Friday, April 18, 2014

I'll rise when the rooster crows

Last week, my father and I returned to the Cohutta Wilderness in North Georgia for our traditional father/son(s) camping trip.

Wilderness always offers an escape for both of us.

The highlight for me was whenever we were just sitting around the fire.  Smoke rising into the air with golden sunlight piercing through the trees, we both reclined on our rock seats and meditated.  Meditation through conversation... reading... journaling... staring.  Staring into the fire.  Through the trees.  At the great sky above us.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

QC-VA montage

I truly want to express my gratitude to each and every person who helped, encouraged, and prayed for me while I was on this journey.  I could not have gotten as far as I did by myself.  From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

The two songs I chose for this montage carry a lot of meaning for me and my life right now.  I think that if you are able to pay attention to the lyrics, as well as the visuals, it will enhance your viewing experience.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Quebec - Virginia in photos

Hey folks!

Here is a link to the photo album I posted on Facebook.  I'll have a montage coming over the next week or so, so keep your eyes open for that.  Cheers!

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Returning home

"Well, yes, ma'am, I do... I mean, I got everything I need right here with me. I got air in my lungs, a few blank sheets of paper. I mean, I love waking up in the morning not knowing what's gonna happen or, who I'm gonna meet, where I'm gonna wind up. Just the other night I was sleeping under a bridge and now here I am on the grandest ship in the world having champagne with you fine people. I figure life's a gift and I don't intend on wasting it. You don't know what hand you're gonna get dealt next. You learn to take life as it comes at you... to make each day count." 
- Jack Dawson, Titanic

My last two days on the AT were not my favorite days of this journey.

In fact, the last week was downright miserable and mentally draining.  I found myself in another Shenandoah-esque situation of being trapped in knee deep snow moving in exhausting slow motion.  The week previous I had traveled about 100 miles in six days, whereas, now I had spent six days and traveled 18 miles.

For the first time I was realizing that I was running out of time, money, and motivation.  My health and sanity were also becoming increasing concerns... frostbite being at the forefront of my mind.  Was it worth continuing this journey with health and safety being at risk?  Disappointed (and I mean, highly disappointed and disheartened), I was seriously starting to think that getting off trail was a wiser decision.  And after a demanding last day of hiking to the next road, I stuck out my thumb and hitched a ride back to Waynesboro.

It was not the original plan, but life often veers away from "original plans," and for better or worse, you take a deep breath and try to keep moving forward.  As I sat in Waynesboro weighing my options for returning to Atlanta, I tried to look on the bright side of the situation.  It wasn't the end of the world.  I had hiked over 1,000 miles across eight states from Quebec to Virginia, and the Trail wasn't going anywhere.  I have thru-hiked the AT once before, and even though this was intended to be a thru-hike, there's no shame in a section hike.  I will pick up where I left off next time with renewed vigor, more time, and a slightly more padded bank account.

Plus, now I will have some extra time to spend with my family before heading back to Colorado.  My sister's getting married at the end of March, and my brother is graduating from college in the beginning of May.  It will be great to really celebrate these events rather than flying/driving in at the last minute to make a ceremony.  Everything was going to be OK.

Now I needed to figure out a way to get from Waynesboro to Atlanta.  This is when my buddy, Zach, an old friend of mine, came to the rescue.  Zach and I were in the same kindergarten class and had gone through school together until college.  He currently lives in Roanoke and was incredibly heading to Atlanta for a few days.  I couldn't believe it when he offered to give me a ride in exchange for watching their new puppy for a day.  Um, heck yes.

I wanted to surprise my mom and dad with my homecoming since they were not expecting to see me until the end of March for my sister's wedding. I didn't get home until late in the night after everyone had gone to sleep, so I slept in my dad's van and woke early the next morning to surprise him on his way out.  The reaction was exactly what I was hoping for...

And so now, I'm home.  My Quebec to Georgia thru-hike was cut in half, but I will always have more white blazes to look forward to in the future.  Life continues on.  One day, one step at a time.  The journey never really ends, anyways.

The Starbucks crew gave me a free drink when they heard about my hike.

The magical star watching over Roanoke.

Finley, the puppy!

Drinking a beer in my parents' kitchen while they have no idea I'm home.

Bro and Sis!  And Abbey.

Fireside chat.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Escape from Shenandoah

It is God who arms me with strength and keeps my way secure. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he causes me to stand on the heights. 
- Psalm 18:32-33

I click fresh batteries into my headlamp as daylight fades away, trying not to be discouraged by the distance still ahead. The snow swirls around me as I don my pack and take a deep breath of the frigid air. Exhale. 

The next 24 hours will come to be the most exhausting and physically demanding I have ever faced. 

In this post, I don't want to come across as being over dramatic, so here's the thing... I don't believe I was at any time in grave danger. However, I do believe that during this particular timeframe of 24 hours, I was at a greater risk of becoming in grave danger than on most other days.

In a nutshell, here's why:
1. The more snow, the more slow. Which isn't usually a problem if you have plenty of food. Once again, however... 
2. No food + Type 1 diabetic = bad. This also isn't typically a problem when snow isn't involved and roads are open. Why, simply go get more food! But...
3. Roads are closed. Buildings in the park are shut down for winter. AND MY CELL PHONE IS DEAD. Not because I ran the battery out (I always save some juice for emergencies), but because of the cold. It just decided to stop working at 40% power. 

OK. That's the nutshell. 

Shenandoah National Park is a wonderful, beautiful, fun place to hike. The AT traverses the length of the park from Front Royal in the north to Waynesboro in the south, roughly 100 miles paralleling Skyline Drive throughout. In the summer, there are plenty of hikers, campers, motorists, rangers, ranger stations, visitor centers, waysides and rest stops. In the winter, the park transforms to an eerily breathtaking, post-apocalyptic arctic wasteland. In the six days I was in Shenandoah, I saw one other hiker heading the opposite direction. 

My resupply in Front Royal was heavy. So much food I thought I was going to make the bears unhibernate. And even in spite of the icy and snow-packed trail I was able to make some decent timing the first five days. Before my phone had died, I was able to check the weather, and I saw that a snowstorm was coming for me sometime on the fifth day. Knowing this information, I decided to hike as far as possible on the fifth day so that I would have minimal deep snow hiking on the morning of my exit.

So there I was, night approaching on the fifth day, clicking fresh batteries into my headlamp. The snow was accumulating quickly, and let me just say, I'm just not the biggest fan of night hiking. More than an hour of hiking in pure darkness, and s*** starts to get scary. I swear at one point a freakin' monkey was hopping around in the trees next to me. Not to mention I'm exhausted, and a blustery snow keeps blasting me in the face. 

A little after 9PM I decide to call it a day at 27.5 miles and pitch my tent. The wind is howling, but there are only a couple of inches of snow when I finally close my eyes. Tomorrow, I will have eight miles to hike and just enough food for a filling breakfast. 

I wake up in a coffin. The snow has compressed my tent into a claustrophobic tomb in which I have to literally dig myself out. I crawl into the early morning light and dread sinks in. I'm surrounded by knee deep snow, and it continues to fall. 

After only ten steps I am worn out. Out of breath. Panting. Holy cow, how am I going to hike eight miles in this? It's a pace equivalent to slow motion with an exhaustion level similar to hiking with weights on your feet. Even the downhills are grueling.

I'm out of food (with the exception of some grits and coffee), so I have to make it into town. My pace is extremely disheartening, though. After five hours of hiking, I'm less than half way to the road. 


Less than a mile an hour and completely worn out. I have to rest often but can't really get comfortable due to all the snow. Which, this is probably a good thing because at one point I plop down in the snow to sit for a sec, and all I want to do is close my eyes for a few minutes. 

Wait a second... that's how people freeze to death! They close their eyes for a nap and never wake up again. Holy crap, get up! Get up!

I had been praying throughout the morning for strength and endurance. The prayers continue. Lord, give me strength. Give me endurance. Help me. Protect me. Thank you for getting me this far.

My feet feel like solid blocks of ice. I keep trying to wiggle my toes with each step. 

God, keep me safe. Please help me get out of here without frostbite or injury. 

Step by step. Slow motion. Wind pounding against my face. The time is flying by. The miles are going inch by inch. 

Help me, Father. Give me the strength I need.

The trail descends into a gap, crossing an unrecognizable Skyline Drive covered in snow drifts waist deep. Then I look up ahead of me and see the trail become vertical. 

Are you kidding me?!! One of those little "bumps" that doesn't quite show up on the elevation profile. Ahhhhhhhhhhrgh! I start plowing up the steep incline, a mixture of pleas and curses fumbling off my lips. 

You can do this. It could be worse. Think of the Olympics. The athletes who give it their all for victory. Think of the early expeditions. The explorers who faced much harsher conditions with their lives on the line. For crying out loud, think of the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet waiting for you in town!

Slowly. So slowly, I trudge on. Five miles down. 

Six miles down.  

Seven down and I've reached the park boundary. My light at the end of the tunnel. It's only one more mile to the road from the boundary. I collapse right in the snow to take a two minute break before taking off again with a surge of adrenaline.

Now I'm thinking about how I'm going to get into town. It's almost four more miles from the trail/road intersection to town, and I'm thinking there might not be much traffic on a day like this.

Finally, after nearly ten hours of hiking through eight miles of snow, I reach the road. And sure enough, not only is there not much traffic, but a section of the road is completely closed and barricaded. Perfect. 

I hear snow plows a little way down and head their way, and to my amazement I see a car with its lights on parked in the midst of the giant machines. I shuffle towards the civilian. 

She rolls down her window and says, "I'm sorry! I didn't mean to pull off here, I'm just trying to get home from work and had to make a phone call. You guys are doing a great job!" She starts to drive off, following one of the snow plows that has now freed her from being stuck in the herd of them. 

As her window starts to go up I barely get the words out in time, "Oh, I'm not a worker! I'm actually a hiker! Do you think you'd be able to give me a ride into town?" 

She looks at me for a second. Quickly examining my extremely disheveled and desperate disposition. "OK, hop in. You're not a crazy person, are you?"

"Ha! I assure you, I am not." (At least not in the sense you mean. Only a crazy person would be hiking in this.)

The roads were bad. Even with the plowing, the snow was still coming down hard. But I was so thankful and happy just to be in a heated car. Heading towards civilization. With a person. Man... God is good. 

I tell the good samaritan she can drop me off anywhere that's convenient for her, and we head towards the only restaurant that's open, WAFFLE HOUSE. Oh my gosh, yes. It's not all-you-can-eat but probably the next best thing. 

I thank my ride profusely and say goodbye. The feeling of being back to safety and comfort is indescribable, especially with a huge plate of hot food set before you.

I've gotta say, it was a pretty gnarly 24 hours... this narrow escape from Shenandoah. Thank you to everyone who continues to pray for me and encourage me daily on this journey. It means the world. 

I'm so thankful for God's protection everyday, even when things seems to be running perfectly smooth. This was just an epic reminder.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Crossing lines

"Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time."

- Steven Wright

This has been an exciting week for me. 

Crossing the Mason-Dixon Line and finally putting Pennsylvania behind me was exciting. However, I had forgotten how many rocks were waiting for me in Maryland (there are A LOT of rocks in Maryland). I felt closer to home knowing I was now back in the south. 

The weather was actually comfortable for about two days until another wave of snow rolled in. It was basically raining slushees as I crossed into West Virginia this morning. The wet snow eventually turned into a lighter, fluffier snow as I strolled around an abandoned Harpers Ferry. A truly beautiful scene. 

The ATC visitor center was closed today "due to inclement weather," so I wasn't able hang out there like I was intending. I took a quick selfie in front of the iconic wall before walking away, and as I was departing I noticed their new membership brochures had a familiar photo on the cover... It was KitFox! A photo I had taken of her in the Whites. Pretty cool that they chose that photo, I thought. It almost seemed like their peace offering for abandoning me today. (haha)

Tomorrow, I'll see if the ATC has reopened before continuing on and crossing into Virginia. Wow... Virginia. I think no matter which direction you are heading, Virginia is an exciting state to step into.

So, here's to more excitement.