Wednesday, August 12, 2015

From the Potomac to Pen-Mar: A Hike across Maryland

Looking down into the valley where Boonsboro, Maryland is, from the George Washington Monument State Park.

It's "common knowledge" for AT hikers that Virginia is flat and Maryland is easy. Having hiked 30 miles or so of the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park in Northern Virginia, that first bit of conventional wisdom can be put to rest. But what about the second one? It can't be that difficult, if some people cross the state's 40.6 miles in one day, right?

Monday, July 13, 2015

Hiking the AT in Shenandoah National Park

A view from a Skyline Drive overlook that intersects the AT
I've never hiked more than a quarter mile of the Appalachian Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but from the accounts of Clever Girl and others, it's a true wilderness hike. For seventy miles the trail goes up and down some of the highest ridges east of the Rockies. Between Fontana Dam and Davenport Gap the trail only cruises one road, and comes close to another in a couple more spots. Before Clingmans Dome or after Newfound Gap, the closest way to get to the front country are several miles of steep rocky trails. All in all its a challenge akin to the wild parks of the west.

Shenandoah, however, is not quite as wild.

Yeah, you're still very likely to run into bears, snakes, and other denizens of the Blue Ridge. And sure, there are still rocks, mud, and steep uphill climbs. But on the whole, the part I hiked (roughly Rockfish Gap to Big Meadows Amphitheater) was a veritable hiker highway. Throw in the frequent crossings of Skyline Drive and the campstores and waysides overflowing with cheap beer and ice cream, and the park resembles less a wilderness and more a 100 mile long city park.

Provided a hiker is in good shape and isn't suffering from ailments of the feet or knees, casual 15 mile days are reasonable, and 30 mine days are within reach of the speedsters. Were you to average about fifteen miles a day, you'd hit a campstore or wayside about once every other day, save for your first and last. Even slowpokes like me could run into them every third or fourth day.

Whether you are a hiker, rider, or driver, the waysides are worth a stop just for the blackberry milkshakes. Also good is the blackberry cobbler, particularly with the hand dipped blackberry ice cream.

The one downside to Shenandoah is that you are pretty much committed to staying at either the front country campgrounds, or the huts and their associated campsites. While well maintained, these can be inconveniently placed, requiring alternating longer and shorter days. You can camp virtually anywhere in the back country, but I saw only a few places worth camping. Most of the area along the trail is steep and rocky, or covered in second growth thorny hells. For the through hiker, this shouldn't be a problem, as the longest distance between huts is about 13 miles. But for the novice and the easily winded, it can create a logistical quandary.

If you are looking for a great place to introduce yourself to the Appalachian Trail, then Shenandoah is for you. There's enough challenge to let you know what you're in for, while being more forgiving than other places. Also, it's one of the few places along the trail where you can get $1-2 beers and drink them in the open. For the through hikers, usually with an accompanying ice cream bar.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

A Trail Update, and a Last Ditch Appeal

Clouds and the setting sun from Blackrock near Big Meadows Lodge.
OK, here's the long awaited trail update. Sorry it took so long, but events that took place left me in a situation where trying to post a blog would have been a frustrating mess. Anyway, on to the update.

For a couple days, the second edition of my hike didn't go too bad. Although my first day was short, it felt good to get back on the trail. Shenandoah is a much easier hiking experience than Georgia, but it still had its ups and downs. I took a zero day on the second day after I said goodbye to my parents at the Dundo Picnic Area because of a heavy rain storm that would be happening overnight. I'm glad I did, because it rained a lot, and I doubt I would have enjoyed the rainy morning.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Nighthawk 2: Back on the Trail

The view from Little Calf Mountain, near the southern end of Shenandoah National Park.
More than two months since I left the trail, I am finally back out along the Appalachian Trail, this time about 800 trail miles to the north. Tomorrow I begin the real deal, backpacking from somewhere in Shenandoah to some point north. How far I will go is a question for another day. 

I started off with two days of slackpacking back into the swing of things. The hiking was slow and the temperatures warm, but I knocked out another 12 miles along the trail. I'm staying in a hotel tonight, but tomorrow night I'll be sleeping out on the trail somewhere. Most likely I'll be starting somewhere to the north of Turk Gap, the place I finished my second day of slackpacking. The bear that I had to scare away in the parking lot can rest easy.

When I begin the trek north I'll do so with a trail name. Thanks to my several nights of night hiking I had to do in Georgia, I earned the name "Nighthawk" by Clever Girl (aka my sister Erin) and others. Somehow I missed this the first time around, but fortunately Erin reminded me of it. It's a really cool name, and I can't wait to sign in to the trail shelter logs as Nighthawk.

Please stay tuned to this blog, as there will be plenty of updates as I move towards Harper's Ferry. Also, please forgive the ducking typos, as the posts beyond this one will be made on my phone. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Glossary of AT Hiker Terms

Here's a picture of a NOBO through-hiker as she heads out north from Newfound Gap. 

In our posts on this blog, our various social media pages, and on Erin's blog at Appalachian Trials, we often use some terms and slang that are common to the AT hiking community, but can be pretty confusing to everyone else. For example:

"Going NOBO across Newfound Gap, I yogied a couple of weekenders for a Snickers and a Coke. Glad I did, I was feeling the hiker hunger real bad, thanks to that green blazing I did."

Monday, April 20, 2015

Three Walls and a Roof: The AT Shelters of Georgia

Springer Mountain Shelter, from a previous visit to the mountain of the same name. This is the only picture of a shelter I have.

Of the eleven National Scenic Trails in the United States, the Appalachian Trail is unique in its system of shelters. In general, these structures are placed between 6-10 miles apart from each other, which makes them accessible by a day's hike for all but slowest hikers. No two shelters are alike, as they have different capacities, were built at different times, and use different designs and materials. Some are well built, protect from the wind, and have easily accessible water. Others are barely better than no shelter, are more shelters for mice than hikers, and seem to be built to funnel the wind into the shelter area.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Saving the Hike by Getting off the Trail

The sign at Dick's Creek Gap. In a couple months I'll have a picture showing me back on the trail.

I won't be through-hiking the Appalachian Trail in 2015.

Those words were hard to type, but they are true. In the calendar year 2015, I won't be walking the entirety of the Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. With that being the strict definition of a through-hiker, I will not qualify.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Ten Lessons Learned in Ten days on the Trail

Me at Neel Gap. 

  1. It's as Hard as Advertised
  2. Those who have said the trail is tough are correct. It's often steep, full of ankle turning roots and knee hating rocks. It's possible in a single day that you can worry about hypothermia and heat stroke. You spend all day beating up your body, just to get up the next morning and do it all over again. The uphill climbs seem to go on forever, and the downhill climbs aren't any better, particularly for a hiker with a high center of gravity. It's often not very fun and can really feel like work.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: Zero Hour

Amicalola Falls, as seen yesterday. Glad I hiked up all 604 steps to see it.


Gonna keep this quick, because I'm on my phone and we're getting ready to head to the approach trail. The countdown is over, and it's time to hike. Am I ready? Perhaps not, but it's here nonetheless, so I'm as ready as I can be. From here on it's no longer anticipation, but the real thing.

Let's do this.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: One Day More

Here's me earlier today in front of the arch marking the beginning of the approach trail. This shirt does not represent my actual hiking attire. Photo by Travis.
Date: March 23, 2015
Current Week: 03/18/15 - 03/24/15
Days until Amicalola: 2
Pounds to next weight goal: 8.6 (+1.0)
Total gained Last Week: 0.2
Total Lost Entire Period: 7.6
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 0
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 195
Minutes Exercised, Week: 52
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0.00
Miles Hiked, 2015: 3.76

It's down to tomorrow. One day more until the real show begins. Although these last three months haven't gone as well as I would have liked, I'm in a better position than I was at the beginning of the year. The hike up the 800 feet incline from the visitors center to the lodge above Amicalola Falls was tough, but not as tough as it would have been without the exercise I did the last three months. The fact that I'm here is a victory in and of itself. Once tomorrow comes, let the chips fall where they may.


Monday, March 23, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: Two to Go

I don't have any good pictures from today, so I'll just reuse this one of Amicalola Falls.

Date: March 23, 2015
Current Week: 03/18/15 - 03/24/15
Days until Amicalola: 2
Pounds to next weight goal: 8.6 (+1.0)
Total gained Last Week: 0.2
Total Lost Entire Period: 7.6
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 0
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 195
Minutes Exercised, Week: 52
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0.00
Miles Hiked, 2015: 3.76

It was a long drive, but we made it to Amicalola Falls! Instead of a full-size car, we had to take a truck down (besides my parents Altima). It was a pretty uneventful trip, save for a small fender bender in Chattanooga (my parents car, not the rental). As such I don't have a picture of the lodge or the view from said lodge.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: Three's Company

In the chaos of moving out of my apartment, moving into storage, and heading back to Ridge Farm I forgot yesterday was "Springer Saturday". In honor of that, here's a repeat picture of the sign showing the way to Springer Mountain.


Date: March 22, 2015
Current Week: 03/18/15 - 03/24/15
Days until Amicalola: 3
Pounds to next weight goal: 7.6 (+0.6)
Total gained Last Week: 0.2
Total Lost Entire Period: 8.6
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 0
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 195
Minutes Exercised, Week: 52
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0.00
Miles Hiked, 2015: 3.76

I was up this morning, which isn't a surprise. Most likely I was up yesterday as well, as having a large meal at 10:00 at night tends to do that. My guess is I actually may have been down from yesterday, as although yesterday had a late, large meal, it was also an incredibly active day, with all the walking and carrying heavy things I did during the move.

Countdown to Amicalola: Four More Years


If things go well, we'll be turning at this lamp post to cross the Potomac River into Maryland, having hiked through Harpers Ferry. While the true halfway point of the trail is many miles to the north in Pennsylvania, Harpers Ferry is often considered the traditional half-way point.

Date: March 21, 2015
Current Week: 03/18/15 - 03/24/15
Days until Amicalola: 4
Pounds to next weight goal: N/A (N/A)
Total gained Last Week: 0.2
Total Lost Entire Period: 9.2
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 12
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 195
Minutes Exercised, Week: 52
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0.00
Miles Hiked, 2015: 3.76

For the second straight day I'm posting after midnight on the next day after the official day of the journal. Like yesterday, this was understandable, as I spent the day moving out of my apartment, and then driving back to Ridge Farm. It was a long day of moving, with walking up enough stairs to get me to the top of Amicalola Falls.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: Five Alive

In four days, we'll be walking up these stairs on our short little "pre-hike" to the top of Amicalola Falls.


Date: March 20, 2015
Current Week: 03/18/15 - 03/24/15
Days until Amicalola: 5
Pounds to next weight goal: 7.0 (-1.0)
Total gained Last Week: 0.2
Total Lost Entire Period: 9.2
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 25
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 195
Minutes Exercised, Week: 40
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0.00
Miles Hiked, 2015: 3.76

Surprisingly, yesterday didn't turn out so bad, as I actually went down. What helped was that I was done eating before eight in the evening, and I took a walk after I got back from the Fox and the Hound. This may have mitigated some of the beer, greasy appetizers, and going away cake I had. After the night before, I'll take a result like this one.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: Sinister Six

I'm aware that this is another repeat. But I am looking forward to walking over this Appalachian Trail marker. If only because it means I'm in Hot Springs, NC, which means it may be about time for a zero (or nearo) day. It also means a relatively flat walk through town.

Date: March 19, 2015
Current Week: 03/18/15 - 03/24/15
Days until Amicalola: 6
Pounds to next weight goal: 8.0 (+2.6)
Total gained Last Week: 0.2
Total Lost Entire Period: 8.2
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 15
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 195
Minutes Exercised, Week: 15
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0.00
Miles Hiked, 2015: 3.76

As mentioned yesterday, Wednesday was a departure from the first two days of the week. This can be blamed on some excellent German beer (and some good German food) that my cousin and I ate at a Hofbrauhaus in Rosemont. I would have liked to kept the streak for the week going, but as it's my last week before the hike, farewell meals and get togethers are bound to happen. I'll likely have a similar report tomorrow, as there was more beer and high-calorie foods this evening, this time for a after-hours get together with some of my co-workers.

Countdown to Amicalola: Seventh Heaven

A week from now I'll be able to take a picture of the first blaze, and this marker right next to it. From the reports I've read, we'll probably have to wait in line.


Date: March 18, 2015
Current Week: 03/18/15 - 03/24/15
Days until Amicalola: 7
Pounds to next weight goal: 5.4 (-1.0)
Total gained Last Week: 0.2
Total Lost Entire Period: 10.8
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 30
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 195
Minutes Exercised, Week: 0
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0.00
Miles Hiked, 2015: 3.76

Tuesday ended up being about as good of a day as Monday, almost erasing the less than stellar results from earlier in the week. The fact is that I'm enjoying some farewell events (and some events that aren't necessarily related to beginning the hike), and that just isn't conducive to great results on a day to day basis. I can't say I'm too optimistic about this final week, especially considering how it started (More on that tomorrow, but suffice it to say German beer was involved).

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: Eight is Enough

A white blaze on a water fountain, in one of the Fontana Dam parking lots. Not too far from here is the "Fontana Hilton", a shelter so named because of its proximity to running water, restrooms, showers, and a phone. Photo by Erin.

Date: March 17, 2015
Current Week: 03/11/15 - 03/17/15
Days until Amicalola: 8
Pounds to next weight goal: 6.4 (-0.8)
Total gained Last Week: 1.6
Total Lost Entire Period: 9.8
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 30
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 181
Minutes Exercised, Week: 165
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0.00
Miles Hiked, 2015: 3.76

Things quieted down on Monday, as I started working my way back from the weekend. I got 30 minutes of walking in on the warmest day of 2015 yet, and was able to rein it in at dinner time. I was probably helped out a bit by all the work I was doing to pack things up and sort things out. I've actually made a good deal of progress, packing up several boxes of electronics, books, DVDs, and other sundry things. I've also cleaned out a bunch of unneeded papers and clothing, much of which was not fit to keep.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: The Whole Nine Yards

The high ridge of the Smokies, as seen from Cades Cove at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The AT travels along the peaks in the rear of the picture. It's several steep, rocky miles up from the Cades Cove area to the trail. Photo by Erin.


Date: March 16, 2015
Current Week: 03/11/15 - 03/17/15
Days until Amicalola: 9
Pounds to next weight goal: 7.2 (+4.8)
Total gained Last Week: 1.6
Total Lost Entire Period: 9.0
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 0
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 181
Minutes Exercised, Week: 135
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0.00
Miles Hiked, 2015: 3.76

Yeah, as expected, that was a bit costly. Probably more costly, as Sunday was not a day where I felt like doing much in the way of any exercise, so my two meals for the day probably didn't help as well. I've still got two days to turn this around, so I'm not that worried about the week. Even without any exercise on Sunday, I'm looking really good to have another increase in total exercise for another week in a row. Anyway, it's all moot come next Wednesday.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: Katahdin

A series of Rock Formations as Arches National Park known as Park Avenue. It got its name from its resemblance to the street of the same name in New York, as the rock formations look kind of like tall buildings with a street in the middle.


Date: March 15, 2015
Current Week: 03/11/15 - 03/17/15
Days until Amicalola: 10
Pounds to next weight goal: N/A (N/A)
Total gained Last Week: 1.6
Total Lost Entire Period: ??? (13.8 on Saturday)
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 40
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 181
Minutes Exercised, Week: 135
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0.00
Miles Hiked, 2015: 3.76

I don't have a recorded weight for today, because I was out of town until this afternoon, and did not take the scale with me. I can't imagine it was a good result, considering the amount of beer and less than healthy food I ate. On the other hand, I did get 40 minutes of recorded walking in yesterday, plus a good amount of walking that wasn't recorded as we walked back from the hockey game.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: Springer Saturday #10

This nondescript gravel road (not pictured: gravel) is USFS 42. This is the primary road to reach Springer Mountain trailhead, and the first road crossing of the NOBO Appalachian Trail. This was quite rough when my parents and I went up to Springer, but when Erin and I visited a couple years ago they had regraded and graveled the road, and it was in OK condition. I bet it's a lot closer to this picture right now.

Date: March 14, 2015
Current Week: 03/11/15 - 03/17/15
Days until Amicalola: 11
Pounds to next weight goal: 2.4 (-3.8)
Total gained Last Week: 1.6
Total Lost Entire Period: 13.8
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 15
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 181
Minutes Exercised, Week: 95
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0.00
Miles Hiked, 2015: 3.76

After two less than stellar days, I was able to rein things in on Friday, and look to be back on track. Just in time for a weekend with some friends from high school to send it heading back the other way. Oh well, I suppose this is a cushion for tonight.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: Pleasant Spring Days

The first plants of Spring along the Willow Creek Trail at Forest Glen. This picture was taken about a year ago during my first hike after coming back from double pneumonia. 


Date: March 13, 2015
Current Week: 03/11/15 - 03/17/15
Days until Amicalola: 12
Pounds to next weight goal: 6.0 (+0.4)
Total gained Last Week: 1.6
Total Lost Entire Period: 10.6
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 35
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 181
Minutes Exercised, Week: 80
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0.00
Miles Hiked, 2015: 3.76

What a difference a week makes. Last Friday, the morning began at around zero degrees Fahrenheit. Today it was almost 65 here in Schaumburg. I went to lunch without a coat or even jacket, something I wouldn't have done last week. Such is March weather.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: To

This is the view looking out from Fontana Dam. The river in the picture is the Little Tennessee River. Fontana is the highest dam east of the Rockies, and it looks the part. Photograph by Erin.


Date: March 12, 2015
Current Week: 03/11/15 - 03/17/15
Days until Amicalola: 13
Pounds to next weight goal: 5.6 (+0.4)
Total gained Last Week: 1.6
Total Lost Entire Period: 10.6
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 45
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 181
Minutes Exercised, Week: 45
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0.00
Miles Hiked, 2015: 3.76

Not a lot for today. I was slightly up from yesterday, but did get 45 minutes of walking in. I moved closer to getting things packed up and ready to move out. I even made some progress on the tree identification app, reaching a point where the app listed trees inserted into a SQLite Database.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: A Fortnight for Thee

The Sierra Nevada Mountains, near Sequoia National Park. Obviously these mountains are not along the Appalachian Trail, but the Pacific Crest Trail travels along the high ridges of these western peaks. Because of the trails length and the much higher elevations, through hikers on the PCT can often run into precarious situations with snow up on the higher elevations between Kennedy Meadows and Sonora Pass. If you wait too long to start so that you can avoid the snow in the High Sierra, you run the double risk of hiking the desert when it's way too hot (as opposed to merely uncomfortably hot) and then hitting the North Cascades just as the first dangerous snows of Fall begin.


Date: March 11, 2015
Current Week: 03/11/15 - 03/17/15
Days until Amicalola: 14
Pounds to next weight goal: 5.2 (-0.4)
Total gained Last Week: 1.6
Total Lost Entire Period: 11.0
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 35
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 181
Minutes Exercised, Week: 0
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0.00
Miles Hiked, 2015: 3.76

Two weeks to go.

That's all the time left before our Appalachian Trail hike begins. In less than 336 hours we'll say our goodbyes at Amicalola Falls State Park and head out on our way up the Approach Trail to Springer Mountain. Yeah, it's hard to believe the time is almost here. However, having a tough time dealing with the lateness of the hour before we step off doesn't change the fact its coming.

Andrew's Obligatory Gear List

A picture of my pack. The actual pack I'll be hiking with is a bit different from this, as it's a M/L pack (18-21 inches).
I suppose it's a tradition for a through-hiker to share what's going into their pack. Erin has already done it over at Appalachian Trials, and so now it's my turn.

The Pack: 

Kelty Coyote 80 M/L

At 80 Liters of capacity, this is one of the larger packs out there, at least for what is used by Appalachian Trail hikers. This makes sense, because I'm also bigger than the vast majority of the AT hikers. Everything, from my sleeping bag and pad, to my clothes and camp shoes, to the amount of food I need to carry, is bigger. Of course, that also means the weight of what I'll be packing is larger.

As mentioned in the caption of the photo, my actual pack I'll be hiking with is not the one I started with. I moved up to a M/L (18-21 inches) torso length pack from the S/M (15-18 inches). Judging from how the first one fit, I'm probably somewhere on the low end of that 18-21 inches, but this will make sure. I had to transfer the hip belt strap from the original pack to the new one, as the whole reason I bought the original pack was because it had a strap that fit my waist, something that is a rare find for a person of my size.

Tent:

Six Moons Designs Solo Tent
Six Moons Designs Footprint

I've never actually used this tent yet. However, it has been used four different nights by my brother Travis. While lighter than I am, he is a couple inches taller, and he was able to use the tent. This is good, because I need any weight savings I can get. There's no doubt my REI Half-Dome 2+ tent would be more comfortable, and by being a self standing tent more flexible in where I can set it up. However, it's also a lot of weight, whereas this tent doesn't require a rain fly and uses a trekking pole as it's primary support. It's one of my few concessions to "Ultralight Madness".

Sleeping System: 

Montbell 37 degree down sleeping bag
Sleeping Bag Liner
Thermarest Inflatable Sleeping Pad

Look, I'm aware the half-assed descriptions of these items. The simple fact is I'm not the kind of person who gets caught up in worrying about equipment and gear. I don't have strong opinions on who makes the best sleeping bag, what the best material is, or reviewing benchmarks of which species of bird the down came from. Unless we see a repeat of February weather in April, I'm confident this combination will get me through both the coldest and warmest nights on the trail, even if I have to put on some of my outwear to make it through.

Clothing:

Marmot Polartec Vest
Columbia Klamath Range II Half-Zip Long Sleeve Shirt
Long-Sleeve Thermal T-Shirt
Thermal Pants
Big & Tall Khaki Pants
Smartwool Socks (3 pair)
REI Performance Tech Tee
Town T-Shirt
Town Underwear

Clothing is an area that I was worried about finding items that would fit. Fortunately there was enough that I could make do, with only pants being the one elusive thing I've yet to find. It won't take much to get into a range where I'll have better options than my cotton khakis, but they'll have to do for now. Beyond that I think I have a nice range of clothing options depending upon the weather. Of course I don't have shorts, which I may look into some town shorts for sleeping. However, I don't hike in shorts. It's partly because of an experience involving some shin level sharp plants that I had to walk through on one trail a while back, and partly because of how often I've fallen down. I was able to compress all of these clothes save for the Marmot vest, the pants, and a pair of socks into a 10L Sea to Summit Stuff Sack.

Rain/Snow Gear:

Beanie
Gloves
Frogg Toggs Rain Poncho
The North Face Venture Rain Jacket
Gaiters
Katoolah Microspikes

My rain and snow gear is pretty basic, with an option for colder rain, an option for warmer rain, and some protection for my head and hands in case of cold weather (especially when in camp). I'm hoping I won't have much need for the microspikes, but those high ridges in North Carolina and Tennessee might prove to be stubborn in giving up the snow and ice during the first month or so.

Walking System:

Merrell Moab Midtop Hiking Shoes
Leki Trekking Poles
Crocs

I'll be starting with a fresh pair of these shoes, as I've had a lot of use out of the previous pair. The Leki Poles were some of the first hiking equipment I purchased, and they've done me good so far. One of them will be doubly important because it's the main support for my tent. The Crocs are a lightweight shoe that will be good for wearing in camp, and perhaps to use as well when I am fording a creek or river.

Cooking System:

JetBoil Sumo Stove
Propane/Butane Fuel Canister
Spork

I've used this stove several times, including a couple times while hiking, and I have to say that it works pretty well. The cooking pot/cup is quite large, but my meals are quite large.

Hydration System
Two 25oz Nalgene Bottles
Sawyer Gravity Filter clean water bladder.

For daily hiking purposes I'll be using the nalgene bottles. The bladder will be more useful for camp and its various needs.

Water Purification:
Sawyer Gravity Filter
Aquamira

Logistics and Navigation:
Compass
Maps
AWOL's AT Guide
Suunto Core Watch

Communications
Moto X Phone
Radio/Charger/Flashlight Combo device
Portable Charger Stick
Charger Cord

My phone will double at times as a book, as I can use my Kindle app.

Hygiene/First Aid
Biodegradable Soap
Toothbrush/Toothpaste
Tweezers
First Aid Kit (with the usual stuff)
Generic Tylenol PM
Camp Towel
Sunscreen
Insect Repellent

Nothing too exceptional here. The hiker's "Vitamin I" is off the table because of some kidney issues I had back when I got pneumonia. Instead my liver will be taking one for the team with Vitamin "T".

Not included are a razor and shaving cream, which will not be traveling with me, although they will have their own trip in our bounce box, going from post office to post office.

Luxury Items
Trail Journal
Earbuds
GoPro Hero 4 (with protective case)
Plastic Protective Wallet

I won the GoPro at a Christmas Party raffle at work, and you better believe it's getting used. Although I'll be updating this blog frequently (as well as Facebook and Twitter), my Trail Journal will still be kept the old fashioned way by pen and paper. Not sure how often I'll need the ear buds on the trail, but they'll come in handy in town and in the tent/shelter.

Food

Of course, the one thing I haven't discussed is my food. It's the heaviest category in this list. My main food is going to be oatmeal, quinoa, and macaroni, with tuna, peanut butter, nuts, and various sundry snacks filling out the roster.We'll also have jerky and dried fruits courtesy of my evaporator to enjoy at various times during our hike.

Wrap-up
The last weigh-in I did with my pack came in at about ~47 pounds. With some omissions of a couple unnecessary items that were taking up some weight, and a trimming of a few things from my food bag, it's probably closer to between 40 and 45 pounds now. Truth is there isn't much I can do about it. My clothing, even though a lot of it is fairly light, is still heavier than most. I have to take more food to keep a minimal effective calorie intake, and the extra material for the larger pack, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad do add some weight. I think the weight is pretty manageable, but as I make my way north, I anticipate figuring out ways to cut down on some of that.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: Goodbye, Ruby Tuesday

This white blaze was on a rock wall near the Fontana Dam and Visitors Center, which is the entry point into Great Smoky Mountains National Park for the Appalachian Trail. While the vast majority of blazes can be found on tree trunks, there are plenty of more creative places they hide as well, including a lot of rocks that make you think "The trail goes THERE?!?" Photograph by Erin.


Date: March 10, 2015
Current Week: 03/04/15 - 03/10/15
Days until Amicalola: 15
Pounds to next weight goal: 5.6 (+0.8)
Total lost Last Week: 3.2
Total Lost Entire Period: 10.6
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 25
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 165
Minutes Exercised, Week: 146
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0.00
Miles Hiked, 2015: 3.76

Monday turned out to be a pretty "meh" day, which is what I expected. I kind of splurged at lunch and a bit at dinner, which resulted in going up a bit. It was less than one pound, and I'm hoping for a better result tomorrow.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: Miles

Along the Appalachian Trail at Grayson Highlands State Park in southern Virginia. Not pictured are the famous ponies of the park. They did not show up during the part of the trail we walked, although we heard they were SOBO down the trail from Massie Gap, where we walked up to the trail. It's hard to tell from this picture, but Grayson Highlands is one of the places along the trail where you really feel like you are high up in the mountains.

Date: March 9, 2015
Current Week: 03/04/15 - 03/10/15
Days until Amicalola: 16
Pounds to next weight goal: 4.8 (-3.6)
Total lost Last Week: 3.2
Total Lost Entire Period: 11.4
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 20
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 165
Minutes Exercised, Week: 121
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0.00
Miles Hiked, 2015: 3.76

Just as I thought, it turned out that the weekend wasn't so bad after all. I got 70 minutes of exercise, and didn't too terrible (if not overly great) with food. In fact, it was one of the best weekend results I've had in a while, erasing most (but not all) of the mess that I made on Wednesday and Thursday.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola; Just Making it up as I Go Along

Miners (not Minors) Castle, from an overlook at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. From this overlook you can walk down stairs and pathways to a point about even with the rock formation. Why was it called a "castle"? Well, there used to be a second "tower" on the formation, which gave it the appearance of a rocky stronghold on the edge of Lake Superior.

Date: March 8, 2015
Current Week: 03/04/15 - 03/10/15
Days until Amicalola: 17
Pounds to next weight goal: N/A (N/A)
Total lost Last Week: 3.2
Total Lost Entire Period: N/A
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 50
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 165
Minutes Exercised, Week: 101
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0.00
Miles Hiked, 2015: 3.76

I once again did not weigh in. Not because of the bad results from Thursday and Friday, but because I wasn't where my scale was to weigh in before I ate the first meal of the day. I can't imagine Saturday would have been good, but Sunday may have been OK. I got a fair amount of exercise, walking almost fifty minutes (with another ten or so that I didn't record). I had two calorie rich meals and some snacks, but the meals weren't completely overboard. It was the prime example of how to do a weekend day involving a visit of my parents.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: Springer Saturday #9

This is not on Springer Mountain, but it is on the approach trail to the start of the AT. This little monument is overshadowed by the more prominent arch marking the start of the approach trail.

Date: March 7, 2015
Week: 03/04-03/10
Minutes exercised: 15
Minutes exercised week: 51

No weight recorded from yesterday because I was away from the scale. However, I doubt it was too good.  Sometimes you and your parents order dessert at a restaurant you frequent.  Sometimes the manager of said restaurant surprises you with an off menu dessert as well. They were delicious,  but not helpful.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: Fickle Friday

Memorial to John Muir along the Ice Age Trail near the site of his family's first home in Wisconsin. Muir was the founder of the Sierra Club and a strong proponent of the preservation of natural areas.


Date: March 6, 2015
Week: 03/04 - 03/10
Days left: 19 days
Minutes exercised yesterday: 21
Pounds gained: 2.6

Gonna make this quick because I'm posting from my phone. This is starting to look like kind of a wasted week in terms of weight. Prussia I can still get some good exercise in, and finish the week strong.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: 2189.2

A shot through trees at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It won't be quite so green when we make our journey along the 70 mile or so of the Appalachian Trail in the park.

Date: March 5, 2015
Current Week: 03/04/15 - 03/10/15
Days until Amicalola: 20
Pounds to next weight goal: 5.8 (+2.2)
Total lost Last Week: 3.2
Total Lost Entire Period: 12.6
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 15
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 165
Minutes Exercised, Week: 15
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0.00
Miles Hiked, 2015: 3.76

It didn't go very well yesterday. Well, the day itself was OK, and I had a great time with the people on my team at work. However, drinking beer and eating greasy food is not usually a good combination for losing weight. I'm not too confident about today either, but perhaps it will be better than yesterday. Oh well, a day here and there like yesterday isn't too bad. I just don't want to make a habit of it.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: Three Weeks to Go

OK, this is not along the Appalachian Trail. It's a picture of Yosemite Valley from the Tunnel Overlook, arguably the most famous overlook in the National Park system. Why'd I use this picture? Because I've sort of run out of unique pictures from the Appalachian Trail, and I like this picture.

Date: March 4, 2015
Current Week: 03/04/15 - 03/10/15
Days until Amicalola: 21
Pounds to next weight goal: 3.6 (0.0)
Total lost Last Week: 3.2
Total Lost Entire Period: 12.6
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 15
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 165
Minutes Exercised, Week: 0
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0.00
Miles Hiked, 2015: 3.76

So in anticipating the final result of last week, I overlooked a third possibility that I could stay at the same weight from the day before. Naturally that's what happened, leaving me at 3-3-1 for the week. Of course, I still ended up down for the week, thanks in large part to the one-two punch of a good Saturday and Monday.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: A Dream of Spring

This is looking NOBO along the Appalachian Trail no more than a quarter mile from Newfound Gap. The trail goes up through the middle of that boulder, as there are some "stairs" carved into it. Rocks like this can give me a bit of trouble going down hill, although this one isn't that bad at all going up (which is what we'll be doing on our through hike).


Date: March 3, 2015
Current Week: 02/25/15 - 03/03/15
Days until Amicalola: 22
Pounds to next weight goal: 3.6 (-1.8)
Total gain Last Week: 1.2
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 20
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 154
Minutes Exercised, Week: 150
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0.00
Miles Hiked, 2015: 3.76

With the result of this morning, I know stand at three days up and three days down. While I won't hit my goal of 5 days down and 2 up, I can still get a majority down week with a good result tomorrow. And beyond the daily counts, the three days I have been down on the whole have been better than the three days I was up. Unless I completely mess up today, I should still be down for the week.

Countdown to Amicalola: A Window of Opportunity

It's possible that this will be similar to what Great Smoky Mountains National Park will look like when we hike through in April. The lower elevations (which are not along the Appalachian Trail) will be well into Spring, while the high ridges (where the AT travels, although not on the pictured Mt. LeConte) will be reluctantly moving out of Winter.

Date: March 2, 2015
Current Week: 02/25/15 - 03/03/15
Days until Amicalola: 23
Pounds to next weight goal: 5.4 (+0.4)
Total gain Last Week: 1.2
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 30
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 154
Minutes Exercised, Week: 130
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0.00
Miles Hiked, 2015: 3.76

This post is actually going up in the wee hours of Tuesday, March 3, thanks to me not getting it written before I made the drive up to Schaumburg. I worked remotely today so I wouldn't have to deal with any fall out from the snow storm that hit central Illinois yesterday, but had to drive up this evening to avoid a mixture of bad weather that would have made an early drive in, oh, five hours or so quite dangerous. So today will have the rare (but not unique honor) of having two journal posts, at least during the clock day.

As for the usual stuff, I don't have much for today. I was up a bit, which was not a big surprise considering I didn't eat dinner until about 8:00, making most of the eating after that time. Also, given the jump down the previous day I would have been surprised, given the day of eating I had, that I would have lost anything. Nevertheless, I ended the weekend with a net loss, even if only one day was I down. Hopefully I can build on this the final two days of this week.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: Welcome to March

The mountains of North Carolina and Georgia as the sun goes down. Taken from Wayah Bald along the Appalachian Trail.


Date: March 1, 2015
Current Week: 02/25/15 - 03/03/15
Days until Amicalola: 24
Pounds to next weight goal: 5.0 (-3.6)
Total gain Last Week: 1.2
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 40
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 154
Minutes Exercised, Week: 100
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0.00
Miles Hiked, 2015: 3.76

Saturday was a good day, the second day this week I've been down. I did it by keeping within my calorie limit for the day, and getting 40 minutes of exercise (in this case by walking in place). I can't say how things for today's check-in tomorrow, but that was a big one.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: Springer Saturday #8

The Appalachian Trail on the way up to Springer Mountain. A lot of the places along the trail in Georgia look like this.


Date: February 28, 2015
Current Week: 02/25/15 - 03/03/15
Days until Amicalola: 25
Pounds to next weight goal: 7.6 (+1.2)
Total gain Last Week: 1.2
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 15
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 154
Minutes Exercised, Week: 60
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0.00
Miles Hiked, 2015: 3.76

My goal for this week was to lose weight in five of the seven weigh-ins. So far my two increases have already occurred, so the cushion has been erased, and I have two weekend readings left to record. We'll have to see how things go.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: The Packing, Part Two

Here's a terrible picture of my pack sitting in a chair. It's a victory that there isn't anything hanging off of it. Well, besides the 75 straps.


Date: February 27, 2015
Current Week: 02/25/15 - 03/03/15
Days until Amicalola: 26
Pounds to next weight goal: 8.4 (+2.2)
Total gain Last Week: 1.2
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 30
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 154
Minutes Exercised, Week: 45
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0.00
Miles Hiked, 2015: 3.76

Someday I'm going to learn that just because I exercise a fair amount and cut of my eating at around 8:00 doesn't mean I can eat whatever I want. Or at least someday (in about, say, 26 days or so,) I'll be exercising so much that the amount I eat can be effectively unlimited. Unfortunately, yesterday was neither of those things. My goal is to be down five of the seven days, so I'll have to buck the trend with my weekend and be down two of the days.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: The Packing, Part One

My quite comfortable and spacious REI Half-Dome will not be making the journey with me, as it is just too much tent to carry, considering it's just me in the tent.

Date: February 26, 2015
Current Week: 02/25/15 - 03/03/15
Days until Amicalola: 27
Pounds to next weight goal: 6.2 (-0.6)
Total gain Last Week: 1.2
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 15
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 162
Minutes Exercised, Week: 15
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0.00
Miles Hiked, 2015: 3.76

In terms of the daily grind, it was a pretty typical day. I exercised, did OK in the evening, and reversed the stagnation of the previous day. Nothing too elaborate, nothing really different from many days during this journal's duration.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: That Brings Us to Four Weeks

The view to the north from atop Blood Mountain. Blood Mountain is the highest point along the AT in Georgia. For reference, this was taken about three weeks earlier in the calendar year before we'll be hiking through here towards the end of March. Those trees, while not technically true krummholz, have similar characteristics. The trees on prominent peaks in Georgia, like Blood Mountain and Brasstown Bald, are often stunted because of the harsh and windy weather conditions. 

Date: February 25, 2015
Current Week: 02/25/15 - 03/03/15
Days until Amicalola: 28
Pounds to next weight goal: 6.8 (+0.0)
Total gain Last Week: 1.2
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 25
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 162
Minutes Exercised, Week: 154
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0.00
Miles Hiked, 2015: 3.76

My self-described "crap week" ended at least with a fairly neutral result. I didn't go up again, but I didn't go down. This left the week up 1.2 pounds from last Wednesday. Frankly, given the stressful situation I had at work, I'm glad it wasn't worse. Considering that I can be a major stress eater, particularly when things are kind of chaotic at work, I maintained pretty well. Had I kept down a bit of the snacking on sweet stuff the past couple days, I probably would have turned it around.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: 5000 Candles in the Wind

The colors of Turkey Run, in a great photograph by Erin. This picture of an Indiana park is in honor of the end of Parks and Recreation.


Date: February 24, 2015
Current Week: 02/18/15 - 02/24/15
Days until Amicalola: 29
Pounds to next weight goal: 6.8 (+0.4)
Total loss Last Week: 1.0
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 40
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 162
Minutes Exercised, Week: 129
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0.00
Miles Hiked, 2015: 3.76

So I was up 0.4 pounds yesterday, which certainly was a bit disappointing but not really indicative of much, other than perhaps I ate too much at dinner. It wasn't like it was a terribly awful reversal, just not a decrease. All in all, a thoroughly "meh" day in this journal.

Now that Erin has put her cards out on the table with her gear list, I suppose I need to follow through and put my list together.  And also, I need to make sure that list of gear will actually fit in my pack. I'm not sure, but that might be a bit important.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance

Looking through Cumberland Gap into Kentucky. Right here is near where Virginia and Kentucky border each other, but Tennessee is also part of this picture. This picture has nothing to do with the Appalachian Trail, but it does have everything to do with thinking about weather that isn't incredibly freezing cold.


Date: February 23, 2015
Current Week: 02/18/15 - 02/24/15
Days until Amicalola: 30
Pounds to next weight goal: 6.4 (+1.0)
Total loss Last Week: 1.0
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 39
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 162
Minutes Exercised, Week: 89
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 1.10
Miles Hiked, 2015: 3.76

So a night where I gave in and had some snacks masked a day of short, yet vigorous, hiking. I took a trip out to Spring Valley Nature Preserve here in Schaumburg to give my microspikes a good tryout. While the hike wasn't anything too bad, it was certainly icy. Between the melt from the rare thaws we've had since the Super Bowl Sunday storm and a fair amount of traffic on the main trail, the path was a sheet of ice. I never had an issue with traction, worrying more about stepping in a now-frozen foot hole that could possibly turn my ankle.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: The Winner Is

Sunrise near the top of Clingman's Dome. Those are clouds deep in the valley below, although they certainly look like lakes. About a half mile up the Clingman's Dome trail from here is the highest point along the Appalachian Trail.

Date: February 22, 2015
Current Week: 02/18/15 - 02/24/15
Days until Amicalola: 31
Pounds to next weight goal: 5.4 (+1.2)
Total loss Last Week: 1.0
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 25
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 162
Minutes Exercised, Week: 50
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0
Miles Hiked, 2015: 2.66

So it looks like the expected gain on Friday showed up a day light. I actually adhered pretty closely to the 8:00 rule yesterday, but perhaps the stuff I ate before then was still too much for the day. Even with the 25 minute walk I took in the evening.

With a few more gear purchases I made this weekend, I think I'm now pretty much set with what I'm going with for the trail come a month from now. I still plan on buying a new pair of hiking shoes of the same type I currently have, so I can start fresh.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: Springer Saturday #7

This is the blue blazed path from the main Appalachian Trail path to the Springer shelter and camp site.

Date: February 21, 2015
Current Week: 02/18/15 - 02/24/15
Days until Amicalola: 32
Pounds to next weight goal: 4.2 (-0.4)
Total loss Last Week: 1.0
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 0
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 162
Minutes Exercised, Week: 25
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0
Miles Hiked, 2015: 2.66

Yeah, I'm kind of surprised by that. Despite having a large meal last night, and having no formal exercise (outside of a slow but steady walk up the stairs to the 6th floor of my office building) I still was slightly down today. Granted, this is probably a bit of a side effect from weighing in well after noon (having had nothing to eat before that). This was a combination of sleeping in late and having to do some emergency work, which pushed off the usual start of the day activities.

With less than five weeks to go, I still have some things to deal with to get ready for the hike. Namely, I need to get some practice in packing my pack. I purchased some thinner (and smaller) water bottles yesterday, so I could use the pockets on the side of my pack. My previous bottles were too fat. On our shakedown, I was able to pack everything I needed, but I only had two days worth of food, and didn't have a full complement of clothing. I also didn't have any sort of rain gear packed. My pack's big enough I'll get everything I need in there, I just have to be smart about it. My usual strategy of throwing everything in a bag pell-mell just won't cut it.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: Rebound Friday

The high ridge of the Smokies on the cusp of autumn, from an overlook near Cataloochee Valley, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Appalachian Trail is somewhere along the high ridge in the background.

Date: February 20, 2015
Current Week: 02/18/15 - 02/24/15
Days until Amicalola: 33
Pounds to next weight goal: 4.6 (-2.0)
Total loss Last Week: 1.0
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 15
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 162
Minutes Exercised, Week: 25
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0
Miles Hiked, Week: 0
Miles Hiked, 2015: 2.66

It was a strong bounce back in the right direction following Thursday's less than stellar result. Like the best days, it was achieved by cutting myself off from eating after 8:00 and limiting what I ate for dinner. I wouldn't expect this result to extend to a second day, as it was a very tough week at work that ended on a very high note. As such, I enjoyed violating both the 8:00 rule and my "go easy on dinner" rule. It's probably mitigated a bit by the fact that I didn't go overboard at lunch, but only a bit.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: Meh Thursday

One of the views from the tower atop Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia. I believe the Appalachian Trail is on one of the ridge lines in the distance.

Date: February 19, 2015
Current Week: 02/18/15 - 02/24/15
Days until Amicalola: 34
Pounds to next weight goal: 6.6 (+1.4)
Total loss Last Week: 1.0
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 10
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 162
Minutes Exercised, Week: 10
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0
Miles Hiked, Week: 0
Miles Hiked, 2015: 2.66

Eh, yesterday was the first in a long line of non-holiday weekdays that I didn't keep my pace. Circumstances kind of forced me to eat dinner after the 8:00 deadline had passed, and also limited my exercise to about ten minutes of walking in the incredibly cold conditions in Schaumburg. Perhaps this just means that the weekend will be the opposite of usual, and actually turn out pretty well. We'll just have to see.

Looking Towards the AT: Virginia Blues, Part 3 (Troutville to Waynesboro)

I believe this may be along the Blue Ridge Parkway close to its northern terminus at the southern entrance of Shenandoah National Park. 


Section: Virginia, from Troutville to Waynesboro 
Region: South
Miles of trail: 132.4
Highlights: The Priest, James River Bridge, Blue Ridge Parkway


For most of the 469 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway, it has little to do with the Appalachian Trail. It starts several miles down US 441 from Newfound Gap in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and heads in a northeasterly pattern from there. As the AT follows the western edge of the Blue Ridge, the BRP follows the eastern edge, going by the Black Mountains (and Mount Mitchell, the highest peak of the Appalachians).

The last 100 miles however, the trail and the parkway become intertwined, with the trail making a crossing of the Parkway many times. These 100 miles are also the part of the BRP in Virginia that looks closer to the high vistas of the first 100 miles of the roadway, rather than the pastoral meadows and woods to the south of Roanoke. It's a beautiful drive, and I imagine it is a pretty nice hike as well.

While the trail begins deep in the heart of Virginia, the northern end of this segment marks the move of the AT into the northern portion of the state. Here, near Waynesboro, is the crossing of I-64 and the beginning of Shenandoah National Park (specifically the southern terminus of Skyline Drive). As such it would be easy to define this part of the trail by its end.

However, there are some sights to see along the trail. Most famous is probably The Priest is a peak along the blue ridge that is famous for a rocky outcropping near the summit, giving a panoramic view of the Tye River valley. The pictures I've seen look rather interesting, but also a possible place for my latent fear of heights to kick in.*

While there are plenty of places along this section that are high up above the valley, the hike is also defined by two major river crossings. The second, across the Tye River, is after an over 3,000 foot descent from The Priest. The first encountered by the NOBO hikers is the James River, making its way out of the mountains down to Richmond, the Hampton Roads, and eventually the Atlantic. Here is a footbridge across the wide river, the longest foot only bridge on the trail.

There aren't any trail towns directly on the trail along this segment once you leave Troutville, at least until you get to the other end. Even here Waynesboro itself is a couple miles off the trail, but should be fairly easy to reach, upon where a multitude of hotels, restaurants, and shops are available for a hiker preparing for the hike through Shenandoah.

* I know, I know. "But Andrew, if you have a fear of heights, why do you hike?" The answer is that I don't have a fear of all heights. For instance, I'm fine flying, or in a tall building (that doesn't have floor to ceiling windows). For the most part I don't feel it while hiking down a hill with drops on the side. However, overlooks, particularly those on rocky outcrops, can make me a bit nervous.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: Five Weeks to Go

This is Amicalola Falls, but the vantage point is a bit different than some of the other pictures I've used. It's taken during the Summer, when the vegetation crowds around the falls. Also, it's taken from the bridge between the upper and lower stairs. The falls can be reached from a parking lot and a short, gentle walk for those who can't (or prefer not to) take the stairs.


Date: February 18, 2015
Current Week: 02/11/15 - 02/17/15
Days until Amicalola: 35
Pounds to next weight goal: 5.2 (-3.2)
Total loss Last Week: 1.0
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 25
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 162
Minutes Exercised, Week: 0
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0
Miles Hiked, Week: 0
Miles Hiked, 2015: 2.66

My suspicion about yesterday morning appears to be correct. A good night's sleep and a return to the usual pattern resulted in a total improvement for the week. I would still like a better pace than what I've seen, but I'm still happy I'm heading the right way. I know the pace will pick up if I can continue to improve during the weekends.

So here we sit, five weeks out. There's been more time logged in this journal than there is left, yet it still feels a bit surreal. There's a lot to get done in the next thirty-five days. Actually, it's more like thirty-two days, given that a few days before the big day will be spent traveling to Amicalola, and our "ceremonial" kick-off walking up the 600 stairs to the top of the falls.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: Tired Tuesday

Looking NOBO on the Appalachian Trail at Newfound Gap, Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I wouldn't recommend going too far from the parking lot without some sort of traction assistance on your feet.


Date: February 17, 2015
Current Week: 02/11/15 - 02/17/15
Days until Amicalola: 36
Pounds to next weight goal: 8.4 (+1.2)
Total loss Last Week: 2.0
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 20
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 187
Minutes Exercised, Week: 137
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0
Miles Hiked, Week: 0
Miles Hiked, 2015: 2.66

After a good Sunday, Monday was a turn towards the wrong direction. I think this was primarily due to getting up at 5:00 in the morning after not going to sleep until about three hours earlier. As such, the overnight weight loss machinations never triggered completely, leaving me stuck. Had I been able to sleep until 9:00 or so (a more normal wake-up time for me) I may have lost weight, or at least been up less.

Despite the setback, I'm happy with most of how yesterday played out. I made it out for a 20 minute walk in the frigid cold, and kept to my 8:00 rule. As long as I stick to those principles on the whole, I'm confident I'll keep moving in the right direction.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: Bucking the Trend

The Johnson's Shut-Ins State Park namesake rock formations in the East Fork of the Black River. When the river isn't high (like it was this day), this is a popular place for people to swim in the pools of water that form due to these formations.


Date: February 16, 2015
Current Week: 02/11/15 - 02/17/15
Days until Amicalola: 37
Pounds to next weight goal: 7.2 (-1.0)
Total loss Last Week: 3.0
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 20
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 187
Minutes Exercised, Week: 117
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0
Miles Hiked, Week: 0
Miles Hiked, 2015: 2.66

The weekend ended quite well, as I was down this morning, the first weigh-in after a weekend day where that has happened in a while. It helped that I only had two meals, and was able to brave the cold to get a 20 minute walk in. I still have two days, including a day off from work today, to erase the increase that remains from the weekend, but I'm glad about the result nonetheless.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: Out of the Cold

The "bog" at Volo Bog State Natural Area, near Volo, IL. It's not technically a bog, as it does have an outlet for the water to flow. However, the vegetation and wildlife doesn't know the difference.
Date: February 15, 2015
Current Week: 02/11/15 - 02/17/15
Days until Amicalola: 38
Pounds to next weight goal: 8.2 (+1.8)
Total loss Last Week: 3.0
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 0
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 187
Minutes Exercised, Week: 97
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0
Miles Hiked, Week: 0
Miles Hiked, 2015: 2.66

Eh, not much to report today. Thanks in large part to the blustery, frigid weather yesterday, I didn't get out and get any formal exercise. I didn't do exceptionally bad on the eating front, although I had a fair amount of calories in liquid form. All in all it's another typical weekend struggle that isn't unexpected. I'm hoping there will be a rally over the next couple days from this long weekend.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Countdown to Amicalola: Springer Saturday #6

The Appalachian Trail is not the only trail to start atop Springer Mountain. Also leaving from there is the Benton MacKaye trail, a long distance trail that goes from Springer Mountain to Davenport Gap at the east end of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The trail is named after Benton MacKaye, who came up with the initial idea of the AT.

Date: February 14, 2015
Current Week: 02/11/15 - 02/17/15
Days until Amicalola: 39
Pounds to next weight goal: 6.4 (+2.2)
Total loss Last Week: 3.0
Weight Goals Met: 0
Minutes Exercised, Yesterday: 30
Minutes Exercised, Last Week: 187
Minutes Exercised, Week: 97
Miles Hiked, Yesterday: 0
Miles Hiked, Week: 0
Miles Hiked, 2015: 2.66

As expected, Friday was an up day on the whole for me. Today may be as well, although I didn't have lunch so I might squeak in under the wire for this one. Not much more to say about that.