Post-Trail Notes – October 30 & 31 (Texas, Bellevue, NE)

Good evening and Happy Halloween!

I flew back into Omaha this morning, having had a 5:15 am flight out of Killeen… three hours of sleep last night!

Tomorrow I have to dive into financial matters, and start organizing/labeling pictures. Today I feel tired and disoriented, and not sure how I should feel, because this is it. This is the end of the journey. There’s nowhere else that I am travelling to; I’m not going to wake up tomorrow, or the next day, and go somewhere else. Though I plan a lot more steps in my life journey, they will be done from this base for the foreseeable future.

It’s really great to see my brother and father again. They survived my absence well! While Tom was still at work, Dad and I took a short walk. I would have walked longer on my own, but the discovery of today was that none of my shoes at home fit me at this point, my feet are still larger than they were, and my toes were very cramped in the sneakers. I will have to do something about that, cannot go everywhere in hiking boots or crocs. We ate out at Golden Corral, Tom’s treat, because La Mesa closed early on Halloween for some reason. I filled my plates with mostly veggies, but I still like how they make their steaks, so…

I’d forgotten how nice it can be to type on a full size keyboard as well. I have my tablet charging, and the Kindle is next in line. It’s just as well, because I accidentally dropped the Android on a tiled floor in Texas and now it has TWO shattered corners and three big cracks running through it. I think it is mad at me.

I live on!

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Post-Trail Notes – Introspective (Texas) – October 28 & 29

The time in Virginia, and now in Texas has been very good for me over the past few days. It has provided a good transition time, seeing a lot of family, but also gradually moving me from a trail mindset more to a ‘regular life’ one in a very peaceful way, before I return to Bellevue and the stress rachets up again. Readjusting to civilization, and hot showers every day! (I really like that part.)

So I have been thinking a lot, and having a lot of serious conversations with my cousins and my sister. I’m not yet ready to announce any firm conclusions yet, but this I do know… I’m looking beyond what I was and what I did before trail. Yes, I will likely return to a similar job, at least for a while, but I want more, want to be more, and I think now I’m finally ready to break the mold and take the next steps, or steps. 

In fact, I’m excited about it. And nervous, in a way, but if there is anything I learned on the trail, it’s that it’s okay to be nervous, even terrified, as long as you keep pushing forward to your larger anyway. If I can translate that into the larger picture, I’m going to be all right. I have started developing a set of intermediate goals toward that larger picture, and if I can’t make it to a shelter (goal), I’ll just readjust the plan and stealth camp along the way, or take a blueblaze trail that will get me there by a different route.

Texas has been a lot of fun, especially with my sister and her family here. Yesterday Cathy and I went out hiking around Enchanted Rocks State Park for several hours, climbing first to the summit, then halfway around on the 4.5 mile loop trail, then some rock-scrambling in the saddle between the two peaks in the park. It felt great to be hiking again, and the summit climb on granite reminded me strongly of the White Mountains, on a much smaller, but very enjoyable scale. The rock-scrambling was reminiscent of Mahoosuc Notch, again, on a smaller scale. Loved every minute of it. 

I’ve also started to try to eat healthier – I am very surprised and pleased that I am down to a size 6 instead of 14, and I intend to stay that way. I now have a Fitbit that I will put to good use, and one of those intermediate life steps I was talking about includes joining some fitness classes when I am back home. Over 7 months, I have walked myself into the best shape I have ever been in, I am not going to blow it if I can help it!

Which isn’t to say I’m not fully appreciating the sheer variety of food available back here in civilization! I’ve had Greek, Mexican, German, American. Just trying to be careful to pick healthier entrees, and cut back on the hamburger/ice cream diet. I think my body is gradually coming around to the realization I don’t need the huge number of calories a day that I did. It’ll take time. 

Monday, I’ll be back in Nebraska. Tomorrow, I plan to take it mostly easy, but also to get a long walk in during the day. The weather here is wonderful.

I live on!

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Post-Trail Notes – October 27 (Newport News VA, Richmond VA, Atlanta GA, Austin TX)

Nearly too tired to blog tonight. A long day of travel, sandwiched in between BBQ in VA and Mexican in TX. Atlanta airport nearly drove me insane – too many people in a relatively small atea, I ducked into a bar for some respite and a beer to settle my nerves. Too long outside and isolated.

 The flights themselves were nothing unusual, save for being early on the TX leg. My sister Cathy arrived at the airport at the same time I did, very convenient! Then it was off to a Mexican restaurant where my niece Nicole was waiting. She has grown into such a beautiful young woman!

Tomorrow will be a good, full day, wandering around TX with Cathy and getting some hiking in. Serious craving for a Greek salad right now.

I will sleep well tonight.

I live on!

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Post-Trail Notes – October 26 (Newport News, Colonial Williamsburg, Yorktown)

I apologize for not blogging last night, but I was out with the cousins, and it was a four drink night!

I slept in, on a very comfortable bed, and woke up to find a hot shower only steps away! I eventually wobbled out about 8:30 to get a cup of coffee and shoot the political breeze with cousin Jean. Definitely off trail now!

I organized my gear into ‘ship home’ and ‘keep with’ piles, and we visited a UPS store to ship home the much bigger pile. It cost more than I expected, but was still cheaper and much easier than lugging the pack through airports and trying to check it as luggage. 

Also, we stopped by a Dunkin’ Donuts so I could get some fuel. Now, Jean has been teasing me about my New England accent for days now. So, when I walked into this donut shop and ordered a ham and cheddar sandwich, the first words out of the cashier’s mouth – “You sound like you’re from the North.” *mental groan* “I AM from the North. Don’t hold it against me.” Mental note – avoid words ending in ‘r’ while down here. Five words, and the cheddah was my downfall.

Jean was eager to show me the Noland Trail, a five mile circuit around a beautiful lake near the Mariners Museum in Newport News, and we walked and talked about 3.5 miles. It’s a well-maintained trail, and they paint the roots on the path with flourescent orange paint for better visibility. I can only imagine how much paint they would need for that purpose in Maine, the whole trail would be solid orange! 

Then we drove over to Williamsburg to wander the streets and back in time. There were fewer people in period costume than I expected, but somehow that made it feel more real and much less like a theme park than I expected. Jean knew the history and made a great tour guide, and we just took our time. Eventually, we ended up on the campus of William and Mary, which Jefferson attended. That was our turn around point, and then we headed back on the other side of the street. There was a hat merchant on the way, and I was seriously contemplating buying a tri-corner hat, but settled for having a picture while wearing it. 

Jean took me to lunch at a restaurant right on the tarmac of the small regional airport, and we watched small private planes taking off and landing while enjoying some great food. I discovered all over again that my hand-eye coordination stinks when attempting to flip a penny. Ah, well. Can’t have everything.

Yorktown was next, a visit to the cave Cornwallis was forced to use as a headquarters, a cannonball still embedded high up in a house’s brick wall, some mental imagining of warships where the York River enters the Chesapeake Bay, and I pulled off boots and socks and walked barefoot in the sand a bit – that was really great! It was getting late and chilly though, so we headed back.

I did request a stop at Wal-Mart on the way back, and took a lot longer inside than I meant to, but I was desperately wanting to buy some clothes that were not hiking-related and not clothes I have been wearing for months. Just a pair of pants and a nice looking shirt, was all I wanted. And to get my glasses back to where they were not in danger of falling off my nose every minute. It took longer to get the pants than I thought because I took a size 10 and 12 into the dressing room with me – no, and no again. Even after the large lunch I had – it appears I am a size 8 now. When I started out – I was a size 14. Now to figure out how to keep it off! (Actually, those pants are too big. I needed to go down to 6, I think.)

Dinner was at a seafood restaurant with my cousins Theresa and Patti, after two glasses of wine and time hanging out at Jean’s. Very good food – I think. Certainly the rumrunners were very good, and made the rest a bit fuzzy.. Okay, more than a bit fuzzy. But a lot of fun, and with people I rarely get to see! I pretty much fell into bed when we got back, and that was all she wrote! (Or didn’t write.)

I live on!

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Trail Notes – October 25 (Cole Mt.)

Veni, vidi, hiki.

All right. 

After a first rate breakfast at the Sheraton, including fresh fruit and more sausages than I knew I should eat, we were off to the hostel again! Leaving the car there seemed like the best idea, since it was only a half mile off the Rt. 624 trail crossing, and we could walk back when the hike was over. 

So we were shuttled to Rt. 620, where I left off yesterday, and where we were going to start hiking north. And no sooner had the van disappeared down the road then things began to get interesting.

You see… There was a small bridge crossing a small creek. We got a few pictures, walked across, and Jean’s shoes began to fall apart. Literally. The whole thick rubber bottom sole on one shoe started flopping free of the upper, then fell off completely. Then the other sole started flopping, and came off… Apparently they had been sitting in a closet too long, the glue had dried or something, and… Voila! Four sections of shoe! So my poor cousin had to hike the 9 miles in shoes that were essentially moccasins – no support, and certainly no traction! He is a trooper though, and soldiered on, but we were both laughing in sheer “what the heck!” disbelief. What a way to start!

About a mile or so in, and .3 off trail was a typical Appalachian trail shelter, and he had never seen one, so we walked down and I showed him the shelter, explained the standard sleeping arrangements inside (“think sardines”). And the privy, which I sorely needed at this point. Too much rich food. 

The hike up Cove Mt., direction south to north, was a longish climb, but not difficult, mercifully. Jean is a walker, and I had him set the pace, which turned out very comparable to my own, so that went very smoothly. Toward the top, it started to get rockier, and we minded our step more. We’d pause to have some water, or admire a view, or eat something. As we went, I was able to see the hike through his eyes, as something fresh and new and exciting,  a perspective I hadn’t had in a long time. I was so glad he was along, for so many reasons. And glad for his sake as well, of course!

Cove Mt. had the remarkable rock formation called, very aptly, “Dragon’s Tooth”. We took the short blueblaze trail down to it and enjoyed the view and climbing around and over it, very much. Pictures, of course, but only a few of mine turned out.

The climb down from the top was, in a word, wonderful. My only worry was Jean’s shoes, or what was left of them, but despite the lack of traction, there were no major missteps. The trail down was a good .7 mile chunk of rock scramble worthy of the AT, and more scrambley than anything I’d seen south of PA. Absolutely loved it. It demanded full attention and was not shy about demanding it – it was steep, it was rocky, and you had to watch your step every minute. An unexpected bonus! My cousin enjoyed himself as well, though the traction issue…

After that .7, the trail got somewhat easier, and started spiralling down the side of the mountain, until we came to the amusingly named Lost Spectacles Gap. Well, it being a gap meant we had to climb again, but it was only a short climb back up. 

More rocky patches, then diagonally down the side of the ridge on easy path, this part took forever, of course. We had started at 9, reached the road about 2:45. The roadwalk to the hostel was defined by green pinetrees painted on the road surface. Cute and clever! Jean changed shoes once we got there; what was left of his were starting to wear through the bottom. We were on our way by 3:30, and hit Newport News about 9, having stopped often to stretch, and in one case, to hit the Chick-Fil-a for dinner.

So I am lying in a guest room at my cousin’s house, reflecting. The trail today was a perfect microcosm of the AT as a whole. It had something of everything, except river fording. It had easy trail, a shelter, great views, weird rock formations, rebar at points, and difficult rock scrambles. Best of all, it gave Jean a real taste of what the trail is like, it was a great section for him to hike.

Having someone with me who had never hiked the AT before really did give me a fresh new perspective. Also, because I was not alone, I didn’t sink into melancholic drama-mode. He had many questions to answer, and it turns out that he and I share common political views and non-political interests (history, family stories), so we had some great discussions. I enjoyed my final day that much more for it. It was the best possible way to end. 

But it did have to end. And that is starting to sink in, a bit. I will be too busy the next few days yet for the realization to really hit me, I suspect, but once I return home, and there are no more mountains to climb… Well, I’ll just have to adjust all over again. The blog will continue until things get boring. 

I…

I live on!

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Trail Notes – October 24 (Brush Mt.)

And so it came to pass that Ziptie,, having consumed a breakfast sandwich, was dropped off at the road crossing of her choice, to hike northwards for a stretch of 7 or so miles.

And along the way, she encountered a long climb up a mountain, a monument to Audie Murphy, delighted hugs from hikers Buffalo and Budget (“you are like a bad penny!”), necessary traffic redirection for other hikers going southbound (“no, the trail is over there, not this way”), a final, welcome encounter with hiker Snooze/Malachite, and a beer! 

I took my time, knowing I had plenty of time – as usual, I was wrong! Because after the shuttle picked me up, I requested a stop for ice cream, and we were just pulling into the hostel when up rolls my cousin Jean! 🙂 The man is resourceful – all I said was that I was staying at a hostel in the area, and he did all the research to find out everything else and be there before I could even call him!

We headed off to Roanoke, 15 miles away, for some Mexican food (oh, so good, I ate too much!), and to wander the city a little, he knows it well. During the touring and the talking, a Plan came together. Sometimes that happens!

So, last night, a hiker hostel, on an unfolded easy-chair kind of bed. Tonight, the Sheraton, in the lap of luxury. And then some! Life is never predictable, but it sure is fun! 

We’ll hike 8 miles tomorrow, over Dragon’s Tooth, and down to one of the shelters, then get a shuttle back to where we will leave his car. Then a 4 hour drive to Newport News, where I will hopefully be able to see some of my other cousins as well! Wednesday will be touring around historic areas, and then in Thursday, Richmond will only be a hour’s drive away, Jean will drop me off to catch my flight. A much better Plan than rattling around a hostel for days, and then catching a Greyhound.

So this is it, people. One more 8 mile stretch of hiking, and I leave the trail, having completed 2/3 of a dream. I will be back in 2 years to do the other third. It’s been real, it’s been fun, it’s been a challenge, it’s been a real fun challenge…

I hike on!

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Trail Notes – October 23 (McAfee Knob)

The day started early, when fellow southbounders Budget and Buffalo ‘knocked’ on my tent at 6 am, as requested. It was still dark as I packed up and ate a quick breakfast with them, though growing lighter in the east. Full sunrise hit as I was hiking up the slope of McAfee Knob, but I only had 0.7 miles to go, and I reached the top very shortly after sunrise, about 8:15. 

What a view.

What. A. View.

When Buffalo and Budget caught up, we took turns taking pictures of each other, then just settled back and soaked in the view. Other southbounders were already up there – Pumpkin, and Hiccup, who I last saw at the White Mountain Hostel in New Hampshire. Though it was forbidden to camp up on the Knob, there were several tents tucked away in the rock maze section of trail leading up to the top. Made me wish I had camped up there as well.

It was windy still, so I headed down after a while. All five of us were headed for the same place – the Home Place restaurant about 4 miles down the trail, scheduled to open at 11 am. We planned to rendezvous at the road and catch a ride out, there, but I stopped at a shelter on the way down, and they unknowingly passed me by. When they got to the road and didn’t see me, they figured I went ahead, and went ahead themselves… When I reached the road, I waited 30 minutes for them, then caught a ride out there. 

All that meant was that I ate my food in my own company, and was able to give it my full attention. It deserved my full attention!!! Fried chicken, roast beef, green beans, buttermilk biscuits with apple butter, pinto beans, corn, coleslaw, mashed potatoes, gravy, iced tea, coffee… And endless refills on. every. single. thing. There is a reason this restaurant is a trail legend and icon; from the beginning, it was part of my budget and plan. I took enough leftovers to serve for dinner as well, and I am so full. That does not happen very often at all lately!

Full enough that I would roll down a hill if prodded by a stick, I contacted the hostel, and they sent a shuttle to get me. This is a pretty basic hostel, a collection of beds and cots in a converted garage, but very welcoming with cheerful employees. Pretty full tonight, there are about 10 people here, including Hiccup and Philosopher, who I didn’t expect to see again – injury slowed her down. Sadly, Budget and Buffalo are not – I was getting used to seeing them at night. 

I have about 20 miles left to hike. Tomorrow I will slackpack 10 or 12, then return to the hostel- my cousin Jean is driving out to meet up with me tomorrow. 🙂 Dinner with him tomorrow night, then Tuesday we will hike a section of trail that will include Dragon’s Tooth. Whatever mileage I have left to do, I will complete on Wednesday; I fly out on Thursday. Spreading out the remaining miles like this ensures that I don’t spend all my time hanging around the hostel. That would drive me nuts. It also stops me from getting moody, and falling into the “this is the last time I will do x” syndrome. 

There is a group heading out to the gas station. The thought of another ice cream is tempting, but not enough to bestir me after all I have eaten. I feel like a python lying out in the sun, except there is no sun here anymore. At least it is quieter now. I don’t feel particularly social tonight. I just don’t.

I hike on!

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Trail Notes – October 22 (Tinker Cliffs)

The bed and I had a very hard time going our separate ways today, but the parting was finalized about 8 am. After I had had breakfast – honestly, the breakfast was nothing special, but it was food and it was fuel and it was at least filling! This HoJo’s has a hiker wall with postcards from past thru-hikers, and I borrowed a Sharpie and signed the wall before I went. 

Okay, 15 mile day, and a climb to the ridgeline almost right away. But the hike held some surprises almost right away as well. For one thing, it was rocky enough to qualify for minor rock scrambling, an unexpected treat; I enjoyed it very much. For another, I paused near a view that had a electrical tower looming overhead, buzzing, and it was feeding enough electricity into the ground that the metal screw in the hand grip on one trekking pole was giving me mild static shocks. I quickly moved on.

The path was interestingly varied today. Sometimes rock scrambles, sometimes pine needles, sometimes sandy(?), sometimes stony, sometimes just dirt. I did enjoy the different variety, it kept it from getting tedious. I really didn’t stop for much of a break until I reached the shelter 9 miles in. Snack, Clif powerblock gels, and some water with Emergen-C mixed in. I was going to need all the energy boost I could get for the next six mikes, because it included Tinker Cliffs.

Words fail to describe the incredible views from these cliffs, but I will try to put up some pictures tomorrow when I have Wi-Fi. (If I have Wi-Fi.) Deep blue mountains served as the backdrop for a dazzling array of autumn colors; sometimes a far-flung slice of Virginia countryside would unroll, with fields, barns, houses. If the wind had not been blowing a near constant 30 mph or higher, I might yet be up there!

From the cliffs to the campsite I was aiming for was a long 4 miles. The trail sagged between high points over and over again, and due to the fact I didn’t drink enough water today, my left thigh muscles kept spasming and threatening to cramp.

Let’s talk about the weather, because it is certainly making itself heard tonight. It never really warmed up out of the 50’s today, even though it was mostly sunny a lot of the day. The wind never stopped, and still has not. I was going to shelter up, but a) it was full of Boy Scouts, and b) too open to the wind. So I am in my tent, in my sleeping bag, wearing a double layer of socks, long johns, pants, a long sleeve shirt, and a fleece parka. It is pretty darn cold up here! I was all prepared to feel sad and melancholy about tonight being my last night out on trail, but with this temp, I can’t pull off sad and melancholy, just grateful. I’ll try again tomorrow.

Tomorrow will be a short day – obligatory photo on McAfee Knob, 7 miles to Catawba, another AYCE place, and then a shuttle to a hostel that only asks for a donation instead of having a fixed rate. Either Monday or Tuesday will be my final hiking day – schedule still a little in flux, but I planned on that.

The smell of multiple campfires is drifting on the wind rushing over the tents. This campsite and the shelter are full of people – there must be at least twenty tents here. There is at least one full Boy Scout troop, a number of section and weekend hikers, a few southbound hikers like me. Things have mostly quieted down – except for the wind, of course. Very soon now I will insert earplugs and curl up – I hope. 

I hike on!

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Trail Notes – October 21 (Wilson Creek Shelter – Daleville, VA)

It takes a special person of talent to find the only stump on an entire hillside.

And to trip over it.

I am a special person of talent.

So, last night, nearly full shelter, but amazingly, no one snored! Someone said I mumbled in my sleep, I do not doubt it. Some weird dreams last night, again. Awake at 6:15, on my way by 7:30. 

Even with a short day, I was eager to get going – sometime during the night, late fall remembered it was supposed to be cold, and clouds swept in. Pack up the fleece vest and pull out the long-sleeve. It didn’t start raining until about 10, and it didn’t rain more than an hour, but long enough and hard enough to soak me and my clothes. I just kept moving. After the rains stopped, the forest smelled interestingly spicy. I am not sure how to describe it better. Smelled like spices. And the elusive Virginia shimmer of light on green, yellow, and candy-red leaves was even more pronounced – I keep trying to capture that quality in my photos, and I never quite can do it.

Ups were not as severe today, which was good; fallen leaves were sullen and smooshing underfoot instead of crackling. It made it very slippery at times. The highest point was at the Fullhardt Knob Shelter 6 miles in, and here is where I made my mistake, I never should have stopped there.

Because I am a special person of talent. Now with new scrapes on my hands, and a right knee that will be all sorts of colors in the morning. Fortunately, the remaining 5 miles into Daleville were mostly all downhill. 

Confession time. The town park in Troutville where I planned to camp was almost a mile off trail, and I was starving. I bypassed it temporarily (I thought), and kept following the trail into Daleville, hot on the track of an AYCE buffet (all you can eat). And, good lord, did I ever eat. Dangerous to turn a very hungry thru-hiker loose in a place like that! Plates kept stacking up, bowls, I lost track of iced tea refills. The waitress didn’t bat an eye; they are very used to hikers!

While I ate, I checked my guidebook, and the weather forecast. The latter had a wind advisory up for tonight – temps in the low 40’s, with wind gusts up to 40mph at times. Not exactly the best tenting weather. The guidebook gave me the special hiker rate for the Howard Johnson motel the trail runs right by – less than $50, and including a hot breakfast in the morning. And I could de-muddy from my fall, both myself and my clothes. So I put it on the credit card. Just one more thing to pay back. But worth it, I think. So that is my confession. 

I did go by the outfitters as well, and the grocery store. I picked up a fuel canister after all – instead of buying new breakfast food, I’ll be able to cook what I already have. And I only needed one more dinner, so I got that as well. 

Eat breakfast and be on my way bright and early – I love trail towns where the trail runs right by the sleeping spot! Tomorrow I will cover 15 miles, mostly pretty level ridgeline, but with one 1000 ft climb up to Tinker Cliffs, which are supposed to have pretty spectacular views. I hope the weather is clear for that!

I hike on!

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Theme Song of the day

It keeps running through my head.

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