AT Blog #4: Star Power / Dumpster Diving / The Baltimore Wave

Wow…  I have to admit, this is the first time I’ve been truly impressed with myself on this journey. Halfway… I’ve hiked 1,014 mile. I’m halfway done with the Appalachian Trail. I have attempted to keep track of the number of mountains we have climbed, but at this point it seems to be too many to bother with reporting. Of the 1,500 people that have attempted to thru-hike the AT this year, over 50% of those people have already quit. To put the distance in perspective; Florence, AL to New York City via interstates is exactly 990 miles… You could have walked yourself to a Coney Island hot dog by now…

FAQ (as promised to loyal readers):

Q: Why did I leave The Chaingang?

A: I couldn’t have asked for a better support group of people to begin my journey. Red Wing, Lil’ Dipper, and Peanut have to be done with the AT by the time school begins so I let them run on to ensure they have enough time to complete the adventure. Hooter is somewhere behind me and I’m hoping he catches up. My crew right now is top notch and I can’t wait to possibly make it all the way to Mt. Katahdin with them. We should be making it a couple weeks after Peanut and The Brits… Miss em’ like hell and wish them the best.

Q: How many pairs of shoes have you gone through?

A: 1 pair. Just put on a fresh pair of kicks for the second half. I’ve always heard you go through like four pairs but I’m currently on track to ruin only two.

Q: How long is the beard?

A: About 3 inches off the bottom of my face… Ridiculously long for me. There are no current intentions of trimming it until after the trail is complete. I dig it though… I feel like my IQ doubles when I look off into the sunset and stroke it…

Q: Are you high school skinny?

A: Nope. I don’t believe the mountain bike racing, 6% body fat Tyler will ever emerge again. I’m not trying to reach the glory days but I am pretty pumped that I have lost about 20 pounds of college drinking weight… Currently tipping the scales at under 170.

Q: Do you hike alone sometimes?

A: Absolutely. When I do, I usually contemplate the future and think about missing everybody back home. I also make an effort to take a mental step back and soak in exactly what I’m doing on the adventure and how crazy/awesome it really is… I wish everybody out there knew that they could do it too; or any other adventure for that matter. Believe me… I’ve seen every walk of life out here.

Q: I thought you were in the wilderness.

A: Not a question but I thought I might try to address this confusion again. I’m attempting to hike 2,175 miles on the Appalachian Trail. But to me this is far beyond a hike… Why not go above and beyond, take advantage of being in these various states, and see as much of the country as possible while walking from Georgia to Maine? Through hitch-hiking from road crossings into towns, I’m able to meet people and experience the various cultures. When I’m exploring town I simply hitch-hike back to the trail where I left off. I’m attempting to turn this long distance hike into a full blown journey of the eastern United States.

Ask me more questions! Really enjoy answering them.

So I thought of a couple more aspects of the day to day hiking life that I love and thought I might address them for your reading pleasure:

Night Hiking: So the heat of the day was unbearable, your lunch break turned into a heat induced nap/coma, and you have yet to make it to your daily goal by nightfall… Time to night hike! Dark, scary, quiet, and awesome. My current record for late arrival to camp is 2am. The most unnerving aspect of night hiking is spotting two eyes glowing off in the distance… Deer? Coyote? Bear? Pterodactyl??!?

Stealth Camping: You venture into a town to clean up and resupply. You then decide a motel room (or any pay-to-sleep establishment) is just too expensive. All of the sudden, the patch of grass behind McDonalds looks pretty darn good so you discretely and secretly attempt to sleep behind a few bushes… Until a storm hits (later story in this blog). It all goes back to the pursuit of becoming a professional homeless person.

Aquablazing: Often the trail will parallel a river. Aquablazing is the act of paddling down that river via canoe/kayak/other rather than hiking. A lot of people do this in The Shenandoah’s to avoid the road crossings and millions of people in the park. So we decide that we want to do just that: embark on a side adventure. That’s when the disaster began… We decide that renting canoes was way too expensive. Second best idea?: Wal-Mart inflatable rafts… We ask the local outfitter what they think of our plan; after the laughter subsides, they give us a complimentary map and half-hearted “good luck.” So we hitch to Wal-Mart and purchase our rafts, paddles, life jackets, and trash bags. These trash bags are our “fool proof” way of keeping everything we own dry.

Day 1: We hit the river bright and early. Everything is going spectacular for the first couple hours… Until we arrive at an unexpected class 2 rapid… Rocks rip a hole in the bottom of all of our rafts. We all instantly begin sinking, screaming, flailing arms, etc… So everyone begins swimming for shore with our gear in tow. At This point we look at the bright side: at least all our stuff is dry due to our ingenious quadruple trash bag wrapping… Right? Wrong. Everything is ruined; including camera, iPod, and cell phone. So the aquablaze begins and ends on day one with demolished rafts and water-logged gear… At least it was an adventure.

Misc:

– Trail Days: A festival for the thru hikers, by the thru hikers, held every year in Damascus, VA. Most hikers either hitch back to Damascus, hitch forward to Damascus, or plan their hike to arrive in Damascus right on time. We get a ride from some friends (Jennie & Nicole) that we met at the Drive-By Truckers show in Asheville. The highlight of trail days is meeting our new friend “Stairway.” He claims to be in the band “Little Foot.” However, for all intents and purposes is a homeless rambler with multiple loose screws. Trail Days is also where our “Poundtown” crew is officially established: RockN’Roll, Strider, Skipper, Kricket, Michigan, and Boo Boo, and I.

– I haven’t met anyone from Alabama yet and sure enough I meet a kid my age from Huntsville that was section hiking in Daleville, VA. Nice treat.

– There is a 100 mile stretch of trail in VA that zigzags the Blue Ridge Parkway. RockN’Roll and I strike up an idea to wait out on the road and see if we can hunt down some trail magic. After a few non magical hours, we have an older couple pull up and give us some apples. Success! As we are about to head back into the woods, it begins pouring rain. Shucks! All the sudden a car pulls up and the passengers have an inquiry for us wet hikers. “Yall wanna ride in town with us and get some lunch? It’s on us!”

– So I’ve decided that people that pick up hitchhikers stereotypically drink while driving said hitchhikers. We catch ride into town with a guy that we watch drink 6 beers in a 12 mile drive while we are in his truck bed.

– Upon leaving Glasgow, VA we initiate a challenge: 77.7 miles in 100 hours to make it to Waynesboro, VA. The reward: making there in time to catch a ride with our friend Jennie to Virginia Beach for Memorial Day weekend. After hiking every day and night until past midnight, the mission is accomplished. A brief description of Virginia Beach: the Panama City Beach of the Atlantic coast. We hit it in style sporting American flag swimsuits and raging beards. RockN’Roll gets a bunch of kids to line up and shake my hand because I am “the guy from the hangover.” Using that same “star power”, we sneak onto the rooftop of a 5 star hotel complete with an infinity pool looking 27 stories over the ocean.

– One night, I accidentally use the wrong kind of fuel in my stove and nearly cause a descent sized explosion.

– So I’m halfway up some mountain, when I look up and there are what appear to be 7 Pentecostal girls that are my age, dressed in full length dresses, and hiking down the mountain… One of those times where you shake your head, blink, and look again.

– One problem I consistently seem to run into is what to wear while I’m doing laundry. One side of me says to wash absolutely everything. However, the other side reminds me that my wooly birthday suit is severely inappropriate within a public Laundromat. While in Waynesboro, I sink down to the point of no shame… I venture from the laundromat to a nearby restaurant in the minimalist of laundry-time outfits to date… nothing but long underwear and house slippers. If there had been a jukebox in that diner, it would have halted to an abrupt stop upon my arrival.

– Greendog got half-struck by lightning.

– Somehow my bottle of stove fuel began to leak inside my pack and completely drenches my sleeping pad. Therefore, I currently get soothed to sleep nightly by the gentle aroma of paint thinner.

– I am walking into Elkton, VA to resupply and a girl pulls up to me, rolls down her window, and hands me a foot long Subway sandwich and cookies. She says “god bless you” and is quickly on her way before I can thank her… She definitely thought I was homeless and starving. Priceless.

– I’ve seen 8 bears total now. The best sighting to date is a mamma bear and her 3 cubs.

– Some thru-hikers dumpster dive for food while in town. Dumpster diving is the art/sport of obtaining food out of dumpsters. However, I have learned that this isn’t quite as bad as it sounds. Grocery stores have to throw out items on the expiration date. Therefore, the good stuff in the dumpster is on top and has just expired that day… I enjoyed a nice T-bone steak one night thanks to a Kroger dumpster.

– One day, we get a ride out of Fort Royal, VA from this extremely sketchy duo. When they drop us off at the trail, the gentleman in the passenger seat informs us that he just got out of prison two weeks ago. He also tells us that just before he made his break, he and various other inmates had built a new shelter on the AT just 10 miles up the trail… I would like to thank Bubba and his fellow inmates for their top notch craftsmanship.

– I would also like to thank my Dad and Uncle Bug for coming to visit me in Harpers Ferry and showing the Poundtown crew a great time. We all travel to Baltimore and Washington DC to see the sights. Highlight of the trip: I swear I’m not lying when I say this… We are attending an Orioles vs. Yankees game at Camden Yards. During the 8th inning, RockN’Roll single handedly gets the entire ball park to do the wave… It took him sneaking to the front row of centerfield, ignoring the initial “boos”, and 20 minutes of pumping people up. Then, in magical moment, the wave rolled 10 full times through all of Camden Yards.

So I still can’t fathom that I’ve walked over 1,000 miles and experienced so much along the way.

On a more serious note, I would like to dedicate my first 1,000 miles to my Nana. I miss her more than I can put in words and I hope she’s looking down and proud.

I’m dedicating the second half of the trail to my Aunt Cindy. I know a lot of my friends have met her and know how awesome she is. She just got diagnosed with breast cancer and we’re going to kick that breast cancer in the ass. This one’s for you Aunt Cindy.

Make the plunge, get out there, and do something out of your comfort zone.

T-FUNK!

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