Wednesday, April 22, 2015

out of maine

Day 8, 6:08 am: Rain falls and a cold wind blows as I crest the exposed granite dome of Baldpate. These are not quite ideal conditions for traversing nearly forty miles through the Mahoosucs, out of Maine and into New Hampshire. The day begins in the clouds, navigating slippery planks over mountain bogs of unknown depth. Up here, dwarf evergreen trees crown the summits of peaks less than a mile tall.

Like the nearby White Mountains, the Mahoosuc high country is no place to be during a storm. Yet little relief comes from an abrupt descent off exposed ridge into the yawning abyss of Mahoosuc Notch, a mile-long cataclysm of glacier-strewn boulders. This section is considered the slowest along the AT, demanding steadfast focus and concentration from the hiker.

The sun emerges as I pick my way through the labyrinth. Somehow, solar rays make it down here and set the underworld into motion. Leftover ice from a long winter sublimates into surrounding air, a natural fog machine. Drip. Drip. The only sound I hear is the echo of water drops deep within the catacomb. Cold air refreshes me. In the middle of the slowest mile of the AT, beauty trumps adversity.

I make it through the notch and back onto the ridge. My pace accelerates as I observe ominous clouds to the west. Scraping across this panorama, the sky is closer than usual. I can almost reach up and touch the clouds. I hope to regain the shelter of fully grown spruce down in Carlo Col before weather conditions deteriorate.

Atop one peak, I greet a nimble northbounder by the name of Saber. We swap information on trail conditions and weather forecasts before parting ways. The sun is shining as I make it to the Maine border and out of the high country by mid-afternoon. Exhausted, I prop my legs up on a tree, heat a meal of bulgur wheat chili and prepare for the remaining seventeen miles to Shelburne. It will be well after dark before I arrive at the White Mountain Lodge. “We’ll be here,” Greg assures me on the phone when I warn him of my late arrival.

10:00 pm: One of the longest days is not quite long enough. I descend through dark mountains, catching fleeting glimpses through the trees of a lit-up world somewhere below me. I hear scurrying in front of me. I flash my light ahead: porcupine. The critter is reluctant to leave the pathway. I take care to pass out of quill’s reach.

Just over a week in and out of Maine. Tired but happy to be here. I don’t remember it being this rough: everything rockier, steeper, wetter. I don’t remember it being this beautiful. Daydreams become dreams. The forest is alive at night. Scurrying: another porcupine. Rain. The cloud passes. The rain stops.

I hear the sound of water and the hum of a generating station. Lights spread out below me like a landing strip. A fond memory stirs in my frayed mind of Fontana Dam and Ouray, Colorado. I smile. Then a grimace as I start into a jog down the paved road. A nice two-story house bobs into view ahead of me. There is a lit sign, this must be the place. Greg comes to the door and directs me to the garage.

“Here’s a towel and here are some clean clothes,” Greg says in a friendly manner as I stand in a daze, distantly registering my filth. “If you give me your laundry, I’ll wash it. You can leave your gear out here,” he adds as I blink in the electrical light. “You can grab a hot shower and change into these clothes,” the late-night tutorial continues as I begin to fumble at my muddy shoe laces. “I can even stick a pizza in the oven…”

“Pizza?” Everything snaps back into focus.

“Yeah, what kind do you want? We've got supreme...”


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

cross florida adventure run

Sunday, April 12: Lily, Uwharrie and I arrive at Anastasia Island in time to watch the evolution of a pastel sky at dawn over the Atlantic Ocean.

Sunrise start, Anastasia Island
Thanks to Lily for drop off (and pick up)! 
I kiss Lily and Uwharre and tell them I'll see them on the other side of the state in three days. The 150-mile journey starts just after 7 am as I run the beach into Anastasia State Park and to and through St. Augustine.

Cross (FL) walker warning
Crossing to St. Augustine 
St. Augustine, founded 1565
Running the rails (to trails) under I-95
Palatka-to-St. Augustine State Trail near Armstrong
I run along a railroad that will become a paved trail from St. Augustine to Palatka. Nearly nine miles are complete. In Hastings, I stop at Subway for lunch, A/C and lots of cold water. Some ten miles later, I break at McDonalds for fries, smoothie and snag a few small packets of salt for the road.

Looking back, St. Johns River crossing into Palatka
Live oak shade
Evening view, Lake Ocklawaha from Kirkpatrick Dam
Camp in the pines near Penner Ponds
After crossing the St. Johns River and past the historic river district of Palatka, a rainstorm briefly douses me. Roadside live oaks provide ample opportunity to seek shelter. I buy 30+ miles of snacks at a food mart, join the Florida Trail, cross Buckman Lock and make it to camp in Ocala before dark.

Morning, northern Ocala National Forest
Near halfway, day 2
Monday, April 13: the mosquitoes are INTENSE. The air bivy keeps me alive. I head south through the northern Ocala, last seen in the dark (including panther sighting) back in December. Next stop is Store 88 complete with hot pocket (flush pocket), then westward onto the Western Corridor.

Reindeer moss 
Getting thick along Western Corridor
Marshall Swamp, between storms
The going is slow, but beautiful along the Western Corridor. I opt for a bypass on county roads as the trail gets thick and swampy. I reach a gas station and restaurant just in time as a large thunderstorm blows through. Onwards out of Ocala, I make it to camp near Santos Campground after dark.

Natural art near Santos
Trail through Spider Kingdom
Land Bridge over I-75
Tuesday, April 14: last night was wet, but morning brings a new day. Like Monday, most of today will be on trail, thanks to a wonderful resource known as the Cross Florida Greenway. I take stock in my calories and decide to push the marathon to Dunnellon nonstop and enjoy the diverse scenery.

Trees along trail 
Ross Prairie
Rainbow River, Dunnellon
It's starting to get hot. Unlike the previous two days, the clouds are slow to arrive. I'm baking in the heat and humidity, so I take the opportunity to shower at a trail head and then swim in the Rainbow River before a late lunch at a Cuban restaurant in downtown Dunnellon.

Five miles to finish 
Sunset, Withlacoochee Bay, Gulf of Mexico
Happy to be done!
The fifteen miles on 40 from Dunnellon to Inglis are killer. With the end in sight, I forego the frequent foot pampering (wash, elevate, air, lube) and endure barking dogs to the finish. Across the canal, Lily and Uwharrie are there to welcome me to the Gulf of Mexico, in time for sunset!

7 lbs. of stuff (details here)
Map of Cross Florida Route (generated from this spreadsheet)
This was in many ways a perfect adventure for me. There is much I've yet to learn about Florida. As Thoreau has written, there is no better way to explore a place than by foot. As I wish to continue to think globally and adventure locally, I encourage you to do the same, wherever you are!

Friday, April 03, 2015

april foolishness

Back in October, I pondered a post-gig FNST hike. In 2011, Tatu Joe did the trail in 30 days. Would it be possible to squeeze in a thru-hike between employment and before the heat and humidity became unbearable? My job is now over, but it's not the right time to leave for a thousand mile journey. A shorter coast-to-coast adventure is far more attainable, and tentatively scheduled to happen next week...

Map of Cross Florida Route (generated from this spreadsheet)
Starting at sunrise on the Atlantic Ocean, the goal will be to make it to the Gulf of Mexico by sunset on the third day. The original hair-brained idea to push 36 hours for sunset on the second day a'la Bartram Trail got scrapped. I'm not in that kind of shape: three back-to-back 50 mile days will be challenge enough! The goal will be to test some fast-pack gear ideas, work on getting back into shape and make some memories. Should be good times!

Monday, March 30, 2015


Uwharrie, Lily and Paul above Econfina Creek
Feeling at home with familiar flora 
"The Cathedral"
Lily in Shepherd Spring
Working in Bradwell Bay Wilderness
Spring green along the Aucilla

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Friday, February 20, 2015

the writing on the wall

Day 58, 9:22 pm: second supper is a Ziploc filled with ramen noodles, peanuts and rehydrated vegetables. Polishing off the meal, I lean back on a rock and take a deep breath of the refreshing cool, quiet air beyond the faint trickle of the spring near Blue Mountain Shelter. I say to myself, “tonight’s the night.”

With about 50 miles to Springer Mountain and the southern terminus, tonight will be the last night of my journey. I have lofty ambitions for how I want to spend the following hours hiking through the darkness. But as many a long-distance hiker knows, the elements play no favorites. Within less than a mile from the spring, I feel the first drips of rain. “No problem,” I think, “just a passing shower.” Hiking through the winding tunnels of rhododendron in the warm summer air, even by headlamp in the drizzle is a familiar and soothing experience to me.

The Southern Appalachians are my home. Nothing wrong with one final rinse before the finish. The sky opens up. I’m instantly soaked and the visibility of my high-powered headlamp drops to within just a few feet. What little I can see of the trail before me becomes a creek. I push on through the torrential downpour. How long can it last? This summertime storm apparently has no end. Miles creep by in the dark as I grow cold and tired of the relentless rain. Once again, the trail has taught me about humility.

I’m having difficulty following the path with limited visibility. My best guess is to continue following the stream of water rushing over the tops of my shoes. The water suddenly diverges in two directions. Looking up, I make out a wooden post. I lean in close enough to read the attached sign, which indicates that this is a side trail to Low Gap Shelter. Within an instant, I’m following the path to the lean-to. It’s a no-brainer and yet it’s after 1:00 am and there may be somebody asleep in the shelter. I don’t want to startle anyone awake… I also can’t keep hiking in this neverending deluge.

As I near the lean-to, I see a light shining, which is certainly a bit odd at this time of night. I direct my light toward the shelter to let the occupant(s) know that there is a hiker approaching. Once I am close enough to need not yell over the pouring rain, I greet the lone occupant who has set up his tent inside the shelter. Paul has been having difficulty sleeping due to fear of bears and snakes. He seems genuinely happy to have the company of a soaking wet shadow of man descend upon this shelter at some ungodly hour.

I savor being out of the rain for a few moments and talk with Paul. My ambition to continue hiking through the night is down, but not out. “I’ll wait here until it lets up a bit,” I say, starting to shiver. To minimize delay, I hope to resupply at Neel Gap right as the store opens at 8:00 am. Waiting till dawn would put me a couple hours behind.

Paul suggests that I get going no earlier than 4:00 am. “I read that one guy made it from Neel Gap to Low Gap in less than four hours,” he says.

“Where did you read that?”

“On the wall.”

I shine my headlamp across the wooden wall of the shelter, which has been filled with the witty and not-so-witty remarks of vandals armed with sharpy markers. This kind of graffiti is an increasing problem on the trail. But on this gloomy, bizarre night, the writing on the wall is somewhat prophetic, almost welcome.

Sure enough, on the wall beside Paul’s tent, some proud hiker has documented his hike from Neel Gap to Low Gap in under four hours. Getting colder by the minute, the plan for bedding down for a couple hours grows on me. “Okay, sounds good,” I say as I unpack my sodden gear.

A hard rain patters on the roof of the Low Gap Shelter drowning out most other sound. I can hear an excited squeaking. It’s 2:00 am and I’ve just bedded down. I shine my headlamp and spot three mice crawling around on my gear. Despite my exhaustion, I know I must protect the dwindling calories that will fuel me to my last resupply at Mountain Crossings. I extract my body from my damp quilt to find a rusty nail in the rafter from which I can hang my pack. Beside the nail, I read some more graffiti on the wall:

Into every life a little rain must fall. –Space Cowboy

I don’t know who Space Cowboy is, but his cosmic message strikes a cord. I have a flashback to my second night up in Maine, almost two months ago: lying down in a dark, musty lean-to, listening to a storm and wishing it away. Shivering all night only to awaken to more cold rain. Picking my way through slick rocks and saturated evergreens. Straining against wind above tree line over Whitecap Mountain and across the Barren-Chairback range. On the other side of these mountains, I ford swollen rivers and nearly get swept away. Almost two months and a lifetime ago…

This Georgia rainstorm is as relentless as the one through the Barren-Chairbacks. A perfect set of bookends for this trip. I set a light alarm on my cell phone and say goodbye to Paul whom I hope not to wake in two hours time.

“Godspeed,” says Paul.

4:00 am: The light on my cell phone beckons me to resume the final 43 miles of the Appalachian Trail. I’ve gotten little to no sleep, but I’m thankful for a lull in the storm and seek to take full advantage of it. I pack quickly and quietly, which is easy enough when there is little to pack. I give thanks for a breakfast that consists of a handful of peanuts and raisins from a bag half-eaten by mice.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015


Further south, FNST
Delicious grapefruit along the trail
Near Godwin Hammock
Volunteer's rig