Monday, April 30, 2012

Hiking, Art and Photo journals

A few of years ago I became involved in making altered books,and handmade art journals and photo albums.  As with many of my art activities, I soon became obsessed, like the first year I started painting, (I was in my 50's).  I completed 40 paintings.
Lately, since starting the book/journal making, I guess I've made between 30-40 over the past couple of years.  I can't remember since I give many away and sell them on my Etsy page.
So, of course, since my son, Jeff aka Loner, has taken up is great undertaking, this Magnum Opus of the outdoors, the 5 month or more hike of the Appalachian Trail, I've been using art as therapy (which I teach at our brain injury drop in center) and am making Jeff what they call in the scrapbooking/bookmaking world - a mini album.  It's a combined album/journal which has places (not slots like in a photo album) but creative ways such as fold out cards, accordion cards and photo mats to display photos as well as lots of places to  record journaling entries, keep lists, tuck memorabilia, ephemera and even 3-D mementos into various pockets and envelopes. This has become quite a large trend in the last few years and there are hundreds of videos on You Tube on the various techniques and styles.   Since Jeff is a light weight backpacker, he won't collect much on his trip (although I will try and convince him to send some back home) so I started collecting hiking, backpacking and AT related items form the first day we dropped him off at Amicalola Falls. And now I've started making him a mini book to keep as a reminder of all the adventures he has on his trip. They're called mini books because most scrapbooks are 12X12 inches. The one I;'m making for Jeff isn't really that "mini", it will be about 6X4 inches when completed and may end up being three or four books in a wooden box which I'll embellish to match the journals. 
I highly recommend this to any family member as a way of dealing with their anxiety over their At hiker! It's a great thing to keep your mind of the stressful aspects of thinking about your hiker on trail and the scary things that can happen and instead focus on the fun, discovery and excitement that our hiker is thinking about and really experiencing - keeping the worries more in the back of their minds than we do.
 Before my son went on this trip, I never considered making an photo/journal, art book for him.  Most of the materials, ephemera and etc. which I use for these books is aimed at women and children.  Only around father's day do you find anything masculine enough to use and while there are some things for campers, fisherman, cyclists and hunters, there's not much for hikers and so far nothing for hammock campers (so I'll have to figure out a way to make my own).  At first I made the rounds of Michael's, Hobby Lobby and A.C. Moore, finding a few things here and there. I did find the Jolee's Boutique camping, and fishing but not the hiking.  But not enough to use for the size of book needed to cover all 2,100 and odd miles!
But today, quite by synchronicity, I found just the resource I needed!  And so if any family member is making any kind of photo album, journal or keepsake box, boy do I have a good resource for materials. Wow! The online shop called Scrappin' Sports Stuff  is a goldmine of materials for hiking, camping, backpacking, kayaking - all in one place  (I'd already spent three hours this morning scouring the Internet and Etsy (where I did find some gems)!  And they had a hiking one from Jolee's  which I hadn't seen anywhere but which I love especially because of the sign and the gear!  In addition to dimensional stickers, they have 12X12 papers and even page layouts, die cuts, ephemera, ribbons (including a masculine one that has hiking boots footprints and the word "outdoors" on it, word stickers and more. I've already compiled quite a large wish list and will have to wait until payday to purchase the materials I'll need for the next 3 1/2 to 4 months.
As soon as I get further along, I will post photos of the book I'm making for Jeff.  I may have to post them on my other blog just in case he reads this one.  I want him to be surprised.  Do you think I've already blown it?  
Jeff knowing me the way he does, and who has seen me make these over and over may have already guess I might make one while he's away - or then maybe not, maybe he thinks they are only for women and kids. As a matter of fact I was maybe too dedicated to making one the night before we took him to Amicalola Falls - but they are great stress relievers to manage some of the stress form my job. But since I'd like to share the idea for those out there who could use some stress release tactics  I'll take the risk.  And here and there I'll add some tips and techniques along the way on here and maybe even get the guts to make a You Tube video which I meant to do before some of my books went to other homes.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Jeff Loner at Standing Bear Hostel

I heard from Jeff who is at Standing Bear Farm  in Hartford, TN,  a very unique hostel along the Appalachian Trail shortly after it leaves the Great Smokey Mountains and enters The Cherokee National Forest. Standing Bear Farm includes a turn of the century multi-generational farmstead built in the 1900, including the original homestead, barns, outbuildings and farmhouse. He's doing great and hopes to contact me on Sunday when he reaches Hot Springs.  This hostel has a bunkhouse, a cabin over a stream, laundry, internet, tent area, and supply closet with supplies to make it far enough to Hot Springs, about 35 miles, where Jeff as a food box waiting for him. He probably needs it by now since he's been on the trail for five days and while he thought a box would last a week, I have to wonder. He's still sending post cards too, we rec'd the last one from Gatlinburg.

In the meantime, while we wait for more news form Hot Springs, here's a mind-blowing fact for all your thru-hikers and thru-hiker wannabes of the AT: quoted from taken from  Gorp Parks Guide:  The elevation gain and loss over the entire AT is equivalent to hiking from sea level to the summit of Mt. Everest and back to sea level... 16 times.

Jeff aka Loner in Gatlinburg, Snow in the Smokies

I'm learning more about what was going on along the AT while Jeff aka Loner was in Gatlinburg.  he's fortunate that he and Lonestar happened to Gatlinburg on April  22 because up in the Great Smokies and Tennessee is was snowing!  He did a short film there.   Before reaching Gatlinburg, Loner had some close encounters with some very  curious deer but missed a bear sighting.   He also shows some footage of the  shelters in the Smokies, which are made of stone instead of wood.  They have two story bunks, sun roofs, built in stone fireplaces but Jeff didn't see any bear cables at the one he filmed.  In the Smokies At Thru-hikers must stay in a shelter unless its full.
Shortly after Jeff and Lonestar checked in the Grand Prix hotel was filled with At thur-hikers who rushed off the trail once the rain changed to snow as the temps dropped.  The place turned out to be a mecca for hikers and Jeff decided to spend an extra day in Gatlinburg waiting to head further north when the trails were clear and safer to travel.
One family who I follow on Facebook, Rain2o'S 2012 Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike were trapped.  They are the Rainforests, a mother, father and two sons, Forest and River, who is the youngest and looks to be about nine years old.  They were hiking in Tennessee uphill when the rain started, got soaked, and then the temps dropped.  They'd already sent home all their winter gear and clothing because the weather had gotten so warm, so when they reached a shelter, many miles before their goal, at 2:00 pm.  They decided to stop, strip, get in their sleeping backs to avoid hypothermia. Good thing they did, the rain turned to ice, then snow.  Not good for hikers without the write clothing.
All day long, shivering shaking hikers arrived and did the same thing until eleven were crammed into a shelter meant to hold only six people. At night it was only 20 degrees, since most At shlters only have three sides. Among the videos and emails Jeff sent from his two zero days in Gatlinburg, Jeff sent this email.

Hey Mom,
"Right now the peeps around me are EZ Nomad, wrench, Pocahontas, John from Los Angeles, Flatlander, Atlas, Chris from New Hampshire, Glutenpuff, and just caught back up with LoneStar after a week.  He's a marathon runner but had a heavy pack at first. He's cool and collects arrowheads too.  
 I did Clingman's Dome yesterday and was pretty cool but foggy.  Love the Great Smokey Mts. Lots of people and missed a bear and her 3 cubs by 5 minutes but did get super close to some deer.  I'm past 200 miles and hit the first part of TN but it crosses back and forth to NC alot next week.  
 I'm staying the night in Gatlinburg and watching the race.  Crazy town and am at the famous Grand Prix inn just for thru hikers.  Country ghetto but clean.  The table in my room came out of the owners house.  There is a awesome empty swimming pool here and she said I can skate it!  Half way kidding but may check some thrift stores tomorrow when I explore the town and go to Cooter's place the Dukes of Hazzard museum. 
The candy was a tad melted but that's OK.  The salsa was fun but was afraid it would break.  I can always use almonds, dried banana chips, or maybe some more dried fruit.  If possible, please add a few brown rubber bands and extra zip locks.  There's some in the box in the shed.  
 am putting on some videos but the keys and screen are tiny so takes awhile and don't have time to edit videos or add music like I wanted but they should be popping up soon.  Slow WIFI here but trying.
 Thanks again for the support. Oh about trail magic, peoples sometimes leave gallon jugs of water at road crossings where there is little water and one dude left cokes and cookies."


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Jeff aka Loner at Fontana Dam

I rec'd another email from my son, Jeff aka Loner. On the anniversary of the first week, he was able to cross the GA/NC line (video here). During the first week he was able  He was able to pick up the two drop boxes I sent.  One for his pack and one for town food or for his bounce box.  He did bounce some of it forward to Hot Springs.  He's passed the dam after two days of rain, but stayed dry at night.  Only one blister so far - no other problems.
 He was able to get into town at Hiawassee and NOC (The Nantahala Outdoor Center) video here, so within the first two weeks there are plenty of towns to stop in to resupply. Thirty miles into the trail after the descent from Blood Mtn. (video here) there's one outfitter at Neels Gap. Most AT All Thru-hikers stop in at Mountain Crossings store and hostel since the trail runs right through the building! Mountain crossings is only place where the trail runs right through the building and the only place on the  2,178-miles of the AT that passes under a roof.

Here thru-hikers can get a backpack shakedown by the highly knowledgeable outfitter staff. They weigh it there then tell you what you need and what you don't need to get your weight down. Some first-timers carry up to 35 lb packs!  They end up throwing a lot it away.  In many of the outfitters and hostels there are boxes or barrels where AT thru hikers can leave the stuff they don't need or want. Hikers who come after them can dig through it and restock. Each year, an average of  9,000 pounds of unnecessary stuff is sent home or left behind in the Mountain Crossings boxes and barrels.
Jeff let them do his backpack shakedown on his prep hike last October so he knew what was going to work this time to get the weight down to 13.5.

After Jeff left Fontana Dam, NC he entered the Smokey Mountains.  He produced a yout tube video of this section on his You Tube site LonerAT2012. Then climbed Clingman's Dome the highest mountain trail on the AT at  6,643 feet, Clingman's Dome is the highest point in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the highest point in Tennessee, and the third highest mountain east of the Mississippi. There is a viewing tower at the top with 360 degree views, but I' think it's raining there so Jeff may not get to see this great angle of the Great Smoky Mtns. 
  I think it's around here that AT hikers keep straddling the Eastern Continental Divide circling around and switching back and forth into North Carolina and Tennessee.  And at this point he'd hiked 200 miles.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Loner AT 2012 Springer Mtn. vid

Here's a video from Jeff aka Loner filmed on Easter Sunday, second day of his 2012 AT thru-hike with the white blazes, after he hiked the approach blue blaze trail  from below Amicalola Falls.  In this video he's hiking from Springer Mtn. top. Springer Mountain is 3782 ft. up in the Chattahoochee National Forest in Georgia offering stunning views. This is the southern terminus of the Benton Max Kaye Trail for all NOBO AT thru-hikers.  A bronze plaque honors Benton McKaye.
Jeff stayed near the Springer Mountain Shelter on a spur trail leading about 70 yards east of the Appalachian Trail. Blue blazes mark the spur trail. The shelter has a raised first floor and a sleeping loft reached by a permanent ladder. Each level of the shelter can comfortably sleep four or five backpackers.
There is a fire circle and wooden picnic table in front of the shelter and a privy down the hill behind the shelter.  The spring has provided water even in recent drought years. There are two sturdy cables strung in trees near the shelter with pulleys and hoisting lines for hauling backpacks and food bags out of reach of the local bears, raccoons and rodents.

Loner is  working with a mini laptop and none of his film editing programs so he can't do much with titles, music, etc.  I'm really grateful to have these even though he's been emailing us regularly.  It helps us to enjoy it more. He's now two weeks into his hike. and he's now posted 12 videos all together from the Appalachian Trail under the you tube name Loner2012AT

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Jeff aka Loner video Amicalola Falls

Jeff, my son who travels the AT, started off on April 6th 2012 at around  3:00 pm as a thru-hiker, AT trail name: Loner, going NOBO for 2012 . He's been on the trail for two weeks and has posted his first video. 
This is shot on the blue blaze approach trail to the Southern Terminus of the AT from Georgia to Maine.  The trail follows along Amicalola Falls up 500 steps (about the equivalent of walking up 20 to 25 floors of a skyscraper) and meets up with Springer Mtn. 
Kendall and I walked  crossed with him river the first wooden bridge, up 1/8 of a mile up the approach trail from the Visitor's Center, around the reservoir and up the first path along the river to the first view of the falls.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Mail Drop Boxes for AT Hikers

One of the things I've discovered as the parent of an AT thru-Hiker (Jeff aka Loner) is that packing up supply boxes makes me feel better.  I'm doing something physical with all that nervous energy and doing something worthwhile.
 Many hikers carry one week of food for most of the AT.  They can get off and resupply in nearby towns. Jeff is choosing to ship food parcels ahead to post offices, hostels to towns as well as buy food along the way.
  • The A.T. Thru-Hikers’ Companion provides details on Post Offices and businesses that offer resupply and hold packages for hikers close to the A.T.
  • Hostels and businesses catering to are often open seven days a week during hiker season.
  • Resupply points are further apart and further off the Trail in the South and the far North.

 We're a budget minded family. So Jeff and I took the budget approach to food stuffs. Before Jeff left he packed a box to show me what he liked.  Most AT hikers ship their trail needs in the shoebox size box.  It's the regional rate Box A size Priority Mail box and Jeff had his at a weight which costs about $6.00 to ship.  You can order these boxes in multiple packs on the U.S. Post Office website and they will be shipped to your door.

These are the items Jeff likes in his box and I'll try to include where I find them.
Hikers need protein because they will  lose weight
1. 1 package of Armor pepperoni $1.00 The Dollar Store
2. 1 package Slim Jims
(we tried the dried turkey bacon but Jeff says the bag sweats)

For carbs:
1.Ramen noodles 2 beef, 2 chicken I buy these in packs of 5, for 1.00 a piece from Family Dollar or Dollar General

3. 2 packages of Hungry Jack instant mashed potatoes - $1.00 Dollar Store, Family Dollar

4 packets pop tarts $2.00  Dollar General

 In a zip lock bag we put: 1 To Go container of peanut butter, mints ( a natural stomach aid), band-aids, a box of matches, Q-tips, Slim Jim's, a box of raisins, a couple of rubber bands, two AA batteries for his camera, chap stick, small packets of Taco hot sauce, Mayonnaise, Arby's Sauce, loose aspirin, loose ibuprofen .
1 roll toilet paper w/q-tips inside.  

 I add
1 bag of Knorrs rice medley - $1.00 Dollar General
1 bag of dried cranberries or blueberries -   Dollar General for 1.75 - (a dollar cheaper than grocery stores)

1  pkg of dried apricots (replaces potassium, helps w/dehydration & charlie horses.$1 Dollar General
1 packet oatmeal
1 packet cocoa
 1 pair Bugle Boy black ankle socks from the Dollar Store 6-pack $3.00 Dollar General
a mini packet of wipes - 3-pack $1.00 Dollar General
extra zip lock bags for cooking and storage
1 roll toilet paper stuffed w/Q-tips

If your At hiker doesn't need all this food he can send it forward in what's called a bounce box. So far he's trying to give me a week's notice about the next mail drop location, but he made it a day ahead of time, so now I'm mailing further ahead on the trail so he won't arrive before his box because he won;t stay for it.  Although if this does happen he can call and ask them to forward his box (called a bounce box)
Here's some additional information on mailing supplies from The Appalachian Trail Conservancy's website.

The A.T. Thru-Hikers’ Companion provides details on Post Offices and businesses that offer resupply and hold packages for hikers close to the A.T.

How to use Post Offices along the A.T.

  • Anyone can have a package sent addressed to their name, c/o General Delivery, city state, zip code.
  • Also provide a return address and add “Hold for A.T. hiker” and the expected arrival date. Writing legibly is important!
  • Do not use your “trail name” or initials.
  • Your AT Thru-hiker  will need a photo ID to pick up your package.
  • Post Offices are only open Monday through Friday and Saturday mornings—hours vary from Post Office to Post Office.
  • Priority Mail is recommended for mailing packages—it’s faster, more reliable than parcel post, and you can forward an unopened package at no charge.

Using a “Bounce Box”

A “bounce box” is popular with long-distance hikers. It allows you to continually send ahead items you’ll need periodically but don’t want to carry. Hikers fill them with supplies such as extra batteries, cell phone chargers, “town clothes,” and toiletries. A bounce box also will allow you to send ahead the extra when you have to buy more of something than you need. Also be sure to include mailing tape, labels, and magic markers so you have supplies to send your box ahead.

I also periodically send a second box with town food - bags of snacks, Pringles, candy bars, an extra trash compactor bag to keep his pack dry, batteries, medicines, crackers, cookies, homemade brownies etc.  every so often.  This food is either too heavy or too bulky or too smash-able to carry on the hike.  But he can eat it that day in town and save his money for necessities, showers, laundry, hostels and gear replacement.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Begging to a Good Badger

Okay, time to get real.  Thank the gods, my son, Jeff who is now slogging his way somewhere in North Carolina (2nd state out of 14) close to Tennessee on the AT Trail, won't read this blog. He'd be appalled and embarrassed.  Before and even after I received Jeff's 3 recent sets of emails, I've been taking a subway up from deep within the subconscious, destination:  Panic City.
Parents of AT thru-hikers - I want you to know you are not alone.  When I dropped my son off on April 7th at the start of the AT, I was excited and thrilled for him. I have ultimate confidence in him as a man who knows the outdoors and nature, and one who has gone off for hikes of 80 miles or more.
And then he waved good by.  On the way home, I held myself together and attempted to drive serenely through the countryside while my granddaughter fell happily into a Dramamine doze. For three hours. Finally, I couldn't hold it together anymore. I couldn't maintain serene. Too many thoughts raced through my head quicker than the rapids on the Nantahala River. Thinking. Realizing. My son is gone for four to five months in the American wilderness!
I started wigging out and did so the entire next week. On my solo drives during work to see my clients, volume of cascaded down my cheeks, enough to rival Amicalola Falls.
 Where was he?  Would I ever see him again? Is he hurt? Were his socks wet? His feet cold?  Did he have blisters? Did he bring band aids? Did his knee and ankle hurt?  Did he have enough food in that ridiculously tiny backpack?
I wanted to picture what he was doing. Where did he sleep - hammock or shelter? Who did he meet?  What are their trail names?  Has he met any Trail Angels?  Has he met any crazy people?  Did a herd of wild boars block the path so he couldn't see the first great mountaintop vista on the trail? Did a a momma bear and her two laughing cubs chase him down a rocky slope calculatingly slathered with tree roots by some cruel  act of nature to trip him up and send him rolling down the equivalent of the combined heights of every skyscraper in downtown Greenville, SC x5? Whew! Time to take a breath.

So what did I do?  I went to Zach Davis (Class of 2011 AT Thru-hiker) The Good Badger's  blog and got many hours of free therapy!   Let me tell you, this guy can make you laugh. And then I started writing this blog.
With the manic rush of the thought of Zach's book, Appalachian Trials, winging its way to me from Amazon,  I got bold and begged The Good Badger (Zach Davis) to let me crash his list of AT Thru-Hikers on the blog list on his website so all those frantic parents, brothers, sisters, kids out there could feel they are not alone and maybe even get a little comfort.
My daughter, Beth would call me "Cheeky mom," my granddaughter would applaud and so  I took the risk.
Here's my email to Zach but with the typos fixed because in my nervousness and near panic for aid from someone who had to counsel his own mom over and over, I couldn't type straight.

Hi Zach:

My son, Jeff Gray, aka Loner, started the AT Trail on April 7, 2012 from Georgia. So of course, I've been reading blog after blog to extinguish my angst (you can take the woman out of the goth world- but can't take the angst out of the woman) and lo and behold, by some serendipitous form of synchronicity, I stumbled (as in my technique for hiking up  only 1/8 of a mile up the Amicalola Falls Trail) on your wonderful, funny, irreverent, honest, yet amazingly most reassuring blog on the AT I've read.
 Reading your blog is like watching my son race when he was a dirt track race car driver.  I sit there white-knuckled, my heart beating in panic, my lungs refusing to suck in air - but I keep reading  or watching (as in the case of your videos) because I have to know what happens.  Sure you scare the hell out of me - (your poor, saintly mother! - throwing your poles up rock slopes near the Lehigh River in PA, (how you must have made your mother suffer, not knowing  the outcome when you posted that photo on Rolling Rocks) sleeping with bear breath outside your shelter, watching Whoop nearly buy a water-logged ticket to Nirvana in that river ford that didn't even lead to the Captain's! 
But you made it - you freakin' made it.  And that's what keeps me sane. 
 I've spent the past 20 odds hours with massively huge eye balls reading faster than the ping pong balls on the Chinese Olympic team to take in every word of your adventure, and then glutton that I am, I had to have your book, ASAP and begged Amazon to send it post haste before I succumb to the South Carolina vapors with worry about my eldest child.

  I need your book for my survival, which now may be more at risk than my son's due to mental fragmentation and nightmares.
Yes, sorry, you are now being smothered by yet another frantic mother, as if one wasn't enough, but at least you know the score from the outside in.
What got me was your psychological approach.  Yeah,. I've read stuff on the the facts, the heights, the miles, all the numbers, and while I admit I dumbed out on the expedition gear reports, I am devouring your psych approach. Since I have worked in the psych business 18 out of my 46 year working life and currently work as a rehab support specialist with individuals with traumatic brain injuries, you blog and book are just the prescription for mental health I need. As it will also help my daughter, Beth, Jeff''s 32 year old sister, who works as a nurse on a floor for head and spinal cord injuries and has been having panic attacks.
 I'm a Jungian and interested in the inner psyche so I get your drift, big time. Your post on the sensory deprivation tank brought back memories, as I was once the woman who put people in the tank, at a New Age type psychiatrist's office  who hired me because I was a professional astrologer part time.  Our tank was ivory colored and round so we called it "The Egg" and found it was therapeutic for schizophrenics. Also, thanks so much for your post on Good Badger, "Bears and Bullshit" - luckily Jeff agreed with all of your concepts before he left.  But we need to hear it over and over so as not to be sucked in by the system, the Matrix, whatever you call it.

We, as a family, need this book - as I imagine most families do.  So I will plan to write a review on my blog for other AT families who go through the roller coaster ride (albeit at lower heights and with less vertigo) than their AT progeny.   

I'll keep this brief and leave all the remarks and glowing compliments of Appalachian Trials (brilliant title, by the way - you'll get sales just from folks who mistype trails ) ) for the review.

And guess what else you've done? In my post dropping off son on AT Trail misery, you've given me the therapeutic answer to all my nightmares, suffering and crying jags - writing!  It is you I have to thank for the idea of writing a blog and thus exorcising or exercising all the demons let loose in my brain by the many photos and stories of BEARs and MURDER and thru and section hikers alike just lying down to DIE on the trial after being incapacitated by heat exhaustion, hypothermia, or that one last horrid little rolling rock which planted them head first on another larger and not rolling rock - thus causing traumatic brain injury - about which I know way too much.
 So I wondered would it be out of place to add an AT blog on your 2012 Appalachian Trail Hiker page from the perspective of the mom?  I will be cataloging a lot of my son's trip as well, since at the moment he has hundreds of photos ad lots videos despite being 6 days into his hike, but he is a minimalist, no phone, no computer, no editing programs (he's an indie film maker).  Here's my blog so far - I'm going to review Bill Bryson's book, "A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail" hopefully this weekend, so that might give you a clue as to my reviewing skills.  Over the years, as an author and photojournalist, I've written hundreds of book reviews, most recently a slew of books about Carl Jung on my personal blog, The Shaman Papers.

By the way, I'm an author, small press publisher and editor as well.  Less now, than before the recession when I had to put my small press on hiatus and get a real world working job. 

Let me know if I can be added to the list without treading on AT thru-hiker and section-hiker toes, which I know are already painfully assaulted by rocks and climbing. And maybe when you're not too slammed there in San Diego with work, I can get to do an interview with you from your author's perspective as well.  

So far, I've limited my hysteria to this single email to you - knowing you can handle it with aplomb and healthy witty sarcasm, but I'm sure suppressed  aspects of hysteria will creep up like that bear in your shelter throughout my blog, or maybe just erupt, like the first time you opened your wonderfully full and downy, snug and warm sleeping bag, only to discover, this capability is OFFERED for a once and only one time trail-side experience.  

I even forgot to sign the e-mail.  How imbecilic is that?  I'll claim Sometimer's disease.  I refuse to admit to Alzheimer's just yet. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Emotions, Books, Jeff aka Loner on the AT

It's funny, Jeff would probably have a fit if he knew I was writing this blog, but I am a writer - that's how I deal with my emotions and what life throws at me. Jeff is a very humble guy and probably won't tell anyone about his interesting life as he hikes the AT.  He's a unique guy with a deep soul, and although mostly English, Irish, Polish,Russian and Italian, he's profoundly connected to his Algonquin Indian roots which date back to his great-great grandfather from Gray Maine.
 And while I was just tremendously excited for Jeff as he prepared to leave, it didn't hit me until a day later how scared I was and how bittersweet it was to see him wave on that switchback trail up to Amicalola Falls.  I wondered if I would ever see him again, knowing folks have died on the trail.  But I couldn't break down there because my granddaughter Kendall (9 years old) was standing there beside me.
So I broke down the next week - all week - crying jags as I drove from one client to the next in my job as a rehab support specialist for adults with traumatic brain injuries.  I had nightmares at night but made myself do research.  So now, I've read tons of AT thru hiker blogs, read A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson and am reading,  AWOL on the Appalachian Trail, by   David Miller, and have ordered from Amazon, Zach Davis, Appalachian Trials, the psychological approach to making the trail and from reading his funny yet honest blog on his Good Badger website.

Jeff aka Loner at NOC

Actually my son, Jeff aka Loner (also on White Blaze) answered all my emails today - three in one day!  Yay!
He's making faster time than he thought he would.  He asked me to send his first box to Fontana Dam for Friday April 17 but now he'll be there Wed. April 18, so hopefully the first one will get there in time.  I sent another one today with just town food - stuff too big or heavy for his 13.5 lb. pack, at least that's what it weighed at the weigh in at sign in time at Amicalola Falls. It's just snack food for him to gorge on in town or send forward to another postal drop for future Jeff, as The Good Badger puts it. So that will end up returned.  I need to send boxes further ahead than we thought.

Hey again Mom,

Cool message and liked the Indian info and cool name.
( this is in answer to when I emailed him about the Algonquin Indian in his ancestry-  similar to what I wrote in an earlier post.) Thanks for sending the box.  I'll be in Fontana prob Wed.  The one you send on Friday will get returned so please don't send it if you have not already.  I can't wait on it.  

We heard about the bear can rule and did that whole run in one day and camped on the other side.  I saw a tore up bear bag and some claw marks on some trees.
(Photo borrowed  from Shenandoah National Park site. )
I met a dude named James from Greenville but there may be others.  Been doing 17, 18, and 19 mile days.  But taking a slow day today at the NOC
(Nantahala Outdoor Center) and do about 12 today.   (photo by Mike of Forget-Me-Not and Filly entering the NOC).

Having a lot of fun but pushing too many miles too soon I think and my feet get tired.  Had great weather and seen some really cool stuff.  Got to visit a Indian Mound in Franklin, NC.

Please don't worry about the FBI thing.  (
This was in regards to an AT Hiker AT name, Stonewall, who was murdered in fall of 2011 near Virginia.  I sent Jeff the FBI notice on the White Blaze website, a forum for AT enthusiasts, just so Jeff could be on the look out in that area in case the guy comes back.
Sorry Zach (The Good Badger) , I didn't do too hot about trying not to worry over my son earlier this week - I'm doing better now)

And I've been taking salt tablets as it's what I purify my water.  Been doing good with water but some others have got sick and one guy quit because of blisters on every toe and another fell at blood mountain.  
Love ya,
Got to go, Jeff

By the way, the NOC, Nantahala Outdoor Center is an adventurer's dream - a large compound on the stunning Nantahala River, complete with Outfitter's Shop, Restaurant, Cabin rentals, kayak and canoe rentals, laundries, showers, computer access. It's one of the most elaborate pit stops for any AT thru-hiker and a destination for many day-trippers and overnighters.  After Jeff gets back I'd like to take a trip here with our family to explore the area.
Jeff's a big kayaker but I don't know yet if he interrupted his trek long enough to kayak any of the courses (all levels and many large competitions are held here) or if he just took the opportunity to refit his gear, resupply and eat a hot meal in a gorgeous location.  I'm glad he took the time to access a computer and email me.
Here's a cool blog and a great photo of the restaurant from Whitewater, another 2012 AT thru-hiker who went on trail before Jeff.  

Monday, April 16, 2012

Jeff's AT Gear

As I mentioned before my son, Jeff, is a minimalist. Has been for a good many years. He's not into material things much and when he has them he uses them and sells them quick. All he keeps over time are some books, his arrowhead collection, a few skateboards and his kayak. Now his camping gear.My daughter and I have a terrible time trying to get him to hang onto things like photos.  We kind of do that for him. 
He left with a sparse 13.5 lb. pack and tends not to carry too much equipment or even food. Everything he has is ultralight. He prefers not to sleep on the ground so chose a hammock in which he can put his sleeping bags.  He uses his clothes bag as his pillow, and hangs his backpack underneath the set up to keep it dry. I'm not sure if he's carrying the aluminum windshield reflector as added insulation to keep his feet warm as seen in this video on the AT or not.
Despite his spare lifestyle, Jeff aka Loner, or Snakesession on the Hammock Hanger Forum doesn't like to get wet so uses a great rain fly to keep dry.  He's even camped in snow and was quite cozy.
 Some of Jeff's gear includes:
1.  Pack:  Terra Nova Laser Elite 20L backpack,
2. Hammock:  Grand Trunk Nano
3. Tarp:  Wildernss Logics: Tadpole tarp, 
4. insulation/underquilt : Wilderness Logic rated at 20 degrees
5. Sleeping bag: Western Mountaineering Summerlite WL down 3/4 UQrated at 32 degrees
6.  suspension: whoopie slings w/Dutch biners

And for you hammock hangers: Here's a video of his rain or winter set up w/a brief discussion of his Dutch biners drip ring set ups to make sure drips don't enter his bag and hammock.
Here's a  video of his shakedown hike in Oct. 2011 with a review of his hammock and recommendations for hanging gear. 

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Trail Angels and Trail Magic

There are a lot of words and terms that go with the AT hiker culture.  NOBO and SOBO - northbound and southbound; leapfrogging - passing each other on the trail; Yogi-ing ( looking sad and pitiful near a picnic area, road or town to be offered either a ride to town, free drinks or food,) but the best AT Trail terms to an thru-hiker are Trail Angels and Trail Magic
There's a tradition on the trail that  just when a hiker is at their lowest, cold, wet dirty, hungry and worn out, Trail Magic will serendipitously appear.  It could be as simple as an unwrapped gummy bear dropped by a child on the trail - I watched AT thru-hiker 2012 Fatherman eat it on his you tube videos or it could be a long distance ride, with supper thrown in by the Trail Angel, a cookout set up by the side of the road as exhausted AT hikers emerge from the forest (often provided by Trail Angels who were AT Hikers or the families & friends who supported them) or Trail Magic found along the trail itself, or a unexpected box sent to a postal drop the hiker stops at in nearby towns along the trail.Bioptherea talked about this on his You Tube video.
These moments an AT Hiker can't ever forget.  And it makes all the difference in how they feel about their journey.  The AT culture is a very close knit culture as any would be which goes through the same trials and travails.
I haven't figured out whether families who support their AT hiker are called Trail Angels or not yet. And while we may not become Trail Angels along the trail until next year when Jeff can show us the right locations to meet AT Hikers, Kendall, Beth and I are doing what we can from the home front. We've set up a rather messy assembly line for the care packages we'll be sending Jeff along the way. He left a list of items he'll need as well as a box full of many of them in prep, but we'll also send surprise goodies.
It makes us feel involved and especially gives Kendall the chance to feel more connected to her Uncle and like she can do something for him after all the things he's done for her over the years.  He's the best uncle in the world and this gives her a chance to say thanks!  And keep walking and enjoying the travels. 
Recently an independent film, Trail Angels, was released by award winning director, Daniel Peddle, documenting a number of Trail Angels whose ingenuity, giving nature and sacrifice make such a huge difference in the day to day drudgery of AT hikers.
Update: 4/24/12 - here's a video of Jeff opening his mail drop box.  

1st e-mail from Jeff aka Loner at Hiawasee (I think)

Wow - Friday afternoon, April 13, 2012, I came home to find this email from my son, Jeff hiking the Appalachian Trail.  What a wonderful surprise - especially since we made a deal that Jeff would only write every 3 weeks.  He wanted to wait for 4, but Beth and I wheedled him down to 3.  And here it is less than a week, just 5 days/3 daylight hours into his journey.
 Yay!  Brief but enough.  Another lesson to be learned from an AT hiker  - appreciate the little things!

Hey Mom!
"Thanks for the ride up and the message.  All is fine here having a great time.  I'm going to cross into NC today.  80 miles so far. Has not been cold.  I've been hiking with a cool Mexican dude from TX who goes about the same speed.  We keep leapfrogging each other. 
Not going to be able to do any videos till i get back without a phone.  There's no time except for hiking, setting up camp, and eating.  And a total pain to get on a pc for even 5 minutes.  But I've been filming them.  Been doing between 12 and 16 miles a day so far.  Went to the 1st white blaze the first night.  Tics are here already.  The views are awesome.
If you like, could you please mail the 1st box to the Fontana Dam PO that I left yo?  I'll be there in a week or so.  If the bags (Jeff is talking about the trash compactor bag to keep his pack dry) are not there in time that's fine.  Thanks for doing that.  And sure just put anything in the boxes as a surprise. 
Everyone is nice here and helps each other.  Wish there was more time to write but will have to wait till I get back."
Love ya, Jeff aka Loner

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Appalachian (AT) Trail Georgia

It's really odd before my son Jeff aka Loner left for the AT, hiking his way through Georgia, the 3rd most difficult state on the trail after ME and Ma, I  was just excited for him and a little envious because  I've never had an adventure such as the one upon which he's embarked. Although I do have an adventurous spirit. In the past, I flew hot-air balloons and was a photo journalist for national hot air ballooning and hang gliding magazines. When I couldn't afford my own hot-air balloon and chase crew, I switched to covering the goth, heavy metal, and industrial metal music scene for Edge Magazine and a lot of free-lance jobs in music mags during the 90's, traveled for six years up and down the East Coast. mostly living in a canvas pavilion. as a merchant (Black Swan Thieves Market) with the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA).  Jeff also has an adventurous spirit despite the fact that he is a rather shy person, until he gets to know someone and then he is warm and funny, with a droll sense of humor.  But like me, he his both a people person, yet needs lots of hermit time.  His adventurous spirit was really riled up by his dad's family who were race car drivers on the amateur circuit going back to his great grandfather.  Every man Jeff knew: uncles, grandfather, great grandfather and dad, all drove race cars sometime in there life.  Most of them on asphalt tracks in the late model cars of their day in Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire. His dad specialized in demolition derby and Jeff was watching him crash cars on figure eight  when he was ten month old sitting on my lap with earplugs in his ears (from JoAnn Fabrics, the textile mill where Mike and I worked, as well as most of my family).  And so Jeff couldn't resist driving a race car as soon as he got his license.  When our family moved to South Carolina, Jeff was bummed out having to leave our tiny picturesque lakeside village, Dracut, Mass and all his friends at age 11 and moving to a relatively large city for him, Greenville, SC.
But on a drive through the nearby Piedmont Foothills on the way to the Blue Ridge Mountains, Jeff spotted a Dodge Mopar that was painted just like the General Lee from The Dukes of Hazzard and his car racing genes kicked into high gear.
Jeff was still only 11 at this time, but he got the bug and started off with his wheeled career on skateboards (but that's a whole separate blog.)
As soon as Jeff got his license at 16 he started building race cars in the back yard (his ancestors were also a long line of car mechanics) and it wasn't long before he started his four or five year career as a dirt track racer.  He raced at Williamston and Anderson, SC a shy guy, in rough pits where fights broke out often and drinking before driving was the rule often enough.  Jeff doesn't and never has liked to drink alcohol even though we are not a tee-totalling family but he still got a long and was well respected by the other rather rowdy drivers because on the first race his General Lee went airborne (not by Jeff's design) just like in The Dukes of Hazzard and everyone thought he did it on purpose to show off a bit while all the time he was shaking a good bit wondering if the car would ever land.
So I figure if he can handle racing and pit fights and cars crashing and breaking down, he can handle the mountains. 

Recap: Jeff's AT Prep Hike Black Gap/Amicalola Oct. 2011

Another journal entry from my son Jeff on his pre- thru AT hike  in Oct. of 2011 to prepare for the hike he's on now after leaving Georgia on  April 76, 2012. He made this 4 or 5 day trip to test his equipment.
 If you look close you'll see the owl stuffed animal Jeff bought for my granddaughter, Kendall for Christmas.  He also bought Beth and I long AT maps so now my push pin is notched in at the GA/NC border until I hear from him again.

Destination: Amicalola State Park
Starting Location: Black Gap
Today's Miles: 7.00
Trip Miles: 49.00
Friday for fun took the Hike-Inn trail to check that out. Neat place. LOTS of day hikers on Friday and they don't care who sees them poop in the woods. Walked up on 2 different people in the act! How about walking OFF the trail a ways people!
Made it back to the visitor center to look around. Tried to take a shower there but the on/off handle came off in my hand and got soaked in cold water just like some bad Chevy Chase movie!
Super fun trip and talked to lots of nice people. The shelters were cool and the trail well marked. This was a shake down for my 2012 thru and was very happy all the gear worked out great. Only one small rub on the back of one foot. Was glad to hike in the cold/rain/snow as I have not been able to test that yet and found I'm fine with it. Was easy to find nice trees to hang from too.
Looking forward to doing Neels to NC next time before doing the whole thing in 2012!
Some extra notes...
There is LOTS of trash at some of the shelters. Two had huge kitchen bags full of trash hanging from the bear cables.
Met several people that had bad blisters after only a few miles and one dude who got sick and was in trouble on the second day. Out of water and a huge pack. Others could not do the cold and wanted to go home.
Water was dry in places but still was able to find enough no problem.
Only saw one deer and 3 grouse. (we don't have these in my part of SC). Owls hooting every night was cool too.
Used the Terra Nova Laser Elite 20L. Pack weight with food was just under 11 lbs. I carried two 2-liters of water on my belt.
Total 50 miles hiked.


Jeff's Video of the Start of the AT

 I don't have any videos from Jeff  as he is one day six of his journey along the AT Trail - or photos even, but Jeff did make a stunning video of  his prep trip - over 40 miles in 4 days on the Appalachian Trail which he took in October 2011  to test his gear, starting from Amicalola Falls in Dawson, Georgia.  He also has a blog on Trail Journals of his preparation hikes, some of which were 80 miles long during the fall.  I'm hoping he'll let me post some of his email blogs to this site for him when he can't get to a computer where he can download his videos and photos.

This is what he wrote about the first couple days on that section hike in 2011
Hello, I'm Jeff, aka Loner. Living in upstate SC. Started hiking last summer to lose weight and have went from a plump 260 down to 200! Mostly hiking, skateboarding, and changing my diet. Got the hiking bug big time and did the Foothills trail thru (80 miles) this past July. Been learning about the AT, watching videos, reading books and getting my gear together. Lots of practice hikes, camping, and testing. Going as light as I can and my pack weight is around 11 lbs(-water/food). 15lbs total everything. Just did the first 40 miles of the AT starting in Amicalola and had a great time. Can't wait to start in 2012 and hope to meet everyone! I hope to post a video blog but will also talk about gear, safety, etc from the trail.

Destination: 3 miles up
Starting Location: Amicalola State Park
Today's Miles: 4.00
Trip Miles: 4.00

Hello all!

Just a quick trip report on my first section hike on the AT!

Arrived Monday night and the Amicalola Falls visitor center was closed so signed in at the after-hours board. The steps on the approach trail really get your attention! Great views of the falls and mountains with the fall colors. Very excited to be there.

Only made about 3 miles the first night and set up camp with my GT Nano Hammock and WL Tadpole tarp. Awesome weather in the 50s but coyotes howling all night kept waking me up!

On Tue had a great hike and was surprised to walk up to the plaque so soon. Hung out awhile and talked to the others there. The weather rolled in around dark and hung on the side of a hill in Horse Gap by a road used by huge Army trucks. Rained off and on all night and only had a few drips. Need to seam seal a few more spots but was happy with the tarp and d-rings.

Packed up Wed in the windy rain and hiked to Gooch shelter for lunch. The rain then stopped but still cold! Got hazed a little by 6 sobo thru hikers but that was fine. They were making time! Camped at Miller Gap and got to 39f but was toasty in my WM Summerlite and WL down 3/4 UQ.

Thur morn hiked to Wood's Hole shelter for lunch and to get out of the freezing wind! Could not believe how far off the trail it was. Blood Mnt had a good dusting of snow and was very fun to see but some other hikers were bummed out. Very cold but really enjoyed the hike. Was excited to get to Neels gap and just hang out for lunch and look around. Best $3.50 hot shower I've ever had and the bunk house was set-up nice. Very clean. I've read about it and seen it in the '2000 Miles to Maine' dvd. Everyone there was really nice too.

It was only 2pm so did not want to quit hiking so got Ron the shuttle guy to take me back to the top of Springer.
The shuttle guy that helped me is named Ron Hulbert. He used to run one of the hiker hotels in the area. He shuttles hikers anywhere on the trail from the start to the NOC or anywhere in between. Very helpfull and had no prob stopping for food or whatever and took the pic of me at the Springer sign. His number is (707)-745-1596 if you need a back-up.
  This time I had a camera and got some pics. Hiked back to Black Gap shelter and camped up the trail. Only got down to 39f this time and the sun woke me up in the am.

Destination: Horse Gap
Starting Location: 3 miles up
Today's Miles: 11.00
Trip Miles: 15.00

On Tue had a great hike and was surprised to walk up to the plaque so soon. Hung out awhile and talked to the others there. The weather rolled in around dark and hung on the side of a hill in Horse Gap by a road used by huge Army trucks. Rained off and on all night and only had a few drips. Need to seam seal a few more spots but was happy with the tarp and d-rings.

 Destination: Miller Gap
Starting Location:
Today's Miles: 16.00
Trip Miles: 31.00
Packed up Wed in the windy rain and hiked to Gooch shelter for lunch. The rain then stopped but still cold! Got hazed a little by 6 sobo thru hikers but that was fine. They were making time! Camped at Miller Gap and got to 36f but was toasty in my WM Summerlite and WL down 3/4 UQ.

Destination: Neels Gap
Starting Location: Miller Gap
Today's Miles: 11.00
Trip Miles: 42.00
Thur morn hiked to Wood's Hole shelter for lunch and to get out of the freezing wind! Could not believe how far off the trail it was. Blood Mnt had a good dusting of snow and was very fun to see but some other hikers were bummed out. Very cold but really enjoyed the hike. Was excited to get to Neels Gap and just hang out for lunch and look around. Best $3.50 hot shower I've ever had and the bunk house was set-up nice. Very clean. I've read about it and seen it in the '2000 Miles to Maine' dvd. Everyone there was really nice too.
It was only 2pm so did not want to quit hiking so got Ron the shuttle guy to take me back to the top of Springer. This time I had a camera and got some pics. Hiked back to Black Gap shelter and camped up the trail. Only got down to 39f this time and the sun woke me up in the am.

Jung, Native American Ancestors & the AT Trail

Jeff has gone back to the Americas before Columbus.
When he signed the register at the beginning of the AT Trail, the backpack, weigh-in site in the Amicalola Falls State Park, Jeff  chose the AT name,  Loner. 

 I would give Jeff a Native American AT Trail name, mostly from the Algonquin's of Maine, who are in his ancestral line on his father's side dating back to maybe his great-great-great grandmother, from the time when one of the British Gray's of Gray, Maine married an Algonquin girl.   
In the Algonquin language the most fitting name for Jeff would be,  Enkoodabaoo which means one who lives alone.  I see his hike as a quest of self-discovery.  So far I haven't found an Algonquin name for turtle, which is his totem animal and has been since his days in the cub scouts when he found his first box turtle and then his dad built him a massive 8X6 foot waist high turtle habitat which had sand for turtles to bury themselves in, lots of vegetation,  a pond for the red-eared water sliders, which his dad rescued from a construction site where the turtles were barely surviving in a mud puddle. The pond had  logs and rocks where they could stretch out their legs and sun themselves and Jeff could push it in and out of the garage in bad storms. In the winter he released them all into the wild so that they could lay their eggs next spring in natural surroundings.
Like a turtle, Jeff travels with his house on his back.  He has lived in a camper for years and it totally suits his simple nomadic lifestyle.
 Jeff  knows himself more than any man I know.  He's an internal guy, always thinking, analyzing his dreams.  His whole life he's navigated the Jungian approach without knowing it, learning who he is, becoming 100% Jeff full of muchness.  He's as authentic as they come - full to the brim with the essence of Jeff. You can see it as soon as you meet him, even beneath the shy surface and subtle humor.He's done more psychological inner work than most people I know and I've worked in the psychological/psychiatric field off and on for many years. Jeff has kept dream journals and spent more than his 40 days in the wilderness starting from when he was a kid about 12 years old (pictured right) when my then boyfriend, Steve, a mountain man to be sure ( he caught rattle snakes in pillow cases for Clemson University as we hiked) would take us off trail in the Blue Ridge Mtns and show us the ropes.  So 90 or 120 days plus won't seem like as much to Jeff as it would to city folk (like me now).  He currently lives in his camper on the road mostly on back roads in the sticks and mountains. So he's familiar with the woods and enjoys his own company.  He's a deep thinker and profound person in touch with the world on a natural level like the Native Americans.  He doesn't buy consumerism sham and lives a minimalist life - and when I say minimal - I mean it.  All his worldly belongings would fit in a couple of trunks and he recycles and sells them often as he takes up new ways to connect with Gaia. All except for his arrowheads which he's collected since he was 12 - but that's another blog all together.
Now he's taken another cycle on his quest in a spiral way over the 39 years of his life, as he's been circling around this unknown goal for many years in the wide range of activities he's become obsessed with - all of which I imagine he shall discover has taught him the skills and given him the mental tools to reach whatever goal he has for this most unique and adventurous experience.

Jeff leaves for AT Trail

On April 7th, the day before Easter, Kendall, my granddaughter and I dropped off my son, Jeffrey for his 2,100 plus mile hike of the Appalachian Trail (AT) which runs from Amicalola Falls State Park in Georgia to Kathadin Mtn in Maine.
My goal for this blog is to give the perspective from the family.  Mine, as his mom, as well as from his sister Beth, and her nine year-old daughter, Kendall.  I needed to find something from a family's view, as we wonder and worry and gleam with pride.  But since I haven't yet, and since my greatest therapy is writing, I'm going to start this blog in the hopes that perhaps it may offer some insight to families and AT hikers, whether section or thru, as to what goes on not only on the AT trail but also behind the scenes back at home.  And also to offer some facts and info, some personal excitement and anguish, as well as to tell a tale to folks who have known nothing about the Appalachian Trail until now.
Jeff''s expecting to be on the trail four to five months and has been preparing for over 8 months.  He carries a 13 weight pack, much smaller than most.  Some people try carrying 45 lb. packs but end up tossing a good bit of either gear or food, because the AT Trail is a ridge trail, meaning that it connects mountains and mountain ridges.
The night before, Jeff, Kendall, and I  enjoyed a "last supper" at Monterey's, our favorite Mexican restaurant near our house, since he won't be eating hot food for a while.
Then on the three hour drive from Greenville, SC to Amicalola Falls State Park,we stopped close to the park at the most posh Chik-Fil-A I've ever been in. It's in a newly developed upscale section of Dawson and the restaurant was huge and packed, had flowers on each table, servers refilling the tea and was one of the best fast-food experiences we've ever encountered.  What a great send off for Jeff - a Chick-Fil-A meal topped with a massive and cheap ice cream cone.
 When  we reached the entrance,  he weighed his pack and signed in as thru-hiker no #801 at the very nice visitor's center. So that means over 800 thru-hikers have started from the Georgia end since March 1st when the trail opens.
We were shocked at  how packed the entrance was with day-trippers and picnickers. We had to get in line in our car to pay our $5.00 car parking fee to get into the park and then drive around before finding one of the rare remaining parking places.Lots of families of all nationalities were cooking out, having Easter Egg hunts, playing badminton and hiking.  It was bizarre.  We only saw two other AT thru-hikers at the visitors center and then when we left, Kendall and I saw a van with three packs on top.  The ranger told Jeff, 20 thru hikers had taken off that same day so he's probably already met some of them by now.  And with those three signing in about 3:30. that may make about 25 for the day. I had expected a quiet, serious and rather sacred send off and I couldn't quite wrap my head around all the colorful frivolity and activity. We spent time there so at the center so Kendall could enjoy it.  They have two great displays of all the wild animals he might meet on the trail, one a daytime display and the other a night time scene.  It's informative to be able to gauge the size of the actual as opposed to imagined size of the black bears, wolves, bobcats, foxes etc. prevalent in these woods.  The first Mountain, Springer Mtn. is 3782 ft. high in the Chattahoochee National Forest, not the tallest of the trail, but still a hefty height.  He has already reached it, I imagine.  She bought an adorable owl purse (Jeff gave her a lifelike  stuffed owl from here for Christmas) and she did the machine where you stamped a penny. Kendall made one with the waterfall scene for herself and one for Jeff with the hiker scene.

Then we set off on the trail walking through the stone archway, which features the southern terminus - the beginning or ending blue blaze side trail which is described as an arduous 8 mile hike which officially leads to the AT signified by the white blazes on the trees.  Jeff wanted us to hike with him on the mile trail to see the majestic Amicalola Falls,which tumble down 729 feet over the mountainside. But unfortunately Kendall was in flip flops and had to walk with her feet stretched out in a Daffy Duck V so as not to slide out of her shoes and go careening in backward somersaults bowling over large families of East Indians, Orientals, Hispanics and Anglo Saxons families causing them in turn to execute backward somersaults, flips and full gainers  resulting in avalanche of international proportions. In addition, to put an out of kilter spin on it, she'd had to take Dramamine to survive the road trip due to her tendency to extreme car sickness so, poor thing she was half out of it as well.  And she's a city girl, unlike her mom, Beth, (pictured left at age 5 or 6) who I introduced to hiking when she was five.
And then I was even worse. Here I was walking bent in half in what felt like a trail set at a 90 degree angle. My size six feet with 61 years old toes are cursed with arthritis so my Ozzie Osborne shuffle could barely hold up my  nonathletic pear-shaped body which has filled out to require larger feet requiring monkey-like dexterity. 
No way could I attempt the first first 175 wooden steps, let alone the next 475, heaving chest and hypternsion pounding brow warned me!  Although at one time I hiked with Jeff and my daughter Beth separately or us all together in the Blue Ridge Mtns at Oil Camp Creek Road and Jones Gap along Persimmon Ridge every weekend for years in the 80's and 90's. (me back then photo right)
 The Amicalola Trail in Dawson County is rated as a D level hiking trail, on Pam and Randy Golden's, Trail Masters Scale.  Difficult - these trails can have steep section with treacherous footing, rock strewn sections, or heavily tree-rooted paths.   Yeah, steep sections okay - now add another 475 steps, guys.
The Goldens have more than 25 years of hiking experience and have a great Internet site on Georgia hiking, with reviews, ratings, photos and directions for each site, plus important info such as visitors center, lodging, picnic areas and trail features such as views, waterfalls etc.  For anyone even considering hiking a section or thru hike on the AT, their site will offer a ton of info to help you prepare for the Georgia section, which has been called the third most difficult of the 14 states on the AT after Maine and Massachusetts. 
The Amicalola Trail  is beautiful trail starting at a reservoir. It runs alongside the Amicalola River with many small waterfalls. But then it suddenly ascends  up at a steep angle where I had to walk  bent over in half to make it up the incline.
Many AT hikers don't start on this entrance side trail, which they cite as being a really rough hike to start the trail with it's 242 wooden steps perched at a steep angle on the rock face. Instead they get a ride to the top of Springer Mtn
We did get to a plateau where we could take photos and see Jeff off, but Kendall and I only made it about 1/8 of the mile, I'm afraid.
 I don't know how Jeff does it, but he's been in training so he will do fine. At Christmas he weighed a slim 180, but bulked up on purpose knowing he'll lose a lot of weight on the hike.  A week's worth of his food fits in a shoebox.  I'm curious to see if it's enough.  It wouldn't be for me, that's for sure, either in diversity or quantity.  But I've heard AT hikers are a different breed and Jeff has been in that club ever since his teens.  I'm an advocate for the development of the individual to the very core of their existence and the extreme fringes of their capabilities and Jeff is one of those people who comes by such a lifestyle naturally.  Or at least he makes it appear that way.
Zach Davis' Inspiration and my personal confession time - So now I must admit, I've been frantic since Jeff left although I was only excited before he left.  So to stay sane I read lots of blogs and found one, which while not altogether soothing, is funny, irreverent, honest and psychological.  The Good Badger's Appalachian Blog is what inspired me to start my own blog - as both my personal therapy and a catalog Jeff's experience since he may not get to blog or You Tube.  Zach Davis, author of  Appalachian Trials,  has a unique psychological approach which got me and I can't wait to receive his book from Amazon.