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  1. #1
    Registered User Capt Nat's Avatar
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    Default It's Not Just Walking

    Itís not just walking

    With all due respect to the honorable Lone Wolf, itís not just walking.

    This is my story of a very short AT attempt. This will bring out the haters and elitists in droves and should generate some sordidly entertaining comments and responses. The gentle people here will wonder why I put myself out there for such a beating. The answer; in spite of what sounds like a terrible misadventure, this was a GREAT experience for me, I loved every moment, and I am hopelessly hooked now on the AT and I will be back.

    I have no lessons to teach, yet some may get some ideas or information from any discussion this generates. The story will show how clueless and unprepared a person can start hiking on the AT.

    In 2006, I sustained an injury to my foot that almost led to the loss of my lower leg. During the long convalescence and related illnesses, I gained over 50 pounds of weight and lost any semblance of physical fitness. As I struggled to walk again, I became interested in the AT and discovered White Blaze which fueled my interest and provided much information.

    Being born and raised in central Florida, I have only hiked in this flat, tropical environment. I was worried about what happens to water below 32 degrees.

    I started buying equipment and walking with it, hiking local loop trails. I got to where I could carry 40 pounds 8 to 12 miles on a regular basis. I was ready to go!

    My brother drove me to Amicalola Falls, counseling me that I was going to die. At the top of the falls I got out of the car and was struck with how icy cold the wind was at 40 degrees. It was drizzling rain. We shook hands at the top of the falls and I started walking up the approach trail. One hundred feet later, I turned around and was glad he had driven off because I was completely winded. First observation, walking uphill is very different than walking on flat ground. I crossed a small stream and started up the first real grade. I was so winded I thought by lungs were going to explode. I stepped off the path to let some young people pass. One asked if I was OK. I wasnít. I nodded big and waved them to continue, unable to speak while wheezing violently. One looked back at me a couple of times with a look of concern, I thought, ďwhat a nice young manĒ.

    With a determination that I do possess, I powered on. On a positive note, my muscles did not hurt or feel weak and my feet did not show any tendency to develop hot spots.

    On the summit of Frosty Mountain, I realized that the inside of my raingear was much wetter than the outside. I took off my raingear to discover that my clothes were drenched. For the next couple of hours of hiking, they dried well in the misty drizzle.

    At 3 oíclock, I made it to Black Gap Shelter. Even though I was winded on the inclines every 20 to 50 feet, I felt good and it was too early for me to stop. The summit of Springer Mountain was less than 2 miles away. I started my start-stop climb out of the Gap and before reaching the next ridge, climbed into the clouds, a first for me. As I reached the top of the ridge, I saw a dim flash and wondered if I was pushing too hard. Then I heard a not too distant rumble. I thought, ďThis ridge is not where I want to beĒ.

    I headed up the ridge toward Springer with purpose when rain descended upon me with heavy large drops and pea sized hail. It rained so hard that the world mostly disappeared and I stopped, standing in the trail wondering how bad it could get.

    Suddenly, the world lit up with a flashbulb blue light, and an intense, stabbing pain shot into my left foot. It hurt so bad that I cried out, but by the time I did, the pain and light was gone. I stood blinking as all I could see was blue dots. I smelt a smell of burning lint or maybe hair. As my vision cleared, I began to realize I had just been hit by lightening, not directly or I would be dead, but close enough to get zapped. I tried to look my boot over and couldnít see any damage. There was no pain and as the rain was still intense, I took a step and then started walking. Another bright flash and close boom of thunder caused me to jump, I was a believer now. In just moments, another followed and I realized I couldnít continue. The temperature was dropping fast and I knew this had hypothermia written all over it.

    I stepped off the trail between two trees and in as hard a rain as Iíve ever seen, broke open my pack and started setting up camp. Up went the tarp, then the hammock. I rigged the quilts, then crouched under the tarp, I stripped off my soaked clothes and struggled into my merino wool bottom and top. I was shivering as I crawled into the hammock and warmth of the down quilts. The storm raged. About ten thirty that night, the rain turned to snow. At five thirty in the morning, my thermometer was reading 23 degrees, the coldest Iíve ever been out in.

    I next awoke at eight oíclock in the morning. The wind sounded like freight trains coming through the woods. Snow had blown under the tarp and I could not see the ground or anything Iíd left laying there. My breath had turned to frost on the mosquito net. I lay there thinking. I was cold but comfortable. I knew I couldnít stay on that exposed ridge. I formulated a plan. I would break camp, summit Springer, and descend back to the warm world of below. Set up camp. Rig clothes lines and dry all my stuff so that I would be back like I was when I started.

    I put on my dry clothes, brushed the snow out of my frozen boots and struggled to get my feet into the solid blocks. Out of the tarp it was still snowing and the world was amazing! Breaking camp was easy but packing was not. Everything was frozen in a solid block in whatever shape it landed.

    By the time I got the pack on, I was numb with cold. I pushed up the face of Springer to the top where the wind was really howling. I managed to get a picture of my poles leaning against the plaque but my fingers were to cold to try to sign the register. I needed to get off that mountain and so I headed down the Appalachian Trail as fast as I could on the snowy icy trail.

    At the parking lot, the temperature was 29 degrees, some hikers told me that it was going to get colder than last night, and I realized that I was not going to be able thaw or dry my stuff, and that it might not be safe for me to try another night with my equipment covered in ice and snow. I got the number of Ron Brown who braved the icy, steep, narrow road to rescue me and drop me at a motel in Ellijay where I could thaw out, dry out, and put my gear back trail ready. I was not in the least daunted by my disastrous beginning. How much worse could it get? I had been struck by lightening, got everything wet in a thunderstorm on a ridge, and survived a snowstorm. Not bad for a Florida boy on his first outing.

    Three days later, Ron dropped me back off at the Springer Mountain parking lot on forest road 42. What a different world. The ice and snow was gone. My gear was dry and properly packed. I was so glad to be back on the trail that I could just sing.

    The next three miles were down hill. I made smoking good time and stopped for a quick ten minute break at Stover Creek Shelter. By the time I got to the bottom at Three Forks, I was feeling a new, unusual pain along the forward insides of my ankles, but it wasnít bad and as I started uphill, it seemed less and wasnít a problem. The uphills were still winding me completely, but I now knew that I could power through that. I was quite proud of myself as I was able to make Hawk Mountain Shelter at three oíclock which I felt was very respectable time. That pain was concerning me though as I descended down the blue blaze to the shelter.

    What a magical afternoon and night spent with fellow hikers. I was very happy with my equipment and overall setup, though I was looking forward to be able to tweek some things at Neilís Gap.

    The next morning, after a great breakfast of oatmeal and hot coffee, I broke camp and headed out with Gooch Gap in my sights. Knowing another storm front was coming through the next day, I was determined to be set up and enjoy as zero there and just bask in the pleasure of the trail that I was enjoying.

    Coming down Hawk Mountain, I knew I was in trouble. That pain was steadily increasing all the way down. Climbing out of Hightower Gap, the pain just kept getting worse, adding to the winding of the climbs. By the time I topped out on the first summit, my pace was down to an unproductive shuffle and constant grimace.

    Standing on the ridge with the amazing vistas, soaking up the beauty of the trail, I began coming to terms with the crushing realization that I was not going to make it. I was not going to get to Gooch Gap. I was not capable of climbing Sassafras Mountain. I couldnít even make it to the next water source. Tears ran down my face as I reached out, wanting to grasp any solution to figure out how to continue the trail.

    The next two hours were agonizing as I made my way at a snails pace down into Horse Gap, wondering what I needed to do.

    The unexplainable magic of the Appalachian Trail is a constant tale of lore. I certainly cannot explain what happened as I stripped my pack and plopped down on the ground, having finally made it down to Horse Gap, at the foot of Sassafras, knowing that I could go no further. There was a silver car sitting there looking out of place. Shortly, a nice looking friendly young man came walking down the trail with no pack. He started asking me questions and seemed very interested in my story. At length, Scott told me that the nearest bus station was in Gainesville Georgia and that he lived in Beaufort, just south of it. He would be ready to leave as soon as he put out the trail magic that he was actually there to deliver and would be glad to give me a ride. Yes, the silver car was his.

    My Appalachian Trail adventure is over for this season, but I am hopelessly hooked. Though short, painful, and trying, it was more than I had even fantasized. Everything about the trail experience exceeded my hopes and expectations. Iím back home yearning for more. I will heal. Iím going to take up running to build my wind. Iím going to find some stairs to build the tendons that have never been stressed in that particular way. I will make some changes to clothing, gear, and techniques. I will try again and again. The Appalachian Trail has not seen the last of me!

  2. #2

    Default

    Great story.

    One thing that has never happened to me is to be hit by lightning (but I can live with that ).

    Glad you survived.

    Also glad you got hooked on mountain hiking (AT or otherwise).

    Cold weather is something that southern flatlanders have to get used to on the AT.
    I cut my teeth on the White Mountains in New Hampshire and enjoyed doing winter hikes when I was younger, so those conditions are nothing new to me, personally, so I never found them a real challenge (below zero is a challenge for most hikers, though, including me).

    It's good to have someone from your background tell other hikers what they can expect if they hadn't experienced it before.

    Thanks for the post.

    Edit: Btw - once you get used to it,

    It is "Just Walking". (the hiking part). Shelter, food, water, personal hygiene, safety, medical emergencies, etc. aside, that is.
    Last edited by Tinker; 03-14-2013 at 08:19.
    As I live, declares the Lord God, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn back from his way and live. Ezekiel 33:11

  3. #3
    Registered User Drybones's Avatar
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    Default

    Great story, thanks for sharing and I hope to meet you on the trail some day. Your story made me think of one of my favorite short stories, To Build a Fire, by Jack London. It's sort of a morbid storie but for some reason I relate to it since for some reason I'm drawn outside in bad weather, if there's a blizzard or hard rain storm I'm normally out in it walking, dont know why the attraction. Get your pack weight as low as you can and get back out there, as for getting in shape, the trail will take care of that for you, just need to start slow. BTW, for the first week or so I thought every hill I came to would kill me before I reached the top.

  4. #4

    Default

    Thanks for sharing it! It's not often that people can put their unsuccessful ventures out there for the world to see.

    Good luck getting better prepared and kicking ass next time.

  5. #5

    Default

    Great post! Should be required reading. May have to change your trail name to Sergeant York, what with the lightning and all. Glad you lived to tell the tale and hike another day. See you out there.

  6. #6
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    Default

    Great story. Thanks for sharing.

    I grew up in Michigan and I thought that was flat, until I moved to FL that is . I truly feel for you.

    My first hike in real mountains kicked my backside too (actually still does), there is no shame in that, just keep at it and don't quit. It does get easier I promise.

    You don't need to be fast, and no matter what you read on here, you do not need to hike 15 to 20 miles a day to hike the AT. I still get passed by groups of brownie girl scouts climbing Old Rag . Just keep hiking.

    Not too long ago we took our Scout Troop up Elliot Knob which I think is the second highest mountain in VA. 10 years ago I could not have made it, but even though I'm over 50 now, once I made it to the top, I dropped my pack and hiked back down to meet up with our slower group of scouts and carried one of their packs back up. My point is, if I can do it, there is hope for anyone out there that wants to hike the AT.

    I am just a weekend section hiker so unlike thru hikers I get to experience the joys of earning my trail legs several times a year when I go on my longer hikes

    Get back to the trail when you are ready, you will do fine.

  7. #7

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    So many noobs start out during bad weather and I just don't understand it. I generally try not to leave town when it is raining and if I do, I just go to the first shelter. At least you had him drop you off at the top of the falls instead of the bottom.

    And it is just walking, your mind just isn't in the right place yet. There are growing pains that you have to go through like the experience you just had that will help you figure it out. Once you figure out how to be comfortable living out of a pack then you will understand.

  8. #8

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    Wow, amazing story!
    it reminds me once again why I am a spring through fall hiker only.
    We once had to outrun a major thunderstorm on the ridge heading toward the Low Gap shelter, which I think is just north of where you got out. It was an extremely scary experience.
    I've had to bail due to injury, in fact, a lot of us have. I totally trashed my knee on a section hike near Pond Mt., TN. I was so disappointed I just sat down and cried.
    Over many years of sectioning, the AT has beat up on me pretty good(my trail name is very well-deserved) but like you, I still feel the allure.
    thanks for posting this account. I can't imagine why this thread would draw any haters!

  9. #9

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    Sweet story!

  10. #10
    Registered User The Cleaner's Avatar
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    Default

    Great story,thanks for sharing.Maybe a few will read it and learn something.In the last few years several hikers have died on the AT....

  11. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Capt Nat View Post
    ...My Appalachian Trail adventure is over for this season, but I am hopelessly hooked. Though short, painful, and trying, it was more than I had even fantasized. Everything about the trail experience exceeded my hopes and expectations. I’m back home yearning for more. I will heal. I’m going to take up running to build my wind. I’m going to find some stairs to build the tendons that have never been stressed in that particular way. I will make some changes to clothing, gear, and techniques. I will try again and again. The Appalachian Trail has not seen the last of me!
    Thanks for posting this real-world story. For all the pain and hardship you endured, your "take home" from this experience is inspiring. It's gratifying that you're inculcating your lessons for future attempts rather than throwing in the towel.

    You may want to abridge your write-up and submit to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy for publication in AT Journeys.

  12. #12
    Hiker bigcranky's Avatar
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    Great story. Thanks for sharing.
    Ken B
    'Big Cranky'
    Our Long Trail journal

  13. #13
    Registered User FarmerChef's Avatar
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    Great story indeed. There is no shame in sucking wind those first few miles or even coming to the realization that you might need a bit more time to get ready. So often we never hear back regarding those who tried and decided to postpone their adventure. But it's exactly those stories that teach some very important lessons for the future hikers and encourage the others who, like you, decided to take a different path. Thanks for sharing your story with us.
    2,000 miler. Still keepin' on keepin' on.

  14. #14
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    Thanks for sharing your story. It will make a good Chapter 1 of your book, "How I Hiked the AT Twice, subtitled: and made it to Katahdin once!"

  15. #15
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    i think that is an amazing story!! and i hope that you are able to complete your dream just wondering... what exactly was wrong with your ankle?

  16. #16
    CDT - 2013, PCT - 2009, AT - 1300 miles done burger's Avatar
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    Great story. A few pieces of advice to get you back on the trail this year or next:

    Go to a sports medicine doctor and get your feet checked out. It could be routine foot/arch pain, or it could be something more serious like a stress fracture. If it's not a break, get the name of a good physical therapist and let them give you an exercise routine to strengthen your feet and ankles.

    Get a gym membership and put in some time walking uphill on the treadmill or on a stepmill. Do it with a pack on.

    Lighten your pack. The less weight you carry, the less stress on your feet and legs.

  17. #17

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    Great story and I appreciate you sharing, but I don't see anything here that implies it isn't just walking. You walked until you couldn't walk anymore and that was what defined your trip. If anything I'd say your trip is proof-positive that it is just walking...

  18. #18

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    Wow... thanks for sharing Capt Nat! I'm glad you made it back home. Of course, I thrilled to read about the trail angel that helped you out!
    I wish you a speedy recovery. You'll be back. We will celebrate that day with you!!

  19. #19
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    Quote Originally Posted by MDSection12 View Post
    Great story and I appreciate you sharing, but I don't see anything here that implies it isn't just walking. You walked until you couldn't walk anymore and that was what defined your trip. If anything I'd say your trip is proof-positive that it is just walking...
    for my first thru-hike it was just walkin'. with some weight. i was 27, in excellent shape and no ailments so walkin' the AT was not physically challenging to me. but i can see, have seen, how much older, out of shape and unprepared folks can be miserable right out of the gate

  20. #20

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    Quote Originally Posted by Lone Wolf View Post
    for my first thru-hike it was just walkin'. with some weight. i was 27, in excellent shape and no ailments so walkin' the AT was not physically challenging to me. but i can see, have seen, how much older, out of shape and unprepared folks can be miserable right out of the gate
    Thanks for the clarification LW... it helps. Everyone wants to try in it in their own way. I think that's what makes WB a special place for most people. They can share, on here, what happens to them without judgement. I doubt anyone will say/think he's a weenie or a wimp because he is neither of those things. He has learned a lot and he will succeed.. i have no doubt.

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