Thursday, May 31, 2012

Loner at 720 miles

Jeff aka Loner has now reached 720 miles and posted eleven new video's up on his you tube site, Loner AT 2012. He found an outfitter in Daleville so finally has good new shoes.  His first pair of New Balance lasted 630 miles and then he had to make do with a pair of wanna be Keds from the General Dollar for the next 90 miles because there was no outfitter in the town before Daleville.  He hiked one of the rockier more cliff side areas in those wanna be sneakers.
The lost mail drop boxes showed up - so Jeff ended up with 7 resupply boxes at one time. Not cool to carry a couple of miles to a hotel.  He had some trail angels give him a lift so that worked out and he bounced some of the food boxes forward. 
He finally got the copy of Appalachian Trials I sent him.  A great book by Zak Davis.  And he was able to buy another AT Companion since the second half of his did get lost in the mail, but the one he has now is last year's.  Hopefully it won't steer him too far off the current AT, but better than none.  He was walking the wrong way towards Pearisburg, but luckily he was pulled over at the side of the highway and the police officer was nice enough to tell him which way to go.
Check out the videos - some awesome scenery and some of the most celebrated spots on the trail such as Dragon's Tooth, Angels Rest, Tinker Cliffs and McAfee Knob, as well as a cooking lesson and a toga run to the laundry.
My computer at home isn't working right now so posts and photos will be few abnd far between.  But Jeff's videos more than make up for my silence.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Flip Side

After my last post, I received a very important comment from Patty, mother of an AT hiker, named Rayo, who is a few weeks ahead of Jeff.
Patty reminded me of some very important points about being a family member of an AT hiker - the good things!
As we participate in their journey from afar, we are being introduced to a whole different side of life.  She reminded me of how much fun it is to talk about our sons wherever we go.  How satisfied we are when we find new kinds of trial mixes or good healthy dried fruit - especially at bargain prices; how we make lists of items to spice up a mail drop box or add to their calorie intake - very important right now since they're burning 6,000 calories a day.
I need to keep these good things in mind more often than my worries.  Because of Jeff's (Loner's) decision to walk the AT, I'm learning so much more about America, taking pride in it's people and character, as well as being newly awed by its grandeur and diversity.  I'm learning about the ecology of our country and how we have done harm, but also how many men and women have, and are working hard to find ways to preserve it, from the guy who picks up trash and packs it out, to our legislatures who pass laws to keep our natural beauty intact. Over the past fifty years we have protected thousaands of acres by creating our system of State and National parks and preserves.
 I'm learning the flora, fauna and animals which live only a half a day's drive away and I'm able to see America through new eyes - all because sometime last year my son made the decision to hike the AT.
I'm meeting new and interesting people who are learning these things as well from our soggy, tired but ultimately enchanted ambassadors for our nation: the hikers of the AT who take the time to blog, take photos, and post videos so those of us who can't, or won't ever have such an experience can at least get a taste from the comfort of our couch or safety of our computer chair.
I'm fortunate my son chose to hike now, close to his 40th birthday in July, when technology allows me to share it with him, instead of 20 years ago the wait for a rare letter could last weeks.
Because I forget to write these things, it doesn't mean they don't matter to me or I take them for granted.  Instead they are part of my everyday life now.  It's as if I'm learning a new language, culture, geography, history, science and psychology of our country and the warmth and concern within each American all at once. 
The Trip of Loner and every brave soul who has stepped foot on the trail has made me take more pride in America than any speech I've ever heard.
Hikers, nature lovers, wanderers throughout our public lands on foot are the true chroniclers of our nation. Without the rhetoric of politicians, the agendas of corporations, the petty worries and squabbles of a consumer-driven society, they see the purity behind the facade, the majesty of our mountains, the strength of the individual who meets nature as a follower or cooperator on an elemental level.
There is only the fog of fear to divert a hiker from the path, or the inability to trust his own unique instinct. Those who keep going despite four days of rain, falling apart shoes, eating cold food every day due to the ability to find fuel for their tiny stove will prove something to themselves about man and the stunning beauty of fourteen states over 5 million steps.
They are the true story tellers as they wind their way through the natural beauty of the mountains through the small towns of south, mid-America and New England - all encompassing different characters and cultures, but who as one united front prove over and over how people want to naturally help, give and care. We just have to be reminded to stop our everyday rush and the constant chatter in our brains to hear an old story told in many new and personal ways.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

OCD mom: From Frantic Valley to Augmented Reality

As you might have noticed, if you've been anywhere on this blog, I suffer from  obsessive compulsive disorder, not in the way that people think of, such as hand-washing or meticulously cleaning your house all the time (my daughter claims that one) but in the way when I get into something, a new hobby for example or a new subject or interest, I am obsessed.
As evidenced by the fact that I've posted a good many blog entries on CarolinaATMom  since I started this blog about five weeks ago. It's was one of the methods I employed to  deal with my anxiety regarding my son, Jeff's aka Loner's Trek on the Appalachian Trail.
And there's about 5 more posts already written, waiting to be edited or linked with links or peppered with photos and flotsam and jetsam of AT facts or stats.  Even I think it's too gauche to post this many.
But I can't stop myself.
And the blog posts are just the tip of my AT obsession iceberg attempting to rival altitude of Mt. Kathadin. Behind the scenes there's hours of book reading (some books twice!), hours of You Tube videos, blogs and video documentaries including 2,000 Miles to Maine, a funny and sometimes irreverently honest film interviewing a cast of quirky hikers and one angry dog and  I just watched Trek - a vibrant, emotional and telling chronicle of four young men who take to the trail as the Four Horsemen and both the wonderful and the trying experiences they encounter. Beautifully photographed with stunning panoramic views which can't be caught in photos, this will be one I'll watch over and over, just like I do Loner's You Tube Videos.
I also can't resist stalking the Internet sites White Blaze  where AT hikers post journal entries, post questions, comments, help each other, sometimes argue about all topics related to the AT and Trail Journals a website of journals kept by thru-hikers over the years and updated as hikers can with smart phones, etc.
 I also find myself reading the crime reports and unfortunately forwarding them to my son as warnings about what to look out for.  While I believe the AT is as safe as any other part of the USA, the trail is almost a mini moving town and in any town things such as deaths happen. On the AT the dangers range can arise from hypothermia, heat exhaustion, falls, heart attacks. And yes, even violent crimes and murders do happen (such as a recent, May 10, 2012, attempted armed robbery on Beauty Spot Lookout on Unaka Mtn. in Tenn. to be addressed in another post). Loner had been there about a week before. It's just good be aware.
If I could find wild animal reports going over those for every 5 million steps my son will take on the 2,000 whatever it is, the mile count keeps changing miles, especially since my son as already dispatched one rattle snake to the side of the trail with the lure of the snake's supper and three bears, who thankfully ran away from him. .
So, am I the only family member, friend or, I admit sometimes overly involved mom out there?  (Peeking through the Internet telescope) Are there any other AT support teams who sometimes feel close to falling  over the cliff edge to Frantic Valley? Am I the only Mom who drops her life to peek in on her son's?  I read about these Augmented Reality Glasses Google is proposing to release later this year - it's a computer in a strange glasses/around the forehead headbandy thing, all futuristic which offers GPS, displays weather, has the ability to take photos, send emails, make phone calls etc. all in one tidy headset smart phone.  I told my son about them and asked if he'd wear them if he ever undertakes another adventure like the AT in the future so I could follow him every step of the way.  He was smart and refused.  I should have known better since the only technology he has on the trail is his camera. Am I alone? Am I crazy?
It would really be nice to know I'm not the only family member who's gone around the proverbial crook in the trail in this situation. 
My son would think so, hence up until recently I wrote this blog in absolute secrecy from my son. It was easy since he doesn't carry a cell phone or smart phone and has limited access to computers at hostels.
But now I finally feel I can mentally balance the idea of the valuable life transformation he's gifting himself against the worry I feel about the what ifs.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

New Loner AT videos #'s 22-29

I just heard from my son Jeff, aka Loner who posted 7 new videos of his 2012 Appalachian Trail thru-hike up at his You Tube site Loner AT 2012
There's footage from Roan, TN to Marion, VA.  So he passed 400, mile, then 500 miles and crossed into Virginia within the past two weeks.  He'll be in Virginia about a month since it's the state with the most miles on the AT, 550 miles!  But it has a lot fewer high mountains, more farms and valleys and the beautiful Shenandoah so hikers make a lot of time and manage high mile averages while going through Virgina.  Loner decided not to stay in Damascus and wait on his mail drop - it would have been an extra 2 or 3 days in town and that can eat up a lot of a hiker's money.  He also wanted to get to his computer so he could download his videos so he headed north, met a lot of SOBO hikers and cyclists heading to Damascus but he saw bears, cows and ponies and visited or stayed in some cool hostels.  Black Bear Resort looks killer - we may have to stay there if we go to Damascus for Trail Days next year - which he says he wants to do.  He would have liked to have stayed but not that many days.  Bummer the P.O. closed at 11:30 pm and he missed three boxes of his food mail drop.  Hopefully they've bounced them ahead. He's glad to have run into some of the folks he's already hiked with on the trail!  Some days he hikes 25 miles and has lost 30 lbs so far.
Hope you enjoy the videos!

Appalachian Trials by Zach Davis review

It’s not often we see a Good Badger execute somersaults. But one, who chose to share his antics on the Appalachian Trail, did.  In the recently published,  Appalachian Trials: a psychological & emotional guide to successfully hike the Appalachian Trail, Zach Davis, the owner of the trail name, Good Badger, rolls from funny and glib to serious and profound, proving to be a complex person, as many are who attempt the AT and make it. Hikers and their families are lucky he chose to write such a book, an honest and astute take on the Appalachia Trail, and a must read for those who are currently, or will in the future, find themselves walking the 2,000 odd miles form Georgia to Maine. 
Zach’s not talking off the cuff but from cataloging both the inner and outer experience. His personal stories back up his psychological insights and mental hygiene. As Zach slogged the miles in the rain, climbed the rocky outposts, endured the Green Tunnel he took note of the AT’s effects on hikers both physically and mentally. He endured his own set of unusual trials while hiking, from being rejected for an important job he hoped to start after his hike, to contracting a debilitating illness while on the trail, which was not diagnosed until he was off the trail. 
Published on the heels of a number of memoirs and some incredible guide books, this is may very well become one of the most important books in the hikers prep box, simple because it addresses what Zach believes, to be the main reason hikers make it all the way.  Mental attitude. Appalachian Trials may prove even more important than choice of equipment or how many maps a hiker carries, because it prepares the long distance backpacker for what the mind goes through while pushing the body to such limits and how important the right frame of mind can be when confronting the obstacles of the self, including the interaction with society before and after the journey and most importantly each individual’s purpose and motivations for such a challenge.
Zach’s approach, reminds me of how crucial Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell viewed the role of quests, initiations and challenges in the invocation and development of the “hero” or the authentic individual, as Jung called it.
On those mountains, 100s of them, one must come to know himself inside and out without the trappings of society to protect them, and therefore must learn to rely on their own inner resources and strengths.  Sure there’s times each hiker curses the trail, but more times than most, it’s the opportunity to discover an inner ally. Out on the trail everyone is reduced to their absolute center – there’s no way to be fake to impress or best someone. Personas and habits we adopt to comply with society’s expectations slip away with the miles until every hiker comes to know their true self better than ever imagined. 
So far this review may make Appalachian Trials sound like a complicated book.  Quite the opposite. Throughout his book, Zach employs user friendly analogies anyone can relate to and offers solutions, methods, and techniques to better prepare both the hiker and the worried family back home as to what may, can and should happen while going through such an extreme experience for four to six months.
It’s practical, readable and most of all insightful, without being preachy or pretentious.  Zach’s humor, off beat, quirky and often self-deprecating proves this is a guy who can take himself seriously when he has to, but more often than not, will just as soon laugh at his foibles. He’s taught himself to be intuitively aware when of when it’s time to find a way around a mental mountain with the potential to come crashing down and therefore avoids or survives each setback. 
But Zach doesn’t stop there, he goes on to warn and suggest measures to deal with the post-trail let down, the adjustment back into society and how to use the new awareness gained from this pivotal life journey to found a meaningful and enriched lifestyle.
 My son Jeff or Loner, as he’s known on the trail, started his thru-hike on April 7, 2012 on the approach trial at Amicalola Falls. As a family member of an AT thru-hiker, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this book. Once Jeff left, I found Zach’s Good Badger blog and read every word, hungry for more. Appalachian Trials delivered even more than I’d hoped.
Throughout Appalachian Trials, Zach makes user friendly analogies anyone can relate to and offers solutions, methods, techniques to better prepare both the hiker and the worried family back home as to what may, can and should happen while going through such an extreme experience for four to six months. It helps us understand why our family member or friends is taking on such a feat and what they go through en route, in addition to offering us ways we can offer them some advice without becoming obsessively worried.
While reading Appalachian Trials, I felt like I was sitting in a room with Zach, a large window to our sides, offering a panoramic view of the woods on a beautiful day, that’s how the conversational style of this book engages the reader.  I felt like I came to know Zach, as well a man, who while often exhibiting his off-kilter sense of humor, also, at the same time offered a thoughtful, insightful view not just of the AT but also of our society’s culture and how easy it is to forget one’s true self trying to measure up to outer standards.  On the AT, it’s just the hiker and nature, bottom line.  More than just a hiker’s backpack is pared down to the core necessities.   

I think this book is also a valuable resource and comfort to family and friends of long distance hikers since it offers concrete steps to take at all stages of such a life-altering journey. Of which there are more than the hiker expects: from the prep through the early trail anxieties to the endorphin highs spurned on by exercise and small successes, through the periods of boredom and possible depression during Virginia’s 550 mile Green Tunnel, where as Zach explains, the honeymoon stage is over.  Zach offers ways the thru-hiker can deal -   all the way to the exhausting, emotional and exhilarating summit of Mt. Katadhin.
 The writing in Appalachian Trials appears to be an effortless task on Zach’s part, so easily do we read it and understand his observations and advice. But, as an editor, I know differently. Pay attention to a normal conversation and you’ll hear how to rambles, is tangential, wanders off course, sometimes to never veer back, stops and starts, and sometimes ends abruptly without flow. Zach put more time and effort in completing this book than is evident on the surface, like taking a bad day on the trail with its missteps and lost footing, and using the time in the shelter of an evening to recall it with all its wonders and remarkable lessons intact.   
That’s the landscape of this book, the path Zach leads you on, not only on the Appalachian Trail but also in life.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Loner - Roan Mtn, Hampton, TN,Trail Days

I received an email from Jeff aka Loner who has now passed the 400 mile mark.  He took a welcome break from four days of slogging in the rain with shoes held together with duct tape.  He said the going was slow because the trail was so slippery and he had to watch every step.  A number of other hikers sprained ankles or twisted knees - not good.  He finally took a break at Black Bear Hostel ($10.00 a night bunk, with towel and soap, not a bad deal.  Odd, how hostels along the trail have "bear" in the title don't they - not a good sign. I'm sure he was glad of the chance to dry himself and his gear out. 
He did mention that he enjoyed Roan Mtn.  I did a little research and it's another big one, over 6,000 feet of elevation so in the category of Clingman's Dome at 6,643 feet.  Roan Mtn is also known for it's many lovely rhododendron bushes which I gather are so plentiful that they hold a Rhododendron Festival in June at the Roan Mtn. State Park each year.  I guess we won't find out if they're blooming until Jeff gets to upload his latest videos and photos.  
I'm glad I had a chance to email Jeff and he had a chance to read them before he left his stopover in Hampton, because he'd totally forgotten that I'd sent a mail drop there with a replenishment of food.  No town food this time, just trail food.  So luckily he was able to get notice in time to pick it up before he left town.
His next stop will be Damascus, Virginia, which has a huge history along the Appalachian Trail.  They are known as the "Friendliest Trail Town" located at the cross roads of four trails: Trail Town USA due to the convergence of four scenic trails in the town, including the Appalachian Trail, U.S. Bicycle Route 76, The Iron Mountain Trail, and the Virginia Creeper Trail.
Each May they hold a festival called Trail Days, which draws over 20,000 visitors each year from all over the country. It might look like a re-located Woodstock, A Grateful Dead concert or Mardi Gras mountain style but it's a massive gathering of outdoor enthusiasts - previous thru-hikers, future hikers, hikers, cyclists, naturalists and current thru-hikers like Jeff who'll amble into town.  Jeff will arrive a few days prior to to the May 18th official start date but from what I've read, people start arriving by May 11th.  Many past AT hikers go to Trail Days to enjoy a reunion with fellow hikers they met on their journey and future At 2013, 2014, 2015 thru-hikers who are just no planning their trips will come to check out the new equipment. Campgrounds, hotels, hostels fill up with tents overflowing on grassy sports everywhere.  They have a huge outdoor vendors market with outfitters and other vendors from all over the country showing their latest, lightest, ultra cool hiking, biking and camping gear, as well as related gear, t-shirts, crafts, food and other offerings.
They also offer lectures and talks from master hikers, even on trails in other countries.
There's lots of free goodies for hikers, such as free showers, free medical care, free medical tests, free gear repair, free Wi-Fi, free coffee shop, free concerts, a library book sale, a whittling club,  indie films,  even a few free dinners sponsored by local fire stations, churches etc.and a whole lot more.
And they hold a huge Hiker Parade with notables from the hiker world, even old timer AT thru-hikers.
I don't know how long Jeff will stay in Damascus and enjoy Trail Days because I don't know how he's looking at the miles he wants to do, but I hope he gets to enjoy some of it.  It may be a once in a life time experience.  

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Hammock Hanging Bears

Time for a little levity - if you've been reading this blog, you may recall that my son, Loner, is what they call along the Appalachian Trail, a "hammock hanger."  that means that instead of camping in a tent, he camps overnight in a hammock. 
I thought it quite interesting to discover that humans aren't the only ones who've mastered the rather (or at least for moments) have mastered the rather tricky art of hammock hanging.  AS any one whose tried it, it takes a bit of practice, balance and dexterity to position yourself just right - but once you do - heaven!
In addition to this photo, you can watch a brief video of a couple of hammock hanging bears - and it's not unusual to find entire families hanging around the hammock waiting for their turn.
So Loner, I hope you've figured out a strategy to evict these intruders if you find them squatting in your At living quarters!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Loner Vids from Gatlinburg to Erwin, TN

My son, Jeff, known as Loner on the Appalachian Trail, has added Videos #13 through #20 of his trip on his You Tube website now that he's in about 400 miles.
 It sounds like he's had all sorts of adventures from the hail storms to having to put his shoes back together with duct tape!  He's got videos and photos of everything from Cooter's Dukes of Hazzard Museum and skateboarding in Cherokee to some big time Trail Magic, bits on the Standing Bear Hostel and a new hostel,The Laughing Heart Lodge, 360 views from Max Patch bald, snow, hail, old plane wreckage, Hot Springs,  rattlesnakes (!), town life and more.
Jeff has happened upon a number of places and events which tie in with some of the many interests he's had in his life.  In his younger days he built a race car to look just like the General Lee so the trip to the Dukes of Hazzard Museum must have been fun for him.  And he's an indie film maker (previously of skateboarding and arrowhead hunting video)s so the indie AT film showing in Erwin by Miss Janet was a  serendipitous event, as was the vintage car show. Especially since, one time, he was restoring both a '55 Chevy car and truck.  It's almost as events along the trail were staged due to his perfect timing.  I've heard all kinds of stories about Trail Magic and how serendipitous things happen for AT hikers, as well as the odd rattlesnake encounter, and Jeff is certainly experiencing it all first hand. 
It's great to see him after two weeks and hear him laughing on one of the videos. I can tell he's already lost a lot of weight, just from his face.A diet of Pop Tarts and  Ramen Noodles will do that to you, but he fills up in town, that's for sure.
It's good to know he's having a great time, even though he's having to rest his ankle. He's a bit disappointed a number of the hikers he's been leap-frogging with are getting off the trail. 
Maybe he'll even post a few more videos before he gets back on the trail.
Oh and by the way, if you do view his videos, please take a moment and leave a brief comment.  They mean a lot to him and keep him inspired to continue his journey - especially on the tough days!

e-mail from the Good Badger

A while back I posted a letter on my blog which I had e-mailed to Zach Davis, 2011 thru-hiker and author of the book, Appalachian Trials: A Psychological and Emotional Guide To Thru-Hike the Appalachian Trail (Volume 1).
My request asked him to include my blog in his list of thru-hiker blogs - an unlikely request, I considered, since I'm not a thru hiker just the mom of one, Loner.   And he did indeed include my blog on his list which has garnered a number of readers - hopefully other family members too (I've heard from a number of mothers of AT hikers since starting this blog even from outside the United States.  In addition, in my email to Zach, I whined a bit about my worries - that was early in Loner's trip and I was a panicky mom, knowing Zach's mother had worried too and he'd dealt with it. 
On the same day I sent my email, shortly afterwards Zach wrote me back. I didn't want to publish his letter on my blog until after I had his permission, which he was gracious to give.

"Hi Gail:
Thank you so much for the thoughtful and poetically crafted e-mail.  It's safe to say that yours is the e-mail of the month. 

First off, don't stress your son being on the trail right now.  I understand how it can be terrifying, but I promise you, your son is safer and happier than he would be in the daily rigors of what is often referred to as the grind. 

In addition to adding your blog to the 2012 thru-hikers list (which I will be doing as soon as I hit the "send" button), would you have any interest in writing a review of the book from the perspective of a parent on the Good Badger?  Appalachian Trials was written largely with you, the parent, in mind, but me saying that is less effective than it coming from the perspective of an actual parent.  Assuming you enjoy and find value out of the book, I would be honored for your review on my website, which of course would include a link back to yours.  I guarantee that will drive a lot more interest than a link buried in a lengthy list of others. 

If not, no problem, I just wanted to gauge your interest.
I apologize, I'm at a geek conference in San Francisco right now (my new home), for the remainder of the weekend, so won't be able to respond to your e-mail in the depth that I would like to right now.  I'm currently getting yelled at by geeks :\

Happy hiking,

Now, I've read Appalachian Trials twice and have started the review, not quite finished which I'll send to him soon, as well as post it here, on Amazon, on Goodreads, etc.  
Just once again, I'm discovering what a tight-knit, helpful, friendly and encouraging community revolves around the AT.  I've already seen in my son's videos how surprised he is at the diversity and authenticity of the thru-hikers he's shared the trail with, and now we learn it extends years, miles and further out people wise - even the family members of AT hikers feel like part of the AT family. One of the lessons to take from this whole experience is a renewed faith in humanity which can sometimes be lost in our day to day shuffle.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

e-mail from Loner at about 250 miles

 Appalachian Trail Loner 2012 AT Hike #7 NOC

I rec'd a brief e-mail from the Appalchian Trail from Jeff at about the 250 mile mark,

"Heard it was 9 degrees at Newfound Gap one of the nights I was in Gatlinburg.  I went to Cherokee for a half hour and skated a kids board at the skatepark there.  Still had a inch of snow that night on the trail but my tarp did fine.  A Native American hiker from North Dakota said 'we needed some adventure in our adventure.'  Have some cool pics.  3 hail storms the next day and saw a crashed airplane.
Max Patch was awesome too.  The trail is getting better and the weather for 3 days was perfect.  A lot of hikers have left the trail for weather or injury.  I'm feeling fine but get a little sore sometimes.  Really enjoy this."
He'll be able to post videos hopefully around the 400 mile mark.