Monday, March 26, 2007

Over the past ten days on the AT, I solidified many friendships and would become my own person – Optimist, they call me Opti. The group of thru-hikers at Neels Gap stayed together over these 10 days and became very cohesive because of our shared experience. We had a few days of rain in northern Georgia and decided to take it easy during this period with two nights in hostel/campground facilities with showers (The Blueberry Patch and Rainbow Springs Campground), a zero-day (0 miles of hiking) in Franklin, NC, sunbathing at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, and lots of good food sprinkled throughout. Don’t think we were loafing – 108 miles in 10 days – but we were going slower than many of our schedules allowed. I had scheduled to pick up a mail drop of food at the Fontana, NC post office and be through the Smoky Mountains to meet my family for Easter in Gatlinburg on March 28th – 70 miles in 4 days = 17+ miles per day. Another good reason for me to go slower during this stretch of trail was the issues I was having with a tendon in my right foot. I can now tell from my journal entries that I was not going to give up. I believe I had a “Never Quit” mentality, and I would have spent time in a local town or hospital to recover rather than taking the trip home. Although I was mentally ready for challenges like these, I was worried for a few days that this early issue could be my downfall. “3.14.97 Here at the Tray Mt. Shelter – only made 4.5 miles today b/c of foot. Plenty of good company here, though. It rained most of the night and everything got wet. About 3:30 and the sun came out. Tomorrow I am going to try and hike in my running shoes and see if that helps any. Wheat said that a couple behind us had to go into town because of the same problem and found out it was tendonitis. OH NO. Things are looking good except for a tendon in my right foot – maybe the Achilles…Life is good…3.16.97…I hiked in my running shoes today again – tried to put my boots and on it killed – going to call the store in a couple of days and get some [different] boots. Hopefully that will help my tendon…3.17.97…My feet hurt more today than they have yet because of these flimsy running shoes…Anyway you look at it, the boot situation won’t keep me off of the trail for too long. I have seen that it really doesn’t matter what kind of gear you carry because anything that will keep you dry and warm will work.” The miles in the running shoes (70 miles) must have given my foot the rest that it needed, because I did not have any other foot issues for the remainder of my hike. “3.20.97 Tomorrow will be a fairly easy 15 miles into NOC. My boots (new) will be there, but I wore my boots today and my Achilles felt okay. If it feels good tomorrow I may send the new ones back home…3.21.07 Got my free brand-new pair of boots in the mail today – and sent them back home.” Completed To Date (CTD):17 days, 168.7 miles = 7.75% completed.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Radnor Lake

pictures 046
Originally uploaded by Adventures With Glissons.
Although we've battled through a cough with both girls this past week, we were able to get to Radnor Lake this weekend and take advantage of the good weather. No surprise that both Sydney and Abigail had this new round of sickness; we had to resort to the heavy-duty cough syrup, so they could get a good night's sleep. The picture is of the girls on the bridge watching the water roll over the spillway. Rebekah's mom was in town for the week and helping us out over the girl's "spring break" and, again, experienced what a week at our house is like (she'll probably need a week or so of recovery time). She was so helpful in so many instances and made at least one week of our lives that much easier.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Since there is more that I want to tell, let’s back up a few days: I motored up Blood Mountain on March 11, 1997, with a full cache of water for the evening’s cooking and drinking. I carried eight pounds of water to the top of this mountain so that I could experience sunrise and sunset from the first “mountain” on my trip. I was taking my time and taking lots of breaks, because of the phone coordination I had previously set with my parents. In 1997, portable cell phones were not yet mainstream or afforded by college students, so I relied on pay phones! Imagine that! I knew that my schedule would vary over the next weeks and months, but I wanted to call home that first week to assure my family of my wellbeing. So, we set a day and a time to talk. As I was taking in the beautiful landscape of Blood Mountain and eating my lunch, my mind changed; I did not want to “waste” the next few hours by sitting around and waiting on the sun to set, so I decided to hike on. What to do with the 5 quarts of water? “3.11.97 Now that I am descending, I decided to use the water while I had it, so I took a shower. I still smell a little bit, but I feel much better. The point is I toted eight pounds of extra weight for a shower! I still need a trail name.” I resupplied that afternoon at the world-famous Walasiyi Center at Neels Gap, called home, and met my first large group of thru-hikers. The Walasiyi Center is famous because of it’s location on the AT – three to four days from the southern terminus, the Trail passes through the Center’s breezeway and in between the pack shop and the hostel – and the contents of many potential thru-hiker’s backpacks is traded, tweaked, or sent home. Over a pint of ice cream, many hikers decide that the Trail life is not for them, and they catch a cab for home. The thru-hikers that I met at Neels Gap will infuse my stories from here on out and included Phluff-Head, Nugget, Buzzard, Old Crow, Whispering Pine, Goose, Scarecrow, Boogy, and 180º. That night I stopped at a campsite with Old Crow and a guy named Todd, “3.11.07 It is still beautiful out. Old Crow says the next time he sees me, he wants me to have a trail name.” Sitting around the Low Gap Shelter the next night with Phluff, Nug, Sleepy, Zac, BSUR (Be As You Are) and Whispering Pine, everyone had questions for me. They inquired about my hobbies, character traits, or idiosyncrasies that would work for a trail name. Whisper said that she had noticed how happy I was on the trail and how encouraging I was to others that were having a hard time. “Happy” or “Encourager” or “Barnabas” didn’t really fit, and the discussion was dropped for a few minutes during dinner. As I sat in the shelter and reviewed my past few days, I read through my journal entry by headlamp from 3.8.97 “Tonight is the first on the trail for me…I have started my THRU-HIKE!...FEARS: only small ones – not succeeding – staying healthy – depression and loneliness. Even though these have been expressed, I am very optimistic.” That’s it! Optimist! The other thru-hikers at the Low Gap Shelter liked it, so it stuck. I was immediately fond of the substance of my new title.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Doors - What happens when your toddler(s) start opening doors!?! How do you keep your stuff safe and your toddler(s) safe from your stuff? Sydney and Abigail have been "practicing" at the interior door handles for a couple of weeks and have occasionally opened a closet.

Monday, March 12, 2007

For those of you that don’t already know, the Appalachian Trail was completed in 1937 and is a unit of the National Park Service. The AT houses more than 2,000 occurrences of rare, threatened, endangered, and sensitive plant and animal species. The Trail crosses six national parks, traverses eight national forests, and crosses numerous state and local forests and parks. It is located from 124 feet to 6,625 feet in elevation. It takes approximately 5 million footsteps to walk the entire length of the Trail, and more than 9,000 people have reported hiking the length of the Trail. And I was determined to see it all.

At first glance, a thru-hike of the AT seems like a daunting task with averages like these: 6 months away from home, 12 miles a day, a 40 lbs. backpack, 72 lbs. of mac-n-cheese, and 250 Snickers bars. I had to remind myself each and every day that the only way to eat an elephant is…And to focus on the here and now, I would consult my trusty “Appalachian Trail Data Book 1997”, pictured here. The Data Book is the thru-hiker’s Bible and provides those mini-goals that every hiker needs – next water source, next road crossing, next shelter, and so on. On March 12, 1997, I had completed 41.3 miles from Springer Mountain, Ga. and I had passed more creeks, stamps, tops, shelters, gaps, roads, and “mountains” than I could count. I didn’t think about Maine or even the Smokey Mountains – each landmark was a goal and I was taking this one step at a time.

Yes, my trail name was an early issue. An excerpt from Larry Luxenberg’s book, Walking the Appalachian Trail, explains the trail name well: “As part of their pilgrimage, most thru-hikers assume a new identity—a trail name. Trail names on the A.T. go back at least to the early seventies, but they caught on in the late seventies, when the number of hikers increased dramatically. Now trail names are almost mandatory. Some fit so well that after a while it's hard to recall the hikers' given names. Trail names reflect a sort of split personality, in which one's trail identity is far removed from one's other life in, say, the corporate world. Trail names are so widespread that one can hike with someone for weeks and not know the name his parents would use. ‘It's dropping one persona and taking on another,’ said Leonard ‘Habitual Hiker’ Adkins. ‘In high school and college, people get nicknames. Trail names show that you are being accepted into the club. You're freer to become someone you always wanted to be.’ Greg ‘Pooh’ Knoettner, assistant ATC field representative in New England, earned his trail name when he left the A.T. in 1989 to attend his sister's college graduation in upstate New York. On his way back to the trail, he was waiting for a train at Pennsylvania Station in New York City. He set his pack down too hard and a big glass jar of honey inside the pack shattered. The honey went over everything, Greg recounted. ‘So I'm sitting on the ground in my grungy thru-hiker clothes in Pennsylvania Station, taking things out and licking them off and putting them down next to me. I felt like a derelict. Then some guy, faking a foreign accent, came up to me and said 'Rockefeller Station. How do I get to Rockefeller Station?' I knew from my days living right across the river in New Jersey so I started explaining to him. Then he said, 'No. Write down.' I wrote it down and gave it to him. Then he said 'thank you' and disappeared. I looked down and my camera equipment was gone. My jacket was gone. I'd been scammed. He and somebody else had robbed me and it was all because of this stupid jar of honey.’ Like Winnie, Greg the Pooh is now known for his love of honey.”

So, for these first days, I was known as Brad. Folks would say “Which Brad are you?...The whiskey drinking Brad, the pilot Brad, the speedy hiker Brad, or the tall, skinny, blonde Brad from Nashville?” So I’d say, “Yea, that last one is me.” And they would frown and lament my lack of a trail name, and say “Nice to meet you, BRAD.” I needed a trail name. Here are a couple of journal entries that show a glimpse of my frustration: “3.9.97 It was another beautiful day, today, and rain is in the forecast. Right now I am looking forward to meeting these guys [Jaded and Chameleon] and making it to Neels Gap. Jaded gave me the name “Bones” – I don’t think I like it. 3.10.97 Today was not too bad, but it seems Georgia just goes up and down. Those two guys had planned on staying were I am now – Jarrard Gap – but I guess they couldn’t quite make it. It was more difficult that I expected also. My feet are starting to hurt a little, and my sleeping bag is too hot [since temperatures were in the 70s and I had a 0-degree sleeping bag at the time], and I can’t get may pack adjusted JUST right, but other than [those things], everything is great. I hope this beautiful weather lasts. I am still thinking hard for a trail name.”

Thursday, March 08, 2007

At this point in my planning process, most people asked, “Who are you going to do this with?” or “What was your parents reaction when you told them about your trip” or “Aren’t you scared of bears and snakes and being robbed and loneliness?” or “Are you going to take a gun?” I’ll answer all of these questions at some point, but I believe the question about my parent’s reaction had the most impact on the success or failure of my trip. I had been reading and planning in secret while I was waiting on the next customer at Todd’s newly opened pack shop – not really in secret, but I was not discussing the intricacies of how to be successful as a thru-hiker with my parents – the mail-drops, the resupply points, the support from home. So when I said that I was going to leave for 6 months and walk to Maine, Mom’s first reaction was (and I am not paraphrasing) “NO!” She and Dad came around slowly and were 100% on-board by March 8 when they carried me to the trailhead in Amicalola Fall State Park in Georgia. They could not be more proud of their firstborn, and I don’t know how I could have succeeded without their blessing. The entire family made the drive and the 2-mile hike to the southern terminus of the trail, Springer Mountain, to see me off. Mom presented me with a gold angel pin and promised that she would be praying for me each and every day. There was much weeping. Later on, they said that the crying lasted the entire hike back to the car.

So there I was - ready for the companion of solitude that the trail could provide; ready for a physical and spiritual challenge; ready to get away. For a different perspective, I’ll try to share some of my daily journal with you each post – although I rarely captured the inspirational moments that were transpiring around me each day. “3.8.97 Tonight is the first on the trail for me…I have started my THRU-HIKE!...It has been a great day today as far as the weather goes – 68 degrees at the Ranger Station and around 50 degrees right now – when is now? – dark. The only thing that I forgot was a watch – I thought it was packed but I haven’t found it yet. The stars are out tonight and the people are friendly, so far. I met other thru-hikers and a lot of day hikers. I didn’t want to take a chance my first night so I set my tent up, but this would be a great night to sleep under the stars and the great expanse of sky. FEARS: only small ones – not succeeding – staying healthy – depression and loneliness. Even though these have been expressed, I am very optimistic. I need a trail name. Brad

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

November pre-registration for the Spring 1997 semester came and went. And Christmas break came and went. Now it was time to study the state specific books, countless maps, planning workbooks, and books on the personal accounts of other AT thru-hikers. The AT is the longest continuously marked footpath in the world – over 2,100 miles – and follows along the Eastern seaboard and the Appalachian mountain chain through 14 states. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) defines a person hiking the entire length of the AT as a “2,000 miler” and equal recognition is given to those who complete the trail in sections (Section-Hikers) over many years. I decided to travel from Georgia to Maine.

I had my approach to becoming a thru-hiker figured out – so I thought. A local pack shop (outdoor gear outfitter BRMS) had a presentation/Q&A session in January 1997 about the AT to give potential candidates more information on thru-hiking. I prefaced my first question with “I’ll be starting my thru-hike on February 15th…” and I received an earful. The moderator began dictating the commonly known facts to me – the traditional start date for thru-hikers is April 1, before the summer crowds and after the snow; hikers that hike alone (i.e. starting too early in the year or hiking from Maine to Georgia) have only a blah-blah percent chance of overcoming the mental obstacle of loneliness; and, last but not least, preparing for the chance of bitter cold weather in the Appalachian mountains for a thru-hike is insane. The weight of clothes and food that must be carried is directly proportionate to the energy needed to sustain your body heat. For example, if you have to eat more to stay alive, then you have to carry more – and a person can only carry so much. So, yes, I had read about all of these issues in a book somewhere- but the moderator, we’ll just call him Bill (because that is his name, if you know him) added emotion and first-hand experiences from his TWO thru-hikes over the previous 10 years. I was blown away; however, I intended to brave the elements and tackle this beast with the grace of God, vast experiences in the mountains, wilderness survival knowledge, and dumb luck. And then wisdom teeth happened – yes, the wisdom teeth that had been happy in the back of my mouth for so many years had to come out immediately. So, the endodontic appointment and subsequent recovery time pushed my start date to March 9, 1997. Maybe this was a sign - God works in mysterious ways.

This morning's doctor visit confirms that Sydney has a double ear infection, now. The ear infections of last month are back!

First of all, thanks to our friends P&MA for the new, BIG toy! We've had to put the new kitchen (with fridge, fridge magnets, stove top, oven, dishwasher, cabinets, grill, cordless phone, vegetables, flowers, etal.) in their room, because there is no good place for it until the weather warms. Maybe the deck will be a good place for it until the mosquitoes come!
Secondly, sorry for the lapse in posts - busyness pervades. The past couple of weeks have been busy and Sydney and Abigail have amazed us everyday with new facets to their personalities. The two-year-old stage is kicking in - Abigail has accepted it and will be playing the role of the aggressor, and Sydney will undoubtedly express her distress while being pushed, pulled, or scratched soon with "Abigail, STOP, I don't appreciate the way you a treating me!". Yes, Sydney's language skills keep us on the edge of our seats. No full sentences yet, but it won't be long. You know I've said that the sweetest kid is a sleeping kid; well, the second sweetest child is the child who wakes up happy and is in awe of the world for a while - you know, like the above pictures - with blank stares on their faces, rubbing sleep out of their eyes, and rested. The hairdo on Abigail is a product of nap time sweat from her recent fever - actually, both girls have exhibited a fever over the past few days and are getting better today.
Finally, the Chronicles of Optimist will begin soon and will be rife with stories on the people of the A.T., the bear story, Phil. 4:13, favorite trails, favorite towns, Katahdin and much much more. 10 years ago, tonight - the last time I would sleep in my own bed for months!