18-19 May – Damascus VA to Gloucester (825.8 miles)

What?  To Gloucester?!  I traveled for two days to Gloucester, MA from Damascus, VA.  Yes, I am officially ‘off the Trail’. . . I am back with Memory in Massachusetts and will be here with her from now on.  

I hitch-hiked from Damascus and got a ride all the way to Maryland with a fellow through-hiker (Big shout-out to Lauren:  congratulations on completing your own Through-Hike on 7 May! and thanks a ton for the great company and ride to Maryland!)  Then I took a Greyhound bus the next morning all the way to Boston, and Memory picked me up about 1:15a.m. today, the 20th, when I am writing this.  We’re sitting here now with great coffee from her super coffee machine.

But nobody cares about the logistics of all this:  –you want to know why!!
OK. . . here, –for my loyal readers–, in order, are the reasons that I left the Trail:

1.)  I was traumatized by all those morning coffees without half-and-half.

2.)  There is not that much fresh fried seafood available on the Appalachian Trail.   

3.)  I miss sharing my experiences, be they great or small, with Memory.  I’d rather be with her from now on than anywhere else.  I’m crazy in love with her.        

4.)  I’ve done enough to get out of this Trail experience what I wanted to; I’m satisfied that I’ve scratched that itch.

5.)  The Trail Gods told me it’s time to write that novel & screenplay that I’ve been wanting to get out for years.

6.) I didn’t realize that hiking involved so much walking.    

7.)  I’ve lost enough weight to be beach-ready!  

8.)  The devil made me do it.

OK.  Maybe that’s not the real ‘order’.  You decide!
Happy Trails 

21 April – Stecoah Gap to Locust Cove Gap to Stecoah Gap to Brown Fork Campsite (8.8 miles)

Things went very smoothly today.  I’m just as surprised as you are.

(I had to backtrack on the Trail to my previous tent site and start from there to ensure I didn’t leave any gaps in my hike.)

I got a hiker shuttle to Stecoah Gap and walked south the 3.2 miles back to the tent site where I had lain helpless those several days.

I looked at that spot.  It looked at me.  I think we reached an understanding.  We hugged awkwardly, and I left.

I started traveling north again (yay!) and ended up tonight in my tent at my current campsite by myself.  Nobody around.  

The hiking went great though— it was uneventful!  

I stopped at 1p.m. and facetimed my sister Yvonne who hosts the annual family Easter dinner at that time.  I got to see the delicious hams, the mashed potatoes and peas, the desserts, and when Kenny showed up with the lime beer— I knew all was right with the world.  (Oh- and I saw my brothers and sisters.😬)

Other than that, the weather was beautiful and I felt good.  I think the doxycycline, probiotics, and multi-vitamins are already on the job.   And, compression socks are helping my calf.  (I got the vitamins and compression socks just this morning—thanks to Memory reminding me.)

I can envision a whole new way of being now and am really hopeful.

Here is some Easter Candy I found along the way.

20 April – Bryson City

This is the end of my last day recovering in Bryson city North Carolina. I will head out tomorrow back to the Trail.

I took a short walk into town today, having slept so much last night.  I felt pretty good in town.  I bought a few necessities and I bought some probiotics as I believe I will have to handle my immune system like nitroglycerin from this point forward.   That, combined with the doxycycline I’m taking, and the recovery time I’ve just taken, should stand me in good stead for tomorrow’s restart.   Hopefully I won’t find myself delayed much further in the future— I can’t wait to enjoy the Trail and watch Spring continue to decorate the beautiful mountains and hills of North Carolina.

I forgot to mention one part of the (let’s just be polite and say) “help“ I received and that is the fact that from the hospital I got a ride to this hotel by the local Bryson police.  They just happened to be in the Emergency Room lobby when I inquired about Uber or Taxis and found out that nonesuch operate in the city.  They just walked over and said “We’ll give you a ride wherever you need to go.”  Wow.  

The reason I bring it up now is that on my short walk into the city today, one of those Bryson City Police Officers pulled over to talk to me; he asked me how I was doing,  if I needed a ride anywhere, (I didn’t as I was close to the store I was going to), and we had a pleasant chat.   He gave me his card and said to call him if I needed anything at all.   

Now, I’ve had a decent respect for the police growing up, and that was strengthened when I worked with and trained with various police departments -both state and local- while I was in the Army.   This experience with the Bryson City Police Department just strengthened that. I just want to thank them all in this small way in this obscure little blog. 

I also had a great meal in town at a place called Bojangles Chicken.  As I sat down to have my first really big meal since Tuesday, I felt ready for it.  I remember thinking how great it was going to be to have a long quiet lunch in a nice sunny clean place.  As I began to eat however, I became aware of the constant sound of the slight clacking of a broom and dust pan by an employee who is methodically sweeping the small place.  

Once I realize that this was going to go on and on, I became slightly annoyed.  I was aware of exactly where he was at all times and I have a particular noise eccentricity whereby any constant noise in the background will cause me to want to jump off a roof if I can’t stop it immediately.  

So I pay attention to this guy and I realize he’s sweeping with great care and diligence— an already clean floor.   An already very clean floor.   I see that he’s moving in a way that seems robotic so I realize that he might be a little different, perhaps somewhere on the autism spectrum. OK. No problem.  I noticed as he approaches my table that he has occasional interactions with a customer or one of his fellow employees and that they all seem like pleasant interactions and that the sweeper always seemed to laugh good-naturedly.   People were very kind to him.  Incidentally, he was undeterred when he approached the square of carpet where I was sitting at my little table— and continued to sweep despite my presence, clacking his little broom and dust pan in and out among my feet and under and around my chair and table.  I almost laughed, and my annoyance turned to warmth as he continued past me, taking pride and comfort in his job.  As I left  about 30 minutes later, he was still sweeping.

I’m glad there is a place for everyone when everyone makes a place.

19 April – Bryson City North Carolina

First, thank you to so many family and friends who expressed concern and caring for me.  Please know that I am feeling much better.  This is crazy stuff isn’t it?  I debated whether to tell that whole story but I don’t want to start faking this stuff now.  Anyway, I can’t wait to get back on the Trail but I’m taking a couple of days off as you know at the advice of many people- to include the doctor.

Every morning when I start walking on the Trail I take a physical inventory of my body starting with the broken foot bone that never healed correctly because I didn’t see a doctor for three weeks, the smashed toe knuckle that I slammed into a rock in Hawaii, the calf tear from the great seagull chase, the quadriceps muscles I wrecked on the Amicalola Falls stairs, the lower back issues from three parachute accidents in the Army, the mid-back muscle tear from hanging a curtain in a giant hallway one day, the hand and shin numbness and crushed bicep from the time I flew out of the back of a pickup truck that flipped over on the highway, my left shoulder replacement, the arthritis in my thumbs, the Lyme Disease effects, and of course my mental state which is often imbecilic.  (As evidence for this last proposition I offer the fact of my current venture.)  All of these things come and go as you have noticed; however, really, every day above ground is a good day.

I am reminded, however, that I am driving a vehicle like the 1926 Hudson passenger car, converted into a truck, that the Joad family nursed along Route 66 in the book The Grapes Of Wrath. (This is my favorite novel.  It’s John Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel about an Oklahoma family fleeing the unemployment and despair of the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression.  They travel to California in search of better prospects and, along the way, the journey says everything about the human condition and our collective soul.) They took extremely good care of that vehicle as it was their lifeline.

So.  I am driving a 1959 Jalopy with a Carfax report an inch thick. However, if the Joads can make it to California, maybe I can make it to Maine- substituting The Appalachian Trail for Route 66.

Of course my timeline is way off from what I originally projected in terms of mileage and distance due to the various calamities I’ve managed to climb into along the way- some of which I haven’t even posted due to volume issues.

I am very concerned about that as I expected to be in Gloucester for the August beach season- sitting on a beach with Memory. I talked with her at length last night about this and she’d prefer I not worry about that, take my time and do things at my own pace- which I appreciate.  (She knows that there are plenty of men who are happy to sit on the beach with her if I can’t make it.).

But it’s a tough adjustment to see things going so slowly.  Well, maybe I’ll make up some time in the Middle Atlantic States but I suspect an argument with a bear will probably delay me further at some point.  We’ll see.

Now back to some positive things.  Once I get back on the Trail after a couple of days I will reach the southern terminus of the Great Smoky Mountains.  This is reputed to be a quite beautiful long stretch, not without its elevation challenges of course, but with manifold natural rewards also and I will try to get many great pictures and movies so we can all enjoy it together.

By the way, I spend very little time on this Blog since I can record things on my phone and send them to Memory and she does a lot of work getting things formatted and posted.  (I am developing the biggest crush on my Secretary.  Scandalous!)

I will be always getting the full experience myself by stopping and resting at various peaks and fantastic views.  There I will ponder the meaning of life or, better yet, I will be able to think of: nothing!

18 April – Locust Cove Gap

I woke up around 7 a.m. and went down a short trail to get water for the day.  As I passed one guy, he said simply “We have the same shirt. . . ”  Normally– who cares?  But he knew it was significant.  This is a highly prized very warm ‘waffle’ undershirt that you only get issued if you are deploying to Iraq or Afghanistan, so of course I stopped and we talked.  He is a fellow Army veteran and has gone on two deployments to Iraq: great guy.  Again, everyone I met at this campsite and others are people really worth meeting. 

The morning started off well.  I commiserated with a few people I had met last night as we were setting up.  I made some Ramen noodles which felt like they were going to stay down this time.  I began to pack up my stuff and we were talking when one guy mentioned an Australian who had been annoying at their last hostel because he was drunk and ‘couldn’t find his clothes’.  Then he said casually “I quit drinking a long time ago.”   I then said “I quit drinking almost 7 months ago and I go to AA.” 

He looked at me and  said “Yeah, I still go to meetings once in awhile but I quit 37 years ago.  I quit drinking because I ended up in a tree.” 

Now we all stopped and looked at him.  And this begin a general discussion of AA, and drinking in general.  OK: let’s have it– what happened?”  He was blacked out while driving and flew off an embankment that had a drop-off on one side so steep that his vehicle wrecked in treetops and stuck there.  He remained blacked out, woke up the next morning, surveyed his predicament carefully and shimmied down the tree.  He walked away with barely a scratch and quit drinking that day.  A few others begin to talk about drinking and AA and of course everyone had nothing but good things to say about it.  One woman’s husband was in AA, etc. and we were talking casually when the gazelle spoke up.  

This guy had loped into our campsite last night and set up as we were all settling in and was fairly quiet as is usual when moving into a new site and setting up initially.  It was late and no conversation really happened beyond ‘Hey’.  I had noticed him, however, due to his unusual black-and-white vertically striped shorts, his long red hair in a ponytail, and his long legs.  So, on the heels of this drinking discussion the next morning he suddenly volunteers as he’s packing up “Yeah, I was a bartender for 10 years, I had to get out of that, wow, we were pretty much expected to drink!”  He told us a couple of fun stories about how all they did was drink and so that got him into the discussion. 

We exchange names with him as we had done among ourselves the night before, and then we asked him the usual opening banter question “Where did you come from last night and how far do you expect to make it today?”  He told us where he had travelled from yesterday and we all stopped packing and eating and looked at him.  It worked out to about 29 miles.  We were stunned.  And that included the hellacious mountains we’ve all been struggling with.  We pressed him- What?  “Yeah, that’s about what I’ve been averaging.”  Unpretentiously.  OK.  Now we are really talking to this guy. 

It turns out that he’s an ultra-marathon runner and is just doing the Appalachian Trail for the fun of it:  his real next goal is to win a race called Last Man Standing.  This is a race where all entrants must complete 4 miles within an hour, every hour, and the last man standing wins.  Of course,  4 mph is easy for the first couple hours, but here we are talking about hard-core ultra-marathoners and last year he dropped out at 185 miles.  Do the math.  What’s interesting is the sleeping and food component here.  If you complete a circuit of 4 miles, (it’s a 4 mile circuit that you keep doing over and over), early and have, say, 10 minutes left in the hour, then you may eat or sleep during those 10 minutes before you have to start the next circuit.  If you make it just in time, then you must keep going. 

You can see how this would wear people down, but, now get this, he’s entering this race with an ulterior motive:  if he wins, and he thinks he has a shot at it!, then he might! qualify for yet another race called the Barkeley Marathon that he told us about. 

Jesus H. Christ.  You have to Google that one. 

Well, it was awesome talking to this monster athlete and things eventually died down and people started moving back onto the trail. 

That’s when the stock market took another downturn. 

As I was packing, honest to God, the last couple items into my pack, I felt the horrific dreaded God Please No nausea return and I sat down for a moment begging the powers that be for this not to be happening. My head started to swim again, I staggered into the woods and began to vomit violently for the third day in a row, and I felt my strength leaving me rapidly. 

With great and soon delirious effort,  I set my tent back up again.  I knew I had to lay in my tent yet again all day to ride this out but as the day progressed I knew that something was even more different today.  I was having less and less strength to dart out of the tent to vomit and I begin to consider throwing up just outside my tent by just sticking my head out which is gross and stupid of course.  Hour after hour goes by and it’s now early afternoon.  My last urine was brown.  I’m writhing in the tent, can’t get rid of the nausea, can’t eat or, more importantly, drink, as nothing stays down.  I know I’m in real trouble here.   I’m in and out of strange quick bizarre disturbing dreams. 

I slowly and carefully considered all my options and came to the following conclusions: nobody out here can help me unless they’re carrying IVs; nobody can carry my pack so that I could stagger out of the woods as their own packs are too much already; if I stay here all day I will be in real, real, trouble.  Finally, I realized that if I just got up in my shorts and shirt, leaving everything behind me, I would probably not make it to the nearest road which was 3.7 miles of tough Trail from me. 

I finally decided mid afternoon that I probably need to get some medical help.  But I still thought about it and really just kept trying to go to sleep to get rid of the sick and awful feeling in my whole body.  Given that this was my third day in this situation, and today’s degradation of condition was increasing in pace, I realized that this wasn’t funny anymore.  I rolled to one side mid afternoon and called my Insurance plan’s military nurse advice line.  The nurse talked to me at great length and was greatly concerned.  She got her boss on the phone who was equally alarmed. 

They asked all the right questions of course, food and water intake, medications I was on, the amount of time I had been there, what I was doing,  where I was,  etc. and then the boss said simply “You’re gonna call 911 and get to an Emergency Room right now and we’re gonna figure out a way to get you out of there” so I decided to do it.  This was an interesting decision for me because I only call 911 every 60 years or so. 

Nevertheless, I felt a surge of emotion about the thought of IVs going into my system without triggering nausea.  We got the 911 call going.  I was on the phone for a long time with a really nice person who hooked up the following sequence of events:  Forest Service folks would find me.  (Here they asked me the question gingerly if I could walk out on my own if someone carried all my stuff; they were going to carry me out otherwise.  Knowing it was 3.7 miles to the nearest parking lot, I hesitated but said ‘Yes’ knowing that I’d drop within the first mile easily, but they would at least know they weren’t wasting their time with me.) 

The first Forest Service guy arrived way quicker than I thought he would.  I heard his radio static outside of my tent!  Add two parts elation with one part humiliation in a large bowl.  Add sincere help, mix, and Hope rises.  It turns out that they had an amazing shortcut to get me to a logging road to start the process.  Their EMT told me I needed to get to an Emergency Room.  They helped me pack my stuff and they carried my stuff to their trucks.  They were very nice in all regards.  A military guy there saw my Ranger patch on my backpack and they all treated me with great deference and professionalism.  From the logging road I was transferred to an ambulance which quickly started an IV. 

That was the moment I won’t forget- just seeing that IV hanging above me in the ambulance was amazing because I knew I was getting fluids that I would not throw up and that would be the beginning of the end of this nightmare.  She also gave me an anti-nausea medication and 35 minutes later I was at Swain Hospital in Bryson City North Carolina.  The whole trip from the tent to the emergency room bed I was in was dreamlike and I was in an out of it having strange thoughts and snippets of dreams the whole time.  It was interspersed with lucidity and casual conversation with the folks attending to me.

So, at the Hospital, they did all kinds of tests,  gave me morphine,  more anti-nausea medication, and more IV fluids and I begin to feel better.  Ultimately the Doctor, who was also extremely nice and patient, diagnosed a virus, severe dehydration, and sunstroke. 

Note that we also talked at length about Lyme  Disease -which I got in 2007.  And the fact that I believe my immune system has been compromised ever since to the extent that whenever I get a little bit sick crazy stuff happens.  And I was feeling the crazy stuff throughout this entire three day sickness; for example, my spine and the bones in my arms and neck were very cold and they could not put enough blankets on me.  This was a classic symptom I endured during my Lyme Disease in 2007.  He seemed to believe this though it is controversial medically- the fact of chronic versus acute effects.  He prescribed not just the anti-nausea medication upon my release,  but also Doxycycline which is specific to treating Lyme Disease.  I very much appreciated this. 

So yes I was released that evening having had two IVs and morphine and anti-nausea medication.  I was able to get to a nice little hotel where I am now.   I still have no interest in food but know I should start eating food.   I’m drinking a little bit of ginger ale mixed with water and taking the medications and getting tons of sleep and, well,  what a strange day.

We’ll see what happens next.

As they say, “Happy Trails!”

17 April – Locust Grove Gap (a ’zero’ day)

Last night during a phone call Memory suggested I stay here all day to ride out the sickness.  And she was comforting and helpful at a time when I really couldn’t think due to the violence of the sickness.  I took that advice and gradually recovered here at this campsite today, all day. (I am the white bubble behind the blue and above the brown.)

She’s been at the receiving end of my complaints as I adjust physically and mentally to this venture.  

I brought a decent amount of medicine with me on this trip- everyone packs some sort of a First Aid kit.  But my best medicine is Memory.

16 April – Wesser Bald Shelter to Locust Grove Gap (10.6 miles)

This is the task today:  the first stretch of 6.9 miles is up, up, up!  

The green elevation profile picture shows the deal and is a cool feature of an App I have that helps me track the way.

I never thought there was a 7 mile stretch of uphill anywhere, but of course it’s lying right in the path of the Appalachian Trail -quite a challenge.  Not too many problems going up except for the toughness of it, and the time it takes.  Weather was good and the calf, astonishingly, was not hurting too much.  I got to the top and it was beautiful.

Check out this picture-find two deer-  camouflage at its best!

Check out the short movie of another cool section of the Trail.

Here are some more purple wildflowers-different ones- and even yellow is starting to pop here and there also.

So I tented up at Locust Grove Gap and things took another turn.  

Right after my dinner meal, I wasn’t feeling good and went into the tent to lie down.  It was about 5 pm.  I spent the next 12 hours throwing up violently, and walking around in the moonlight afraid to go back in the tent and risk an in-tent episode.  Fell asleep about 5am….woke up at 9am…depleted and weak as a baby.