Appalachian Trail Jindo

A 2,200 mile hike with my dog Nara.

Goodbye North Carolina!

Nov 11, 2013

That's the last state line to cross. 13 states down, 1 to go.

2,107.4 miles hiked, 78.5 miles to go. Hard to believe the numbers.

Franklin (pop 3,618)

Nov 11, 2013

Stopped by Franklin to take Benny to the vet, pick up a mail drop, and catch a movie for the first time since we've been on the trail.

As we walked into Franklin, I knew it was going to be hard for us to find a place to stay with three smelly hikers and three dogs to boot.

We walked through town stopping by the motels, but they either did not take dogs, or wanted exorbitant fees for the dogs.

When all seemed lost, we visited a small church to see if they could help. Pastor Shane immediately offered us to stay on his land. He had 13-acres just outside of town. He even built a small campsite for his family, which he gladly allowed us to use.

After Pastor Shane dropped us off at his place, we set up camp, gathered fire wood for the cold night ahead, and then walked back into town to watch a movie and grab dinner.

We watched "Escape Plan" starring Stallone and Schwarzenegger. It was an okay movie. More so, I enjoyed the experience of being in a movie theatre: comfortable seats, big screen, and surround sound. I'm not used to these things.

Next morning, Mardy took Benny to the vet, and everything checked out okay. Pastor Shane took us back to the trail head, and we continued on our journey. Only 100 miles to go.

Pastor Shane's campsite

ID Cards

Nov 10, 2013

Funny to see our physical transformations. We didn't think we'd be able to recognize each other in the "real" world.

New addition to the hiking crew

Nov 09, 2013

Mardy found a new companion: a 3-month old black lab puppy that was abandoned at Cable Gap Shelter, about 5 miles from Fontana Dam. It was scared and hiding in a corner on a blanket that somebody had left for him. He looked skinny, but his belly was protruding, most likely from worms. It was sad to see him left behind like this.

Long story short, Mardy didn't have the heart to leave the puppy behind, so he decided to adopt him even with under 200 miles to go to Springer Mountain. As thru-hikers, we've received so many acts of kindness. It didn't make sense for Mardy to leave the puppy behind. He named him Benny after a close friend of his who recently passed away.

Now when I backpack with the blunt brothers, it looks a bit amusing with three dogs around. We almost look like a hiker gang or something.

Carrying Benny (he's not light) to the vet all the way in Franklin, NC

Benny likes to sleep a lot

2013 Southbound trail dogs

Adrift: Seventy-six Days Lost at Sea

Nov 09, 2013

Good reading on the trail. I especially liked this quote on deprivation:

In these moments of peace, deprivation seems a strange sort of gift. I find food in a couple hours of fishing each day, and I seek shelter in a rubber tent. How unnecessarily complicated my past life seems. For the first time, I clearly see a vast difference between human needs and human wants...My plight has given me a strange kind of wealth, the most important kind. I value each moment that is not spent in pain, desperation, hunger, thirst, or loneliness.Steven Callahan

After reading Adrift, I understand how sailors can calculate their latitude using a sextant, the North star, and the horizon. Who knows, someday this knowledge may come in handy.

Fontana Dam and Fontana Village

Nov 09, 2013

On the other end of the Smokys are Fontana Dam, a shelter, and Fontana Village 2 miles west of the dam. The shelter is nicknamed the "Fontana Hilton," since it is one of the nicest shelters if not best shelter on the AT. It is spacious and clean, and there's a bathroom nearby with electricity, indoor plumbing, and a shower.

On my last day in the Smokys, I received a text from the blunt brothers. They were only a 1/2 day ahead of me, and were going to stop at the Fontana Hilton. The text message said there would be beer and pizza waiting for me.

It's amazing how a simple text message like that can have such a powerful effect. 90% of the AT is complete deprivation, rewarded by 10% moments of pure bliss. It's a cycle of pain and pleasure, best described as exciting and unpredictable. It makes you feel alive.

When I arrived at the shelter, I was surprised to see Old School again. He was slowing down a bit, since he was ahead of schedule. After spending a few quiet nights in the Smokys, it was nice to see him and the others again. I enjoy solitude, but that night felt like the more the merrier. We had made it through the Smokys with no issues. It was time to celebrate.

Also at the shelter were Flash and Noodle, a mom & daughter hiking team, and Bentley, the son who was coming along for the ride. They had to get off the trail, so they were hikers turned trail angels. They had hiked quite a few miles with the blunt brothers, and were determined to see them complete their thru-hike by providing support and some serious trail magic.

Fontana Dam

Resupply courtesy of Flash and Noodle

Fontana Hilton

Hiker Party

Playing Cards

The next day, we all headed to Fontana Village, which basically consists of a resort, general store, laundromat, and to our surprise, a game room. We discovered it after lunch, while we were loitering around the resort. It was off-season, so very quiet, and the staff there were very friendly. Even though we didn't sleep at the resort, we had a great time relaxing there and staying out of the rain.

Feels like a kid again

Some competitive games

Smoky Mountains and the government shutdown

Nov 01, 2013

If you want to sleep in the Smokys, you normally have to get a backpacking permit online. Due to government shutdown, the park was officially closed and the website was down, so there was no way to get a permit unless you purchased and printed out well in advance.

From Hot Springs, we kept asking around to see what the situation was. Could we still hike through the park? Or was this going to put an asterisk next to our thru-hike?

Half the rumors were that thru and section hikers were being turned away or fined. Others said the Rangers were understanding and turned a blind eye to thru-hikers.

I decided to go through like all the other thru-hikers I had talked to in Hot Springs. But first, I had to drop off Nara with a friend. Dogs are not allowed in the Smokys, and I figured that if I took her, it would be a guaranteed fine, and boot from the park.

Despite all the uncertainty about fines, I did not see a single Ranger during my 70 mile hike through the Smokys. It was actually a once in a lifetime experience: it is the most visited park in the country, but due to government shutdown there were no cars, tourists, or day-hikers. I basically had the whole park to myself. It felt like the wilderness up in Maine again.

Great views, but I sure missed Nara. After hiking several months with her, we developed a routine. It was weird looking around for her, but then realizing she was back at home. Thankfully I'll get to see her in a few more days.

What to do?

Goodbye for now Nara. Thanks Hoon for the ride.

My first view


In the clouds

More clouds

View from Charlie's Bunyon

Early morning at a shelter. Since Nara wasn't around, I hung my food bag from the bear cables.

Clingmans Dome (highest point on the AT)

Max Patch

Oct 30, 2013

Max Patch is a 4,600 ft mountain clearing with one of the best 360 degree views in the south.

Although my tent was soaked in the morning from all the dew, this was one of my favorite places to camp. We stopped early to enjoy the views and setting sun.

Trail up to Max Patch

Cold night

Hot Springs (pop 637)

Oct 26, 2013

Nara and I walked with Squints into Hot Springs, where we caught up with Old School, a seasoned hiker who's already thru-hiked the AT and PCT. He's done everything: sea kayaking, sailing, long-distance bike trips, and other long distance trails. He is only section hiking to Georgia this year, but we use every mintue with him to learn more about other trails and his adventures.

We stopped by Spring Creek Tavern for lunch since they allow dogs on the patio. Sure enough, we run into the blunt brothers who arrived the day before, and stayed for another night.

It's nice to see and hang out with Southbounders again after practically seeing none through Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Squints finds us sweet and tart apples to snack on

View of Hot Springs from the trail

French Broad River

Quiet downtown

Philosophizing at lunch

Squints, the Jesus, and Old School. Also Marty in the background switching from hiking to party mode.