The road less traveled…

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Snail mail letter

And then there was 4:

Jake, AKA “Ringo Stumbles McFly”, has finally joined our group and is figuring out what works and what doesn’t. It’s his 1st time doing any long-distance hiking so he has lots of questions for me. In fact, he has started calling me “mama miagi” at times. (you know, from the karate kid.) 🙂

As a group we are doing very well. Averaging anywhere from 12-17 miles a day, and keeping a pretty good pace throughout the day. We have had many aches-n-pains, numerous blisters, and a few bruises from falls. But we just keep poppin’ Ibuprofen like its candy, get more bandages & braces and keep going. I myself had to get a knee brace after the 1st week, and its much better now.

We’ve passed through a few places where we have been able to switch some gear out. All hostels/outfitters along the trail have “Hiker Boxes”. This means hikers can donate/take anything that past hikers have put in the box. In Hiawassee I scored some oatmeal, hot cocoa, duct tape, and an extra knee brace, and I also got rid of a bunch of Ramen noodles. In the last place we went thru, I was able to pick up everything I needed from the hiker box and spent no money in the store. I got a pair of adidas athletic shorts, some itch relief cream (nasty bug bites), and an actual footprint sized perfectly for my tent. Because of this I passed on my extra zip-off pants and tarp to “Fievel”, so she didn’t have to pay for these things either. So in this way its a great community of hikers helping each other out whenever we can.

In the last week, we’ve seen some amazing views and crossed into North Carolina! A couple of thunderstorms have rolled through, but luckily those nights we stayed dry in the shelters. Weather has been warming up to 70-80s in the afternoon making the day hiking slightly uncomfortable! Still meeting and catching up with hikers here-n-there. It’s always good to see a familiar face after a long day of walking.

We are all very excited how far we’ve already come and looking forward to the next week of traveling through the Smokies. Many of the shelters have actually been closed due to high bear activity, so I’m on high alert and going to be looking for bears like I’m trapped inside a “Where’s Waldo” book!

Thanks for reading,

-Sketch

AKA momma miagi

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March 25, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Week 2 & 3: Text and Call Updates

Wednesday, March 14 received a text that the 4th hiker, Jake, had joined the group. They are doing well, hiked 17.3 miles that day, and hoped to reach civilization again on Friday.

Thursday, March 15 received another text with my birthday greeting from the trial. She even took the time to spell it out with sticks!

Birthday greeting

Sunday, March 18 Jill called and said they arrived at Nantahala Outdoor Center where they were able to use some coin operated showers. They would be arriving in Fontana Dam soon to pick up another mail drop as well as an extra package from her sisters. She also said she would send a snail mail letter for another personal post.

Thursday, March 22 received a text that they had obtained their packages. She especially liked the surprise package with Skittles that didn’t last the day. The snail mail letter was also received with a side note that she still has all her toenails and will be painting them compliments of the other package. She also liked the fruit roll ups so much that she wouldn’t share them with the other hikers. In with the letter were 2 maps covering the trail that they had finished hiking already.

Friday, March 23 received a text that they were still alive and would hopefully have internet again soon.

March 25, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Week 1: Email directly from the hiker

Here’s an email from Jill with a little additional information added from this writer in italic parenthesis:

Week 1

Our group started out smaller then we expected with Jessie AKA “Feivel” (as in American Tale, on a journey only vaguely knowing Jill in the group), Dan AKA “Beaker” (from the Muppets, being a magnet for misfortune), and myself AKA “Sketch (referring to her sketch art).  Our trail names are the only names we share with others while on the trail. (Some suggest the use of a trail name is for anonymity, it’s easier to remember especially when there are multiple people with the same name, it can easily identify someone by their personality or an event or many other factors. Trail names are used for entries in the logbooks at shelters as well.) We’ve met quite alot of characters so far. One man was reading his poetry to people while we hiked and another had a Halloween head prop attached to his pack…

It has been COLD!! Right when we think its nice and sunny, the wind picks up and our eyes water and we have to keep moving to stay warm. Which means breaks are few and far between. For the first few days we have been using our tents as the shelters have been filling up quickly and I prefer to sleep away from the snoring mass of people and the icky daredevil mice. (Mice are one of the biggest problems hikers face on the AT especially in the shelters causing loss of food or contamination and damaging other items. Past hikers actually recommended keeping a way in the packs available. The mice are sure to crawl around in the packs anyways and better to let them then have them chew a hole through the pack.)

There has been alot of Trail Magic this week. Trail Magic is when past hikers or groups get together and have supplies/food at trail and road crossings. One morning after hiking 5 miles through a thick fog we came to the bottom of the hill and there was a full table with hot cocoa, coffee, donuts, cookies, little debbie snacks, and so much more.

Yesterday we lucked out with another Trail Magic and a fella “Muldoon” who thru-hiked last year, drove down from Maryland JUST to do trail magic for us hikers. He had some veggie burgers and dogs, DOuBLE-STUFF oreo cookies, I downed 2 mountain dews, strawberries, peanut better and jelly. Anyway, I think you get the hint. Trail Magic is Heaven!

We spent our first night in a shelter when we knew that it was probably going to rain. (More than 250 back country shelters are located along the AT. A typical shelter, sometimes called a “lean-to”, has a shingled or metal roof, a wooden floor and three walls and is open to the elements on one side.

Example of a shelter along the trail

Most are near a creek or spring, and many have a bathroom nearby. Hikers occupy them on a first-come, first-served basis until the shelter is full. Many shelters are near good campsites for tenting as well.) There were 7 of us crammed in a row and it was the warmest night due to the shared body hear. I was a little bit worried about the mice so I didn’t sleep so well. A few other hikers’ food bags got attacked by the mice, but mine was SAFE! (Jill has her food in a thick plastic bag then that bag is inside a bag that I believe is called a grubpack made of stainless steel mesh to keep rodents out.

Example of grubpack

Those mice would have to work pretty hard to get in her’s and would probably just move on to something easier.) Some of the other hikers we have met along the way go by the names of “Boulder”, “Diva”, “Crocs” (I gave him that name because he has yet to wear his boots due to sever blisters”, “Sweet-n-low”, “Skunkape”, and “Magpie”.

So far our spirits are high and we are having the time of our lives. I had breakfast with a gorgeous view of the mountains this morning, and it just keeps getting better. Temps have been in the highs of 60-70 the last few days, and we are looking forward to meeting up with another member of our group shortly. I will continue to keep you all updated as well as I can. Thank you so much for all your prayers and support!

Jillienne Chavet

Pictures emailed by Jill:

Start of the trail at Springer Mountain

In the Georgia mountains

Shelter on top of Blood Mountain

The Blood Mountain shelter is the oldest shelter on the trail built during the depression in 1934. It is a two-room stone shelter that is also listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Blood Mountain is the highest peak on the Georgia section of the AT elevated at 4,458 feet.

At Neels Gap

A picture from the writer's visit years ago of the sign in the bottom right corner of the previous picture

Neels Gap is the only place on the trail that goes through a building or any covered spot. The trail goes through the breezeway of the Walasi-yi Center, a stone building built in the 1930’s.

Building from the back showing covered part of trail-also not one of Jill's pictures

Trail magic Oatmeal Cream Pies from King Tut, YUM!

Pausing for a pose

In Georgia mountains with "Diva"

Looking at the world in another way in the Georgia mountains

March 19, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Week 1: Text and Call Updates

Monday, March 5 a text was received in the morning that Jill survived the first night. That evening she sent the following picture.

Taking a break

Wednesday, March 7 a very short phone call to only hear that her phone battery was about to die. She does have a hand crank phone charger while she is unable to get electricity though it takes a lot of cranking to get only a few minutes of air time. Later that evening another text received that all was well and they were having fun.

Saturday, March 10 talked to Jill. They arrived at Hiawassee, GA after hiking approximately 66.5 miles. A few blisters have formed but nothing to worry about. The hostel they had planned to stay at was not open. Instead they found a hotel in town to take it easy for the night and had pizza delivered. Received emails with some pictures and a personal message from Jill to come in another post.

 

March 15, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The end and the beginning

The end of Jill’s visit and preparation in Florida arrived March 3 and the true beginning of the amazing Appalachian Trail adventure began.

Saturday started with one last fancy breakfast mostly prepared and cleaned up by the hikers: bacon, cheesy eggs and my contribution was Pillsbury cinnamon rolls. We hit the road for Georgia late morning with the non hiker simply as a passenger, rainy picnic lunch at a rest stop, and arrived at our camp site in Dahlonega, GA with some sunny daylight still remaining. Easing them into their rough camping lifestyle, a 4 person tent was assembled including an inflatable mattress for the one night camper. We went to check out the Amicalola State Park, their possible starting point.

Looking down at the falls and 604 stairs...we drove up

Smiles for the camera

We went up to the lodge to wait for a hiker panel fireside Q & A sponsored by Appalachian Wilderness Guides.

Sunset from lodge

Authors and seasoned hikers joined us in a conference room decorated for a virtual campfire including outdoor sounds and the stars and moon. Some tips were learned but mostly we were confirmed that they are prepared. It was nearly 10pm by the time we got back to camp to roast our hotdog dinner. Jill was the fire builder this time and we were all thankful for a little heat with the chill in the air. Then we discussed possible trail nicknames for each of them. More on this in a later post.

Roasting hot dogs

Unfortunately the comforting fire warmth did not last through the night as temperatures were in the 30s with gusts of wind. Some slept poorly, while the unprepared one night camper who should have been sleeping in the center was awake all night freezing wishing the morning to come quicker. Just to assure you all, they are more prepared to deal with the weather including thermal clothing, buff to cover their heads, and mummy sleeping bags that are designed to keep cold out up to 20 degrees as well as practically sealing them into a warm cozy enclosure.

It was tough getting out of what warmth we did have when morning came but the gear needed to be packed. Apparently the hikers will be allowing an hour each morning to repack their bags so that everything is easily organized. We camped near a stream so Jill went down to get some water and test out her water purifier. The Platypus Gravity Works Water Filter and Purifier System cleans four liters of water in 2.5 minutes by filling the dirty water reservoir and hanging it above the clean water reservoir. Gravity takes care of the rest.

We returned to the Amicalola State Park for them to register as thru hikers, took some more group photos, officially weighed their bags, and met and spoke to some more experienced thru hikers.

 

Signing in as thru hikers

Some history-click on picture to enlarge and read

Yet another group photo, ready to take this challenge on

Jill's official bag weight for the start-44 lbs

All loaded up

Both Saturday and Sunday we were able to hear from and personally speak to some great AT hikers. Had I known who we were seeing and meeting, there would have been more pictures. I believe (Jill may need to correct this or add to it) among them were David Miller aka “Awol” who is the author of “Awol on the Appalachian Trail”, a book highly recommended by Jill; Bill Walker aka “Skywalker” who is almost 7 feet tall so everyone literally looks up to him, we did when we were talking to him; J. R. Tate aka “Model T” who has thru-hiked the trail 4 times; Grayson Deal aka “Tin Man” who decided to hike the AT following a heart surgery to raise money for Children’s Heart Foundation; and Gene Espy who was the 2nd man to accomplish a thru-hike in1951. There were many others but these are the ones easily recognized.

Picture with Gene Espy

It was decided that the 8.5 mile approach trail to Springer Mountain at Amicalola State Park would be skipped. We planned to drive to Big Stamp Gap to park, hike up to the start without bags, triangulate on the AT trail back to the car to retrieve the bags for about an hour total. Unfortunately, the back roads were unclearly marked, one lane gravel with mountain on one side and steep hill down on the other which made it tricky when meeting other vehicles that there were surprisingly quite a few of. 45 minutes into this drive, it dawned on the non hiker that she would need to drive this scary, time consuming route back down!

Joining a military convoy up the side of the mountain

About 20 minutes later, we spotted a sign for another trail, Benton Mackaye, that Jill found on the map leading to where they were headed.

Preparing to depart

By the sign of the trial that should lead them to the AT trail...

Bitter sweet goodbyes

It's this way, right? Follow the white diamonds.

Disappearing into the woods.

The driver's view back down the mountain which only took 30 minutes...Thank you GPS!

And the waiting begins to hear news from Jill and for me to post it.

March 15, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Drive here, drive there, drive everywhere

It is a good thing that Jill finished all her mail drops first as there would not have been enough room in the house or vehicle to do more. Friday we did another run to the post office to get Jill’s boxes sent off. I think there were a few wondering eyes as it took 3 people to carry all the boxes into the building. Then we had another Sams Club goodie shopping for Dan. This time the box assembly was set up outside to enjoy the beautiful day.

Dan's mail drop boxes

Team Work

Picnicking supervisor

Trail mix assembly line

Work finished, time to play!

Tuckered out already?

Once the munchkin was napping, 3 of us went to the post office yet again.

Unloading

These are not light...

Delivering only Dan's boxes

Then there were 3 packages to send through UPS and a need for more alcohol. Once munchkin was settled at the weekend babysitter, we were able to enjoy the alcohol beverages and games, mostly Carcassonne.

Dusting off the Risk game

In the wee hours, they all decided to repack their backpacks and step on a scale. The added weight should be about 1/3 of a person’s actual weight. Each were approximately 40 lbs give or take a few.

Jill weighs in

Dan weighs in

Jessie weighs in

I do believe they enjoyed their last night in civilization.

 

March 7, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Half the crew arrives

This is Jill’s sister, Mirinda. I will be updating her blog as she sends me letters and pictures. I was fortunate to spend the last couple days with Jill before she headed out into the wild. Thursday Jill did some final research on which back roads to take to get to the starting point, where we would be camping out for the first night, and showing me the ropes on her blog. That afternoon we finally got around to leaving the house. First stop was getting boxes from the post office, she cleaned out the supply available out front. Then we roamed Sams Club picking up all sorts of goodies.

Jill's Sams Club goodies

Some how we timed it just right to finish there and then go to the airport to pick up Jill’s friends, Jessie and Dan. It was a bit of a challenge getting everyone and backpacks and Sams purchases crammed into the vehicle, but we managed. Per Jill’s request, we enjoyed a yummy dinner of salad with good old Nebraska dressing Dorothy Lynch and Grandma Chavet’s famous taco casserole. We then did a Walmart run to get a few more items. After my munchkin was in bed, Jill started arranging her mail drop boxes. There are places along the way that will hold these boxes until she arrives.

Box building assembly line

Ready to sort goodies

Beer break

By the time she finished, it was past time to sleep. The AT crew crashed in the living room as their last days of luxury dwindled down.

March 7, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Preparations…and Fun in Florida

My journey begins on Sunday, March 4th in Georgia.

In the meantime I have been spending time with my sisters in Florida and getting my gear organized, awaiting the arrival of the rest of the crew.

Matt, Alysha, Mirinda, Gabriel, Isabel, Jill

Building calories

Our view for dinner

Hugs

Aunts

Being silly

Story time

Organizing? Must learn ABC's on my trip!

March 1, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Appalachian Trail – Basic Info

The Appalachian Trail or simply the AT, is a marked hiking trail in the eastern United States extending between Springer Mountain in Georgia and Mount Katahdin, Maine. It is approximately 2,184 miles long. Along the way, the trail passes through the states of Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine. The majority of the trail is in wilderness, although some portions traverse towns and roads, and cross rivers.

Appalachian Trail Map

March 1, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment