Epilogue Part 2: Gear Review

Gossamer Gear Mariposa – 32.7 oz

The Grey Ghost’s school pic

Seeing as how I’ve never backpacked before, I didn’t have many preconceived notions about how they should look and feel. If I had, this pack would have met all those expectations. Coming in at just a little over 2 pounds, this lightweight pack meets the sweet spot of weight, price and load capacity. For me anyway.

I had to dial in how the pack works because the stays came out and ended up poking through the pack making everything crumble. Gossamer Gear’s customer service sent me a new smaller hip belt and the Air Flow Sitlight Camp seat that acts as a back pad in the pack. I’m not sure why they just don’t go ahead and make that the standard back pad because that foam piece it comes with, is useless and sweaty. With the new hip belt and airy back pad I was set. The weight is displaced on your hips and the shoulders keep the pack from shifting. The hip belt was cushy and never caused any skin breakdown. I usually carried a load of 25-30 lbs with food and water and noticed that the pack carried heavier loads beautifully. In fact it seemed like the pack carried better when it was loaded down.

I am a big fan of the the pocket set up. The large side pocket kept my hammock easily accessible for quick set up. The smaller side pockets kept the things I use everyday within reach. Unlike some certain bird-named packs, I could reach my water bottles with the pack still on. The large back mesh pocket allowed me to carry wet things to dry out while I walked. The top flap (not technically a pocket I know) was great for putting extra things on top to cinch down. The hip belt pockets were big enough to carry my phone (Galaxy S9) and wallet in one and a days worth of snacks in the other. I came to judge other packs on their pocket arrangement and only ULA came close.

The only thing I’d change about it other than the back pad is the width of the shoulder straps. They were definitely made for wide shoulders and no boobs. I made it work, but I think narrower straps would have been more comfortable.

The Gray Ghost, as it came to be known, held up through thunderstorms, rocks, and every other weather/terrain the Appalachian Trail offers. After five months it survived with only two little tears in the mesh pocket. Overall, I’d say this is a great pack for loads up to 30ish lbs and long distance hiking.

The Gray Ghost in action


Six Moons Lunar Solo – 26 oz

Lunar solo.jpg
TL;DR: It never looked like this

Initially I liked the ease of set up and the weight, but I never could get the damn vestibule taut. It was a choice of one side or the other. I set up this tent over 30 times, all in different ways, and could never get it to a) form a bathtub bottom and b) form a vestibule both low to the ground and taut. Also it does not block the rain very well. I got caught in a thunderstorm and despite putting leaves all around to divert the water, the rain soaked through all my stuff. I also felt very claustrophobic in the small space. I sent this home for my hammock in Damascus.


Hennessy Hammock Ultralite Backpacker – 31 oz

HH Ultralight.jpg
Henny class photo.

The Appalachian trail is all trees so you are never worried about finding enough of those to hang a hammock. This particular hammock is super lightweight and super comfortable. It takes a few set ups to figure out the hanging angles and what works for you. I added an under quilt to my set up and slept like a baby. The asymmetrical fly is designed to coordinate with the hammock to keep the rain off without adding too much weight. I used this in the pouring rain and stayed dry and warm all night. I like the bug net attached to hammock and the pocket hanging from the main line.

The only draw back (and this applies to all hammocks) is that you have nowhere to put your backpack. I usually left it hanging out underneath me and in wet conditions would wrap it my Tyvek sheet left over from my tent.

Henny in action

REI Joule 21 Sleeping bag – 35 oz & Enlightened Equipment Revelation – 16.55 oz

The beetle of sleeping bags
EE revelation.jpg
The ferrari of sleeping quilts

The Joule 21 is a perfectly serviceable cold weather sleeping bag rated to 21 degrees. I got this with my REI Co-op dividends and a sale, otherwise I would have gone for a more light weight option. My feet never got cold and in fact I often had to open the bag to cool down. It is also very water resistant. One time I went to sleep with damp clothes from rain and woke up totally dry and warm. This thing is like an oven. However it is just a hair north of being too heavy for thru hiking.

I ended up sending home for my Enlightened Equipment Revelation quilt rated to 30 degrees when it got warmer. The only reason I didn’t take it to begin with was that the temperature rating on the quilt was not accurate. I spent a very cold night at Death Valley NP in the EE quilt where it got down to the 30s and froze my butt off. I’d say EE’s temp rating system is optimistic at best, and if you go with them to add 10 degrees to what you think you might need. If you are a cold sleeper, go down 20 degrees. During warmer months though, this quilt is nice because it allows for better air flow acting like a normal blanket. If it gets cool, you can use the elastic bands to cinch it close to your body and to your sleeping pad, as well as using the zipper and cord to close up the foot box. This quilt packs down to the size of a Nalgene bottle and you can stuff it anywhere.


Sea to Summit Comfort Light Sleeping Pad Short – 20.1 oz

S2S Comfort light insulated

I went with this pad for it’s insulation rating (R-value) of 4.2 and it’s thickness of 2.5 inches. I’m a serious side sleeper and knew I’d need the cushion on my hips. This pad performed very well. I never felt my hips touch the ground, it never leaked and I was never cold. It took about 10 breaths to blow up and the clever dump valve let air out in one big poof. I didn’t have to squeeze any air out like the other pads. This brand is also the quietest. A lot of other pads are loud AF (I’m looking at you Therm-a-rest) when people shift in the night.

I switched over to the Sea to Summit Ultralight pad with the warmer weather. It weighs considerably less at 12.1 oz and packs down much smaller. I lost 1/2 inch in thickness, but it didn’t seem to matter. I put my sit pad under my hips anyway and still slept fine. The R-value is non-existent at 0.7 and I felt it the last night in Maine when it got down to the 30s, but it was only a mild chill underneath that didn’t keep me from sleeping.

Sea to Summit Aero Ultralight Pillow – 2 oz


A must have. I will never not use it. I kept it under inflated for a more comfortable sleep. The only thing is that the fabric can get sticky with sweat, so I would usually add my fleece pull over over it.

Snow Peak Litemax – 1.9 oz

lite max

This stove is a champ. I made a aluminum foil wind screen and it always lit and boiled my water. It’s super small, lightweight, and never failed me.

Snow Peak Mini Solo Cookset – 5.5 oz

mini solo.jpg


Shown here is the smaller cup in the set. I ended up not using it as much and could have sent it home. The larger “pot” holds the fuel canister and stove when packed up. I used the pot the most. The handles do get hot but cool down very quickly once the heat is turned off. I would like the handles to be coated with some sort of heat reducer for better use when cooking. I used a camp towel to insulate my hand. Otherwise, very useful and compact.

Sea to Summit Alpha Light Spork Long – 0.4 oz

It’s a spork. It did its job.

Marmot Precip Rain Jacket – 11.4 oz

Did not like. It’s very heavy to carry and did not repel water at all. I was more soaked on the inside than out. The only thing it did well was keep the heat in. If I’m going to be wet anyway, I’m going to find a lighter weight jacket.

Bedrock Sandals – 9 oz

LOVED! They pack down really flat and if you pair them with toe socks become the best camp shoes! They are pretty comfortable to walk in around town too. Mine are still going strong, unlike some of those bulky Crocs I saw on the trail.

Petzl Tikka Headlamp – 3 oz

Probably could have gone for no-weight LED pen light or something, but I already had this and it worked great. It’s better suited for night hiking, which I did none of, so I didn’t use it much. I paired it with the USB rechargeable battery and didn’t have any issues. The most I used this was the red light for going to pee in the middle of the night. FYI: use the damn red light when getting up in the dark, especially if you are in the shelter. I was surprised at how many people would nonchalantly blast the white high beam with everyone sleeping.

Black Diamond Hiking poles

The Z-poles kept breaking on me. Dirt and grit gets up in the pole and makes it impossible to disassemble. Next time I’m going to go with adjustable.

Darn Tough Socks

The only problem with these is not having enough.

Ex-Officio Underwear

Best underwear ever! Thru hikers, do yourself a favor and get black undies. I wore one pair pretty much the whole way. They are still intact, kept the smell down, and dried out in 5 minutes. For some reason the outfitters think women want flowers and pastels so I ended up with a lavender pair, but only wore them in town. Like I said, get black.

Patagonia R2 Fleece

Easily my favorite piece of clothing. It was light enough to hike in and not get too sweaty, but still warm. I’d put the hood up on cold nights to cover my head while sleeping. When it was warm, I’d use it over my pillow. I ended up using it for warmth more than I thought I would. It gets chilly up at night up in them mountains.

Guthook’s App

Very useful. It tells you where you are on a map, how far away you are from waypoints, and has elevation profiles. You can change it from Northbound to Southbound. The comments on waypoints are helpful for finding out if water sources are dry or services in town.


Any questions about gear, just let me know!

Epilogue Part 1: Stats and Advice

Wrapping up this whole Appalachian Trail experience I’ve calculated up some info and thought about things I wish I’d known before I started. So let’s get into it.


Actual miles hiked: 1245, but probably closer to 1300 with all the side trails to shelters and water

States: 10

National Parks: 2

Zero Days: 32

Weight lost: 22 lbs, 2 inches, and 6 dress sizes

Favorite Sections:

  1. 100 Mile wilderness
  2. The Smokies
  3. Grayson Highlands
  4. Franconia Ridge
  5. Georgia

Least Favorite Sections:

  1. North Carolina – especially Jacobs Ladder
  2. Maryland
  3. The Whites

Favorite Spots:

  1. Tinker Cliffs, VA
  2. Unaka Mt, TN
  3. Hot Springs, NC
  4. The Shuckstack, TN
  5. McAffes Knob, VA
  6. Mt Moosilauke, NH
  7. Jo Mary Lake, ME
  8. Plum Orchard Shelter, GA
  9. Dismal Falls, VA
  10. That Alpaca Farm, VA

Best Hostels: (I think the lesson here is Virginia has a lot of awesome hostels)

  1. Stanimals in Waynesboro, VA
  2. The Lakeshore House in Monson, ME
  3. Bear’s Den in Bluemont, VA
  4. Angel’s Rest in Pearisburg, VA
  5. Station @ 19E in Roan Mountain, TN

Favorite Podcasts on the trail:

  1. And That’s Why We Drink (true crime/paranormal) – I listened to the whole 70ish episodes while walking, don’t listen at night
  2. How Did This Get Made? (comedy) – kinda of like MST3K but in podcast form, don’t listen while going uphill because you laugh too much
  3. Harmontown (Dan Harmon) – by the guy who did Community and Rick and Morty, it’s like being part of a conversation you can occasionally tune out, also very funny
  4. Dude, That’s Fucked Up (random topics that are effed up) – these gals are hilarious and often sounds like conversations I would have with my own friends
  5. My Dad Wrote A Porno (um, his Dad wrote a porno) – British accents, hilarious erotica written, as advertised, by a Dad, a nice palate cleanser

Things I missed about civilization while on trail:

  1. Showers – I’ve already been pretty vocal on this one
  2. Easy access to clean running water
  3. my kitties
  4. wearing cotton
  5. flat dry beds

Things I didn’t miss about civilization

  1. traffic
  2. social media
  3. having a schedule

Favorite Pictures:






General Advice

As far as advice goes, for most of the general stuff, the internet has a host of websites that are far better than mine. This website is a good example:


You can pick and choose what you want to follow, but know this: everyone is both right and wrong. You’ll figure out your trail life as you go and you’ll find what works for you. Everyone’s experience is different, so don’t take someone else’s advice as the absolute truth. Even me.

But if I may…and this is your first thru hike:

  1. Figure out your ultimate goal first. Do you want to touch every blaze? Are you set on GA to ME Northbound? Are you open to side trails and sites? Whatever your set goal is informs how fast and far you’ll travel, as well as mentally prepping yourself for the adventure to come.
  2. Find a pair of shoes that are still comfortable after 15 miles carrying a 30lb pack. Seriously, if your feet hurt you aren’t gonna want to walk.
  3. Get in shape as much as you can beforehand. A lot of thru hikers will tell you “the trail gets you in shape”, which is true. But if you want to get the most out of your hike, you’ll want to be in the best shape when you start. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t even start if you aren’t, but it sure does help.
  4. Figure out if you want to go Ultralightweight or Comfort. Neither is better than the other because it is a personal choice (but be prepared for every hiker to discuss and judge your choices). UL is better for your body during the day when you are hiking, but Comfort keeps you going when you are tired and sore. You just have to decide what you are willing to compromise on. For me, I emphatically decided I needed three pairs of socks, which is overkill to some UL purists. Go as lightweight as you can afford, while keeping in mind comfort (and the fact that you’ll want an extra pair of socks when it’s raining for a week straight)!
  5. Do some shake down hikes. Figuring out what gear you like or don’t is more helpful when you are home and able to return things easier (hello REI!)
  6. Go and do it. You think you’ll know what it’s like, but you won’t actually know until you do it.
  7. Regarding chaffing: To prevent it: use Body Glide or Deodorant. When you start to feel the burn, stop right then and there and take care of it. To treat it: Cleanse the affected area first. Apply Zinc Oxide (Desitin). Dry out offending clothing. Apply Neosporin if it doesn’t clear up.

Advice for Females (Guys tread here at your own risk)

So the question I got the most: Where do you use the bathroom? First off: where ever I wanted and it was glorious.

Secondly, there is a Leave No Trace “policy” that most hikers try to follow that states you should carry out all your trash (ALL OF IT) and bury your TP and poop. Women have to carry out any sanitary trash like pads and tampons.

For most women who are used to using TP after peeing, this can present a challenge. Are you going to carry around a whole roll of TP and bury it every time you pee? Are you going to haul out pee soaked TP? Probably not. Well not for 2000 miles anyway.

While the privies are useful for these purposes, sadly they are few and far between. You are gonna have to squat in the woods at some point. What is funny is that no one really talks about it either.

Here’s the real talk: there are two camps women fall into. The first group pees and then air dries. The pro of this is no TP worry, the con: you are squatting around for a minute and you end smelling like pee. *Wash yo pants!

The second group: use a bandana. The pro is no TP worry and a drier downstairs, the cons: you are carrying around a pee rag and you still smell like pee. *Wash yo rag!

You are gonna smell like pee at some point anyway, but what is important here is hygiene. Washing your hands and downstairs bits prevents any issues like UTIs. Essentially it is easier to wash a bandana at camp than pants, but that is your choice. Also you can hang the bandana to dry in between uses so it doesn’t smell so much.

For the menstrual issues, it’s a little more complicated and very dependent your own routine. Be prepared for your cycle to get screwed up because of the strenuous exercise and change in nutrition. You’ll want to bring just a little more supplies than you think you need. You don’t want to be on the trail and run out during such a perilous time. Check hiker boxes to see if some helpful menstruator put some tampons in there, that way you don’t have to buy a whole box.

Pads only? Be prepared to carry around a lot of trash.

Tampons? Be prepared to squat in the woods to apply and carry out the trash.

Cups? Wow! Go you! I could never figure them out, but if you are going to use one, do so before you are in the middle of the woods.

Regarding the trash: put your trash in a small ziplock bag and keep in an opaque shopping bag. Those black bags you get at the gas station are especially good for this, but grocery store bags work too. When you are ready to dispose: throw away the whole thing. No one sees the bloody mess.

And that’s all I’ve got. The rest you’ll figure out as you go.

Next up: Gear Review!

100 Mile Wilderness and the Last Boss Level: Katahdin

Day 145

Mile 2190

Thanks for the pep talk Teddy

Starting after Monson, Maine is the great 100 mile wilderness. It leads right up to Baxter state park which, of course is end of the AT and Katahdin. Before you even start the trail is this funny sign that warns you of the many dangers of the wilderness.

Not to downplay what could be some serious danger, but there were logging roads and you heard planes, trains, and automobiles all through the place. We got Shaw’s in Monson to drop off a supply of food about halfway through which took some weight off the back. The first half the trail is pretty rugged and had some serious ups and downs. I liked that there were ponds and lakes everywhere. Even if you weren’t on top of a mountain there was still some scenery. I have to hand it to the Maine Appalachian Trail Club for maintaining this part through. They had a lot of stone steps that were helpful.

On the third day Tiger decided it was time for him to head out and go home. He wasn’t feeling it anymore I suppose and on that day I wasn’t either. It was oddly hot and humid, but I decided I was going to get to Katahdin come hell or high water…or chaffing. After a rather anticlimactic goodbye, I slogged my way to the next stop. Luckily the weather turned cooler the next day and I tackled White Cap mountain range where I spied my first view of Katahdin.

After White Cap and my food delivery the trail got substantially easier. I managed 17 miles without much pain which is a first. This section of the trail made is easy to camp next to lakes. So for the next three nights I stealth camped next to gently lapping water and caught amazing sunsets and sunrises. I met quite a few NOBOs who were flying through this part in a hurry to get to Big K. Im not sure why they didn’t slow down and enjoy the last few miles as they were the prettiest I’ve seen so far.

The last night before Baxter I stayed at Rainbow Lake with two other hikers, Daniel and Larry. They started up a fire by the lake. It got pretty chilly overnight and in the morning it had to be in the 40s. I started early so I could secure a spot at the Birches in Baxter which only lets in 12 hikers for the night.

Throughout the final half of the 100 miles you keep getting glimpses of Katahdin looming in the distance. It gets closer and closer. After all this time and effort to get there I felt my self slowing down to enjoy what little time I had left of the “easy stuff”. But I knew I’d have to confront the last boss level soon and as I crossed Abol bridge there it was up close and very real.

I made my way into Baxter State park and signed up to camp at the Birches. At 10:40am I was already 9th on the list. Everyone who signed up before me was there at 7:50. The 8 miles to the ranger station at Katahdin Stream Campround were bittersweet. They managed throw in some more pointless ups and downs while mixing in some of the prettiest riverside walking. And then finally I was there, ready to camp for the last time. Two guys bought some fire wood and we all sat around the blessedly hot fire telling tales and complaining about the trail.

I took my time going up Katahdin partly to be in the moment and also because it is really freaking hard. About halfway up you start to get into seriously technical rock climbing. It’s an amazing feeling to be at the top looking down from something that looked impossible and think “I did that”.

Once you get onto the Tablelands the last mile or so is pretty easy. I crested the last hill and saw the famous sign. I got a little teary eyed and then noticed there about 50 people around it. I waited my turn to take a picture and then I was done. It was both overwhelming and underwhelming at the same time.

I didn’t know how I felt, and still don’t. That scene from Forrest Gump kept running through my head. Where he stops running and says “I’m pretty tired. I think I’ll go home now”.

So I went back down the mountain on the ridiculously hard Abol trail and set my sights on getting to Millinocket, where I showered, laundered, drank one beer and then fell promptly fell asleep.

I thought I might have some life altering revelation, but it’s not as big as that. Just little moments that you can hold onto like weightless gold coins in your hand. Snippets of memories like laughing with Tiger at camp, sunsets, amazing mountain views, the sunlight turning the forest into a cathedral, the pain in my knees and the breath in my lungs. All those things add up to something I suppose. I’m not sure what yet though.

New Hampshire

Day 134

Mile 1845.5

New Hampshire starts out right away letting you know it’s not fooling around. The mud is deep, the climbs are steep, and the city prices are expensive. You start out in Hanover which is the home of Dartmouth. Even though the trail literally walks through that town, the townsfolk look at you like you are a dirty vagrant. Which is technically true. But still, I didn’t appreciate the implication. Oh and a cashier at the co-op told me that my driver’s license picture didn’t do me any favors…um, thanks?

Nothing about the town is cheap, so a few of the locals got together and formed a group of trail angels who let you stay at their house. One such angel, Greg, invited us to stay in his home. He makes a book each year of all the thru hikers he hosts.

The southern part of NH ramps up the difficulty level incrementally. Each mountain I went over seemed bigger and harder than the last. All the way up Moose mountain it threatened to rain so there wasn’t a view, but someone marked up the sign to the shelter. That gave me a chuckle.

Smarts mountain had a fire tower on top of it that was my end point for the day. I kept seeing it at various points and everytime it seemed so far away. At one opening in the trees which was supposedly 1.8 miles away I saw the tower again and about cried. It still looked like a twig on top of this huge mountain. Going up Smarts was steep enough that there was rebar steps to get up the slick rock face. Once I got to the top I of course had to climb the fire tower and enjoy the sunset.

The Dartmouth Outdoor Club (DOC) seems to have a sense of humor when it comes to their shelters and privies.

I got into Glencliff where the hardware store was also a gas station and my resupply.

The next big climb was Moosilauke, in which I took a wrong turn and briefly ended up in a forgotten cemetary. Going up wasn’t actually that bad, it was going down that was treacherous. On top was windy (at least 40 mph) and cold. I tried to take a panorama but everytime I turned west, the wind knocked me over. So I didn’t stick around too long. But like I said going down was rock hopping from one precarious situation to the next. The was a nice brook waterfall next to the trail that changed characteristics as you went down.

After a lovely stay in the town of Lincoln, we started on the deceptively begnin sounding White Mountains. Serendipitously, Hollow Leg (who I met in GA and actually lives in NH) texted me and gave us a ride to the trailhead. I’m kicking myself because I forgot to get a picture!

So the thing about the Whites is that they are known as the seriously hardest part of the trail. Dante could have based The Divine Comedy off these moutains. I knew this and thought I was prepared, but oh how wrong I was. Mt Wolf wasn’t so bad, but going up the Kinsmans demonstrated my clear lack of athletic ability and preparedness. Imagine two miles of just straight up rock climbing on slippery surfaces carrying a 30 pound pack. My knees quickly stated that they did not sign up for this. Where before my pace was 2-2.5 mph, it slowed down to a crawl. So it’s taking longer than I thought it would, I’m not as tough as I though I was, and my knees are pretty much kaput now. The views are spectacular though.

Franconia Ridge was quite the hike. Its above the treeline and very cinematic. Also very windy. There were several cloud rivers going over the peaks. I stood and watched as they flowed from one side to dissipate on the other. By the time I got up to Mt Lafayette everything was cloud covered and gray with hurricane-esque winds. I hunkered down behind a rock wall to eat my lunch. Then it was the bone crunching descent that seriously worried me. It might have been fun if it was a slip and slide situation with pillows at the bottom…but it wasn’t.

I’ve been feeling like quitting every day since I started the Whites. Not because I don’t want the challenge, but my body has clearly stated is no uncertain terms that it isn’t ready for this. You’d think after all this time I would’ve been, but I know I started at a serious deficit in the fitness department. And while I have gained some muscle it’s still not enough to safely enjoy this hardest part. I’ve decided to skip, again, and go up to Monson where the 100 mile wilderness begins and finish this journey. My knees just let out a sigh of relief.

I don’t think of it as a failure, but of as a lesson learned of my own physical limitations and the necessary preparation required for future difficult adventures. I’ve already got vaporous plans of a SOBO thru hike one day, where you get the hard stuff out of the way first. Kinda like eating all your vegetables before enjoying the steak.

Tiger’s action shots:

Vermont (or Vermud)

Day 121

Mile 1748.7

The rain kept me and Tiger in Bennington, VT longer than planned. The downpour flooded the roads and there were flash flood warnings for our exact location. It would seem that Vermont does not divert its water well.

We waited out the worst of the rain. Even so, it was raining when we got back on the trail. The first thing I heard was a loud rumbling of an overfull creek. Luckily there was a bridge. The actual rain died down as the day went on. The mud situation was out of control though. It was giving me flashbacks of that traumatizing childhood movie The Neverending Story.

Nooooo Artax!

There was no going around the mud. You try to bushwack to get around it but there is so much, it eventually becomes a pointless endeavor to stay dry. You get mud in shoes, on your legs, in your hair, and in your soul. You become one with the mud. This is my home now.

The water up here is tinted brown. I hear that’s because of tannins caused by peat and other decaying organic matter. It makes the creeks look like flowing beer. Or maybe that’s just me.

The water at one creek was so high I had to wade through it. It was a little nerve racking. I put on my sandals and got to stepping through the beer river.

The first night out of Bennington we stayed at a shelter where two nitwits woke up 6am and started yakking at each other loudly about their water bottles and other related hiking issues. I was, of course, still asleep but that didn’t deter our intrepid explorers from yelling their very important business for everyone to hear. Tiger got a hilarious picture of me rising from my slumber.

Seriously dude? STFU!

There was a lovely fire tower after that on top of Glastenbury mountain to assauge my nerves though. 360° views of somewhat not rainy Vermont. The breeze was cool and the sun was bright…for awhile.

The next night we were at an unofficial AT cabin with an actual wood burning stove. The water source was a refreshing brook with cold clear water. It made my feet go numb after two minutes which was a blessing.

Another group of nitwits came up dithering about whether or not to sleep in the cabin. Are there mice or not? I don’t know, I don’t want to sleep in here if there are mice. Where is that other person going to sleep? Who’s sleeping where? Are there mice? What are we eating for dinner? Did you put your stuff down? Are there mice in here?

This went on for 20 minutes, which is 19 minutes too long. I was already laying down and rolled my eyes so hard I might have pulled a muscle.

Yes they stayed in the cabin.

No there were no mice.

There was a pub in Manchester Center that boasted the portrait below as their original founder. The cheeseburger was good.

The best sleep in a shelter I’ve had so far was in Peru Peak. There was a rushing creek right in front and it masked all the normal nighttime noises one gets in a shelter. All the snoring, farting, and squeaky sleep pads disappeared as I listened to real time nature sounds.

It started raining off and on. We made it by Lost Pond in a freak break from the never ending precipitation. It would have been a nice spot to camp if the hordes of boy scouts hadn’t already claimed it.

There are these stone walls all over the place. I’m sure they marked boundaries of old farms and whatnot, but I still don’t like them. The Blair Witch Project, while hilariously not scary, left me with a distrust of old stone walls in the middle of nowhere. Especially when they have rusty implements sitting around them.

Going up over White Rocks was spooky. There were two rock gardens where people started a stacking trend. The light was a humid gray that sharpened the edges. The tall pines creaked and moaned like an old house. As pretty as it was, I didn’t dally too long.

There is apparently a porcupine problem up in this area. I guess they’re like possums down south.

And then it was off to Killington peak. Which I didn’t go all the way up. It was a 0.2 steep climb up some rocks and it was a cloudy day. On the way down I saw this puppy in a basket. I lost my shit.

At the end of a blue blaze you come upon this vision.

Dry beds! Showers! Best of all an Irish pub! The Inn at Long Trail! Tiger and I zeroed here and went to the next town over to resupply.

Incidentally Rutland also boasts the Yellow Deli and Hiker hostel run by the 12 Tribes. It’s known on the trail as “that cult deli”. They serve good food and Tiger remarked that whoever is running their marketing knows their stuff. I didn’t drink the kool-aid, but their Chai latte was delicious.

A random selfie picture Inception moment:

The stretch after Killington was super hilly and seemed to go up and down for no reason. I learned a new term: PUDS, or pointless ups and downs. At some point we had to climb down a ladder.

We stayed at a privately owned cabin that had a deck on top. Unfortunately the clouds obscured the views, but they made for some interesting pictures.

Tiger wanted to go into Woodstock which wasn’t anywhere near the trail. I said alright “but only because I don’t want a pouty and sulky Tiger, and if this shit goes sideways you’re gonna hear about it!” We managed to get a hitch from a nice lady named Victoria and ate at the Mountain Creamery. I had the best Brownie a la mode! So I guess it didn’t go sideways.

A Tiger and his pack

In West Hartford a trail angel named Linda gave us cold sodas and let us sleep in her barn.

West Hartford also had the most interesting signs.

Then it was a nice walk into Hanover, New Hampshire! Vermont is done!


Day 106

Mile 1611.7

The forest is has a different feel in New England. We entered into what is called a Temperate Broad Leaf and Mixed Forest or Boreal, as a sign on one Mt. Greylock helpfully informed me. There are Birches, Maple, and Beeches mixed in with Balsam Firs and lots of moss. In the higher elevation the pines create a different color scheme so as to make everything seem that it is coated in this deep burgundy sepia. Combined with the sun shining down through the trees it feels like a sacred place; like a cathedral in the woods. That along with all the positive comments on Facebook has revived my commitment to see this journey through to the end. So thank you guys!

The first place we stopped at Goose Lake Cabin which boasted a large bunk house but after getting there we found out it was full of STINKY hikers. Seriously, I went in and checked for any open spots and was nearly suffocated by the stench. Closer quarters are not kind to the hiker. The pond itself was nice though.

The mosquitoes up here are no joke either, bout got ate up alive. I finally retreated to my hammock with its new under quilt, which was cozy and blissfully bug free.

The awesome thing about Massachusetts are the little towns you walk through within a day of each other. In Dalton we stopped for an awesome brunch full of real food that powered my way up a mountain.

Mt. Greylock had a CCC built lodge on top that offered a cheap bunk room and well received showers. However their $38 prix fixe dinner was not so well received. I ate the usual trail food from my bag, but with a nice view.

Afterwards we passed through a little town called North Adams that had a weird playground next to an elementary school. I’m sure most of the “figures” were bugs or animals it I’m not certain what the last one was supposed to be.

Finally after one last insane rocky climb there was the Vermont border and the start of the Long Trail. And the mud got even worse. It about grabbed my shoe off at one point!

Finally we got to Bennington, VT in much rain to a quaint little hotel with squirrels of a different sort.

After a much needed break we’ll be heading out into what the forecast says is more rain. Yaaaay. But at least I have many clean dry socks (as of right now.)

My way and the highway

Day forever

Mile it doesn’t matter

After Hapers Ferry, Tiger had to go home to care of his sick wife and I was suddenly on my own for Maryland. The first day out I could barely make it 6 miles. The combination of multiple days off, mental fatigue, homesickness, and intestinal distress really took a toll. Also I was missing my friend who made the trail seem like less of a trial.

A few days into what should have been one of the easiest parts became a burden. I was cry-walking and stumbling over my feet. I wasn’t enjoying any part of it, which sounds whiney I know. But it made me think again of why I’m doing this and after a pep talk from my Dad (and some food) I decided to at least get to Waynesboro, PA. Then it started to downpour, like flooding.

I got to a hotel and holed up. The rain caused a leak in the bathroom ceiling. I watched videos of the trail turned into a river. And then Tiger texted with plans of coming back! So we decided to skip up to Massachusetts.

Now some thru hiking purists would scoff at such a plan. But I really dont care. I was super close to quitting anyway and this isn’t a job I have to complete. I guess I can’t really call myself a thru hiker anymore, maybe an adventure hiker?

So we skipped up to Great Barrington, MA and will be getting back onto trail tomorrow.

Harpers Ferry: Halfway to the Danger Zone

Day 88

Mile 1024.8

It has been a lot of stops and starts from Front Royal. The heat and humidity have done what previous perils could not: made me just want to up and stop. Mentally anyway. Other than sweating forever times, it hasn’t any ill effects. It takes a real toll on the old brain meats though. I didn’t want to quit, but a nice vacation from my vacation is what we needed.

Coming out of Front Royal was a Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute that had in parts some serious Jurassic Park and Stranger Things vibes going on.

Went through Sky Meadows which was quite nice.

And then the Rollercoaster started. It’s 14 miles of brutal climbs and knee crunching descents. Not a switch back in sight. The maintainers of this trail think it is funny and put up a sign. I was not as amused. It is during this sadistic hike that I passed the 1000 mile mark.

Got into Harpers Ferry which is the “mental halfway point” with the actual mile halfway point being a little over 100 miles past the town. Is a cute little historic town that sits on the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers. It also played a starring role in the Civil War with John Brown.

I stopped by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy to get my photo taken. I’m NOBO hiker #1509 to register at the center.

Tiger’s wife Lyda picked us up for a quick break in Berkeley Springs WV. I sat in AC, met some kittens, and ate a bunch of good food. The star of the show was the pupper Zinger though. See below.

And now it’s back onto the trail.

The heat is on

Day 82

Mile 970.8

Sorry for the delay in updates. We’ve had some technical issues at Compass Blog World Headquarters. I dropped my phone and broke the screen. I know you were all anxious about my progress. Well you can settle down now and continue on. This is is long one. Buckle in.

I’m going get to let you in on a little secret. The Appalachian trail gets boring. It’s at this point that a lot of hikers quit because they’re tired of walking 20 miles a day in a green tunnel. I’m not sure why some hikers are so driven to “bust out the miles” unless that is some sort of fun for them. I personally don’t see the point or fun in staring at your feet and dreading every minute.

Me and Tiger haven’t really had this problem. Mostly because we don’t do 20 mile days and we stop whenever we want. We’ve had problems to be sure. Intestinal distress, blistering heat, and cracked phones have dogged us. Tiger even broke his tooth and had to have it pulled.

After leaving Pearisburg, rain dampened my gear and spirits. It was somehow both raining and humid at the same time. Topping this off was some pretty tough trail. Mercifully the rain was short lived as we made our way to the lovely hamlet of Catawba where the much famed Homeplace is located.

It’s a homestyle restaurant that I’d heard about at the beginning of the trail for having the best food and in large quantities. It did not disappoint. I didn’t take any pictures because the food didn’t stick around long enough… and also I was hungry. Omigod the food was soooooo good. The chicken was perfectly seasoned, the green beans and corn tasted fresh, and they kept all the foods coming as long as you could eat it. I’m hungry just thinking about it.

Tiger cracked his tooth “on some chicken” here. I’m still not convinced it was the chicken. Sure something was probably stuck in his gums but I’m pretty certain sticking a corkscrew in one’s mouth to get it out is what breaks one’s tooth. So he went ahead onto Daleville to see a dentist about a tooth.

I would have gone with him, but the next day was McAffes knob. It’s the most popular picture people take on the trail. If you Google this location you’ll find pics of people doing handstands and hanging off the cliff. I merely sat at the edge. The hype was true though. It is a truly awesome view.

I met a fellow Georgian at the hostel the night before who I walked with that day. Savage Butterfly and I made our way to Tinker Cliffs to watch the sunset and camp. It was another awe inspiring view. It was a slow day and we took it easy. I’m not sure if all those fast hikers even took the time to appreciate the views. The trail can be crushingly boring for days on end. You’ve got to really soak in the beautiful days when they happen.

I got to Daleville where I met up with Tiger, sans one tooth. When left there I realized I’d left my water bottles in the fridge at the hotel and had to hitch back into Troutville to get some more. I’m glad I did because that days climb was brutal. We went up to a gap that wasn’t a gap in 500% humidity. It was a 1000 feet elevation climb in less than a mile with no switchbacks. There was a shelter that we stopped at for lunch where a fighter jet buzzed the mountain. It literally sounded like a plane was crashing on top of us. I looked at Tiger and was all “bye bruh”. The adrenaline buzz left me shaken for awhile. I thought of all the patients to who I administered epinephrine drips and was glad at least they were on fentanyl and propofol as well.

After getting into Waynesboro we stayed at the best hostel on the trail so far. Stanimals boasted cold AC and clean accommodations. It’s the little things. Then we started the Shenandoah national park. It has Skyline Drive which parallels the AT. The first two days were blasting hot and humid. Any tiny incline resulted in budget loads of sweat. I probably lost and gained 5 lbs of water weight in an hour depending on my consumption.

The lovely Skyline

The second night we were plagued by a whippoorwill. They should have put up a warning sign like they do for bears. Warning! Whippoorwills are active in this area! They can and will keep you awake all night. Should you encounter an aggressive whippoorwill, too bad.

The third day, the aformentioned phone catastrophe happened and we had to go back to Waynesboro. It’s funny how attached to your phone you get. No maps, no camera, no cell service. Got that fixed, Stanimal was happy to see us again.

Where phone catastrophe struck

Made it to Big Meadows lodge that reminded me of FDR state park. Probably because it was built in the 30s. I spent the 4th walking to Byrds Nest #3 but only because Tiger liked saying “Boids Nest”. Mary’s rock was the next big view and the best one in the Shenny in my opinion.

We went into Luray (pronounced Loo-ray in case you’re wondering) to see the caverns, cause why not. My favorite part was the stalagtite organ. It used these plunger thingies to peck the stalagmites to produce a sound routed through to speakers. Overall very worth the side trip.

That’s a reflection on bottom

When we got back on the trail the heat decided to back off and it was actually pleasant. I finally saw some bears which is weird cause most people see 3-5 a day. The park is so narrow your chances of running into them are higher. They don’t bother you. Just kinda of stare and wonder off. They’re more interested in delicious berries.

Classy shenny drank
This is how you pack out blackberry wine.

Finally it was my last day in the Shenny and the weather was obliging. We decided to take advantage of the Skyline’s decidedly more gentle grade and better views while we could.

Then we left the national park and it was back onto crappy rocky trail. You could tell an immediate difference. And now I’m in Front Royal near the end of Virginia. Whew!

Virginia is for adventures

Day 63

Mile 635.5

Before Damascus I melted the soles of my shoes trying to dry them off by a campfire (womp womp). The outfitters in Damascus didn’t have the same Hokas that I’d been enjoying so I got some Obos. They turned my feet into bruised stumps of pain so I ordered those Hokas online. It meant however, waiting in the resplendent metropolis of Marion VA until they showed up. Tiger kindly sacrificed putting in the miles to stay with me.

After I got my sweet new kicks with intact soles we set off for a pretty interesting day. Starting from Mt Roger’s HQ we walked through loamy hills blanketed in ferns. The foggy chillness of the morning burned off into a pleasant sunny afternoon walking through tunnels of Rhododendron by a creek. Near the end of our day there was an old schoolhouse that a church set up trail magic for hikers.

The theme of today’s snack: orange

We ended our day at the Long Neck Lair, an alpaca farm that lets hikers camp on their lawn. Right next to the alpacas! I’m sure Tiger was relieved to finally be there because I wouldn’t shut up about it. WE HAVE TO CAMP AT THE ALPACA FARM! They also had a pretty sweet shower and hot tub.

I made it to the fourth way point. It just blows my mind that I’ve walked over 500 miles.

Inexplicably the next few days I was feeling pretty lethargic and meh. I fell behind and lost Tiger for a couple of days as he nimbly trudged on. I don’t if it was the heat or lack of sleep or what but I couldn’t muster the energy or mental fortitude to keep up.

These things are everywhere and require gymnastics to get over

It didn’t help that I found what seemed to be an abandoned fawn on the trail one morning. I could hear loud noise that I thought was a raven. As I turned a corner this little fawn came ambling up to me crying its little head off. From what I could remember of wildlife rescue was that I shouldn’t touch it and keep moving with the hopes that mama deer would come back. But it kept following me down the trail crying. Eventually I had to jog a bit knowing the fawn couldn’t keep up. Other hikers up ahead told me the fawn had been there since the night before. I spent the next couple of miles bawling my eyes out and unsuccessfully dodging rocks and roots. I made myself feel better about it by pretending the Mama Deer came back and the little fawn is living it’s best life.

I came to Chestnut Knob Shelter which provided a beautiful view of the valley below. It was a bit of soul balm.

I finally caught up with Tiger, mostly because he decided to stop for the day rather than my own hiking prowess. We hiked towards Bland VA where the promise of a cold beverage awaited. It’s been hot and a lot of the trail around Bland is scarred by fire. It seems to make everything hotter when you are walking through burnt trees.

Dismal Falls is a local hangout and I’m glad we didn’t go there on a Saturday. As it turns out we took a zero there and brought some PBR from the gas station nearby. It was a fine day sitting in a creek and sipping beer.

Yes that’s a shopping bag full of PBR sitting in the creek. I keeps it classy.

Woods Hole Hostel is an AT staple. It’s one of the first hostels opened for thru hikers on the Appalachian Trail and occupies an idyllic cabin. Still family run, they serve food they grow themselves. It was a little too crunchy granola for my tastes but I sure did enjoy befriending all the cats. And it was actually a peaceful place to stay.

From Woods Hole it was a quick walk into Pearisburg. By quick I mean that whenever you get near town the feet move a little eaiser…despite the heat. Dreams of fresh food and cold drinks dance through your head. I should have done a little less daydreaming because I got stung by a vicious evil hornet! It came out of nowhere with its electric fire death poison and hit the thumb web of my left hand. It slowed me down only using one hiking pole and a hand full of fire. But I eventually made it to the Pearisburg Food Lion and downed a Peach Nehi. So all is right with the world.


Staff Blog Photographer Intern: Tiger