Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Ransom, An Amish Treat

In 1981, a man named Randall Lee Smith murdered 2 hikers at the Wapiti shelter: shooting the male victim 3 times, and stabbing the female more than a dozen times. He then, according to the word on the trail, buried the bodies beneath the shelter floorboards. Fifteen years later, he was released, linked to yet another shooting along the AT and died after crashing one of the victims cars as he attempted to flee the scene.

The Wapiti shelter where the first murders occurred, was removed. A new shelter with the same name was built at a different location, and as far as I know has been without incident. On a pleasant night in October I stayed there. Originally I was going to skip the shelter all-together. I was familiar with the horror stories and scared out of my wits. The shelter's screech owl, which mimicked the sounds of laughing, and then wailing people didn't help. But nothing happened. Nothing BAD happened. So, let's switch gears.

You never know when something amazing is going to arise. So take my advice, and try not to excuse yourself from an interesting opportunity.

The day that I stayed at Wapiti I only hiked 6 miles. I had some friends behind me that I wanted to see, so I took it easy. I started out from the "Wood's Hole" Hostel with my newly made friend, Twofly at a lazy 9am. We took every blue blazed trail there was in that 6 miles. We explored an old, rotten cabin, followed a sketchy trail downhill for about half a mile just to see where it led, got an awesome view, went caving, and had the pleasure of dining with an Amish man named Ransom in his home.

When we arrived to the infamous shelter, we set up camp and prepared to make dinner. Ransom strolled in just before I set my water to boil and greeted everyone. We had already met. he had joined us at the Woods Hole Hostel that morning over breakfast. I hadn't expected to see him again.

Apparently some of the section hikers with us had left a bag of coffee for the couple at Woods Hole, and not knowing it was a gift, the couple had sent the coffee bag with Ransom to return on his way home. Seeing we were about to make dinner...and I suppose seeing my Ramen packets, Ransom invited us to his house for something better. We could even stay over if we'd like.

I was reluctant at first. I had already set up my tent, rolled out my bag and changed into my clean sleeping clothes. Which brings up an interesting point: Would you call that lazy? It's hard to imagine attaching the word "lazy" to a thru hiker. I mean, 2178+ miles...that has to count for something. But right now, in my comfortable clothes having not broken a sweat all day I swear I was being lazy when I nearly declined the offer.

We compromised. We'd just go for dinner. That way I could leave my tent set up (yay! no extra work.) I called over to Twofly and told him to get ready. We were going on an adventure.

And so Twofly, Sideshow Bob and myself hiked out of camp and off the trail onto another. Before you knew it we were bushwhacking up the side of a mountain. Man, could that Ransom move. He was in thru-hiker--no, better than thru-hiker shape. I was huffing and puffing the whole way up and Ransom took frequent breaks for us, and obviously only for us. I was impressed. The other side of the mountain was steep and we hugged the trees and the ground the whole way down until we saw his place. Ransom lived up the hill from his Amish community, and had one amazing view.

We gathered our materials for Chili and cornbread, which required a trip over to the neighbors for a jar of milk. I think they were as curious about us as we were about them. I was worried that my shorts might be a problem, but no one seemed to mind as we were peppered with questions about the AT.

Then, it was time to start cooking. I was in charge of the cornbread and the guys handled the chili. Shy to baking, I nearly messed it up when I misread .5 cups of sugar for 5 cups of sugar. It was a relief to put the cornbread in the oven. I couldn't hurt it anymore.

Ransom's house was warm and comfortable. We ate peanuts and played with his crazy rambunctious dog. We learned about each other and I had my first fried green tomato. It turns out that Ransom had gone to Virginia Tech and then joined the Amish community. He had grown up as I did. I found him wise beyond his years and completely fascinating.

Ransom again offered to let us stay, but we politely declined and began our bushwhack up the mountain. As we started down the other side it grew dark. Now, I thought I had a good sense of direction, and people have complimented me as having such. However, in the woods, I don't care who you are, you need a compass and if you can manage it, an ex-military man. In this case, that man was Twofly.

I got us lost. Big time. So much so that we were considering sleeping in a large ball and covering up with leaves. We'd chuck the leftovers Ransom had given us some place else and wait for the morning. But it didn't come to that. Twofly had a compass and he led us down a stream bed until we found our beloved trail. I told Twofly he was my hero. A hop, skip and a jump later and we were back at camp, thankful no longer to be lost in the Wapiti woods. I thought it a mighty full and rich day, and it wasn't full of miles.

I think that was the beginning of my daily mileage decrease. I wanted to experience everything I could from this point on. I wanted to stay on the trail forever.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Sisyphus and Icarus

When I went home to Bloomsburg, PA with 6 of my trail friends I had unknowingly disappointed a thru-hiker behind us. Sisyphus, and his dog Icarus had started hiking the trail on June 17th (11 days after I started) and since Hanover, VT had been hiking alone. After two weeks of hiking solitude, Sisyphus decided to try and catch the hikers ahead of him (our group) and had been steadily gaining on us for the last two weeks, making for 1 month of hiking alone. He was closing in on us as he approached Duncannon.

We left the trail from Duncannon, PA (location of the Doyle Hotel - great place, highly recommended) and Sisyphus came in a day later. He approached the owners of the Doyle, Pat and Vickey Kelly, and asked about us. They told him that the whole group had come back to my house. Disappointed I'm sure, he told the Kellys to let us know he had passed through. He then left a note for us in one of the next shelters, challenging us to the half gallon challenge--half a gallon of ice cream, in half an hour at the halfway point of the AT.

I was excited, ask the guys--they'll tell you. I was once caught saying, "I'm so excited to meet SYPHILIS!" to which Curse replied, "..and his dog the Clap?" Oops. However, when we made it to Pine Grove Furnace General Store, the location of the half gallon challenge, we were greeted with a "closed" sign.

But more importantly, Sisyphus and his beautiful dog Icarus were there waiting.

Our meeting was brief, maybe an hour. As quickly as we had met, we parted ways. We weren't planning to hike as far as he was that day and so he passed us and went on ahead. Hey, "hike your own hike." He is a fast man. I've never seen a thru-hiker go his speed consistently before or since.

Not to let a challenge pass, we arranged to have our own half gallon challenge at a grocery store over the border into Maryland a few days later. Sisyphus was going to slow up and join us there, but had a difficult time getting a hitch from town back to the store. We didn't get to meet up. A side trip into Frederick, MD with Yeti (see the post about my spider bite), left Sisyphus and Icarus consistently ahead of us on the trail. Now as we went south, we'd read his entries and try to catch him. He'd always sign, "Frantic like Sisyphus, Desperate like Icarus."

It was from these entries that we learned some painful news.  Near Catawba, VA, while trying to cross Rt 311 on a bad curve, Icarus was hit and killed. A few days later when Curse, Todd and I were trying to cross the same road , we were nearly hit. The driver swerved, probably swore, and continued.

Though shook up (to say the least), Sisyphus continued hiking and carried Icarus' ashes to Springer and left them at the top. When we made it to Springer, we gave Sisyphus a call and came to stay at his house in Atlanta. At this point we had only known him for an hour--that one hour at Pine Grove Furnace State Park--but we were welcome, just the same. He, his family and his girlfriend Crissy were awesome hosts. We spent a few days in their company and explored Atlanta the best we could. In addition to taking in us stray hikers, Sisyphus had taken in two stray dogs since he left the trail. It seemed fitting.

To read an article about Sisyphus, go here.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

McAfee's Knob, VA

McAfee's Knob is quoted as "the most photographed spot on the AT," and according to my dear friend Anna, it is a must see if you plan on visiting southern Virginia. I happen to agree. McAfee's Knob, the Dragons Tooth, and the Tinker Cliffs are all within a days hike on one another, and they are some of the most beautiful features I have seen in Virginia. It would be a shame to miss them, and as a thru-hiker, if you didn't do McAfee you'd be shunned, I'm sure. But, do I really want to climb out on this thing?

Granted, millions of other people have done it before me, including thousands of thru-hikers. Safety in numbers, right? Or did all that pounding and sitting upon the knob make it weak? Each time it gets closer to breaking off, and taking with it an unsuspecting hiker who was just hoping for a nice photo opt. Will it be me? A friend?

Fear not. I made it quick.
McAfee's Knob Sunrise.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Anna Is In The Rain With Karrie

From Anna:

It was wonderful to see Karrie a few weeks ago on the trail! I met up with her and her hiking buddies between McAfee's Knob and Dragon's Tooth (both very beautiful places) and started hiking south. We were lucky enough to have one beautiful day with great views before the rain set in. We were then lucky enough to have 2 more days of constant rain, which made the brief moments of blue sky on day 4 all the more glorious. Despite the rain, it was great to have a few days of simply walking and talking and catch a glimpse of life on the trail.

From Karrie:

I nearly killed Anna, or so my hiking mates say. The first day we did 14 miles, the second...23.5. Yeah, I know. That's a lot of miles.

But we had a great time, didn't we Anna? The first day we had some of the most spectacular views on the AT: we watched the sunrise over McAfee's Knob, and then took on the Dragon's Tooth toward mid afternoon.

We finished off the day with a trip to "The Home Place" in Catawba, VA. Now, Marshall, a most recent trail acquaintance of mine expressed his disgust at how hiker trail journals and blogs tend to degrade into food diaries. I.e.... "...I had 4 platefuls of sweet and sour chicken, 2 run-thrus of the McDonald's dollar menu and 3 scoops of super chunk brownie fudge from the local creamery...tomorrow we're going to climb Bear Mountain, but first I'm going to get a 2 pound cheese burger from Mike's Barbecue, and at least 5 orders of...etc."

I agree. The trail isn't just about the things we eat. But an exception must be made on occasion and I make it now. Have you been to The Home Place in Catawba, VA? It's amazing. The restaurant is a popular spot. There you can gorge yourself family-style on fried chicken, barbecued pulled pork, sliced roast beef, mashed potatoes, collared greens, spiced sugared apples, sweet tea, and cranberry cobbler with vanilla ice cream. MmmMmm. We feasted.

At first it was a small hiker group: Todd (an awesome section hiker from Ohio we had met a few days before), Vickie (my Aunt), Professor, Curse, Anna and I. Then Disney, Plugger, Sea Monster, and Fiddler sat down at the table next to ours. Soon after that Pooh Bear, Mama Pooh Bear and Mighty Mouse joined in, and I became a part of the largest gathering of southbound thru hikers many of us had seen yet. Anna ate as much as she comfortably could, and Fiddler ate for 5. I once again discovered that my appetite is quite a bit larger than my stomach and ate for 2.

That night we enjoyed some of Fiddler's music in the shed behind the Catawba General Store, and then hobbled back to our campsite right by the road. Anna and I gossiped in French and then promptly fell asleep. The next day was our 23.5 mile day--a long day for sure, but we did it. The rain came in the night and drenched the trail. Curse and Professor made it 13 miles and then Curse came down with mild hypothermia. Mild he says...but I think mild and hypothermia make quite the oxymoron. Anna and I made 5 miles, and I'm glad we didn't go farther. That was happily the shortest day I've had on the trail. Blue skies greeted us the next morning and we had a spectacular view from Wind Rock which is were the first picture in this post was taken. I had such a great time with Anna and I can't wait until we tackle our next big thing together. Anna, your state is beautiful.
Feasting at The Home Place.  From Left to Right: Trail Angel Vickie (Cheryl Gaskill), Anna Herby, Fiddler (Eric Zimmerman), Professor (Brian), Plugger (Bruce Bebee), Curse (Travis Schoen), Todd Balph, and Disney.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Excursion to Washington, D.C.

Recently, I was bombarded and snatched from the beautiful Shenandoah National Park by an old college friend, Kate Powell. We quickly Taco Bell-ed ourselves and retreated to her house in Falls Church (D.C.). If you're in this area too, I highly reccommend a stay at the Powell residence for several reasons, the most important being: they let you choose from 5 different kinds of ice cream.

Kate entertained me all day. Great conversations were had. Exiciting plans were made (hiking the Camino De Santigo). "So You Think You Can Dance?" was watched (for 3+ hours). And my thesbian side enjoyed the First Stage Theater and the play "The Game of Love."

Adventures will be made with this woman and me. I guarentee it.

I also met up with some other Earlhamites (college people from Earlham) including Joey Battistelli, Neal DeVorsey, Dave Eccard, and Hannah Waston. Joey and I took D.C. by storm! Ok, so we went to 2 museums: The National Museum of the American Indian, and of course, the National Air and Space Museum. I hung out with a scale model of the Mars Rover and all of the other SCIENCE until they kick us out. Also, though scary to admit, I made it into all of these places--past security--with a full bottle of denatured alcohol, my pocket knife, my tent stakes, and 2 lighters. What? I had my pack on me.

We all had dinner and drinks together, and I got a dessert on the house because Joey started to brag about me while I was in the bathroom. Honestly, I have good friends.

For more photos from my mates along the trail:
Curse's album: www.photobucket.com/travisschoen

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Halfway Point Photo

Southbounder #30 to Harper's Ferry, 1183 miles done, 995 miles to go.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Oh, You Should Really See A Doctor About That...

While hiking through Pennsylvania I had begun to notice a large, hard, and painful spot developing on my tookus. I couldn’t actually see most of it due to its location, but I could see the edge of it, and it was red. Oh man, was it red. A tick bite, I thought?

On several occasions I would catch myself pouting with my eyebrows furrowed, and with one hand rubbing my malady (which I will remind you was on my rear-end). I was checking to see if it was still there, if it still hurt, if it had shrunk, etc... Maybe it would go away as quickly as it came, like a cold or a bruise. I’m sure one day I’d feel for it and it would be gone, and I’d think, “huh, I wonder how long that’s been gone.” It occurs to me now, that others may have also caught me in this affectionate rub to my behind. I wonder what they thought. Did they think I was lonely? I wonder if the concentrated look on my face threw them. But, no matter.

When I stopped in Duncannon, and then went home to Bloomsburg bringing 6 trail friends with me, I had the chance to look at myself in a full length mirror. It was still there. It was red, and looked like a bulls eye, but not the kind I had seen in photographs of tick bites. There were concentric rings of dry skin. It was sore, hard and raised. It had grown larger since I first noticed it, and there were two sizable bite marks in the center of the inflammation.

A spider bite? Eh, I’ve been bitten before, and I don’t feel sick. It’ll probably pass.

These were the thoughts I used to comfort myself. I didn’t have health insurance and I was worried that if I showed someone my tush, in particular my mother, I’d be forced to get off the trail. However, one doesn’t become sick in the doctor’s office. You’re just sick and the doctor is the one who has to clue you in. I needed to get a second opinion.

While we were at my house, my trail mate Fiddler asked to go to the emergency room. The doctor reported that Fiddler had a small hernia and a skin infection. Antibiotics would fix the infection, but the hernia would eventually require surgery. Those things don’t just fix themselves. I remember Fiddler looked at me, worried. “Aren’t hernias for someone...older?” he asked me. I didn’t know. Fiddler was 19, and fresh out of high school. He looked like he wanted his mom. I wanted his mom too.

If he didn’t seek surgery, the doctor told him that bending over and picking up heavy things could make it worse. So basically whenever he bends down to pick up his pack he’s going to have to worry about literally ripping a new one. I was worried that he was going to have to go home, seek surgery, rest up, and possibly not make it back to the trail with enough time to finish this year.

This is what comes of telling doctors you have problems. They give you a condition.

But I showed my mom, the retired nurse, anyway. First, I encouraged her not to get excited. Then I dropped my shorts. She said that we should call the tell-a-nurse right away.


The tell-a-nurse told me to start using a topical antibiotic, such as Neosporin, and to seek additional help if the swelling didn’t do down. I crossed my fingers, and hopped back on the trail.

A week later it was still there.It was hard to sit down and I’d nearly start crying whenever my arse took any sort of a hit.

Yeti, a south bounder I had met in Maine that had since left the trail, came to pick a few of us up in Harpers Ferry and took us back to his house. Papa Yeti, and his good friend Susan gave us the best breakfasts. I watched Planet Earth for the first time, and enjoyed their showers. At such a nice place the group had decided to “zero” (take a day off, a day where you hike “zero” miles) and I thought, “Okay, it’s now or never.” So after breakfast, I decided I would seek not only a second opinion, but a second, third, and fourth opinion.

Not too long after the dishes were washed, I walked into the dining room and asked the guys (Curse, Yeti, Lost Rob, and Bacon) if I could show them something on my badonkadonk. They all said yes without reservation. Hey, it was a free show! I decided not to drop my shorts, but instead I just lifted up the side. And upon this exposure the guys started groaning and I could almost hear them reeling back and flinching with disgust. Someone said, “Dipps, you should really see a doctor about that!”

Now, this is the last thing you want a guy to say when you reveal something so sensitive, such as your butt. You’d rather hear, “Nice!” or “Damn, that one fine booty.” But no, they told me to show it to a medical professional...that I needed help.

So, through an amazing connection of Yeti’s, I got into see a doctor for free (I beat the system). I was led past all of the waiting patients and seen within 5 minutes of my arrival. What service! The doctor told me it wasn’t a tick bite. That I had been bitten by something and that I had developed a minor staph infection. I remember he said the word, “MRSA,” which freaked me out, but he assured me that I didn’t have that and not to worry. He wrote me a prescription for an antibiotic that was on special (free) at the local pharmacy and wished me luck. Though I thought my luck was looking pretty good right about now. Thank you doctor.

And thanks to Travis (Curse) I finished off my medication, and the bite disappeared. My bum is once again looking quite fine.

P.S. Bacon, I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Half Gallon Challenge


I know, its been a long time. So long in fact, that I am now more than halfway done with the AT. YAY! I passed into Harper's Ferry, WV (the psychological halfway point), just this evening with quite the bounce in my step.

A little history of what it means to be "halfway":
The AT's halfway point changes, since the trail gets rerouted, switch-backed and detoured in various locations every year. In other words, if you thru-hike the AT in 2009, you will not have hiked the same trail as those in 2008, 2007, ...etc. Harper's Ferry was the halfway point when the AT's southern terminus was at a mountain called Oglethorpe in Georgia. Now, with the terminus moved to Springer Mountain, GA, the actually halfway point is close to Pine Grove Furnace, about 75 miles north of Harper's. Pine Grove is the sight of the Half-Gallon Challenge (see first photo). Halfway, half a gallon, in half an hour. I ACCEPT! In all reality friends I had help from the dashing young lad to my left, but I ate way more.

The half gallon challenge is held at the General Store in Pine Grove Furnace State Park.  If you are successful, you get a small wooden spoon.  Sadly though, as the Fall season starts to set in, hours for the store get cut, and southbounders get cheated out off their wood utensils. Never to miss an opportunity, 5 of us went to the closest country store and devoured  4 half-gallons anyway, with Bacon finishing the one Curse and I shared in addition to his own.
Speaking of which, the people you meet on the trail are AWESOME, and the group of friends you travel with will change depending on how many miles you hike on average, and how many zero (0 mile days), and neros (nearly zero mile days) you take. Let me introduce you to some of my current hiking entourage. These characters in the photo at the right are from left to right: Bacon, Curse, and Buffalo. Others, include Lost Rob, Professor, Ledge, Happy Feet, Navajo, Gooch and Fiddler. I hope you all get the chance to meet them sometime. Cool school, all of them.