16 May – Bradley Gap to US19E (16.1 miles)

Went up and over ‘Hump Mountain’, (5500 feet or so in elevation) and eventually got to RT19E. From this highway, I arranged a shuttle, as did many other people, to go to ‘Trail Days’ in Damascus, Virginia, the following morning.  Trail Days celebrates all things Appalachian Trail for a few days a year– always the weekend after Mother’s Day and always in Damascus, Virginia. . . 

This was another great day for the weather and I felt strong and good the whole day!

15 May – Little Rock Knob to Bradley Gap (17.3miles)

 As I write this, I’m in a Hiker hostel where there is a TV.  I had MSNBC news on a little while ago and was catching up on the Iran tensions and recent abortion rights paroxysms in the nation.  I left to switch out some laundry, -10 yards away- came back and…(as God is my witness!) someone had switched the channel to Wheel Of Fortune!  And the guy was eating a hamburger—close enough to meatloaf for me!  Oh well… I guess I saw it coming…

(That’s what I get for introducing politics to this blog.  I’ll just stick with death and taxes from now on.)

Had a great day yesterday.  Went up and over a mountain that was protecting a rare ‘coniferous forest’ for these parts.  

Before I came to the sign and big roped off areas, I could smell Christmas very strongly… every memory came flooding back with that lovely fir/pine smell…and we all know, just that smell can induce sentimental thoughts, way out of season or not…

Got to the top of a mountain where the ‘Cloudland Hotel’ stood.  Real interesting big beautiful hotel stood here from 1884 for 20 years or so only.  People could look out over the mountains from a big porch and stay here with three meals a day—all for only $2 per day!  (It was dismantled due to high maintenance costs; only the foundations remain.)

Saw this old spooky chimney on the Trail.  This story is well known; it is addressed briefly in the guidebooks but I also looked it up.

In 1927 a Swede, working in the local logging camps, had a cabin here and one night during the brutal 1927 winter he killed his family in an alcoholic rage.  Wife, daughter and two grandchildren.  Being snowbound at this extreme elevation, and expecting to remain so for weeks, he dragged the bodies out onto the trail to freeze.    Later, he cut them up into ‘log-length’ pieces and tied them up in burlap and hid them in his woodpile.       Eventually, he hiked through the snow to the town of Roan Tennessee and confessed to the authorities because his family ‘won’t leave me alone’—calling out to him at night from the woodpile! (The trail to his cabin later being incorporated into the Appalachian Trail.)   Supposedly, many AT hikers have ‘felt’ the presence of ghosts and sadness at this point and you can see where the Trail is considerably widened out by hikers skirting the ruin.   By the looks of it, and all the intact moss, nobody dares to touch it either—I sure didn’t!   Well, if you made it this far in the story- gotcha!  This is just a chimney I saw on the Trail.  Someone must have lived here I guess…

14 May – Beauty Spot Gap to Little Rock Knob (15.6 miles)

Don’t know where this day went…  got going early in a spooky cold fog (sorry I didn’t think to take pictures!) and just plugged along all day, thinking all my crazy thoughts and marveling at some really nice mossy old-growth-looking coniferous forests at elevation.  (again no pictures!)  

“What crazy thoughts?” you say;  here’s one:
Isn’t the idea of having a President embarrassingly antiquated already?  [No specific reference to our current President who happens to make my case in Spades:  I’ve been thinking this for several Presidencies now]. 

Here’s the argument:  why should we let one person make huge decisions that affect everyone which could be driven by whim, caprice or worse:  stupidity or political vengefulness?  How can we be in a position to entrust earth-influencing decisions to a single human with, in most cases, frailties of reason and emotional soundness?  We call this ‘representation’ of the people?  No, it’s a largely false and half-hearted representation of the voters, based on cotton-candy campaign promises during the election carnival, which survive the general election by about 5 seconds.  Then the flip-flops happen and we all make little concerned faces and go on about our business of watching Wheel Of Fortune while parked behind a good meatloaf.  Meanwhile, our ‘President’ wakes up on any given day and simply decides climate change is a hoax, or that we ought to invade Iraq or elsewhere, or that horrible despots are cool people after all.  Or that cute young interns are fair game for romance, or that the biggest financial criminals in the world won’t be prosecuted though they caused world economic collapse, or that maybe we should, or shouldn’t, have a space program, or be drilling for oil in the Arctic.  And enormous resources and prioritization of effort are allocated to these things voters never specifically agreed to.  But again, we have Wheel Of Fortune and meatloaf to console ourselves with.  

We can’t depend on Congress to check our Presidents, (ok-I’ll give you the Nixon thing but it took journalists to force that outcome).  I’ve encountered more spine in a banana than in Congress and no wonder:  their first priority is to remain in office and the rest of their priorities don’t deviate from the first—that’s what I’ve seen. (Don’t get me started on fundraising, voting strict party alignment and making it ok to not answer questions—though even trace elements of integrity would demand public servants not obfuscate.) 
Back to the original point:  how soon before we look back and laugh in amazement that we hung with the President thing so long?  I wish I was already from another planet so I could laugh now.  Let’s get over the Founding Fathers thing…they were smart and brave for their time but they shit in buckets and owned slaves.  In other words, times have changed, and government should change with it.  Right now our concept of President is not materially different from having a King and his advisors (party loyalists).  And you know how we think the King thing was so Medieval….

What’s the solution?

Anything is worth a try…  how about leveraging technology to give every voter a chance to really represent their positions when someone upstream is doing something  capricious?  Or, do away with the Executive having more than administrative power, or elevate Congress to new and more representative powers, subject to term limits and subject to rqpid voter override?  Or, let the Judiciary have some kind of oversight on the Executive—oversight with teeth.  And spine.  I don’t know.  

But global government is inevitable, and when it comes, I hope there isn’t one person at the top who can act like a ‘President’. (You asked!) 

12 May – Erwin Tennessee to Beauty Spot Gap (11.3 miles)

Forgot to show you this picture of a library I went to in Erwin TN; they converted the old train station into a library!  It is right on the railroad tracks of course.  Adorable inside too…

These entire 11 miles were all uphill, gradually going from 1600’ to 4500’ over the  distance with nary a downhill stretch.  That’s right—I said nary. … That’s why I didn’t set any mileage records today though I hiked hard and strong all day.   Still no blisters, still no return of the litany of previous muscle maladies I seem to attract, and still feeling no sickness since the one bout.  😀

I’ve had a strangely suppressed appetite going on many weeks now…  just not ravenous at any one time though I should be-due to caloric expenditure.  I’m still eating for fuel but the magic is gone somehow… I eat more as a task and am not sure what is happening with the appetite.  A natural metabolic change from the exercise?  Or a subconscious protest against the lack of Friendly’s Neapolitan half gallons of ice-cream out here in the woods?  Or is it that I’m drinking so much water that it is fooling the hunger triggers?  Keith- you studied this stuff in college—what’s your guess?

10-11 May – No Business Knob to Erwin Tennessee (6.2 miles)

Had a good morning run into the town of Erwin Tennessee to resupply; I got a room and waited out the rain the next day while my equipment dried… (I got to clean all of my equipment in a bathtub for the first time and it feels good to get the dirt, smoke, dead bugs etc. scrubbed out!)

Speaking of equipment- time for some analysis this far: 

[First a big thank you to Ashley and Tim Coates of Real Cheap Sports, (36 W. Santa Clara Street, Ventura, California 93001): Ashley and Memory are sisters and I got some great deals on some high-end equipment from them as well as encouragement and support of course!]

Trekking poles.   I got Black Diamond Distance Carbon trekking poles and I use them constantly. It’s hard to believe I have ever hiked without trekking poles; they are always in motion carrying weight, redistributing weight, and preventing slips and falls.   I give them an A+.

Tent.  It is a Seedhouse SL2.  Another great thing and I’m an expert at setting up my little domain every day.  Its the adult version of having a little ‘Fort’ to erect and play in every day except Mom doesn’t deliver grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup when I get hungry.  A

Sleeping bag.  (I got this at REI). I got too lightweight a bag for the task and have been cold more times than I can count.  Oh well… I give myself a D and same for the ‘experienced thru-hiker’ at REI who recommended it.  Have been so jealous of the folks with big fluffy warm sleeping bags. 

Shoes.  Altra Lone Peak 4 Trailrunners have been perfect.  Lightweight, waterproof, good grip on rocks, etc…  I will stick with these not-one-blister shoes… A+. (They are all that and a bag of chips, a pickle and a cookie.)

Rain Jacket and Rain Pants from North Face… a begrudging B.  I dont know if there’s a more breathable version available but when I wear these I sweat too much and end up soaked inside with sweat instrad of rain…  and if it’s cold, I’m in trouble..

Thermarest Sleeping Pad. I punctured this early somehow and dont know if I ever got one night fully inflated… will be trying to fix/correct at an upcoming Trail Days event where all the vendors will be present. (Recuse on grade)

Backpack.  Osprey Atmos AG 65.  Has been excellent with all the bells qnd whistles.  Fellow hikers refer to it as the ‘Cadillac’ of backpacks and it seems to be true.  A

Jetboil Stove.  Amazing technology.  Such a fast boil time that I can’t attend to other tasks while the water is heating up- if I turn my back it boils over! Makes hot coffee and cocoa always two minutes away.  A+

9 May – Hogback Ridge to No Business Knob campsite (20.7 miles)

Long nice day on the Trail.  Lots of water and snack breaks to fuel the machine as I went up and over Big Bald Mountain… about 10 miles on the ascent and another 10 descending to my end campsite for the day… had just enough light to set up properly and make something to eat, hang my ‘bear hang’ food bag, etc… then, into the warm tent to sleep! 

I feel like I really have my ‘Trail Legs’ now…  I rarely stop out of sheer fatigue like in the beginning; usually it’s to take a deliberate food or water break now…

8 May – Flint Mountain to Hogback Ridge (8.8 miles)

Saw this big beautiful but odd ‘moth thing’ today!  Huge and surreal.  Delicate and scary.  A cross between a tropical fish, a kite, and an evil bat that will suck your brains out your ears while you sleep.  

It reminds me of my Mattel Thingmaker when we used to make Creepie Crawlies by baking plastigoop in the little Mattel hotplate machine…best Christmas present ever for kids in the 60’s.  Who remembers?  Who can still smell the goop baking?

Some new wildflowers coming out on this leg…

7 May – Log Cabin Road to Flint Mountain campsite (17.3 miles)

Another day of decent weather.  Came across this sign which is apparently an accommodation for larger people on the Trail I guess…

I found a Tennessee version of Dogtown’s Whale’s Jaw…

I hit the 300 mile mark today. There were many people stopping to take a break at this little stone number. I stopped with them and we all had a nice chat and a lunch break here…

 I’ve been thinking about longevity…there is at least one 70-year-old out here who is  hiking this Trail and I’ve no doubt after meeting him that he’ll complete in respectable fashion.  Remarkable.

Western medicine is on a roll- perhaps even out over it’s skis at the moment. 

(When I went to Afghanistan in 07/08, I learned that the average male life expectancy there was 47: yet, I was deploying there at age 48–and expecting to come home and live another 30 years.  So—an astonishing health disparity on the globe which is no doubt related to the wealth disparity.)

The poor will die on schedule as their inferior diet, hygiene, and access to medicine will dictate.   

But what does this mean for the wealthy nations that extend life?  

It appears that the quality of life lags behind the actual extension of life as we can see in the disturbing frailty of very old people, and the even more disturbing cognitive loss which is increasingly attending old age in the form of various dementias.  I worked very briefly recently as a hospice care volunteer and I saw how sad this situation can be.

Yet medical research marches on as we devolve to wrinkled bags of skin in wheelchairs who can’t remember who our own children are.

I hope brain research yields relief to cognitive loss and, who knows?, maybe we can also find ways to strengthen and support skin, bones and organs into deep old age…I am more hopeful about the former than the latter.  If I’m right, then the case might be made for us to evolve to ‘brains in a bath’ and the 1960’s science fiction movies will have the last laugh.  We are already in an interim step—that of us turning more and more robotic as parts get supported /replaced and our systems get adjusted with all manner of medicine, regulators, and supplements.  But eventually, I think our tissues will die, even brain tissue, despite the best diet, hygiene and medicine and we must be approaching the upper limits now:  is it 110? 120? 130?  And we do want to live forever, don’t we…?

The pace of this evolution is staggering.  My great-great-grandchildren will probably look and live very differently from me.  They could be greatly improved humans, or manifestations of avatar, or even straight-up robots.

I’m going with robots.