Virginia is for lovers. And hikers.

It’s been twenty-eight days since my last post! Woops! Sorry about that y’all. Stumble and I have been marching forward through the month of May, picking up our mileage and packing down the calories as we make our push through the longest state on the Appalachian Trail, Virginia. But before I get to where we’re at now, let’s recap with how we got here.

When we last left off, we were almost to Damascus, VA, an iconic trail town that the trail actually walks right through the middle of and is nestled into the mountains just north of the Tennessee/Virginia border. We were so happy to put our third state officially behind us and begin the 540-mile trek across Virginia, which is longer than the entire length it took us to get here from Springer Mountain in Georgia (465 miles). The rain that was so welcoming while fires ravaged the land are quickly becoming a constant monotonous gray shadow that threatens moisture at least 30% of every hour of everyday. When you’re hiking and it’s raining, a rain coat keeps you dry from rain but quickly insulates your hiking body heat and pours swear from your pores. So what do you prefer, rain moisture or sweat moisture?

Damascus was a great reprieve from the rain and pain. We stayed three nights and finally made our escape to the Lost Mountain Shelter where the famous mousecapades occurred. See Stumble’s last blogpost ( if you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s a fun tale of midnight mouse shenanigans. Virginia really begins in the south with a bang, packed with famous towns, rocks, views, and animals. A couple days after Damascus we reached the Grayson Highlands State Park and the infamous wild ponies. We camped just outside the state park with some of the ponies and cooked over the fire, under the stars. The ponies mostly mind their own business, unless you offer them a sweaty limb to lick, which they’re glad to do. Yes it did tickle.

The next morning we hit the 500 mile mark, hiked under the perpetual gray clouds, went to bed with a threat of rain, and woke up to the gentle pattering of drops on the tent rain fly. Fifteen miles later we found Partnership Shelter, a shelter with an actual working shower at it and phone nearby to call for pizza and Chinese delivery. It was awesome, but the allure of eating food in town was too strong so we hitched to Marion, gorged on food not cooked in a small pot over a backpacking stove, watched an abominable NHL game seven between the Dallas Stars and St Louis Blues, and walked a couple miles through the night to a small hotel where we happily collapsed and crashed.

The next day we walked to Atkins, VA where my dad and grandma drove down to meet us! We caught up with them and enjoyed a few nights with the creature comforts of home. It was a wonderful stay, where we delivered some inadvertent trail magic, stopped by Trail Days in Damascus, visited an 18th century school house now maintained as a museum, and slack packed a few miles before getting back on trail with full weight. I can’t begin to explain how nice it is to see family while doing this hike. Hiking this trail is an extensive commitment, probably around 6 months, and that’s a long time to be away from family that I’m close with at home. A big thank you to Pops and The G for making the journey and sharing our experience with us. It was more revitalizing than we could’ve imagined.

After family headed home we headed back to trail and realized that hiking this thing is like our job now. It’s tiring and ongoing and has so many surprises and rewards but also many hardships and trials. It’s getting hot and we stink. Our socks smell worse than puberty rolling around on the floor beneath a dive bar urinal and don’t always dry by morning when you need to put them back on. The bug bites resemble star charts and I can’t always tell whether my ankles are tan or just coated in dirt. The hashtag “hikertrash” is beginning to make a lot of sense. We keep hearing about other hikers who have dropped out or are talking about it and can understand why. We literally hobble around like feeble grandmothers in our hotel room on zero-days because our feet are so sensitive. And then we strap up and hike on.

This past week we met Pineapple, a guy originally from Michigan who also started on the same day we did (March 23) and hiked in and out with him for a while. We celebrated 600 miles on Brushy Mountain  and the next night camped at mile marker 616 where I thought about calling home but didn’t get reception. The gray continued, we trudged onward through a jungle-esque environment of rain, mud, and rhododendrons, and received an incredible food box from our friend Carissa from home. We completed our first 20-mile day which also occurred on the first completely sunny day in weeks, and found the second largest Oak tree on the AT, measuring more than 18′ around and over 300 years old. That’s a lot of junk in the trunk! And just in time for Memorial Day, we passed by the Audie Murphy monument, a memorial for the most decorated soldier of WWII, as well as Dragon’s Tooth (huge stone monolith), the 700-mile marker, McAfee Knob (most iconic view on the trail), and Tinker Cliffs (another large mountain to climb up and over). After all of that, we made it here, to Daleville, VA, a town right off trail with great BBQ and a Kroger. We’re stationing ourselves here, doing laundry, having showers, and relaxing on Memorial Day while we wait for the post office and gear outfitter to reopen tomorrow.

Oh, and we just got new shoes! Big thanks to Merrell for hooking us up. We put over 700 miles on our first pairs and are eager to start hiking in some new shoes. Until next time, cheers!

The G and I in an 18th century school house

Morning view coming out of Rice Field Shelter

Audie Murphy monument

McAfee Knob, iconic spot on the trail. We didn’t realize it was Memorial Day weekend when we hiked up, so it was very, very busy.

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All fired up on the AT

Walking with Stumble day in and day out affords itself many surprises. Before her trail name was Stumble, I lobbied for Snail Magic due to her unbiased resolve to rescue all snails from impending trail, boot-smashing doom.

That short three-picture movie was a daily occurrence in Georgia when we started. Not that it hasn’t happened since, but she definitely stumbled at least twice for every snail saved and the name Stumble persisted, and not without proper reason. Often, the trail will cut back going up or downhill in a switchback, and on multiple occasions walking behind her she ambles onward as if the trail just continued straight. It happens so naturally it seems right. My imagination runs wild with where she might have ended up by now if one of her trail-skirting field trips just continued onward. Want to know something else fun about Stumble? She often exclaims to me while we’re walking, “I hear voices!” I gently let her know that meager travelers health insurance doesn’t cover meetings with shrinks, unfortunately, but she insists that the voices are real. Sometimes they are, and we come upon a shelter with people at it, other times I’m convinced they’re all in her head. She’s a fun companion in the woods, that’s for sure.

My last post found us drenched in the pleasant warmth of Hot Springs, NC, a town that the AT literally walks right through the middle of. It catches many hikers like it did us and I think we’re all the better for it. I even got to watch a little playoff hockey at the one tavern in town! Since then, things have gotten heated on the trail: 

A friend behind us on the trail took this shot from the Main Street in Hot Springs looking towards the mountains that the AT continues into north out of town. And nope, that isn’t a lovely mountain mist (paging Doctor Bear to the burn unit, Doctor Smoky the Bear). Forest fires have been terrorizing many areas in the south east as it’s been dry and hot out, prime conditions to set brush ablaze. The fire shown above broke out the day that we left town, and as we were a couple hours out of town the trail took an eerie tint as the plumes of smoke filtered the sunlight of the afternoon. Stumble and I were probably some of the last hikers to make it through before they closed a section of trail north of town while crews worked to contain the blaze. 

This was our view looking over the French Broad River and back on Hot Springs as we left that afternoon. Strikingly different from the scene that engulfed these views just a couple hours later.

At that point, we were still a couple days from Roan Mountain where another fire forced officials to close a portion of the trail as they worked to contain it. We camped about 13 miles north of town that night and awoke the next morning to some much-needed rain. So much so in fact, we were drenched during our hike and decided to cut it short, stopping at the Little Laurel Shelter only 6 miles away. We soaked up the afternoon in the shelter out of the rain, commiserating with other hikers, reading, writing, and eating. During our slumber that evening, I woke up at one point and as my eyes opened my hand instinctively whipped out and flicked. My eyes caught sight of a mouse flying through the air and I realized I woke up because it was trying to befriend my hand. His advances were denied. We’ve heard the mice in shelters before (they’re true ninjas, able to access your food in the most protected manner), but this is the first time I’ve truly encountered one. And with that, I’m starting a petition for kittens at all shelters.

We pushed onward the next day with more favorable weather, crossed the 300-mile marker, and found one of the most beautiful camping spots so far stop Big Bald 

During our hike up to this spot, I met a Dutch hiker who goes by the name Once A Day. She’s a cultural anthropologist who happens to be from a small town that is only 10km from the smaller town where I stayed when I studied in the Netherlands! It’s a small world, even with camp sites that proclaim how huge and awesome it is.

A couple days later we accomplished our longest hiking day yet, pushing through 19.1 miles of trail, which included Roan Mountain! The weather was excellent and the fires had been contained. The trail has been weaving along the border of North Carolina and Tennessee since the Smokies, seeming to stitch the two states together until the other side of Roan Mountain where we finally put another state in our rear view mirror. With North Carolina officially behind us now, we have a short stretch through Tennessee before we hit Virginia, the longest state on the trail. During our 19 mile day, Stumble gave me some sprees to hold in my pocket and munch on for some sugar bursts. Forgetting that I had picked up someone’s lost compass the day earlier and stashed it in my pocket, and also forgetting that it was the exact size and shape of a spree, a unknowingly tossed it in my mouth without looking and crunched down hard on it. It did not taste good. I spit out the cracked remnants and lamented my mistake. We camped at the border crossing that night and as I was just finishing my mashed potatoes and star noodle tortilla wrap, another hiker named Wooki came over in some distress asking for tweezers. I offered him my pair and through drags off a cigarette he exclaimed that a bug had flown directly through his long, shaggy hair and into his ear! He could feel and hear it moving around. I looked in his ear but couldn’t see it, and told him I didn’t feel comfortable going in there with tweezers without seeing what I was after. I still shudder at the thought of this happening. We ran into him a day later and he showed us a picture of the bug a doctor pulled out. Eugh! It’s not the bears you should fear out here, it’s the creepy crawlies!

We should be in Damascus, VA later this week, a town like Hot Springs where the trail meanders directly through town. Until then, I leave you with a question and a thought:

Can woodpeckers become concussed? I’m seriously asking.

Peanut butter is the paste that holds life together.

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Days become weeks become months

Tomorrow marks one month on the trail. Can you believe it? I hardly can. While the streams trickle and babble with the early splashes of spring, time has whipped past like the shelter-shaking winds of the Smokies. Routines have established themselves for hiking day in and day out. Dawn’s soft early light now ushers in a symphony of avian songs to wake up to which is everything but alarming. We break camp, make breakfast, and start our day swiftly. We hike for a couple hours, stop somewhere fitting for lunch (often times near a water source or a shelter), and continue hiking until an hour or two before sunset where we set camp again, cook an absurd amount of food for dinner, read from our kindles, hang our bear bag, and drift to sleep with a blanket of stars. While hiking, we often talk about what food we can’t wait to eat in town, what amenities we won’t ever take for granted again, and how egregiously bad the leading hiker’s gas is. We snack between sentences and then again during commas. We’ve found an amicable group of hikers that move at about the same pace as us whom we don’t necessarily hike with, but happen to find the company of a couple times per week at shelters and in towns. This strange and beautiful existence that has us hiking some 2,000 miles (which we could just drive, as I’ve been reminded) has actually developed a feeling of normalcy. And I couldn’t be happier.

Since Fontana Dam and the last post, Stumble and I have traversed the Great Smoky Mountains and wound up in the first town that the AT actually walks right through the middle of, Hot Springs, North Carolina. The Smokies treated us like special guests, offering favorable weather and those prime hiking temperatures where you stay cool while you walk and cuddle comfortably warm in your sleeping bag overnight. The wind at times made me cringe for the increasing butterflies we’ve witnessed, however only once did it actually deter our plans (as we set camp the night before hiking over Clingman’s Dome, the highest point on the AT, we contemplated waking up at 4am to try and catch the sunrise from the summit. Unfortunately winds that gusted up towards 50mph all night deterred our desires but still, our afternoon summit was stunning). 

The search for a bear continues (no I didn’t mean to say beer, plenty of encounters with those), however we did finally make some deer friends among the forest. On two consecutive days during our hike through the latter half of the Smokies we shared the presence of some deer, as well as a couple run-ins now with lizards and snakes. The bugs are beginning to breed with resolve to take over the earth, however it isn’t all that bad. Ticks are definitely out, though mosquitos haven’t joined the party yet and the butterflies are so wonderfully distracting that they sometimes lead you towards walking off cliffs or into rivers. And with all of this, the flowers are bursting forth in radiating abundance (check out Stumble’s blog for a basket of pictures:

To (attempt to) hike the Appalachian Trail is an incredible opportunity that I can’t measure or convey my gratitude for. I want to say thank you to all of our friends and family that support us. We could not do this and would not be here without you all. From food boxes to notes of encouragement, we pulse with gratitude. Thank you.

  Walking across the Fontana Dam

 A lingering snowfriend on the way up to Clingman’s Dome
  Cool Smoky rocks
  Renaissance Man burned his copy of Game of Thrones after he finished it. I don’t think it was for lack of liking.  Trail magic from Bud and Weezy on the north side of the Smokies before Max Patch

 I don’t know  Captain Mountain Morgan

 Finding my dear old friend Rebecca Brees in Hot Springs, NC

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This week we learned

We currently sit at Fontana Village, a resort village less than two miles from the trail, the Fontana Dam, and two days from Tennessee. The shelter near the dam is known as the Fontana Hilton, with trail talk of showers and electricity, however we opted for a quick night in town to rest and do laundry which turned out to be grossly worth it.

That chocolate malt was made with five days of AT dirt, sweat, and roasted with North Carolina sunshine. It took multiple rinses and we’re thankful because tomorrow begins the Smoky Mountains, right after the AT crosses the Fontana Dam and enters the Great Smoky Mountains, America’s most popular national park. The Smokies are somewhat unique with the trail passing through a national park, requiring us to buy a $20 pass good for eight days in the park as a thru-hiker to cover the 70 miles of expansive mistical mountains.

Here, Stumble is pointing at Clingman’s Dome from the Wayah Bald fire tower in North Carolina. It’s the highest point on the AT at 6667 feet and within a few hiking days of Fontana Dam. We’re eager but hesitant with some harsh and cold weather approaching, though with the Smokies elevation, weather isn’t necessarily expected to be on our side. Regardless, we’re well stocked with a fresh food box resupply from our friend, Kayla! 

We’re incredibly thankful for the love and energy from her and our friends at Perrin Brewing Company. As we pass out of the Nantahala National Forest, share with us some memories of our jaunt through NC before it weaves along the Tennessee border until Virginia:

-Stumble isn’t the only one to pee herself on the trail anymore! It turns out the cold means I’m not done going when I think I’m done going. I relieved myself and began hiking again when Stumble turned around and pointed at a big wet spot in my shorts that I didn’t even notice and laughed. Humility was the word of the day.

-Farts are now known as our butts blowing kisses at each other.

-Hike Your Own Hike (HYOH) is a common expression on the trail, especially as we critique and discuss other hikers’ choices for gear, motives, etc. No matter what, hike your own hike. Some other noteable acronyms: NOBO means northbounder and SOBO means southbounder.

-we caught up with the Warrior Hike, a group of ten military veterans that are hiking to Maine together. It sounds like an awesome program and definitely selected ten really cool vets (of varying backgrounds and ages) to hike this year. We shared a drink with some of them last night in Fontana and have been playing leap frog on the trail with members of their group for about a week now.


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Two Minutes on the AT in Georgia

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Where to begin?

Greetings friend from Franklin, North Carolina! Megan and I are shacked up in a cozy hotel room celebrating 100 miles of the Appalachian Trail completed (106 to be exact) and are taking our first zero-day of the trek. Zero days are exactly as they sound, days where you hike zero miles, and are not to be confused with nero days, where you hike near zero miles. It’s important on the trail to rest up once a week with days like this and also provides opportune time to catch up on NHL scores and standings, Reddit highlights, the newest season of Archer, and meaningful dedications like maintaining a blog. Now, before jumping into the hike thus far, I thought it might be nice to cover some basics to walking the Appalachian Trail! The AT is a 2,189.1 mile national scenic trail that extends from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. To follow the trail, all a hiker must do is follow the white blazes painted on trees (or rocks). What is a white blaze you ask?   
It’s a 2-inch wide and 6-inch tall painted white rectangle. Like the North Star, it guides hikers all the way to Maine (or Georgia, if you’re going southbound, which can create problems if you sleepily start your hike and don’t pay attention to which way you’re going! Not that that’s happened or anything…). White blazes are never more than a quarter mile apart and can vary, depending on what they’re drawing attention to, for instance:

The double blaze shown above can be read like an ATTENTION sign, calling hikers to have their wits about them and be aware. Perhaps there is a side trail that intersects or a water source nearby. Like the double blaze, sometimes the top blaze is offset somewhat, indicating a sharp turn in the trail ahead in the direction of the offset top blaze, as in the photo below:

In the same manner as white blazes, blue blazes are also abundant and throughout, guiding hikers down any side trail that isn’t the AT. Often times these blue blazed trails lead to shelters or water and obey the same rules as white blazes.

Now that we know how we’re getting to where we’re going, let’s talk about who we are! Hikers on the AT start off identifying with their birth-given names but soon enough some incident will forever alter that and a trail name is born. For instance, one day while experiencing the majesty of trail magic (trail magic is when you stumble into someone giving away time and energy to help enhance the hiker experience. Sometimes it’s a random un-manned cooler along the trail filled with beer and Gatorade, other times it’s several large tents set up at a road crossing with folks grilling out for hikers to feast upon, while other times it can be the sheer magic of a friendly lift into town), a woman from a single ministry group was telling me how she grew up in Michigan but moved down south because she couldn’t stand shoveling all the snow. I laughingly snorted with both hands full of food and retorted that it’s one of my favorite chores as I shoveled grub into my mouth. Immediately this trail angel pointed at me and christened me with my trail name: Shovel. It fits too, because I’m absolutely digging trail life (ba dum tsss). Trail names aren’t always so kind though, like Sir FartsALot whom we met early on or Lumberjack, given due to sawing heavy logs in their sleep (i.e., snoring). I’ll let you guess how Megan received her trail name: Stumble. 

I think that’s enough of the basics to get us on our way, so let’s go over some highlights from the first 100 miles. Stumble and I decided to hike the 8 mile approach trail to Springer Mountain, which we later found out most people don’t actually seem to do (there’s a forest road that crosses the trail one mile in, so many will get dropped off there, hike back one mile to Springer Mountain, and then begin their journey). It’s actually quite grueling for just an approach trail to starting the AT and trail talk has it that some folks quit this year even before actually starting the AT itself! They got partway up the approach, decided this wasn’t what they had in mind, and turned back. It was actually much harder than the first 20 or so miles of the trail itself, and I’m glad to have earned my start up there.

The beginning of the trail was quite cluttered with aspiring thru-hikers (a thru-hiker is one who attempts the entirety of the trail in one go, versus a section-hiker who tries to complete the trail in various sections at a time over any time frame. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) recognizes anyone who hikes all 2,189 miles of the trail regardless of how they do it or how long it takes), with some shelters (wooden structures built along the trail that usually have space for cooking/eating/socializing and space for sleeping anywhere from 4 to 20+ hikers) filling to the brim and space outside the shelters looking like music festivals with myriad tents and hammocks strewn around the surrounding forest. The increasing number of aspiring thru hikers has actually become some concern for the ATC as they try to limit the environmental strain on the area of the trail, though by this point, 100 miles in, it seems like things have thinned out quite a bit (and we’ve also heard that most hikers that attempt the trail but quit do so within the first state).

 The trail has been good to us so far though, and quitting has not been on our radar. Through blistered heels, swollen soles, scraped feet, sore knees, mysterious rashes, sun burns, shaky shoulders, bruised hips, and pissed legs (see Megan’s blog) the overall mood has been appreciative, humbled, and rejoiceful. I feel in sync with the sun, rising as it does and slowing down as it retreats. The water that I retrieve straight from the earth is the epitome of refreshment, quenching the most primal thirst for self-sustenance. One of the log books in a shelter (notebooks at shelters where hikers write in anything they want, from one liners to stoned ramblings) read, “if you can’t carry it on your back or in your heart, you don’t need it” and my spirit shuddered in a smile of agreement. The trail is reminding me what is important in life right now, and I’m happy to walk along and keep trying to listen. 

Stay tuned for more stories soon. Our hotel doesn’t have a computer and to be honest, I’m tired of writing this on my phone. I promise not to wait for our next zero day to post again.



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Tales of Trails on a Forthcoming Expedition

In four weeks I will embark on a long walk. Nay, in four weeks I will embark on a very, very long walk. Some may even call it a pilgrimage. It’s a journey that spans 2,189.2 miles and meanders through 14 states, beginning with it’s southern terminus in Georgia and capping off it’s northern terminus in Maine. IT is the AT. The Appalachian Trail. Please feel free to vicariously join me through this site as I attempt to catalog my Appalachian tales.

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