of cleaning out all the dry food storage (which he said was pretty loosey-goosey in terms of hygiene..), Pace cleaned out the freezer, and Hungus organized the library. I had the morning task of sweeping after breakfast. I remember feeling totally exhausted, more than what seemed normal. I just wanted to nap but felt that it would be a bit inappropriate to roll out my sleeping bag and sleep on a porch where guests had paid about $80 to stay. I kind of snoozed sitting up and watched the sunset. 

Hanging out on Zealand Hut porch after everyone completed their tasks
(Gribley, Hungus, Pace, Honest Abe, Warrior)
Watching the sunset

After the guests' dinner (but before our dinner, which was their leftovers), we were invited to listen to a lecture on geology of the Whites. I learned a bit about frost actionglacial striation, and other geological quirks that happened in the Whites. The most memorable thing though, was that the speaker referred to the northern terminus of the AT as "KatARdin" instead of "KatAHdin." From that moment on, we lovingly referred to our goal as Katardin. In addition to that distraction, it didn't help that we were all STARVING. The guests got to eat around 6, the talk was from 7-8, so you can imagine how hungry we hikers were. We finally got to eat the still-warm leftovers: soup, stuffed pasta shells, bread, and green beans to our hearts content. And then they brought out a sheet of carrot cake and said, "bet y'all can't finish that" - oh boy, it was on! We all shoveled down seconds and thirds of this yummy cake. Warrior added some butter to hers, and then Gribley decided to put butter INSIDE his cake. 

Almost done! Delicious carrot cake

Gribley's culinary creative genius - butter INSIDE the cake

Unfortunately, my stomach was starting to feel a bit uneasy and I was convinced I had just overeaten, and was really ready to be horizontal and rest. Everyone but Warrior and me decided to sleep under the stars. Knowing how cold natured I am, and not feeling that great, I knew I'd sleep better inside on the floor of the warm dining room. I'd been warned of the mouse problem and sure enough, heard mouse traps popping all night. I slept well and the next morning, my stomach felt a little bit better but not quite 100%. Since I was inside, I had to be out early before the guests came into the dining room wanting coffee, and not wanting to see sleeping hikers. I quickly packed up and headed outside and walked over the falls. Hungus had decided to sleep on the rocks, and I saw Pace sweetly waking him up.

Pace waking Hungus up from his sleep spot by the falls

Zealand Falls

Gribley & Honest Abe were coaxed into being the Rise & Shine team to wake up the rest of the sleepy guests. Abe with his ukulele and Gribley with his voice. Look I have a video!

The dining room/my sleeping quarters (by the bookshelf)

After eating a light breakfast, I did my sweeping duty, and was ready to get hiking. Gribley stayed back to hang out by the Zealand Falls and said he would catch up soon. It was a pleasant morning - the weather was nice and the trail was easy (which was a nice change for the Whites!). Hungus and Pace had left before me and told me I didn't have a choice - I was to meet them at the Thoreau Falls, a short side trip away. I followed these instructions and met them over there, which was one of the most beautiful moments on the trail - pristine natural beauty with some of my favorite people. 

Gorgeous day for hiking!
Thoreau Falls
Thoreau Falls

Thoreau Falls
Thoreau Falls
We stripped down to our undies (which doubled at bathing suits when the occasion arose) and found a swimming hole big enough to dare each other to jump into. The water was freezing, the laughter was loud, the sun was bright, and the smiles were wide - it was a very happy morning. Gribley showed up and quickly realized this was a special occasion that called for mustache wax, so he and Towelly started waxing up and looking sharp.

Hungus & Pace enjoying the sun 
Grib & Towelley waxing their mustaches
We left the falls and headed to Ethan Pond for lunch. It was absolutely beautiful. 

Ethan Pond

Cheesewater returning from fishing with gummy worms
After Ethan Pond, we had about four more miles before the big climb up Webster. Hungus had told us that in the Whites, you have 4 major climbs - Moosilauke, Franconia, Webster, and then Wildcat. We hung out as long as possible and finally started up the beast of a mountain.

Love these people! Hungus, Pace, Cheesewater, Toweley, Gribley hanging out by the stream
Well, we made it to the top. It wasn't quite as bad as we thought it would be, but we stopped before the summit at Webster Cliffs. It wasn't listed in the book, but there was so much flat rock area for cowboy camping, and a few small flat campsites in the woods. It was a wonderful evening. Honest Abe & Warrior showed up, and later Dances with Flies surprised everyone - it had been weeks since I had seen him! My stomach was still feeling weird. I drank lots of tea hoping to calm it, but it kept feeling worse. The night was great though - Hungus had a small speaker for his iphone and we played some Sublime & Grateful Dead while watching the pinks and oranges of the sunset.

Most of the group was excited about cowboy camping, but I opted to set up my tent instead, just since I didn't feel well. Actually, I had the genius idea to set up Gribley's tent, so if it happened to start raining, he could just get inside (his tent is big enough to comfortably sleep two people). This proved to be a really brilliant idea, because in the middle of the night, it did start raining. Gribley got in the tent, Hungus slept under Pace's hammock & tarp, and everyone else was left scrambling to set up their tents in the pitch black dark & rain - never fun! 

Ok readers, that's it for now. Stay with me though, I do promise to finish this at some point! 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Whites: Galehead Hut, Twin Mtn, Guyot Mtn, & Zeacliff

We all slept in a bit the morning waking up at the little random stealth spot in the Whites.
Woooo! Gribley the tent ghost!
After packing everything up, Gribley and I started hiking the toward Galehead Hut - only half a mile away. Pace and Hungus were still dismantling their camping hammocks and we planned to meet them at the hut. We made it to Galehead and immediately asked if there was any extra breakfast. The "croo" informed us that there was indeed some eggs & oatmeal leftover, but we'd have to sweep the bunk rooms for it. Deal! It actually felt really good to hold a broom in my hands and be domestic for a few minutes. We sat down to eat as Pace & Hungus arrived. They had the same breakfast inquiry and were given the opportunity to sweep the dining room. We scarfed down every last crumb, grateful for real food that didn't come from powder packets. By the time we finished, lots of other hikers started showing up. A big group had camped that night down by Garfield Pond, probably in hopes of seeing moose, but no such luck for them. We said good mornings to everyone and exchanged trail news and stories.

(More information about the AMC and Huts can be found here:

Hiker trash out side Galehead Hut
(Ratman, Bowser, Tumbler, Spirit, Y's Guy, and I don't know the two girls on the right)

Hiker trash out side Galehead Hut
(Bill - one of the "Georgia Boys," Hungus, Pace, Dewey, Brad - the other "Georgia Boy," and Bowser )

That day hiking was so glorious - bright blue skies and perfect weather: cool and brisk but with the warm sun shining down. The hike up Twin was pretty tough, but so beautiful. We kept turning around to admire the views behind us.

Hiking up Twin Mtn
View while hiking up Twin (from looking back)
Dewey almost to the summit of Twin
Everyone hanging out on the summit

Summit of Twin

Tumbler & Ratman - The "Honeymoon Hikers" with Gribley & Me
(This was the last time we saw them - they were planning to speed up to finish by 9/17)
More views from the summit

The rest of the day was amazing hiking - exposed areas and beautiful forest. Gribley and I split up for most of the afternoon. We loved hiking together but also knew it was good to have some alone time, to quietly reflect on the beauty around us.

Hiking up and over Guyot
Eventually he stopped for a snack and I caught up. We'd made plans with Pace & Hungus to head toward Zeland Falls Hut, to see if we could stay the night there. We saw them as they were returning from a side trail with a small sign indicating "VIEW." Gribley and I were going to skip it, in hopes of making it to the Hut in time to inquire about an evening work-for-stay (including dinner, permission to sleep on the dining room floor, bathroom access, and breakfast - in exchange for an hour or two of various work). HungPac (as we lovingly referred to the Hungus/Pace duo), insisted that the view was worth it, so Gribley and I made our way over. Indeed it was!

I think it was called "Zeacliff" view. The Hut we were headed was named "Zeland." Pace came up with a theory that the French must have named this area, "zee land and zee cliff and zee falls" haha. Anyway, the view was glorious and we were glad to have made the trip. We later found out that Pants & Tatertot camped on that spot - brilliant idea!

Zeacliff view
After taking in the view and enjoying a sunny afternoon, we made our way down to Zealand Hut - more on that next post!