What I think about

My creation

We got back on the trail on Tuesday afternoon and it is now Saturday and we’re in town. What I’ve thought about most of the time during the past five days has been my family and especially Zoe and Ashleigh. Every day I would think back to what went on a week ago and what we were doing at that moment and well, it was a tough five days to walk.

I can’t help it. It’s not just Zoe, but I miss everyone. It was really effing hard the second day back on the trail. Yesterday was the first day I felt “trail normal” again, but I don’t know how long that will last.

I was bummed that I didn’t get to upload photos from our zoo adventure last Monday but I saw my SIL Stephanie uploaded them to Flickr so I nabbed this one. I just couldn’t Zoe to open her arms wide enough to see what her wingspan would be. She was kinda confused!

Anyway, we’re in town and I will post again later today, hopefully with some photos. We made it down Dragons Tooth, up McAfee Knob and across the Tinker Cliffs. We’re incredibly sore from 5 days off and I am enjoying rashes under my arms from a wet tank top rubbing against my pack and then rashes on my heels from wet socks. Don’t ask me why I didn’t get blisters but got blessed with rashes instead. Hrmph.

It is feeling more and more like summer.

AT Best of: Springer Mountain Mile 0 to Pine Mtn Mile 500

Reviewing the ATC book for all of the “best of’s” was a good review to remember what we’d done for those first few weeks. Time seems to creep by and go so fast at the same time. Items are in no particular order unless I otherwise specify.

Best Views:

    Tray Mountain 4,430 elev MM 56.1
    Albert Mtn 5,250 MM98.0
    Siler Bald 4,600 MM 112.0
    Rocky Top 5,440 MM 181.6
    Charlies Bunion 5,905 MM 208.5
    Bradley’s View 5,200 MM 213.8
    Max Patch Bald 4,629 MM 252
    Lovers Leap Rock 1,820 MM 273.2
    Big Firescale Knob 4360 MM 295.7
    Overmountain Shelter 4550 MM 379.2
    Little/Hump Mtns 5439/5587 MM 380.8/383.0

Best Section:

    Newfound Gap to Davenport Gap (Smokies): MM 204.7-235.1
    This section was and has been significantly different from the rest. So many fir trees and the terrain reminds me of the Rockies. A beautiful, awesome section.
    Standing Indian Mtn to Rock Gap (NC): MM 85.7-104
    We walked in the snow for most of this section, but the trail was smooth and the snow on the rhododendrons was magnificent.
    Blackstack Cliffs to Little Bald (NC/TN border): MM 294.7-324.4
    At the cliffs you start seeing some crazy rock formations and then you get to walk on a very rocky ledge on a knob shortly after the cliffs. The terrain is just a nice change in scenery. Then you start getting into the balds. I just loved this section for how beautiful it was and for the decent terrain.
    US 19E to Upper Laurel Fork (TN): MM 388.4-401.0
    Before you start this area, stop at the Mountain Harbor B&B/Hostel on 19E for the best breakfast ever. We didn’t stay at the hostel, but it was pretty nice. This section is very smooth, has some creek/stream walks and was just very pleasant. The six miles following are a beat down, though.
    Vandeventer Shelter (TN) to Damascus, Va: 430.6-463.5: This is where the trail ‘flatten’s out’. Actually, it is just a really nice ridge walk for most of the way and there isn’t a lot of ups and downs. You can pull big miles here if you wanted. We knew people doing 23-33 into Damascus, and some insane people doing 40 from Watauga Lake into Damascus. An enjoyable section.

Best Food:

    Monte Alban: Hiawassee, GA One of the first towns to stop in during the first week and of course Mexican is right up there for something good to eat!
    Fontana Village restaurant, Fontana Dam, NC: Take the $3 shuttle from the Fontana Hilton shelter up to the village for a really awesome burger and fries. We both agree that it has been the best burger on the trail so far. The restaurant is kinda nice, but they don’t mind the smelly hikers.
    Smokey Mountain Diner: Hot Springs, NC Stay up the trail about a mile, hike in by 8am and get a truly awesome breakfast. Some people said they ate there for all their meals, but we only ate for breakfast.
    MoJoes: Damascus, Va A local coffee shop that serves up a good breakfast and some lunch type foods. They also have a computer for guests (you can also use the public library).
    Dairy King: Damascus, Va Cheap, home cooking grub. We both got the chicken fried steak with potatoes and green beans. I hear they have a good breakfast and shakes.
    Quincey’s: Damascus, Va Pizza, grill items, burgers….oh my! The portabello burger was really, really good. We ate there several times during our stay in Damascus.

Best Hostel:

    Blueberry Patch: Hiawassee, GA Absolutely the best hostel in the first 500 miles. Gary and Lennie are the nicest couple and do a lot for hikers during the March-May season. There is a nice bunkhouse, good shower/toilet area, and a kitchen to cook food if you want. Donations are the means for making their money on this and they even serve you breakfast in the morning in their home.
    Standing Bear Farm: near Davenport Gap, TN We pulled an 18 miler to get into the hostel after deciding we wanted pizza for dinner instead of making camp food. We got there and could only tent, not bunk and we were peeved to have them charge us the same $15 a person for tenting even though they were out of bunk space. Aside from the insane fee for tenting, the set up is nice. It is very laid back and there are two showers, a resupply section complete with pizzas and then bacon and eggs for breakfast, a computer that charges $1 per 15 minutes, and a kitchen area for cooking your food. Aside from the dumb fee, this was a nice place right outside of the Smokies.
    Uncle Johnny’s: Erwin, TN About five steps off the trail, they are super, super busy. They have a small resupply and gear section, nice shower area, and places to do your laundry. The bunk house was kinda busy and could be noisy. There are computers free for use. Shuttles are run several times a day and you can borrow a bicycle to run to town if you want. Not my favorite place because of the crowd, but it was decent.
    Greasy Creek Friendly: NC Located between Erwin and Roan Mountain on the NC side of the trail, you have to come off .6 from the trail to get to this little hostel. We went because we wanted ice cream, but found out she will doctor up a microwavable burger for you, she has dial-up internet, her cat does tricks and it is a nice, quiet setting for a hostel. Though, her neighbor is a crank and doesn’t like hikers. Make this a stop if you can!
    Kincora: TN After hearing the proprietor of this hostel built up I was expecting more from this hostel. We lucked out and got the tree house so we were able to sleep by ourselves, but I heard that the bunk house was very crowded and noisy. The owner does a shuttle to town for resupply, but I fear if you miss it and they are busy you might not get into town. There is a stove and oven for cooking if you want. Showers and bathroom area were dirty as was the hostel. I was told that the owner now expects hikers to clean up after themselves—doesn’t seem to be happening much.
    Mountain Harbour: TN This is a gem hidden in the ATC book. The only reason we stopped was because two other hikers told us for $9 we’d get the best breakfast on the trail. We were glad we stopped by! The hostel is above the barn and is stocked with snacks and is pretty nice. You have the option of staying in the B&B too for more money.
    The Place: Damascus, Va This is run by a church across the street and it is a donation of $5 a night. Located in an old Victorian house, it is spacious and was mostly quiet. No smoking, drinking or drugs or dogsare allowed so that keeps the ‘riff raff’ out. Several people come by to check up on this and they will kick you out if they catch you. The showers were mostly clean and the place was relaxing.

Best Town:

    Hot Springs, NC: we loved this town because the trail goes right through the middle and it is such a small town. You can walk from one end to the other in no time at all. Lots of local restaurants and the people are friendly.
    Damascus, VA: Another town the trail goes straight through, it is used to all of the hikers and there are lots of places to eat and resupply. Plus, three outfitters!
    Erwin, TN: Further off the trail and more spread out, but it has more fast-food type places and bigger city items like a Walgreens.

Best Climbs:

    Albert Mtn 5,250 MM 98.0: The first climb that required hands, it was a short, rocky climb with an awesome view…even in the snow.
    Blackstack Cliffs/Firescale Knob 4,420/4360 294.7/295.7: Cool rock formations and an excellent view
    Unaka Mtn 5,180 MM 353.6: The smell on top of this mountain is out of this world. Spruce populate the top of this mountain and we would have camped on top if we’d had water. The book cites a water sources just down from the top but we never found it.
    Elk Garden 4,434 MM 487.3: Between Whitetop Mtn and Mt. Rogers, this section is just plain beautiful. It isn’t necessarily a climb unless you are coming from the north, but the book says that elk, bison and other animals used to roam this section. It is very fairy/Jurassic in it’s setting.
    Mt. Rogers/Thomas Knob shelter 5,400 MM 491.5: While the trail doesn’t go to the top of Mt. Rogers, you get into more spruce trees and start entering the wide open highlands in this section. It’s just a unique little area and very popular with day hikers.

Sucktastic Climbs:

    Sassafras Mtn, Ga 3,300 MM 11.2: This is the first difficult climb of the trail and just about everyone remembers it as being difficult and hard. Mention Sassafras and everyone groans. I’d like to go back and just see how bad it is after doing worse mountains.
    Out of the Nantahala Outdoor Center MM 135-141: We were warned about this so I knew it was coming, but it was a long stretch that really blew. Up and up and up…out of the gorge. Ugh. The view from Cheoah Bald was nice, though!
    Rocky Top (Smokies) 5,440 181.6: I think I was just in a crummy mood for this one, as the view was nice, but the climb was pretty steep. There was a too chipper ridgerunner doing trail maintenance and he was all gung-ho about Rocky Top. I wanted to smack him.
    Standing Bear Hostel to Snowbird Mtn 238.4-243.1: Part of the reason for the suckiness was that we left at 11am and it was getting very, very hot in the leafless forest. Just contouring and up and up and up to Snowbird. Lots of people hated this stretch. The view on top of Snowbird is cool because you can see Max Patch in the distance. I remember thinking that I couldn’t possibly get to Max Patch that same day and we did!
    Camp Creek Bald 4,750 MM 292.7: Steep, steep and more steep. No switchbacks. With false tops. Not really a bald…at least where we went.
    Roan Mtn aka: Groan Mtn. Forgot to write the info down, but over 6K feet. Steep, steep and more steep. Fake switchbacks. The only ‘good’ thing is that the last 1/3 is easier than the first 2/3, so if you stay at Ash Gap before summitting, the next morning won’t seem so bad. It is very beautiful at Ash Gap and the top of the mtn is pretty. But the climb—no one likes it. Apparently switchbacks are coming.
    Pond Mtn 3,780 418.5: The problem with this one is that you first walk along beautiful Laurel creek and then have to climb up and over this sucktastic mountain. Actually, it has decent switchbacks for awhile and then it just becomes steep, steep, steep. If you slackpack and come from the north to the south there are wonderful switchbacks all the way up. I had a nice mental breakdown on this mountain.

Best Campsite:

    Cowrock Mtn 3,842 35.4: A guy at Neel’s Gap mentioned that we should camp there since we were pressing on for the night. An awesome little spot with a beautiful view west for sunset.
    Silers Bald Shelter 5,460 192.2: I only mention this because we were the only ones at this shelter in the Smokies. We also had a deer entertain us at the shelter and it was a beautiful little area.
    Max Patch Bald 4,629 252.0: If you can manage the wind at the top, you should definitely camp here. A 360* view and sunrise and sunset to boot.
    Ash Gap, Roan Mtn 5,350 371.0: There is a campsite and a water source (a hike from what Chris said), but it is such a beautiful, forested area with spruce and other firs. We saw owls and Chris saw a grouse. If you don’t want to do Roan in a day, stop there.
    Wise Shelter, Grayson Highlands State Park 4,460 496.6: There are wild ponies…what more can I say?????

Best Outfitter:

    Mountain Crossings at Walasi-Yi/Neels Gap: The first outfitter you come across as well as the first shower and potential hostel stay, most people are very happy to get there. The showers were ‘ok’ and the laundry got done, but I felt there was plenty of food for resupply even though we sent a box there. Tons and tons of gear to choose from and they do a shake down of your pack if you want them to.
    Bluff Mountain Outfitters, Hot Springs: Really helpful and though they aren’t as full of gear as Mountain Crossings, they do have a good organic/health food selection for resupply.
    Mt. Rogers Outfitters/Sundog Outfitters Damascus, Va: Mt. Rogers is the more popular store, but both carry a wide variety of gear and supplies. If you forget something, Sundog is on the way out of town on the trail. Mt. Rogers is on the way in.

Well, I hope that helps someone…or at least provides some entertainment for someone!

Cypripedium acaule, Pink Lady Slipper Orchid

Rick photographing wild slipper orchid

Climbing out of Pearisburg my dad spotted a flower.

Cypripedium acaule, Pink Lady Slipper Orchid in wild
Turned out to be a flowering lady slipper orchid! SWEET! We’ve seen lots of foliage but haven’t seen anything in bloom yet.

Cypripedium acaule, Pink Lady Slipper Orchids in wild
On the way out on Wednesday we found a whole bunch of them! Pretty nice to see!

Cypripedium acaule, Pink Lady Slipper Orchids in wild
I wondered how many other people walked right on by and didn’t notice? Sometimes you get involved in the one foot in front of the other and forget to look around—rather, if you look around you end up tripping on a rock or stump.

A Sweet Farewell

The last few days have been difficult and hard on everyone. Today it seemed as if finally some of the strain may have lifted a bit as the funeral for Ashleigh was today. She had many, many people in attendance, so many for her 104 days here on Earth. When I think back at the last time I saw her back in March and then at all the photos I’ve seen of her since then, it is still very hard to imagine that she is gone. Looking at her eyes in the photos, and in the videos with her moving about—-it’s tough. We saw her yesterday in her pink gingham casket and she looked more like a doll than a baby who once lived. She resembled Zoe so much, her little button nose and her full cheeks. I was honored that Curt and Stephanie asked if I wanted the blanket I made for Ashleigh to be buried with her—I said yes. I remember working my butt off to finish it, mostly because I wanted it done before we moved and we left for the hike, but it was finished the weekend before her early birthday.

We sent her off with 104 pink and purple balloons.




Zoe's Chandler Face
Apparently Zoe has this habit of making a face when a photo is taken; I didn’t notice it when I took the shot. Her Nana, Stephanie’s mom, calls it her Chandler face.

I was happy to see my cousin Crystal and her daughter Baileigh, who is the spitting image of her mom!


A beautiful, beautiful day for a beautiful, beautiful little girl.

I now have a photo of both my nieces and will be carrying them along with me to Katahdin. Maybe one day Zoe will get to hike it with her dad, but I will walk it for Ashleigh.

Angel Ashleigh

Ashleigh Ryon

After writing that Ashleigh was doing so good, I am heartbroken to write that she has passed away. I don’t know if it was fate, luck or divine intervention, but we were hiking yesterday morning on a ridge and Chris has left his phone on by accident after calling his mom that morning and the phone rang. The phone doesn’t just ring out there for us. People know we are hiking. I knew something was up. It was my mom calling with the news. Once we realized we had a road in 7 miles and didn’t have to back track we kept on going while trying to make arrangements to get off the trail with my dad. We got to the road and realized it could be very difficult to get out, but the kindness of a stranger stopped and drove us to Pearisburg so our phone would work, we got a shuttle and made it to the airport and finally to DFW at nearly midnight last night.

We will be taking several days off and going back to the trail sometime next week.

It just seems so stupid. She was here and now she’s not. She was doing good, looking to come home.

Anyway. Please think of our family, especially my brother and sister in law and Zoe.

Beautiful Woodshole Hostel

While on our walks through the woods Chris and I will talk about what we want after the hike. We definitely want a place in the ‘country’, quiet somewhere in Texas. Where…who knows? However, after getting to the Woodshole Hostel here outside of Pearisburg, VA I have decided I want a place modeled after this. Smells of lavender and herbs, Pandora radio on the computer in the kitchen, wood floors…oh this place is awesome. Probably the best hostel ever. Yet…at least! We are actually staying in the cabin because my dad is meeting us here in a few hours and not in the hostel, but from what I hear of the other hikers, the hostel bunk house is pretty nifty too.

I did write up my 500 miles ‘best of’ in my journal but the internet is slow and I have limited time so I will have to wait until the next time. We are now at mile 626 and will hit 700 just after my dad leaves…by a mile. I am looking forward to McAfee Knob which is coming up at 703…very cool! I am not looking forward to the Dragon’s Tooth, well, maybe if it isn’t raining…it’s a very intense, hands of fist rock climb from what I hear. Should be entertaining for my dad!

Ohhhhh, for the best news…we saw BEARS! Two days ago we were on a ridge and heard rustling…thought it was deer like always. We stopped to listen and a smallish bear…maybe juvy or small adult…ran across the trail. Whoa! Then, Chris noticed on a tree a TEENY TINY baby bear! Seriously, like 15lbs at most. A BABY! But…this is where we got nervous because where was momma? The baby started yelping/barking and then we got a bit nervous and then it it started getting close to the trail and climbed up a tree that was about two feet off the trail. WHOA! Awesome. We inched up and got a semi-crappy photo and then a video too. Chris told me to get my whistle out, I fumbled for a second trying to remember where I put it…in my hip belt pocket…got it out just in case mom came back. Another bear, bigger or smaller who knows???…was right on the other side of the ridge, so we kinda started bolting out of there after the video. We were a bit worried because we knew two other hikers weren’t too far behind us and so we waited a bit and they caught up and said they didn’t see anything.

It was an exciting time! Unfortunately, no uploading of photos is allowed here, so it will have to wait at least another week, but trust me, it’s adorable.

What else…it’s been sweltering humid the past two days. Set a record up here the other day. We’ve had some rain, lots last night. I don’t mind rain, but it can rain at night! The heat…ugh. Maybe it’s TMI, but having wet underwear really blows. Walking in it creates rashes and well, it’s uncomfortable. Humidity…go away!

Other than that, we haven’t had anything too interesting…we were warned about a rocky ridge walk after Chestnut Knob by some southbounders so we’d built it up bigger than it actually was, but it was still about 8 miles of rocky ridge walking. I think it was a warning for what Pennsylvania will be like. Blech. Oh, and I learned about the 13.5 miles of hell I will be going through at the very end of Virginia, called the Rollercoast because of 10 ascents and descents in those 13.5 miles. I don’t think I will be very pleasant that day.

Other than that, Virginia has been beautiful and things are greening up around here. Flowers in bloom…very nice. I could totally set myself up here at this hostel though…going to be hard to climb out of Pearisburg tomorrow. Drat.

Oh, on a niece Ashleigh update: She’s 4lb 14lb oz now, and is slowing getting stronger. They took her off some medicine to see if her oxygen levels go up…they were talking heart surgery. Still won’t make that decision until a few weeks. Hoping she can be home by the end of the month? Who knows? Keep her in your thoughts and prayers.

Special to Chelle: Comment. Write me emails. Tell me about it even if you think I don’t have the time to read while I am in town. Tell me what Kai does and how you feel, even if it is crappy. I miss you.

Section Hikers

Hawk, Jay, Cheap Shot & Crazy Talk - Section Hikers @ AT Shelter

Hawk, Jay, Cheap Shot and Crazy Talk, section/day hikers from the VA/DC area. Nice people! Thanks so much for entertaining us and I’m glad you enjoy your new trail name Cheap Shot! It’s always nice to see people who aren’t thru-hikers to get a different perspective on things.