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274 Miles Down

I am currently in Hot Springs, NC. I took a day off yesterday at a popular hostel right off the trail. Even though my knees and feet feel great, I decided to catch up on some relaxation and take my first zero day. The legendary Baltimore Jack was  there. He was cooking lunch and dinner for some of the hikers.  I asked Baltimore how many times he hiked the entire Appalachian Trail and he meekly said, nine. I believe he has the record for most consecutive times (8) but there may be one or two who have hiked it even more.  Yesterday I spent the day drinking Yuenglings in the can, eating ice cream, and watching movies. A hiker picked Kill Bill Vol 1 and 2.

I  re-evaluated my mileage requirement to get to Damascus for the infamous Trail Days hiker festival. I need to average 16 miles a day to be there by the 16th. I am hoping to collect a few stories and character profiles while I am there using my digital voice recorder. The current plan is to get a ride back to Atlanta, get my car and drift up through PA and NJ. I would continue 500 miles away from Maine, most likely in Vermont or New Hampshire and finish out the last 500 miles hiking to the northern terminus. If I don’t find an easy way back to Atlanta at Damascus, then I will hike up to Harper’s Ferry and take a train to DC and eventual bus down to Atlanta. Everything is pretty much up in the air and I am just enjoying the stroll. It has been interesting watching all the trees and plants and flowers bloom and the difference in elevation between them. The bugs are starting to wake up as well. I have seen very little wildlife, no deer or bears just an owl and lots of squirrels some of which are too bold for their own good. I am hiking solo but keep running into an older guy named Ace.  He thru-hiked the AT in 2003 a year after I did the first time. I think the next stop will be Erwin, TN about 4 days away hopefully I can blog from a better computer than the one I am using now.

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North Carolina Black Panther

North Carolina Black Panther

A very rare and deadly specimen.

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Sunset Off Standing Indian Mountain (5499 ft)

Sunset Off Standing Indian Mountain (5499 ft)

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Appalachian Trail Redux

Ahh yes the smell of mud, rain, stinky hiker feet, and Ramen noodles…must be hiking season in the South! I am very happy to be out his year and am very grateful to Patricia and Young Geezer for letting me park my car at their house in Atlanta for the next 5 months or so.Today is day 9 of my Appalachian Trail Redux hike. I find myself in the Macon County Public Library in Franklin, North Carolina. I feel like I am the only one living in a zombie movie. I am moving at regular speed and the locals are in slow motion.  I really like the southern drawl but in this day of information at the speed of a button, conversation is becoming a less preferable option. So hiking this year has been a real kick in the butt. I have had no problems with my knees, feet, or ankles. I froze one night at Gooch Shelter when the temperatures reached 20 degrees. I donated my down jacket to a girl who was grossly unprepared for the frosty weather. She had no thermal sleeping pad (in an an extremely drafty shelter), a kid’s sleeping bag that only came up to her chest, and a couple of cotton  layers. During the course of the night she started whimpering and so I spooned with her to keep her warm. I note this only because the following night I was camping out by a campfire at Neel’s Gap with a homeless man named Wayne. Wayne is an awesome guy! He has been collecting every article of clothing and gear left behind at the shelters and taking and hiking in them as he goes. He said he found his Coleman 40 degree sleeping  bag outside a greyhound station in Atlanta and has pretty much obtained the rest as he has hiked. He is hiking with a pit bull puppy named Caroline. She is a sweetheart. The night we camped out it was cold as hell and so Caroline crawled into my sleeping bag and ended up crashing with me for the cold, Georgian night.  This means I spooned with two separate girls on consecutive nights with the latter one being much more satisfying.

Hiking the AT again has been a blast! I am remembering how all the noobs  are so positive and optimistic. The 1st three shelters were so much fun meeting all the people. The trail eventually turns into a big drama-filled, high school clique with hikers sticking to their own coteries.  However, the first few days are cool. Entire shelters full of hikers making jokes, card playing, trading stories, food, and some very deep conversations. I struck up conversation with this one guy that looks like “The Dude” from the Big Lebowski and we got into this great conversation about existence and free will. This kind of stuff doesn’t happen off trail. It is a huge accomplishment If a conversation makes it past the weather with a stranger in the real world.

The hike out of Gooch shelter in the rain and fog was awesome. The eerie fog that settles over the dormant woods and mountains is really inspiring to me. It all reminds me of the surreal world of a Tim Burton or the Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  I also helped a trail runner pack out a bunch of trash to a road a mile down trail, and said he would buy me a beer at Neel’s Gap which he did. I had a couple of Miller Lites around the campfire with Wayne and him and another guy named Chad. That is sorta the way I am playing it this year. I am helping out folks and volunteering my help when I can, living it up, and being in the moment.  I love hiking but am not against getting off trail or skipping sections this year. Another observation I have had this year is how everybody can be themselves. There are no preconceived notions from friends and family out here. The only thing you bring out here are your own repressions, anxieties, fears, and paranoia. Paradoxically, you also bring with you your raw joy, community, smiles, and inspirations. The trail is sorta like a big accepting mirror. I camped up on Standing Indian Mountain and caught a great sunrise and sunset. Last time I would never of dreamed of camping solo on the top of one of the highest mountains.  This hike has been a complete blast and much better than I remembered it being twelve years ago. I am now off to get some Thai Food and a weekender of Bush Beer to drink with a bunch of my new best friends! Cheers!

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Radio Interview

Here is a link to my recent NPR interview concerning my CDT Thru-hike.

http://wyomingpublicmedia.org/post/thru-hiking-continental-divide-trail

Categories: hiking, long distance hiking, NPR, radio, thru-hiking, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Animal

Remember to dream like coyotes

howling under coruscating skies

Blot out the din and the bullshit

sketch infinite constellations

from your front row of sand

Like love-struck mosquitoes,

proselytize the ecstasy

of rivers and wilderness

Bare your blood dripping fangs

and smile like a cracked, mad beast

Arise from concrete pabulum

Seek that which is buried

above the pine kissed air

Dust off her umbilical cord, rip it

from the thumbs of awkward apes

Discover how your body moves

when dancing on the brink of death

Pour a beer over the maws

of grizzly and storm and rock

fortunate to be alive, aware

And once you are safely back

You will be unable to provide any

answer to “how was the trail?”

Just growl and pace in your cage

hungry, restless, and ready to run.

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Triumph!

Triumph!

The end of my CDT thru-hike.

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The Triple Crown

“I’ve loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” –Galileo Galilei

“In the death of winter I finally learned there was in me an invincible summer.” -Albert Camus

On April 7th, 2002 I got dropped off at the southern terminus of the famed Appalachian Trail. I diffidently weighed my oversized backpack at the Amicalola State Falls Ranger Station before the approach trail to Springer Mountain. Impossibly, the scale tipped a massive 58 pounds. I had recently broken up with a girl that I loved and lived with for 3.5 years, flunked out of graduate school, and was homeless. Even worse the first few drops of a cold Georgian spring rain began to fall. Little did I know that it would pour for the following two weeks. I reckoned my success for completing a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail was slim and none and Slim (me) just twisted his knee badly and had never slept alone overnight in the woods. Twelve years, 3 long distance trails, and 7,000 miles later, I ended my Continental Divide Thru-hike the same way I started the AT: in two weeks of rain.

Steady and I finished our triple crown together on September 20th, at 12:28PM at Copper Mountain, CO after flipping and hiking south from Glacier National Park. Miraculously the sun came out the afternoon before and we had a clear, starry night! The temperature dipped to 25 degrees but for the first time in two weeks we got to cowboy camp under the endless stars without being rained on. After an emotional walk up 3000 feet to Uneva Pass we took our “completion” photos with the requisite kitschy Burger King crowns that we awkwardly acquired in Frisco the prior afternoon. It still seems so unreal to not have any miles to hike tomorrow.

It has been my humble privilege to be tutored by these three trails. I have gained confidence that only comes with walking amongst the tallest mountains, harshest winds, oldest forests, and most extreme environs. I have loved and lived outside for an accumulated year and a half, walked through almost every possible ecosystem, and pushed the limits of my body in ways that I never could have imagined. On the AT I tried walking a girl out of my head, on the PCT I tried walking one in, and on the CDT I wised up and simply walked with one. I discovered the therapeutic effects of walking in the woods that have allowed me to come to terms with biggies like: the eventual cessation of my fast temper, the power of positive thinking, and going after whatever it is that I want out of life. I believe we create our own reality and think that anything is possible. I have come to be amazed by the beauty of process that exists in nature. The cyclical manifestation of processes like: photosynthesis, germination, sublimation, erosion, heating, freezing, breathing, and condensation are intuitively beautiful. But the symphony of their molecular machinations and chemical symbiosis are something that I have come to revere. The critical means of dispersion in nature is astounding. The crazy world of birds and insects give the woods and those wild places far removed from the hand of man a sense of movement. Joseph Campbell wrote that we do not seek the meaning of life but the experience of living. To that end the simple act of moving with my own two feet makes me feel connected to Her and truly alive. I was rewarded for my movement by bearing witness to a forest fire started by a lightning strike less than a mile away. I experienced honesty and camaraderie that only comes with walking with somebody for thousands of miles. I’ve heard the feral call of deer, bears, elk, hawks, packs of coyotes and the numerous quantities of bird songs, mating calls, and lullabies. I have felt hundreds of unidentified insects, spiders, caterpillars, dragonflies, mosquitoes, and butterflies crawl up the standing hairs of my arm. I have observed the intelligence of the forest and can barely fathom the millions of things we don’t understand about her. I have fallen in love with the texture and scent of pine, cedar, and fir sap. I have melted against sunbeams peeking out of week-long boxed up clouds. I have ached to sleep on soft pine needles, desert puffy sand, and the supine position of peering up at the inexorable night skies. Like Tesla’s imagination, I marveled at the mysteries and sensation of charged air from an impending thunderstorm. I have befriended and regarded as my equal hundreds of languishing plants, ebullient flowers, and my favorite: trees. I have come to know how phenomenal food can taste from my starvation, the ecstasy of cleanliness from my filth, the endless bounds of fellowship from my solitude, the paroxysms of joy from sadness and the triumph of accomplishment over my failures.

As we descended into the town of Copper Mountain I was astonished by the invasive sounds of I-70 echoing off the ridge and how nobody ever thinks about what is drowned out. Her voice is there for those that put away their busy schedules, agendas, cars, chainsaws, careers, ATVs, television sets, rifles and phones. Before you trade all your freedom away for comforts go to where you can still hear the call. It has become my beacon.

If you have followed my blog this trail; you know this trail has often been a slog. There have been some amazing highlights like the unparalleled beauty of Glacier National Park, the uniqueness of Yellowstone, and the desolate wonder of New Mexico. But in retrospect post-holing above tree line on impossibly sharp angled snow slopes, failed logistics, shitty water, dangerous fords, frightening lightning storms and thoroughly soaked bones and spirits were integral to the experience. I got to walk through the good and bad with somebody I love and that has been the difference. Without each other’s encouragement we would have gotten off this carnival ride awhile back.

    Acknowledgements:

Unlike the other trails, the CDT has a dearth of trail “magic.” It was the second to last day on a hitch to town we got picked up by an extremely passionate and affable man named Ira. His enthusiasm, honesty, and positive admiration for what we were about to accomplish was the first that we experienced on the entire trip. We were strongly buoyed and surprised by his sheer kindness and the force of his positivity. His huge pat on our backs was appreciated and needed.

When our package didn’t arrive at Benchmark, MT we were totally screwed. We were out of food and had another 100+ mile section to go. We were forced to hitch on an extremely remote road and hope was dimming after 6.5 hours in the sweltering sun when an honest, pleasant, and intelligent couple named Mike and his wife Mary picked us up. They drove us all the way to Helena and shared their home and stories. In essence they saved our skins and our trip.

Outside of Pagosa Springs we got our first dose of magic from a previous triple crowner named Grizzly. He gave us free reign of his beautiful home in the mountains and rides in and out-of-town. His kindness was legendary.

To all the people who took a chance on us hitchhiking and gave us rides thank you so much!

To Hugh, Jason, Mike, Wayne, You guys are my brothers and thanks a million times over for bringing the “noise.”

To JB, Siva, Srin, Jen, Javi, Chris, Jennifer, Doug, Kelly, Smokehouse and MLK: I can’t wait to see you all and sink some pints soon!

To my Mom without whose support, unconditional love and service these trails never would have been possible. I love you.

To Heather my navigator, who saw me at my very worst and best, you made the bad times bearable and the good times epic. Thanks for steering the ship, keeping me afloat in the stormy waters, and demonstrating the importance that comes with a steady approach. Congrats, I am proud of you!

Thanks to everybody else for reading and those that have touched and inspired me along the way.

So this brings me to the very familiar and annual million dollar question, what’s next?
Next week I plan on taking some time to help with flood recovery for those good folks in northern Colorado doing whatever I can to help. After that and next spring, who knows? Whatever does come my way I know I will move confidently and embrace it. Maybe one of you will want to go for a little bicycle ride with me…

around the world?

Cheers!
-Skeeter

Categories: CDT, Desert, glacier national parl, hiking, long distance hiking, thru-hiking, trails, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Our Triple Crown Finish

Our Triple Crown Finish

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Weathering the Storm

Howdy folks, I hope everybody has enjoyed their summers. I hope to finish this trail September 20th right on the cusp of the autumnal equinox at Copper Mountain. This trail has been one of extreme contrasts. The pendulum has swung from dry to wet, warm to freezing, easy to hard, etc. The rains started right after hanging out with my buddies Jason, Mike and Hugh. They brought great food, music, beer, and guns! Or as I say a typical night in Wyoming. They drove us to the Tractor Pull in Encampment as well. The tractor pull event has to rank right up with watching grass grow and paint drying in terms of excitement. But there was some good food and nice weather. It would be the last decent weather we would experience on the trip. The past 2 weeks since crossing the CO/WY border it has hailed and rained on us everyday! It rained at night, mornings, afternoons. It rained when we set up our tarps, and took them down. It rained at dinner time, breakfast, and lunch. The most unfortunate part has been the disrepair of my tarp. My luck with plastic zippers is catastrophically bad. I tried adhering velcro strips in place of my malfunctioning zipper in Lander thinking that it’s not going to rain for the remainder of the trip. I mean September is one of the most pleasant times of the year in Colorado with respect to mild weather, right? Wrong! Anyways this “biblical” amount of precipitation has forced us to take several zero days in our tarps and in towns. My compromised tarp has forced me to enter and exit it by scooting on my belly like a snake. It has also forced me to get creative in relieving my excrement at night. Lets just say yoga practitioners have nothing on me. On one of the really heavy rain nights I made a critical error in setting up my tarp on a slope that turned into a mudslide. I had to build a system of levees and irrigation ditches using a sharp rock. By the middle of the night I had a primary and secondary system of canals flowing seamlessly into a main ditch from just under my tarp. If we had spent another few days there I could have moved on to construction of a dam and possibly be generating some hydroelectric power in a week or so. One thing the time spent in my tarp has allowed me to do is write another chapter in my book and read a bunch of others on my Kindle.

The hiking has been difficult with the many mountain passes, rain and wind. Unfortunately most of the scenery has been obscured with all the rolling fog and dense, dark storm clouds. Colorado was supposed to be beautiful but the only thing we have seen is a bunch of condensed water vapor. It has been very AT-like but without the shelters to dry out in. I did see my first fox on this trail which was cool. The cold weather has grounded most of the birds and so I got to see a magpie being harassed by two much smaller birds chasing and attacking it. I cannot lie this trail has been an order of magnitude more difficult than the other two and for the first time in 3 trails I am looking forward to getting off instead of sad to be done. If everything goes right my next entry will be my last from the Divide. Cheers!

Categories: CDT, hiking, long distance hiking, thru-hiking, trails, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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