Scottish National Trail Gear List

There was considerable interest on my last post about the changes I was making to my kit for the SNT. A few people were curious about my whole gear list so I have taken screenshots of my excel sheet below. All weights are in ounces and any thing that is different from my normal pack is highlighted in green.

Things to note aside from the changes in rain wear that was discussed in the last blog is the addition of another spare pair of socks. Given the consistently wet ground conditions and lack of ability to dry in the cool, damp air, I thought this was sensible.

Big change here is the tent which is adding a decent amount of weight, but necessary for staying warm and dry in the driving Scottish winds. I’ll be using a 20 degree Fahrenheit (-7C) sleeping bag which should be just about adequate for the conditions I will be faced with. Not described in the screenshot above, but my pot is 800mL. I find this is more than enough volume for solo camping as you’re never adding more than 400mL to anything and with the displacement of the food there is still enough room at the top to avoid spillage.

Only real change under electronics is the need for a UK outlet adapter. Other than that, things have remained the same. On the Kindle I have downloaded Bill Bryson’s, Notes from a Small Island, which very appropriately describes his move from America to the United Kingdom in the 1970’s. Additionally, I have also downloaded his book, The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes from a Small Island, which elaborates on the same topic as above and was only published in 2015.

As far as miscellaneous items, it’s always a good idea to carry a compass in the backcountry, but is rarely necessary on trails like the AT and PCT. Without a compass here, the SNT would not be possible. Additionally, map weight will depend on which section I am in as I have broken it into pieces so I am not carrying all of the maps (21) from the beginning. When Lucy or other friends meet me along the way, i’ll arrange to swap my maps out.

No change to the medical kit. Although maybe I’ll leave the sunscreen given the weather lately… I also might add a few more water purification tabs to combat the low lying water areas where sheep populations are plentiful and only filtering will not suffice! Total weight is just over 15 pounds (variable depending on which map set I have), so I’ve managed to add about 4 pounds to my baseweight. I’ve literally lost sleep over this weight addition but after careful consideration and crunching lots of numbers, all of these changes and additions are necessary to give me the best chance of success in completing this walk.

If anyone has any questions about my gear or the intricacies of hiking a long trail in general, I would love to hear them! Still slated to begin walking next Monday, so this will be the last post before beginning. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy following along with my long, wet, cold, and windy walk to reach a remote lighthouse on the Northern tip of Scotland.

Peace,

Handy Man

Glasgow, Scotland

September 15, 2020

A Comprehensive Search for the Loch Ness Monster (The Scottish National Trail)

Suilven, Northwest Scotland

Ok! So here I am quarantining in Scotland at Lucy’s parents house (thank you!). Seriously, given that Lucy is busy off being a doctor and having direct patient contact, it would not be great if a germ ridden American was cohabitatating with her. If it wasn’t for Lucy’s parents, my return to Scotland would be much more complicated. Quarantine has been fine though. The best part is I don’t have to be a paramedic anymore which means I can grow a beard again! Additionally, I have checked the stock market 32 times a day to evaluate Dunkin’ Donuts, learned how to make a box out of paper, reorganized the photos on my phone, alphabetized my high school english papers, and planned another long walk. Only two of those are true.

The SNT covers 536 miles from the English border to Cape Wrath

The Scottish National Trail covers the entire length of Scotland and is more of a concept than a trail. There is no official path, but rather a linking of various sections of other trails together (sometimes with no trail at all) to get from the border with England at Kirk Yetholms to the northern point of Scotland at Cape Wrath. This walk is roughly 536 miles and provides a variety of challenges that differ widely from long distance hikes in the United States; mainly, lack of PBR availability. Along with that, one of the largest considerations involves swapping out some equipment to be better prepared for the unpredictable and consistently rainy and windy Scottish climate.

Tent

Last winter I learned that my lightweight thru-hiking tent does not stand up to this climate while camping on the west coast of Ireland with Fiona and Joe. The strong multi-directional gusts snapped a pole in half at roughly 2am. That with driving rain on an ultralight fly will result in a very cold, wet night. So I am swapping out my Big Agnes Tigerwall UL 2 for Lucy’s Alpkit Soloist tent. This tent is about 6 ounces heavier and has a smaller interior, but the trade off is a no brainer if it is the difference between sleeping dry or not. Additionally, while I normally carry only 6 stakes, I will be carrying 10 for the SNT to have the ability to peg out all of the guy lines for maximal protection in bad conditions. Sounds fun already, right?

Camping near Suilven in Northwest Scotland last September
Damage done in Ireland
Lucy and Lotti with the Alpkit Soloist

Pack

For the AT and CT I used an Osprey Atmos 65L pack which has served me very well. Osprey makes an incredible product, and although heavier, their antigravity strap system truly reduces the amount of “felt weight”. I have played around with using the commercial rain cover and lining my pack with a compacter bag, both of which are successful in different ways but neither completely effective. One of the more common bags you will see on a long trail is made in Biddeford, Maine at Hyperlite Mountain Gear. I finally bit the bullet and decided to switch packs- a difficult decision when you have something tried and true that you’ve trusted for thousands of miles. I will be using the HMG Junction 3400. The claim to fame for Hyperlite Packs is the Dyneema Composite fabric that is meant to be 100% waterproof. I will certainly be putting this to the test over the next month and a bit. Conversely to all of the other gear changes, this pack is significantly lighter than the Osprey, the trade off here is comfort.

Shoes

For all of the AT, CT, and trail races around the world, I have used the Salomon Speedcross 4. It’s a 10mm drop with decent tread that holds up great in slick conditions. Generally, I have been able to get 500-600 miles on these shoes before needing to swap them out, mostly due to tearing in the lateral and medial flexion points. But, I’m not sure I’ve ever spent a single day in the mountains in Scotland without getting wet feet. Underfoot, the ground is constantly soaked through at some point in your day, and if its not, wait an hour. On the SNT I will be wearing the Salomon Speedcross 5 GTX; the Gortex model of my normal shoe. Normally I refrain from Goretex footwear because of the lack of breathability, but I’m willing to experiment with these in this environement.

Rain Gear

I found out very quickly when I first came to Scotland in October 2018 after the AT that my ultralight rain gear was largely inadequate. The sheer force of rainfall is very different than what I experienced while hiking from Georgia to Maine. My normal rainwear in Scotland is an Arctery’x Beta LT jacket and Marmot Precip pants which are obviously heavier than what I wear in America. My normal Outdoor Research Helium II jacket is 6.2 ounces lighter while there is an 8.1 ounce difference from my Enlightened Equipment Visp pants. So all together, it will be adding about a pound to my base weight, but in Scotland, proper rain gear is something you can never compromise on.

The Arctery’x Beta LT on Braeriach last winter with Tiree in the foreground

Midlayer

One of the largest mistakes that people new to backpacking make is packing way too many clothes. It’s one of the most common ways to drop excess weight from your pack. You really do not need much. But there is always a heated debate over the “mid layer”. Ideally, everything in your pack should have multiple uses. My rain jacket is normally one of my most worn pieces of apparel on a thru-hike, but its very rarely worn in the rain. It has generally served as this intermediate layer when it’s cold in the morning/evening, or windy up on a ridge. However, Scotland in September and October will require a bit of extra warmth and comfort. I’ll be carrying my Melanzana Microgrid hoodie adding another 12 ounces to my pack.

The Melly was an everyday companion ski touring in the Cairngorms

Navigation

When Fiona and Joe visited last summer and then in the last few months in America with Lucy, they were all surprised by how well marked the trails were in America. I hiked the AT without a map. I don’t know anyone who has hiked the AT with a map. You don’t need one, you follow the White Blazes forever. You cannot go into the wilderness in Scotland without a map, EVER. There are very rarely marked paths and often times there is no path at all necessitating exemplary map and compass skills. So more added weight will be in the form of my compass and whichever maps I need for the section I am on. Since the SNT is a piecing together of various bits of other walks, there is not one collective map. The route I am taking will require 21 different Ordinance Survey maps to make it to the end at Cape Wrath. Luckily, I will be able to swap maps out with Lucy when she comes to visit at various points along the way.

Planning

With all that being said, I have added two pounds (depending on maps) to my pack making my baseweight top out at 14.7 pounds. Then add 12 pounds in water weight for being drenched in a rain storm 85% of the time.

This walk feels like much more of an adventure than my other thru-hikes. It has required careful planning and logistics as there is not nearly as much information available on the SNT as there are for the AT and CT. And although the beginning of the trek will be relatively urban, going through many villages as I make my way North to Edinburgh, the second half is totally wild. I anticipate the stretch to Cape Wrath being very isolated and magical as it is one of the most remote parts of the country. It will be an entirely different experience than the AT.

The morning after the tent incident in Ireland

Luckily, there are friends who will join along the way so it won’t always be all that lonely. I’m very lucky that Lucy has offered some of her days off to come walk bits and pieces with me. Then as I make my way further North through Kingussie, Fiona, Joe and more reindeer friends will tag along as I make my way North. The Scottish National Trail will begin for me on September 21st! As always, I will be using the Spot GPS device so you can track my progress and I will also be doing weekly blog updates. Thank you for following along!

***Disclaimer, this walk will go nowhere near Loch Ness, so if I do find Nessie, I will gain much fame, but I also definitely took a wrong turn***

Peace,

Handy Man

September 6, 2020

Thornhill, Scotland

End of the Colorado Trail

Important Stats

Days: 34
Miles: 485.0
Beard Length: Not nearly as long as I’d hoped
Showers Taken: 8
Bears Spotted: 1
Thunderstorms: 12
Zero Days: 3

Before I describe the end of the trail and lose your attention, below is a video that I made of our entire hike. It features a few seconds of video from each day of the hike, showing the Colorado Trail in two minutes, I hope you enjoy!

It’s always a bitter sweet feeling ending a trail. 34 days was definitely enough for us to feel integrated into this lifestyle and reminded me of the simplicity of the Appalachian Trail. Now two days post finishing, it feels odd to wake up and not have to break down a tent and focus on where the next water source is. Instead today, it was trying to navigate a busy airport, full of tension between ordinary people some of whom are and others who are not complicit to the pandemic influenced changes. So as excited as we were to finish, I’m also already wishing we had more time on trail.

The last stretch through the San Juan’s was undoubtedly the most scenic of the entire trail. But before we could earn those views, we needed to navigate an amazing amount of avalanche debris in the Weminuche Wilderness area. On four separate occasions we had to carefully clamber across a jungle gym of trees and large boulders that were displaced by the incredible power of avalanches that occurred last year. Since this is a wilderness area, power tools are banned from use in the cleanup of the enormous piles, some of which extend for longer than a football field worth of trail.

After navigating the slew of avalanche debris, my really good friend Jo met us on a zero day in Silverton which is about a two hour drive from where she now lives. Her and her partner Derek took us to a lake for the day where we were able to enjoy some time out in the mountains without having to walk at all, a welcome change for our feet. It was a beautiful sunny day to spend picnicking and catching up in a serene landscape. Lucy and I were so grateful to Jo and Derek for giving us this little and much needed break towards the end of the trail.

The last 80 miles or so are unfortunately full of some very long dry stretches, including a 22 mile gap between water sources. We filled our entire capacity, and knew we were going to have to dry camp that night. However, we got our first bit of on trail “Trail Magic” when we came across a couple who was out car camping for the weekend. Very generously, they offered to top up our water ten miles into this waterless section. I marveled as they removed an enormous water container from their truck and carefully filled our water bottles to the brim. Not only that, they gave us fruit and cans of coke to abate the dryness that had been plaguing our mouthes while we had been rationing water. It may have been the third to last day of the trail, but this was some of the most necessary trail magic I have ever been the recipient of.

That night, we found a nice camp spot that was relatively sheltered on a plateau between mountains. This area was lacking in trees with branches high or strong enough to hold a bear bag, and since we had not seen a single bear on this hike, we opted to just sleep with our food. I was fast asleep when Lucy was woken up by loud sniffing and snorting on her side of the tent. What sounded like a relatively large black bear was curiously maneuvering his wet muzzle around the outside of the tent searching for any sort of access to our food bags. Thankfully, by the time Lucy woke me up and we moved around on our noisy sleeping pads, the bear became spooked and meandered away into the forest. Certainly a friendly reminder to not become complacent and always store your food properly in the backcountry.

Sadly, the last few days were difficult to enjoy completely due to an intense heat wave and the emergence of biting flies, even at high altitudes. Anytime we would take a break in the shade of a large pine to escape the heat, we were almost instantly assaulted by a considerable amount of flies coming in every direction. So the options were few but to keep pressing on through the heat of the sun.

But up on the ridges the steady stream of wind and some strong gusts were like paradise. The sun was still strong as ever but the convective cooling of our skin made the exposure tolerable, enjoyable even, being so high up in the fresh mountain air. Gazing out over the San Juan’s at the sharp peaks and patches of snow that still hung in the deeper couloirs made me realize how much I did not want this hike to end.

Inevitably, we woke up on the final day of the hike and began to descend into Durango, our first time under 8000 feet in weeks. We had properly left the mountains, so there wasn’t much to see, and I knew the downhill day would just be one for podcasts and reflection. However the excitement peaked when Lucy finally saw her first bear up close. It took until the final hours of this trail, after spending months in the White Mountains and Colorado, but it finally happened. The young cinnamon colored bear was much more spooked then her as he rapidly scampered up a tree out of her way. Not wanting to increase stress on the animal, Lucy quickly continued on. And then just a few hours later, we were at Junction Creek Trailhead, the Southern terminus of the Colorado Trail. A rather hot, dusty, and anticlimactic finish, we found ourselves in a crowded parking lot on a Sunday afternoon after weeks of pristine and remote mountains. After taking the required finish photos we quickly made our way to Durango, out of the heat and to Carver’s Brewery which offers a free pint to every CT finisher.

Shortly after showering in our hotel, Jo texted me asking where she might be able to deliver some PBR’s in Durango. The surprise was then amplified when I went to meet her in the parking lot and one of my best friends Brian, who also joined for a week on the AT, popped out from behind a car. He had driven over 6 hours from Utah to meet us! We had a phenomenal night of catching up over beers and margaritas and reminiscing about our Colorado Trail experience. Then a special thanks also to an AT friend, Big Bear, for putting us up close to Denver the night before our flight. Our minimally social hike was now juxtaposed by an ending full of reunions.

The Colorado Trail was everything that I had hoped it would be. Views and terrain unlike any other I had experienced before, but more importantly the return to living life on trail. Same concept, different place. It’s an interesting lifestyle that as I’ve described before is something I feel conflicted about sometimes. But I’ll always crave being out here, especially once reintegrated into the craziness that is the, “real world” right now. I do think it’s a grass is always greener scenario. And I’m doubtful that I could ever live in the woods full time as much as I love it. A lot of my sanity comes from knowing that I can do it, but also that I have the stability of a job on the other end of it.

Without knowing I could resume a “normal life” after walking a long trail, I don’t think I would enjoy my time in the mountains nearly as much. This balance is something I failed to realize on the AT. After August 2018 I had an amazingly difficult time trying to process returning to work and life. So I delayed it and thankfully had the option to go herd reindeer in Scotland with great friends for the next several months, and ended up building a community and a life there. But in the back of my mind, I knew that as a paramedic, I could always leave at any time and find steady work. This safety blanket was something that I had severely underestimated for the last year. No matter what happened, I always had a backup plan without entirely being consciously aware of it.

Age is just a number and the only timelines we have in life are ones that we create for ourself. It doesn’t matter when I start school or how long I work for- I am very fortunate to be in a position where I can have a fluid progression of my life. There will always be time for “grown up responsibilities”. And once that starts, it’s more difficult to escape and walk long trails and travel all over the world. I’m not ready to stop yet, and I feel more secure now than ever to make that decision. So stay tuned for another series of blogs from a long trail that will come in September…

Sharing this trip with Lucy has been even better than I could have imagined. Spending everyday with your partner in sometimes challenging environments making difficult decisions in the wilderness could have been taxing- but it wasn’t at all. We worked efficiently as a team and played well off of each other for the entire trail. Whenever one of us was struggling or having a tough day, the other would make it better. I had heard from couples on the AT that hiking with someone you love either really works, or it really really does not. And I feel beyond lucky that for us, it was so effortless, and one of the best adventures I have ever had. Often times I write about it being the people and not the place that can define an experience. On this hike, I had the best company in the whole world.

Thanks so much for following along on this Colorado Trail journey. It has been such an amazing experience from day 1.

Peace,

Handyman

July 14, 2020

Denver, Colorado

Advice from a Cowboy and Beavers in the Moonlight

Important Stats:

Days: 26.5
Miles: 373.4
Beard Length: Barry Gibb in the 60’s
Showers Taken: 6
Bears Spotted: 1
Thunderstorms: 10
Zero Days: 2

The Colorado Trail reached a definite point of monotony after exiting the town of Salida. Although sometimes there can be a sense of beauty in the ordinary and boring. After having been walking through high alpine terrain for the past few weeks we found ourselves stumbling across the wide open plains. Still at an altitude greater than 9000 feet I have never seen anything like it before. So. Much. Land.

A definite contrast to the densely wooded forests of the Northeast, it became a challenge struggling through these sections in the middle of the day. The heat and lack of shade compiled with a seemingly infinite amount of dust that appeared magnetic to our bodies created challenges I had not met before in long distance backpacking. Worse than all of this though: the lack of water sources.

One night we were able to find a nice camp spot at the end of a long valley among a cluster of trees, a welcome reprieve from the unrelenting sun. We awoke the next morning to a fair amount of mooing in the distance. Not thinking much of this, we began the routine of breaking down camp. Outside the tent as I packed my bag, Lucy told me to look and was pointing in the distance. As I turned my head, I could hear the mooing get even louder.

A large herd of cattle, enveloped in a traveling cloud of kicked up dust was running towards us. I increased the urgency in my packing and we moved our gear closer to the trees. The cows would likely be frightened by us and keep their distance but we could not say the same for things like our sleeping bags, tent, etc.

15 meters before reaching us the entire lot diverged away from us to the east along the Colorado Trail. The next thing we saw was the most American thing Lucy has ever seen. A real life cowboy.

The man, who appeared to be in his 70’s, zipped towards us on an ATV with his faithful cattle dog diligently following. He gave us a wave and disappeared on a forest track into the trees. We sat on a fallen log, stunned at the events occurring in the first few minutes of our day while we watched the rest of the cows travel down the path we would soon be following.

As the last of them disappeared around the corner and the dust began to settle (have never used this expression literally before) we could hear the engine from the ATV coming back towards us.

The tanned man with a weather-worn face approached us and tipped his well broken in cowboy hat back on his head while he approached. His eyes squinted in the morning sun and the fat lip of chewing tobacco distracted from the other qualities of his face. Adorned in denim from top to bottom, dirt stained, holes, and patches all over the ancient coat and jeans. His tall brown leather boots (sadly lacking a heal spur) eased onto the break as he pulled up next to us. The dog, looking much more fresh and delicate, but amazingly handsome, could not have been more than a year old and stopped obediently next to him.

At this point, I was absolutely shocked and slightly disappointed that he didn’t tip his cap and say, “howdy”. Instead, he looked up at us with those squinty eyes and in a gruff southern drawl said, “Cold one last night”.

And indeed it was. Temperatures had been well below freezing which even required sleeping in my down jacket while zipped tightly in my sleeping bag. We chatted for a bit about how strange the weather has been in Colorado and around the world. The commonality existing between our adversities being the drought that Colorado now faced. We had told him that water sources had been few and far between for the past several days, often requiring us to carry three liters of water at a time. He told us that trend would likely continue for awhile and sadly the water sources that now lay immediately ahead would be soiled by the mass of cows that had freshly stamped through it.

The entire herd was greater than 260, and only a 180 had just come through. Speaking of such, he needed to stop the chatting so he could dash of to the other meadow and push the remaining animals through. One word of advice from the seasoned cowboy before he rode off into the rising sun: “Watch out for Colorado paint when you walk this morning.” Our quizzical looks implied we did not understand his warning. Then with a charming smile, he looked both of us in the eyes and said, “cow shit.” And him and his dog buzzed down the valley with an equally impressive cloud of dust on their tail.

Thankfully, the plains came to an end a day and a half later. We could see snowy mountains on the horizon and swiftly made our way into the La Garita Wilderness area. We ascended up our first 14,000 foot peak in Colorado, San Luis, on Thursday morning. It is one of 58 mountains affectionately known as ‘14ers’. When we crested the ridge onto the summit, there was a very light wind making it comfortable enough to stop and rest for awhile. The view in every direction was expansive, with visibility over one hundred miles in the direction we came from and where we’re headed. Being this high up truly gave me an appreciation for how impressive this state really is.

That night, we found a beautiful campsite next to a pond created by several tiers of large beaver dams. Within a minute of putting our packs down and before we could even begin to take the tent out, I spotted a beaver swimming across the pond and curiously poking his head up to inquire about his new visitors. This was massively exciting because Lucy has never seen a beaver before. We watched him move stealthily through the water, barely creating a ripple, as he swam back and forth adding more timber and water plants to his already impressive dam. This continued for over an hour while we established camp and cooked dinner. I’d argue this is the equivalent of Netflix whilst camping in the backcountry.

Further in the distance, too far for a good photo, a bull moose was visible (through Lucy’s prescription sunglasses) eating his dinner quietly. If another hiker passing by had not pointed him out, I doubt we would have ever noticed. This has also made me wonder, with my poor vision and adamant refusal to wear glasses for anything aside from driving and cycling, how many moose have I missed not just in Colorado, but over the course of my life?!

We watched both animals carry on with their nightly routines and marveled at the beauty of it. Perched on the edge of this pond, protected by high cliffs on all sides with their lingering cornices, in the middle of this vast wilderness area, no other person in the world would experience this at this moment but us. And there is something very special about that. If you’ve ever wondered what might calm someone after lighting a very expensive down jacket on fire on a camp stove, this is it.

Getting ever closer to the full moon, the white walls of my tent have frequently been illuminated with a bright glow that has decreased the need for head lamps. It’s been magical falling asleep with this celestial night light for the past few evenings. I awoke just after 1am to some very loud splashing coming from just across the pond. Peering out of the tent, even with the moon it was still to dark to see. So I pulled on my newly singed puffy jacket and went outside for a better look. As soon as I was out of the tent I was taken aback by how beautiful the night was. Moonlight reflected brightly off the snow that glazed the tops of the cliffs, and glistened over the pond before me. Even so, the stars shone widely across the glowing black canvas in all directions. The beaver made his way silently across the pond, ripples from his wake shimmered in the brilliance of the night. While I watched and waited I could hear the sizable mammal moving from across the pond, staying to the shadows until the faint outline of a bear traipsed back into the woods, snapping fewer branches than you would imagine. And this whole time I thought, how lucky are we to be living in this moment right now.

Arriving into a town on Fourth of July weekend is probably the worst thing you can do as a thru hiker. I remember entering Pearisburg, VA on the AT at the start of Memorial Day weekend in 2018 and having to do a really bizarre work for stay. After getting into Lake City the afternoon of July 3rd, we quickly realized that there was no where to stay. Being more hungry than concerned about the nights lodging, we went to the cafe to eat and use the WiFi since there is no service in town.

One of the few other CT hikers we’ve met this year, a Czech girl named ‘Mystery’ had gotten into town the day before and found us at the cafe. She had told us that she met an older couple while searching the town for anywhere to stay. Since there is no service here, they let her use their internet and helped her look up the names and phone numbers of all the lodging in Lake City. When she heeded the same result as us, they offered to let her stay in their old cabin which is now rarely used since they built their new home. The next day when Lucy and I arrived, Mystery inquired about us staying also and the couple graciously gave us a place to stay out of the rain.

So on the morning of the Fourth of July, I woke up in my sleeping bag in some old Colorado cabin that’s slightly worse for wear, but much more spacious than a tent. Having already resupplied, we had a nice full breakfast at the bakery before escaping back to the trail and avoiding the madness of a holiday weekend.

Not far to go now and I am glad that we’ve been experiencing more and more of the kindness I saw on the AT as well as meeting more friends. I’m very glad to be doing the trail with Lucy this year, I think it would have been incredibly lonely otherwise. We’ll likely finish the trail one week from tomorrow which is a relatively sad thought. It’s always very exciting getting close to the finish, but now that Durango is becoming ever closer, I admit I really don’t want to get there. This hike has been an entirely different experience than the AT in the sense that I did not set out to try to regain some sort of personal balance. This was about salvaging an adventure with my partner after the events of the world caused as to adapt and readjust. If anything, I feel more grateful to be out on the trail because now I know how easily that right can be taken away. I would have never expected a global pandemic to impact my hiking, but now I certainly won’t take it for granted. Each day out here is a gift, and I will treasure each one of these final days. This has been one of the best adventures yet.

Peace,

Handyman

Colorado Trail High Point (on a break to post this on trail because no cell service in Lake City)

July 5, 2020

Snowfields, Marmots, and Thunderstorms

Important Stats:

Days: 16
Miles: 225.6
Beard Length: Santa Claus in his early 20’s
Showers Taken: 3
Bears Spotted: 0
Thunderstorms: 6
Zero Days: 1

I’m up early this morning and Lucy is still sleeping so I thought I would try something new and post a blog from the tent! We’re about 25 miles outside of Salida, and will be having a short day tomorrow, but towns are less frequent here so I thought it was time for an update. Also I apologize if you received an email about another blog post that went up, in my morning grogginess, I accidentally published an old draft.

We were promised more snow, and that is exactly what we got. Departing Frisco we were warned of other hikers who had attempted to traverse over Ten Mile ridge and needed to turn back. So very cautiously, with the most up to date snow report we could get, we began our journey onward and upward. Somewhere 8 miles into the day at just over 10,000 feet we began to encounter the first patches of snow, soft and mushy, causing a considerable amount of post-holing.

Over the next few miles we broke tree line and encountered the first of many long snowfields. Some steep, necessitating kicking steps into the snow, and others that were level, but required care with every step so as not to slide down the side of the mountain. This has also created some very impressive cornices to be weary of.

The journey across these snowfields continued up and over Searle Pass the next day, up onto Elk Ridge and through Kokomo Pass on the other side.

Spotty snowfields dotted the high alpine environment like a large mountain Dalmatian. Much of it could be avoided, but at other times you found yourself falling up to your hips through the high snow drifts.

Particularly interesting on these ventures over higher altitudes are the marmots that call this habitat home. Marmots are the heaviest member of the squirrel family and live in high mountainous regions across North America, Europe, and even the Himalayas. A high pitched whistling is often the first sign that marmots are near, their alert system to one another that a human or other animal is approaching. This allows the others to communicate while also seeking shelter in their burrows which are comprised of a complex set of tunnels dug into the earth. Marmots vary in size depending on species and season, becoming heavier in the autumn to prepare for the cold winter ahead. In the true definition of hibernation, marmots are the largest animal that hibernates (bears are driven to hibernation from environmental clues, not at the exact same time each year).

Although adorable to stop and look at, one other aspect that has commanded swift travel over the higher altitude ridges and passes is the increased frequency of afternoon thunderstorms in Colorado, often accompanied by intense hail. Colorado is particularly susceptible and well known for these summer storms due to its geography and high mountainous areas that allow cold air to destabilize warm atmospheric currents. This mixture in the clouds between water droplets and newly formed ice creates a charge that results in lightning. These storms are relatively predictable which allows for planning to stay off of ridges or mountaintops in the afternoons.

Sometimes this is unavoidable as was the case two days ago when climbing up to the ridge of Mount Yale after dinner. Unfortunately, not all thunderstorms occur in the afternoon and we thought we were in the clear after sheltering from a storm earlier in the day.

The darkness of the sky increased as we ascended the ridge until finally thunder boomed, lightning flashed, and hail plummeted down in a vicious fashion. We knew our day was over at this point and we were not going to camp up high as originally planned. Given the steepness of our present location, there was not going to be any flat ground to pitch a tent which left only the heart breaking decision to descend some 500 feet to the last known area where we could safely pitch our tent.

This has resulted in very cold mornings, often times hovering just above freezing. A significant contrast to the midday temperatures that often exceed 80F (25C). Pictured somewhere in there is Lucy in the morning before breaking camp.

Some of the camp spots on the Colorado Trail have been the most scenic I’ve had in my life.

Each morning goes as follows: Wake up. Pretend I haven’t woken up. Work up the courage to take my arms out of the sleeping bag. Put down jacket on. Deflate sleeping pad. Painfully change from leggings back into hiking shorts. Put socks on that haven’t been washed in a week. Get out of tent exhibiting extra care if it was wet overnight so as not to dampen the inside of the tent. Retrieve our food bags hung in the tree. Recoil the bear line. Break down tent. Pack bag. Eat a pop tart. Start hiking. It is the same routine to a certain extent almost every morning but I love it!

After today we will be at the halfway point which is pretty awesome! It’s this conflicting feeling of being very excited to finish but not wanting it to end at the same time. It reminds me of getting into Maine on the AT, which is a similar distance of what we have left to do. I knew that every step forward would bring me closer to the end which was now tangible, but that also meant a return to the real world.

It’s a fairytale land out here. I’m in the mountains everyday, seeing sunsets and wildlife (still no moose), breathing in fresh air, and feeling totally removed from the outside world. There’s a certain guilt that comes with that though. I love not having the news, on the AT I even took pride in it in some sort of Chris McCandless way. I know COVID is still an issue because when we were passing by Copper Mountain, a major ski and mountain bike hub, the village was deserted and everything was closed. This meant however, we had a nice outside table to cook dinner on before continuing on to make camp that night.

But now I just feel like I’m being an irresponsible citizen. I’ve not figured out how to balance this yet, but I will continue to work on it as we enter the latter half of the trail.

Peace,

Handyman

The Woods, Colorado

June 25, 2020

Colorado: More than Legal Weed and the Denver Broncos

Important Stats:

Days: 8
Miles: 104.4
Beard Length: Disappointingly short
Showers Taken: 1
Bears Spotted: 0
Zero Days: 1

PSA before any trail news; happy birthday to my Nana B!! She has always been one of my biggest supporters and someone who has been a very important part of my life. I love you and hope you have a great day! I can’t wait to see you when I get back!

Man, I had no idea how much I really missed life on trail. Everything here is simpler; the complexities of the busy ‘real world’ are nonexistent. Each day we wake up with the sun, break down camp, walk towards Durango, eat, drink, set up camp, and fall asleep when the sun disappears. Dreamy, right? That’s not to say it’s not difficult at times. There is a certain monotony to this life that requires distractions so as not to numb the mind too much. Thankfully, an arsenal of podcasts, the stunning landscape of the Rocky Mountains, and the constant look out for bear, moose, or mountain lion provides a steady source of entertainment.

My parents dropped us off at a very empty Logan airport early in the morning of June 9th. This section of our journey was undoubtably the piece we felt the guiltiest about given the current state of the pandemic. But we were as prepared as could be with our masks, hand sanitizer, etc. It was a relatively normal sized flight, with most of the seats able to be sold filled. All middle seats of the plane were empty and instead of a food or drink service, you were given a prepackaged bag with snacks and water. All things considered, it was a safe and comfortable process.

We were fortunate enough to have connected with a trail angel named Laura who picked us up from the REI in Denver where we procured our cooking fuel by curbside pick-up, and then drove us the 45 minutes to the start of the trail!

The amazing selflessness of humanity that I had experienced on the AT was evident in Colorado very early on.

Also very early into the hike were the absolutely breathtaking views. I’d argue that I have spent more time out of the trees on the first 100 miles of the CT than the entirety of the AT. Even throughout segment 2 which is a ten mile stretch of desert, the scenery was remarkable.

In the midst of the desert was a woman who was having mechanical issues with her bike in an area with no cell phone service. Thanks to everything Myles Chase and Kale Poland have taught me about bikes over the last 8 years, I was able to fix her bike and get her on her way. In some respects it felt good to be able to give back, continuing to pay it forward from the ride Laura gave us the day before.

There has been very little rain so far, only one downpour, to be specific, that occurred overnight while we were already in the tent. Other than that it has been bluebird skies every single day, another stark contrast to the Appalachian Trail.

Although we are now in the second week of June, snow continues to linger in the mountains of Colorado. Two days ago we experienced our first sections of mushy patches and high drifts while crossing through Georgia Pass at an altitude of 11,875 ft. More annoying than hazardous, this stretch proved to be a minor inconvenience, but we have been promised more arduous snowfields ahead.

Altitude has not been much of an issue so far, an occasional minor headache has been easily remedied by my very good friend from the AT, Vitamin I (ibuprofen). Although dosage has been a frequent point of debate between the doctor and the paramedic, I still feel the right to disagree with medical control.

What has been more bothersome is a stint of bloody noses which is almost certainly caused by the incredibly dry air. I’m not sure I’ve ever been on trails so dusty considering the constant dampness of both Scotland and New Hampshire. In fact, having grown up in Scotland, Lucy has likely had more sun exposure in the past week than cumulatively over her entire lifetime!

One of the most exciting things to note, after going one week without showering, Lucy smells worse than me!! I could not wait to post this on the Internet. We were both startled by this result, but now that we have showered, Lucy seems to have temporarily held her hiker odor at bay whereas I have not. Who is the real winner remains to be determined.

Both of our legs have held up very well (knock on wood) and we have very much enjoyed the trail builders decisions to include an endless amount of switchbacks, something that is very unfamiliar in the steep granite ledges that occupy much of New Hampshire’s mountains.

This trail is beautiful. And I am so happy to be out here. So many people have emailed and texted me about how I have the right idea being out on trail as opposed to the craziness of the present state of the world. I do feel insanely lucky and fortunate to have the means to be out hiking for the next month. In no way do I take this lifestyle for granted, especially as I look towards what the future may hold.

One of the things that I have been reflecting on in this first week of the hike is how many people would never have the opportunity to be out here, which really troubles me. And I don’t mean in regards to taking months off of work and doing a thru hike; I’m talking about just accessibility. Many people who grow up in urban environments will never see the beauty of the mountains whether that’s due to fear, lack of know how, finance, doesn’t matter. Some people will never get to see the things that make up the majority of my happiness in this world. And that really troubles me. So if anyone knows of any organizations that assist in getting urban youths into the outdoors, please let me know, because I want to be a part of facilitating that.

Nature should be a place for everyone to find peace and healing, regardless of where you come from, the color of your skin, or how much money you have. So if you’re lucky enough to live somewhere where you can get outside and experience the beauty of the natural world, please go do it, because many others can’t. I promise, it will be worth the hour (or several hours) out of your day to turn your phone off and just listen to what Mother Nature has to say.

Over 100 miles in and feeling good, beyond excited for the trail ahead. Talk to you next week!

Peace,

Handy Man

Frisco, Colorado

June 16, 2020

PCT minus the P: Colorado Trail 2020

Well, as with everyone else, COVID changed our plans from March onwards! Thankfully, we weren’t put out of work, or struggling for food; comparatively to a lot of the rest of the world, we got off alright all things considered. Our inconvenience, was no longer being able to hike the PCT. Is it that bad in the grand scheme of things? No, not really. But does it suck to have a dream pulled out from underneath you at the last minute after months of planning? Absolutely.

We were still in America though and needed to adjust course and adapt to the new world we were now living in. And the reason for the extended delay in blogging is because I didn’t want to post anything until I was absolutely certain what our new plans would be. But with a flight booked for tomorrow, I feel it is safe to now announce that Lucy and I will be using the next month and a bit to hike the Colorado Trail! Starting just South of Denver, the trail stretches roughly 500 miles through some of the highest terrain in the United States to Durango. About 1/5 the distance of the PCT, but by all accounts, equal or even greater beauty.

We’ve spent the past three months in the United States huddled up in my parents second home in Meredith, NH. All in all, we’ve had a pretty nice go of it! I went back to work as a paramedic, one 24 hour shift a week, and other than that, all of our time was essentially spent in the White Mountains.

It was definitely an unexpected treat to get to show Lucy the mountains that I love so much. And given our arrival in mid-March, it was still very much full winter conditions on some of them necessitating the use of ice axes and mountaineering snowshoes. But we were also thankfully able to be very selective of our weather days and never took any risks that we felt would put us in need of any rescue efforts. So over a 71 day window, Lucy finished her 48 4000 footers on an epic 2 day Pemi Loop in a June snow shower!

All of this turned out to be phenomenal prep for the Colorado Trail, especially in regards to changing and adjusting gear!

As with the AT, I will be carrying the SPOT GPS tracker so you will be able to see nightly updates of our progress by viewing the ‘Location on Trail’ tab and then clicking on the latest link in the Twitter feed. Also similar to the AT, I will be deleting my social media, so this blog will be the only form of updates, so please subscribe (submit email on home page)! Some people have reached out to me, concerned about me deleting social media… this isn’t an escape from the current issues our world is facing. I’m not ignoring the injustice that occurs each and everyday. Removing myself from social media during a thru hike has always been what I do, so I hope others can respect my personal decision.

I am just as frustrated, shocked, and angry by the state of our society. Frankly, it’s terrifying. It would be ignorant to say I know how people of color feel; I could never know. But the most important thing is understanding that I will never understand and to only help in the ways that I can. For me, I never felt the need to post about what I’m doing to fight racial injustice because those are things I can do privately in the realm of signing petitions, writing letters to local government, etc. Now, it almost feels like if you aren’t posting it on social media, are you even doing anything at all?

I had always thought that the mountains were exempt from the unfair rules of the world. I’ve often described the Appalachian Trail as, “The ultimate leveling ground of people”. Fortunately, I am in a position where I am able to go into the mountains to heal, explore, and discover. It breaks my heart that this is not the case for everyone. And it disgusts me that in certain backcountry areas, some people just aren’t welcomed because of the color of their skin. If we all look into our own personal hobbies, I think we will find a common pattern. AND THIS NEEDS TO CHANGE.

So please don’t feel that I’m “escaping the world” or say that I’m lucky to be getting out of dodge by going on this hike. Physically removing yourself from this is not an escape, and I also do not want it to be misconstrued as being a distraction. This hike will be a period of reflection where one of the things I will be focusing on is choosing how I personally can do better.

The CT is a much shorter trail than the AT so the current plan is to post shorter but more frequent blogs, hopefully weekly! We have been boxing up and mailing resupply boxes to avoid as many stores as possible so I’ve been able to discover just how much more I actually eat than Lucy. I’ve already told her if she runs short on food, she’s more than welcome to my cold couscous!

We are super excited to start this walk together, exploring a beautiful state, and rediscover how much good there is still in the world. I hope that this blog can be a source of positivity in a crowded sea of negative news. As always, I am happy to answer any questions you have about the hike! And no, I’m still not able to eat honey buns.

Peace,

Handyman

Meredith, NH

June 8, 2020

PCT-Prep: Arran Coastal Way

Being close to only a month a way from starting the PCT, we thought it might be useful to do a shakedown hike, especially so Lucy could try out some of her new gear. Scotland in winter isn’t necessarily the best place to mimic the weather of a hike that starts in a desert, but we found a great trail to walk anyway.

The Isle of Arran is not far off Scotlands west coast, only an hour by ferry from Ardrossan and the Arran Coastal Way circumnavigates it. Arran is Scotlands seventh largest island and has a resident population of 4-5000 people although it certainly becomes much more crowded than that in the summer. Because of its incredible geology and diverse array of ecosystems, the 167 square-mile island is often described as “Scotland in miniature”.

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On March 1st we left Glasgow for the ferry and were on the road for 5 minutes before Lucy suggested to check for delays and cancellations. Thankfully so because all departures to Arran were cancelled that day due to a storm hitting the west coast of Scotland. We tried again the next morning, leaving Lucy’s flat at 5:30 AM to catch the ferry at 7. Arriving in the dark, we boarded the boat with our packs filled with our food for the next 4 days.

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Lucy waiting for the ferry to Arran.

My resupply was a bit different than normal as I could not find many of my beloved snacks from the AT in the UK grocery stores. Chips Ahoy was replaced with Jaffa Cakes and digestive biscuits, goldfish were non-existent, but I still refused to drink tea; or did I… Thankfully I could still find Poptarts for breakfast since I am maintaining my lifetime boycott of Honey Buns due to overexposure on the AT.

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Lucy enjoying a sunny beer break on a swing while drying out gear.

Conveniently, the trail is a loop going around the perimeter of the island so it both starts and ends at the ferry terminal. Simply enough, when we disembarked at the harbor in Brodick, we just started walking. Most resources suggested moving in an anti-clockwise direction sending us first in a northerly direction. The walk began relatively easy as it followed a coastal path out along a beach bringing us past many morning dog walkers.

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My concern given my experience with Scotland over the past two years wasn’t if it would rain, but how much it would rain. Surely enough, an hour into our walk as we snaked into a forest and had our first proper ascent, the rain began to fall. Being surrounded by trees on a muddy hill and getting downpoured on induced traumatic flashbacks to the AT. But the rain in Scotland is different, it’s never just a sprinkle, it is generally always the opposite. Donning much heavier waterproofs than the AT we made our way up and out of the forest to the coast where we approached the town of Sannox and were fully exposed to the elements. The nice thing about the weather in the Scottish Isles though is how quickly it changes and we were soon greeted by glints of sunshine through the overcast skies. The temperatures stayed in the forties which normally would have been fine aside from the consistent dampness of well, everything.

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Water squished up through my shoes with each step creating a group of bubbles on the top of my shoes. We walked below the cliffs on a grassy path that mimicked my shoes as the ground underfoot was saturated from the past several months of rain. It was early on in this hike that I accepted my feet were going to be soaking wet for the next four days and there was no escaping it.

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My feet at the end of day 2.

We set sights for the town of Locharanza on the northern tip of Arran as we had high hopes of camping on the outskirts and visiting the pub that evening for a warm fire and a pint. Setting our tent up in a wooded, marshy area we immediately traded shoes for flip flops to air out our incredibly pruned feet. After a mac and cheese dinner we walked a half mile into town where we located the very closed looking pub. We would come to realize over the next several days that like most islands, many pubs, restaurants, and cafes remain closed until the nicer weather and more tourists arrive.

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We awoke the next morning just on the threshold of being warm enough. Lucy was first out of the tent and suggested we start packing up quickly as rain looked rather imminent. Not only is Lucy a doctor, I now learned she is a very good weatherwoman as well. The skies emptied almost as soon as we began dismantling the tent, the cold air debilitating our hands while we fumbled with the stakes and clips. Setting up or taking down in the rain will NEVER be a fun experience. But we moved quickly and began our trek around the Northern coast in the pouring rain. We were blessed with the shelter of a public toilet before leaving town where we could finish our breakfast and readjust everything we needed for the 20-mile day ahead. We trudged along while the rain (which eventually turned to hail) bounced forcefully off the pavement on what was unfortunately the longest road walking section of the day. Checking the maps, we noticed a cafe 6-7 miles into the day and put our heads down and walked quickly towards the direction of tea (for Lucy).

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As we neared the small town of Pirnmill with our waterproofs reaching the point of soaking through, the cafe was most definitely closed. BUT, the small village shop next to it was not. We shuffled quickly inside and removed our hoods to see two women conversing at the front of the store. We mentioned how we had hoped to seek refuge in the cafe and the shop owner, Hazel, offered a cup of tea much to Lucy’s delight. We began to chat while she set up a table and chairs for us to rest and warm up for a bit. The first experience of trail magic on the ACW. Slightly surprised, I noticed she had put out a cup of tea for me as well. Given my state of being very cold and very wet, I actually enjoyed it thanks to copious amounts of milk and sugar. As we drank the tea and ate some cheese and crackers under Hazel’s incredible hospitality, we noticed sunshine coming through the windows. Hazel checked the forecast for us which showed a relatively (for Scotland) dry rest of the day. Wanting to take advantage of the nice weather, we quickly packed up and continued down the West coast of Arran.

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The sea birds here were absolutely amazing as Lucy pointed them out identifying all of the gannets, oyster catchers, terns, cormorants, black-back gulls, buzzards, hawks, and eider ducks. We spent a sunny lunch break on a rocky beach watching gannets dive aggressively into the sparkling ocean.

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Walking along the coast was extremely rough at times, clambering over boulders and finding comfort in the small patches of grass in between was oddly reminiscent of walking through Pennsylvania. The sights however, were much, much better. Looking out to the ocean and walking amongst the sea cliffs provided a stunning landscape that only improved as the sun began to set and we found a camp spot in a small protected nook along the beach near Blackwaterfoot on the side of a golf course.

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We awoke the next morning to a tractor collecting sand from the beach below us, diligently moving in rows upward from the shoreline. When we had packed up and began the third morning of walking, the tractor pulled up beside us and a bearded man hopped out and told us it was a bit silly to be camping this time of year. We got to chatting and he told us he was a groundskeeper at the Shiskine Golf Club. He invited Lucy and I back to the shed on the golf course for, you guessed it, a cup of tea. Stuart generously made me a coffee in the warmth of the grounds crews break room where we talked about the island and what an incredibly dismal winter they have had. After working at the golf club for 38 years, he recounted this being the wettest it had ever been. We could certainly attest to that given the present state of our feet.

This incredibly generous act of kindness had me realising that trail magic in the UK was tea. Hopefully Lucy will adjust to PCT trail magic of PBR and Coca-Cola. After a great chat with Stuart, starting our morning on a high note, we began walking around the southern tip of Arran on what would be the sunniest day yet. Descending down onto the shore we moved along the notoriously rocky bit of Bennan Head. Giant sea caves dotted the cliffs, some of which were a staggering 80 feet high.

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We moved slowly as we navigated the difficult terrain while also looking out to the sea hopeful of spotting some of the many marine mammals that call Arran’s coast home. Stretching around to the rocky beaches of Kildonan, we finally had our first seal sighting when we stumbled on several colonies of grey seals totalling some forty individuals. We spent at least a half hour watching them play in the waters of the sheltered bay hopping on and off of the rocks, the rugged coastline only passable at low-tide protecting them from much human interaction.

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Our feet were sore and worn from the incessant moisture carried in our socks. Each morning we put them on, cold and wet, and no matter how long we had been walking on a dry stretch, we knew that it wouldn’t last. The painful rubbing on the soft skin became more hurtful than annoying as we approached the third night of camp just near Whiting Bay. Knowing we only had 15 miles to walk to the end of the trail the next day, we indulged on much of our remaining chocolate on the coldest night of the trek.

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The chilly air woke us early the next morning and we packed up quickly knowing the only way to get warm was to start moving. Exiting the tent, I brushed patches of ice off of the rain fly onto the cold, frost-coated blades of grass. We made our way up the east coast as Holy Isle came in to view. The southern bit of the 2-mile long island is a Buddhist retreat, while the remainder is a nature reserve that houses Eriskay ponies, Saanen goats, Soay sheep, and many rare plants and trees.

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Snow capped peaks of the Goatfell range poked into the skyline as we looked down and saw the end point of the Arran Coastal Way where we had started just four days before. Reaching the monument back in Brodick we had successfully walked about 70 miles around Arran together with really zero issues, allowing for an optimistic outlook of the PCT. We entered the fish and chip shop across the street from the ferry terminal where I sat on the ground and removed my completely saturated shoes for the last time on Arran. Excited about this successful trial, we grabbed our grease stained, newspaper covered meal and boarded the boat towards a much needed warm shower.

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End of the ACW.

Peace,

Handy Man

Glasgow, Scotland

March 6, 2020

Trailstoked back on Trail

I’ll be coming back to America in April… to hike the PCT! On April 11th I’ll start a northbound attempt at the Mexican border, hopefully making it all the way to Canada, some 2650 miles away, by August. Ever since my time on the AT, the idea of the PCT had been stuck in my head. The possibility of walking outside of a green tunnel on a trail that hardly sees any rain in California was unsurprisingly appealing to me. Not that I didn’t love the AT, it’s just sometimes its nice to be dry and have nice views!

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This hike will be entirely different for me in that unlike completing the seven continents, or hiking the Appalachian Trail, I’m not doing it because I’m trying to work through something or overcome a problem in my life; I’m doing it for me and simply because it looks absolutely incredible. I fell in love with trail life in the summer of 2018 and I am beyond excited to put my life into a backpack again. Especially so because Lucy will be joining me for this hike. We both understand the difficulties and challenges of attempting a thru hike with a partner and are well equipped for it. We will be carrying all of our own gear and walking separately from each other most days, reconvening at night to camp and eat together. At the end of the day, is there really any better way to test a relationship by spending months upon months in the wilderness together? Ultimately, it will be very exciting to show her a part of America that holds beauty beyond words.

I’ll be looking forward to keeping everyone updated via this blog on our progress and will do something similar to the AT, posting every 10-14 days. Additionally, I will once again be carrying a GPS tracker so you will be able to keep tabs on our whereabouts each day!

I will be flying to America on April 3rd and then out to California on April 9th so if anyone is around in New England and wants to say hi before I go, send me a message (I have a new phone number so Facebook or email is best)! Hopefully you will enjoy following my hike again, I truly can’t describe how excited I am for it!

Peace,

Handyman

January 31, 2020

 

I WROTE A BOOK

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Running Wild: A Quest for Healing Across 7 Continents

Well, it’s been well over a year since I have last posted on trailstoked. For the past year I have been bouncing back and forth between America and Scotland, having lots of adventures both big and small. Many, I still have planned and am excited for the future. BUT- in the meantime, I have some exciting news for anyone who might have enjoyed the writing on my blog. I wrote a book! It was a long and sometimes frustrating process, but I am now incredibly proud to have a real life book in my hand.

This book details all of my adventures prior to the AT. For some reason, unlike social media, I feel the ability to be completely and brutally honest on this blog. After the Boston marathon Bombing, I was obviously not the same person, but I had no idea how severely the events of that day had impacted me until I got into some very dark places. I won’t spoil the book, but I made a radical life change, and immediately began traveling the world, aiming to run a marathon on every continent. This process was therapeutic and addictive. But it wasn’t so much the running as it was the people I met and life lessons learned along the way that truly transformed me as a person.

Right in the middle of these travels, when I truly began to feel better, Rachel killed herself. And as you may have guessed from reading this blog, that also caused quite a bit of pain and anguish. I continued to travel and explore the world but again my life had changed. Slowly I have begun to realize that you can never be the same person your whole life- it just doesn’t work that way. And no matter what I did or tried, I could never go back to being the old Bobby O’Donnell. Tragedy can define our lives but it doesn’t have to. We just have to consciously decide how we let it change us to make us become the person we would like to be.

I understand that I have really done a horrible job explaining to my friends and family where I had gone or what I was up to and why. For that I am sorry. But this was a journey I needed to take mostly on my own, and I hope that this book can explain all of that. So if you would like to buy it, the link is at the start of this post.

I hope everyone has a  very Merry Christmas, and as always, thank you for your love and support.

Handy Man

20th December 2019

Glenmore, Scotland

The Mysterious Life of an American Reindeer Herder

Important Stats

Kilts Worn: 0

Whiskeys Drank: Uncountable

Showers Taken: Everyday (Almost)

Loch Ness Monster Sightings: Up for debate

Reindeer that Have Kicked Me in a Sensitive Spot: 1

Amount of Reindeer in the Herd: 150

Amount of Reindeer that I Like: 149

Since I finished the trail many people have been asking what I’ve been up to and based on my social media posts, why have I been hanging out with so many reindeer! Well, six weeks after summiting Katahdin, I moved to Scotland for a few months to work for the Cairngorm Reindeer Center as a reindeer herder and am presently writing this post from east of the Atlantic ocean.

Things are great! I still get to be outside everyday but sleep in a bed each night. I’ve been able to get out hiking quite a bit with a pack that’s not so heavy and joined by people that talk quite a bit different than I do. Instead of digging a hole for my own poop, I pick up the reindeers, but that’s ok too. I’ve made lot’s of new friends and have been able to catch up with many old friends as well. And although I created Trail Stoked primarily for documenting my time on the AT (and other long distance hikes *insert cliff hanger music*), I was recently asked by the Center to write a post for their blog explaining how I ended up here, so I thought it would be fun to post it on my own site as well!

Peace,

Handy Man Bobby

Glenmore, Scotland

November 26, 2018

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One year after spending Thanksgiving as the lone American in Nepal with a group of runners including Fiona Smith, I could have never imagined that I would be cooking Thanksgiving dinner for a group of reindeer herders in the Scottish Highlands. Nonetheless, here I am, still the lone American, but with a whole bunch of great friends surrounding me and accepting me as the, ‘token yank’.

My road to becoming a reindeer herder was unconventional to say the least. Actually, is there really any conventional way to end up working at the Cairngorm Reindeer Center? And yep, that is Center spelled with an ‘er’ at the end because there are just some things that I refuse to conform to including British spelling of certain words. So if you receive an adoption pack describing your reindeer’s ‘color’ you can bet that I wrote it.

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It all began last November while in the Himalaya finishing up my mission to run a marathon in every continent, and Asia was my last one. I was part of an expedition running the Everest Marathon, a group that included the one and only reindeer extraordinaire, Fiona Smith. When we were doing our introductions on the first few days of the trek, I honestly thought that she was joking when she enlightened us all to her incredibly unique profession. C’mon now, no one actually herds reindeer for a living? They just sit at the North Pole and eat carrots; no one looks after them but Santa. Boy, was I wrong. I knew virtually nothing about these incredible animals and the amazing people that take care of them here in Scotland.

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Fast forward to this past July, Fiona, our friend Tom from the Everest Marathon, and former reindeer herder Ruth Molloy found themselves on a plane to America to join me on my hike of the Appalachian Trail (AT). And for about a week, they all enjoyed the delightful experience of arduously trudging through the muddy hemlock forests of Vermont.

Anytime you meet someone while traveling, you know them in a very isolated context, so it becomes quite odd when you see them outside of that original encounter. However, when participating in something like the Everest Marathon, it enables you to create a bond with people that transcends far beyond what is normal. Because of this we stayed in close communication in the months following our journey through the Himalaya. When I had first told them that I would be hiking the Appalachian Trail, they must have done little to no research because they were quite keen to join me!

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While we all hiked there were many jokes made on my behalf regarding my homelessness and unemployment, simply living in a tent for five months in the mountains of the east coast of the United States. These jokes however, led to an offer that seemed to be taken more seriously as the days on the trail with Fiona and company went on. She suggested that when I had finished hiking, if I would like seasonal employment, I’d be welcome to come work at the Reindeer Center for November and December. The Christmas season tends to be a busy time of year for reindeer (I at least knew that), so they were looking to add some additional staff.

Next thing I knew, I had myself a plane ticket to Scotland and not the slightest clue into what I had gotten myself into. The first few days of work as a reindeer herder were a whirlwind of fact learning, feed mixing, and poo picking. Very different than my normal job in the United States as a paramedic, I found it quite enjoyable being in an environment where no one was yelling at me or bleeding on me (hopefully). And on my measure at how successful I am at work, I was doing very well, no one was dying!

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There have been several learning curves thus far that many other herders don’t generally experience. As I’ve alluded to already, my spelling of certain words has been critiqued by many of my colleagues; they are especially disturbed by ’aluminum’. Conversely, I have a particularly difficult time attempting to pronounce many of the names of the Scottish towns and hills. People have been very amused by my attempts to say them in an American accent as well.

Additionally, I have never seen so many hot drinks consumed in my life! It seems like tea kettles are constantly boiling at all hours of the day! Honestly, I feel it would be more efficient to set up an IV infusion of tea for some of my coworkers!

Driving on the left side of the road has also evoked a sense of paranoia that even distracts me from singing along with the radio. I find myself constantly repeating the mantra of, “left, left, left” while driving on the winding narrow backroads of the Highlands. But with the help of my fellow herders, all of these hurdles (see what I did there) have been uneventfully navigated.

bulls

Often times while I blogged during my time on the AT, I wrote how it wasn’t necessarily the place, but the people that dictate an experience. Living at Reindeer House certainly does not fail to hold true to that theory. With seven of us from four different countries living under the same roof, from morning to night we certainly have a lot of fun. Friends that I have been with for only a month now feel like I have known them for years (in a good way). And last night the staff of the Cairngorm Reindeer Center held the first Thanksgiving in the sixty-six year history of the herd.

To say my experience as a chef is limited would be an understatement. Aside from my mother’s fantastic meals, I’ve essentially lived off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and noodles for the past twenty-four years, cooking a full turkey dinner was an ambitious exploit to say the least. The thought of preparing a meal of this magnitude for so many people left me more unsettled than being in the back of an ambulance with a trauma patient. But with a day off and Google at my fingertips I was eager to give it a go nonetheless. Having a bit of help from Fiona and the internet I’m happy to say it all went off without a hitch and the food was very enjoyable.

turkey

Everyone dressed up in their finest American attire, Fiona made an American playlist, and laughs and delicious food were shared by everyone. Even Scotty and Kate the owners of the local bar, the Pine Marten, decorated the walls with American flags, the Declaration of Independence, and many other photos of American symbols and monuments.

It was truly one of the greatest Thanksgiving celebrations I have ever had with people that I am certain will be lifelong friends. Although I missed my family, this wild bunch of reindeer herders made the holiday very special for me.

pinemarten

I think this says a lot about Cairngorm Reindeer Center and the people it attracts to work here. If you’ve ever come for a visit you may have noticed the kindness and attentiveness the staff has exhibited, but what you see is just a small sample of the true personality of all the herders. This incredible group of people that I have been working and living with are some of the most caring and altruistic humans I have ever met. Their love for the reindeer, their job, and each other is unparalleled to most environments I have witnessed. So from the bottom of my heart I need to thank Fiona and the whole Smith family because now I feel incredibly fortunate to also be a part of this wonderful community.

-Bobby

The Last White Blaze

Important Stats:

Days: 143
Miles: 2190.9
Beard Length: Grizzly Adams
Showers Taken: 41
Beers Drank: ??
Bears Spotted: 16
Zero Days: 13

It’s done. After 143 days, 5 pairs of shoes, 8 pairs of socks, and no underwear I finally reached the Northern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail, Mt. Katahdin.

The rest of Maine was as stunning as it was difficult. Vast expanses of a myriad of lakes could be gazed upon from many 4000-foot peaks while I felt the whip of the wind through my beard. The high peaks of Maine exhibited a very different feel than it’s companions in the Granite State. They seemed more removed, distant, isolated, and wild. One of my favorites was coming up and over Saddleback Mountain close to sunset with the unwavering light causing a golden shimmer across the endless lakes on the horizon.

Maine even flattened out (relatively) after the Bigelows for a short stretch including the crossing of the Kennebec River, with the only dedicated “ferry” service on the AT. Most popular for rafting, the damn holding the river is released around 10 AM each morning raising the water level from waist deep and sluggish to overhead and swift in a matter of minutes. After multiple drownings over the year the ATC introduced the ferry system shuttling hikers across the 400-foot width of the river.

One of the shelters just prior to the 100 Mile Wilderness had a copy of Dr. Seuss’, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” tucked safely in with the log book. So I stopped for a lunch break and read the book for the first time in years from cover to cover. As my eyes cruised over the pages of rhymes and colorful pictures, I could not believe how relevant this book is to everyone. And, aside from Yankees fans, it’s a reading level everyone can handle as well! Joking aside, I found solace in this one quote below:

But on you will go

though the weather be foul.

On you will go

though your enemies prowl.

On you will go

though the Hakken-Kraks howl.

Onward up many a frightening creek,

though your arms may get sore

and your sneakers may leak.

On and on you will hike,

And I know you’ll hike far

and face up to your problems

whatever they are.

Over the past few months I have experienced and understood all of what Dr. Seuss is attempting to convey, well aside from the Hakken-kraks of course. And I knew I would hike far, but I don’t think I was ever fully prepared for the hike to end.

But as I ascended the ridge line up the jagged rocks of the Hunt Trail on Mt. Katahdin, that famous brown sign came into view, a shadow against the bluebird sky. And in that moment, I knew very quickly that my hike was ending, I was actually going to make it. My summit day was more perfect than anything I could have dreamed of. My imagination was plagued with the all too common photos of thru-hikers ending on Katahdin in a sea of clouds with minimal visibility.

But when I awoke in my tent for the last time on the morning of August 31st, I received a gift that I can only attribute to “paying my dues” for the miserable weather encountered over the majority of the AT. It was 5 A.M. the air was crisp and cold, unzipping my fly, I poked my head out of the tent and looked up to the sky to see a vast expanse of stars, a perfectly clear morning. Headlamp on, I exited my tent and packed up camp. Admittedly, I’m really unsure how to describe the odd feeling in my stomach as I folded, rolled, zipped, and stuffed all of my gear into my pack as I have done so many times before. Because I knew that the next time I removed all of it, I would be doing so to clean all of it in the comfort of my parents home. And as much as I despised my two least favorite camp chores, blowing up my Thermarest and hanging my bear bag, I thought to myself, “I really wish I could do this again tonight”.

After a half hour of hiking I no longer needed my lamp. The sun was coming up over the horizon, unveiling the absolute perfection of the day ahead. Clouds were distant and minimal. The wind was more tame than any other exposed peak I had on the trail, and the temperature was just cool enough to maintain comfort on the climb up. Passing by waterfalls and pulling myself over rock slabs going up and up, there was something surreal at the thought I was actually on Mt. Katahdin

The top of this very mountain was the end of the Appalachian Trail. A mountain that I have been walking towards every single day for the past 4 and 1/2 months. When I breached the treeline, I gave a quick “thank you” to Rachel, because I viewed the weather of today as a gift from her. And together, we walked and climbed up the rocks, ever closer to the summit.

Often in life, especially big moments, we place expectations on how we should feel during certain events. We are happy at weddings, sad at funerals, proud at graduations, and so on and so forth. For the longest time, I knew that finishing the Appalachian Trail, I should feel, excited. It’s not that I was not excited, I was over the moon. My adrenaline surged through my bloodstream with even the thought of touching that weathered brown sign atop the highest point in Maine marking the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, the end of my journey. That’s why I was surprised that a different emotion seemed to overshadow my excitement; sadness.

Not the kind of sadness that makes you ache and incapacitates you emotionally. More so, it felt like I was saying goodbye to a very good friend. Because although all of these places and mountains will still be there, they will never be there for me again as a thru-hiker. That’s when I realized something crucial about the memories that we make and moments that are important to us throughout our life. Although I can always go back to Mt. Katahdin to climb it and reminisce, never again will I be able to recreate the sensation and emotion of what it was like to be there after walking for 143 days from Georgia. Through flash floods, thunderstorms, heat waves, new friends, family visits, new towns, and memories I will never ever forget, and lessons learned that will guide me through the rest of my life. Therefore, it is my contention to argue that it is the circumstances of a place that are important to us, not the place itself.

When I reached the top of the mountain though, the place I had dreamed of being each and every night for so long, it took me a few minutes before I could bring myself to touch the sign. The sign was real, right in front of me. A tangible object that before was only a centerpiece in my dreams, was now within arms reach. On one end of the spectrum, I wanted to reach out and touch it, hold it, kiss it; but at the same time, I knew that final act would end the Appalachian Trail for me. So for awhile I just stood and stared. I read every single word on that sign as tears welled behind my sunglasses. I did it.

Finally, I reached my hand out and pressed it against the left side of the sign. I felt the rough and weathered wood against my palm and then pressed my head right in the middle and closed my eyes. Emotion flooded through me like a a fast moving train and my head spun, dizzying in a moment of elation and disbelief. After I lifted my head, I traced my right index finger over the eight letters at the top of the sign: K A T A H D I N. Just as I had imagined it.

In the tradition of most of my adventures, I pulled out my Tom Brady jersey for a picture on the sign and then shotgunned a PBR with a yell of triumph. It wouldn’t have felt right doing anything else.

After 34 minutes on the summit, I looked at the cairn and the famous sign one last time, turned around and did not look back. And for the first time in a very long while, I followed a blue blaze off the mountain to make the 7-mile hike down to the trailhead to meet my mom and dad who were anxiously awaiting my arrival.

Certain things I will struggle with as I reenter ‘normal life’. More people will call me by Bobby instead of Handy Man, water will come from the tap, and toilets will flush again. Undoubtedly, I will miss my alternative life as Handy Man, retrieving my water from a roaring brook, and digging a hole when nature calls.

No longer do I think about how many miles I need to cover today, where my next town to resupply is, and I will be a weather.com addict no more. I feel that often I will be bored, and I will miss the spontaneity and unknowing of where I will eat lunch every day and where I will sleep at night. After three days off of the trail I have already returned to do a Presidential Traverse with Jim Gagne yesterday. It felt really good to be back. And I know that it takes time to adjust to change, but I can’t help feeling that my life truly would be better in the mountains long term. On the other hand, contrary to popular belief, I do enjoy showers, Dunkin Donuts, and being able to go ten miles in a few minutes by car instead of it being a couple hour walk. And above all else, I did miss my family and friends. So the ‘real world’ is not all bad, but it will take some time getting used to. If I can give some advice to people though, it would be to spend more time outside, enjoy simple things, and stop watching the news.

From the bottom of my heart I want to thank each and every person who followed along my journey and supported me along the way. No matter how big or small, every single piece of help given to me along the way made a difference and got me to the end goal. I do not know if I could ever repay the kindness exhibited towards me over the duration of the AT, but I sure can try.

The biggest thanks of all goes to my parents. Not only were they supportive, but they were encouraging, enthusiastic, and interested in the AT. They were my rock that endured all of the phone calls, text messages, and emails when I had a hard day and thought I couldn’t do it anymore. They provided words that motivated me to help me press on, and believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself. All of the care packages, organization at home, and driving to visit and pick me up engulfed them in the AT as much as myself. For all they’ve done for me, I don’t think that I could ever show in words how much I love them.

Now that the trail is over, I know everyone will be wanting to know what’s next? That is consistently the number one question asked of me whenever I return from an adventure, and to be honest, I’m not sure. There is still much thinking and reflecting to be done. But as I have done for the pst several years, I will continue to seize opportunities as they are presented in front of me. My last night on the trail I finished rereading my favorite book, The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. The book is an allegory of a Shepard boy in Spain who follows omens to achieve his ‘Personal Legend’ or your true purpose on this planet. And when someone is actively seeking their Personal Legend, all of the universe conspires to help them get there.

Often I have wondered what my Personal Legend is. And the AT is not my personal legend, nor were the seven continents, but they were pieces of it, and one thing tends to lead me into the next. The universe is this continuous flow that if you listen carefully, will carry you to where you need to be next. After thinking a lot about the AT and the past several months, I’m starting to believe that the purpose of my Personal Legend is not specifically an endpoint, but to follow all of the place in between.

Although I am disappointed that the trail is complete, and I will struggle back into the ‘real world’ (for a little bit), I appreciate what I have assimilated about the world and about myself. And without any more white blazes to follow, I will instead be following all of the lessons I have learned along the Appalachian Trail. Hope you’re proud of me Rach.

Peace,

Handy Man

Meredith, NH

September 5, 2018

The White Mountains

Important Stats:

Days: 129
Miles: 1944.1
Beard Length: Tom Hanks in Castaway
Showers Taken: 37
Beers Drank: ??
Bears Spotted: 16
Zero Days: 13

Growing up, New Hampshire was always special to me but I never really appreciated how special it was until I became an adult. Until I explored the mountains and ledges, looking down onto the paths and roads of which previously I had only gazed up from. Having taken the leap into hiking at the beginning of college under the guidance of my colleagues at Speare Hospital and my good friends has changed my life. And it has certainly given me the advantage of having home court advantage on the most difficult section of the Appalachian Trail.

As I stated in the previous post, arriving in New Hampshire was almost as significant to me as reaching the coveted gates of Baxter State Park. The build up of excitement towards hiking my favorite mountains and seeing my friends and family reached its peak (hiking pun) as soon as I crossed the Connecticut River.

After Hanover I got to visit with a physician whom had mentored me early in my career when I was a paramedic student. I had been following the blog and was insistent that I come to stay with him and his wife Kristi at their home in Piermont. Alex Medlicott is probably the kindest human being on this planet, ask any of our friends or coworkers and they will undoubtedly echo this sentiment. As I descended from Ore Hill to the road crossing, I found Alex sotting on a rock reading a book. When he noticed I was approaching he quickly closed it and brought me into a tight embrace undeterred from my incurable thru-hiker odor. He had cold drinks, fresh vegetables, and hand-picked fruit waiting for me for the short ride back to their farm.

A warm shower awaited me along with hours of wonderful conversation and some of the best food I’ve had on trail. Inside their quaint and rustic farmhouse we feasted upon homemade pesto, salad, and hamburgers from their own stock that were accompanied by buns baked by Kristi. If Alex were to ever open a hiker hostel, I’m certain he could best any other on the trail. If that weren’t enough, Alex even picked up a few pints of my favorite ice cream, cookie dough, to have for dessert.

Alex is one of those people that you only meet one of over the course of your life. And the best possible way I could think of to describe him and my visit was that my time spent around Alex inspires me to do all I can to become a better person. The amount of people he has influenced, knowingly or unknowingly, throughout his personal and professional life is uncountable. He truly sets an example through his altruistic and humble life that we should all strive to follow.

The party through New Hampshire continued into a series of shorter hiking days and lots of fun on the boat with my friends and coworkers around the lake. None of which would have been possible without the insane amount of driving my parents did to get my to and from the trail. I truly do not think that I can emphasize enough how lucky I am that my parents are not only supportive of my journey along the AT, but that they are also excited to become involved in it. I’ve met so many hikers who’s parents of detested them for setting out on the trail and want nothing to do with it. Bummer that they don’t have a super cool mom and dad like me.

Throughout the week I had multiple people join me for hikes. Katee Foley and Drew Seefeld on Moosilaukee.

Pat Laforge and his wife Becky were trail heroes again bringing fantastic beer, company, and their camper up to Lincoln to house me and have Pat also hike the Kinsmans with me (sorry Pat!)

And then towards the end of New Hampshire, Kendra Bonczar fulfilled a months long promise to meet me at the top of Moriah with beer and Watermelon. I am so grateful to all of these people both in New Hampshire for sacrificing their time, energy, money, and effort to spend their day with a smelly homeless guy. Sometimes I worry that I could never possibly give back to equate for all I have received over these past several months, but I sure can try.

I could write an entire blog series on the kindness people showed to me, and all the fun I had in New Hampshire, but there’s something else I need to address. The night of August 9th was undisputedly the most important moment of my Appalachian Trail thru hike.

The Laforges brought me to the trailhead under Route I-93 that morning and I looked up at the foggy mist that obscured Franconia Ridge from any view. After a steep 3000 foot climb, I would stand atop that ridge and walk one of my favorite stretches of trail in all of New Hampshire. Although thunderstorms and heavy rain threatened in the near future, as always, there is only one way to walk: North.

As I expected there were no views from the ridge. Breaching the tree-line and pushing on to the summit of Little Haystack, I was transported into another world.

Not out of caution, but rather pure awe and amazement, I slowly traversed the ridge and spent the next two hours of my life walking amongst the clouds. Finally, summiting the northern most and highest peak of Franconia Ridge, Mt. Lafayette, I sat down for a lunch break. It immediately began to pour rain.

I scurried down the north face of the mountain as quickly as I could given the sudden surge of inclement weather. Wind pushed the rain so violently that it stung my cheeks, and for the first time since North Carolina my hands went numb from the cold. And almost unbelievably so, after an hour when I descended 2000 feet into the shelter of the trees, the sun came out and it was beautiful again. So much so, that it was delightful to climb up the next mountain.

When I reached the summit of Mt. Garfield I took my pack off and sat with my back against the remaining foundation of the now nonexistent tower. The last time I sat on this peak was the day we scattered Rachel’s ashes on the summit on a cold September day. Garfield was one of her favorite mountains in the Whites. On the Western border of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, it yields unimpeded views of Franconia Ridge to the south, the Twins to the north, the Bonds northeast, and Owl’s Head to the east. You can see everything, and it is beautiful, it’s easy to imagine why Rach loved it so much.

For awhile I sat in silence and was grateful to have the summit to myself. As I’ve previously voiced I have difficulty telling people on trail my reasoning for hiking the AT and how Rachel had influenced that. Through my writing it is easy because it is an outlet for me and I do not have to experience the uncomfortable faces that mirror back at me when I tell such a depressing story in a mountain playground. And while I sat atop of Garfield I hoped with 364 miles of trail left, something would finally click for me.

The descent from Garfield is steep and slippery with a miniature waterfall cascading down the precipitous rock face. By the time I reached Galehead Hut where I had hoped to do work for stay that night, it was nearly dinner time. Sheepishly, I entered the hut into the crowd of guests eating their deliciously prepared dinner which was included in the handsome price of their stay. As what happens to most thru-hikers when they enter such a scene, some people stopped and stared, others pointed and whispered to their children. Ignoring the gazes that followed me I walked straight through the dining area to inquire with the crew about doing a work for stay tonight. And almost before the words were out of my mouth, the young girl who spoke while stirring a barley stew told me they were full up.

I ate my dinner on the edge of the porch and wondered what to do next. Without too much daylight left, I needed to find a stealth spot fairly close by. And then it came to me; I looked North down the trail and saw the summit of South Twin towering 1000 feet above me. Having hiked that mountain many times, I knew of just the spot between a few boulders on the summit where I could squeeze my one-person tent. So I pushed onward and upward.

The ascent up South Twin is usually one that frustrates the hell out of me because of it’s incredibly steep grade, but in the twilight hour, it was rather beautiful. Hues of pink and yellow glistened off of the wet rock as I climbed and climbed and climbed. This journey up the 8th highest mountain in New Hampshire was different because I knew I’d be staying the night. Once I reached the top, every muscle ache and drop of sweat that rolled down my brow and stung my eyes would be worth the stunning sunset I would surely behold.

Cresting the summit I turned around to see the purple and orange tinted sky that almost appeared as a painting above the dark outline of Franconia Ridge. Gazing south, I saw the entirety of todays hike tracing the mountaintops all the way around to where I was now. No matter how many times I look out at the White Mountains, the majestic views will never fail to amaze me.

The tiny spot between the boulders was exactly how I remembered. Thankfully the wind was a gentle 10-12 mph so my tent did not transform into a make shift parachute causing me to careen off of the summit of the mountain. I changed into my long underwear, winter hat, and down jacket and sat on a rock with my dinner and a Heady Topper from my good buddy Chris Couturier.

South Twin was the last mountain that Rachel and I had ever hiked together. It was part of an overnight that we did with Katee Foley and Jim Gagne in late-August the year she passed. During that hike I could have never imagined that it would be the last summit we would share together. And as the swirls of purple and orange grew ever darker while the day faded to night, I had a conversation with her. More importantly, I got mad at her. On the trail I’ve found that I’ve been able to become more in tune with my emotions. So I finally allowed myself to be angry with her. And I relived the pain and the hurt and all the days and nights of wondering why, and let it all in. But then I stopped and I forgave her. In that moment I felt a peace that I had never before experienced. A beautiful sense of calm tranquility, something that I had longed for since the beginning of this hike. Now everything made sense, everything was worth it. The past four months on the trail mattered. Although I had finally found what I had sought from the trail in one specific instance, everything about my journey since April was a vessel to lead me there.

I don’t necessarily believe in miracles, but I do believe in chance, and the concept that certain things happen to you in life when and only when they were supposed to. For me to have this transcendent encounter atop a mountain at sunset, I had to take all the other steps in my life to be put in that position first. So often in a world of instant gratification we rush, hurry, take shortcuts, and become frustrated when the next step in our path is not clearly placed in front of us. We are all guilty of it. That’s just the way our society is structured. So that cliché about the journey being more important than the destination, well, there’s something to that. All you can do each and everyday is make strides to become the best you that you can be, and everything else will follow.

Do to some impending thunderstorms, I had myself a “Jim Gagne Day” and did the entire Presidential Traverse in one shot. Per usual, there were no stunning views from the peaks, but there is something soulful about being on that ridge regardless. And at the end of my longest day on the trail, my dad spotted my headlight bobbing through the woods into the Pinkham Notch visitor center where he had a root beer float waiting for me.

It’s safe to say that my thru-hiker experience in New Hampshire was everything I wanted it to be and more. I got to see my friends, spend time with my family, hike my favorite mountains in the world, and lastly take away exactly what I had hoped for by hiking the AT.

Over the last four months I’ve taken millions of steps, but some of those steps mean more than others. That one step, crossing the border into Maine, the last state of the Appalachian Trail, that one meant something. The start of Maine was brutal with the “Mahoosuc Mile”, the hardest mile on the Appalachian Trail spanning through a dilapidated boulder field. In some sections you even take your pack off because you would not be able to fit through the crevices otherwise. But that’s behind me now. All that matters, is I’m in Maine.

My next post will hopefully come to you after my journey is complete. I sit here now with 246 miles to go with only excitement in my heart and a mental clarity I have never had before. Until then, thank you all for your continued support through this adventure. Being able to share it has been just as important to me as the hike itself.

Peace,

Handy Man

Andover, Maine

August 17, 2018

Trailcation

Important Stats:

Days: 115
Miles: 1749.5
Beard Length: Yukon Cornelius
Showers Taken: 32
Beers Drank: ??
Bears Spotted: 16
Zero Days: 11

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TOM BRADY!!

Ok, on to the blog.

Way back in southern Virginia, a former thru-hiker had told me to stay at a place called, Upper Goose Pond Cabin once I made it to Massachusetts. It’s a donation based cabin maintained by a caretaker throughout the summer. So on a beautiful Wednesday afternoon in the middle of July, I showed up at the cabin as the first hiker to arrive for the day. A white bearded man named Peter who was one of the caretakers, immediately picked me out as, “a strapping young man, ready for an amphibious adventure”.

With just barely enough time to remove my pack and change from my trail runners for flip flops, I was now donning a life jacket in preparation to canoe from Upper to Lower Goose Pond to help transport one of the four resupplies of the summer back to the cabin. After about 45 minutes of paddling, my first arm day since April, we arrived at a dock on the distant shore. Once there, we loaded 120 pounds of pancake mix, 8 gallons of maple syrup, and 2 large canisters of coffee into the canoe and then turned around and paddled back.

Upper Goose Pond Cabin is trail famous for it’s pancake breakfasts that have been feeding weary hikers for years. Peter estimated that they serve up over 4500 pancakes each summer. The scenery itself isn’t bad either. Sitting 0.5 miles off the trail, the red painted chestnuts that construct the cabin overlook the bathwater-like pond. For the rest of the day, a few other hikers and I canoed out to an island and took trail showers (swimming) in the warm summer heat.

Shortly after the pancake breakfast I was out on the trail for an exciting day because I was meeting my parents and Nana B. This was the longest I have ever gone without seeing my grandmother so it was wonderful to be reunited. Along with my mom and dad, there is no one who supports me as much as her. And as I have stated multiple times, she is one of only three people I would walk 500 miles for. We had such a great visit together and I’m so thankful for my mom and dad organizing such a nice weekend out in the Western part of Massachusetts.

Following their departure, I climbed the highest peak in Massachusetts, Mt. Greylock. On one of the clearest days of the week, I spent an hour watching people hang gliding from the summit. Each and every day I learn about new and more efficient ways to get from Georgia to Maine than walking.

And in other positive news, a nice woman hiking south on the Long Trail gifted me the remainder of her Sierra Nevada Honey Spice mustard which has led to the creation of one of my favorite trail meals! Cold soaked cous cous, the mustard and goldfish (crackers)!

What do you get when you have two friends from Scotland, one from Ireland, and your college buddy fly out to hike with you for a week? Drunk, you get drunk.

To say that I have good friends would be a vast understatement. As much as I enjoy the solitude and time of reflection that the trail has given me, I would be lying if I said I didn’t get lonely or miss the people from my normal life. Whenever anyone offers to hike with me for a day, I am thrilled, but when they offer to come out for a week… well, I think they’re out of their mind.

Especially since the week they choose was exceptionally soggy and muddy. Although the southern section of Vermont is generally known for it’s sections of mud versed in the ways of stripping shoes straight from a hikers foot, the stretch of rain amplified the effect. Nevertheless, on a Sunday evening, my dad picked up Brian Higgins (Utah), Ruth Molloy (England), Tom Power (Ireland), and Fiona Smith (Scotland) from Logan airport and shuttled them to the brewery I was at in Bennington, Vermont.

Back in November I had met Tom and Fiona at the Everest Marathon in Nepal. Ever since spending close to a month trekking with each other in the Himalaya, we have stayed in frequent contact. And when they heard I was doing the trail, clearly they must not have done too much research, because they were very eager to come join me for a stretch. Needless to say, I have some unbelievably amazing friends. Fiona dragged Ruth into coming and I brought Brian to the mix, and a month later, our “American Adventure” began at a bar in a town that none of them had ever heard of in the south of Vermont.

Although hesitant at first to adjust my pace, I now laugh at myself for second guessing anything at all. Over the course of the week I became a “spoiled” thru-hiker, sharing more laughs and memories than I could ever recall with people I was thrilled to share it with. It would be a drastic stretch to say that my crew was rewarded for their efforts with elegant peaks and stunning vistas. If you were to ask the four of them to sum up their trail experience in one word, my guess is that they would tell you, “trees”. But the grim weather, tough trail conditions, and lackluster views did not dissuade my temporary trail fam. They embodied the trail for what it is and what it represents, embracing the lesson that it’s not necessarily about the place but rather the people you share it with. On top of being grateful for them sacrificing time, money, and comfort to hike with me, I’m glad they got a true trail experience and honestly did not complain all that much. They even endured the standard Appalachian Trail diet which consists mainly of fruit snacks and granola bars. Everyone was a real trooper.

Part of this though, was due to a few separate groups of kick-ass friends that for some reason beyond my knowledge, care about me and my thru-hike enough to do some above and beyond trail magic.

On the second night of our American Adventure, everyone was soaked to the bone from the previous day. Now donning trail names, Old Smoothie (Tom), Ca-Shew (Ruth), Lady Loch (Fiona), and S.D. (Brian), everyone felt like a real AT hiker. However, everyone, including myself, longed for a cold beer and a dry bed. One of my good buddies and former coworkers, Pat Laforge, after working a 12 hour shift, made the drive with his son Noah with their camper to Stratton Mountain. Since there was no real road crossing for us to meet him, we had to actually hike off the Appalachian Trail to the top of the ski mountain and then down the steep slope to the lodge. This hike down the ski trail did pleasantly surprise all of us with some of the best views from the weeklong jaunt.

Pat pulled out all the stops. A large quiver of beverages including my favorite NH craft beer, burgers, dogs, mac and cheese, tequila, and a warm dry place for us all to sleep. The morning was no different with a nice warm breakfast of bagels, eggs, ham, and even chocolate milk. Pat drove Fiona, Ruth, and I back to the trail where would I have another nice day in the rain together hiking back up the ski slope where we would meet him again at the next road crossing at the end of the day with Tom and Brian.

The magic didn’t end there. Arriving at the parking area in Manchester, Vermont, Pat and the boys were waiting with a cooler full of beers which they also extended to other thru-hikers passing the crossing. It goes without saying that Pat encompasses the true definition of a trail angel and plays a great example of the unmatched kindness of humanity I have experienced over the past several months on the AT.

Before I started the trail, my college buddy Ellis had told me his family had a cabin in Vermont that I could stay at when I came through. Luckily for my friends, it just so happened that I would be in that area during their week on the trail and that Ellis and his sister were generous enough to host all of us! Pat drove us to their beautiful home on the outskirts of Manchester where Ellis prepared an incredible home-cooked meal of garlic bread, pasta, and meatballs. A second night of beer drinking and good company ensued leaving my visiting friends believing that the past 3 1/2 months have been nothing but feasting and drinking for me all the while never having to even consider using my tent. They were relentless chiding me with, “wow this whole AT thing is easy!”

At the end of the hiking week, their trip on the trail was capped off with an epic weekend in Stowe. For the first time in months, I took days off from hiking in a row, and some awesome college friends (Brendan Mullin, Shannon Sholds, Erin Moreau, John and Maggie McNeil) picked us up and drove us to an Air BnB. We partied, danced, ate, and drank our way through the my favorite weekend on the AT. Because of all of these amazing people, each from very different areas of my life, I had an incredible “trailcation” and the best week thus far on the AT. Thank you so much, from the bottom of my heart to everyone who made this all happen.

When everyone went their separate ways and caught their respective flights, John McNeil drove me back to his families home in Colchester, VT. Before indulging in his moms wonderful cooking, his dad took us and his sister Maggie out for a boat ride and swim on Lake Champlain during a gorgeous July evening. Sitting their with one of my best friends, wind in my beard, and gazing upon the bluish distant mountains that provide a serene backdrop to the glistening lake I realized how lucky I was to be in this moment. To have so many people that I have been lucky enough to encounter in my short twenty-four years that have made my life more rich and more wonderful. To give and feel love in the purest sense of the term unconditional with friends that are true is an indescribable feeling. I’m not quite sure what I did to deserve it.

The past two weeks, being spoiled with comfort and company have come at a cost. As John very selflessly drove 2.5 hours one way to get me back to the trail, my head was not in it. In the span of one week, I had gone from the (mentally) rough and tough mountain man, to a twenty-something who is really missing the comforts of friends and family. By no means do I feel the right to deserve to complain. For no reason do I deserve to wallow in self-pity. I am extraordinarily lucky to live the life I do and in no way is hiking the AT as hard as others have it. But for me, right now, in this moment, it’s hard. I wouldn’t have described myself in anyway, ready to step back into the woods last Monday.

Retrospectively, I think it is an important lesson that we can all learn from. Too often, we do not give ourselves the permission to be sad or down because we try to take a worldly approach of what others are experiencing and how it is worse for them. The truth is, no matter what you go through in life, you can always conjure a fictional scenario or a real life setting that is worse than the present. But it is healthy and important to allow yourself to feel. Take every bit of emotion in that moment and experience it for what it is and allow yourself to grow and learn from it.

Sometimes, your sadness, even if you tell yourself it is not the warranted or deserved, is the worst and loneliest in that moment just for you and no one else. I don’t want it to be misconstrued that I am ungrateful for the opportunity I have to be out here and for the great week I just had. And I do not want it to appear that I am seeking pity from anyone who reads this blog; I don’t want it. What I do want and what I have tried to do from the start is direct my writing in a way that provides an authentic insight on what it is like to hike the Appalachian Trail from beginning to end.

In summation, although the direction of my posts are for entertainment, my hope is also to share some of the lessons that I have been fortunate enough to learn from the trail. So whatever emotion, experience, high, or low that you are going through, feel all of it. Embrace the joy, embrace the suck and with no excuses or exceptions, just let yourself just be.

Today was a much better day. My spirits are lifted now as I entered the Granite State and write this post from the comfort of Hanover Fire Department. One of the firefighters, a paramedic student whom I precepted in the ER, Rob Diehm, graciously arranged for me to spend the night here. Rob is a fantastic and extremely intelligent guy that I am very lucky to know. Again, God, why are people so nice to me, and more importantly, why am I trusted having students?

Since even before I took my first steps in Georgia I had envisioned what it would be like crossing the bridge over the Connecticut River and into New Hampshire. I feel home now and I feel comfort. I’d venture to say that this landmark is probably only a hair below the Mt. Katahdin sign at the Northern terminus of the trail. So I’m sure all of my friends could make an easy assumption at my feelings when I saw this granite marker; I was stoked. And shortly thereafter I was sitting down having lunch in town with my good buddy Craig Sherman.

This post has too many thank you’s for me to presently recall. But in a consistent theme, thank you to my parents for their continuous support through all my tough times on the trail. Thank you Jim Gagne for another epic care package. I could never show enough gratitude to Tom, Brian, Fiona and Ruth for being the best trail fam I could ask for. And lastly, to the chronicler of my travels, John McNeil thank you for the life chats and just being the amazing friend you are.

New Hampshire, I am very, very happy to be back.

Peace,

Handy Man

Hanover, NH

August 3, 2018

Back in New England with Great Friends

Important Stats:

Days: 97
Miles: 1522.9
Beard Length: Leo in The Revenant
Showers Taken: 28
Beers Drank: ??
Bears Spotted: 16
Zero Days: 8

One of the great parts about entering a familiar part of the trail, is seeing some friendly face. Growing up and going to college in New England has scattered a network of companions all throughout this region that are pretty amazing, care about me for some reason, and have stellar strength of their olfactory receptors to allow my nasty hiker stench in their vehicles. I have been truly moved by how many of my incredible friends have gone above and beyond, far out of their way to see me in the past two weeks. Now it really does feel like I’m walking home.

It all started crossing into New Jersey the day before the Fourth. One of my great friends from college Sierra who is working on her PhD. at Rutgers University drove to the Delaware Water Gap to pick me up for the holiday. And I blame her and all her wicked smaht friends and their epic 4th of July party for the reason I can no longer have an accurate beer count in my “Important Statistics” section.

One of my favorite parts of the party came from a conversation about my diet with two of her friends. There’s an interesting dynamic that occurs when you’re the only dirty, smelly, hippy who’s lived in the woods for the past 3 months in a room full of Ph.D. and MD students. After explaining the importance of eating tons and tons of calories that are lightweight and packable, I mentioned that I had eaten a lot of goldfish lately.

A surprised look immediately came across their face and they said, “Goldfish? Where do you get them?” I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the question so I casually replied, “Oh, well just at the store.” Her face became more perplexed and she said, “Wow! Do how do you cook them?” It was at that moment I finally realized she thought that I was eating real goldfish. I must really look like a true savage.

Even better than the party though, was that she took me to the beach the next day. And not the dirty, crowded, fake-tan infested Jersey Shore portrayed by the media; it was a secret beach with hardly anyone their. And for about an hour I felt pure bliss, swimming through the waves on a beautiful July day. All my life I’d known that the two places I could always count on for comfort were the mountains and the ocean. Often times on the trail, especially on the hot days, I’ve dreamed of the ocean. Maybe it’s one of the “grass is always greener” type of situations.

I had a phenomenal time with Sierra, but I had this peculiar feeling in my gut by the end. In fact, it was borderline anxiety, which I attribute to being too far away from the trail for too long. How long does it take to form a routine? What constitutes making something your “normal” life? Even if there are specific timelines and data to answer these questions, what I can definitively tell you is that once immersed into the Appalachian Trail it has an irresistible hold on you. I like to believe that it’s because of the simplicity and freedom that captivates the soul. Although as a human who grew up in a developed country, I miss certain comforts, part of me wishes I could hike the trail forever.

That night, I stealth camped at Sunfish Pond with no one else even remotely close to me. As day faded into night and the sounds of the woods came to life, I was once again reminded why I love this so much.

New Jersey was a pleasant surprise for me. In my head, I pictured it to be a state to just, “get through”. Open ridge walks and rolling hills kept the terrain interesting which was a welcome change from the hell that was Pennsylvania.

What did suck about NJ, was the bugs. Mosquitos, gnats, and black flies unleashed a constant and unbearable assault. Thankfully, I had an unlikely trail angel in one of the times I needed it most. Back at the start of the trail I had posted the link to my blog in the NH48 FaceBook group. One of the people who reached out to me was a woman named Arielle who told me to let her know if I needed anything while coming through New Jersey. Well, I was in New Jersey and I really needed bug spray. I knew it was a shot in the dark but I reached out to her anyway. A few hours later, I was meeting Arielle on the top of the auto road of Sunrise Mountain. This woman whom I had never met came out at 8:30 PM on a Friday night to bring me a bag full of snacks, Gatorade, and bug spray. People truly are amazing.

New York was similar to New Jersey in the sense that it was full of mind-numbingly rolling hills that are not tall, but relentless on weary legs. It is also another state where beautiful vistas began to reemerge after a section of the trail that left me craving mountaintop views.

I got to spend one day with my MCAT study buddy Teresa Samson who’s boyfriend Mike was the one who stealthily left my the PBR’s on McAfee Knob back in Virginia. Crazy how time flies by. In the midst of a New York heat wave we got to have Chinese food, ice cream, and Mexican all in a span of a few hours.

And the day after one of my friends, Nancy from the Antarctica Marathon in 2016 came to hike for the day. It was these little breaks and touches back to my “real world” that have broken the pattern of loneliness and monotony that inevitably strikes from time to time. One of the other struggles of New York was how dry it was. Given all the heat and lack of rain, many of the normal streams and water sources had dissipated into thin air. Myself and every other thru hiker have been beyond grateful for all the trail angels in the New York section of the trail that had left dozens of water jugs at all of the road crossings. It was really life saving.

Connecticut was another state I wasn’t particularly excited about. There was actually only one thing that I was really looking forward to about hiking through and that was meeting up with Jo Marczyk. Some of my favorite races and hiking moments have come with her, so it was a pleasure to share a weekend on the AT with her and Prancer.

What would have otherwise been a rather forgettable section of trail became one of my favorite weekends of the whole trail. We found a perfect campsite by the Housatonic River and enjoyed a few beers that we packed out and caught up on life. Prancer was the real legend of the trail for the weekend. His endless amount of energy contributed to him easily hiking 10 more miles than we did. There was no doubt that he earned his burger at the end of the hike. I’m truly lucky to have some pretty amazing people in my life that take time out of their busy schedules to come out and spend some time on the trail with me.

Why bother leaving the house? That is the title of one of the TED talks by polar explorer, and my hero, Ben Saunders. In an age where technology is seemingly limitless and adventure beyond prior imagination can be ‘experienced’ through virtual reality, what is the point of exerting the effort to do such things in the real world. To paraphrase Mr. Saunders, although you ascertain a few particular details of what something might be like from reading or looking at pictures or high definition videos for virtual reality, you’ll never actually know what it was like.

For example, I had a magical night about a week ago, stealth camping atop Black Mountain in New York. Before pitching my tent, I stood on a ledge overlooking the Hudson River while the blue sky swirled into a mixed palette of pink and orange. As the summer heat faltered with the light of day, owls began to hoot, and a doe and fawn walked gingerly in the brush behind me. All around the site I had chosen to camp were blueberry bushes. I spent an hour carefully plucking the wild berries one by one, saving them for a delicious after dinner treat. When the last bit of light was finally vanquished from the sky, looking far to the East I could see the unmistakable glow of New York City. Three months ago, on a clear spring day from the top of Blood Mountain, I looked out to see the outline of Atlanta. And now, on this warm summer night, I thought to myself, “I walked here.” Feeling quite content, I removed the fly from my tent and laid down with an unimpeded view of a tremendous starlit sky. Within five minutes, the most majestic shooting star I had ever seen streaked across the sky so quick that I could have convinced myself it was my imagination. But it wasn’t, so I made a wish for a friend who needed it. While I closed my eyes and drifted to sleep, I counted the airplanes that danced around the stars and felt comfort in the gentle warm summer breeze sweeping over my face.

I can paint this picture for you, but you will never know what it actually felt like to be there. And that is why I would encourage you to have an adventure of any shape or size, so you can have a magical moment that truly belongs to you, and only you. So please do bother to leave the house.

Being in New England now has made me realize that this journey in fact does have a finite ending. This emphasizes a belief I came to early on of walking in the moment. Instead of focusing on or worrying about the future, take the present moment and appreciate that you have it. Recently, I was reminded of how precious and fragile life is. And although these reminders are sometimes sad, they continually enforce the importance of being thankful for each and everyday.

As always, thank you for following along with my journey. All of your support means so much to me. Thank you to Jim Gagne for his continued support and packages. And also huge props to John McNeil who sent me one of the greatest packages of all time! Love you buddy.

Peace,

Handy Man

Great Barrington, MA

July 16, 2018

Flash Floods, Heat Waves, and Boulder Fields

Important Stats:

Days: 83
Miles: 1271.3
Beard Length: Leif Erikson
Showers Taken: 23
Beers Drank: 80
Bears Spotted: 16
Zero Days: 7

Right after my last post, I checked into the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Head Quarters in Harpers Ferry, WV. This famous building for thru-hikers is the psychological halfway point of the journey. There, you check in, have your photo taken and are given the number thru-hiker you are that has gone through this year. The photo with your information is stored in one of the many books that will line the shelves filled with similar photos of thru-hikers from the past. In Georgia, I started off as #2135, and when I checked into Harpers Ferry as #861. For the past two months I have either passed a bunch of people and additionally, many people have dropped of the trail.

Through the end of Virginia, across West Virginia, Maryland, and into Pennsylvania I had the best time with my parents. Getting them out to hike a few miles on the trail was fantastic, and I think they really enjoyed it too. Before they left Mike and Sharon Eller came up too and they all did Trail Magic together. It was amazing to see all of them together in one spot, like two separate lives merging together.

Although it was hard to say bye to my parents, it was also strange to think that the next time I’d be seeing them, they wouldn’t have to get on a plane. That means I really have walked a long way.

Red Stripe’s mom and sister also came to visit her the same day that my parents were leaving. They were gracious enough to host me for a night at a beautiful B&B they rented in downtown Harper’s Ferry and treat me to some meals, just as my parents had done for Red Stripe. This truly was like an on trail vacation, and a much needed one at that.

Additionally, I got to celebrate Hike Naked Day on June 21st, summer solstice and the longest day of the year. All hikers are invited to strip down for the annual holiday and celebration, but it seems to be much more commonplace amongst thru-hikers. Unfortunately, I did not see any thru-hikers that day and would like to publicly apologize to all the fully clothed day hikers that were lucky (unlucky) enough to witness my spectacular tan lines that day. Even though I consider this a family friendly blog, please see a photo my friend took of me below.

Finally, retreating back to the woods, the glamour was over. Except it wasn’t. Twenty miles into the hike as it was getting close to dinner, the smell of bacon wafted through the woods. One could say that it was calling to me. With a new spring in my step I quickened my pace and emerged at the next road crossing to find four guys from Ohio with chairs, a tent, a lot of food, and a grill. Rookie, Norm, Andy, and Mert were down for a few days at the start of Pennsylvania doing some of the best trail magic! Rookie served me up a massive double bacon cheeseburger to go along with the soda, homemade whoopie pies, and chocolate chip cookies they had already given me. After sharing over an hour of great conversation, I walked on with a full belly and content mind.

Pennsylvania is notorious for it’s rocks and the consistent agony they provide to hikers. The state is infamously known as “Rocksylvania” on the trail. But for me, PA had a more important claim to fame: The Half Gallon Challenge. For thousands of years thru-hikers have made the stop at the Pine Grove Furnace General Store to attempt the feat. With the store always being within a few miles of the geological halfway point of the AT, they decided to challenge hikers to eat a half gallon of ice cream. I feel that this is something I have been training my whole life for. Arguably, it is a task requiring more mental toughness and physiological adaptivity than hiking the trail itself. Back in Virginia I was discussing the challenge with a former thru-hiker who strategically suggested choosing Neopolitan as your flavor. Thus containing variety and providing a smooth experience in comparison to other flavors that contain chunks. The challenge is two parts where you get one 1.5 quart container and when that is finished, an additional pint is ordered. So after slugging through my 1.5 quart container of Neopolitan I proudly marched back in to finish off an additional pint of cookie dough for a total time of 33 minutes. I signed their hiker book and received my mini “Half Gallon Club” wooden spoon, but my accomplishment was overshadowed greatly by this years record time of 12 minutes and 45 seconds.

Honestly, the start of Pennsylvania had been the easiest section of trail. Mind numbingly flat, it actually hurt my feet more to not have the variety of rolling hills and mountains. Crossing through farmland and thick corn field truly contributed to a sense of traditional America unlike any other piece of the trail to date. And it really was beautiful.

While still awaiting the challenge of rocks, Pennsylvania decided to throw another challenge instead: a flash flood. My tent had been pitched for about an hour and I lay inside reading my book when the rain first started. There’s something so peaceful about rain drops on your tent fly that instills almost a zen-like feeling. Then it began to rain harder, and harder, and harder to the point where it was now not so zen-like. Impossibly loud thunder harmonized with the pounding rain and lightning was so constant that it was almost like a strobe light. Wind howled over my little tent and the force of the rain began to drive the water inward, dampening the inside. Never before have I felt the wrath of such a rain storm.

The next morning, the birds chirped and the sun shone through my dampened rain fly like nothing had happened. But little did I know, the Appalachian Trail had now become the Appalachian River. For the majority of the 23 mile hike that day the trail was covered in knee to ankle deep water. Unfortunately the golden rule of keeping your feet dry was now just a laughable concept.

At it’s worst, one part of the trail that lay next to a large river now had water on it that rose almost to my chest. As myself and other hikers stared out at the newly formed body of water wondering what to do, we were surprised to see someone wading through heading towards us. This would be the first South-bound thru-hiker I met that had started in Maine this year. But instead of an exciting conversation, his only words were, “watch out for the snakes.” So I stripped down, put my pack over my head, and did the only thing I’ve done for the past two and a half months; walk forward.

If the flash flood and abhorrent trail conditions were not enough to make me hate Pennsylvania and it’s stupid rocks, the heat wave sealed the deal. From Friday up until even now it has been no cooler than 96 degrees during the day with humidity greater than 90%. The heat index for Sunday and Monday was 102 degrees as I walked over feet crippling rock fields with the sun pounding down on me, draining me. The climb up and out of Lehigh Gap in the middle of the scorcher was probably one of the most challenging pieces of trail thus far. Scrambling up the exposed boulder field carrying extra water weight because of the horrifically timed dry stretch was not exactly fun. There are no bad days on the Appalachian Trail, just good days and hard days. These are the hard days. And although I try to take something away from each piece of the trail, I really can’t wait for Pennsylvania to be over. F@&! you Pennsylvania and your Philly Eagles too.

Inevitably, the question of, “why?”, has followed me incessantly the past few years when setting off on different adventures around the past few years. The Appalachian Trail is no exception and I get asked it more times than I can count by friends, family, and hikers on the trail for the day. Now that I am on the trail in Rachel’s home state of Pennsylvania, I feel more of a duty to share that story as my source of inspiration, but I still struggle telling it to strangers and I’m unsure why. In part I think it’s due to not wanting to bring negativity into their day; and also because it still hurts a little bit. And although Rachel plays a large part in my hike of the AT, she’s certainly not the sole reason. Because as I stated in a previous post, the only humans I would ever walk more than 500 miles for are my mom, nana, and Tom Brady.

So why? It’s the question I’m frequently frustrated and bewildered by because I can never answer it. Or let me rephrase, I can never answer it in a way that might seem to make any sort of rational sense. Why run the seven continents? Why Ironman? Why the Appalachian Trail? All justifiable inquiries that leave me either providing a textbook, prepackaged, and practiced answer. Or conversely I stumble upon the truth in my own words for a minute or two before giving up and reverting to the former.

My hero is a polar explorer named Ben Saunders. He has given three of the most important and influential TED talks on my life that I listen to regularly. They are downloaded onto my phone and I have replayed them over and over again on the hike thus far. In one of his talks, he answers the question “why?” with a quote from world renowned mountaineer George Mallory. Mallory was last seen disappearing into the mist just below the summit of Mount Everest some decades before Sir Edmund Hilary, and was possibly the first person to summit Everest. He is also credited with coining the phrase, “Because it’s there.” But in the quote that Ben shares, Mallory answers the question of “why?” in a much more polished and eloquent way which resonates perfectly with me. By no means am I comparing myself to great explorers such as them, but in this instance I am happy to steal the words of Mallory.

People ask me, ‘What is the use of climbing Mount Everest?’ and my answer must at once be, ‘It is of no use.’There is not the slightest prospect of any gain whatsoever. Oh, we may learn a little about the behaviour of the human body at high altitudes, and possibly medical men may turn our observation to some account for the purposes of aviation. But otherwise nothing will come of it. We shall not bring back a single bit of gold or silver, not a gem, nor any coal or iron… If you cannot understand that there is something in man which responds to the challenge of this mountain and goes out to meet it, that the struggle is the struggle of life itself upward and forever upward, then you won’t see why we go. What we get from this adventure is just sheer joy. And joy is, after all, the end of life. We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to live. That is what life means and what life is for.

Each and everyday out here I am experiencing life as I want to. And to me, that is an invaluable treasure.

I wanted to extend a huge thank you to my parents for visiting and being a source of entertainment and most importantly being so supportive and loving. I had such a wonderful time with them. Thank you to LouAnn and Lydia McLaughlin for their hospitality when visiting Red Stripe. Thank you to Marie Callahan for a great care package. Another important thank you is to Dave Dickinson for the great beer and for his major assistance in other on trail matters. And as always to Jim Gagne for yet another care package and for being a constant source of inspiration to me.

Happy to only have 24 miles left of Pennsylvania, I’ll be in New England soon enough!

Peace,

Handy Man

Wind Gap, PA

July 2, 2018

The Shenandoah: A Whole Lot of Bears

Important Stats:

Days: 69
Miles: 1025.4
Beard Length: Nick Offerman
Showers Taken: 17
Beers Drank: 69
Bears Spotted: 16
Zero Days: 5

The big highlight for me in making it into Virginia was being able to meet up with my good friends Garth and Lissa Callaghan. They would be the first friends from the “real world” to make the trip to come see me from there home near Richmond, VA. Lissa had mentioned to me early on that they had friends who lived near the trail and I would be able to spend the night with them as well. The caveat was that for the timing to work, I needed to pound out some HUGE mileage days.

Over arguably the hardest stretch of trail this far, I covered 104 miles in four days. But it was absolutely 110% worth it, because at the end of that fourth day, I met Mike and Sharon Eller.

Lissa had grown up with Sharon and they have been best friends for decades. She arranged for them to pick me up at the road crossing of VA 56 and had sent me Sharon’s phone number. I sent her a text introducing myself and told her that I would most likely be getting to the gap around 6pm. Honestly, I was quite proud of myself with the prediction and finished the 27 mile day at 5:54. Just as I sat my pack down on a rock, a blue truck pulled into the parking lot no more than 15 seconds after I had arrived.

A man and woman both stepped out of the truck, and the man yelled, “Handy Man?” And this was my first introduction to Mike and Sharon Eller.

After profusely apologizing for my horrid stench and muddy legs as I clamored into Mike’s immaculate Ford, we took off towards their home. They graciously did not inundate me with questions when I first arrived. It was like being in a wonderland when they showed me the guest bedroom I would stay in, handed me towels for a shower, and Mike went downstairs to put burgers on the grill; it was incredible.

Now clean and a stomach full of two burgers, homemade potato salad, fresh fruit, and Sharon’s phenomenal frozen strawberry pie, we began to talk about the trail. I welcomed all of their questions and enjoyed speaking about my experiences and daily routines. But what piqued my interest, was their immense curiosity on how they could help other hikers along the trail. Over the course of my stay with the Eller’s I learned more and more about what wonderful people they were.

When Garth and Lissa came the next day, I was over the moon. This is one of those days I had been looking forward to since the start of the hike. It was phenomenal to rest, relax, and catch up with two really great friends. After lunch we went to Devil’s Backbone Brewery in Rosedale, VA. This brewery features a delicious brew called the Mile 842 IPL (it’s at mile 842 on the AT), but that’s the least they do to cater to hikers. Additionally, they offer free onsite camping for thru-hikers and a massive hiker breakfast each morning. But I wouldn’t have to camp, because the Eller’s offered to host me another night; they even hosted Red Stripe for a night too.

When the two of us set off for Waynesboro, VA the next day we said our goodbyes to Mike and Sharon. As we hiked through the day, the clouds rolled in and it began to rain the hardest I have seen on trail so far. Lightning was almost directly overhead and the thunder was the loudest I have heard in my life. For the first time on trail, as the wind whipped and leaves blew off the trees around me, I was frightened of the weather on the trail. When we emerged from the woods to the road crossing to secure a hitch into Waynesboro, guess who was there: Mike and Sharon Eller. Mike had been watching the weather forecast over the area and began to worry that we were in the worst of the storm. So him and Sharon got in the truck and waited at Rockfish Gap until myself and Red Stripe arrived to make sure we were ok. They brought us towels to dry off and drove us into town.

And again as a reminder, I have only known the Eller’s for four days of my life. If you ever need to be refreshed on the kindness of humanity, go take a walk on the Appalachian Trail. However, I would argue that Mike and Sharon are exceptional, and if there was such an award, I would nominate them for Trail Angels of the year.

The next piece of the journey was through Shenandoah National Park. One of the major attractions of the park for me were the bears. Since hunting is illegal, there is an incredibly healthy and abundant population. Every South-bound section hiker I had met had plenty of bear tales from there journey through Shenandoah.

What actually happened, was that I was immensely disappointed for the first half of the 103 miles that go through the park. The first day it was pouring rain which raised the excitement by revealing lots of fresh bear tracks. It also resulted in me waiting out the rain in a roadside port-a-potty for a little bit. And by a little bit, I mean the longest amount of time I have ever consecutively spent in one.

The Shenandoah was aesthetically very different than the other main National Park (the Smokey’s) of the trail on the AT. The elevation difference is significant where the highest point in Shenandoah (on the AT) is Stony Man at 4011′ while Clingman’s Dome towers over the Smokey’s at 6644′. But where Shenandoah National Park lacks in scenic vistas and rocky prominences, it adds it’s uniqueness in the feel of a very old and ancient forest. Something about the way the moss hangs quietly over the incredibly large trees with an innate stillness in the air gives this stretch of trail an obviously prehistoric feel.

One of the truly astounding things was how bold the deer of the park are. Very often I would turn a corner to find a doe or a young buck grazing on the edge of the trail and pay no attention as I strolled by. Many times I could have even reached out to touch them. Early one morning, I awoke to loud noises outside of the tent which I had half-hoped would be a bear, but was just a friendly deer having it’s breakfast.

Little did I know, the day ahead would come to be known as, “Day of the Bear” on my AT hike. To date I had seen 5 bears over the first two months of the hike. On June 14th, I saw eight. Eight black bears. Shenandoah is also one of the first places I’ve ever hiked where some of the bears aren’t spooked when you yell at them.

Rounding a corner on the trail, I turned to the side to see a dark shadow staring at me. I snapped a few pictures while she continued to eat, but then she snorted at me and stood up. What I had not realized to notice were the two cubs no more than 5 feet in front of me in the tall ferns. After yelling my normal allegiance to Jim Gagne and clacking my poles, momma bear just kept staring at me. So I slowly walked away without anymore excitement. This was the only real “long” encounter, the other 5 bears I saw that day were mostly bear butts as they ran away. But my day ended the way it started, with a beautiful doe and fawn feeding while I hiked into twilight.

Early the next morning I quickly realized it would be another bear day when I rounded a bend to see one strolling up the trail ahead of me. After a minute of quietly following him, he suddenly turned around and spooked himself when he saw me. I honestly felt bad for ruining his morning walk.

It continued to be a day of critters with my first rattlesnake of the trail, laying quietly across the path. Although it would be highly unlikely for it to induce a fatal bite, I found it highly ironic that I was listening to a podcast on “How Cremation Works” when I stumbled across it. After a minute or so of a stand off, the snake slowly and silently slithered off into the trees.

As I sit here and write this post, I am the most happy and content I have been in the past two months. Today I hit the milestone of crossing 1000 miles.

But more importantly, my parents have come down to West Virginia to visit, and I get to spend this Father’s Day Sunday with my dad. They both even hiked a few miles of the trail with me this morning. Bob still needs to learn to check for poison ivy before he does his business though…

Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there, happy birthday to my Nana B, and happy 1st birthday to my beautiful niece Ellise! Lastly, HUGE thank you to Pat Laforge, Bryan Foster, and their families of Goffstown Fire Department who put together an absolutely amazing care package that they sent down with my parents!

Life on the trail is great and with my parents in town and a rental car at my disposal, my hardest decision for tonight, is where to go for dinner.

Peace,

Handy Man

Harper’s Ferry, WV

June 18, 2018

The Green Tunnel, Big Snakes, and Absent Toilet Paper

Important Stats:

Days: 54
Miles: 730.4
Beard Length: Steve Jobs
Showers Taken: 12
Beers Drank: 55
Bears Spotted: 4
Zero Days: 5

The first day after leaving Trail Days was probably the hardest and loneliest day of the hike so far. When I had left my trail fam, I knew that I would be seeing them shortly after during Trail Days. Now that one of the most monumental weekends of the hike has past, I was certainly bumming out a little bit.

We had such an awesome weekend. But the real heroes are Kanye’s parents, Dan and Sharon. After spending Friday night in Tent City in the pouring rain, Red Stripe and I decided to split a hotel room because everything we owned was muddy and disgusting. The only trouble was that every hotel/hostel/basement in Damascus is booked full at least 8 months prior to Trail Days. Kanye’s parents were staying in nearby Abingdon, VA and agreed to drive us if we stayed there. Not only that, but we all went to dinner after getting to the hotel and her dad paid the whole bill just wanting to, “do a little trail magic”. He also agreed to bring Red Stripe back to Damascus the next day and drive me to the obscure gap that I had hitched back from him. This man is a legend.

Anyway, the three of us had one last epic night together and went to a super cool brewery called Wolf Hills where an awesome band was playing. But the next day when I had to say goodbye for real this time, it hit me that I wouldn’t be seeing them at camp, the next town, or some upcoming festival. I really had no idea when I would see them again.

The people you meet along the Appalachian Trail are different. And the ones you become close with are more special than can be put into words. You’d think that these bonds and relationships occur because we are all similar and like minded, which is partially true, but not the absolute factor. In reality, a lot of people on the trail could not be further different than each other. What I actually believe is it is the unity of participating in a common experience; one that is difficult. Being able to empathize with each others hardships and adversities develops a mutual respect and understanding. And when you’re doing it with the same people that you grow to know and love every single day for a month… well, how exactly do you say bye to them?

You just have to turn, start walking, and reflect. That’s what the trail does, it makes you think, because you have a hell of a lot of time in your own head. Especially in Virginia which is nicknamed the Green Tunnel. Almost everyday I walk through the same scenery, an endless canopy of green, blossoming to commence the summer.

A few days later I found myself at a spot that is hands down my favorite place on the AT so far, Woods Hole Hostel. Near Pearisburg, VA, it was a log cabin built in the 1880’s which was rediscovered and converted into one of the oldest hostels on the AT in 1986. The atmosphere here is indescribable in such a way that you just feel at home in the middle of the woods. Positivity radiates from every nook and cranny of the farm, cabin, and bunkhouse.

The perfectly designed bathhouse gave me the best shower I have had on the AT and possibly ever! So much so that I took two showers in two days! I feel almost too clean.

I liked it so much that I ended up getting “vortexed” in the area after a series of strange events that left me stagnant for a few days. They say the highs on the AT are really high; but conversely, the lows are really low. I’m not one to sit still and not moving went against everything I thought I needed to do. But in reality it was the best thing for my body. After two nights at Woods Hole, me and two others I began hiking with moved onto Pearisburg, VA and again had another hiccup resulting in more stagnancy. I was irritated, tired, and stressed. Stressed is the one thing I shouldn’t be out here. Each day I need to be better about going with the ‘flow’ of the trail. The easiest way to end a thru hike is to try and fight your way through it. The only hotel available on a busy Memorial Day weekend was the MacArthur Inn in the nearby town of Narrows. We literally called everywhere else first. All booked.

At first it seemed nice and rustic, but then myself, Scout and Mousetrap began to feel the odd vibes of the spot. The old man who owned the Inn picked us up in Pearisburg and appeared intoxicated. He was also just a creepy old man that made some very rude and inappropriate comments towards Scout, a 23 year-old girl from Baltimore. Unfortunately, with a huge rain storm moving in, this was our only option. The only benefit is we were all together.

Because of the ridiculous room price, on the phone I arranged for us to do a work for stay type of deal for a discount. So when we arrived at the Inn, we literally just moved a heavy pile of rocks from one end of the yard to the other for seemingly no purpose while the man watched us. We checked in, showered, and found a place to eat; or tried to. This sleepy area was a virtual ghost town. Nothing at all was open, and nothing but a Subway a half-mile away on Google Maps appeared anywhere close to where we were.

We began out walk to Subway which was leading us out of town and immediately felt like we were headed to the middle of nowhere. Mousetrap asked a young couple sitting on the porch if the Subway was close to which they replied it was two towns away- not a half-mile. But right away, Jack, the young man on the porch offered to drive us there, wait while we had our sandwiches made, and drive us back. Even after an awful frustrating day with a creepy old man, the trail provided. Each day I spend out here, I am astounded by the kindness of humans.

In the meantime, I had heard from Red Stripe that she was actually going to be at Woods Hole the next night. Then I had somewhat of an internal conflict. Do I continue on hiking especially because I had felt so lazy, having barely gained any ground the past two days? Or do I wait for Red Stripe to catch up the only 10 miles she had? This is when Mousetrap said something very simple, but profound, “What’s the rush?”

It’s a long way to Maine. Waiting one extra day to allow one of my best friends on the trail who was now hiking solo and the same pace as me to catch up would only be beneficial for my mentality in the long run. And with the long stretches of incessant rain continuing along with a sore body, it just made sense. It’s cliché, but this isn’t just a walk, it is a journey, physically, spiritually, and emotionally. If all you did was hike everyday, this would be a very monotonous and regimented five months. The off trail and social experiences are just as important as the thousands of miles you hike. And I need to constantly remind myself of that. So I waited in Pearisburg and Neville, the owner of Wood’s Hole, picked me up in the back of her pickup truck on the way to dinner with Red Stripe already there.

In the following days I saw three more bear cubs and had my first large snake encounter of the trail. Rushing along as the sun was setting, I almost stepped on the black tail laying across the path. Startled, I paused and then realized I could not for the life of me find the snakes head. And then, I spotted it, my first big snake of the trail…

Another ‘first’ of the trail happened to me last week when I ran out of toilet paper. This led to an innovative strategic pattern of dry leaves and wet wipes, but I’ll spare the details.

After a brutal hike up Cove Mountain crossing over the 700 mile mark and to an outcropping called ‘Dragon’s Tooth’, arguably the hardest ascent and descent of the trail so far, I was about done for the day. Waiting for Red Stripe, I hiked .4 miles off trail at the next road crossing to Catawba Grocery for a pizza and cream soda. While I sat there, a man approached and asked me about the trail and what my plans were for the rest of the day. I told him I wasn’t sure if we were going to hike on or turn in. So he told me he had recently started hosting hikers and would be happy to give us a place to stay for the night. My new friend, Ned, wrote his phone number down on my pizza box and told me to just call if I needed anything. Red Stripe arrived about an hour later, disheveled from the precipitous descent, a rattlesnake encounter, and a period of lost trail. We were definitely done for the day.

Flipping over the lid to my pizza box, I dialed Ned’s number and he said his girlfriend would be down to get us. I asked him the cost- no cost he said. But if you like to drink beer, you can bring some of that. In an incredibly random series of events, the subpar day transformed into a wonderful night on the porch of an old log cabin in the middle of nowhere Virginia with a home-cooked meal, good beer, and new friends. I fell asleep to the sound of a stream running through the backyard and fireflies blinking away through the window.

The next day started with a great bit of trail magic by Austin and Warpzilla of Raleigh, NC. Warpzilla had thru-hiked in 2007 and was back smoking pork and ribs, fruit, snacks, sodas, and beer. Things were on the upswing, the trail truly does provide.

This day also brought forward the most photographed spot of the entire Appalachian Trail, McAfee’s Knob. The rock ledge with a 270* view sits just under 3200 feet. And as is the way my thru-hike has been going, it was windswept rain on my journey up the rocky prominence. The benefit, however, was I virtually had what is normally a crowded spot for day hikers, virtually all to myself. Even better, my good friend from Mike Ryan (who I sadly missed hiking the knob by 2 days) had stashed some PBR for me near the top with a complex set of clues. Thanks Mike! You’re a hero!

Last two shoutouts I need to give are to Chris Kelleher, the tech genius for reviving my waterlogged phone from the first week of the hike allowing me to retrieve all my photos from the start of this adventure. And finally, thank you to Sue at the Halifax Post Office who has become a good friend of my mom! Sue sent me a wonderful care package last week with a nice note. Thanks Sue, can’t wait to meet you when I get back.

The trail is everything I had hoped it would be and more. Every day is a new adventure and each step brings me closer to New England. I am so excited to be nearer to my friends next month but in the meantime, I am beyond grateful for the new friends I have made now and all of the kindness I have been shown. Human kind truly is mostly good.

Oh and by the way, I highly doubt the band The Proclaimers who penned the hit song ‘I’m Gonna Be’, have ever actually walked 500 miles. Aside from my mom, grandmother, or Tom Brady, I wouldn’t walk 500 miles for anyone.

Peace,

Handy Man

June 3, 2018

Daleville, VA

Trail Days and the End of the Fellowship

Important Stats:

Days: 39
Miles: 513.2
Beard Length: Jake Gyllenhaal
Showers Taken: 8
Beers Drank: 38
Bears Spotted: 1
Zero Days: 4

After hiking together for the first few weeks, the trail family has dissipated. Although it was a bunch of fun hiking with a group of people, it’s not conducive when you hike at different paces. We had overlapped for a day in Hot Springs, and I said a hard goodbye. At the start it was good both physically and mentally to be part of a team. I wasn’t hiking as far and as long as I planned and that kept me healthy. Additionally, they were just generally awesome people. For this, I’m sure I’ll be lifelong friends with Kanye, Jack Rabbit, and Red Stripe. But now, I was ready to start hitting some heavy miles.

Heavy miles… in the pouring rain that is. For two days it down-poured on me including one pretty insane thunder and lightning storm.

But on the third day without the crew, I reached my favorite part of the trail: Big Bald Mountain.

The balds absolutely fascinate me. There’s nothing like them back home. Just 360 degrees of grassy mountaintop. Not the craggy granite peaks I’m used to at home in the White Mountains. Every time I would reach a bald, I stopped, took my shoes off, read, ate, and enjoyed the spectacular panoramic views. Some balds were believed to be created naturally from lightning strikes causing fires on the summit of tall peaks. Others, like Max Patch in North Carolina, were cleared land for cattle to graze on in the summer months.

Big Bald sits at an elevation of around 5500′ which is only 200′ shorter than the second highest peak in NH, Mt. Adams. But they sure look a hell of a lot different from each other

Since being on my own, I’ve realized even the more liberating since of freedom I have each day. There’s no set plan, I don’t have to wait for anyone to wake up, or catch-up; I just go. For as much or as little as I want. This has entirely redefined the concept of freedom for me, mainly because there’s no clock in my life. No manmade constrictive force that binds me to the pressing matters of an ordinary day. I wake up when the sunrises and the birds are singing. Then I walk and eat all day through stunningly beautiful terrain until I’m content with my days work or I simply found an incredible campsite. And lastly, I cook myself dinner and read until it gets dark out around 9PM, otherwise known as, “Hiker Midnight”.

Bill Bryson, author of, A Walk in the Woods, states that,

If there’s one thing that the AT teaches, it is low-level ecstasy– something we could all do with more of in our lives.

The resounding truth that I experience everyday is a constant stimulation of all my senses that transcends their commonly muted presence in the “real world”. However, Bryson also describes hiking the AT as an, “exercise of deprivation”, which is also incredibly factual. This mostly applies to food, and exhibits itself in towns with a phenomenon I call, “perpetual hunger”. When resupplying in Erwin, TN I visited a Mexican restaurant having a Taco Tuesday deal. I ate six tacos, two bowls of chips, drank a 32 oz. margarita, and was STILL hungry. I’ve also managed to lose 4 pounds which is incredible considering I spend the majority of my week eating candy bars, Ritz-Bitz, fruit snacks, tortilla roll-ups, candy bars, and honey buns.

Shortly thereafter, I experienced a day that I can only seem to describe as perfectly imperfect. The night before in my tent, I had planned a 19 mile day up and over Roan Mountain; the last 6000′ peak until returning to NH (a crazy thought). However, the talk of camp that night was a pretty severe storm that was supposed to strike around 2PM. But it was a beautiful morning and dark clouds did not begin to roll in until around noon, even then, the sun was still shining bright.

What followed was slightly more chaotic. If you have never had the pleasure of walking through a thunderstorm on a ridge-line at 6000 feet, boy are you missing out. Just kidding. It sucked. Oh, and it hailed like a son of a bitch, the kind of hail that hurts. This also made me realize that I have no idea how hail actually forms. Additionally, that I could not look it up until I reached a town again; a pretty humbling moment in the realization of how much we rely on technology for information acquisition.

Well science nerds, hail is caused when a growing raindrop is kept from falling by the updraft of a thunderstorm. The raindrop continues to grow until it freezes and hail is created. Finally, the hail falls to the ground when it becomes to heavy for the updraft to hold it up, or when the updraft weakens. See, you learned something more from my blog than how to defend yourself against a mice invasion.

After getting relentlessly battered from the aerial assault and a constant fear of getting zapped into cardiac arrest, I made it the 19 miles to the Roan High Knob Shelter. It’s actually the highest on the AT at 6186′. I dried off, had a snack and gazed amongst the gloomy woods. It was only 2:30 in the afternoon, I could not let this be the end of the day. Cautiously, I opened my map book and studied the terrain ahead. Without overthinking it, I put on my rain gloves, three my jacket back on and hit the trail before I became too sensible. And wouldn’t you know it, the sun came out in all it’s glory just as I was about to pass over a cluster of three of the bald’s I have grown to love so much.

It was a stunning walk that truly made the prior misery worthwhile.

And wouldn’t you know it, I came to Overmountain Shelter, 26.3 miles from where I started in the morning. I just can’t seem to get away from those pesky marathons. Overmountain shelter is especially neat because it is actually a civil war era barn that was converted into a shelter overlooking a gorgeous valley. I set up my tent in a perfect spot for sunrise and cooked my dinner as the daylight faded.

My latest craving for beer, however was satisfied by some absolutely amazing friends that responded to my last blog post. Although they want nothing in return, I’m going to seriously owe them for quenching my desire for a good New England IPA. Thank you to Jo Marczyk, Tom Hammond and Geoff Pinard of Goffstown PD, and Pat Laforge of Goffstown Fire for the epic beer. TRULY, made my day when getting that box in Damascus, VA.

Oh Damascus, where do I begin. Damascus is a small town in the southern part of Virginia, just 2.5 miles beyond the Tennessee border. The claim to fame among hikers is that it is the host of “Trail Days” every May, the major festival of the Appalachian Trail. No matter where hikers are on the trail, they hitch there way North or South to get into town for the event. Hostels and hotels are booked out months and months in advance so a “tent-city” is created housing thousands of hikers in the fields on the outskirts of town.

Knowing very well how many people would be hiking out of Damascus the Sunday or Monday after Trail Days, I passed through Damascus on Tuesday and hit the 500 mile mark (wooo!) and went through Grayson Highlands State Park, famous for it’s wild ponies. They loved stealing my food on a snack break.

Coming out of two days of downpour and trying to figure out where to hitch from, I stumbled upon a group of guys packing up trail magic at one of the gaps 50 trail miles North of Damascus. They had thru-hiked last year and two of them were from NH! One of the guys was from Manchester and his brother had lived on the same street as me my senior year of college! But they were more than happy to get me out of the rain and drive me back to Damascus, funny how the trail provides…

Lastly, as a tribute to a friend, I just wanted to share a bit of sad news that I received in a phone call from my dad last week. Tom Power, one of my great Irish buddies messaged my father asking him to share the tragic news that our mutual friend, Rich Walklate, had suddenly passed at the young age of 32 in his home in England. Rich or as we affectionately knew him, “The Penguin”, trekked and ran with us through Nepal late last year. He was an unbelievable friend, athlete, and person and will be sorely missed. My thoughts are with his family in these sorrow times.

As my dad told me on the phone, “Tomorrow is guaranteed to no one.” I am reminded of that everyday, and now too realistically with Rich’s untimely death. Apologies for ending on a somber note, but I like to think we can all continue to honor Rich’s memory by enjoying the outdoors and walking in the moment.

Peace,

Handy Man

Damascus, VA

May 19, 2018

Rainy Days and Smoky Mountains

Important Stats:

Days: 24
Miles: 276.7
Beard Length: Chuck Norris
Showers Taken: 5
Beers Drank: 20
Bears Spotted: 1
Zero Days: 3

Wow, thank you all so much for reading the first post and for all the nice comments! I truly appreciate you following along this journey, and am glad you enjoy reading about it!

So after a refreshing rest day, a bunch of beers at Lazy Hiker Brewing Co., and an amazing night with some rad people (what up Rogue we set out from Franklin, NC… Into a five day stretch of rain.

Fighting the darkness, we set up camp outside of the Wayah Bald Gap Fire Tower. I think I honestly went to bed around 6:30 PM and remember waking up about midnight because I had to pee. The wind was relentless smacking against my tent and the torrential downpour pounded on the fly. So I told myself to hold it and that I would wait til it was light out. In the morning I could still hear the rain and thought I felt much colder than I probably should have. Then I realized that I was also feeling a little wet around my waist and feet. My first thought was “Shit, I peed myself”. Then a loud fluttering noise made me look up to see the silver flash of the rain fly of my tent whipping freely in the wind. The wet soil combined with the strong gusts caused the stake to come loose and subsequently for rain to flood my tent. My clothes, down sleeping bag, sleeping pad, and worst of all, my copy of The Return of the King we’re all drenched.

Being wet in cold climate is a recipe for hypothermia, so I stripped down and made my way out of the tent and under the fire tower. Since almost everything we owned was saturated, we made an executive decision to not hike that day. I used Jack Rabbit’s phone to call and reserve us a bunk room at a hostel. Then found a guy named Sid’s phone number in the comment section on the hostel page to come pick us up. Sid was an older guy who was real hard of hearing, and I hoped that we were clear on the meeting time and place. He told us to hike down to a parking area where a public restroom was and he’d meet us there.

So we waited together for over an hour in the men’s restroom… (brings dirty hippy to a new level) But Sid finally came and we sure were thankful when we saw the ridiculous drive he had to endure to fetch us.

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First order of business was to lay out all our gear to dry in the bunkroom. Then I spent a half-hour drying out my book under a hand dryer in the bathroom. And after we went down to do laundry (continuing our tradition of laundry beers), I realized I needed to wash and or dry everything I owned. So I did my laundry naked.

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Fast forward 30 miles and I was humbled to finally be in the Smokey Mountains. This was a part of the hike I was looking forward to most, known as some of the most challenging and scenic miles of the trail. The mountains are just so different than New Hampshire, with tall evergreens and mossy tree growth at elevations greater than 6000′.

We ascended Clingman’s Dome, the highest point of the AT at 6643′ and crossed over the 200 mile marker in the same day. Many milestones were accomplished and although there were many signs noting ‘aggressive bear activity’, I didn’t see a single one. It was cold, dipping down into the high 20’s at night, but we could not have had better weather with sunshine and blue skies everyday.

Coming out of the Smokey’s I made an early start to the day because I had an important package waiting at a hostel 3 miles beyond the park boundary. Mom had sent me a working phone and a batch of homemade brownies. I was up at sunrise and nothing was going to stop me until I got to Standing Bear Hostel, or so I thought. Right before the I40 underpass, I saw a group of hikers stopped beside a cooler chatting with a dude in his late 20’s. His name was Lightning had thru-hiked the AT in 2016 and was beginning the PCT in two weeks. Lightning decided to do some trail magic by bringing A COOLER FULL OF PBR. It was meant to be, so I took a half hour break for brewskis and good conversation.

Afterwards, moms brownies became the talk of the trail and I finally hd a working cell phone. Honestly, I was fine without one, mostly because I was able to use one of my friends’ to check email every couple days. The biggest drawback was being unable to take pictures. (Jack Rabbit gets the photo credit of the Salamander below.)

Pressing on, now having the power of technology, I treated myself to hiking with some music and got into a groove climbing up Snowbird Mountain. I stopped suddenly when I saw a small black shape in the middle of the trail. After hiking 70 miles through the bear troubled Smokey’s and seeing nothing, a young cub now stood before me drinking from the stream. I didn’t see momma bear, so I did not stop to take any pictures. Instead a clapped my poles together and yelled at it, stating, “I’m a friend of Jim Gagne!” And it scampered off into the woods.

The top of Snowbird Mountain looking back at the Smokey’s.

With the Smokey’s behind me, it felt a tad bit surreal. This hike was always a concept brewing in my mind, I had never thought about the feeling it would invoke when sections were completed and small goals were reached. More so now it makes me realize the need to appreciate everyday for the trail that’s in front of me and not forecast into the future so as not to passively experience the steps I’m presently taking. Often times, I don’t even know what state I’m in as I bounce back and forth between North Carolina and Tennessee. I’ve come to realize that I may never hike this part of the trail again, so I am going to try to do better at ‘walking in the moment’ and not thinking too much of what’s ahead.

But that could be said for normal life too I think. Too often, we spend to much time thinking (or worrying) about what’s next instead of truly experiencing every sense the present moment has to offer.

Just yesterday I took a two hour lunch break atop Max Patch. A grassy bald that was originally cleared for cattle and now leaves a 360 degree panoramic view of the surrounding mountains, it was wonderful

A wildfire just south of Hot Springs has closed 7 miles of the trail which actually ended up getting me into town a day early to relax and regroup, then it’s back to the mountains!

Nevertheless, I’m incredibly comfortable out here now and could do this forever if it were possible. I’m feeling happy, healthy, strong, and smellier than ever. And after the response from the last blog post I am feeling an incredible amount of love and compassion. I feel very fortunate so many people actually want to read about my adventure and can experience it with me.

Most importantly thank you to Mom and Dad for helping me get my phone back up and running and for all the other treats they sent in the last package! And huge thank you to John McNeil for posting these updates for me as well!

That’s all for now, but wanted to ask for a little help! I’m flying through books out here and will definitely finish my reading list before the end of my hike. I would love some suggestions if you can drop me an email (robert.g.odonnell@gmail.com) or comment on here (I don’t see the Facebook or Instagram comments).

Lastly, the beer in the South is good, but if anyone wants to mail me a Heady Topper I will reward them handsomely!

Peace,

Handy Man

Hot Springs, North Carolina

May 4, 2018

The AT Really is A LONG Walk

Important Stats:

  • Days: 11
  • Miles: 118.3
  • Beard Length: Viggo Mortensen in the Two Towers
  • Showers Taken: 2
  • Beers Drank: 5
  • Bears Spotted: 0
  • Zero Days: 1

To say that I am totally upbeat, excited, and enthusiastic would be a lie. Contrary to what I could have hoped for, it’s been a rocky start with some incredible instances of bad luck very early into this journey. However, I am still motivated, determined, and feel beyond privileged to spend so much time in nature and be able to wake up every morning and just put one foot in front of the other.

The nerves that hit while driving to the start of the Appalachian Trail surprised me. And I guess it wasn’t until the van pulled away and I only had one way to walk did everything become real. This wasn’t a race or a triathlon, no gun shot or announcer willed me forward at the start line. I was briefed by a Georgia AT maintainer about various do’s and don’t’s of the trail. He also told me how there was a very heavy presence of  bear activity on the AT this year and the importance of using the bear boxes when available or otherwise hanging my food (see below). We weighed my fully loaded pack (32 lbs. but this has since improved to 28 lbs.). I signed the book and was handed my tag as registered North Bound Hiker #2135. And then… I just started walking. That was it. No pump up music or loud cheering like every other race that I had nerves built up for like I was used to; because this wasn’t a race. I’ve realized this more and more everyday.

Over the first couple days I spent my time moving quick across the trail like every other hike I’ve ever been on. Another adjustment, was that I needed to tone back my mileage until I got my ‘trail legs’ under me. But as I moved down the Approach Trail from Amicalola Falls State Park, I was so caught up in the fact that my journey had actually begun, I wasn’t aware of anything. After one year of preparation, I was finally here. Oh and that’s right, Approach Trail. You know what’s nuts? You have to hike 8.8 miles just to get to the start of the Appalachian Trail a top of Springer Mountain.

The first few days were honestly a little lonely but I enjoyed the time of quiet and self-reflection. Every person out here is still trying to find there groove and get used to trail life. But also, there are some real weirdos that I just wanted nothing to do with.

After coming down Blood Mountain to Neel’s Gap, I began to feel a strange pain in my right heel. I ignored it for the rest of the hike and made it down to the gap where the trail crosses right through the Mountain Crossing Shop. There I was able to have the best frozen pizza of my life and was then approached by a two students from Converse College who asked if I was thru-hiking and would be willing to take a survey about my feelings and emotions. In exchange, they would give me a Gatorade, a snack, a homemade brownie, and $5. I did the survey immediately.

Blood Mountain

That night I was so full from the frozen pizza, I didn’t even cook myself dinner. I fell asleep reading my book and snacking on some trail mix. Suddenly, I awoke at 12:30 to some scratching on my face. It took less than a second for me to realize that there was a mouse sitting on my upper lip, just under my nose. I absolutely lost my shit. I flung the mouse off of my face and scuttled out of my sleeping bag. I opened my tent and threw everything outside and then took another two hours before I could fall asleep again, still paranoid that the mouse might still be inside. The next morning, I needed to patch a hole in my tent and in my backpack from where the mouse had chewed through.

When I first packed up my tent wearing my Crocs, everything felt fine, but when I walked down the hill from my tent site back to Mountain Crossings, my heel was in excruciating pain from my trail runners. Nervous and over-anxious that my hike was over I consulted with the gear guys in the shop. The weird thing was, without shoes on, I had no pain and complete mobility. He had my try on a few other pairs of shoes and the only ones that were relatively pain free were the ones where the back tab rose higher on my heel. It must have been just the pressure point from my shoe causing the irritation after a few days of big mileage with a heavy pack. So the only thing I could do: take my knife and cut the back heel off my right shoe. After that I was sore, but things have been getting better.

That same day I began hiking with a girl named Lindsey who was an X-Ray Tech from New Orleans (Shout out to my Speare Rad techs!) We were having an awesome day hiking together and then came upon Jack Rabbit a guy in his late twenties from Georgia, and Carey, a same aged girl from Kentucky. We spent the rest of the day hiking together and bonded pretty quickly.

Jack Rabbit then gave me my trail name, ‘Handy Man’, because he had seen me carving out my shoes and heard of me patching my tent after the Great Mice War of 2018. Although Booby will always be sentimental to me because it was given to me by Rach, everyone on trail now knows me as Handy Man, and I was excited to receive a trail name in a more traditional sense.

Right after that, I gave Lindsey her trail name of ‘Red Stripe’, because of a brutal sunburn solely on her neck. And communally, we gave Carey the name, ‘Kanye’, a play on how humble she actually is.

After a discouraging night and morning, we were having the best day together. We heard rumors of some pretty great trail magic at the bottom of Tenasee Gap and were not disappointed. As we approached the junction, we noticed picnic tables lined with food and drinks, and even camp chairs for us to sit in while we enjoyed it all.

There was Caribbean Pulled Pork Black Bean Soup, PB&J, fruit, cookies, homemade brownies, coffee, and lemonade. All put together by a couple named Bobby and Mitsy along with some help from their friend Penny.

Mitsy told us the story of how Bobby was attempting a thru-hike in 2014 when he began to feel sick. To his surprise, he was soon after diagnosed with Kidney Cancer. He prayed to the Lord for help and guidance and miraculously beat his cancer. Bobby says that in return the Lord had asked him to help all the hikers passing through. So every single weekend, beginning in February, the two of them come out no matter the weather to feed and comfort thru-hikers. Before we left, Bobby said a blessing for all of us on a safe journey to Maine.

Crazy enough, my friend Janice whom I had met during the Antarctica Marathon in 2016 lives in Georgia and met us at the next gap up with soda, chips, water, and moon pies. thanks Janice! It really was a great day.

From then on I’ve been hiking with my ‘Trail Family’ of Red Stripe, Jack Rabbit, and Kanye, and we’ve already been through some heavy crap. We saw the weather forecast for the weekend, and were warned by many day hikers passing through of a nasty storm approaching on Sunday. We made plans to push a little further and then hike through the rain Sunday morning to get to Unicoi Gap for a ride into town.

It rained harder than anything I had ever been in before. Thunder, lightning, and a constant downpour for ten straight miles. We made it cold, miserable, and water logged to Unicoi Gap after 5 hours of hiking.

We got shuttled to the Baymont Inn in Helen, Georgia for the first warm shower of the trail. Only problem was when we got there, my cell phone wouldn’t turn on. Turns out my Lifeproof case wasn’t so Lifeproof. I went to the dollar store, bought a bag of rice and hoped for the best.

Another weird thing about this hotel, was that it was hosting the Cabbage Patch Kids convention, drawing people from all over the world. I thought I had met some weird people on the trail, but let me tell you… Those people are tapped. Cabbage patch Kids literally everywhere. They were talking to them, seat belting them into cars, and having them sit in chairs in the hotel lobby. These are full -grown adults mind you.

Regardless, the four of us took warm showers, got cleaned up, bought a six pack of beer then went to the laundromat and drank while we washed our clothes. After a great dinner and resupplying food I went to bed warm, full, and content.

Unfortunately, the next morning my phone was totally shot. I used the hotel phone to talk to my mom who had already begun figuring out the insurance policy. Thankfully, they were able to mail a phone to me in Franklin, North Carolina which I just picked up today. The bad news… All of my pictures and notes from the first week of my hike are gone. I’ve been lucky to have the tramily taking pics for me and also had texted my mom and dad my picture from the beginning before I started.

Bad luck continued into the next night where it was unseasonably cold and began to snow. Jack Rabbit pressured me into honoring my trail name and building us a fire which I did. But it was one of the hardest fires I’ve ever started and only lasted for about a half-hour until we were just too cold and ready for bed. The temp dropped into the high teens and the wind whipped above 30 mph, sending me to bed shivering cold while wearing all my layers; including my rain gear.

Someone once said, “There are good days and hard days on the AT, but no bad days.” In the first section of this journey I’ve certainly experienced my fair share of both. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. The torrential downpours, freezing nights, and every other obstacle make this what it is; an adventure. If it were all easy, this would simply be just a passive experience.

This post isn’t a “woe is me” type of deal, this is precisely the adventure that I wanted. And hopefully everyone can get a little bit of a laugh out of the struggles so far. Physically each day is getting better, and mentally, the support from home and the on trail attitude from my awesome Tramily has been epic. I am having an amazing time and wouldn’t trade the past 11 days for anything.

Will hopefully be in the Smoky Mountains this time next week, a section of the hike I’ve been the most excited about. Until next time, thanks for following along! I’m always happy to answer any questions via email.

Lastly, Happy Birthday Dad! Love you.

Peace,

Handy Man

Franklin, North Carolina

April 21, 2018

Gear and Other Matters

Last post before I fly to Georgia tomorrow!

The thought of being on a 5ish month long journey in the woods made me realize some profound changes I will about to be experiencing in my life.

  • I will no longer be seeing money go into my bank account.
  • My hair is short again.
  • I can poop wherever I want (mostly).
  • More than likely I will struggle to achieve my normal monthly intake of PBR.
  • No more driving cars or paying for gas.
  • No deodorant.
  • Subsequently, I’m going to smell really bad, all the time.
  • No more student loans!!!!! (just kidding, thanks Saint A’s…).
  • The new beard will be epic.

After all of the build up these past couple weeks, it is surreal to be sitting in the airport now ready to get started. To answer common questions, I’m not afraid of bears, being alone, or thunderstorms; I’m most afraid of ticks or twisting an ankle.

One new neat addition to the blog is the ‘Location on Trail’ tab. With a satellite tracker (thanks mom), you will be able to see my present location updater (almost) everyday!

Something I wanted to address that many people have been asking is if I have a trail name. When thru-hiking, it’s tradition to drop your real name for something silly and new, usually given to you by someone on the trail. To the purists this is frowned upon, but I actually do have a trail name that was given to me over a year ago.

My friend Rachel and I often talked about me doing a thru-hike of the AT when we were out hiking or even at work. One day in the ER a patient came in having chest pain. While Rachel was triaging him, I put in an IV and she documented it in our computer system.

When I went back into the chart, Rach had spelled my name wrong and wrote ‘Booby RP’ instead of Bobby. She just couldn’t stop laughing after that and told me that it absolutely HAD to be my trail name when I do my hike. After Rachel died, there was no question that for my entire time on the trail, I would be known as Booby. It’s definitely an odd one, but it means the world to me.

Looking at the months ahead I feel lots of excitement and very little apprehension. The support of my friends, family, and coworkers this past month has been amazing! I am very very lucky to have so many incredible people in my life that take interest in my endeavors.

Lastly, as I have seen in other thru-hiker blogs, I thought I would post what I would be carrying with me on this trek! So far that seems to be the most commonly asked question, so here goes! Talk to you again when Georgia’s behind me!

-Booby

Halifax, MA- April 9, 2018

Gear List

  • One 30 of Pabst.

And that should do it! Kidding…

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Pack

  • Osprey Atmos 65L

Clothing

  • Patagonia Capilene Midweight Base Layer
  • Moisture Wicking Running Shirt
  • Patagonia Polyester Full Zip
  • Cotopaxi Pacaya Jacket
  • Patagonia Houdini Rain Jacket
  • Patagonia Quandary Trekking Pants
  • Patagonia Torrentshell Rain Pants
  • Patagonia Strider Running Shorts
  • ExOfficio Underwear
  • Injinji Midweight Toe Liner Socks x2
  • Darn Tough Socks
  • EMS Buff
  • Dirty Girl Gaiters
  • Marmot Connect Gloves
  • REI Waterproof Mitts
  • Wool Hat

Footwear

  • Salomon Speedcross 4
  • Crocs

Electronics

  • iPhone
  • SPOT Gen 3 Tracker
  • Anker Solar Charger
  • Headphones
  • iPhone Charger
  • Larry Light
  • Black Diamond Storm Headlamp
  • AA batteries

Sleep System

  • Big Agnes Fly Creek UL1 Tent
  • Sea to Summit Spark SpI Sleeping Bag
  • Cocoon Silk Sleeping Bag Liner
  • Thermarest Neo Air X-Lite Pad

Kitchen

  • MSR Pocket Rocket Stove
  • MSR 1L Titanium Pot
  • Snowpeak Spork
  • Mini Sponge
  • Bic Lighter
  • Small Towel
  • 750mL Bottle
  • Nalgene 1L
  • Sawyer Mini Pump
  • Sawyer Coupling Adapter
  • Freezer Bags

Misc.

  • Black Diamond Carbon-Z Trekking Poles
  • AWOL AT Guide
  • Two paperback books
  • Garbage Bags x2
  • Duck Tape
  • Knife
  • Rite in the Rain Journal
  • Space Pen
  • Paracord 50 ft.
  • 4L Sea to Summit Dry Bag
  • 14L Sea to Summit Dry Compression Sack
  • 20L Osprey stuff sack
  • Osprey Pack Cover

Medical and Toiletries

  • Tylenol
  • Ibuprofen
  • Immodium
  • Ciprofloxacin
  • Doxycycline
  • Bacitracin
  • Band Aids
  • Steri Strips
  • Blunt Needle
  • Ace wrap
  • Nail Clippers
  • Neutrogena Sun stick
  • Insect Repellant
  • Hand Sanitizer
  • Mini Toothbrush
  • Toothpaste
  • Toilet Paper

I’m Walking North

It’s been over a year since I decided to attempt a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail. But it hasn’t been until recently where I decided to announce this to my friends. I will be leaving my jobs, selling my things, and have bought a oneway plane ticket to Atlanta, Georgia. I leave one month from today. The next five-ish months will be spent hiking back roughly 2189 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.

My life for the past three years has been consumed traveling the world to run a marathon on every continent. And by no means am I complaining, I have had the most amazing adventures all over the world. Now, I am in this transition period and the time to hike has come.

I personally will have no access to social media through the duration of my hike. My good friend John McNeil will be posting the link to blog updates with pictures to my instagram (@bobbyo28) and Facebook pages for me.

The plan to disconnect is to allow for a period of reflection while still providing updates to everyone through this blog. This isn’t going to be a fancy college writing piece. It will be the down and dirty of my raw thoughts on what it’s actually like to be thru hiking for the next few months. I’ve been on the fence in regards to whether I’ve wanted to publicly chronicle this journey in this time of detaching from the world. And after some long conversations with Ryan Sandford (who’s blogged and not blogged some amazing adventures), I’ve finally decided that down the road it will be cool to be able to look back on this and remember all the intricacies that would otherwise be forgotten.

That being said, I apologize for not returning texts, FB messages, etc., and ultimately just kind of going off the grid. The best way to reach me is by sending an email to robert.g.odonnell@gmail.com

When I first conceptualized the idea for this hike in the Fall of 2016, I discussed it with a bunch of my hiking buddies. No one more so then my dear friend, Rachel Collar. Rach was amazingly supportive and encouraging of this often just telling me, “It’s just a long walk”. And to “stop whining” about some of the difficulties I might face on this adventure because not many people are lucky enough to have the opportunity to just hike for five months. And she was right.

Sadly, Rach isn’t here with us any more. And I miss her everyday. So the entirety of this hike is dedicated to her, and I’ll just be walking for both of us. I’m not sure if I would have been able to make this leap of faith without her.

I’m not sure what will happen, but I know which direction I’m headed at least.

-Bobby

Halifax, Massachusetts- March 10, 2018