Custom message from SPOT Joie De Vivre

Device Name: Joie De Vivre
Latitude: 36.96267
Longitude: -81.42462
GPS location Date/Time: 08/21/2017 16:24:19 EDT

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Good bye Shenandoah

Finished the Shenandoah National Park a couple days ago. Some of the easiest hiking on the whole AT, it was a nice introduction to the trail in April and a nice reintroduction to the trail this week. After taking ten days off after finishing the northern part of the trail I needed a few easier miles. It is amazing how fast you lose your trail conditioning.

Maine and New Hampshire were hard on my knees and feet. I was hoping the time off would let them heal but probably a case of too little, too late. I’ve started doing stretching several times a day and that seems to help my knees considerably.

Yesterday I said goodbye to the Little Rabbit support crew. She is off doing her own thing for a bit while I hike south. Sad to say goodbye. It is a tremendous help having her around to shuttle me around and to take care of all the little details of everyday life. And she sends me off with a kiss every morning.

When we parted I had planned an easy nine mile day. A couple miles into the day, as I was sitting by a creek filtering water for the next few miles, two northbound hikers came up. ‘Ambassador’ and ‘Slow and Easy’ are about my age, semi retired, and snow birding in their RV between Minnesota and Texas. They told me that the section between the next two shelters has a very high bear activity and camping is discouraged in the area except at the shelters. Shoot, my nine miles would out me at a random campsite in the middle of them. So, change of plans, I stopped for the day at the first shelter after just five miles. That makes my knees and feet happier too!

The couple also told me about The Devil’s Backbone. A restaurant/brew pub a few miles off the trail at Reid’s Gap. Great food and very hiker friendly – free camping, restrooms, $5 breakfast, etc. After the short day, I could do a longer day and make it there in time for dinner!

So after 14+ trail miles i hung a left at Reid’s Gap and started walking with my thumb out. In a shirt amount of time a car stopped and picked me up but they were only going another mile. Great! I said, I’ll be another mile closer! When they dropped me off I stuck my thumb out again and the second car to come along picked me up and took me the rest of the way.

Dinner was a rack of ribs, Cole Slaw, and baked beans. Much better than trail food!

Onward and southward,

Rabbit

Day number: 104

Miles hiked today: 15

AT miles completed: 1347

AT miles to go: 843

Average miles per day: 13

Summiting Katahdin

Mt Katahdin in Baxter State Park is the highest mountain in Maine. At 5,266′ it is not the highest peak on the AT but it is rated as the hardest climb on the AT.

I exited the Hundred Mile Wilderness and arrived at the base of Katahdin on a Sunday. Looking at the calendar, we need to leave Maine by Wednesday afternoon to make it to a wedding in Michigan on Friday. The forecast for Monday is 50% chance of rain and Tuesday is 60% but Wednesday is looking great at 10%.

On the one hand, I would really like to get this part of the hike over and then have a relaxed drive back to Michigan. On the other hand, a couple days off would be really nice and good weather is almost required for climbing Katahdin. There is a fair amount of rock climbing involved that would be even more treacherous when the rocks are wet. And half of the trip is above the tree line so is very dangerous if there is any lightning in the area. Weighing the options I decide on taking a couple days off and climbing the mountain on Wednesday. We will hit the road to Michigan as soon as we finish the hike.

The weather Monday was as expected but Tuesday was actually pretty nice and never did rain. Wednesday dawned with a light sprinkle. Ugh, so much for weather predictions! Hopefully the rain will quit before the trail is soaked.

Tortuga and The Bow Princess are in town to help celebrate finishing the northern half of the AT. A short hike on Monday on the International AT convinced Tortuga that his knees are not quite recovered enough for Katahdin. But The Little Rabbit is fired up and ready to do it with me.

So The Little Rabbit and I are up at 0430 and head to breakfast at 0500 at The Appalachian Trail Cafe. Their ‘Katahdin’ is a hearty omelette with meat and veggies and seems appropriate this morning. Service is a little slow and the drive to the park takes a while. A line if cars heading into the park slows us down even more so we don’t get to the trailhead until 0700.

There are numerous trails leading up to the peak. The AT follows the Hunt Trail so that will be our ascent. But we plan on descending on the Abol Trail which we have been told is a little easier than the Hunt. The Abol Trailhead is a couple miles from the Hunt trailhead so one of us will have to hitchhike back to the car after the hike. Except for the hitchhiking, the hiking distance is about the same either way.

We gear up, apply sunscreen and bug repellant and are ready to go at 0715. For the first time I decided to ‘slack pack’ which means I am only carrying what I need for the day. My pack is almost empty except for lunch, snacks, and water. One last visit to the privy and we sign in at the trailhead at 0720.

The rain didn’t last so the trail is dry and starts off very easy. A gentle uphill grade for the first mile and not too many rocks and roots. A beautiful waterfall along the way makes for a good photo-op.

The trail gradually gets more and more difficult for the next half mile and then it gets really tough. It’s not quite the type of rock climbing where you need ropes and a belay but it is close. And the wind has picked up making it a little chilly. It’s hard to find the right combination of clothes and windbreaker to be comfortable.

We press on. There are dozens of people on the trail and we are all helping one another in the more difficult sections. A hand here, an encouraging word there, etc. We are not fast and many folks are passing us but we are not the slowest either. We just don’t want an injury so we are very cautious with every step.

The steep rock climbing lasts for about a mile before we reach the Table Lands, plateau that leads to the ridge line and the peak. Here we are on the ridge and the trail levels out. It is still rocky so we watch our every step but the worst of the climb is over. The wind is always stronger in the mountains and is now about 30 mph and the temperature is only in the 50s so the wind chill is biting. Only the fact that we can now see the summit (still a mile and a half away) keeps us going.

We pass by Thoreau Spring, a small water source, and I note to myself that today, July 12th, 2017, is Henry David Thoreau’s 200th birthday. I wish him the best and thank him for his inspiration.

As we near the peak we start to see the crowd gathered there. This is a popular destination for hardy day hikers. Somehow the wind feels lighter now.

We wait a few minutes for others to get their picture at the sign then we step up. A stranger offers to take pictures of the two of us then The Little Rabbit snaps a few of just me with the sign – a rite of passage for all AT thru hikers.

It’s only 1100 but we decide to have a little lunch before we head down. We sit behind some rocks to block the wind and pull out sandwiches The Little Rabbit made for us and eat half.

We start down and The Little Rabbit gives me the go ahead to hike at my own pace. So I take off, not in a hurry but trying to work hard enough that my body temperature comes back up after sitting through lunch. It’s not long before I am back at Thoreau Spring and heading down the Abol Trail. My knees have been getting battered in Maine and are pretty sore so I move pretty slow on the steep descent. The Little Rabbit Soon catches up to me and we work together. The trail is a little less technical than the Hunt Trail but not by much.

A helicopter is hovering in the valley below us… A rescue we wonder? Then he flies off toward Millonocket dangling something below him. A little while later we see him return, hover, fly off. We aren’t close enough to see what he is carrying. As we get closer we see that work crews are maintaining the trail in this area. Then the helicopter returns and the work crews direct him in. Now we get the rest of the story… The helicopter is delivering a 75 gallon water bladder for the crew but is having trouble releasing the bladder. Third try is a charm and the bladder is dropped on the trail a couple hundred yards further down the trail.

The Little Rabbit is also having knee issues due to the steep descent so she is moving slower now so I make it to the trailhead ahead of her and sit at a picnic table to wait. When she arrives, exhausted from the effort, I offer to fetch the car. A couple cars pass me by but the third car stops and offers a ride. A father/son from York, ME visiting the park for the week for fishing and hiking. I pick up our car and drive back to The Little Rabbit and we head to Michigan.

Onward and SOUTHward,

Rabbit

Day number: 100

Miles hiked today: 13

AT miles completed: 1301

AT miles to go: 888

Average miles per day: 13

The Hundred

Getting through the 100 Mile Wilderness (HMW) was probably my hardest week on the trail. The night before I entered the wilderness we had a hard rain, soaking the trails and swelling the creeks and rivers.

I was 100 yards into the trail that first day and my feet were already soaked in mud. The trail was an unfriendly mix of mud, roots, and rocks. Combine that with numerous major river fords and my first day in the HMW was going to be a challenge.

I arrived at the first river crossing around mid-morning. The guidebook and several others mention that if the water is high, I may need to wait until the water recedes. This could be hours or days. But when entering the HMW you bring the food you think you will need for the number of days you will take to finish the HMW. I don’t have extra food for lazy days by a rushing river waiting for it to recede. So the decision is a tough one – risk crossing the river, or risk running out of food.

I studied the river for almost half an hour. Tentatively stepping in to test the water’s depth and speed. It is not a wide river, maybe 15 feet across, but it is moving swiftly and almost hip deep. Add to that, there is a waterfall 50 yards downstream – if you fall in, you might be going over the falls! The area where the trail actually crosses the river seems too deep and the current too strong but I found a spot a few yards upstream that seems better.

For safety’s sake I first unbuckle my pack in case I do fall in – the pack will float like a life vest, but because it is on my back I would float face-down. Unbuckled I can slip it off and swim for safety. I also empty my pockets and store everything in my pack – high and dry. In particular I want my phone somewhere that it won’t get wet.

I’ve thought about it enough. Time to go for it. My shoes have been wet all day so no need to worry about keeping them dry. I step in and the water soaks the bottom half of my shorts. Using my hiking poles for balance I wade cross without difficulty. I psyched myself out for nothing.

As I am standing there resecuring my pack another hiker comes along. "Baskets" is in her early 20’s, a thru hiker who started in GA and is almost finished with her AT hike. With hardly any hesitation she jumps in back where the trail crosses (where I chickened out earlier) and wades across like it’s nothing and is on her way. I watch in awe and hang my head in shame. Dang kids these days.

The next crossing comes in the early afternoon. As I near the river a couple of southbound hikers pass and one tells me to "be careful on the crossing, the water was up to my boobs as I leaned into the current". She also informed me that there was another northbound female hiker at the river who wanted to cross but did not want to do it alone. I knew Baskets was ahead of me but surely she, who so deftly crossed the previous river, was not concerned about this one? Now I was getting nervous about crossing this river and I had not even seen it yet!

A few minutes later I stood at the river and wondered if I could do it. Much wider, perhaps 40 feet across, much deeper, and much faster current. Realizing I had over analyzed the previous crossing I was now wondering what my schedule and food supply would look like if I waited until tomorrow on this one. And where is the girl that wanted company? Did she cross already? How did those southbound hikers get across this rushing torrent? I sat on a rock and pondered my fate.

Then Grace showed up. (I still don’t know where she was) She was eager to cross but didn’t want to do it alone. I don’t know if there is actually any advantage to crossing a river together – if one of us slips and tries to grab hold of the other there is a good chance we are both going down. But she was sure we could do it. I know Baskets had already come this way. I know the two southbounders had just crossed here. So it is possible to cross this river today. Did I have the courage to try? Or would this rabbit be chicken?

Of course, for Grace (and to keep my man-card) I would try. Grace didn’t have hiking poles so she spent a few minutes looking for a couple appropriate sticks. We prepped our packs and left them unbuckled. I tucked my pack’s belt up behind me so it would not dangle in the water. I tightened my shoulder straps to lift my pack higher. We were ready. Grace’s confidence was inspiring and she led the way. I was tight on her heels as we waded into the waist deep water. As the current swirled around us my hiking poles were vibrating. I was concerned they would break from the strain. We slowly worked our way across the river feeling with our feet for solid footing on the slippery rocks below. Feeling with our sticks for depth and using them to keep our balance and brace ourselves against the rushing water. Before long we were halfway across but the heaviest current was yet to come – a four foot wide area where the river is funneled through.

Grace stepped into it and I stepped in behind her. I looked away for a second and when I looked back Grace was gone! She had lunged forward and out of the current in a single step, leaving me behind. She rushed up the bank of the river, dropped her pack and then plunged back in to come back and help me! She could see I was struggling with the current but I was not going to give up. She was just a few feet away in calm waters and held out a hand to grab me if I needed it. I was not able to lunge through the current like she did but I managed to take a couple small steps. My poles, almost completely submerged, were humming from the rushing water. A couple more steps. It’s hard to find a good foot hold in the rushing water. My poles, reaching out in front of me reach the safe water. Another step and I am there.

Grace and I exit the water. All smiles, a congratulatory hug, we survived! We hang out for a few minutes reliving our feat, having a snack, getting drinking water, etc.

Grace and I would tackle several more crossings that day but none so harrowing as this one. The difficult ones to come would have ropes across the river to hold.

After my last crossing of the day I sat by the river bank and washed the day’s mud out my shoes and socks. The rest of my clothes were dry by this time and I was ready to make camp. Just 11 miles for the day but physically and emotionally I was spent.

Onward and northward,

Rabbit

Day number: 92

Miles hiked today: 0

AT miles completed: 1289

AT miles to go: 901

Average miles per day: 14.3

Rabbit Support Crew

Support crew?? Why should anyone need a support crew to take a walk in the woods?

This is Little Rabbit doing a guest blog while Rabbit is in the middle of the “Hundred Mile Wilderness,” a stretch of the AT in Maine with no civilization or services for the 6-8 days that it takes to hike it. There are a few private dirt roads that cross the AT in this stretch, and many hikers hire local companies to bring them food drops. At first, this was Rabbit’s plan as well, but wait, he has a support crew, AKA Little Rabbit.

The most frequently asked question of me is “What will you do while Rabbit is on the trail?” (Okay, not totally true. The most frequent question is “Why aren’t you doing it with him?” Let’s see… aching back, blistered feet, rain, bugs, no showers… um, NO!) Although I have no desire to do overnight hiking in all weather and conditions, I have always loved to day hike, and I’ve never spent much time in the northeast states which is beautiful hiking country. So why not spend some time in the same areas where Rabbit is hiking and do some occasional day hikes with him. Splendid idea!

My original plan was to camp in the area, but did I mention the dislike of bugs and rain? Well Maine has plenty of both and cold temps at night as well, so the camping idea went out the window. No problem though, the hikers often have hostels that cater to them in each of the small towns near the AT. Rabbit plans on staying a night in each of these hostels about every 3 or 4 days so he can shower off some grime, do some laundry, charge up the cell phone, and get a dry bed. Perfect solution for me, just use these same hostels and stay in each one for 3-4 days to keep the same schedule as Rabbit.

Posing with Gomer at the AT Lodge, Millinocket, ME

The pros…

When Rabbit gets a re-supply food box in the mail from Tortuga and The Bow Princess (the Michigan support crew that has been a life-saver by organizing and mailing drop boxes for the whole trip, thank you, thank you!!) he gets several days food supply at once which can be pretty tricky fitting into his pack, not to mention heavy. But now he has me who has a car so Rabbit can take just the exact amount of food that he needs until their next rendezvous, and the car becomes his Sherpa schlepping all of his extra food and supplies to the next point. Several times I was offered this job as Sherpa to hike with Rabbit and carry all of the supplies, but surprisingly I turned this gig down. The car on the other hand had a friendlier attitude toward all of this schlepping and was even willing to pick up Rabbit at the trailhead rather than having to hike the extra miles or hitchhike into town like the other hikers do.

The other pros…

I get to hike wherever and whenever I want. Often this is a day hike with Rabbit by getting to the rendezvous point early, hiking into the woods toward Rabbit and hiking back to the car with him.

On other days, I strike out on my own to hike out to a waterfall or summit a nearby mountain, often with spectaular views that rival the scenes that the AT hikers enjoy. The best part is that if the weather is horrible, plan B is stay in and stay dry.

Glen Ellis Falls, White Mountain National Forest, New Hampshire

From the top of Borestone Mountain, Maine

The cons and one other pro…

There is downside of having support crew that sleeps in the same room with you at the hostels. I caught a terrible head cold, and oh no, Rabbit came down with the cold on his second day into the “100 Mile Wilderness.” The fatigue was wearing him down, so when I came to drop off food supplies on the third day, instead I scooped Rabbit up and brought him into town for a day of rest. Not an easy task without support crew because town is an hour away mostly on private dirt roads with little chance of getting a ride from a stranger.

Not knowing what might be needed, I came fully stocked with a supply of drugs to help kick this cold in the butt, fast. The day of rest did wonders and Rabbit is back at it and headed north once again. So sometimes a support crew can come in handy!

Onward and northward,

Little Rabbit

The Perfect Day

It’s not often on the trail when you get a perfect day. More often than not it’s too hot, cold, wet, dry, whatever. Yesterday was just right.

The Little Rabbit (she’s back!) dropped me off at the trail head around 6 am. I had a lot of climbing to do and wanted an early start. The sun was out, the temps were great, the trail was dry. Hog heaven for a hiker.

I prearranged to stay at the Lake of the Clouds Hut located just a mile before the summit of Mt Washington. It’s only 11 miles to the hut but with the amount of climbing I have to do I don’t know when I will get there. With the perfect conditions today, and deteriorating conditions tomorrow I would really like to go past the hut, summit Mt Washington, then return to the hut for the night. Then I can bypass the mountain when conditions are poor tomorrow.

The first climb up Mt Webster was the warm up for the day. Rising from 1200′ at the road to 3900′ over 4 miles there were rewarding views at several ledges on the way up. At the top I get my first glimpse of the day’s stretch goal.

Up next, Mt Jackson is the beginning of the Presidential Range of mountains. Climbing to 4052′ I get an even better view of Mt Washington.

Previously on the AT, planners seemed to go out of their way to make the trail more difficult. I remember often in MD and PA that the trail would go up and down the side if a hill rather than following the easiest path. So it is surprising that here in the Whites that the AT is actually routed around some mountain summits. The white blazed AT skirts the edge of the mountain while there is a blue blazed trail over the summit.

Around 11 I made it to the Mizpah Hut. I was ahead of schedule so I took a break and had a great lunch. The Little Rabbit and I had gone to a Mexican restaurant the night before and I brought the remainder of my burrito. A little heavy to carry but oh so tasty! And now it’s out of my pack.

Normally I avoid getting off the AT to take a blue blazed trail. It’s considered cheating by some to skip parts of the AT this way and to date I have avoided doing so. Today’s blue blazed trail over Mt Eisenhower was too tempting. Longer and harder than the part of the AT that I missed it wouldn’t weigh on my conscience. And the view was fabulous.

By the time I reached Mt Monroe I was feeling the effort of the day. I didn’t want to over-do it and risk not getting to do Mt Washington today. So I continued on the AT and skirted around this mountain.

I made it to the Lake of the Clouds Hut around 2 pm. I checked in and dropped off my pack. I grabbed my extra shirt and down puffy jacket. I figured it would be cooler at the top and coming back down.

It’s almost a mile and a half and another 1000′ of climbing to the top. It felt strange not having my pack or hiking poles.

At the top the view is awe inspiring. No way to describe it, the pictures below don’t don’t do it justice. On a clear day it seems you can see forever. It would be a peaceful place except for the motorcycles. Wait, What? Yes, motorcycles. Dozens of them all over the mountain. Rumbling up, rumbling down, loudly idling in the parking lot. A little ways south of here a small town is having a ‘bike week’. It’s one of the biggest motorcycle gatherings in the country. And today the Mt Washington auto road is closed to traffic except for motorcycles. Oh well, it may not be peaceful, but the view is to die for!

I had a hot dog at the cafe and toured the small museum. Got my picture at the summit sign. And decided it was time to head back to the hut. Dinner is at 6 pm and I don’t want to miss that!

The hut croo served a pumpkin and mushroom curry soup, homemade bread, salad, and lasagna. All served family style. This was followed by a raspberry chocolate cake for desert.

At 7:30 One of the croo took a few of us on a guided tour of a few of the alpine flowers. Then it was off to bed at 8:30… The end of a perfect day.

Onward and northward,

Rabbit

Day number: 64

Miles hiked today: 0

AT miles completed: 954

AT miles to go: 1235

Average miles per day: 14.9

Trapped in the clouds

What a difference a day makes! Yesterday was the perfect day (more on that in another post). Today I am huddled with half a dozen people I’ve never met before in a hut at the top of a mountain avoiding even thinking of venturing outside.

Mt Washington is well known for having the most extreme weather in the United States and the highest wind speed ever recorded by man (230 mph). The difference between yesterday and today shows how fast it can change. Things can go from really good to really bad in no time.

It started during dinner with the clouds moving in and with them the wind picked up and the temperature started to drop. It continued overnight and we woke this morning to rain, 75 feet visibility, 40 degrees, and winds blowing at 40, gusting to 50 mph. Plus a chance of thunder storms. And conditions are supposed to get worse before they get better. Winds to 60mph are a possibility.

Conditions are considerably better below tree line and in the valleys. But the next section of the AT for me is above tree line in the White Mountains for another 12 miles. No protection and the trail is rough and rocky. It is hard enough to keep my balance on the rough trail without being buffeted by high winds.

The good news is I am safe and comfortable. I stayed last night at Lake of the Clouds Hut next to Mt Washington. This is not your typical AT shelter. The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) runs a dozen or so of these huts in New Hampshire and Maine. They are more of a lodge than a hut. Staying here includes dinner and breakfast. They have a small store with some snacks and gear items. Sleeping is in bunk rooms of 8-10 people and includes a mattress, pillow, and blankets.

It is an amazing service to offer so much in such remote locations. And they charge accordingly. $140 per night for very rustic conditions but very enthusiastic and dedicated work croo. I was happy to learn this morning that they have room for me here again tonight.

There were about 40 people staying here last night. The majority of them did leave this morning. Most of them heading straight down hill to safety. For them, in 20 minutes or so they will be below tree line and conditions will greatly improve for them. A few of today’s departures though were headed in the same direction I am going. One of them, "Hamp", who I first met in VT, just returned reporting on the conditions. He made it two miles up the trail but the winds were too much, regularly buffeting him 10 feet off the trail. And he lost his phone somewhere out there too. Glad he made it back safely.

Lake of the Clouds Hut on a nicer day.

Onward and northward,

Rabbit

Day number: 64

Miles hiked today: 0

AT miles completed: 954

AT miles to go: 1235

Average miles per day: 14.9

Progress report

Making good progress this week. Vermont started out extremely wet and muddy but the last couple days were much drier. More rain is in the forecast though so it might get sloppy again.

Yesterday I met up with dear friends Van and Lauren who live just north of Rutland, VT. They invited me to their beautiful home, made me shower, did my laundry, fed me an awesome dinner, sent me to bed, and fed me again for breakfast. Talk about a spoiled rabbit! Thank you!

Quickly approaching the 800 mile mark and I have 500 miles left to get to Katahdan.

Tonight I am at the Churchill Scott Shelter near Killington, VT. I usually set up my hammock away from the shelters but I am the only one here tonight so I set up inside the shelter. The shelter’s log book has a couple entries about porcupines coming at night. Should be interesting.

Onward and northward,

Rabbit

Day number: 51

Miles hiked today: 16

AT miles completed: 798

AT miles to go: 1391

Average miles per day: 15.9

No rain, no Maine!

It’s been a rainy week and it looks like more rain coming. But I’m still making good progress despite the muddy trail conditions.

Summited Mount Graylock, the highest peak (3491 ft) in Massachussets on Saturday. At the top is a monument dedicated to those that have given their lives in defense of our freedoms. Their unfathomable sacrifice, our immeasurable blessing.

Goodbye to Messychussetts;

Hello Vermud!

Onward and northward,

Rabbit

Day number: 45

Miles hiked today: 21

AT miles completed: 710

AT miles to go: 1479

Average miles per day: 15.7