Day 55- Saturday, 5/5- Lost Mountain Shelter, VA- (16 miles) (486.1 total) A day of 5s for me. My 55th day on the trail just so happens to fall on 5/5. Happy Cinco Di Mayo everyone! Well, thunderstorms and rain were predicted today, but for the most part they held off. We had just 30 or 40 minutes of rain earlier in the day, but nothing heavy. I kept thinking it was really going to come down soon, but it disappeared. Had nice, cloudy, cool weather all day. Good hiking weather. Put in a solid 16 today. Had about 3 uphill sections, but nothing too intense. Had breakfast at the B&B I stayed at, so got a later start than usual- 9:15 or so- but still made it here a bit before 5pm. When I was hiking with Jukebox the other day, I saw him putting some kind of tablet into his water. I asked what it was and he showed me these tablets called Nuun. They are effervescents that provide electrolytes and vitamins, and they also come in form that adds caffeine. I often notice that I hike much faster in the mornings, but slow down in the afternoons. I thought that maybe something like this would help, so I picked some up at the outfitter in Demascus. Well an hour and a half or so before the end of this day, I popped one in my water and drank some with a Snicker’s bar. And holy smokes! I’m not sure if it was the electrolytes or the caffeine or what, but I was jamming the last hour! Had my music going and I was grooving! That helped a ton! I took it fairly late in my day today, but I think taking this around lunch time would probably be really beneficial in keeping up my afternoon energy levels. We will see how it goes. But I have just been drinking plain water so far, so probably my salts and electrolytes have been low. And a little caffeine never hurt! I’ll keep experimenting with it. When I got to camp I was happy that the weather was still holding long enough for me to set up my tent and do all my chores. But while we were all eating dinner at the shelter, thunder started rumbling in the distance and the skies started to look ominous. I was just able to clean up from dinner and get my teeth brushed and things put away, when the rain finally started. It has been COMING DOWN while I have been typing this blog entry! The hardest rain I have experienced yet on the hike. But now it seems to have passed for the time being. Short and intense. The birds are out singing now and big drips from the trees are hitting my tent. Hopefully that’s it, but we will see tonight. I’m using my brand new rainfly for the first time and it seems to be holding up like a champ. I’m dry as a bone in here. Big Agnus also sent me a new battery control box for my Mountain Glo feature, which is a string of tiny LED lights sewn into the top of the tent. They are not nearly as crucial as a rainfly with a zipper that works, but it’s still really nice to have these lights back working again. The light in the tent is not too bright- not bright enough to read well by. But it does offer a nice background light to do things in the tent, especially when I wake up early and it’s still dark. Nicer than the headlamp. But where they really come in handy is when I walk away from my tent in the dark, say to go use the bathroom in the early morning or something. When I’m heading back, it’s sometimes hard to find my tent without these lights. Which direction again? And if there are other tents around, I don’t want to be shining my headlamp at all of them, waking people up while I’m searching for my tent. But with the dim little glow from the LED lights, I can easily spot my tent from a pretty good distance away and make my way back easily. Day 56- Sunday, 5/6- Wise Shelter (17.5 miles) (503.6 total) Whew! What a long day. Just a lot of rocky and uneven terrain, plus a ton of climbing. The day started out with a 2000 foot climb, and later another 1000 foot climb, getting us to over 5000 feet. It took me all day to get to this shelter. I think I finally rolled in at 6:40pm, my latest arrival ever. I’m beat. The weather wasn’t cooperating either today. Lots of rain, wind, and cold. I had packed my gloves and warm hat away, thinking that I wouldn’t need them anymore, but today I had to break them out again. Towards the tops of the 2 peaks we went over today, they became exposed balds, so the wind was whipping pretty well along with the rain. There was a shelter at the top of the second mountain, Mt Rogers. Me and this guy Boxcar got in there to warm up for a while. We talked about staying there to avoid the weather, but I decided to push on. I think he stayed. But now we are over Mt. Rogers, and all along the trail everyone has said “Don’t get rid of your winter clothes and gear until after Mt. Rogers.” I’m assuming that after this the elevation drops some, and if there are high peaks again it will be the warm enough summer months. That’s just my assumption, but either way, we can soon lighten our packs by unloading some winter gear. I could lose my gloves and my fleece and my camp pants. I was thinking of sending home my down jacket instead, but someone pointed out that the down jacket is much lighter and more compressible. So probably better to lose the fleece instead. We will need all that stuff back when we get up north and into the White Mountains. But at least we can walk lighter for the summer months. We walked through Greyson Highlands State Park today. In fact I think I’m camping in it tonight. I heard a lot about this park when I was researching for this trip. There are semi-wild/semi-tame horses running free around this park. I’m not sure what breed they are, but they have beautiful long manes. Many have just had foals, which are very cute. They are still wobbly on their legs, but also playful and jumping around. Inside of Greyson Highlands, I passed the 500 mile mark today. Every 100 mile section feels good to pass, but 500 definitely feels special. Nearly a quarter of the way there. It just feels like a long way. Never thought I’d hike 500 miles in a stretch before. Long way to go still, but that’s a chunk. I also went through “Fat Man’s Squeeze” today. It’s a very narrow passage between the rocks that is tight to fit through, especially with a big pack on. There is a trail around it, but I walked through just for fun. Check out my video of it on Facebook. This was another landmark that I had seen a lot when I was researching this trip. Very long day, but some great milestones along the way. Day 57- Monday, May 7- Hurricane Campground- (14 miles) (517.6 total) Left camp just after 8am this morning. That’s about an hour after I usually leave, but I was so tired from the long day yesterday that I had to sleep in a bit to recover. Walked through the rest of Greyson Highlands in the morning and saw a few more of the ponies. I think some people feed and pet them, as a young foal came right up to me yesterday and looked like it was expecting food. But there were also signs that said not to feed or pet them as they may kick or bite. So I kept my distance. Didn’t want to upset the mother nearby either, although she seemed totally disinterested in my presence. Guess they are used to us. Hiked into the forest and suddenly saw 2 flashes of white through the trees. Wasn’t sure what I was seeing, but thought it might be dog tails or something. Turned out to be 2 white tail deer. I’ve heard of them before, but never seen any. Some guys told me later that the white tail goes up when they are spooked. Very distinctive. I’m sure this is common knowledge to a lot of people, but it’s all new to me coming from Hawaii. The deer were curious and we stood there staring at each other for quite a while before they took off. Managed to get a couple of pictures before they left. Close to noon I was starting to get hungry. I looked on my app and saw that I was near a road and parking area. Those parking areas are where people do trail magic from time to time. I haven’t had any for a while, so I decided to push on to the parking area and have my lunch there, just in case. Sure enough, there was a guy sitting there with his pickup tailgate down with all kinds of food for us. Very friendly older gentleman who is a Vietnam vet and lives in the nearby area up in a cabin in the woods. He told me he has lots of acreage and lots of privacy, and lives alone up there. Just for some company and people to talk to, he comes to the trail, walks a bit, and provides trail magic. He had a few camp chairs set up and so I got to take the pack off, sit down, talk story with this guy, and enjoy some food. He had boiled eggs, sausage and cheese biscuits, bananas, chocolate, and cold drinks. I spent about an hour chatting with this guy and having lunch. Really a nice break. One of the really nice things people also offer when they are doing trail magic is a place for us to dump our trash. There are no trash cans out in the woods, and we are all trying our best to follow the “leave no trace” philosophy, so we all have a large zip lock or something to keep our trash in. It gets bulky after a while and weighs something, so a chance to dump it before town is always nice. Different campsite tonight. Hurricane Campground. It’s just 0.7 miles off the AT and worked out well milage wise as a place to stop for me tonight. It’s an actual established car camping area with bathrooms and hot showers. It costs $16 but sounded like a nice treat. Been meaning to go over and get a shower after dinner, but I keep getting trapped by the rain. Just got my tent set up before the rain came. Dove in my tent and waited a while and the rain stopped. Took all my cooking stuff out to the picnic table and was about to start cooking, when it started drizzling again. I decided to play it safe and get back in my tent and cook in my vestibule. Of course all the time I was cooking it didn’t rain at all, so when my food was ready I went back out and started eating at the table. 2 minutes into my meal, it starts pouring again. Lol! This is camping life sometimes. Now it’s been dry for quite a while, so I’m considering trying to get over to the showers. Need to get at least 1 hot shower in to make the cost worth it... Ahh! The rain stopped and I was able to go over and get a nice hot shower. What a luxury for a non-town day. They don’t provide any amenities like towels, soap, etc. here. I don’t have any soap with me, but luckily earlier today I scored a small camp towel. The trail magic guy had a few items he had found along the trail at different times and was giving them away if we needed them. Tent stakes if ours had bent, stuff like that. And sitting there was a small clean camp towel, about wash cloth sized. I used to have a much bigger camp towel, but tossed it when I lightened my pack. Now I have a small one that I attach to the shoulder strap of my pack that I use to wipe sweat from my face or wipe my nose on. It’s pretty disgusting and nothing I could use after a shower. But today I scored this new small one, and it came in super handy already. Takes some time to dry your whole body with such a small towel, but it works. Feels good to get into my sleeping bag with that clean and warm shower feeling. This is a first. Day 58- Tuesday, 5/8- Partnership Shelter (15.9 miles) (533.5 total) Good weather today. No rain at all thankfully since bedtime last night. A couple of miles into the hike, someone had left 2 coolers on the trail with lots of snacks and drinks in them. The sign on them said they were from a former thru-hiker. Really nice of that person, but that kind of trail magic is actually discouraged by those who maintain the AT. The problem is that it can attract animals like bears, especially the trash bag they usually provide. But I did enjoy a banana, and a power bar. Later in the day I met Pappi, an 87 year old man who is thru hiking the AT for the second time. I took a video of him telling his story, so check Facebook. He has already done the triple crown- the PCT, the CDT, and the AT. He has also bicycled across the US and through most of Alaska. Amazing guy. He is moving very slowly, but he is making it. I told him this trail is kicking my butt at 43. I have no idea how he is doing this at 87. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I have been out of the bubble of hikers for a while now and it’s been almost too quiet. So I was happy to see this guy Cado and this girl Taco when they caught up to me today. I met Cado in Gatlinburg and Taco somewhere along the trail. They were hiking faster and passed me by, but then I caught up to them when they were taking a lunch break. We were standing there talking when Cado started complaining that his butthole was chafing. He started shaking his butt back and forth. He was wearing some kind of tights for hiking, with the hole in the front like underwear. I looked up when he was shaking his butt and suddenly saw his dick pop out of his pants and start wiggling back and forth as he was shaking his butt. He had no idea. I told him, “Hey man, your dick is hanging out” and the girl Taco looked up and saw it too. We both were doubled over laughing for like 5 minutes solid. Cado took it in stride and wasn’t too bothered by it, but it was hilarious! Bwahaha! I had been dragging and feeling fairly tired right before this happened, and the laugh did me a world of good. Lol! The way the milage broke down this time, the shelter we are at tonight is right on the road to the next town. It took a full day of hiking to get here, so most people are just staying here for the night and heading to town tomorrow. No sense paying for a motel to just get there and sleep. Better to pay for one when you can get a full town day or two out of it. And because we are so close to town, the local pizza place does delivery out here. About 8 or more of us called in and got pizzas. You’ve never seen so much pizza. A bunch of hungry hikers just tearing into several pizzas, soda, salads, chocolate cake, etc. We ate well! This shelter also has a shower, my second place offering a shower in 2 nights. However this shower is a cold one so since I had a nice hot shower last night, I’m skipping this one. There is no tent camping aloud directly around this shelter, so I decided to finally try sleeping inside a shelter for the first time. It’s a cool group of people here, so we’ll see. I’ve always avoided sleeping in these, preferring to tent camp. More privacy, no snorers, no mice, etc. But I have been telling myself I’d try this at least once, so tonight’s the night. I’ll let you know how it goes. The good thing is that I don’t have to set up and break down my tent, which saves time. Will be wearing earplugs for sure tho. Some guys already said they snore, and Taco told us she farted 30 times one night in a shelter. Day 59- Wednesday, 5/9- Winston-Salem, NC- (0) (533.5 total) Got picked up this morning at the shelter by Connie Downs, the mother of my friend and former colleague back in Hawaii, Michael Bischoff. She has been following my progress and was kind enough to offer me to come stay at her home for a couple of nights. It was about a 2 hour drive to get here. It’s a really beautiful neighborhood with quaint houses with tons of character. I’m not a fan of the new cookie-cutter houses that all look the same. I like it when each house has its own design, color, and character. So this neighborhood is fascinating to me. She lives right in downtown in this small city- walking distance to lots of shops and restaurants. After I showered, shaved, and got my laundry done, we wandered out to find some lunch. The population in this area is a lot more diverse than the tiny towns I’m used to stopping in in Appalachia, so I enjoyed the people watching. We walked through the arts district and found a little cafe with outdoor seating and Connie treated me to a really nice lunch. We shared an Ahi tuna wrap and a Portabella mushroom panini. Amazing! Then as we were walking back, I told her that I suddenly had a hankering for a milkshake. We turned around and she took me to this bar that she said was famous for them. They had several funky combinations, so I just chose a random one. What came out was the HUGEST, most ridiculous ice cream shake I have ever seen in my life! Check the picture on Facebook later, but it was a milkshake topped with 2 pieces of white cake, frosting, sprinkles, whipped cream, cotton candy, a cherry, and a lollipop. LOL! I just about fell out of my seat. It was crazy. But that didn’t stop the 2 of us from taking the whole thing down in 10 minutes. Wow. Now back at the house and just relaxing. Connie said she bought food to cook dinner for the next 2 nights, so I’m excited for some home cooking. Will run my errands tomorrow and just try to get some rest until it’s time to hike again. Oh yea, and the shelter experience last night. It was a large shelter, so we weren’t overly packed in there. When I first got there, I wanted to take the space next to the wall so I only had someone on one side of me. There was only a broom and some weird looking blanket or mat thing against that wall, so I assumed it was free and set up there. Turns out the mat belonged to Hotdog, and he had actually claimed that space first. I apologized and told him to take that space, but he refused and said we all had plenty of room. We all fell asleep and it was fine and comfortable. But sometime in the middle of the night, Hotdog started snoring so hard right next to me that it sounded like he was choking. He later told me he has sleep apnea. I reached over to nudge him softly to maybe make him change position and breathe better, but he jumped awake when I did it and yelled “owww!” Damn, I didn’t hit him very hard or anything. Just seemed like I scared him or something. Later in the night when I woke up, he was gone, sleeping out on the grass under the stars. This morning tho, I apologized for walking him up and he said that when I nudged him, my hand landed about 6 inches from his balls. I have no idea how that is even possible since I was laying right next to him and I reached straight across. Anyway, the craziness of sleeping next to people in close quarters. It wasn’t a bad experience. I enjoyed the comradery of the whole thing, but I’ll probably stick to my tent from now on. Don’t want to be punching random people in the balls by mistake anymore.