From the horse's mouth

So I know I stopped updating and writing in my journal. The only reason I could do this and keep everybody updated with my hike is because of Mom. I can't thank her enough for all the work she did with my blog, pictures, and keeping, apparently, all of Brevard and half of the western world up-to-date with my progress. She put WAAAYYY more effort into this then I ever expected or asked for. If she hadn't of helped me out so much, I don't think my hike would have gone this smoothly.

Thank you Mom!

I also stopped writing in my journal because I got tired of summarizing the same thing day after day. I felt that my pictures did a better job of highlighting the exciting parts of my journey, and expressed what words couldn't. It was very difficult coming into camp each night and doing all the things I needed to do and then write in journal - plus journaling has never been my thing. Enough excuses!

I think one of the toughest things about the trail is dealing with friends who drop off. The hardest one to deal with was when Brunch got off the trail. We were supposed to meet up the night I got back from New York City, but he called me that morning and broke the news. The good side was that I got to see him in NYC before he caught a bus home. He was extremely generous and gave me 2 days worth of food - this ended up saving me a shopping trip in the Big Apple and thus probably $40 or so. Thank you Brunch.

Drop offs are expected early on in the trail, but I guess after 700 miles I expected that you were locked in. However, Brunch dropped out for the right reasons. He was no longer enjoying his hike, and could still make it back to Asheville in time to start the fall semester and thus graduate on time. I will admit I was disappointed and shaken up when I got Brunch's voice mail. At that point in the trail, I had been hiking by myself for about 3 weeks when I last saw Buffalo in Rutland, VT. Even though I was hiking by myself, I wasn't alone. I was tripping over north bounders - up to 25 a day. It was fun for a while, but after Brunch caught me in Manchester, VT and then I got behind him, I was looking forward to hiking with him again. By the time I got into New York, I was tired of repeating the same conversation (or close to the same conversations) every night, and wanted a friend to hang out with. The NoBos were also tapering off - in fact, by the time I got back on the trail in Pawling, they had all but disappeared and this crowd was questioning if they were going to make Katadhin by October 15. New York marked a low point for me on the trail and it continued into New Jersey.

After Mt. Greylock, Massachutes, the trail enters a "stretch" of low elevations. This stretch last about 500 or 600 miles (from Massachutes into Virginia). Gone are the days of 5000'mountains (that was in New Hampshire). Gone are the days 4000' mountains (Also in New Hampshire). Gone are the days of 3000' mountains (Mt. Greylock, Massachutes). GONE ARE THE DAYS OF 2000' MOUNTAINS (Bear Mountain on the Mass-Connecticut border)!!! You have entered the low-lands. The AT travels through the Pine Barrens of New York and New Jersey - where the water is scarce, brown, and smelly. In my opinion, the trail should never pass through these areas. There are no hostels, save the Mayor's House in Unionville, NY (more on that later), the towns are all far from the trail because hitching is illegal and the towns I went in to were not set up to handle hikers, the weather is muggy, the mosquitoes are fierce (they made Maine look docile), everything is expensive, the water sucks, the shelters are trashy and don't have good water sources (there were several that I wished would burn down for there own sake, a "mercy kill" if you will), there are no mountains, and the views are all hazy because of the pollution and low elevations. I suffered through all this by myself - I was never closer to thinking about quitting then in the mid-Atlantic region. I hated these two states so much that I hiked big miles just to get through it. It was a lesson in doing what is needed just to survive.

I hiked without seeing another through hiker for about a week or so after I got back on the trail. When I got into Unionville, NY (which is actually in the New Jersey section of the trail) I ran into Root Beer Float (RBF). He was actually thinking about heading out that day, but I convinced him to stay another day so that I could hike with him. I was so desperate for another hikers company I would have, and did, hiked with anybody. RBF was a great hiking companion, and we hiked with another guy for a while who was not a good hiking companion.

I never realized how close you become with other hikers. I still talk to Brunch, and he misses the trail, but doesn't regret his decision to get off the trail. It was amazing how his decision affected me. I don't want to say that he quit, because very few people quit. It seems that most people who drop off become section hikers or attempt another through hike. Quitting would be someone who leaves the trail and never comes back - everything else is just a set back. I admire Brunch for his decision and honesty. I think a lot of through hikers stay on the trail because they want to save face with people back home, or just aren't truly honest with themselves. I always had the attitude that when the trail was no longer enjoyable, it was time to go home. Fortunately, I still enjoyed the trail. When I couldn't enjoy the the everyday parts, I focused on enjoying the challenge of pushing big miles. Unlike Brunch, if I had ever decided to drop off, I know I would have regretted it every moment and might not have even attempted another through hike.

AT Mile 2,176.2 November 21st This 2009 SoBo Thru-Hike is complete!!!


The view is fantastic!!!

Zombie is the 45th SoBo to complete his Thru-Hike.

Stats at the ATC show 214 left Mt. Katahdin this year (they close Baxter State Park October 15th) 107 have checked in at Harper's Ferry, and 45 have made it to Springer Mt. by the 21st of November... The first 5 SoBo hikers to reach Springer signed in March. They left Mt. Katahdin, ME in 2008, and did a "winter hike". It will be interesting to find out how many finish by the end of this year...

Back to the trail...
Zombie woke up early Saturday, and enjoyed the 7-mile hike from Hawk Mt. Shelter to the Springer Mt. Parking Lot to meet his family. We all came to join the fun in hiking the last mile to the top.

Dad/Chris began hiking the last 30 miles with Zombie/Andrew, and had been looking forward to this for a long time. To his dismay, he discovered walking our hills five miles a day, 3 + times a week without a pack is not the same conditioning as hiking the trail with a 35-pound pack plus hauling that pack up and over Blood Mountain's 1,500' vertical rise and decent. 10 miles on his first trail day was a good start, but by the end of the day, when he couldn't lift his feet high enough to go up steps, he realized he'd slow Andrew down too much if he continued with him. Dad/Chris' hip joints were screaming in protest, and his Celebrix was not giving him any relief from the discomfort. He called home at 4:30 and said "I'm on top of Big Cedar Mountain. It's beautiful here. The view is great. The day was really nice. My hips are killing me, I can't lift my legs, so I'm done, and I need a ride out of here in the morning." Chris is familiar with this part of North Georgia, from the many Boy Scout hikes and camping trips he took with our boys years ago. He knew the road, GA60, was a mile away, but the next road was 20 miles, at Amicalola Falls State Park. We happen to have friends that live 3-miles away, in Suches, GA, and they were home, and very gracious to pick him up at Woody Gap Friday morning, to drive him to Amicalola Lodge. Thanks Ruth!!! You were a life saver - I was 4+ hours away, and since Scott and John were riding with me, I couldn't leave until after school was out at 3:00. Ruth's kindness allowed Chris to have a pleasant Friday exploring The Falls and short trails at the Lodge.

Saturday morning at the Lodge....
We were sitting at breakfast Saturday morning, watching the clock, enjoying breakfast, catching up with Tiger/Matthew, when a couple came over and introduced themselves. They recognized me from Zombie's Blog. Their son, Krammin', was coming in on the trail with Zombie and the others. We had fun exchanging stories and excitement of the day. I really want to say thanks again to Krammin's parents from Ohio and express my appreciation for their "Hiker Feed". They hiked a half mile to the Hawk Mountain Shelter carrying charcoal and a grill for steak, potatoes, and all the fixin's dinner! Complete with homemade cookies and brownies ....enough to feed all 7 thru-hikers on their last night on the trail. I had heard the guys mention something was happening at one of the shelters, back at Neel's Gap, but didn't realize it was anything like this... I knew the guys were really hoping they would be there to enjoy the fest ivies especially since it included FOOD :-)

Meanwhile brother Scott and John, a family friend, enjoyed a big breakfast at the Lodge. They took off early because they had planned to hike the 8.8 mile Approach Trail from Amicalola Falls Lodge to Springer. These two are Cross Country Runners, and are now training for the Winter Track season, so they were looking forward to the 18-mile hike up and back. Mom/Harriet, Dad/Chris and brother/Russell opted for the 32 miles road route, to the Springer Mt. Parking Lot off of the Forest Road. Andrew was waiting on us... and happy I remembered to bring a bottle of champagne! We realized Scott and John would approach from a different direction, so we began our part of the Thru-Hike.

We were as excited and giddy as kids on Christmas morning! What a neat hike... The signs and the guide book say "It's 0.9 miles straight up from the Parking Lot." I was relieved to see it really was just a steady upward gentle rise. The path was a bit rocky, but not difficult at all. We came around the last corner, and heard happy voices from the others that started ahead of us...

Yes! We've all made it to the top!!!! Hikers, family, friends and we are all thrilled to be there! Zombie lets out a really loud "holler" followed by lots of laughter, big hugs, and everyone dazed and amazed at the beautiful view that is before us! This day was an answer to many, many prayers! and we give thanks to God ><> !!!

Pictures tell the best story... so click the link in the header "What Have I Seen?" and enjoy the day with us!

This is my final post....I'm turning Zombie's Blog back over to him! His is the story you want to read, and so do I :-). I expect he'll enjoy adding his post - trail thoughts, so stay tuned. He has many pictures to label and post. They'll pick back up at Snickers Gap, VA and continue through Springer, and they'll be fun to see. Patience please, I'm sure it's going to take him a bit of time... besides, Thanksgiving is coming, we have lots of family to see... and Zombie/Andrew has a trip to Northern Virginia, to see Ground Support/Kelly next week.

All the best to each of you that have been part of this journey. We've gotten to know so many wonderful new folks, while existing friends have become like family from this adventure. I'll say "Farewell" but not" goodbye". Walk safely and be surefooted, exuberantly seize each day, and enjoy all our Creator has made.

With thanks,

AT Mile 2145.5 Neel Gap, GA November 18-19, 2009

30 miles to Springer Mountain! Zombie gains a fellow hiker... Dad/Chris !

The last few days, the last few miles... See the photo's (Click "What I've Seen" above) to tell the story from the past two days... The group shot is Dad/ Chris, Zombie, Six-String, P.I., Tiger, Smokey's Friend, and BroTucky. They will complete their hikes on different days, for different reasons, each one for family that will be meeting them.

We will be seeing you Saturday at Springer Mountain :-)

Thanksgiving will be extra Happy having our hikers home!
Mom/ Harriet

AT Mile 2134.7 November 17, 2009

41.5 miles / 4 days to Springer Mountain!

Andrew called from Hiawassee, GA yesterday, while he and 5 other hikers had come into town for a quick re-supply. He really sounded excited as he discussed final plans to meet his Dad, Chris, at Neel's Gap, south of Blairsville, GA. Dinner tomorrow night, then they will set out for the last 30 miles on Thursday morning. Russell, Scott and I will be waiting for them on Springer Mountain Saturday!

Zombie has been hiking with Tiger, BroTucky, Fugeo (it means fire), Six-String, and P.I. for the past while. Tiger plans to finish Friday, Andrew and Dad/Chris on Saturday, and I forget which day the others will come in, some are meeting folks as late as Sunday.

What a wonderful journey this has been! It has been a long time since I have "unfurled" the AT Map I got from the Park Service back in May. When I started looking at the map, about 8" by 4' in length, to get familiar with the geography of the AT, it seemed surreal. Then I folded it back up, and have kept it open to the section that Andrew was hiking on... Each day I put a little dot with the date beside the dot, that represents each Spot transmission we've gotten over the past 23 weeks. It was just easier to stay focused on the small section of the map... Today I opened it up, to show a friend, and I now see the map's length with a new prospective! Wow! It is really a long, long way!

(I hope you can view the AT map on the right side margin. I copied it from followers "Pat and Mark" blog and an error message is showing when I view the blog. Anyway, Mark's Trail Name is "Country Runner". He has some wonderful pictures and hiker notes. He's also a SoBo '09 hiker that Andrew has hiked parts of the trail with... in fact Mark has a picture of Ledge and Zombie/Andrew you might enjoy as well. :-)

Never would I have expected we (the friends and family back home) would make so many new friends on a hike we've barely walked on! One can only imagine how many friends the hikers have made! I can say, our lives are much richer because we've met as kindred spirits, by providence. Things happen when an eleven year old dreams and sets their heart on that dream!

Once again, let me say how much your interest in Andrew's thru-hike has meant to our entire family... Your thoughts, prayers and comments have been so supportive! Your inquiries, your sharing your stories while listening to our stories have kept the events exciting for us, which has given us peace for our son. Thank you!!!

In all ways, we give thanks,

AT Mile 2,041.4 November 11, 2009

134.8 miles to Springer Mountain....

We received a surprise call from Zombie/ Andrew tonight. He's staying at the Nantahala Outdoor Center (N.O.C.) Bunkhouse. He's still hiking with Tiger and they caught up with 6-String a few days ago. Andrew originally met 6-String back in VA before Andrew took some zero days in Blacksburg.

Since Zombie/ Andrew left Hot Springs Nov. 4th, he and Tiger finished the Smokey Mountains late Monday the 9th, when they arrived at Fontana Dam. He said the Smokies were simply beautiful and the weather was perfect! No, he didn't see any bears, and he was hoping he would... He did see a Park Ranger... the second one he's seen since he began the Thru-Hike. There was a clear view on Clingman's Dome, early Sunday morning. They could see for 72-miles and were even able to see Mt. Mitchell. There were only 4 people on the observation deck that early. Standing 6,643' the panoramic views were simply beautiful. They hiked 20 + miles a day thru the Smokies and made a quick trip of it.

The guide book did not give warning that the re-supply store at Fontana Dam closes early, so they arrived late in the day, and the only thing opened was the Post Office. There was no place to find and purchase food. Fortunately, a previous Thru-hiker by the Trail name "Hopeful," had decided to put on "a Hiker-Feed" and they were able to fill some hungry belly's. The rain started Monday night, and was non-stop until this morning. (We've had 5" of rain fall, and inch of it during the day today, and we're still getting rain on this side of the mountain, but fortunately theirs was a dry day, so his pack was able to dry out even though his shoes were still wet.) At least his clothes and sleeping bag were staying dry.

Once again, there was no warning that the NOC would not have food available "this late in the season" everything has closed early. So he and the two fellow hikers had to hike a mile down US19, a dark, curvy road with no shoulder, to the nearest gas station to get hot dogs. Poor Zombie/ Andrew... he hasn't eaten hot dogs since he was a little fellow... he doesn't like them what so ever...and that is ALL there was available for food. He managed chow down 4 and then said, enough... Guess home cooking is going to be a welcome change in about 11 more days?

Zombie/ Andrew planned out the rest of his trip, and knows exactly which shelters he'll be in each night. He will spend the night in Franklin Friday, but just an over night. He has no zero days between Hot Springs and Springer, so he's on track to start his hike with Dad/ Chris on Thursday, Nov. 19th at Neel's Gap.

BTW... National Geographic had a special on last night called America's Wild Spaces, the Appalachian Trail. Aunt Megan called to tell us about it, by the time we found it, it had been on about 20 minutes. Then Dad/Chris found we could view it on Demand, with Direct TV, so we got to see the whole thing. We've recorded it for Andrew to watch when he gets back home.

The last shelter on his last night on his Thru-Hike, is 8 miles from Springer, so they'll be able to have a leisurely hike and still make the summit by lunch time on Saturday, November 21st. I've called, made reservations at the Lodge, and verified there is indeed a Forest Road, that goes to the Parking Lot a mile from the top. It's a 32-mile drive, or an 8 mile hike from the lodge. Not sure about the brothers, but I'll be driving to meet the two of them on the summit. Friends and family are encouraged to join us.... We can't wait !!!

Blessings always, in all ways,
Mom/ Harriet

AT mile 1904.5 November 2-3, 2009 An unexpected and special "Zero day"

Hot Springs, North Carolina
is last trail town for SoBo Hikers. Zombie overlooks the French Broad River just before getting to town.

When Andrew called on Friday, from Erwin, TN we were reviewing his schedule. When I heard him say he was going to take a Zero Day on Tuesday (November 3rd) I asked if he wanted to take a Zero Day at home??? (Zero Days are non-hiking days) He knew his Dad and I were planning all along to meet him for lunch in Hot Springs, but once I realized how close by it was, I told him we'd be happy to bring him home, and take him back. He said, "Wow! I never thought about doing that, but sure! That would be great!" I asked him if it was possible to let me know how many other Thru-Hikers he was traveling with might want to come too since it would determine if his Dad and I would travel together or only one come to Hot Springs that Monday. He said he'd try to get a cell phone signal and send me a text. (Typically he only turns his phone on when he resupplies in towns, but this was an understandable exception.)

7:00 a.m. I got his text message: It's just me and Tiger, so you and Dad can meet us in Hot Springs about 1:00 p.m.

Chris and I had a lovely drive discovering a new part of the state we had never been to. We arrived in this charming, quaint town, known for it's natural hot springs. Since we were early, we drove around to explore things a bit, then parked at The Smokey Mountain Diner, famous with the AT Thru-Hikers. The AT Trail is literally the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street, in front of the diner. (The diner, and other places in Hot Springs were written up in the recent October's edition of Southern Living... read about it on page 26). We asked the waitress if we could wait on the front porch till our Thru-Hiker arrived, and were told "by all means!"

... Rocking on the front porch, I'm knitting, we're both waiting... then Dad Chris sends Andrew a text "Hurry up... I'm hungry!" (that's "love you, miss you, is everything OK" in guy-speak :-)) Shortly afterward, Andrew sends a text back "In town, but had to stop at the there soon" Chris goes to the sidewalk with the "AT" symbol embedded into the cement and stands waiting... When I asked where was the camera, I discovered we obviously had a communications mix-up about getting it into the car before we left home, so my only pictures of the reunion hugs between father and son are on my cell phone, and written on my heart.

We get to meet Tiger (aka Matthew) from a town near Hershey, Pennsylvania... he gets hugs too, since he's adopted for these two days. We head on back to The Smokey Mt. Diner for lunch... now there are THREE hungry guys! It was a Chamber of Commerce perfect Fall day, so we found a sunny table on the back porch, and enjoy catching up while our "Hiker Specials" and a normal hamburger for Mom are being prepared. It was fun to watch these guys eat...everything, including half of Chris' too big hamburger, fries, and my too many onion rings. Good thing I knew to cook up lots of stuff on Sunday afternoon... There were feasts waiting for them at the house!!!

We headed back to Bluff Mountain Outfitters so Chris could purchase the few things he needs to be prepared for his 30-mile section hike when he meets Andrew at Neal's Gap in NE Georgia, to hike the last 30 miles with him to Springer. Andrew and Tiger had already purchased their permit needed for The Great Smokey Mountains, but they wanted to re-supply, and mail some food to the next mail town so they would only have to carry 3 days of food. The mountains surrounding Hot Springs are beautiful... and steep!!! A lot of up and down elevation changes lay between mail towns, so any lightness to their packs will be very helpful. Chris and I had seen the place where the trail leaves town to continue southbound... about a 300 feet off the road, it ascends to a ridge, looking more like a wall than a trail to me.

None the less, we enjoyed Matthew and Andrew's visit. Too brief, but great to have the unexpected fun in having them home. We thought Ledge and Country Runner would be joining us, but they were a half day and full day behind because Ledge was having shin splints and needed to ease his pace for a few days. Tiger and Zombie were hoping to meet them when they returned to Hot Springs, and checked in for their overnight at Elmer's Sunnybank Inn, a hostel legendary to the AT hiker community since 1978. It's known for the delicious gourmet vegetarian, organic meals, where no one goes away hungry... (after splitting a pound of bacon and a pound of sausage for breakfast, with an inch of ham, pastrami, turkey with cheese for lunch, their bodies probably appreciated a vegetarian dinner! Ha Ha!) At the Inn, there are several big porches, a music room and extensive library and many other wonderful things to make a hiker feel at home. It was dusk, and too dark to get a snapshot of the lovely Victorian home when I dropped them off, but it was light enough to see it's quite nice. There's a historical marker out front, so I'm sure there is a wonderful story about it that we'll learn over Thanksgiving once his SoBo Thru-hike is completed.

I caught a glimpse in Andrew's Trail Journal where he'd written 11/2/09 Trail Day + 145...

271.7 miles remain...

Look for a special adventure in your day today, and find blessings within the adventure,
Mom Harriet

AT Miles 1863.4 - 1872.2 October 31, 2009

Happy Halloween :-)

It was one of those days when
it rained, and rained, and rained... and it looked to be raining all over the world. Zombie and fellow hikers were all hiking at a different pace, so it was as if they were all alone, in the constant cold rain...

As the afternoon progressed, a North Bound hiker was crossing paths with Zombie / Andrew and asks "Are you Zombie? Well there is something up ahead for you on the trail..." So four miles later, There is an unexpected surprise!!! Trail Kindness (I know... the AT hikers call it Trail Magic) decked out in holiday fashion :-)

Now how in the world did I find the trail way up in the North East Corner of Tennessee, where the trail keeps crossing into North Western corner of North Carolina??? I'd say it was by Providence! Like so many things that happen on the trail... Back in May, I was at Carolina Blinds in Hendersonville, purchasing blinds for our home. Some how it came up about Andrew hiking the AT... Wayne, the owner said to be sure to have Andrew call if he needed anything when he got into their town. The next time I was in the store, I asked if I brought a "surprise" would he be willing to put it on the trail that goes through his family property? He said he'd be happy to! I called the week before Halloween to see if it was still OK, and he assured me it was. Wayne and is wife, Sue, were both at the store the day I took a small cooler filled with two frozen dinners I had made and put up in the freezer... The dinners were stored in "boil-a-bags" because I thought it would be helpful after a long day of hiking. There were candy bars, packages of Nido dried whole milk, Slim Jims, an 8-pack of Gatorade, and a cute Halloween card tucked inside, along with a scare-a-crow mylar balloon, a bag labeled 'for Zombie', and another labeled 'for AT Thru-hikers' that might be coming by. I was aware of 4 hikers that may happen by, but one never knows, so I sent plenty for everybody!

Wayne and Sue had their nieces and nephews help make a sign for Zombie, and carefully loaded it all up on their 4 - wheeler, topped off the "surprise" with a cute scare-a-crow they had to go along with their sign and my Fall balloon motif. I had no idea they were going to help decorate the trail... but it was totally appreciated by all the hikers! A few hours after setting out "the Trail Magic", Wayne went back out in the rain to check on the first sign the kids had made, especially since it had been raining constantly all day. He decided to go make a second sign from plywood to insure it would still be holding up by the time Andrew came by... he noticed a few empty Gatorade bottles, so he knew the hikers were traveling through. Based on Andrew's SPOT location the evening before and knowing his usual hiking pace, I expected him to be by between 2 and 4 p.m.

When Andrew arrived, (at 4), he recognized our little cooler, and had fun checking out all of the goodies. He said when he saw the frozen dinners I'd made, he knew instantly what was inside (two of his favorites - enough for two people or one hungry thru-hiker!!) HOWEVER, unbeknown to me, he did no have enough fuel to boil water long enough to thaw them out and heat them up... and probably the most important reason, "the weight, Mom, do you know how heavy that is when you have to carry it 4 miles?" Of course I didn't realize that... The only time I have walked 4 miles, I wasn't carrying anything :-) We laughed when he was thanking me for the surprise. I was glad I had told Wayne and Sue before hand, "if for some reason Andrew doesn't take the food, y'all will have two home-made dinners that are our family favorites, Texas style Chili and Chicken and Dumplings, to enjoy if you want them..."

Once again, new friends are made by simply walking in the woods.... Many, many thanks to Wayne, Sue, and "their kids" for all they have done! Several hikers got to enjoy some Southern hospitality along with "TREATS" for Halloween!

May your trails be happy and filled with fun,
Mom/ Harriet