Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Winter Storm Virgil in North Carolina!

Again, in this short first month of our adventure, we find ourselves in a forced zero situation. The crappy weather that has plagued us for the past three weeks is continuing and we are currently in the middle of 'Winter Storm Virgil' near the Nantahala Outdoor Center, in Bryson City, NC.

The past two days, we hiked 20 miles in the most ridiculous weather, rain, misting, walking in and through clouds, slogging through ankle deep mud and yesterday, hiking 7 miles DOWNHILL in a blizzard.

Not your ordinary snowstorm. I mean, 55 mph winds, determined to push us off the side of the mountain and whip our faces raw with snow, like ground glass. We slid on our butts, down switchbacks made of giant boulders, hanging on for dear life to tree branches that hung by our sides. My knees feel the pain of every footfall going downhill. Most people are thrilled at the prospect of not doing huge climbs and dread the days of 3000' climbs. BUT, I'd rather climb uphill every day, all day, than go downhill.... Any day. 

We (5 of us) are 'stuck' in a tiny cabin made for 2, along with all our gear, AND Charlie, because the shuttle driver cannot make it up the mountain to get us. 8" more of fresh snow fell last night. Even our things on the enclosed porch were snow covered this morning. 

So, here's where we'll sit today, going over gear, packing things we'll bump ahead to continue our quest to eliminate weight and work on various tasks.... Two of which are a jigsaw puzzle and another taking a nap on a couch made for humans.

I'm going to rest my knee and enjoy the day of not pounding it. In just two short days, we'll have to turn Charlie over to the kennel that will watch him while we 'cruise' through the Smoky Mountains, (dogs are not allowed in the park). It will be a tough 6 days for us.... Highest elevations for us thus far, longer distances between shelters, (tenting not allowed, must stay in shelters), no Charlie AND the Smoky's have just received a fresh couple of feet of snow! Weather is predicted to improve, but it's still going to be tough going.
I'm remaining confident that if I can get this knee through the Smokies.... I can make it all the way! 

We've endured the worst AT winter weather in history, people are leaving the trail due to the weather and injuries due to the weather and were still here. We're strong and it can't stay winter forever!

"Whether you think you can or can't, you're right." Henry Ford

watch the newest video from TNT on the Trail here!!!!!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Our Week Long Vacation in Room #19

Little did we know when I descended downhill from our night at Long Branch Shelter and the 'tilt-o-whirl' campsite, that we'd soon be winning a week long luxury, vacation at The Budget Inn, in Franklin, NC!! Whoo, Hoo!!

Descending down into Wallace Gap, just a few short miles from our scheduled shuttle ride, I (Socks), stepped down the 'step' on the trail and twisted by knee and body to make quick work of the switch-back. Shooting pain immediately stabbed my left knee and almost made me vomit, the pain was so intense. I didn't fall, I didn't hit anything, I just twisted my knee.... Nothing earth shattering. But, boy oh boy, has it caused some serious grief and subsequently got us awarded this week long stay with the staff at The Budget Inn. 

After catching an earlier shuttle, we came into Franklin, got our room and immediately applied ice, but it was obvious I wasn't getting much relief from the pain. Mr. Ron Haven's, owner of the motel, quickly delivered me to the local urgent care where it was totally undetermined what I did, but they did splint it, give me pain meds and oral steroids for the swelling, which was now becoming considerable.

I faithfully did all the offered instructions, but my Monday, was seeing no improvement. Mind you, we intended to breeze in here, snag a shower, eat a good meal and be back on our way.  
Still enjoying a couple remaining friends who zeroed here with us, we went to dinner, celebrated Escargot's 55th birthday and watched more TV than I'd like to admit. (Not much happening here in Franklin, especially when the weather is 35-45 degrees during the day.)

Monday, I hobbled across the street to the Emergency Department of the Franklin hospital and was pretty much told the same thing...rest, ice, splint and take more time off. (The term Emergency Room is used loosely here.... we see a lot of helicopters moving in and out daily, taking people elsewhere that really need treatment). Not acceptable to two thru-hikers, anxious to get moving and exit Room #19!!  They did, however get me an appointment with a sports medicine Dr. who could see me Wednesday afternoon.  

Again, we settled into our Room #19, which had we known now, we couldn't have gotten a 'weekly' rate...  We've got a warm room, albeit, decorated in early 1950's original tile, heat and furnishings. The sweetest housekeeping women who daily smile with us, ask us how we're doing and provide us clean, see-through towels, and the front desk clerk who has mostly cheerfully replenished our 6L Platypus water bag, with ice for my knee. 

If we have to be stuck, sure it's not a 5 star hotel, but we're warm, dry, clean and now with hopes of being trail-bound again on Saturday! We've been able to use the on-site laundry room, which we've nicknamed, the leprechaun room....it's more like an underground cellar, with a couple of washers and dryers and a door so short, that even I need to duck to enter. It's provided a bit of entertainment watching some of the taller hikers enter and use the facilities. (Do you see the lengths we've gone to to find what might be called entertainment.)

Team TNT should own at least half of this pop machine! At only $.65/ can, it's a great deal and I've consumed more Sierra Mist than I want to admit!

Trying to stay mobile, we limped down to the local Piggly Wiggly to obtain a few more groceries to sustain ourselves for another couple days....as we'd already eaten our initial rations intended for this 'ZERO' day! Mobility certainly improving, although it s not right. Swelling down considerably. Once given a definitive answer about the nature of the injury, we'll make the tough decision about returning to Michigan to be seen by my Dr. and resting or returning to the trail, disregarding any further potential injury. (Having already undergone a right knee replacement, I don't relish the procedure again).

Dateline: Wednesday, March 20, 2013; Dr. Jeffery Kessler, an obvious conservative in terms of his treatment and philosophy of joint replacement, indicated to us right off the bat, that he thought I was crazy for being out here with an artificial joint. Well, that's his opinion. He obviously doesn't know who he's dealing with!  After examination he pretty much concurred with two options. I'd either exacerbated the already present arthritis so badly as to make me lame, but probably more likely, that I'd torn something, which was then pretty much confirmed when he aspirated a good amount of bloody fluid from the knee before injecting it with pain meds and steroids. We plan to lay low today....stress it tomorrow with a hike around town and head back to the trail on Saturday. If its a tear injury, it will return and we'll know that I'm likely finished on the trail. If I can keep going....I'm in this for the long haul!

Daily we see other hikers coming and going, hear of tales from the trail and today are rejoicing at the warm 'nest' of Room #19, we find ourselves in....it snowed in town last night here in town, so we know what happened up on the mountain to the current hikers. 

We have been inundated with constant notes of support, encouragement and the gates of Heaven have been stormed with prayers on our behalf this week. Thank you so much. It means so much to us as we sit here, painfully aware of how much farther behind we fall each day, but acutely aware that God has us where He wants us for some reason... Maybe which we'll never know, bit we trust Him with this trip, our health and our lives. He is in control. We want to thank other hiker friends like Dane and Connie, who have offered to come and retrieve us to recuperate at their home about three hours from here! We are so thankful for all the friends this hike has brought into our lives. Little did we know all this hike would bring, good and bad.

****We initially thought of making this a satirical post like "The Escape From Room #19" and liken it to the Bates's Motel in Psycho.... But can't in all good conscience. These people have kind and welcoming to us and very helpful!

Looking forward to posting again from the trail this weekend!! More snow predicted through Wednesday!! Team TNT WILL be back on the trail!!


Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Week of Trials and Tribulations- Hiking the Appalachian Trail

The weather still is our biggest obstacle, and not really an obstacle as much as a nuisance. Freezing water every morning, frozen toothpaste and the ever frozen butt wipes. (As referred to by Tom in a previous video). We rely on those wipes for more than wiping our hands! If you know what I mean....and those are pretty chilly on the nether regions in the early morning!

The list of companion hikers we've met or have spent time hiking with is growing daily.... So very many interesting people! Kids of all ages and the older group with which we find ourselves most often. 

Leaving our zero time at Hiawassee was exciting...zero days are nice, but it's nice to get back out. We've been separated from the 'real world' long enough, that its a bit of sensory overload going into town for too long. The noise, the people, the smoke. It's stunning how many people in the south smoke!!!! 

Two notable things happened this week.... Our first day back out, late into the day, we crossed our first state line into North Carolina!! It was a pretty tough hike for most of the day OUT of Georgia and then all of a sudden, we walk upon this very unpretentious sign bolted to a tree announcing our arrival in North Carolina. Simple sign. Simple proclamation. But for us, monumentous and for me personally, worth shedding a few tears. 

It's been an emotional week for me ( Socks), not sure why. The reality of what we've taken on sometimes hits me like a thunderbolt and it scares the snot out of me. The grueling and non-stop cold weather is getting old and the terrain in North Carolina only exceeds that of Georgia. The climbs are getting more difficult and more rocky....like scrambling over boulders, hand over hand. 
In fact I had the first major meltdown coming over Albert Mountain a couple of days ago. It was the hardest to date, climb for me physically. My short legs couldn't make the climb, from one foothold to the next and using the trekking poles was proving useless, so I literally had to crawl on my hands and already very sore knees to the next boulder, all the while terrified that I'd fall backwards down the mountain if I lost my balance. One half way up the 300 ft. scramble, I just fell apart and sobbed against the nearest tree. I was overcome with fear. Fear of falling, fear of not being able to scale the mountain, fear of what worse might be ahead..... But I pulled myself together, pulled up my big girl panties and crawled up that sucker. Dirty handed and scraped kneed, I found some strength somewhere and by God, didn't fall off the mountain. Everyday, a small victory is to be found!

Late this week, we've met a new group of young hikers from all over and are getting quite an education! Hermes, Detour, Hollywood, Clever Girl and Dump Truck. The little recreational time we have together is mostly talking about why we're here and dreams of life after "the trail."  Yesterday I got an informative lesson on Crust Punks and their lifestyle..... And I thought we were nomads? Or some would say, 'Gypsy's with money.'

Today is a zero, with an unplanned extra day here in Franklin, NC. Yesterday, I stumbled down a corner on a switchback and torqued my 'good' left knee. Had to make a trip into the local Urgent Care for a check. 

Thankfully nothing structural, but soft tissue swelling and lots of discomfort. Steroids, pain pills, a brace and an extra day off will do the trick. In the meantime, I'm doing laundry, of which I'm drying in the parking lot of the motel along with all the other hiker trash perched outside here doing various things from reading maps to catching some sun for a change! 

Till further down the trail, Dreamer, Socks and Charlie!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Learning from the Trail

Week two.... Or is it? We've begun to refer to time on the trail as "Trail Time", much like 'dog years'.... it seems to move sometimes at a snail's pace and other times, we can't remember the day of the week. I recall this week, a group of us standing in the middle of the trail, and nobody being able to figure out what day it was. We all can only remember the day we started and that's about it. The miles and the shelters begin to blur together in some mental and emotional fugue, sometimes difficult to discern more than just the day of the week! 

We're almost 80 miles down, or should I say UP, the trail....and we're becoming part of the trail community, being absorbed into trail life. Waking, eating, hiking and sleeping. Mot much time or room for much else. We determined, based on the wise advice of others who've hiked this trail, to take it easy, move slowly to start and don't kill yourself for the first several weeks. "It's a marathon, not a sprint." So, we are taking advantage of each opportunity to stay in a motel when it presents itself to either 'zero' or 'Nero"... 

I'm personally being challenged with how weak I am. If any of you reading this ever think about doing this hike, let me tell you to get in shape first! Although, it's not making it impossible, it's just making it much more uncomfortable than it needs to be.

This section started off with the temps still below freezing every night....we slogged through snow, ice and mud....all in one day to do our first 11 mile day. Tough to do when every step has to be calculated and carefully placed to keep from falling and breaking your neck. I really don't want to face plant on these rocks!! The forest was gorgeous our first day back out....covered in ice and frost that blew sideways onto the trees! So cool looking!

Climbing Tray Mountain had been the first 'known' mental obstacle....a really tough climb in this section, but we did it. I had many conversations with God going up that mountain, begging for help and strength. But what He gave me were two revelations about myself that weren't too pretty and brought me to tears. One of my goals being here is that God would show me more of myself and the parts of me that needed work would be re-furbished. He is faithful to give us what we ask for... My faith is being strengthened and I'm learning more about the 'real' me. 

Success feels so good. Ascending a big hill and finally making it to the top is exhausting, but the sense of accomplishment feels so good. It's not the completion of a masters thesis or anything like that, but the feeling of success is still so sweet and so simple.

We've made so many friends already and are currently moving at a similar pace as some other 60's....'Snowman', 'Escargot', 'Dixie Grits', 'Silverfox' and 'Prayer Walker' are the names of the people we're currently moving along with. Excitement is building today as we anticipate moving into our next state tomorrow!! We'll be moving into North Carolina!!!

Until next time, Happy Trails from Dreamer, Socks and Charlie.

Here are the two most recent youtube videos from TNT on the Trail:

"Our Adventure Begins: "Home to Springer Mountain, GA"

"Springer Mountain to Neels Gap"

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Our First Zero Day - Appalachian Trail

This adventure has been even more than that! Starting from the approach trail at Amicolola Falls on February 28, 2013 till today, Tuesday, March 5th, it's been ALL adventure! We've experienced unprecedented cold weather, wind and SNOW! We anticipated and planned for some of this, but not 5 straight days of bone chilling wind, snow and cold. 

We're enjoying our first zero day near Neel's Gap, near Blairsville, GA, in the warmth of a well appropriated mountain cabin as we catch up on communication, do laundry and enjoy food from civilization. 

Our climb to the summit of Springer Mountain, and the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail was pretty physically challenging for this pair of oldsters. The 604 steps to the top of the falls almost finished me, but we pressed on! How could we quit before we officially started?? We were rewarded with a magical, fairyland of glistening frost covering everything.... And then, sitting there very unpretentiously was the bronze plaque announcing the arrival at the official START of the Appalachian Trail. Both of us crying at both the successful trek up the approach trail AND the realization of the actual beginning of this adventure, we stopped to snap a few photos and we were off, clicking off the first white blaze!


It's been rough hiking, this first section being some of the toughest on trail, especially considering the weather, but we've managed to enjoy some time meeting some hiker friends at the shelters, taking lots of pictures and video and being physically challenged like never before. Some of the shelters are full of hikers and most times look like a gear store exploded inside them. 

We generally stay in our little tent to keep warmer and avoid the chaos of the shelter life. I'm sure things will get less chaotic and full as the crowd thins out onward down the trail. But for now, the shelters are happening places where hikers catch up on trail gossip, eat, regroup and get some much needed sleep.


All the preparation hiking we did was at Rose Lake and was FLAT. This has posed quite a different challenge a pond we're using muscles that haven't been stressed in a long time. Charlie is even being stretched and now spends any available down time sleeping. 

We'd heard horror stories about the climb up Blood Mountain and were dreading this last day of this stretch, but we never considered the hike DOWN Blood Mountain. We climbed for what seemed like hours up a nicely graded, albeit snow covered trail to summit the mountain, thinking to ourselves, "that wasn't that bad at all." 


BUT, the real hike came in coming DOWN the mountain.... Good Lord, talk about a killer downhill. (we later heard that the day before it was ice covered and several hikers crashed down it, badly injuring themselves). Here, I'd like to send a shout out to Dr. Jason Cochran who injected my knee days before we left, so that these downhills would be a little less painful!


Soaking up some rest on our zero day, now near Neel's Gap, still anxious to get back out tomorrow, even though we've been through the ringer the past couple days....we've got to keep heading north!