...and 2179 miles later I flew home.
I've been meaning to write a summary of my thru-hike since I got back about 6 months ago, but I found that I can't really do it justice with words or images. Some have tried (read the books As Far as the Eye Can See or the A Walk in the Woods or look at these photos) but you can only truly understand once you are a few months in. A commonality I found amongst all my fellow hikers was that we couldn't really explain it, but we felt compelled to do this. The trail called us there. A thru-hike may not be for everyone, but it was definitely for me.
My reasons for walking through the woods for five and a half months were varied... I wanted to challenge myself physically and technically, I wanted to clear my mind, I wanted an adventure, I wanted to know what is truly essential, I wanted to discover more about myself and this planet, I wanted to raise money for Abby and awareness of Mitochondrial Disease, and I wanted a fresh beginning... to hit the reset button on life. I achieved all this and more (like growing an epic beard).
Now that I'm back in the "real world" I feel I have a sharper focus on life. In the six months since I returned I've changed jobs, moved into my own place, met new friends, and even implemented an idea or two. Stripping down to the bare necessities of life gives you a greater understanding of what is truly important. I understand the power of taking one step at a time. I know I have the patience, determination, and support to accomplish anything I dream.
I want to thank everyone for the support I received. I don't think I would have made it without: My parents who traveled thousands of miles to help me. My friends who joined me, left comments on my site and on facebook, and donated to the Fitzpatrick family. My fellow hikers I met along the way. All the countless trail angels who provided food, drink, shelter, and encouragement. And most of all, my incredible dog Kooper, who was my constant companion through it all.
I can hear the calling. What's next? Anyone up for Patagonia? The PCT? Te Araroa?
Obi-Wan & Kooper
We raised $5350 for Abby!
I averaged 13.3 miles per day, over 164 days (Apr 17th - Sep 27th), including 13 zero days.
I spent $4267.30 while I hiked. This does not include buying gear before or flying back home (or loss of income from not working)
This spreadsheet shows where I was every day and where I resupplied.
A compilation of my best photos & videos.
A dump of all my (1000) photos.
Me speaking about my hike at church.
One of the goals of my hike was to raise money for my friend Abby, to help pay for travel to doctors in Cleveland, Ohio. When I told her mom, Lauren, about my plan she seemed surprised and a little confused. She didn't really know what the Appalachian Trail was or what it all entailed. As I hiked on she began to realize what it was all about, and it turns out she has family up north near the trail that could maybe help me out!
First up was Abby's cousin Angie in Massachusetts. She works for Gould Farm, mainly with the dairy cows. I got to stay the weekend in Angie, Amanda, and Nathan's home, use the farm's sauna, eat wonderful farm food, and get a glimpse of what farm life would be like. Thanks to Angie, Evan, and Rev. Liz for shuttling me around town too.
Then when I got near Rutland, Vermont where Abby has many aunts and uncles, I got to stay at Abby's aunt Nancy's home. I hiked over Mt. Killington & Pico the next day and then got picked up by aunt Julie! Julie wanted me to come back for church on Sunday to talk about my hike, so a few days later I expected to get picked up again near the New Hampshire border.
To my surprise, it was Abby and Lauren who arrived to pick me up!
Sunday morning I spoke about my hike in front of Julie's church, and they all gathered up a big donation for Abby. So now I was way past my original goal of one dollar per mile, so I'm now counting Kooper's miles too! I spent the rest of the day hanging out with Abby's family, and rode back to the trail Sunday night.
Instead of hiking into the thunderstorm at night, we decided it would be best if I stayed in a hotel or hostel near the trail. The only thing available near Hanover, NH (that would allow dogs) was the Norwich Inn. By far the nicest accommodations I've had yet. The dog room even had dog pillows and dog paintings on the walls.
Sadly, this is probably the last life-line I'll have until I get to the end (just one month away!). These last miles through the White Mountains and Maine are the toughest yet (terrain, weather, logistics), but I think all my experiences have me prepared and all the encouragement and love I have recieved have me motivated!
A few weeks ago I called Merrell customer service (which was immediately answered by a real person) to ask if there was a way to thicken up the bottom of my shoes (it was starting to feel as if there was nothing between my foot and the rocks). She said no, but that she can send thru-hikers one new pair for free. Now that's customer service!
My shoes actually held up really well after over 1400 miles. Hardly any tearing or holes. In fact, another hiker was happy to take them when I got my new ones! They may end up on Katahdin after all.
I had been warned about the rocky stretch of the AT in Pennsylvania before the hike. The rocks themselves are nothing new; I have complained about walking over patches of rock since I started. The thing about PA's rocks is that they never take a break.
From about Duncannon, PA to High Point, NJ is a ridge line consisting of nothing but rubble. There is the occasional dirt road, but for most of the 200 miles you are carefully navigating rocky terrain. It's like playing Tetris with your feet. You constantly rotate your feet to fit in the spaces between the rocks as they come at you. Sometimes there is no space, forcing you to step on the sharp edges or steep angles. Averaging 2mph for the day is a challenge, even though you are not scaling any mountains. There are also huge boulder fields where you hop from rock to rock, hoping you don't slip off over the side (I actually enjoy the boulder fields). At the end of the day your feet hate you.
PA (and NJ) does try it's best to make up for the rocks, heat, and lack of water. Trail-angels are everywhere (especially the Billville crew) offering food, water, rides, and encouragement to help you get through this tough section. There are also many towns and places to get tap water. I think I got stream/spring water only once, and only ate a few meals out of my pack.
I saw many hikers skip huge sections of the trail here or even the entire state. It may not be the best part of the trail, but it is worth hiking through at least some of it. There are actually some good views to be found.
When I passed High Point in New Jersey, we finally got off this ridgeline. I don't expect the rocks to go away but hopefully they won't be quite as bad.
Maryland and Pennsylvania (first half anyways) are probably the easiest sections of the Appalachian Trail. The downside is that its at low altitude and currently in a record-setting heat wave. Good thing there have been ways to deal with the heat this week:
Sunday : Dip hand-towel in cold spring water to lay on chest at night.
Monday: Take 3 hour lunch break at http://www.freestatehiker.com
Hike into the not-so-cool of the night to meet a friend who takes you to a hotel (thanks Tyler!)
Tuesday: Eat Chick-Fil-A Icedream before getting back on the trail.
Jump into the Caledonia State Park pool right before it closes.
Wednesday: Hike to Pine Grove Furnace State Park to eat a half-gallon of ice cream to celebrate completing half the AT.
(I finished a half gallon of Cherry Jubilee in under 25 minutes, all 2400 calories)
Spend the rest of the evening at the park's beach.
Thursday: Hike to Boiling Springs, PA and get in the mini water park or in the very cold spring water (it boils by looks, not temperature)
Friday (today): my plan was to do a short hike up to US 11 to spend the day in a hotel room... but they are all booked due to some auto show.
So plan B: Hike 30 miles to the town of Duncannon for free food and a shower, or if I'm lucky, a night or two at The Doyle.
I know, 30 miles doesn't sound like a good idea in the heat, but the terrain is flat (walking through farm land), I can take a good long break every 10 miles, I'm starting really early in the morning, and this section sucks so I just want to get it over with. Wish me luck and rain!
Today I passed by the first Washington Monument, built July 4th, 1827 by the folks in Boonsboro, MD. An interesting contrast to the many Civil War battlefields I saw yesterday. One Declaration of Independence celebrated; one declaration of independence denied.
The Appalachian Trail continues the American quest for independence. I have never felt more free than here in the woods. Free from all the traps of society today: expectations, material possessions, and the need to perform. I don't know if this will change things when I get home, but I know I have a different perspective on many things now.
I'm writing this from my tent on Annapolis Rock. I hope to see some fireworks from the great view up here. Not a big deal if I don't, as its hard to beat this sunset. Happy Independence Day!
Update: Didn't have a signal to post this last night. Saw a ton of fireworks going up all over the valley, but couldn't see the ones close by, as Haggarstown was blocked by the mountain jutting out. Blackrock Cliff would have been better, but I didn't want to walk a mile in the dark.
Sometimes you need to get off the trail... to resupply, eat a nice meal, call home, get new gear, etc. In or near town, most hikers stay at a cheap hostel. These usually consist of a room full of bunkbeds and a shower. Often attached to the owner's home, they each have their own personality and charm and are one of my favorite parts of hiking the AT. Here are the ones I've stayed at so far:
Standing Bear Farm - http://standingbearfarm.com/
(I already posted a bunch of photos here)
This is your first opportunity to get a shower and some snacks after a long trek through the Smokies. It isn't near a town, but the owner, Curtis, will take you down to the gas station for a beer run.
Elmer's Sunnybank Inn - Hot Springs, NC
Elmer, the owner since 1978, cooks vegetarian meals for his guests at his 1875 victorian home. It isn't really a hostel (the rooms are actually really nice) but it is priced like a hostel. Elmer used to have Vizslas, so he was eager to meet Kooper. Here he is eating his yummy breakfast with us:
Uncle Johnny's Nolichuky Hostel - http://www.unclejohnnys.net/
Uncle Johnny and his crew will shuttle you around Erwin, TN (or go pick you up some KFC) and sell some basic gear. They also have free wifi, what else could you ask for? I forgot to take a photo, but it's your standard bunk room fare. Most everyone hangs out all day on the nice large deck.
Greasy Creek Friendly Hostel
I didn't stay here, but I felt is was worth a mention. I took a half-mile side trail to Connie's hostel in hopes to get some food for lunches/snacks. No one was there, but there was a phone and a note that she would call (she was out shuttling people and getting supplies or something). So I waited about 30 min on the porch as I watched Kooper play with the cat. She did call and gave me the number for a restaurant a few miles away that would bring me a hot meal. (I ordered chicken fingers & fries, which turns out is not the best thing to eat right before a hard day of hiking).
Mountain Harbour B&B/Hostel - http://www.mountainharbour.net/
I stopped here in hopes to get a ride into Roan Mountain, TN for lunch food. I got the ride to the store, and then another ride to get a BBQ restaurant. I decided to stay at the hostel (which is in the upper finished part of a barn, above the horse and goats) to experience the famous breakfast. It was fantastic!Kincora - near Hampton, TN
When I walked up the road to this hostel, I was greeted with a bowl of salad and blueberry muffins. Enough said.
Ok, I'll say more. This hostel has everything you need (except wifi)... bed, laundry, shower, food, phone, and a shuttle to town all for a suggested donation of $4. Built on to the back of Bob People's home, Kincora is probably the most-loved hostel as evidenced by the walls and ceiling covered in hiker thank-you cards. Bob is sort of a legend... the Chuck Norris of the AT (due to his generosity). Here he is telling one of many stories to us guests:
Hikers Inn - http://www.hikersinndamascus.com
This is where I am right now, typing this post. I initially decided to stay here because it was the only place with a TV I could use that wasn't an expensive B&B. The owner,
(this post has a lot of images, it may be best if you view it here)
This weekend was full of so much win, I decided to just cram it all into a single post. It all started with leaving the the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Smokies were great (the second half anyways) but I was feeling tired after multiple 18+ mile days. I decided to spend Friday night at Standing Bear Farm hostel, right off the trail after you pass under I-40.
This place is like my dream home. A creek runs through the middle, and it has a shack for everything. A shack for eating, a shack for laundry (old school washboards), and a shack for internet. They even have shack full of food, drink, and small hiking supplies. You grab what you want whenever and tally it up on an envelope, then cash out when you leave. A frozen pizza ($10) was what exactly what I needed. Curtis, the owner(?), even drove us down to the gas station for a beer run.
I got a late start Saturday morning, but the trail was nice and smooth so I still went about 16 miles. I crested a cleared hill and saw a rocketship looking thing, with a great view of the mountain range behind me. It is an Air Traffic Control VOR station. Mom says these are how planes know their position, but GPS is quickly replacing the need for these stations.Max Patch Summit. This place is incredible. It's a huge grassy bald with a dramatic 360 degree view of the surrounding hills. There were a bunch of people on top. Picnics, kids paying tag, and it seemed that everyone had their dog but me (Kooper would have loved it!). This picture doesn't capture it, hopefully I can upload my videos soon.
I thought to myself that it would be a great spot to watch the sunset, but I continued on about two miles to the Roaring Fork shelter. After cooking dinner and talking to a group of guys in a discipleship program (similar to YWAM I think) that has them living together for months in an wilderness environment (wish I could remember the name, started with an N), I settled down in my sleeping bag. Then suddenly two of the guys I had been hiking with through the Smokies came running into camp, saying there were cute girls on the hill... giving masssages! Everyone thought they were crazy, but I put on my warmer clothes and joined them since I wanted to see the sun set anyways. I ran to the top just as the sun was setting and it was indeed spectaclar.
When I woke up, the Starburst wrappers in my pocket were my only proof that the night wasn't just a dream. It was freezing in the morning so I stuffed my pack and quickly got moving. Another pleasant hike all the way into the first true trail town of Hot Springs, NC (the trail goes right down the main street).
I stayed the night in Elmer Hall's Sunnybank Inn. Built in 1875, this victorian house full of antique furniture and decorations is overflowing with character. Elmer, the owner since 1978, cooks vegetarian meals for his guests. After having an amazing delicious (and healthy) dinner, I immediately signed up for breakfast too. I would like to link to more info about Sunnybank, but Elmer apparently likes to keep things simple so it's difficult to find any info about it. Here is a good article though: Room at the Inn.
So that concludes my awesome weekend on the AT. I am currently sitting in the Hot Springs library, using their free wifi. This is my first "zero-day" where I do no hiking at all. My parents will be here in a few hours to return my dog Kooper (dogs are not allowed in the Smokies). Can't wait to see them! I think I hike better without Kooper, but hiking with him is a lot of fun even if it does complicate things.
Next weekend? I hope to be at Trail Days
(I wrote this up way back in GA, but just now got around to posting it. Since then I have moved about a day ahead of these fine folks)
The weather forcast showed a thunderstorm was coming, so I decided to stay in Hiawassee. I didn't really want to since I just restocked and got clean a few days before. I hiked a few miles to Dick's Creek Gap and got a shuttle to the Hiawassee Inn along with four other hikers: Mike, Krazy Fox, Bump, and Radar.
I split a room with Radar, who has hiked the AT for many years . He also carries a netbook and a GPS for his photos and an occasional post. His trailname is "Radar" because he knows what the weather will be thanks to his gadgets. Check out his Trail Journal and photos.
It's been really great hanging out with these people. Even though we are mostly strangers, we still seem to form some kind of bond through the trail. Our ages and backgrounds are very different, but none of that seems to matter. The trail really breaks things down to the core building blocks of community. If our little group splits up, which it inevitably will, then new ones will form.
Each shelter usually has a notebook, so even if we part ways, I can always look forward to reading a note left by an old hiking partner (or leave one for them).
Grass is hard to come by on the trail. Sure there is sporadic patch lining the path, but you may go weeks without seeing an open field. It's a long brown tunnel, with no room to throw frisbee.
That's why when I came across Siler's Bald, I was so amazed. A huge meadow, with deep green grass that climbs a sloping hill to an amazing view. Kooper and I looked at each other and I think we were both thinking "frisbee". Finally, virtually unlimited space to run and fling a flying disc. I hesitated, it was getting late and I still had many miles to go. I decided to go for it. I took off my bag, emptied my pockets, and started sprinting to the top singing "The Hills Are Alive".
When I came back down, and began to pick up my stuff, I first noticed the Bible I put down when I emptied my pockets (The one given to me by Trail Angels earlier that day). I felt a rush of joy overtake me. I didn't have a relevation or an epiphany or anything, just pure joy, bringing me to tears. Truly a spiritual moment. One that provided the lift I needed and reminded me of why I am on this hike. One known as "Trail Magic".
Where/what is your Siler's Bald? If you are stuck in a tunnel, try racing up the hill. Forget your constraints for once. Grab a frisbee and let it fly.
This Saturday I begin my Appalachian Trail thru-hike! I've been working like crazy trying to get things done before I disappear into the woods for about 5 months. Lemmie check my todo list:
Maybe my priorities were a little off, but I still have time.
When I'm on the trail, I will still be posting to various web services (like this posterous), which all gets aggregated to onahike.com I'll be reading your comments, replies, and emails every few days or so (unless I drop my phone in a stream).