Monday, April 23, 2012

Pictures Galore

Here's a massive picture dump.  I wasn't very selective on the pictures I uploaded.  I'll try to put some rudimentary captions for the pictures with hopes that Mackenzie will correct/ add to my captions.  

Enjoy a walk with Mackenzie from Springer Mountain, GA to Gatlinburg, TN
Springer Mt.
Southern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail

John, or "Pappy" signing the log book

Great waterfall- Long Falls, I believe? On day 1.

So zen-like
(someone help me, which warrior pose is this?-Beau)

All smiles

Tents at Gooch Gap

view from Blood Mountain

Mountain Crossing.
The trail runs through this building,
On the right is an outfitter and on the left is a hostel

Trail Magic!! This trail club was handing out hot dogs, fruit, soda, cookies, etc.

100 miles!

Atop Albert Mt

Climbing out of the NOC

Taking a break at the top of a tower

Mackenzie's trail friend, Rose
(she's pretty awesome.  Thanks Rose. - Beau )

Tent City at Fontana Dam. I thought the crammed tents were funny. :)

Fontana Hilton shelter

Fontana Dam

in the morning, leaving Fontana for the Smokies

some tower a few miles into the Smokies

mile 184! Exactly 2,000 to go

Kerry from New Hampshire, Willie from Vermont, and Progress

This tree was uprooted.  Look at the size of that rock!

I should have posted these pictures sooner, so sorry dear readers of this blog.  I have been busy gathering my supplies and preparing to join my wife on this adventure.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Gatlinburg, TN to Hot Springs, NC

275 miles

There have been a lot of blog posts this week!  Pat yourself on the back if you've actually read them all.

On Wednesday, Beau dropped me off back on the trail in the middle of the Smokies. When it was raining.  Awesome.  Actually, the majority of the rain occurred while we were in town so I lucked out on that one. I hiked for a few hours in the drizzle and got into the shelter where there was a fire in the fireplace (yes, the shelters in the Smokies have fireplaces!) waiting for me.  People tend to do shorter days when it's rainy, so there was already a group at the shelter when I got there around 5 that had gotten some lines rigged up to dry out wet clothes.

Thursday I did my biggest mileage day so far- 20 miles to edge of the Smokies.  It was mostly downhill, but it didn't seem too bad.  Friday and today I did more big mile days, 18.7 and 18 respectively.  I am surprised that I'm not hurting more after all that... I think I'm starting to get my "hiker legs".

I've never thought of myself as a fast hiker.  Pace is all relative- everyone feels that their pace is "normal", and anything more than that is fast and anything less is slow.  Lately, I've been noticing that the hikers I'm meeting for the first time have earlier and earlier start dates.  At first, everyone started around me- April 1 or 2.  Then I started meeting people who started at the end of March, and recently I've met people who started mid March.  I feel awkward when people say, "Wow, you must be really fast!" or "You're really covering ground!".  What do I say, thanks? Usually I make some lame joke or say something awkward.  I think I just don't take very many rest days.

Anyway, a couple days ago I realized I would be getting into Hot Springs, NC on Saturday night.  I would like to be able to go to church when I can, so I called the bishop of the nearest ward and he was able to find a family that could take me in for the night. Trail magic at its best! This nice family picked me up in town, took me to their house, let me shower and do laundry, fed me dinner (and cookies!) and is taking me to church tomorrow. And I get internet access. This is awesome.

Last but not least, Beau just informed me today that he is coming to join me THIS Friday, not next.  Hooray!!!  I can't wait to have a hiking buddy.  I've warned him that he better be ready to jump in full force and we are doing 20+ days EVERY DAY.  Just kidding (mostly).

Next stop: Erwin, TN!

"Tell My Mom Not to Worry" a photo book by Ben Benvie

In the 2011 Appalachian Trail Conservancy annual 2000 miler report, they had a several page photo spread of various thru hiker photos.  A couple in particular caught my eye- I really liked the photojournalistic approach of the photographer.

A while back, I was googling around and stumbled upon the same photos on Ben Benvie's photo blog. Ben is a photographer who thru hiked in 2010 and took photos all along the way.  His images are amazing. Purely and simply amazing. I looked through each and every trail photo that day (and there were lots!), completely captivated by the images. I emailed them to Beau and my parents, and we looked through all of them again that evening.  I have never seen any other collection of photos that so accurately portrays the spirit of the Appalachian Trail and the culture of thru hiking.

At that time, I was looking for ideas to create a blog header and emailed him about permission to use a couple images.  He was kind enough to allow it, and told me he was in the process of creating a photo book of his work.  This year's ATC 2000 miler report came in the mail just before i
 left, and there was a full advertisement for Ben's photo book

I'm thinking this will be a "Hooray you finished!" gift in the fall... and I can't wait to see it.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Joint blog post from Gatlinburg

In 2 weeks, I will be joining Mackenzie for the remainder of the Appalachian Trail... Surprise! This decision did not come without a lot of prayer and faith.

As I mentioned before, I was feeling incredibly lonely after my parents left. I figured that I needed time to adjust to hiking life, but even after making friends and lots of prayer, I still felt something was missing. I thought about how great it would be to have Beau hiking with me, but knew I couldn't ask him to come thru hike with me without it being his own decision. I thought about coming home, but knew I would regret it. I decided I would propose to Beau that if I still felt lonely in another three or four weeks, would he consider coming out to hike. I called him when I had service at the NOC, and before I could even get out my proposal, he said,

I'm coming to hike with you! Luckily for me it happened to be her birthday when I told her, instantly making it the best gift I could give. Another stroke of luck was that her parents were planning on going to North Carolina on May 4 so I'm able to hitch a ride to wherever Mackenzie is on the trail.

Probably around Damascas, VA... Of course I was thrilled at this development and asked Beau several times if this was something that he wanted to do and that he wasn't doing this just for me.

After tracking her day to day progress, reading books and hearing about the remarkable things she is experiencing, I was sure that this is what I wanted to do... Plus, what am I waiting for? This is really the only chance I have to do something like this.  

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Franklin, NC to Gatlinburg, TN

206 miles in!
FYI, pictures will be coming soon.
Another hundred miles... Wow! I'm midway through the Smokies and let me tell you, they are not a joke. Actually, the whole state of North Carolina has not been a joke, so future thru hikers be warned.
Anyway, Beau drove down this morning to meet me on the trail to take a zero day Gatlinburg, TN. This place is SO weird. It's a white trash version of Vegas. We're not sure what exactly has been the creepiest thing we've seen so far. It's a toss up between the mechanical horse riding the mechanical man or the animatronic Asian climbing up the fire pole.
So, hiking! The past week has been great. I've met some awesome people and feel much more adjusted to thru hiking. After leaving Franklin, I fell into a fun group and we hiked into the NOC a couple days later. The NOC is an outdoor center that the trail runs through and a friend and I stayed in their hostel. Yeah laundry! We also ate at the on site restaurant, and I'm beginning to feel the thru hiker appetite come on.
A couple days later, we hiked into Fontana Dam. This place is awesome! The reservoir is gorgeous and the lodge and accommodations looked nice... Not that I stayed in the lodge. The Fontana shelter is named the 'Fontana Hilton' because it offers running water and a great eating area. That night several of us walked down to the dam to explore and see the water at sunset.
Fontana is at the base of the Smokies, which has been an awesome hike so far. The Smokies are extreme- you're either going straight up or straight down. If I put a couple big mile days in, I can be out of them in a few days. We'll see how that goes! The tricky thing with the Smokies is that you have to stay at the shelters, so your mileage is controlled by the spacing of said shelters.
Because I'm taking a zero in G burg, I'll lose the three others I've been with for several days. It's fine though, I've met enough people and feel more confident in my ability to manage on my own. The trail is full of amazing people.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Picture from Springer

After over 100 miles (woohoo!) Mackenzie was finally able to send me a picture of her at the start of the trail.
Now, seeing that this is my (BMParks') first official blog post, I want to start off by saying how awesome my wife is.  How many people do you know have hiked 100 miles.  What an accomplishment!

Springer Mountain
Southern Terminus of the Appalachian Trail
I know Mackenzie won't like me gushing about how strong and dedicated she is, but she left the blog-rights to me, which I am going to use.  I am proud of Mackenzie for embarking on this journey.  She is strong and not just physically, but mentally.  I miss her every day, but each morning I wake up excited to track her progress (speaking of which, check the Where's Mackenzie Now tab above) and study the climbs and terrain that await her.  

I have been extremely lucky that we've been able to talk almost every night.  I quiz her on the people she's met and the exciting things that she's learning/experiencing.  (She can now tie a bear bag like a pro).  

As she said on the last post, she is in Franklin, NC.  By April 13 she should be near/at/past (depending on her) Fontana Dam.  I sent a box with goodies for her with some Easter eggs hiding inside.  I'll drive down one week from today and meet her in Gatlinburg, TN.

Hiawasee, GA to Franklin, NC

109 miles in!!!

The past few days have been very different for me than the first week.  My parents dropped me off on Saturday morning at the road crossing where we had left off.  I knew I would miss them, but I was surprised at how terribly lonely I felt after they left.  Thankfully there are plenty of hikers around and I usually have some fun people to hang out with.  But I am learning to deal with being by myself most of the day.  I haven't really fallen into a groove with a group.  I'm here in Franklin with three other hikers that I've been hiking with all day and get along with well.  I may stay with them for a few days but I don't want to push myself or hold myself back just to stay with a group.

So, I'm in North Carolina now!  Accents galore.  The closest laundry place is a mile down the road, and rather than drag all our laundry there we are washing everything in the bathtub.  It's amazing what you can learn to work with when you have limited resource. :)

I wish I could upload pictures! Most of the computers that are available to me are a little older and don't have a place to insert a memory card.  When Beau comes to visit in a couple weeks, we'll swap memory cards and he can upload all my photos thus far.

We've had some great climbs and great views so far.  Physically, the trail is about what I expected.  I haven't been overwhelmed with the hiking.  I have been overwhelmed with thinking about the entirety of the 2,184 miles.  Instead, I'm trying to think of it as a series of hikes in between trail towns.

I think my time is about up.  I need to compile my thoughts better for when I sit down to update this.  There is so much information and so many emotions I would like to get across.  Again, I feel grateful that I get to be out here every day.  I miss Beau and my family a lot, and realize more every day how blessed I am to have their support.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Springer Moutain to Hiawasee, GA

Oh my goodness, where to start!

It would be way too hard (and let's face it, boring) to detail the five days I've been out.  Unfortunately, this computer I'm using at the Holiday Inn doesn't have a slot for my memory card, so no pictures for now.


Day 1:
- 70 degrees and sunny
- Started at the parking lot 1 mile north of Springer, hiked "backwards" for a mile, and started the official AT
- 8 miles not including the backwards mile
- Met several groups of prospective thru hikers and spring break hikers
- Fairly easy terrain
- Fifty (!) people at the Hawk Mountain shelter.  The shelter has plenty of camping space, so we were by no means crowded.  I think even more hikers came in after dark, so it may have been closer to sixty people total.

Day 2:
- Sunny, shower and thunderstroms in the afternoon
- 9 miles total
- Camped with a few thru hikers and a great family that kept us entertained in the evening

Day 3:
- Very sunny
- Summited Blood Mountain- insert really awesome view here
- 14 miles
- Much harder terrain, but I felt great the whole time. Well, except for the sunburn...
- Stayed at some cabins near Neel Gap. An excellent way to end a long day with showers, a bed, and laundry.

Day 4:
- Shakedown by the Outfitter at Neel's Gap! I was told that I had done good research and they didn't tell me to send anything home.  Actually, they suggested I get a better first aid kit, which I picked up.  My pack (without much water in it) weighed in at 27 lbs.
- Good weather during the day, sprinkles in the afternoon, POURING RAIN in the middle of the night
- My tent held up well and my stuff stayed pretty dry
- A couple great views and several climbs
- 11 miles
- Stayed at Low Gap Shelter with several thru hikers and mostly spring break hikers- I think about 30 people total. Again, tons of camping area so there was plenty of space.

Day 5:
- Rain rain rain rain
- Hiked with my parents most of the day
- Easy terrain
- My first trail magic at Unicoi Gap! A hiking club was giving out hot dogs, fruit, brownies, etc. They also gave us a free ride to Hiawasee, where we are staying for the night. Laundry, shower, chinese buffet, resupply, etc.
- 9 miles

Whew! I really ought to mentally prepare a little better for these blog entries.  There is way too much info to pack in.  The biggest thing I can stress is that everything is wonderful.  I feel great, my body is great, my gear is great, and I love the AT. I know it won't be like this for much longer- I am bound to get discouraged and have some problems.  But I feel very lucky that so far I have had a great experience.

My parents are leaving me tomorrow to go back home. I'm sad to see them go- I feel nervous about making my own decisions and having to figure things out on my own.  The beauty of the trail is that I'm actually not on my own.... there are so many friendly people around that help me all the time.  I also know I will feel a little lonely without my permanent buddies.  We didn't hike together most of the time, but always had a plan as to where we were meeting for the night.  I know I will make friends, but I really prefer to have a few very close friends and I know that won't be the case.  The nature of the trail is that you can easily lose someone when you take a zero day or they hike a day ahead of you.

Yikes, 9pm. Time for bed. I am blessed.