My recovery day

April 17

13.2 miles, 328.2 overall (Whistling Gap campsite)
First of all, thank you to everyone for your support yesterday. I was able to get cell signal several times throughout the day and it was great to see the supportive comments. It was a long day but it was worth it on many levels. First, it was something I had been thinking about doing for a while and it just felt right – the timing was perfect just after a zero day, my feet were feeling good, and I had my trail legs. Second, the fundraising for Delta Society absolutely blew up. In one day the amount raised for them through my blog more than doubled, so THANK YOU! Of course remember that you can still donate until the end of my hike by clicking the “donate now” button to the right. They are a worthwhile cause every day of the year. Finally I should add that another hiker named TP (because he’s always bringing up the rear) also did a 32 mile day. He is a former VT student and although he hasn’t yet graduated he has been working in Blacksburg the last few years and plans to finish his degree soon. When he heard about my plans in Hot Springs he jumped on board too – a great example of Hokie pride and what Hokie Nation is all about.

In the interest of time and space allow me to deviate from my normal format a bit to cover some highlights/thoughts from yesterday.

The section I hiked yesterday covered a wide variety of trail conditions. It started in deciduous forest, climbed to a rocky ridge, descended to a prescribed burn area, passed several grave sites, road walked for over a mile, and finally took us over barbed wire fences and through some pasture land. I did take a few moments to stop and enjoy the scenery but not too many. I started hiking at 5:30am and as it was I didn’t finish until 8:10. When I did finish I was happy to find Bob and Trophy Wife at the shelter. They had a fire going and Bob gave me some water so I wouldn’t have to make a trip to the spring. Trophy Wife also gave me some Gold Bond for some chafing issues (thanks you two!).

Which leads me to my final thoughts from yesterday: the keys to big miles. First, eat a lot. I made sure to eat at least a couple hundred calories every 2 hours, if not more often. I believe I ate 1 panda licorice, 2 Snickers, some pork stew and ice cream (thanks Hercules and Fal for the trail magic!), 3 Pro bars, some dark chocolate, a cup or 2 of trail mix, a Clif bar, and a chocolate latte bar from home. I’m probably forgetting some food in there somewhere. Second, drink lots of water. Dehydration is a hiker’s worst enemy. Third, I had music the whole time. It helped immensely and I’m glad I did it. I usually hike purist-style with no headphones, but I knew I needed the extra boost yesterday. And finally, prevent chafing. I didn’t do the last well enough. It was a hot day which leads to sweat. Sweat leads to rubbing. I got chafed in really weird places like under my arms (shoulder straps + hiking pole movement). Usually chafing isn’t a problem for me, but when you almost double your mileage I suppose these things happen.

And now to return to the normal format:
I sleep soundly through the night – no waking up every hour this time. When I do wake it is 7:30. Too early. I am sleeping in today. At 8:00 I hear Bob and Trophy Wife leaving. Back to sleep. At 9 I finally wake for good, but I putz around in my tent until 9:30. I am debating what to do today. I have 2 options: zero at the shelter, or hike on some small amount. The shelter isn’t particularly special and it’s water source is 0.2 miles up the AT, so I’m not inclined to stay. I pack up and leave my tent. By 10:15 I am on the trail, planning to hike slowly and stop when I feel like it.

My first order of business is water. I am bone dry. I plan to fill up at the spring on the way out of the shelter. It is supposed to be 0.2 miles north of the shelter, but about a half mile down the trail I still don’t see it. Instead of doubling back to look for it I hike on. Worst case: I won’t have water for the next 6 miles according to the data book. However there are often sources that aren’t listed.

2 miles in I run into TP. He started a little ahead of me yesterday so he finished a little ahead too. He didn’t make it to camp until 11:00 and also needs water. I hike to the gap ahead hoping for some liquid trail magic at the road. No luck. I hike on further. About a mile past the gap I finally find a spring. It isn’t the easiest water to get but by using a stick, the miracle that is water tension, and some patience I am able to fill my bladder with 2 liters. I immediately (after treating it) drink the first liter and save the second. Then I get 2 more liters. When I’m almost done TP catches up and grabs some too.

I hike several more miles up a hill, but as I hike storm clouds are gathering. There are supposed to be thunderstorms today, and it looks like they’re coming our way. I am nearing a large bald as it begins to rain, but as luck would have it I am hungry and there is a perfect rock outcropping to sit under to stay dry. I make myself a late lunch while it rains, hoping the weather will pass. I can hear thunder in the distance and remember the lesson I learned from my shakedown hike about not moving to high ground when I hear thunder nearby. By the time I’m done eating the rain has stopped but I can still hear the occasional thunder in the distance. I decide to climb the bald and beat feet off of it.

When I get to the top it is misty. I can see the closest surrounding mountains but not much further than that. I move quickly across the open land and soon I’ve descended into forest again. It starts to rain again but not very hard and a short distance later I am at the next shelter. It is 4:00 and I’ve done 10 miles. On a normal day at this point in my thru-hike this would be terrible, but today I’m happy with it. However the next town, Erwin, is 16 miles from this shelter. By hiking a bit further I could make it to Erwin early tomorrow and potentially have a spot at the hostel. The shelter isn’t incredibly special and I feel ok to hike on. TP is also there and agrees with the plan. After a snack we both leave.

The plan is to hike 3 miles more to a gap that has a campsite and water source. The miles go quickly even though it begins raining on us again as soon as we leave the shelter. It is a ground soaking rain, not too heavy but steady with big raindrops. We make good time and when we arrive at the gap we find a thru-hiker named Hopalong who has already got a fire going. Luckily it has stopped raining, allowing us to set up tents and get water without too much trouble. However by the time I sit down by the fire to start cooking it starts raining again. When I look in the direction from which the wind is coming all I see are storm clouds, so I make a quick decision to cook and eat in my tent instead. I make a cooking area in my vestibule and sit in the tent on my Thermarest, making extra sure not to spill any food morsels that might attract animals during the night. A short time later I am dry with a full stomach. I venture outside during a brief break in the rain to hang my food and then return to the tent for the night.

It feels strange to call a 13 mile day a recovery day. Not so long ago I limited myself (or tried to anyway) to 8 miles per day. The human body has an amazing capacity with the right amount of training and preparation. I’ve always found it interesting that after several weeks of intense physical training your body can stop getting sore. Instead your muscles simply get tired. If I remember my biology correctly, the soreness is caused by lactic acid which is created when your cells switch to anaerobic respiration because they aren’t getting enough oxygen. The lack of soreness means either you are creating less lactic acid because your body is becoming more efficient, or your body is recovering faster and breaking it down before you get sore. Either way, I like it!

I also like this idea of hiking until I am tired. Up to now I’ve been focused on getting my body into shape. At first I couldn’t do too many miles. Then I had to be careful not to ramp up too quickly. Because of those limits and because I was hiking with a group we always picked a destination before we left camp. Now I am at the point where I can do almost any mileage I want. I am also not hiking with anyone, having left UV and Ninja behind with my high mileage day. I like the freedom of picking any campsite or shelter I like. At least for now I don’t mind the trade off of the lack of company.

Tomorrow I can easily make it to Erwin and have a town night if I want to hike the 13 miles. Alternatively I could stop short and let the others catch up. Both options have appeal. It is supposed to rain all night and into tomorrow, so maybe that will have an impact on my decision. We’ll see how I feel when I wake up tomorrow morning on the Appalachian Trail.





Categories: Fundraising, NC, TN | 6 Comments

32 miles for 32 lives

April 16

32.8 miles, 315 overall (Hogback Ridge shelter)


Categories: Background, Fundraising, NC, TN | 10 Comments

April 16, 2007

Five years ago tomorrow a gunman killed 32 people on the campus of Virginia Tech and then took his own life. I was on campus that day. I was in class when it happened. I could have been one of those 32.

In the days that followed everyone talked about the amazing lives that were cut short – a holocaust survivor, a triple major who played in the band, a world renowned expert on biomechanics, a talented actress/dancer, a cadet training to be an intelligence officer in the Air Force, and many others. One of our responsibilities as survivors is to make sure we take advantage of the lives we still have. Thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail has been a dream of mine for many years, long before 2007. I can’t say that I would not be doing this had that day never happened. What I can say is that it adds an additional dimension to my hike. By following my dream I honor those we lost.

Some of you have asked why I chose the Delta Society as the charity I am supporting through this blog. Therapy dog teams were at Virginia Tech in the days after the shooting but I did not meet them. I do have a dog myself, but she is not a therapy dog. So although I have tangential relationships to therapy dogs I can understand the confusion around the lack of a direct link. I hope the following story helps explain.

Classes were cancelled for several days after the shooting. There was a convocation the day after and many students chose to go home after the ceremony. I chose to stay in town and be with friends instead. Students had erected an impromptu memorial on the drillfield near the chapel consisting of a large VT sign, candles, flowers, etc. I can’t remember which night it was, but it was after the convocation when most of the students had gone home. The campus was empty. It was around 10pm and I was at home. I felt a sudden and intense need to be at the memorial. The best way I can explain it is I felt like the victims were at the memorial and they were alone. I felt like someone needed to go be with them. I drove to campus, parked my car, walked to the memorial and sat on the bench there. A minute later I was completely in tears, overwhelmed by what had happened and how I felt.

It was at that moment, at my most depressed, that a stranger came over with his dog. The man didn’t say much. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “It must be really hard.” The dog stood in front of me and let me pet it for several minutes before they walked on. I stayed a while longer, but when I finally left I felt so much better. Perhaps I would have felt better anyway, but having the man and his dog there was comforting. Sometimes I think about who the man might have been. Was he a student? Professor? Someone who lived in town? And what was he doing out so late? I’m fairly certain they were not a therapy dog team but in that moment it didn’t matter, they served the exact same purpose that therapy dogs serve every day – they help people heal.

I hope you have been enjoying my blog so far. For sharing my dream with you the only thing I ask in return is support for those who helped in the wake of the shooting. This April 16th I will be hiking 32 miles in remembrance of 32 lives. I hope you will support me by giving to those who helped the Virginia Tech community in our time of need. I have suggested Delta Society because it has a special meaning for me, but many others helped in the aftermath: The VT and Blacksburg police departments and Rescue Squads responded to the scene, churches sent priests, mental health organizations sent counselors, the Red Cross sent volunteers. If one of these or some other is closer to your heart, make a donation to them tomorrow and post about it here so I can hear about it. Feel free to pass this along to others. It would be amazing if this page were lit up by people from all over Hokie Nation showing their support.

Five years later we remember the lessons of that day: to be courageous, to reach for our dreams, to live for 32. Five years later we have prevailed, not just because we are Virginia Tech but because we are a Hokie Nation. Because we support each other in our times of need. Because we give back to those who have given us so much.

neVer forgeT.

Categories: Fundraising, NC, TN | 14 Comments

Last practice trip!

The Trip

My practice is done. Next time will be the real thing.

We didn’t end up getting to post from the wilderness like I thought we would. Christy and I hiked into Shenandoah National Park Saturday afternoon and set up camp down the Big Run Portal trail at a lovely campsite – I need to remember it for the future because it was actually a perfect spot, out of sight from the trail and sufficient distance from the stream. However the downside was there was no cell service, hence no update.

The plan was for a 2 night trip, but due to the cold weather and the impending snow we cut it short in the interest of Christy’s toes. I should mention that although the morning was quite cold, once we got moving I was warmed up and ready for another night, so I consider myself ready for the AT!

We did get to test a few last things I wanted to try. I got a down jacket for Christmas. I asked for a Patagonia down vest and got it (thanks!). But then I decided to go with something a bit warmer and exchanged it with REI for a Marmot Zeus jacket. It worked great during this trip, quite warm! For Christmas I also got a harmonica (thanks!). Although I have already played around with it at home, I got to try it for the first time in the wilderness! Christy was not as excited about this as I was. Finally I got to try using my wool socks as gloves. Although I’ve camped in the cold in the past, this is the first practice hike I’ve had (read as first hike with my AT gear) that got down to freezing temperatures. I’ve decided I don’t want the extra weight of gloves, and I had read that socks do just fine as a substitute. After testing, I agree. My hands were fine. I expect if it rains/snows it will be a bit more difficult, but in that case I’ll just pull my rain jacket sleeves over my hands to get some protection.

As I mentioned, we didn’t get to post from the wilderness. We were in a valley for the evening and had no cell service. This actually let me test a few things. First, the mapping app I am using to update the “Where is Travis?” page doesn’t seem to be able to save GPS coordinates for uploading later. I opened the app and logged coordinates at both the campsite and at the parking lot on the way out. Only the parking lot shows up on the map now. That’s good to know, so I won’t waste my phone battery trying to log coordinates if I’m out of cell service.

My sleeping bag was warm as expected. I did need to wear my short sleeve shirt and my long underwear during the night, but that’s fine. I’m taking an external battery for my phone for the first segment until I convince Christy that I don’t need the extra 4 oz. It worked well though, keeping my phone at maximum charge. It actually worked well because I was able to read a bit of Thoreau on my phone before going to sleep.

Christy took some Mountain House meals to eat but I took one of the dehydrated meals we’ve made. This time it was chicken and rice curry. Besides the rubberiness of the chicken it was pretty good and only took until the water boiled for it to cook.

Overall I’m feeling great about my gear. I’ve created my final gear checklist based on what I had with me on this last practice hike and I’m uploading it to the gear page. You can see my progression of gear through time (although the two earlier lists actually left some items off such as phone). I’ve replaced some heavier gear (pack, stove, towel), rationalized some other gear (shovel), and even added a couple luxury items (notebook, harmonica).  I also did a weigh-in when we got back to check the weight of the gear versus the sum of each measurement and got all of my calculated weights within 0.3 pounds of what I actually measured (the bathroom scale I did empirical measurements on is probably +/- 0.5 lbs, so that’s great).

Random Tidbits

It appears I will not be shaving my head for the start of the trail. Thanks to everyone who has donated so far (you’ll all be getting a postcard from Amicalola Falls when I start!), but with only 9 days to go I have raised $520 which is $4480 short of the number needed for me to break out the razor. Absent a last-minute surge, I’ll be starting the trail with what’s left of my hair!

$520 is still a great number though and I’m not at all disappointed with it, especially since it makes me the biggest fundraiser for Delta Society through! Don’t forget that the fundraising will still be open throughout my hike, so if you haven’t donated yet but you want to you still have about 6 months. My competitive nature would love for you all to donate so I can thoroughly beat the other Delta Society fundraisers! 🙂

With 1 month left (as of tomorrow) until I’m on the approach trail, I have limited blog posts left to give you background on the trail and my preparation for it. Once I’m on the trail my posts will more often be summaries of what I did each day, so if there’s anything I haven’t covered yet that you still want me to write about, let me know in the comments section!

Categories: Fundraising, Gear, Training, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Therapy dogs

Just another quick post before bed. I realized that I haven’t posted much about the charity I’m trying to raise money for. Here are a few links to let you know how effective your donation could be. As always, remember to subscribe to email updates and pass this along to any friends who would be interested in following my trip!

Background on therapy dogs:

How to become a Pet Partners team

For those looking for more tear-jerker-type articles:
Sept 11 therapy dog

David Frei

Helping law students

For my scientist-type friends:
Stress reduction in healthcare professionals – in as little as 5 minutes!

Alleviating agitation and desocialization in Alzheimer’s patients

Speech and language development in preschool children

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