Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Appalachian Trail- We did it!

This is a repost of a blog I did for The News-Press while Scott and I hiked the Appalachian Trail in Tennessee in June 2007.

A Week on the Appalachian Trail
Friday, June 15th, 2007

We limped out of the woods today after hiking more than 20 miles in the back country onto a busy Highway 321 and walked toward Hampton, TN to catch a side trail to bypass a difficult section of the Appalachian Trail. We had been warned of the difficulty of the section from other hikers we met on the way, so we decided to save our knees and ankles from a long and difficult climb up Pond Mountain.

On the way to the side trail we met a bicyclist who warned us of severe weather approaching. Then a very nice woman stopped and asked us if we needed a ride and we jumped at the chance to move at more than two miles per hour. Before we knew it, she drove past the trail head of the side trail and we ended up in Hampton. I can’t say we were disappointed about the mistake.

She dropped us off at Brown’s Grogery, and we looked for the owner, Sutton, to shuttle us up the mountain to our car, which was parked at Kincora Lodge — a favorite place for thru-hikers to stay. While we were waiting at the store, we got some Cokes for $.50! It was very exciting to have caffeine after none for almost four days. We finally found a nice resident of Hampton to drive us up the mountain to our car where we dumped our 40-pound packs and set off back down the trail toward Laurel Fork Falls feeling blissfully light on our feet. I really wanted to see the falls, and I was thankful for the way our day turned out.

We left for the hike Monday afternoon, June 11 after filling up on fired bologna sandwiches at Hampton’s internet cafe. Bob Peoples, the owner of the Kincora Lodge, took us to our start point where Tenn. 91 crosses the AT near Shady Valley, Tenn. Peoples is a legend on the Tennesee section of the trail, because of his goodwill toward hikers and his wealth of knowledge. He maintains a lot of the trail in the area.

He told us stories about the trail on the 45-minute ride and told us to make sure to fill up our water bottles whenever we saw a spring, because the mountains, like Southwest Florida are in a drought. “The Appalachian Trail is the great equalizer,” Peoples said. He added that millionaires and homeless people often hike together. It makes sense because everyone you meet our there is going through the same thing as you. Everyone is carrying their home on their back and pushing their body to the limit.

It was a tough 4.6-mile hike up to Iron Mountain Shelter. My back and shoulders hurt almost immediately from the weight of the backpack. On the way we met talked with thru-hiker whose trail name is Mouthpiece. (Most people go by their trail names while on the trail.)

When we got to the shelter three hours later at 7:30 p.m., there were already seven others there. Six were from different parts of Florida. One of the Floridians, Jenny Eckenrode, grew up in Fort Myers and attended Tice Elementary School. She now lives in Gainesville. “Backpacking is a lot harder than running a marathon,” she said. She and her friend were hiking to Daleville, Va., from the Roan Mountain. Eckenrode, who is a elementary school music teacher, hikes during her summers off from school. “Being on the trail is something I look forward to,” she said.

The second day was probably the most difficult, especially because we didn’t sleep well on our first night in the woods. It was about a seven-mile hike with lots of ups and downs. We were really feeling the pain in our backs and knees. We met some hikers that were planning to do 22 miles that day, and I could not imagine planning to do that! It was all we could do to make it to Vandeventer shelter. On the way I tried my to see if my cell phone would get a signal, and by the time we made it, my phone battery was dead. That is why you’re reading about the trip all at once.

There was a beautiful view of Watauga Lake. It is a man-made lake that was built by flooding the town of Butler (now Old Butler) in 1948. More than 700 families were displaced from the town that is now under 100 feet of water. The trail guide said that when the lake is drained people go back to visit the old homesites and school.

It was nice to relax, watch the sunset and talk to the other hikers on the rocks behind the shelter. We met two more people from Florida there. We were able to give one hiker some of our extra food, because it became apparent that I’d packed way too much. We were happy to get rid of the extra weight. In the morning we had to hike straight down — and straight back up — for a half mile to filter water for the day. Then a mile or so into the hike we passed a spring right on the trail!

The hike was all downhill to the lake. Tough on the knees!
Scott was getting a little grumpy.

We reached the 320-foot high and 840-foot long Watauga Dam at 1:00 p.m. Only Appalachian Trail hikers can cross the dam. There were beautiful views of the lake and surrounding mountains. It was nice to be in a more open area after being surrounded by woods for two days. We continued to hike around the lake to the Shook Branch recreation area, where there is a swimming area and public bathrooms. We got there just in time to miss a thunderstorm. Perfect timing.

After waiting out the storm we backtracked to a campsite on the shore of the lake and set up camp.

We could feel the stiffness setting in after a nine-mile hike — our longest yet. It rained a little more during the night, and I had to run out to get our packs and my boots and put them under our tent’s rain fly. In the morning, I cooked myself some oatmeal and hot chocolate to warm up. Then we hiked out………
At the park where the Appalachian trail crosses US 321. After this we hitched into town.

Trying to hitch a ride back to our car so we could hike Laurel Fork Falls.

Appalachian Trail blog - June 2007

This is a repost of a blog I did for The News-Press while Scott and I hiked the Appalachian Trail in Tennessee in June 2007.

A Week on the Appalachian Trail
Sunday, June 10th, 2007

We made it!

We got to the Laurel Fork Lodge around 8 p.m. after a long day of travel from Pinehurst to Raleigh to Boone and finally through Hampton, TN, to the lodge. It’s such a cool place.
We arrived to find no one home here and looked around in the small rustic cabins and the hiker bunkroom. There are several cabins for rent or you can sleep in the bunkhouse for $6 a night. When the family running the lodge returned to check us in, we opted for a cabin to ease ourselves into roughing it.

our cabin

The first thing I noticed is the silence up here. It’s deafening yet absolutely wonderful. All you can hear outside is the creek. It’s nice after a weekend of wedding activities. But it is a little creepy. As I started writing this blog from the common room in the lodge, we heard a loud crash outside by the trash can. I wasn’t sure if it was the manager emptying the trash or an animal. We slammed the door shut, and after a few minutes I gingerly peeked outside to find the trash can’s contents scattered on the ground. I hope it was only a raccoon.

The second thing I noticed is that there is no cell phone service. That means no wireless internet service! A fancy laptop with a sprint card means nothing up here. So here I am on the lodge’s laptop on dial-up. It’s been a while since I had to wait so long for a page to load. Tomorrow morning we’ll head down to Hampton to the internet cafe, and hopefully I can send some photos of the lodge before we start our hike.

We also have to arrange a shuttle to get to our starting point about 30 miles away. I hope we won’t have any problems on such short notice. We originally thought we’d drive Jack’s car to the start and leave ours at the end. But since Jack couldn’t make it, we now need a ride. If all goes well we should be hiking tomrrow afternoon. If not we have time to wait until Tuesday morning.

Appalachian Trail

This is a repost of a blog I did for The News-Press while Scott and I hiked the Appalachian Trail in Tennessee in June 2007.

Amanda Inscore
A Week on the Appalachian Trail
Saturday, June 9th, 2007

Today I’m in a pretty nice hotel suite in Pinehurst, NC anticipating the wedding of my best friend, Amanda Evans (yep, she’s Amanda, too). Tomorrow she’ll be heading to Hawaii, and Scott and I will drive to Hampton, TN. Jack Hardman decided not to go on the hike, though he really wanted to go. He had family obligations. We will certainly miss his company on the trail. There is never a dull moment with Jack.
Amanda and Robert

I feel like I’m prepared for the hike, but I still have the nagging feeling I forgot to pack something I’ll really need. Luckily we’re going to meet our friend, Chal, tomorrow. He leads groups on hiking trips in the Grand Canyon, so he’ll make sure we have everything we need.

Besides gathering all the stuff we need, I did a little physical training to prepare. For Christmas, Scott got me the Nike plus kit with some new shoes. I decided to train for a 5K to get in better shape for the hike. Of course Southwest Florida has no hills other than bridges, so I’m hoping that running on flat ground will help a little. I did read another hiker’s blog and it said the only way to train without hills is to run steps until you puke. Well no thank you! I did work my way up to running an entire 5K, and I was excited! I’ve never been a distance runner even though I tried to run cross country my freshman year in high school.

A couple of weeks ago, I hiked eight miles on the southernmost section of the Florida Trail with our outdoor writer, Byron Stout. I thought it would be a nice test to see if I was prepared. It was a great hike through the Big Cypress National Preserve — better than I thought it would be. The only animals we saw were birds — no panthers, no gators, no bears.

Within about five minutes of starting the hike, my shoulders hurt under the weight of my day pack. I figure I’ll be carrying much more weight on the Appalachian trail, so I’m a little worried about ending the week with an aching back. Since we don’t have our packs yet I have no idea how much mine will weigh, but the average weight for a hiker’s pack is 30-40 pounds.

After finishing the hike on the Florida Trail, I was glad to be sitting in the air conditioned car on my way back to Fort Myers for a hot dinner at home. On Monday evening we won’t have the luxury of air conditioning, but we will have a hot meal. We’ll be rehydrating some dehydrated potato soup over our tiny little stove and hoping a bear doesn’t come to investigate.

When we get to the Laurel Fork Lodge tomorrow evening, I’ll post some photos of us at the lodge and with the trout we catch in the nearby stream….if we can catch them.

Appalachian Trail Blog - June 2007

This is a repost of a blog I did for The News-Press while Scott and I hiked the Appalachian Trail in Tennessee in June 2007.

A Week on the Appalachian Trail
Wednesday, June 6th, 2007


If anyone had told me a year ago that I’d be planning to hike for five days in the mountains of Tennessee, I would have said they were crazy. Last year for vacation my boyfriend, Scott Whittamore, and I spent several days in Blowing Rock and Asheville, NC, hiking various short trails that led to waterfalls or panoramic views. We were always grateful to retreat to our hotel at the end of each day to sleep in a comfortable, warm and dry bed.

After four consecutive days of hiking and exploring our legs were tired, and we decided to kayak down the Nolichucky River. In our quest to rent kayaks we were pointed to Uncle Johnny’s in Erwin, Tenn. Upon arrival, we realized it was a hiker hostel with a little camp resupply store and that the Appalachian Trail was just through the woods. As I was using their restroom, I encountered a woman who told me she was hiking the trail and hadn‘t showered and washed her hair with real shampoo in a week. I thought, “There is no way I could do that.”

Fast-forward a few months. Scott began reading Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods.” He’d laugh out loud at Bryson’s misadventures with his hiking buddy, Stephen Katz. After I read the book, we decided to try a section of the trail for our next vacation. I thought that if a middle-aged slightly overweight man could attempt to hike the whole trail, then we cold make it for a week. Part of me really wanted to do a thru-hike of the entire 2,175-mile trail from Georgia to Maine, but with limited time and money we decided to do a section of the trail in Tennessee. We’d have to take six to eight months off of our jobs and find a wealthy benefactor to pay the mortgage in order to hike the whole trail.

Around Christmas I ordered the guidebooks for the North Carolina-Tennessee section and the Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. We were going to be in North Carolina for my best friend’s wedding June 9, and planned to hike for a week after the wedding. We couldn’t decide which would be the best section Shenandoah National Park is great because you’re never too far from civilization, i.e. supplies and real food. It crosses the Skyline Drive many times along the section. The N.C.-Tennessee section is also great because it give hikers the opportunity to see some great scenery (waterfalls, Watauga Lake Dam), gives beginners a good feel for the trail without being too strenuous and the opportunity to stay at a hiker hostel.

We invited our friend and freelance photographer Jack Hardman to come along. He’s going to be photographing my best friend’s wedding in N.C. Plus we thought his boy scouting experience would serve us well, and we’ve been trying to plan a camping trip together for quite some time.

After much thought and consideration, we decided on a 30- to 40-mile hike in Tennessee from just south of Damascus, Va., to the Laurel Fork Lodge near Hampton, Tenn. We felt this section would offer the most scenery for the amount of time we could be gone. The only thing we wanted and couldn’t get from this section was a stop at a trail town such as Damascus, Va., or Hot Springs, N.C. The Appalachian Trail goes right through these towns, and thru-hikers use them to rest and stock up on food for the next leg of the trail. On other parts of the trail you have to hike or hitchhike into a nearby town or rely on a shuttle service at a hostel.

We realized that no matter how long we hiked, this would be a major investment. We had to get backpacks, sleeping backs and pads, a lightweight stove, a water filter, tents light enough for backpacking, food, hiker-appropriate clothing, hiking boots, special socks to prevent blisters, lightweight plates and utensils, a first-aid kit, rain gear, headlamps, water bottles, a fishing rod that would break down small enough to strap onto our packs, and plenty of other little things. We got a little stressed. This was supposed to be a chance to escape the hustle and bustle and heat of everyday life, and we were about to spend the equivalent of a Hawaii vacation to rough it in the woods.

When I expressed my concern to my Dad, he said he would ask his friend, Chal, for advice on how we could save money on the equipment. Luckily Chal is an experienced hiker and guide and was more than happy to lend us some of his equipment, a tent, sleeping bags, backpacks, and a water filter.

With that settled, and in order to stop myself from going crazy with planning (I tend to go a little overboard), I had to try to forget about the trip for a few months or risk information overload. I’m obsessed with avoiding bear attacks and hypothermia, yes, even in the summer.

Two months ago, I resumed planning. We finalized our route and began to purchase the little things we needed for the trip. I bought a food dehydrator to make beef jerky, dried fruit and dehydrated meals that can be warmed quickly on the trail. Our house is filled with the constant hum of the dehydrator. I’ve made venison jerky (thanks to one of Scott’s students), a dehydrated breakfast of hashbrowns, eggs and sausage, potato soup, and seafood stew. I ve also dehydrated bananas and strawberries for snacks.

A few weeks ago Jack came over with the camp stove he borrowed from his sister so we could make sure it still worked. We sat on the back patio and watched intently as the water began to boil over the dehydrated potato soup. It took a little longer to rehydrate than I expected, but it was quite tasty.

We plan to hike June 11 through June 15th, and stay at the Laurel Fork Lodge the night of June 10 and June 15. If cell phone service permits, I’ll post daily with our adventures.

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