The Appalachian Trail: Georgia

Back in March I celebrated my 30th birthday with a 7 day, 70 mile hike through the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail. I’d said for years before this trip that if I wasn’t where I wanted to be in my career by the time I hit 30 I would quit my job and spend the first 6 months of my third decade on earth realizing my dream of one day calling myself a thru hiker. Fortunately-unfortunately I’d achieved several of my career goals over the past few years, and I’m now planning to stay in my current role for the foreseeable future. So that means spreading the hike out over the next handful of years by knocking out week long sections when I can. Our group of 4 included Greenlight (my Dad), Storyteller (Dad’s friend from Indiana), Traveler (Me), and Burning Man (my younger brother Steven) who got get his trail name near the end of day 2. There was debate in the weeks leading up to the hike whether we would start at the arch in the state park and complete the approach trail, or optimize our time on trail and start at Springer Mountain. I was adamantly against “wasting time” on the approach trail in our debates back and forth. But I’d been outvoted a week or so prior to the start of the hike so I went along quietly.

I’ll break the trip down into the first 3 days, and the last 4 days and give a quick recap of our experience before I share my favorite pictures below. I’m a firm believer in living your own adventure, so I don’t want to detail every minute of my experience, I’d rather share the best memories and maybe inspire someone to get out and see it for themselves.

Days 1-3: We took it slow during the first 3 days on trail, this was my little brothers first real hike and it absolutely wrecked his feet. By the end of day 1 we all had a serious respect for the approach trail (hundreds of stairs followed by a 9ish mile trail), and a new perspective on Springer Mountain. We got to experience rain, wind, hail, and dense fog on these days as well, really rounding out our weather experiences for the week. Burning Man, so named because of his fair skin and lack of sunscreen, was really hurting during the first 3. We took a slow pace and stopped frequently to let him rest. Rain on day 2 turned into hail at the end of day 2, then fog on the morning of day 3, followed by more rain. In those 3 days we covered 24.5 miles over a handful of smaller mountains. To our surprise, we’d kept pace with a bubble of thru-hikers and actually out-hiked a handful. Our experience at the shelters at the end of each day really made the trip special. The scenery and shared struggle on the trail really brings people together, but the shared stories and laughs you experience around the shelters are what make the misery so enjoyable. Even though the weather was against us, we thoroughly enjoyed our time with the hikers we met during the first 3 days on trail.

Days 4-7: Some time shortly after we broke camp and got back on trail on day 4 Burning Man decided that his time on the trail was coming to an end. He’d experienced the worst weather that we would see during our trip and walked over 24 miles in “terrible shoes”. He was tired, smelly and sore. My Dad, Greenlight, told Storyteller and I go on ahead. He was going to get my brother to an intersection so he could make plans to get him back to the D.C. area where they live. We parted ways and he promised he’d catch up to our planned stopping point by the end of the day. So Storyteller and I ripped down the trail. We’d been talking about the first “real” climb of the trip since day 1, and it was within our grasp; Blood Mountain. After consulting our trail guides we made set our lofty goal, 18 miles over Blood Mountain and ending our day at Mountain Crossings Hostel. We knew this would be a challenge, but we had spent the first 3 days suppressing the desire to run down the trail and knock out as many miles as we could. Now that we were keeping our own pace, we tore down trail. Partially driven by the desire to finally conquer Blood Mountain, and partially by the prospect of hot pizza and a resupply waiting at Mountain Crossings. Before we knew it we were encountering the long uphill that is the southern ascent of Blood Mountain. It wasn’t the beast we’d been anticipating, and while it was the largest elevation change we’d encountered to that point on the hike, it was drawn out over a few miles and really didn’t hurt as bad as what we were anticipating. The view from the top when we finally crested the summit (after checking out the iconic Blood Mountain Shelter) was incredible, and absolutely worth all of the miles we had put in up to that point. But even more memorable was the descent down the northern approach. While the path we’d taken to the top was long and full of switchbacks, the Northern approach was steep, rocky, icy and technical. It made for a memorable descent and made me glad we still had plenty of daylight left to get to the bottom.

By the time we got to Mountain crossings, my dad and brother had been there for several hours. The store was closed for the day, but the hostel still had room for 2. So we claimed our bunks and hitched a ride from a local trail angel that ferries people back and forth from the hostel to the gas station at the bottom on the mountain that makes “personal” pizzas that hikers consume in their entirety. Once we got back to the hostel, got our bunks made and took turns washing off 3 days of dirt and sweat in the communal shower, it was off to bed to rest up. Day 5 was challenging because Storyteller and I were still pretty tired from our 18 mile jaunt the day before, but Greenlight was fresh and ready to conquer some more mountains. We kept a reserved pace for most of the day. Greenlight would hike ahead full throttle then stop and wait for us to catch up to him. There are a lot of ups and downs in the Georgia section of the AT. Most of them have cool names, but there are only a few that are truly daunting. We ended Day 5 after 10 miles over a few of those lesser climbs. Day 6 we decided to let loose again and we tore through another 15 miles, over a handful of medium climbs. By the last 5 miles we were all exhausted. Green light was talking about calling it a day, but Storyteller and I wanted to get to the top of Tray Mountain and camp by the shelter. Tray is one of the bigger climbs and was pretty intimidating after the 10 or so miles we’d already put in. We finally convinced him to push through, he thanked us when we made it to the campsite before dark. Since we’d put in such a long day on day 6, day 7 was a short 10 mile walk back to our staged car at Dicks Creek Gap. The last miles seemed to stretch on forever, I’d felt great for the entire trip and kept a positive attitude even in the face of the hardest physical challenge of my life. But the last 5 miles really got into my head. But we made it in good time and after a short drive into town we threw ourselves into a quiet corner of a local Mexican restaurant and celebrated our success with beer and hot food. The actual Georgia border that we’d been aiming for is in the middle of nowhere, so even though we say we hiked the Georgia portion of the trail on this trip, we were actually about 7 miles short. Yet, at the end of a trip like this it’s really hard to be upset about something so small. During this week we hiked 70 miles and through 3 different hiker bubbles, making friends in the moment that we’ll probably never see again. The experience was genuine and wholesome, it changed my perspective of the trail and the crazy people that love it like I do.

If you made it this far, thank you. Our plan now is to pick up at Dicks Creek Gap in October and hike 96 miles to Fontana Dam over 7 days. That trip is coming up in a couple of weeks, and I hope to get a ton a great pictures. I’ll have a recap post like this in the weeks following the trip.   

Here’s the breakdown of our 7 days on trail starting from Amicalola:

Day 1 – Ended at Springer Mountain Shelter – 9 Miles

Day 2 – Ended at Hawk Mountain Shelter – 8 Miles

Day 3 – Ended at Gooch Mountain Shelter – 7.5 Miles

Day 4 – Ended at Mountain Crossings Hostel – 18 Miles

Day 5 – Ended at Low Gap Shelter – 11 Miles

Day 6 – Ended at Tray Mountain Shelter – 15 Miles

Day 7 – Ended at Dicks Creek Gap – 10 Miles

Traveler, Storyteller, Greenlight and Burning Man.
Amicalola Falls and the infamous stairs.
Goofing around on bridges.
Dry hammock views are the best views.
Trail conditions.
Hiking in the fog on Day 3.
One of our many rest breaks.
Hail at the end of Day 2.
Blood Mountain Shelter.
Mountain Crossings – many prospective thru-hikers call it quits here. About 35 AT miles in.
The view from the summit of Blood Mountain.
The Bunkroom at Mountain Crossing Hostel.
A sign perhaps?
Greenlight standing in front of the only portion of the AT that passes through a building.
Burning Man saying his goodbyes
On the way to Low Gap
One of the bubbles we hiked through.
Camping in a bubble.
The simple things mean the most out here.
One of my favorite pictures from the trip. Relaxing after the 15 miles day ending at the top of Tray Mountain.

Downed Bridges and Trail Names

At the end of 2018, my father and I made plans to hike the GA portion of the Appalachian Trail to celebrate my 30th Birthday (March 2019). Since I now live in central Tennessee, I thought I’d use one of the closer rugged trails as a training opportunity before the epic birthday hike.

I picked a clear, cool Friday evening in the beginning of March to try my hand at the Lower Loop Trail at Fall Creek Falls in Spencer, TN. I’d been on the Upper Loop within the last year, but had been told that the Lower Loop had much more difficult terrain. I left work and noon and got on the road, in a few short hours I was on the trail and heading for my camp site that was just past the half way point.

The trail was rugged in places. with a descent just over 500 feet over the course of about a quarter mile. But the weather was mild and the sky was blue, so I enjoyed taking it all in. But, to my disappointment as I was nearing the midway point around dusk (about 7 miles into the trail), I found the bridge washed out. Usually this wouldn’t have been a problem, since the bridge only crosses a creek. But we’d had several inches of rain fall during the week and the water was now between 3 and 5 feet deep and fast moving in the center. After spending the next 40 minutes walking up and down the bank looking for a safe spot to cross, I turned back and headed back towards the nearest campsite. Even though it was still early spring and the weather was cool enough to keep most people off the trail overnight, this still bothered me for a few reasons. The first and biggest was that no where at the start of the trail, or anywhere along the 7 miles leading to the bridge, was there anything posted to let people know that the bridge was out, when it had very clearly been down for some time. The second feeds off of the first, the campsites in the backwoods area are reservation only, and I was now 7 miles into a trail at dusk only to find out that my campsite was now 14 trail miles away. To add insult to injury, all of the beautiful views that the Lower Loop is known for, and they are some spectacular waterfall vistas, are located on the western rim while I was now confined to the eastern rim.

The silver lining to this unfortunate trip was twofold. Once I got back to the nearest campsite, there were 3 open spots and the only other occupants were a father/son duo who were out testing their hammocks before an upcoming scouting trip. The second which was unbeknownst to me at this point, was that I was about to be handed my trail name. As I approached my chosen camp site, I started a polite conversation with the Father and Son to let them know that the bridge was washed out, and that they’d have to head back out the way they came in the morning. After a short conversation about the recent weather the father politely asked my favorite question “where are you from?”. Earlier this year I recounted with my wife that we’ve moved 8 times in the last 9 years, and moved between states on 4 of those occasions; Indiana to Alaska, back to Indiana, to Texas, and now to Tennessee. So I usually just answer with “all over the place”, but this time I explained our transient tendencies, the kid laughed and the father said something along the lines of “well, you’re quite the traveler”. The last word struck a chord and stuck. I’d been thinking for the last year about what possible trail names I might end up with, but nothing ever sounded as good to me as “Traveler”. So after a few more minutes of conversation I retired to my hammock with a smile, and a new name.

Dante’s Loop at Purgatory Creek

Purgatory Creek is a lengthy set of out and back trails located in San Marcos, Texas that is easily accessible and offers a variety of trail types depending on what you’re looking for. Dante’s Loop is a 7.9 mile trail within the 463-acre Purgatory Creek Natural Area that, as my wife and I found out the hard way, is prone to being washed out during the rainy season in Texas Hill Country.

This trail was rocky, but offered great views of the surrounding preserve and its wildlife and I highly recommend paying it a visit if you’re ever in the area. With that being said, we got a little more adventure than we were looking for on our trip. Being located in South Texas the temp was in the high 90s and as we closed in on the “loop” potion of the trail, which is really just a detour around part of the forest that is prone to flooding in other parts of the year. As we approached the loop we noticed a well-worn trail leading off straight and looked like it would connect us to the far side of the loop and take out about a mile of the “loop”. So my shortcut senses started tingling and I convinced my wife to take the trail with me…

Shortcut

(Circled portion is my now infamous “shortcut”)

20 minutes of walking later we find that this trail leads to a retention wall and that the trail we need to get to is on the other side. Not wanting to admit defeat I convince my loving wife that if we just continue moving forward we’ll somehow find our way around the retention wall and on the right side of retention wall, as I can see from the GPS on my phone and a trusty alltrails.com map that we’re only about a quarter mile from the part of the trail we’re trying to get to. However, the hillside that we needed to walk through in that direction had been washed out recently and was strewn with forest debris. Nevertheless we continued in my predetermined direction… for about 500 feet, at which point a large hawthorn branch that my wife stepped on decided to get better acquainted with her leg and proceeded do so by introducing a large thorn about an inch into the side of her calf while simultaneously scratching the absolute hell out of the rest of her leg. Que the “I love my husband so much” dialogue, or something like that.

extra_large_70b05f260fe74825110536509d593cea

At this point I fearlessly decide that the only way we’re going to safely get to where we’re trying to go is by getting ourselves up and over this retention wall as quickly as we can. And so we start our way up, climbing boulder by boulder up roughly 80 to 100 feet of elevation. Once we made it to the top we find that we’re in the middle of a gated area that reads “restricted area, do not enter” on the opposite side of the fence from where we are. Oh how I love my GPS. After a quick survey of the surrounding area we see a small gap in the fencing on the opposite side of the retention wall where a drainage culvert passes through. So down we go once again over the boulders that make up the retention wall. We make it to the culvert and through the fence as my wife continues the “I love my husband so much” dialogue that is very well deserved at this point and finally make it back to the trail, completing my “shortcut” and quickly making our way back up the trail to the parking lot so that we can doctor her leg up and get her out of her now blood-soaked sock.

So the moral of that short story is, Purgatory Creek has some awesome trails but men are terrible with shortcuts, so just stay on the path.

Below are some of my favorite pictures from the trail.

Directions and further information is available in the link below. https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/texas/purgatory-creek-natural-area

Happy Trails!

P.S. “I love my husband so much” may actually sound like every curse word in the English language when on a “shortcut”, sometimes you just have to read between the lines.

18221809_452575551747954_3909126497311294735_n18222441_452575575081285_270459369128692015_n18268378_452575465081296_4680842885639255068_n18268424_452575555081287_4553024965576079639_n18268485_452575645081278_5533808432123553395_n18301587_452575688414607_8725590961210691332_n

Panther Canyon Nature Trail

Panther Canyon is a short 1.7 mile out and back trail located in New Braunfels, Tx and is accessible via Landa Park. The trail offers a few water features in the park that are flowing year round and a seasonal creek that flows next to the trail, the trail is flat and serves as a nice afternoon getaway for even the most casual hikers/ backpackers. While this is a short hike it is very rocky and can be rough on the feet if you don’t wear appropriate footwear. Additionally, the end of the trail borders on private property and while we were out on this occasion there were unsupervised children throwing rocks at people on the trail (us included). But don’t let that deter you from getting out and enjoying this amazing slice of Texas nature.

Directions and further information are available in the link below.

https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/texas/panther-canyon-trail

Here are some of my favorite snapshots from this hike.

17264374_424848761187300_2672893266968226396_n16999120_424848727853970_1635643753194411516_n17309687_424848687853974_4360201101540280496_n17353619_424848714520638_877780453583594810_n17352437_424848831187293_2459761587255529128_n

Government Canyon: Back Country and Nature Reserve

For the last month I’ve been itching to get my pack back on and put in some good miles. My wife Britni and I have both been putting in 60 hour work weeks for nearly the last two months. I’ve been listening to all of the thru hike audiobooks that I can get on Audible, and I reread Lost on the Appalachian Trail (my new signed copy) to try to get me through. But nothing but being out in the wood can get rid of a craving like this. Over the last year I’ve really grown to resent the city, modern conveniences are nice, but dealing with traffic, crime, and hoards of people all the time are enough to make anyone want to run for the hill. Both figuratively and literally. But since I’m still in peak season at work my weekends are reduced and my time off is next to non existent. Nonetheless, I was determined to put in some miles anywhere other than on the industrial concrete floors at work. So I decided to hit up Government Canyon yesterday and hike the biggest loop I could construct from all of its interconnected trails.

Since my foray into the Smokys I’ve redoubled my resolve to get back into shape and lose all the weight that I picked up in Alaska and shortly after separating from the Army. I’ve used hiking to destroy nearly all of my PTSD symptoms, aside from occasional nightmares that broke through even when I was heavily medicated, and seem to be commonplace for other sufferers as well. But hiking helps in that aspect and in the weight-loss department. I was about 285lbs when we made our trip to Tennessee to test ourselves against the mountains. They broke me off, bad. I left feeling demoralized and ashamed of what I’d let myself become. But I knew then and I know now that it wasn’t the last time I’ll be in those mountains, and when I go back, I’ll be taking on all 70 miles and not looking back.

Shortly after the trip to the Smokys, when my resolve was the lowest. I took a promotion that landed me in a huge Amazon building in Florida. I went from having a sedentary 10 hour a day job to having a heavily active (15-20 miles of walking a day) 11 hour a day job. This was all in preparation to launch a new warehouse in South Texas. Where I currently reside. It was hard at first to go from sitting in an office treating sick and injured employees to constantly being out trying to fix the problems before they happen. After my first month of walking close to 50 miles a week I was exhausted and every part of my lower body hurt. But after a while it started to hurt less and less. Now it’s routine, and instead of being a hefty 285lb hiker, I’m a streamlined 265lb hiker (kidding, but I really lost 20lbs from walking at work).

15665562_383341035338073_1038365257386705460_n

So 20 pound lighter me decided to get back out on the trail yesterday. Government Canyon was my destination and I was determined to walk all over it. When I first got to the nature area there was no guard in the guard shack where they usually have you pay. It was a brisk 26 degrees in San Antonio and as far as I could tell all of the locals had begun to hibernate. I only encountered 1 other person as I was coming into the park. A lady looking to be a little older than myself was heading out with a day pack, I followed her to the Visitors Center where the only employee, a retiree aged woman was happily passing out park maps and car passes (so you don’t get towed for being in the park illegally). As I was waiting I glanced over at a small bucket full of walking sticks and began to wonder to myself if I should give one a try instead of my trekking poles. I’ve been carrying trekking poles since I started hiking again but I only ever use them in inclement weather, and even then I usually just use one.

15590419_383341055338071_2909917983246660179_n

Once I left the Visitors Center, put the car pass in my windshield and got my pack on I had to fight the urge to run down the trail. After about a quarter mile of walking along the access road I hit the trail head and started down one of the many connected trails that I would be on today. The access trail was just a gravel road, like most of the trails that I’ve been on start out. But once I got to the trail I was surprised by how rocky it was. The other portion of government canyon in the front country had been a flat dirt road. The back country was undeniably “hill country”. I haven’t been on rocks like this since the Smokys, it definitely wasn’t as steep as our ascent to Clingman’s Dome, but there were some decent level changes for being in Southern Texas.

15542186_383341968671313_6835199914773943910_n

15590584_383341515338025_2347070871116981413_n

15621806_383341682004675_3027765167192420856_n

The main trails were all rocky like this and had a few steep climbs leading up to some spectacular views of the surrounding area.

15578912_383341182004725_736102109044217915_n

15541528_383341335338043_8792245606431133660_n15492446_383341162004727_6029380975330710966_n15380836_383341482004695_4291765564383424620_n

Once I got back to the nature trails (only open October-May) the rocky terrain changed into soft dirt roads and overgrowth. You could immediately tell that this portion of the trail see’s significantly less traffic. Besides being off limits most of the year, the trailheads to these specific trails are 7 and 8 trail miles into the forest respectively, so most hobby hikers don’t want to put in the extra miles when they get to them.

15542334_383341928671317_4299802114950678168_n15542440_383341408671369_6998277771956592293_n.jpg

The best part about the entire trip, aside from getting to spend 5 hours out in nature, was that this was the first time I’ve ever completed a 15 mile hike and felt like I could have kept going. As it turns out, walking 15 miles a day and climbing countless stairs for 11 hours a day 5 days a week actually translates hiking fitness.

Directions and further information are available in the link below.  https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/texas/government-canyon-loop

Happy Trails,

 

DePauw Nature Park

After last weekend on the AT in Tennessee, we had an easy Sunday hike planned out in advance  since we knew we would probably be a little sore and tired from the Smokys. DePauw is a nice set of loop trails right off a college campus about 45 minutes from us. The trails are paved with pea gravel and there are very few hills on the course.

12985389_260054681000043_7346857328926076736_nWhile vastly different from the landscape we were on a week before, there are still a lot of cool things to see at DePauw. Including the rock quarry, amphitheater and some of the buildings around the area.

12974422_260054354333409_4922801034615557386_n13015375_260054464333398_5733136739480225073_n12987204_260054494333395_2499709800428002331_n12990900_260054477666730_5934513700554002211_nAside from the rainy (sometimes snowy) and generally cloudy weather that comes with April in Indiana, we did get to enjoy some of the spring flowers and only had to endure a light sprinkle for about 30 minutes.

13007185_260054317666746_4337982793669589834_n

But when it comes down to it, it’s being out of the house and keeping your feet on the trail that really matters. Whether it be on a flat paved trail in Northern Indiana or scrambling over rocks in the mountains, being out of the house and away from the noise of the cities and the fast pace of modern life is what counts.

Directions and further information are available in the link below. https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/indiana/depauw-nature-park

 

Pictures from our recent hike at Depauw Nature Park

Posted by Veteran's Outdoor Collaborative on Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Appalachian Trail: A Brief Adventure in the Great Smokys

12512729_10153973868600767_2671811608382155865_n

The Appalachian Trail, a thru hike of the granddaddy trail has been something that my father and I have talked about doing since I was a kid. So when we started hiking seriously at the beginning of the year making a weekend trip to this hiker’s Mecca was at the top of our list. We finally got things planned out and days off that would accommodate our trip this past weekend. So we piled on the car on Saturday and made the 6 and a half hour drive from my home in Central Indiana to the Newfound Gap Trailhead in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the Tennessee / North Carolina border.

12961305_10209517644964292_1056647224394938628_o

When we pulled into the parking lot after an hour of driving through the beautiful scenery of the National Park seeing the trail was like coming down the stairs to find presents under the tree as a kid on Christmas Day. Little did I know at the time that the next 24 hours would show me just how much I underestimated this fabled trail and overestimated where I need to be physically before I attempt a thru-hike. I’ll give a little bit of background for perspective before I go any further with the story of our weekend. When I started hiking at the beginning of the year I was coming off a very hard year, I’d had serious relationship problems that nearly led to a divorce. I was struggling with PTSD from my time in Afghanistan that was exacerbated by frequent 1st to 3rd shift changes at work and to top it all off, I’d gotten to the fattest I’ve ever been in my life at nearly 300 pounds. I’ve always been a big guy, I was in the 180-200 range when I wrestled in high school and even through Basic Training and AIT when I was in the best shape of my life I barely touched 175. But a combination of depression, sleep problems and bad eating habits had landed me at a new personal low (and high).

12932726_10153973868415767_9173897163757677650_n

When I found my love for hiking at the beginning of the year I saw it as my way to beat my personal demons and get myself back to where I should be physically. I knew it would be frustrating, that I would hurt, and that it was going to be a long arduous road. But like any hiker will tell you, the best way to conquer a mountain is one foot at a time. So with my dad and later my wife by my side I started hitting trails every weekend. Week after week I started feeling better (without prescription meds), losing pounds here and there, and getting myself back into shape, taking out 6-10 mile trails in a handful of hours each and every weekend. So after 4 months of this I felt like I was ready for a weekend of hiking on the trail that inspired me to start this journey.

12916206_10209517657564607_9039641383406508798_o

So we set off at around 4pm on Satuday, we started walking up the trail talking about how great it was to be out here doing this and how much fun we were going to have over the next few days. We were so happy that we made it half a mile into the trail before we realized that we were headed in the wrong direction. We had set a plan to head south, had reserved shelters and arranged pick up to the south… and we were heading north, oops. So we laughed it off and started back down the trail we had just come up, through the tourist crowded parking lot full of people that had just watched us walk up that same stretch of trail 10 minutes ago, then across the street to the hidden marker that let us know we were heading the right way this time.

12901018_10209517646524331_6116256431037851667_o

Once we got on the southbound portion of the trail we started rolling. The scenery was breathtakingly beautiful and the first couple of miles were relatively flat. We had reservations at the Mt. Collins Shelter for that night, which meant that with our added mile, we’d be going right around 6 miles that day. Which was great until we went a little over 3 miles into the trail, met our first thru-hiker of the trail. A skinny redhead girl named “firecracker” who was slack packing to Newfound Gap. Then the trail started uphill, and kept going uphill, and uphill. This was also the first time I’d carried (in retrospect) a way too heavy pack over rock scrambles.

12799179_10153973861670767_6609297328730588377_n

After climbing steadily uphill for miles we came to a portion of the trail that dipped downhill before heading back up. My legs were exhausted at this point, my knee started getting this achy feeling on the downhill portions of the trail and I had that all too familiar “copper penny” taste in my mouth from sucking in more air on the uphill that a hoover vacuum at a hybrid pet / furniture store. We were heading down hill at a quick pace as the sun was getting low in the sky and we really wanted to make it to the shelter and secure out spots before sundown. It was when all this was happening and with the days finish line in sight that I took a wrong step, slipped my foot off a loose rock and turned my ankle. I cringed for a second when I felt it happen, it stung but was no where near the worst pain I’ve felt even from similar injuries. So we continued on at our steady pace for the last mile into the shelter just as the sun was setting behind the mountains. 12919614_10153973860690767_3590228466849547661_nWhen we got to the shelter it was pretty crowded. There were a handful of thru-hikers eating dinner, more that were already asleep and another handful of section hikers like ourselves that were getting ready to bed down for the night. So we hung our packs, changed out of our sweaty clothes, and warmed up a quick dinner before raising our food bags up the bear cables. We made smalltalk with a few of the hikers that were still awake, warmed up by the fire that was glowing in the fireplace inside the shelter. Then rolled out our sleeping bags and called it a night. (Picture is from the “top bunk” of the shelter as the fire was dying).

12931180_10153973862310767_1898992673343000709_n

The night went by quickly, I had underestimated how much colder it would be in the mountains and hadn’t brought quite enough warm weather gear. But my 0 degree sleeping bag kept me warm through the night and the tarp run across the front of the lean-to shelter kept the 40 mile an hour winds that we experienced that night at bay, apart from sounding like it was going to tear the roof off the shelter. Once we got up we had a quick bite to eat, packed up our stuff and said goodbye to the other hikers at the shelter. From here we started the 3 mile climb up to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the Great Smoky’s and the second highest peak east of the Mississippi. It was during this (for me) grueling uphill climb that I really started to feel the effects of my misstep the previous day. The achy feeling in my knee and soreness in my ankle exacerbated by the extra weight that I was carrying. Both in my pack and on my still very far from average frame. It was disheartening, but even at the slow pace that we were going we still reached the summit well before noon. We paused at the tourist trap for a little while, admired the scenery, then started back on the trail toward the shelter we were supposed to stay at that night. Still well over 10 miles away.

12909671_10209517657164597_1243101610036383585_o

Now that we had made it to Clingmans Dome we got to enjoy 2 miles of gradual decline. Killer on the knees but a great break for your lungs, quads and hamstrings. Once we had gotten about a mile into the 2 miles of downhill, we were walking at a steady pace when we came across a very muddy portion of trail near a spring. As we were maneuvering around the deepest part of the mud my foot slipped and I jarred my leg hard enough to turn my slight aches and soreness into screaming protests up and down my entire left leg. From this point our progress was slowed to a crawl. We hadn’t been going much faster on the uphills, but it was definite downgrade in speed. We decided after this that we would very clearly not be making it to the shelter we had reserved for the night and given the circumstances and the fact that you cannot off trail camp outside of reserved shelter in the Smokys unless you are a thru hiker, so we made a plan to get to the next shelter and attempt to call the shuttle service to see if they could adjust the pickup. When we finally made it to the Twin Spring Gap Shelter, dropped our packs and refilled our water. The shuttle service let us know that they could adjust the pick up but the only place they could pick us up was 3.5 miles back up the trail to Clingmans Dome. So once we let them know the situation and that we would be moving rather slow, we started back up the mountain sore, tired and (for me) slightly disheartened.

12717986_10153973858665767_1751202716306842621_n

On the shuttle ride back to Newfound Gap, exhausted, in pain, and having gone just about 15 miles in all I came to the realization that I have a long way still to go before this dream to thru-hike the AT can become a reality. If just over 24 hours in this terrain could leave me feeling the way I was there was no way that I could survive 5-7 months of this day after day. But sometimes it takes an experience like this to show you how important something really is to you. Yes, this was a low point when I grossly underestimated the trail while at the same time overestimating my own ability. But it gives me a renewed sense of determination, the trail may have beaten me this time. But I’ll be back, skinnier, healthier, and with a vengeance.

If you’re interested in hiking the Appalachian Trail, more information is available in the link below.                                                                                      https://www.appalachiantrail.org/

12901114_10209517644044269_3777572809289348750_o

An AT adventure in the great Smoky Mountains. From Newfound Gap to Twin Springs Shelter.

Posted by Veteran's Outdoor Collaborative on Monday, April 4, 2016

Sycamore Loop Trail

This was the first hike of the year where things were really starting to green over and a lot of the plants and flowers in the woods were in bloom. I love winter hiking, but I’m really glad the cold weather is seeing its way out the door.

12932705_251791975159647_9096094113151254605_n

I’m starting to find little things about each new trail that I hit week after week that I really enjoy. This week on Monday we took a trip to the Sycamore Loop Train in the Charles C. Deam Wilderness that’s located in the Hoosier National Forest. This is the first trail that I’ve been to in the HNF and it stuck out to me because of the designated camp spots marked throughout the trail. Most of which have been built up to the point that they rival most improved camp sites that you’d find right off the roadway in many places. The coolest that we saw was definitely the 4th or 5th one in, located about 5 miles into the trail. People have taken the time to assemble a limestone table and chairs. No doubt very hard and heavy work, but one of the coolest things I’ve seen.

12417790_251791785159666_5422812839624539245_n

Sycamore Loop is a 7.7 mile trail and stays incredibly flat in the back country. The only real climbs on the trail are located on the fire access road leading back to the parking lot and those are small hills at that. Another cool part of this trail, and something I’ve seen at the last few trails in less spectacular fashion are the pine tree forests dispersed throughout the trail. Even in the spring there seems to be something magical about being surrounded by these needle clad green giants.

12376847_251791761826335_7809616064752121812_n

I’m definitely starting to see a lot more people out and about on the trails. Boyscout troops are a staple during the weekend hikes and some even on the weekdays. There is also no shortage of fishermen out around the water. It’s good to see that people are getting over their cabin fever and getting back out into the world. The more you’re out in it, the more you realize that this is really where we’re meant to be.

12494849_251792008492977_6448669272008917532_n

12376669_251791535159691_5344934703958474012_n

12932592_251791595159685_2238890441172168382_n

Directions and further information are available in the link below.  https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/indiana/sycamore-loop-trail

Until next time,

Happy Trails.

We hiked the Sycamore Loop trail in the Charles C. Deam Wilderness Area at the Hoosier National Forest.

Posted by Veteran's Outdoor Collaborative on Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Westwood Park

The more often I get out and hike the more I really start to realize how much natural beauty is all around us, things that we take for granted in our day to day lives and just don’t see. Spending that quality time for a handful of hours every weekend taking in the sunlight and calm of the forest (and water) is enough to calm even the most frizzled nerves. This past weekend I had the privileged of hiking at Westwood Park in New Castle, IN. and from the moment you pull into the ample parking lot right off of the trail head, you can tell this is going to be a hike to remember.

12108864_244302185908626_3487681007700282805_n

The trail itself meanders 10 miles in a loop around the lake and gives you the opportunity to snap some breathtaking pictures, if that’s the sort of thing you’re into. But the mileage is really the only part of this trail that is challenging. There are very few significant elevation changes and those contain ample switchbacks that make them more than bearable for even the most unseasoned hikers.

12039756_244301189242059_5213109306303992088_n

Probably the coolest thing about this trail are the number of bridges that it contains. They vary in size and location but are numbered and make for a neat experience as you count your way through the trail miles.

250111_244300779242100_265809993618578775_n

1379821_244301112575400_8139116583337783772_n

12308510_244302012575310_8847033040275048497_n

But there is also great deal of changing scenery, from deep forest trail, to small wooded outcroppings, to grassy fields. As long as the sun is out and the weather is nice you are absolutely guaranteed to have a great trip to this park.

10463000_244301845908660_2451137299480070030_n

10610622_244300962575415_8302494655737933430_n

When you combine that with the views of the water, you really can’t go wrong in New Castle.

Directions and further information are available in the link below.  https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/indiana/westwood-park

Happy Trails!

944091_244301949241983_3016792440648277462_n

We had a great weekday hike at Westwood Park today.

Posted by Veteran's Outdoor Collaborative on Monday, March 21, 2016

Like what you see? Come with us next time! http://www.meetup.com/Free-Range-Hiking-Meetup/

The Low Gap Trail: Revisited in Full.

The Low Gap Trail. In association with Great American “GRAM” Trails. <Link to Video>

Yesterday turned out to be a beautiful, high 50 degrees, light breeze, sunny spring day. It was also the day that we has set aside to hike through the full ten and a half miles of the Low Gap Trail, which has quickly become out favorite trail out at Morgan Monroe State Forest.

Our Original intention was to hike out to a nice camping spot by head lamp on Saturday night so that we could get up at dawn and hit the trail. This would have given my father, Jim, a chance to try an overnight stint in his new DIY hammock (if you haven’t seen it yet here’s a link to the video, Do you wanna build a hammock ). However, as often is the case in life. Something else took precedence Saturday night and we resolved to get up the next morning and hit the trail by 8:30 instead of camping.

When we hit the trail head the next morning around 8:30 it was already busy, we encountered a local boy scout troop and a middle aged couple out to hike the trail. We made small talk with the couple for a few minutes as we all got ready and recounted some of the places we’d been hiking recently. The boy scouts were loud and rowdy, typical of a large group of boys that age. In fact, even when we could not see them on the trail that day we never lost track of where they were just based on noise production alone.

In the past few months we’ve hit several parts of the Low Gap Trail and I’ve been in to see the cave formations a few times. Because the large cave is a fantastic sight when it’s ice covered and still impressive otherwise. But today we intended to hike the trail in its entirety. So this marked the longest single day of hiking that we’ve done since we got back into hiking regularly as well as the most beautiful trail we’ve hit. While I’m sure the Three Lakes Trail (Three Lakes Trail: An Epic Winter Adventure) would give it a run for its money this time of year. It was entirely snow covered when we tackled it a handful of weeks ago and that took away from the views a bit.

12524334_235638600108318_6716462257226710518_n

We ended up making better time than we’ve made in previous hikes, along the way realizing that the GPS unit I was using doesn’t register switchbacks or portions of the trail that double back on themselves and it had lost a mile during the morning. We ended up stopping twice, once in the morning to have a late morning snack and to check out the hammock on the trail after our first 2 miles and the second was our lunch break at 1 after we’d hiked 7 and a half miles. I had a chance to pull out the FireBox that I keep in my pack and boil some water to rehydrate some long grain rice and chicken broth. We ended up sitting by this log, swapping plans for the AT and eating jerky, fresh fruit, tortillas and seasoned tuna packets along with some odds and ends stuff that we had for the better part of an hour before packing up and hitting the trail again.

12809565_235637900108388_4500471639270013518_n

By this time we’d already been passed by the rowdy boyscout troop, the couple we’d spoken to at the onset of the hike and about a dozen other day hikers that had decided to take advantage of the great weather. The last few miles of the trail were all paved except for the last mile or so that’s currently closed as they work to put in a paved bike trail. At this point in the trail we decided to off trail hike back to the truck, avoiding the construction areas but keeping the trail in view. Once all was said and done we got back to the extremely crowded parking area at right around 3:30. We threw our stuff in the back of the truck and headed back to base camp for a few IPA’s and to recount the story of our morning to anyone that would listen.

We’re one step closer to getting to where we want to be for our AT hike, picking up trail knowledge and putting in a lot of foot time. Now we’re on to the next mini adventure.

Directions and further information are available in the link below.  https://www.alltrails.com/explore/trail/us/indiana/low-gap-trail

Happy Trails!

Pictures are linked below.

We hiked the Low Gap Trail in its entirety today. 10.5 miles down on a beautiful day. Great day, great hike.

Posted by Veteran's Outdoor Collaborative on Sunday, March 6, 2016