Goodness, Gracious, Great Smokey Mountains!

Before launching into the many adventures I have had since the responsible adult left, (my younger brother), I need to explain a bit about Trail Names.

Now, you may say, “But Michael, what’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet!” But my response would surely be, “Yes, but thru-hikers smell nothing like roses. They stink.”

Trail Names:

On the Appalachian Trail people are given nicknames that they use while backpacking, which gives the whole experience even more separation from the “real world”. While in the woods, you are a different person.

My trail name, which I received on my first time away from home for a week at Boy Scout Camp with Troop 449, is “Nigel”. I get some weird looks when I tell people my trail name is “Nigel”, because it is actually a real name. Lots of people go by things like “Happy Feet” (who had massive open, oozing blisters), “Micky and Minnie” (a young, excitable, happy couple), “Axle” (who bursts into Guns and Roses songs periodically) and “Swayze” (he looks a bit like Patrick Swayze. No, I’m not giving you his number).

I got “Nigel” basically because someone misheard me say my name was Michael. And it stuck. Partly because I hated it so much that first week, that of course everyone would call me “Nigel” to get on my nerves. I was 11 or 12, and away from home for the first time, so getting on my nerves had the added benefit of making me burst into tears.  And also, there are dozens of “Michaels” running around at Boy Scout camp. Calling me “Nigel” helped keep all the “Michaels” sorted out.

The nickname stuck for 8 years, and made the transition to college, and now I introduce myself as “Nigel” to other thru-hikers. Funny how things happen.

Things that happened since last time I updated the blog:

I left the Nantahala Outdoor Center fully stocked with food and supplies, and went 7 miles to the most gorgeous campsite I have stayed at yet. The shelter was full, so we hiked up to Cheoah Bald and made camp there. They view was spectacular  the weather was excellent, and the company was merry.

Cheoah Bald

That’s Mickey at Cheoah Bald.

From there we did a 19.5 mile day to get into Fontana Dam, a touristy resort village thingy, to celebrate Mickey’s 24th birthday with a good meal and beer. It was an incredible success!

After that I left Mickey, Minnie and Swayze to tackle the Great Smokey Mountains. I did 12 Miles the First day leaving Fontana, and the put together a string of back-to-back-to-back 20 mile days to finish the Smokies and make it to a short-term re-supply place at Standing Bear Hostel. Some folks hitched rides into Gatlinburg, TN, but I had my sights set on Hot Spring to do a full re-supply and spend some time with the lovely lady friend of mine.

In the Great Smokey Mountains I saw: one frightened black bear, one confused wild turkey, a pretty chilled out copperhead snake.

I also got to see beautiful sights from the highest point on the Appalachian Trail, Clingman’s Dome.

There is a ramp up to the Tower at Clingman's Dome. Yes, those are clouds. I'm higher than them.

There is a ramp up to the Tower at Clingman’s Dome. Yes, those are clouds. I’m higher than them.

After Clingman’s Dome there were lots of pretty sights, as I spent most of that day hiking along ridges with views on both sides. It was gorgeous.

I stayed at the Davenport Gap Shelter towards the end of the Smokey Mountains, which had a cage on it to keep the bears out. That was scary. But there were no bears that night.

The only bear I saw I must have scared senseless. I was hiking, lost in thought, and I said one word aloud to myself. From 50 yards away a bear must have suddenly thought “CRAP! HUMAN!” because I heard the sounds of a large animal crashing through the woods at a high speed directly away from me. As I looked up, I could only see a big black bear booty hauling butt away from me.

Two days after the end of the Smokies I made it into Hot Springs, where I was meeting my girlfriend, Laura, and taking a zero day (hiking no miles) to recover.

Now I’m fully re-stocked on food, fuel, and gear, and I’m fully rested and ready to go. This was a necessary zero day, as I my shins and ankles had been swollen for days from the repeated beatings they take every day. Now the swelling has go down, and I’m itching to get back on the trail. I’m at mile 290, and today Laura will drop me off and I will continue onwards, hopefully stopping to do a quick re-supply in Roan Mountain, TN a few days from now.

I feel great, and ready for even more challenges. At very least, I know I am in better shape than Happy Feet.

Happy Feet's Feet aren't so Happy.

Happy Feet’s Feet aren’t so Happy.

NORTHWARD, HO!

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The Handsome Devils Went Down to Georgia

Last night the bro and I rolled into the Nantahala Outdoor Center on the Appalachian Trail near Bryson City, NC. Showers! Wifi! Coffee! Porcelain Toilets!  Other humans! It’s overwhelming.

The bro parked his car here, and this is the end of the Trail for him this summer. He’s got things to do. I will be pressing on to Maine!

But since his car was here, we payed 18 bucks for the privilege of a shower and a bunk bed in a room with a nice guy named Doug.

Yup, this is luxurious living compared to the previous eight days.

We started at Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia, and did 8.8 miles of hiking on the approach trail to get to the start of the AT. Yes, you read that right. We had to hike to get to the start of the hike.

At the end of the 8.8 mile trek (straight up) is Springer Mt., the official start of the AT. We had lunch there, and then hiked 8 miles into Hawk Mountain  Shelter, where we spent the night, and met some of the nicest people and bravest mice I have ever come across. The mice were very interested in making lots of noise crawling through our packs and crawling on our sleeping bags. It was not a great night for sleeping.

The next day we did 16.2 miles to stay at a campsite at Lance Creek. We originally were planning on staying in a shelter further along the trail, but due to heavy bear activity in the area, you can’t stay there without a bear-proof canister, which we don’t have.

We woke up the next morning and did a 19 mile day over Blood Mountain, where we had lunch and saw the views, before hiking in the  rain to make it to Low Gap Shelter. We were celebrities at Low Gap Shelter among some other thru-hikers who thought it was bad ass that we did 19 miles over Blood Mountain. They were noobs.

The next day was a real gut-buster. 23 miles over three mountain peaks: Blue Mountain, Rocky Mountain, and Trey Mountain. We started hiking at 8am and didn’t roll into where we would be sleeping, at Deep Gap, until 7:30pm. The were breaks for lunch and snacks and dinner and whatnot, but it was a long haul. Rainy and windy and chilly that night.

That was the longest day of hiking so far. We are averaging around 18 miles a day, which is good for this terrain and at the start of the trail. As we have been hiking my feet have  hardened, my legs have strengthened, and I’ve been getting into better shape. People talk about  getting your “trail legs”, and once you do that, it’s easy to get into a groove and really rock out the milage. This first week has gone a long ways towards getting me in the groove.

Most nights have been chilly, but bearable. 30s and 40s at night, and up in the 70s during the day. Really, we couldn’t ask for better weather so far. Most days have been sunny and clear. It’s only rained on us about 3 times, which is great.

We crossed the boarder from GA to NC on day five, and were SO happy to be back on our home turf.

We re-supplied in Georgia on day five as well, and took a shuttle ride into a grocery store to buy more food. It was then that I realized that I was really stinky. But would be 3 more days until we reached the Nantahala Outdoor Center, and a shower.

Which brings us up to the present. I will be hiking on today to the next shelter, and the bro will drive back home to Chapel Hill. He has pictures on a disposal camera, which we will get uploaded as soon we can. From here on, I’ll be taking the occasional pic and posting it from my phone.

Hike so far at a glance:

8 days

146.1 miles

1 bear sighting

5 older women fawning over the Goodling boys in a grocery store in Georgia

3 amazing views from fire-towers

1 state completed (Georgia)

1 shower

0 Blisters for Michael. (6 for Phillip)

Hiking onward!

I’m starting!

After a whirlwind few days of moving and packing and setting affairs in order, I’m about to start hiking!

I’m taping this out on my phone as I sit in a hotel room in Georgia less than a  hour from the trail. Today, dad drops me off, and I will have 16 miles to go before I get to the shelter where I will be sleeping tonight.

I’m exited, nervous, anxious to get started, and so happy that months of planning and thinking about this are finally coming to fruition!

My pack weight is pretty good considering I have 3L of water and 5 days of food with me. It’s 34 pounds, which is way less than what I have carried in the past. And if I’m going to have the speed that I want to have, I’ll need to be constantly trimming that by finding ways to manage with less.

Any, I start today! Hooray! More updates as I can find wifi or internet.

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This is a pic of dad and flip goofing off while going through gear.

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And this was a picture I took while worrying endlessly about my gear. I must have gone through my final checklist about 10 times!

Alright, its off on the trail! Click the “follow” link in the bottom right corner to get an email update every time I post!

What Happened When I Truly Disconnected (Lifehacker Article)

So, I realize this is a bit of a double-post, but I feel as if my previous post left a little something to be desired.

However, the article I read online this morning completes it. It’s written by a fellow who disconnects, and then finds that he is better able to focus, to prioritize, to really live in the moment and fully appreciate experiences in a different way.

This has totally been my experience when hiking the AT for up to a week at a time. I always come back with a renewed appreciation for life, for the moment, and I feel like I can more fully appreciate my experiences every day. This is an aspect of completely removing oneself from society and hiking the AT that I am most looking forward to.

Lifehacker is always an in interesting read, and this is no exception.

 

Communicating With The Outside World

The AT will, at times, feel like an entirely different world. Social conventions will be different. The scarcity of other humans really changes how you behave when you cross paths with someone. Walking around town you brush past hundreds of people a day. But in the woods, every person you pass is an opportunity to connect, enjoy a conversation, share stories, and swap news about the conditions of the trail ahead. You learn to appreciate the individuals you meet more because they are so few in number.

Where was I going with this? Oh yes, communicating with the outside world. I will be taking a smartphone with me, and every time I have internet access, I will update on here from my phone. I don’t know how often that will be. I expect to only turn my phone on once every few days when I am in a town to resupply and I have a decent chance of getting a signal. I know I’ll have cell service more frequently, and I’ll be calling family once a week to let them know I’m doing well.

It’s funny the things you can’t fully appreciate until you go without them for a while. In my normal life, I bet I never am more than 5 minutes away from internet access. The constant flow of email, texts, G-chat, Skype, Twitter, Facebook, and phone calls makes it so I always feel connected to people.

But I find that it also makes those connections more superficial. Does a “like” on a Facebook status count as staying in touch? Does it let someone know you care? Or is it just a cheap substitute for actually talking to them to find out about their life? Sometimes it’s easy to feel connected to lots of people, but never really spend time with them.

So although I won’t be able to spend time with friends or family while I’m hiking, I do want to have at least a superficial exchange with the folks at home to let people know that I’m alive and doing okay. Hopefully this blog will serve that purpose, and let folks know the basics of what I’m doing.

But I’ve realized that this will not be an adequate medium for conveying everything about my adventure hiking the Appalachian Trail this summer.

For that, we are gonna have to connect, enjoy a conversation, share stories, and swap news about the conditions of the trails ahead.

Paris Mountain State Park (It’s not in France)

Hiking 15 miles with a roughly 35-pound pack will certainly wear a feller out.

I wanted get a realistic feel for what it would be like to hike under the conditions that I would be facing on the Appalachian Trail. As it’s been a few years since I have done any serious backpacking, I was anxious to see if my body could still hold up under the weight of a pack, on challenging terrain, over the course of an all-day hike.

My pack started out weighing 35lbs, which is the upper-most limit that I would ever be carrying on the AT. I had a full 3 liters of water, a full 32 oz of alcohol for my alcohol stove, and some extra odds and ends that I wouldn’t normally carry, but simulated the added weight of food for a few days. I would really like to trim my pack weight down to about 30lbs fully loaded, and I have some ideas for how to make that happen.

But really, this trip was about finding out what kind of shape I was in for what I am about to embark upon. There have been times when I’ve hiked a similar distance and been completely able to move the next day. I remember hiking 20 miles in a day to fulfill a requirement of the hiking merit badge in the Boy Scouts, and being unable to stand the next day. But thanks to a number of smaller hikes, lots of walking around Chapel Hill, and some weight training for my core and legs, I feel stronger and sturdier than I have ever been.

But, of course, the real challenge is going to be stringing together days back-to-back where you are covering 20+ miles a day, and doing it over more challenging terrain than what I did this weekend.

We were at Paris Mountain State Park in SC, which was gorgeous and well-maintained. Also, it was not in France. It was in South Carolina. There is a really big difference.

The park contained an area that had significant elevation change, and parts of trails we hiked were very similar to the sections of the AT that I have hiked. However, these sections were punctuated by long stretches of comparatively flat, easy hiking. The AT varies widely, but I think it will generally be harder terrain than what we hiked this weekend.

But that’s part of the beauty of the Appalachian Trail: It is a challenge that you can never fully prepare for. I know that during my week-long section hikes of the AT, I have felt my body change and adapt to the rigors or the hike. My feet hardened and became calloused, my legs thickened, and my lungs became accustomed to the thinner mountain air. It’s truly remarkable how quickly the human body can adapt.

So while I’m not at mid-AT hike peak physical form, I feel like I am in great shape to start. 15 miles with a full pack was no problem at all. I’m still able to do it. Yes, I was pretty tired. And yes, I’m a little bit sore. But all in all, I feel more than up to the physical challenge of the Appalachian Trail.

And now, without further ado, pictures.

These are my gaiters. They keep my socks and boots clean. They also make me look cool.

These are my gaiters. They keep my socks and boots clean. They also make me look cool.

Me, full pack, pre-hike.

Me, full pack, pre-hike.

Also, we made tea sometime after we stopped for lunch and while I set up my hammock tent.

Also, we made tea sometime after we stopped for lunch and while I set up my hammock tent.

Did I mention is was a pretty day? Because it was. Exceptionally pretty.

Did I mention is was a pretty day? Because it was. Exceptionally pretty.

There is no graceful way to enter the hammock-tent.

There is no graceful way to enter the hammock-tent.

Me in the hammock tent, next to a lake. The hammock tent is super awesome, super light, and also has a rain-fly so I can escape the elements. I love it.

Me in the hammock tent, next to a lake. The hammock tent is super awesome, super light, and also has a rain-fly so I can escape the elements. I love it.

Towards the end of the day. I still had enough energy to acquiesce to a photo request, yet convey that I though the picture was silly and unnecessary with my smirk. At least that's how I remember it.

Towards the end of the day. I still had enough energy to acquiesce to a photo request, yet convey that I thought the picture was silly and unnecessary with my smirk. At least that’s how I remember it.