Thursday, 31 May 2012

Trail Days!!

Trail days.. where thousands of sore, dirty, tired some current, most past hikers converge on a small town at the bottom of Virginia and the town goes into party mode.
Tents spawn wherever the grass will accommodate them, especially in a lawless (apart from the sniffer dogs and cops in hummers) region called ‘tent city’. Infrastructure becomes stretched to the limit with the churches and portable facilities filling the void, whilst emergancy services such as the fire brigade become large mess halls to fill the hungry masses.
Sheila (Suzanne) and I rode into town on the Friday a bit apprehensive about camping in tent city as we were looking for something a little quieter. Luckily as we drove through I spotted LadySlipper (now renamed Thirsty) and he and BushGoggles had found a nice camp spot by the river behind the Lazy Fox which turned out to be a perfect spot as it was close to town, fairly secluded and the running water provided a nice background accompaniment which drowned (hoho) out the snorers.

Me and the Redneck (at the jukebox)
The rest of the day for us was spent walking around checking out the retailers of which there were plenty. A theory that one of the hikers had was that the retailers see the thru-hikers as an opportunity market as they put the equipment through extended wear and tear and then act as good advertising, both on the trail and when they get back home. In that regard they tend to treat AT hikers as VIP customers and are more than happy to fix or replace gear for them. I’ve heard stories of people getting worn shoes and hiking poles replaced multiple times from some people which makes me a bit sad that most of my gear is Katmandu and I doubt they would be so forthcoming about shipping replacements to the US.
We also went to a medical station where I found out that my heart rate and blood pressure had risen to much higher levels (probably due to being stuck in town with thousands of other hikers) and that I’m down to 85 kgs which means I’ve lost 10 kilos so far. That was pretty much it for the day apart from catching up with people and going for a few drinks later that night.
AWOL (author of the main guide book) and I
Saturday was the big day however. It began with ‘Mountain Mocha Bourbon’ which was a hair of the dog starter created by ‘Pops’ with fairly obvious ingredients.
  Sheila and I then went to a talk by Jennifer Pharr Davis who is the current holder of the speed record of the At (46.5 days) who spoke very eloquently for about an hour and didn’t seem that crazy despite walking 47 miles a day on her last hike.
After that I went and saw the ‘Lion Kings’ 2003 movie – Walking with Freedom which was great as it was a bit of a snapshot of the trail so I could reminisce over the ground that I recognized and quake in terror when I saw what was up ahead. At 2pm the ‘Hiker parade’began an it is the main event for the weekend where all the hikers walk down the main street and get bombarded with water balloons, pistols and cannons by the waiting public. I managed to catch a couple of balloons coming my way but sadly I didn’t get to nail the kids who threw them at me instead my aim was off and I watered some concrete in try greek fashion.
We had some food and then watched the Hiker talent show where it seemed most of the contestants where hikers from previous years as I didn’t recognize too many current hikers out there. This probably was a good thing as in all the talent wasn’t too bad all things considered.
Finally to cap off a big day we went and saw the premiere of the ‘Lion Kings’ new movie ‘An Ocean to Ocean’ which was his hike along the American Discovery Trail. We timed our arrival well as the filmmaker turned up in a limo to a makeshift red carpet entrance which I caught on camera. The movie itself I didn’t rate as good as his first because even though it was a little more polished it was much more of a solo endurance hike so it didn’t really capture the essence of a trail like his AT movie did - if you want to find out more on the movies.

The 'Lion King' red carpet entrance
In all Sheila and I enjoyed ourselves, taking it easy, catching up with people and seeing the trail from other viewpoints.  

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Sectioning Suzanne

Writing this update from the plush surroundings of a 1950s style hotel in the ‘metropolis’ of Marion, Virginia. I’m not even being sarcastic in labeling Marion a metropolis as it is the biggest town I’ve come across (Atlanta excepted) whilst on the trail with big towny things such as street lights and a Wallmart.
We arrived here after hiking a couple of days out of ‘Trail days’ which may seem a bit early to have a town break after just leaving a town but as the laundry in Damascus was still out of commission and Suzanne was hell bent on getting her clothes properly laundered.
So I guess this is as good a time to introduce Suzanne to the blog readers. She’s here to walk the Virginia section which is the longest section on the trail at around 550 miles to which she’s set aside 6 weeks to complete. She booked to arrive at Damascus on the 12th and unfortunately my predictive powers on when I was going to arrive there was out by about a week and I got there on the 6th. This, coupled with the fact that the weather was pretty bad meant I got to spend a whole zero week in Damascus.

Poor Suzanne then had to weather my minimalistic inspection of her gear and food.. “FIVE shirts??!!? TWO fleeces??! Oh nothing..” and then listen to all the horror stories that I’d stockpiled over the previous month.

Leaving Damascus involved a rather steep ascent heading into Mt Rodgers and some highland country so I was a bit worried that the first couple of days would be a bit of a baptism of fire. Luckily however there was a bike trail (the Creeper trail) which ran parallel to the AT with a couple of intersection points. This meant that for the first day we had a nice easy walk along a pretty river section with a slight gradient which was fortuitous as the first few days are always really tough for a new hiker. The 2nd day however was back onto the trail and Suzanne got to experience some climbing and realize that my warnings weren’t all fictional.
Mileage wise we were doing around 10 miles a day which is quite a bit slower (around half) of what I’d been doing previously and by the third day Suzanne was getting annoyed with my restless character. This led to a bit of a confrontation where we discussed the best way for us to walk together which in a sense involves us not walking together but rather meeting up at rest and camp spots. Unfortunately this fairly involved discussion began when we were at a junction with another trail and so intense were our deliberations that we meandered straight off the trail.

The AT has 30,900 white blazes, someone actually counted them all
The AT is an extremely well trodden path
The AT is the best marked trail in the world with a blaze every 50-100m

Despite this we managed to walk 2 miles before working out that we were off the trail which is something I probably shouldn’t own up to. Luckily the horse trail that we had followed re-intersected with the AT and it turned out to be a big shortcut as we had somehow jumped 9 miles further along the trail. Unluckily, that 9 miles included a section through Grayson Highland park which Suzanne really wanted to see so we decided to walk that section in reverse so in the end all we managed to do was walk the horse trail twice which was fine by me because the trail followed a bald saddle and had some really nice views.

We found a really nice campsite so we camped early as Suzzies feet were sore and it would give us a chance to do some washing. I had got some drinking water from a stream which I had a few reservations about and should have trusted my gut instincts because that night my gut paid me back and I ended up fully emptying my stomach.
Luckily it wasn’t gardia or anything long term and despite the uncomfortable night I was fine if a little weak the next day. The water however did steal my appetite and all of the previous nights food (and calories L) and by the time I reached the designated shelter that we were aiming for the next day I was as shattered as I’ve felt on this trail despite only walking a pretty easy 10 miles. I was in bed by around 6 pm and slept for something like 14 hrs as recovery.. the body is an amazing thing though as by the next day I felt pretty good and seeing as we were heading back to Damascus for Trail days I was excitable as well!!

Friday, 18 May 2012

Crazies #3 & 4

Time for another update..
As always, a lot has been happening but I've had trouble finding the time or the facilities to write about it. Now we (Sheila and I).. (Suzanne and I) are back in Damascus for trail days and I'm in the basement of the First Baptist Church which has been converted into a mini internet cafe to deal with the mass overflow of hikers in this town hungry for their www fix.

Before I talk about the days on the trail with Sheila or the beginning of 'Trail days' I need to tell you about Crazies #3 & 4 because it's a story worth telling..

I'm not sure exactly what night it was but Gandalf was camping up in our little spot along with the couple that had been there since I arrived in Damascus. I think the mans name was Richard and I can't remember her name but from now on I'll refer to them as #3 & 4. They had spent the past couple of nights in town because it had been raining and I hadn't really seen them at all.

Gandalf decided that we should get some beers so he headed into town to pick up them and some ice whilst I kept busy collecting firewood and starting a fire up. I'd got the fire going and was stoking it up into a blaze when a local came past called 'Timber' and offered me a beer. We got talking and he asked if he could pitch his hammock a little up the trail which was fine by me. Gandalf got back with the beers and we sat around the fire having a chat and some pretty quiet beers.
The couple (#3&4) then arrived and said they were pretty tired and were going to bed (it was still light) to which we all wished them a good night and stayed around the fire.
Night came and we still weren't loud as we could hear the couple having a bit of a domestic. All of a sudden the #4 (the lady) came out and asked if she could sit around the fire which we of course agreed with. At that point #3 (the bloke) started abusing us with really foul language which I don't want to repeat here but the general gist was that we were all welcome to sleep with his wife.

We were all quite taken aback by his outburst as there had been no precursor to it then Timber told him to come out and have a beer with us and sit around the fire as we were all friendly here and there wasn't any reason to be mad.
#3 came out and once he had a beer in his hand the change was instantaneous as he went from borderline psychotic to ambivalently friendly. Kind of disturbing to witness I have to say.
A brief description on the couple.. #3 was an older bloke fairly mundane looking, 6 ft, 60ish whilst his 'wife' (who we found out later was by 'common law' so not marital) #4 was at least 10 years younger maybe 15, kind of hippyish who liked to talk about fairies.
After they had spent a tiny amount of time around the fire, it was obvious that they were on something, which after some gentle questioning they said was wine but these guys were off their rockers so I sincerely doubt it was just that (my guess was cocaine or mushrooms). #3 liked to think of himself as a pseudo intellectual and kept naming Russian authors and asking if we knew them whilst #4 talked about chasing butterflies in Costa Rico and would begin singing whenever #3 annoyed her. As you can imagine it was kind of awkward having mentally fragile people big noting themselves especially as Timber was delighting in playing with them as they were so scattered you could say anything to them.
I was quite over their company especially as #4 kept trying to get cosy with all of us so I excused myself and went to bed which led to a mass exodus as Gandalf couldn't wait to get away as he had been trapped by #3 for a while and is too nice a guy to get himself out of it.
#4 stayed by the fire as she didn't want to go into the tent with #3 and they began to have their domestic again. It started out fairly tame but then it escalated and there is no way I'll repeat what they said to each other but I was disgusted with the words that they called each other and still can't believe that an older couple could even use that sort of language, especially in public.
As this was happening #4 began shaking my tent and asking if she could come in to which I gave a disbelieving and definite “No”. She then tried to come in but luckily she tried to come in from the side of the tent by burrowing under the fly. For you non-tent users thats like trying to enter a room through a wall when the door is a few feet away.
After her failed attempt and my more forceful rejection she went into the tent with #3 which was around the time that #3 couldn't find his wallet.
Now this is verbatim.. give or take a few words of the conversation that they had for the next three hours.
#4 asks “Where is your wallet”
#3 responds “I gave it to you”
#4 says “No you didn't you put it in the front of the pack”
#3 spits out “Now its gone, your boyfriends took it, don't you understand they've taken everything, we have nothing now”
#3 “the guy up top, he's a cop, he's recording everything”
#4 asks “Where is your wallet”
… You get the gist.

Sometimes #3 wouldn't even need provoking he'd just skip into the middle of the conversation and it only got worse when she couldn't find her phone.

The other dispute they would have was over zipping up the tent which could last up to 15 minutes and at least we weren't to blame for that one and that would have some finality to it when one of them would finally cave in and zip the tent.

Timber yelled at them to shut up, I yelled at them to shut up, hell even Gandalf yelled at them to shut up but our efforts would only give us 5-10 minutes of silence before their cyclonic conversation began again. By about 2 am, I'd given up trying to sleep and was reading my kindle and then Gandalf and I began joking about them, I mean in hindsight it was pretty funny as it isn't anything I've ever come across before and as frustrating as it was at the time I knew it would make a good blog entry.
I fell asleep soon after that but was woken up at 5 am by them having a huge domestic which more ridiculously foul language that can't be repeated here. Then she left to go to town and I went back to sleep. Finally rising at around 10, I headed into town and saw #3 coming up the path. He was all apologetic but I wasn't having a bar of it and forcibly inferred that he was leaving the campsite as we weren't going to put up with that charade again.

Postscript.. She found her phone, he found his wallet and they left our campsite and us some memories.

Friday, 11 May 2012

Crazy #2

OK, now for the Damascus stories;
I like Damascus, it's a hiker focused small town (900 people) which hosts the biggest trail event of the trail which is starting next week. Apparently they are expecting 30-35,000 for 'Trail Days' as it's the 75th anniversary of the trail and the mind boggles at how their infrastructure is going to cope with such an overload of people.
I got into Damascus on the 6th and am waiting here til the 12th for Suzanne to arrive and in those days (and especially last night) I have met #2,3 & 4 crazy people that have got me thinking that I should make a list of the 10 craziest people I meet on the trail. I mean, I'm around a fifth of the trail through and up to 4 already.

So onto these weirdos and why I call them such..

A few nights ago I was at Quinceys which is a pizza shop cross bar. I was there with Smores/Gandolf who had arrived that day and we had finished our dinner and had decided to have a beer before heading back to our campground. At the bar we saw 'Gator' who was a hiker we had met in the Smokey mountains and to be honest I was a little surprised to see him there as I didn't have him pegged as much of a hiker. He is a pretty rough looking guy with a star of david tattooed next to his right eye (he has a jewish son he told me) and another tat next to his left eye which kind of looked like a jail tat.
He had chewed my ear off the night in the Smokies telling me all about the dangerous creatures in Florida once he'd found out I was an Aussie.
The night in Damascus however he was pretty sloshed and didn't recognise me which was fine by me. The bar tender had called last drinks and Gator kept avoiding his bill until he started wandering off and then made a run for it. The kitchen was right next to the bar and the bar tender yelled out 'We go a runner' so both the chefs ran through the kitchen to the back door and 4 patrons took off after him through the front.
I was pretty full from the 2 serves of bean soup, 10 inch pizza, apple strudel and a couple of beers so I quickly judged that there was enough people chasing him. Instead I stayed at the bar (guarding it) and checked out his tab - they print it out for you.
Gator had done a runner on a $9.65c tab. Slowly the guys that had chased him came back and he had got away so I just paid his tab with a $10 bill.
I mean seriously, you're in a small town in which the word spreads like a bushfire, on a trail where the word spreads just as quick why on earth would you do a runner for the cost of half an hours work?

Later on as I listened to the people bad mouthing him I heard that he was supposed to be part of the 'Circle of Light - Rainbow family' which the locals had little respect for as they explained to me they were a group that masqueraded as hippies but were more like anarchistic gypsies, stealing and taking advantage of everyone they came across.

So Gator comes in as crazy #2 -risking life, limb and incarceration on a $10 bill
For the record crazy #1 was Dexter/Lazy Susan - trust fund kiddie with scary eyes

Crazies # 3 & 4 will have to wait until tomorrow as I've used up my hour and a half library allotment

Stay safe... Trev

How many miles is it worth?

Ok, I didn't manage to update as quickly as I intended to whilst waiting in Damascus, but have I got some stories from this little town...
However, before I share them I wanted to talk about a new understanding I had come across with the valuing the worth of an item, I call it a 'Mileage Cost' (MC).
'Why MC?' You may ask, and 'Why would that be a more accurate valuation technique for a hiker compared with traditional techniques such as money?'
Myself as an example, money is important up until the point of acquiring everything you really need. Past that point money is only good at buying things that you want, luxuries or upgrades. Sure these things are nice but their worth to you aren't nearly as important as the things you need and so your financial estimation of their worth may be iffy at best. That and compiled with the fact that if you have more money than you need then you are prepared to pay inflated prices for things as money loses its worth to you.
The concept of Mileage Cost however came to me when I was 3.5 miles out from the hostel I had stayed at and realised I'd left my watch behind. Then the stark realisation came to me that I would have to walk 7 miles (3.5 miles both ways) to get it back. Now my Mum may not believe this seeing as I never wear a watch back home but I went through some serious deliberation over whether I should go back for the watch or just pick up another later on the trail.
Seven miles = around 2.5 - 3 hrs walking.
Seven extra miles would mean I wouldn't get to camp on a river just outside of a town and eat pizza, shop and have a wash.
Seven miles meant I would lose almost half a day on the boys up ahead of me because I would be doing my town shopping during the day (the next day), instead of that night and setting off on the trail straight away the next morning.
The watch I had left behind was worth around $20
Now I don't know if this an old wives tale or a fallacy but I remember reading once that if Bill Gates dropped a $1000 it wasn't worth his time picking it up because in the 4 seconds it would have taken him to do it he would have earnt the same amount.
I'm no Bill Gates, I walked back and got my watch. The main reason I decided to walk back to get the watch is because I got it when I went to the World Cup with my old man and it continually reminds me of that trip so I now know that watch is worth more than 7 miles to me.
This got me thinking about the other gear I was carrying and how far I'd walk for them and surprisingly the MC didn't really relate to their financial cost. Things with sentimental value accrued a much higher MC than expensive but replaceable items.
So I ask you, is it really worth the miles?

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Damaging Damascus

Hey everyone,

Well it's been a little while since I've written up but I have plenty of updates to do it's just that I have been busy.. well, the truth is that it's been raining non-stop so I've been camping in my tent reading.

I arrived in Damascus on the 6th and seeing that I'm meeting up with Suzanne on the 12th I decided to camp about 500m out of town on the trail to avoid accommodation costs. Seeing as I am going to be here a little while I've bought an esky and have been providing a little trail magic via cold drinks for hikers before they reach town.

This had the unfortunate side effect of my breaking my kindle because I didn't realise it was in my pack when I loaded it up with a couple of cartons of drinks.
I was crest-fallen at this mishap seeing as I had become quite attached to the kindle and it's become part of my nightly camping routine reading for an hour or so before it got dark, so I've ended up ordering another from Amazon to replace it and it just arrived today and I'm charging it up.

That'll have to do for this quick update, as the library is about to close but I'll definitely be doing more write-ups soon..stay tuned

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Handy Hints to Hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT)

My first experience of solo traveling was around Australia for a couple of years when I was 'finding' myself. That was when I wrote the first thing that I ever got published 'Ten Handy Hints to Backpacking' which got a double spread in the West Australian.

Many years later, I really haven't changed that much so lets see if I can pull out ten handy hints for the AT..

1/ Look after your feet
You're here for a hike, a long one so be good to them. Break in your walking shoes before the trip because you are going to be overweight.. perhaps physically, definitely packwise, not as fit as you will be in a months time, confronting big mountains with the enormity of the trip before you so the last thing you need is blisters early on. Try to keep your feet dry and as soon as you feel some rubbing get some tape on them. Yes you heard me right.. tape; bandaids are pretty useless as they quickly rub off. Your feet are going to get sore from all the rocks and roots you walk on so give them a rub every now and then and talk to them if you think that'll work.
Ointment such as dencorub or tiger balm.. anything you can think of to make them happy and they'll repay your kindness.

2/ Blazing
A blaze is a marking, usually painted on a tree, post or rock which is used as a navigational guideline. The trail is extremely well trodden and well marked by predominately singular white blazes. Double white blazing means there's something of interest coming up, usually an intersection, switchback or change of direction. However there are a lot of other trails and side routes which you will come across which will also be well trodden and marked. The most common secondary blaze is a blue one and that is used to indicate a side trail to water or shelter or a shortcut around a mountain. Blazes come in many colours but if you're sticking to the AT then you get to ignore the other ones. Blazing is also a term to distinguish what type of hike you are walking and the definitions are as follows
White Blazing - The purists, traditionalists. They walk every single step of the trail and revel in their superior accomplishment
Blue Blazing - Will walk probably just as many miles as the whites but they take the 'shortcut' trails contouring certain summits instead of peaking them
Yellow Blazing - Involves going on roads (the yellow lines) sometimes skipping portions of the trail to the disdain of the white blazers
Pink Blazing - Chasing a girl on the trail
Green Blazing - Hiking whilst under the influence of a certain green substance
Slack packing - Involves getting shuttles out of town then walking with a daypack back into town. Can be used to speed up your trail due to walking downhill instead of up (towns are usually in gaps) with a light pack.
Section Hiking - Walking a portion of the trail due to time or fitness constraints. A lot of people section hike the entire trail over the course of a few years

3/ Nothing is essential
That's right anything you might think is essential someone has probably done the trail without. But Trev, I hear you say 'What about boots?' nada, two ladies walked the entire trail (albeit slowly) barefoot.. 'What about clothes?' and I counter with the hike naked day sometime in June. 'What about food?' ok, you got me there but the reason for this point is that minimalism is the way to go. Work out your comfort zone and work back from there shedding unnecessary gear that will lighten your pack. There are 'hiker boxes' along the trail at hostels littered with expensive gore-tex clothing and other hiking paraphernalia that people realise they dont need and end up ditching.
This one is personal though and everyone has their comforts that they'll happily endure the weight of (like clothes etc..) but do you really need that machete for wood collecting?
That and there are 'Outfitters' (camping stores) liberally strewn all over the trail starting from Neels Gap (31 miles in) that can supply you with anything and everything you need for the trail so it's better off starting light and then finding out what you really need.

4/ Embrace your Foreignness
You're Australian, an Aussie, the yanks love Aussies, well the four they know anyway (for the record thats Paul Hogan, Steve Irwen, Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman). Deepen your voice, embrace your inner Ocker, words such as Hey, Howdy, Hello, Hi shall never pass your lips instead they are universally replaced by G'day. You need to sprinkle some slang into every sentence you can, gallah, yobbo, fair dinkum, gammin, bloody, missus, sheilah, hell if you cant think of one make some up, they don't understand you anyway.
Vegemite is your condiment of choice and enjoy the effect it has on those sugar loving softies. Tell them tales of the multitude of deadly creatures we own and don't forget to embellish them.. "yes the Death Adder is also called the three step killer because it has enough poison to kill 100 elephants", "You've never heard of dropbears? Well they kill soo many people they try and keep it quiet.."
Bonus points if you can toss in some Aussie rhyming slang (Hit the frog and toad) or quotes (Flat out like a lizard drinking)

5/ Learn surburiginal
This one is a bit of a subsection of the previous entry but anyway.. It may be different down south but up here in Darwin there are a lot of suburbs that sound like completely foreign words to Americans.. Tiwi, Alawa, Millner, Parap, Wanguri, Malak, Wagaman, Nakara etc.. These words can be blended together into sentances to show off your great understanding of the local indigenous culture and language. For example "Sure I speak Larrakia lingo... 'Alawa tiwi wanguri parap nakara' it roughly translates to 'My feet are sore, bloody mountains'. I'm sure southerners could even use city names like Wollongong, Wagga Wagga etc.. I mean most Americans knowledge of Australian towns doesn't get past Sydney and Melbourne and for many it doesn't get even there. As an aside, surburiginal works quite well on the aforementioned Sydney and Melbourne folk. I mean lets face it, generally all that they know of Darwin is that it will be "Fine, sunny with the chance of afternoon showers" 

6/ Trail Names
Your introduction to trail names will happen early on in the trail. Mine was within a few steps of landing onto the trail and meeting 'Rock-Scar' and 'Ten-Gallon'. Trail names can have a meaning for example Rock-Scar had hit his head on a rock and had a scar from it, they can be self named like mine 'Walkabout', or you can be named by other hikers for personal traits.. ie: Bush-Goggles so named for once he hits town no female is safe from his gaze.
I was a bit skeptical about trail names in the beginning but I've come to embrace them as they are a great ice breaker and are a lot more identifying (and easier to remember) for when you're talking about other hikers.
Some of my favourite trail names that I've come across are as follows
Bush-Goggles - He was already named 'Stew-ball' when I met him but after watching him in town i had to rename him :)
Lightning and Lady Bug - Hit by lightning 6 times (with scars to prove it) doesn't stop him going outside.. Lady is his partner.
Day Glow - named after his fluorescent shirt
Yogi and Boo boo - hiker couple, bear lovers

7/ Trail Magic
What is it?
It is the magical moments when you come across people that just want to help hikers in any way they can. Trail magic could be a lift into town and then the driver giving you $20 out of the blue to go and buy lunch with.
A more common version of trail magic, and it's a kind that has happened to me fairly regularly along the trail is when people set up a bbq at a road intersection with the trail and feed the hikers as they come past. So far I've seen complete spreads put on by church groups (two by baptist churches) with oodles of food (but no alcohol) and drinks, bbqs with kegs and moonshine set up by former thru-hikers (people that have walked the trail), support vehicles for a group that also have snacks that they give to other hikers and one time just a car making scrumptious turkey sandwiches in the middle of nowhere.
Trail magic is a thing of beauty that has never failed to put a smile on my face and now whenever I come to a road intersection I invariably check out any parked car with hope in my eyes and a rumble in my belly.  

8/ The American Way
You are in the Great U,S of A. Food is sweet (literally) processed and cheap (thanks Aussie dollar)!! People have strange sounding accents and say weird things like Y'all, Howdy and old men call you 'Sir'. They walk the street carrying guns and despite everyone acknowledging that metric is simple they still use the imperial system, yes my 1.5 Lt water bottle also shows that it is 1 quart, 1 pint, 2.7 fluid ounces. No-one can work out what the temperature converts to in centigrade which can catch you out if you dont realise that a 20 degree night means it's going to be below freezing (for the record 32^ F = 0^ C). Pavements seem to be an optional extra in rural towns which are the domain of 8 cylinder pick-up trucks (big utes).
Still, enjoy the wacky place you find yourself in. Southern hospitality is real and people are quite friendly and gregacious once you show you aren't a threat (and dont carry a gun). The towns are beautiful and varied with strange 'genre' towns like the Bavarian 'Helen GA', circus like tourist towns 'Gatlinburg TN' and idyllic, picket fenced, flag marked, neo-colonial style buildings of Erwin TN.
Food, cigarettes, beer hell pretty much everything is cheap, especially coming from Darwin and the states are varied enough that they all have their own delicacies for you to try. A personal favourite of mine is the breakfast bowl from a servo at 'Hot Springs NC' which contained grits (porridge like), scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, cheese and something else all mixed up together in a bowl. 'Biscuits and Gravy' is really quite nice and they are sweet scones with a white pepper sauce.
In short there's lots to discover in the ol USA and the best way is to chat to the locals to find out whats happening.

9/ Trail Food Syndrome
Do you read the back of packages and get excited when you see a high fat content?
Have you ever tried to work out the percentage of calories per ounce? (Bonus points if you can then convert it into grams)
Whilst shopping do you look at a box and wonder how small you can compress it once you get the food out of the box?
If the cooking instructions is anything more complex than ‘add water’ do you think to yourself “useless”
Are you convinced that ‘Iced Frosting’ will make a good lunch as it’s over half the calorie RDI in one tub?
If you answered yes to 2 or more of those questions then you have ‘Trail food syndrome’. The RDI (regular daily intake) for an average adult is around 2000 calories, this they will burn off over the course of the day going about their business. Most people will fill the RDI easily with a couple of good meals, some snacks and a few drinks. On the trail however every extra kilo you carry makes your work harder. The more you carry, the slower you go, the greater your exertion conversely the more food you need.. A kind of catch 22.
The average hiker is burning a lot more than 2000 calories a day and as weight is at a premium shopping becomes an exercise in not “what will taste good?” rather a more prosaic mindset of “how am I going to get the calories?”
This usually involves eating a lot a processed food as they are generally light and keep well rather than water inundated fresh food. As a bonus you will lose weight as a side effect of the trail and this is whilst eating anything you want.. Chocoholics rejoice!!

10/ The Hiker Grapevine
News travels quickly along the trail. It isn't a homogeneous progression of people walking from South to North. People take days off (zero days), they slackpack certain areas, they skip sections etc.. and of course people love to gossip so a good story moves quickly up and down the trail.
This combined with trail names and hiker logs means that it isn't that uncommon for people to have heard about you before you've even met them. Ahh so you're that aussie 'Walkabout' hmm. This should be kept in mind when it comes to your conduct as you don't want to be known as the guy that leaves trash at campsites or couldn't find the tent zip after a night of excess and ended up with a wet tent (Tree Hugger you've been immortalised).
There's a group of hikers ahead of me as I speak called the 'wolf pack' that I haven't met that are supposed to be pretty rowdy at nights and I heard that they were refused entry into one of the hostels in Erwin based on their reputation alone.
The grapevine is also good at keeping tabs on people and how far they are ahead or behind of you which is great for motivation to put in extra miles or for those pink blazers out there.

So that's my list of hints and info about the AT, I'm almost a fifth of the way through so still have a long way to go and info to find out

Til then Walkabout out

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Prophetic Poetry

Not too sure how to pen this one, I think I'll just tell you how it went and you'll have to believe me that its the Gods honest truth..

Soo.. I left excitable Erwin on Sunday which probably can't get too excitable as you cant buy alcohol there on a Sunday but the border isn't far away and the locals have a lot of experience in moonshine running around these parts. It was a beautiful sunny day and I was hiking on my own as our little hiking group has pretty much split up as John didn't stay the night in Erwin, Dallas left early and James decided to have a zero day to rest his feet.
Ahh I've got my days mixed up but I'll continue this story, soo, Sunday was fairly uneventful. I left the hostel late and it was mainly uphill walking punctuated by some beautiful views from bald summits. That night I find a nice solitary camp and found out that the defect in my stove that hadn't been working very well wasn't due to fuel shortage but due to some blockage and now it wasn't working at all. Still this wasn't too big a problem as I just made a fire and cooked with that.
Monday was another beautiful day and I stopped at a shelter for some lunch and began reading through a 'shelter journal'
Shelter journals are journals left at each shelter which is a way for people to communicate along the trail as well as fill in idle time by drawing pictures and cartoons. Well this journal had a really bad poem in it and as I continued walking I began musing about adding my own really bad poems into the journals. Pretty much straight away I came up with one which I penned into my trail book for prosperity (and also because my memory is horrible)
So word for word here it is..

In the nettle
You can settle
With a fire of pine and spruce
Then some thunder
Makes you wonder
Should I tent to avoid that juice
A deep rumble
Makes you stumble
As you grab your pegs and poles
Your cooking fire
No longer a pyre
The thunderstorm swallows it whole
Pouring rain
No refrain
Looks like muesli bars for dinner again

I was quite proud of my little poem even though I have little doubt to its quality and showed it off to the inhabitants of the next shelter (which included yeti) so I have proof to my prophetic powers although I with complete hindsight I'd change the last three lines to

Now the hail
Big as snails

Yes, it was still blazing sunshine when I left the shelter and I was happily climbing a hill when I heard some thunder. Hmm I thought to myself, then thinking to my little poem, HMMM...
Still I wasn't too worried, the thunder sounded a fair while away behind me so I kept going. Then I felt some drops of rain so I donned my parka and put on my backpack cover but still wasn't too worried. Then.. the rain started lashing and the lightning became frequent and on top of me and I was starting to think of 'Lightning Bug' and worrying that if I did get hit by lightning then I wouldn't be able to go walking out in a storm again. By now I was soaked and desperately looking for a place to camp as the storm was getting a bit scary. I did eventually find a place and just as I did the hail started. Now I'm not too accustomed to hail, so I was too sure what it was but it wasn't too different to rain so I kept setting up my tent. I'd almost finished setting up the tent when the hail started to get serious. I mean the haildrops were getting huge and hurt when they hit you. My bag was a little away from where I'd set up the tent but as soon as I finished I dived into the tent and left my bag outside to the mercy of the elements until the hail finished.
Needless to say I had a cold dinner that night and a slow start to the next day as I had to get a fire going to dry my gear out and cook up the previous nights dinner.

So that's the story of my prophetic poem, I've decided after that experience to leave poetry alone for a while and if I do go back to only write nice stuff.. sunshine, smiles and trail magic I think