Saturday, April 30, 2016

Day 18 Zero at Fontana Dam Village

I slept on a good bed last night and will do so again tonight. My walking today was up to the Mountainview restaurant for breakfast and down to the Wildwood Grill for lunch. My legs are feeling great!

The Audi Club of America is staying here so they only offered a breakfast buffet, not their usual menu. I was a little disappointed as no toast, but I still over ate!  Never seen so many sporty little Audis. 

Yesterday at lunch the clientele was all thru hikers--grubby. Today it was, well I'll call it yuppies, though I have little info on their backgrounds. 

My lunch both days was a nice burger and a small salad bar. Both were fantastic. At dinner I had shrimp and grits. I had seen the entree on menus before but never tried it. It wasn't just shrimp and grits. The sauce and other ingredients made it fantastic. With desert it was more than I should have spent. Tonight I'll eat light from my leftover trail food. Same in the morning. 

I can get a shuttle to the trail head and avoid an off-trail 4 miles, but not until 8:30 am. And their restaurant doesn't open till 8:00 am. I'm hoping to walk uphill about 14 miles to a shelter with good water. 

Last night and today I read a Kindle book on my iPhone. I also decided to shave. The little dual bladed safety razor took forever. But for a day or so I don't have to worry about food in my beard!

I've got all the pack items cleaned up. My food bag is restocked. My optimistic route through the Smokies is planned. My remaining effort is deciding whether to watch a movie or TV.  And being dedicated to staying off my feet for another few hours. Have a good day!

A Typical Day on the AT

In this post I want to describe my typical day. One where I hike from camp site to camp site. Most camp at shelters or other 'official' sites with water. If you don't you have to count on using about a liter in camp and still have enough to get you to the next usable stream.

I've tossed and turned all night, sleeping until discomfort makes me roll over. I check my watch every few hours to see what time it is. At maybe 5:45 am I start waiting for 6:15. At that point I open the nozzle on my air mattress. I sit up in the tent and start getting ready. I change socks and put foot goo (lubricant) on my toes. I change into my day cap. I put everything back in my pockets then roll up the air mattress. I unzip the tent, pullover and open the top of my backpack, then start putting everything in. I also get out my snacks and any toilet paper I expect to need. With everything in the pack I stick my feet outside the tent and pull on my trail runners. Then I get out of the tent and zip it back up. 

I pull up all of the stakes and remove the extender from my trekking pole. The Altaplex tent requires a 58" pole, so I need the extra 10" carbon fiber tube. Then I accomplish the worst task of the morning.  Shaking the tent to try and get wet debris off the bottom floor. It's loud and messy and doesn't work!  I then try to cram it into a nice sack perfectly sized for a dry, clean tent you can fold tightly on dry ground. 

Since I want the tent below my rain gear and food bag, I partially reload and compress the pack again. 

Taking a leak is mandatory. Using the privy or digging a latrine with my trowel depends on circumstances. Unless you are at a single stealth site there are often lots of people around. Not much privacy. 

I try to remember to take my phone off airplane mode, start Hikers Assistant, and tell it I'm starting the trail. It gets my location for the start of the day's elevation profile. Then I have to put the phone back in airplane mode. 

I drink water before starting out and most days hike with 2 liters. 

I start out a little before 7:00am. Almost invariably, there is a big up to start the day. My heel or heels will be tight and if I laid wrong, I might have an ache or two.  If it is cool I'll be wearing a wind shirt or rain jacket. As soon as you get warmed up you start shedding clothes. Take off the jackets, roll up the sleeves, remove convertible pants legs, and unzip the 1/4 or 1/2 zip shirt. It's already been getting up to 79 degrees. You go up a good up and you generate a lot of heat. 

I saw one guy the day before yesterday sitting in a clearing near a hilltop. He was only wearing shorts and looked like he was about to have heat stroke. A cold breeze can feel great!

Anyway, you probably finish the big up in about 45 minutes and you can catch up on your breathing and heart rate. I stop for some breakfast granola or a bar. After that I try to stop about every hour to take off the pack, eat a quick snack and have some water. These breaks usually last 3-5 minutes. Other water-breaks are just done standing for about 30 seconds each.  My lunch breaks are a little longer where I try to eat a little more. 

I usually get passed by a couple of thrus, and we'll say hi and ask how it's going. I usually meet half a dozen hikers going south. Mostly day or section hikers. On weekends you see a couple runners and several couples with more or less happy dogs. Most of the older folks you encounter are a bit talkative, which is nice. The young folks, unless you encounter them at a water source, on a break, or in camp talk less and move faster. 

So the day goes by. You do the ups, with micro-breaks to slow my breathing and heart. Occasionally I encounter relatively flat sections on ridges or following around hill sides. Then you have the downs where you go slow to avoid falling, hurting your knees, or twisting your ankle. Both the ups and downs seem never to end. The flat or gently ramped sections are all too short. Interspersed along the trail are bad root sections, sloped trail next to drop offs and rocky sections where the rocks like to tip. 

The worst sections are the road gaps. It's always a steep long down to the two-lane 45mph highway. You wait for quiet between the 70mph passing cars, motorcycles, and trucks, then dash across. Now you do the steep long up!

About noon you hit your high point of the day. Your muscles feel fine and all the aches have gone. About 3:00 pm you are tired of snacking, and you start to lose energy. I try to slow down and be more careful. You start to watch the Guide or AT Hiker app to see how close you are to a camp site. If you are not stopping early, try for a less popular camp site. 

Since I planned to be here (Fontana) on a Friday and Saturday night I made reservations. To avoid getting here early I stopped at Locust Cove Gap early. It's the only non-shelter site with water on the map in that area. I got there at 2:30 pm and there were already two section hiker tents set up. On the flat spots!

Anyway, by 5:00 pm I'll try to make camp. I find a relatively flat spot and quickly set up the tent. I throw the air mattress, quilt and other bags in and zip it up. I keep out my food bag and stove kit. If there's a water source I fill my Nalgene and use my Steripen for 90 seconds to purify the water. 

If there's other hikers around I'll talk for a bit. But I usually want dinner. If there is a picnic table and room I'll cook there. I've only done that at Springer Mt.  Most of the time I set up a small ground cloth and sit on that. I use a variant of the Caldera Cone with an alcohol stove to boil water. About a tablespoon of denatured alcohol heats a cup of water. 

I add cold water to freeze dried fruit. Have one or two protein shakes (messy) and a couple of cups of cold water. My entree is a freeze dried Mountain House to which I add freeze dried kale, asparagus, or broccoli and a tablespoon of ghee. I pour the boiling water from my pot into the freezer bag with my entree and let it sit for 10 minutes. Cleanup is rolling up the empty fruit and entree baggies and putting them into my gallon trash zip-lock. Plus licking my spoon clean. 

You decompress the lighter food bag and either put it in your tent or hang it on a bear cable. If there are folks around, you talk some more. 

I always pull out my inReach Explorer to create and send a waypoint for my Locate Cipher blog page. Hope it's working!

I also spend 30 to 40 minutes transferring photos from my camera to my phone and writing my blog. Usually I'm tired and forget the interesting stuff. Usually I have no signal to post the blog. 

I try to wait as long to get into the tent as I can.  Getting in and out means taking shoes off and then putting them back on. I take a leak before getting into the tent at night. 

I put my cuben (waterproof, kind of) backpack under the tent fly, and sit in the tent with my feet out. I take off my shoes and nestle them inside the hip belt of my pack closest to the tent--to minimize wetness from rain. 

I blow up the air matress then change my socks and add new foot goo. I change my cap and empty my pockets, then stretch out. If it's still early I use my Sandisk player to listen to my favorite albums. 

I watch the woods through my tent screens as the sun goes down. 

Friday, April 29, 2016

AT Aerobic Characteristics for Desk Jockies

I want to dedicate this post to Greg and Debbie, friends from high school and college. I would also like to preface this post by pointing out that from 1978 to last year I've had desk jobs. I took a couple of long hikes before retiring to shake out my gear (lowest weight I could work), but in general at most I did the occasional weekend overnighter or day hike. Every couple years recently I've gone on a strict Paleo diet to get the extra weight off.

I also thought of this post when my wife seemed surprised when I called her and was out of breath or sounded tired.

The point is, I've been a long term desk jockey. Obviously, this post is not primarily targeted at the 20 to 30 something crowd. 

Another point to make is there seems to be a good sprinkling of middle aged and retired folks on the trail, many of whom are a bit (or more) over weight. 

Prevailing wisdom seems to recommend that less experienced backpackers spend at least two to four weeks hiking only 8 miles per day--to avoid injury while your leg muscles are getting in shape.  If you cannot do that, you will have a hard time picking up the speed so you can finish in a late-March to early-October time frame. 

The Georgia to Smokies segment is supposedly the most difficult till you get up to the White Mountains. So most north-bounders are doing some of the toughest trail when they are the most out of shape. Some folks flip-flop (start at Harper's Ferry VA) to avoid this. 

Ok, so you frequently have 1500' or higher climbs and descents, sometimes more than one per day. Most of the trail has roots and lots of it has rocks. Lots of the time you are walking a path with steep drop offs or going steeply downhill trying to avoid a header. You want to conserve your knees and avoid twisting an ankle. Not to mention you are trying hard to avoid falls!

Photos of the trail usually show the somewhat rare nice flat trail--because that's when you can think of using the camera. 

So, a typical up would be say 4 flights of stairs up followed by 100' of flat hall, then repeat for an hour. But every other flat section is an up ramp. And all of it has rocks and roots. When you get done with the hour up, you get to do it going down. And while the 'stairs' down probably aren't steeper, they really feel like it.  Then you start the next hour up...

Every once in a while you get part of a day, where the ups and downs seem to be mostly 'gentle' ramps.

And you cannot forget the load you are carrying.  Carrying a couple of adult bowling balls/bags over your shoulders is probably equivalent to the pack.  Though the weight is mostly on your hips and not your shoulders, you still have to carry it up and down the hills!

When I'm going up I stop when my heart rate rises and I get out of breath. I breathe deeply for 20-30 seconds, then continue. The young folks mostly don't seem to do these micro-breaks. They also don't seem nearly as careful with their knees and ankles going down hill. The only way to 'keep up' with the young folks is to start earlier and hike longer. 

I take a 3-5 minute snack break about every hour when I can find a good log or stone to sit on. My lunch is usually a longer snack that lasts 15 to 20 minutes. I've noticed the young folks will frequently take s significantly longer lunch. 

So my typical starting time is 7:00 am. I stop sometime between 3:00 pm and about 5:30 pm. I've been taking it easier this year to minimize the chance of an injury. But a 10 hour hiking day is a middling kind of performance. 

You stop to call home on a mountain top where you have cell signal, and you are out of breath. If you happen to get cell signal where you camp, you are tired. 

Thrus may consider their hike a 'vacation', but it's hard work!

I've seen lots of folks with back or leg surgeries. I'm not sure how they do it. One guy, I won't say who, stops to use marijuana or some other drug to keep going. He's a little faster than me. He said if he didn't smoke it, he would have to use something less effective like oxycodone to keep hiking. I'm not sure how it can be good for you to hike like this if you have serious pain without drugs. But it's their choice. 

So bottom line, if you don't require a wheel chair, you can probably hike the trail. Though if you have significant pain walking, I wouldn't recommend a thru hike. 

You need to get your pack weight with food and water under 30 pounds. Mine is 22.5 with 2 liters of water and 4 days of food. Go to, Gossamer Gear, or Mountain Laurel Designs on line and get the lightest gear you can avoid. Do lots of research before purchasing or you will later find lighter equipment you want instead. 

Make sure your gear fits in the backpack you select. Then do as many overnighter and day hikes with a weighted backpack as you can. You won't be in trail shape until a couple hundred miles of the AT. But you can start slow and succeed. 

Please note this blog only addresses the physical aspects of the hike. Most people seem to quit because of mental or psychological pressures, for example they can't handle the repeated climbs or bad weather. In most cases, physically they could continue. 

Day 17 Nero from Cable Gap To Fontana Dam Visitor Center

Friday, April 29, 2016; AT Mile 166.3
Walked from 160.4 to 168.1 or 7.1 miles.
Started 06:43 AM, stopped 11:15 AM.
Ave mph was 1.57, excluding lunch.
Battery used:  3 percent
I walked from Cable Gap Shelter to the Fontana Dam Visitor Center, but forgot to tell Hikers Assistant I was done with the trail. So the elevation profile won't be perfect. I barely took off my pack and David offered me a ride. Nice guy! He's here for a week hike. So I didn't have to call and pay for a shuttle to Fontana Lodge. 

The hike down had a few ups. Didn't see as many flowers as yesterday. And there weren't any vistas. I saw the dam from way up, but too many trees in the photo. 

The lake was way down from last year. The exposed dirt banks kind of hurt the photos. The Fontana Hilton (shelter) looked about the same except they added a solar power charging station. It claimed 15 minutes for a full phone charge. And there were several USB charging cables. Nice!  Matches the showers offered at the 'Hilton'. 

My plan was to do a Nero in today. Then take a Zero tomorrow and hike out and up into the Smokies Sunday morning. The lodge isn't near the trail so most get a $3 shuttle back to the trail; the earliest is 8:30 am. But the shuttle lets you off at the marina or the dam Visitor Center. The marina means you have to hike 2 miles to the Visitor Center. Since you have to camp in the Smokies at shelters or the one camp site, you have a 7.5 or 13 mile hike uphill from the other side of the dam. 

Short point, I wanted the least walking Sunday this side of the Smokies as possible. So I went past the marina shuttle spot today. 

The room this year is a lot nicer. Spacious and a large balcony. Though it was pretty nice last year. But their Internet is out and there is no AT&T. The lodge is way up a hill, so I don't want to walk down then back up for the laundry. 

My mail drop was here. I showered, set the tent on the balcony to dry out, and went to the Wildwood Cafe for lunch. Most of the thrus showed up while I was eating. Sounds like all but one (whose mail drop didn't make it) are staying at the Fontana Hilton. Not sure why others are not taking zeros. They are young!

After lunch I came back and did my laundry in the sink. Then decided to do the blog. Hopefully the Internet will come up so I can post and add photos. But I've still got tomorrow. Have a good day!


I got sloppy and put a bunch of today's photos on yesterday's blog. With slow WiFi here, I'm going to leave it that way. 




Day 16 Locust Cove Gap to Cable Gap

Thursday, April 28, 2016; AT Mile 159.2
Walked from 149.4 to 160.5 or 11.1 miles.
Started 06:50 AM, stopped 03:00 PM.
Ave mph was 1.36, excluding lunch.
Battery used:  3 percent
Forgot yesterday we saw a rattlesnake on the trail. Actually Square Peg stumbled on it coming around a big tree about a foot off the trail. He warned me and Scott. Then he forced it up into the rocks with a long stick. 

Today was supposed to be thunderstorms but partly sunny all day. Hot. Susan's grandmother would have loved the flowers today. Light rain last night and they were blooming everywhere. 

Jacob's Ladder was a tough climb but the rest of today was a mixture. Lots of people did a short 7 out of the NOC then a 15 today. Peculiar. 

Stopped here 5.5 or 6.6 short of the Fontana marina or Fontana 'Hilton.'  Plan tomorrow is to walk to the dam visitor center then get a ride to the lodge. That will make less walking Sunday morning when I start into the Smokies. Have a good day!






This is the Fontana 'Hilton' shelter. Two levels of floor space in each split half. A solar phone charger outback. Showers up the hill with real toilets!



Day 15 NOC to Locust Cove Gap

Wednesday, April 27, 2016; AT Mile 147.7
Walked from 139.7 to 149.4 or 9.6 miles.
Started 06:48 AM, stopped 02:30 PM.
Ave mph was 1.25, excluding lunch.
Battery used:  4 percent
Ok, I have to correct the mileage. It was 10.4 for 1.34 mph. And most of that was uphill with some tough downs. I got a reservation at Fontana Lodge for Friday evening so I didn't want to go too far. And I wasn't sure about the chances of tenting ahead. The weather was mixed sun and clouds but chances of thunderstorms tonight and more probably tomorrow. Some good views at a vista and Cheoah Bald. 

Hiked up out of the NOC with Square Peg, Capt Planet, and Scott. Scott went on ahead. Square Peg stopped back. Capt Planet zoomed on.  There was one guy dressed for a night club at the bald, black striped long-sleeved shirt, black pants, a fancy black hat and sunglasses. He was using his phone and smoking. 

A couple from Over the Hill Gang (finished AT by sections in 2013) are headed south, and are camped here. Nice guys. 

Besides the tough ups and downs today, there was a lot of nearly foliage-overgrown path. But not really much I the way of flowers. Feeling fine today 

Have a good evening. 








Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Day 14 Wesser Bald Shelter to NOC

Tuesday, April 26, 2016; AT Mile 137.3
Walked from 134.2 to 139.7 or 5.5 miles.
Started 07:01 AM, stopped 10:30 AM.
Ave mph was 1.59, excluding lunch.
Battery used: 4 percent
The official miles today was 5.9.  Nite the trail differs some now from the 2008 tracks I am using. 

There were some ups out of the shelter area, that produced some nice vistas. Then it was all downhill. My tight tendon tweaked a couple of times then settled down. Flowers seem to be coming out. Or maybe it's just the lower elevation here. 

This seems to be one of the NOC's main rec sites. Kayaking and the 1/2 mile zip seem to be sought after. 

For thrus it seems to be a light resupply, a bunk and food. The food today is a big disappointment. Their B/L/D sit down restaurant is closed. I'm told it was a sprinkler problem in the kitchen. I cannot believe a plumber couldn't fix such a problem in a few hours. But they closed it for several days. That leaves a BBQ sandwich stand for meals--lunch and dinner.  I'll close with -- crap. 

Instead of a nice eggs, bacon, grits and milk breakfast I'm going to have miniature donuts and water. 

I did get showered and my clothes washed. Had lunch and some ice cream.  Don't assume that Yup Vanilla Milk tastes like milk. I've also dried out my tent (it's supposed to rain tomorrow), trimmed my dirty nails, and begun recharging my electronics. 

They advertise WiFi complex wide--but not down here at the extra hundred step building. Going out for ice cream I came upon a female thru sitting near the bottom of the steps. Looked like she was crying but she had just showered so I wasn't sure. Asked her if she was ok, and she said she climbed up and down mountains but tripped on the stairs. Hope her ankle is ok. 

Anyway, despite no WiFi I do have 3-4 bars of AT&T. I'll work on photos next. 

There's a horrible climb tomorrow. Guys coming down said it took them 4.5 hours to get down. I'll camp 2 nights then take a day off at Fontana lodge. Their restaurants had better be open. Thing is their menus aren't as good as the one here. 

Have a nice day!

Monday, April 25, 2016

Day 13 Wayah Bald Shelter to Wesser Bald Shelter

Monday, April 25, 2016; AT Mile 131.4
Walked from 124.2 to 134.3 plus 0.50 adjustment or 10.6 miles.
Started 07:14 AM, stopped 03:16 PM.
Ave mph was 1.32, excluding lunch.
Battery used: 13 percent
I made reservations at the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC) for tomorrow so I stopped early. Six miles downhill to the NOC. Good thing I stopped, my heel was very tight the last 2 miles. I really think I overdid it yesterday with the 17 miles. 

Tomorrow is food!!!

Today was intermittent cloud and sun. Good views at the Rocky Bald and then the Wesser Bald tower. Some ups and downs, think I was just beat from yesterday. 

Wanted to comment on a couple of other hikers yesterday. One thru (?) didn't stop for the dogs and day hikers at the stream. Another just marched by later with a grumble. These folks seem to be intent on high miles and won't socialize. Most will say hello in passing and talk if you happen to stop. Everyone I've talked to seems nice. 

Even this afternoon. My heel was bothering me and someone coming up the hill behind me was playing music loudly. Most wear earphones. When the guy caught up to me at the tower I asked about the music. They didn't play it again and he was very nice later at the water. 

I also wanted to comment on the inReach Explorer. I've been uploading my campsites daily. Hope it's showing up on the Locate Cipher page. But it sometimes takes up to 10 minutes to upload a waypoint name and a coordinate. It appears to switch between multiple Iridium satellites during the attempt. My suspicion is the low-earth orbit satellites often aren't in view long enough for a good hand-shake and data upload. Maybe their capacity is being exceeded?

Since I will be able to recharge tomorrow I'm going to try photo uploads. I'll stop though if I get down to 40% battery. Have a good day!

Day 12 Stealth Site to Wayah Bald Shelter

Sunday, April 24, 2016; AT Mile 120.8
Walked from 108.3 to 124.2 plus 0.40 adjustment or 16.2 miles.
Started 07:10 AM, stopped 06:10 PM.
Ave mph was 1.47, excluding lunch.
Battery used:  7 percent
Chilly this morning, but hot this afternoon. I took the side trip up to Silas Bald for fantastic views. The views from the stone tower at Wayah Bald were pretty good too. Otherwise lots of trees and rocks. I had an especially hard time keeping my ankles from rolling. I crept the last few miles to be safe. I can tell my muscles will be sore. 

I saw a big owl with about 4 foot wingspan. He was just a few feet away when I startled him. But he was hiding behind a tree by the time I got my camera out. 

I passed a threesome that looked like they were out of the army. One was fast, but had to wait on the other two. Nice guys. 

Bunch of dogs with people going up one of the gaps. I heard two bulldog variants, not on leashes, tangle with a young German shepherd. 

I tented near the Wayah Bald Shelter because I couldn't find a good alternative. Phone battery is down to 26% because I uploaded all those pictures yesterday. Won't do that on the trail again. Night!

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Day 11 Stealth Site to Stealth Site

Saturday, April 23, 2016; AT Mile 104.4
Walked from 95.6 to 108.3 or 12.7 miles.
Started 07:10 AM, stopped 03:10 PM.
Ave mph was 1.55, excluding lunch.
Battery used:  8 percent
Today was sunny. And with Albert Mountain, I got some nice photos. Albert was steep, rocky and a bit treacherous. But the rest of today was fairly easy. Though there were sections where you would think the roots were an alien plant looking to take over the earth. 

The morning was freezing and you could see your breath. I had to put back on the cold, wet hiking clothes and underwear from yesterday. My hands got so cold hiking I had to put on gloves.  Took some extra time to figure out how to keep the quilt dry. 

The rain clothes and wet bags are hanging in the strong breeze up here on the ridge to dry. I stopped early to get everything dry. Best view ever with my tent. 

Actually have three bars of AT&T so I'll try to get photos out. Have a good day!