To Virginia (March 16-May 11)

My experience on the Approach Trail landed me the trail name "Frozen." The temperature dropped well below freezing my first night, which broke my water filtration system (I learned the following morning that hikers sleep with their filters to prevent this).

Journal Entry 3/16/17: Woke up this morning, everything was frozen. Water filter broke, but I got to Springer. Met a Dutch guy who was carrying two weeks of food. Pretty today, spring is coming. Chris still here, glad to have him.

Snow-covered Approach Trail on March 15.

Snow-covered Approach Trail on March 15.

Three days in, Chris and I split up due to a difference in pace. He hiked another 120 miles before getting off the trail, but I never saw him after the third day. That being said, I've met dozens of other hikers, and know many of them by name. Though I "hike solo," meaning I'm not attached to a group, the trail is still a social place for me. I often camp and hike with friends I've made along the way.

Journal Entry 3/30: Franklin N.C.

Success is counted sweetest

By those who ne'er succeed

To comprehend a nectar

Requires sorest need

-Dickinson #67. Don't think E.D. ever hiked the A.T., didn't need to — clearly.

Journal Entry 4/2: Injury. One of the most common topics of conversation on the trail. Achilles is finally getting better, but got a blister on pinky toe. It hurt all day, then I stubbed it on a root without shoes. Had to let it bleed out then bandage it. Made incision with tweezers, sanitized on stove. Also weird burning pain in thigh. Saw the Smokies yesterday, still snow capped. Should arrive in about five days. Want to start night-hiking. Hope that by end of Smokies I will be injury free.

4/2 cont.: Want to see a bear, none yet. No deer, even. Hearing grouse, owls, coyotes. Wildflowers starting to bloom.

Deep and red

Or black and blue

Strikes at weakest

Part of you

Long and thudding

Or short and sharp

It breaks strong men

Right apart

But to me it's nothing

That I can't take

For pain is fleeting

A piece of cake

-W.W. "Inspired by blisters."

Journal Entry 4/5: Dangerous weather coming. Will rain, then drop below freezing. Hoping that goes well.

4/5 cont.: Today's grub:

Breakfast: Pop-Tart, oatmeal, coffee

Snack #1: Pork sticks

Lunch: Ramen with tuna packet, olive oil and hot sauce. Coffee, Cliff bar, Pop-Tart

Snack #2: Peanut butter (half of small jar)

Snack #3: Pop-Tart, rest of peanut butter, tuna with oil and hot sauce

Dinner: Fried SPAM (2), oatmeal

Journal Entry 4/8: What an eventful three days it's been since my last entry! By "eventful" I mostly mean "colder than hell." I awoke to a mix of rain and snow. Quickly I lost the dexterity in my hands, which made packing miserable and difficult. It was the worst morning so far, by far. The day ended with me camping not five feet from a pile of human feces and decaying toilet paper. I will say this: During the actual hike, I felt pretty strong just for being out in the elements.

4.8 cont.: Yesterday I arrived at the beautiful Fontana Dam. I learned how hydroelectric dams work — turns out they're not as complicated as you might think — and then today entered the Smokies. So far the mountains and weather are both beautiful. These tiny white flowers cover the forest floor, so many that everything looks covered in a sheet of snow. There's plenty of actual snow here too. Injuries healing, spirits pretty high. Goodnight, at sunset.

Journal Entry 4/11: Theory: Hitchhiking for an adult white male such as myself is not dangerous because dangerous people are usually assholes, and assholes don't give people rides.

Journal Entry 4/12: Resting on side of trail. Feeling sick, and physically and emotionally tired. I think (hope) too much pepperoni is to blame for the feelings of illness. Side note: the flies here are large and biting. Here's to hoping they all either day or stop bothering me. Both of these are unlikely.

Journal entry 4/14: Left the Smokes today (boo!). Went under I-40 to a hostel called Standing Bear. Had a great time talking with other hikes there — two beers didn't hurt, either.

Journal Entry 4/18: Met a woman in Hot Springs who had just hours earlier discovered she was pregnant. She and her boyfriend were thrilled. The baby was conceived on trail. Thought that was pretty cool — special moment in life, for sure. Saw a rabbit today, first mammal I've seen larger than a squirrel.

Journal Entry 4/22: I'm having a good time, by the way. I like the social aspects, I like the physical requirements, I like the alone time, and I like the freedom. I've never been more free in how I make day-to-day decisions. I wake up when I want, and start my day generally without any idea where I'll sleep. I can take long breaks or short ones, sleep in a shelter or in my tent, take a zero or do 25 miles, but no matter what I do, there will be nobody to tell my I can't or shouldn't.

Journal Entry 4/26: Yesterday I learned you can stand inside a sunset. I climbed Roan Mountain in the evening in a cloud. As I looked ahead I saw that the usual gray fog now shone a bright pink, the color of a sunset on the horizon, but here it was all around me. Walking in a cloud is nothing unusual. Fog has enveloped the mountains for the past few days. The mist can look and feel as heavy as an ocean.

4/26 cont.: I've developed a newfound respect for robins. I never thought about them much, but one day, maybe two weeks ago, I saw a particularly magnificent bird that changed my perception. As I trudged along, I looked up to see a robin perched on a fallen limb. He looked out over a large valley with the posture of a king who surveys his kingdom. I couldn't help but by surprised — I've never seen a robin look so proud.

Journal Entry 4/30: Crossed Watauga Dam yesterday, will hit Damascus in two days.

Books I've read on the A.T.

"The Essential Emily Dickinson" by Emily Dickinson

"Meateater: Adventures From the Life of an American Hunter" by Steven Rinella

"Raiders: The Story of the Greatest Fan Film Ever Made" by Alan Eisenberg

"Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History" by Dan Flores

"A People's History of the United States" by Howard Zinn

10 Things I'm More Afraid of than Bears

1. Lighting

2. Lyme Disease

3. Giardia

4. Dehydration

5. Falling limbs and trees

6. Snakes (poisonous)

7. Being hit by a car

8. Hypothermia

9. Breaking a bone

10. Infection

Journal Entry 5/3: Bought a fishing license and tackle in Damascus. Went fishing during zero. Caught some little ones and one nice rainbow, but it flopped away on shore. Then today fished along A.T. and caught a nice 14" rainbow. Packed it in a Zip-lock and cooked in over the fire at the shelter. Put it in foil with butter, cayenne, and Cajun seasoning. It cooked perfectly, best on-trail meal yet.

Journal Entry 5/5: Wet, cold, tired.

Journal Entry 5/6: Slept in late due to conditions described above. Hiked into rain, which turned into hail, then back into rain. Finally it stopped. It was a cold, rainy day, but my spirits have improved since last night. Haven't had service in at least five days. Enjoying "People's History of the U.S."

Journal Entry 5/10: Sitting at a picnic table in front of a vacant shelter at sunset. A rare sight! Last night I noticed how many sounds happen all at once in the woods to create "its sound." Rain, a gurgling creek, insects and birds, plus wind and the mumblings of hikers, make for a sweet symphony. I wish I could bottle the noise and carry it with me. It's soothing — let's you know everything is all right in this little corner of the world. Violence, war and other terrible things seem so far away -- they almost seem impossible.

5/11: Watched a pool of water outside my tent rise higher and higher. Eventually had to go into the rain to dig a series of trenches to divert water away from my tent. It worked well for a trench dug with a rock. Here's to being dry.

5/11 cont.: One thing I've learned, or learned to appreciate, on the trail is how unimportant possessions are when it comes to happiness. People on the trail live with few material possessions and yet are mostly happy, content and generous. They aren't broke — they have enough money to afford a thru-hike — but my point is not to relate wealth to happiness. I'm referring to possessions themselves, the things that wealth allows us to purchase. The things we have, as long as basic needs are met, do not add up like a grocery bill where the person with the longest list wins. Relationships, feelings of fulfillment, peace of mind, these things help happiness along.

I'm now enjoying a week-long family vacation in South Carolina. I'll return to the trail May 20 to mile 608, more or less. With about a quarter of the trail done, I can say I'm ready and excited to see what's waiting for me up north. The trail has been insightful, exhausting, and an all-around good time. It may be a while before my next blog entry, but stay tuned! If you have any questions, feel free to comment on this post, email me, or call me. You can find my email and phone number on the contact page of this website. Below are some photos I've taken along the way. Happy Trails!