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Us on the AT

A Lady, a Tramp, and two furry toddlers taking on the Appalachian Trail

On the Real

This shit sucks. 

Oh, I’m sorry, is that not what you were expecting? Let me rephrase. 

This shit really, really sucks.

Let’s cut through the romanticism of thru hiking, rull quick:

Every day we get up and eat breakfast. We pack up and I put 30-40 pounds on my back – dependent almost entirely on how long it’s been since we left town – and Dylan, “Tramp,” 40-50 pounds. Then we walk, for literal miles. Several hours later we stop walking, set up, eat, bear bag, and go to sleep. Then, get this, we do it again. And again. And again. Every day we do this. Unless the weather is too shitty. Then we sit, miserably, and wait for it to pass, sometimes losing a whole day. 

It rains, often, and the temperature plummets when it does. There are ridiculously steep climbs and, more treacherously, steep descents. There are “stairs” built into the slopes, which always manage to fuck your knee because they’re weird and irregular sizes. There are “PUDs, ” which stands for “pointless ups and downs.” There are endless switchbacks, taking you back and forth the same ten feet at different heights, making a relatively short hill take twelve years to complete. We pop ibuprofen, “Vitamin I,” like it’s fucking candy because, between my shoulders and Tramp’s knee, we hardly even make a fully functional human. 

Ooh. Then there are the trail markings. “The trail is super well marked,” they said. “The blazes are sooooo easy to follow,” they said. Ummmm……disagree. Okay, yes, they are actually. But at least three or four times a day I’m convinced that we’re lost. I start going over every run off and side trail we’ve passed, trying to figure out if I miscalculated mileage or misread the guide or something that might have led us astray. It’s usually about the time I’m starting to become genuinely concerned and considering turning around that I see the next blaze. 

But, all of that being said. It’s also phenomenal. I see new flora, constantly. Flowers, trees, vines, and other foliage. Many I’ve never seen before, and several that look familiar but whose names are just beyond reach. We see chipmunks and squirrels, butterflies and millipedes, strange insects and various birds. There’s a small, all too brave gray one that is just adorable, but whom no one is familiar with; as well as cardinals and robins and more species of finch than we know what to do with. We’ve heard coyotes several nights, their calls to each other interrupted only by Bandit’s deep bark rolling through the hills to warn them against coming too close. And every water crossing harbors salamanders of blue black and vibrant orange, poor things the subject of Tramp’s childlike wonder and fascination. 

And then there are the people. We have met so many; due in large part to how slow we are, as it means we rarely hike with the same people longer than a couple days. Buckmaster and Prince Charming, our first couple days. Garret Fox, Greg, and Kyle and his puppy, Spanky, when we hopped off trail, the first time, during the Soggy Tent Saga. Joel and his gorgeous mutt, Sadie. Tony “Parkour,” Chris from Orlando, Billy, and Pace Car who were with us at Gooch Gap and our first visit to Neels. Davis, the ridge runner, who taught us to PCT bear bag and gave me a ride to and from Suches. Lenny, “Ambassador,” and “Slow and Steady,” who were endlessly kind to us. Caroline and John, who provided us with the greatest trail magic we’ve yet encountered. Phil and Chris, who hiked Blood Mountain with us because they wanted to slow their pace. Amanda, Byron “Bourne,” Lindon, “Toothbrush,” “Tinglewhere,” and Jeremy who we hung out with on top of Blood and on our second stop at Neels. Robert, Ben and his dogs Bruno and Oska, and the Talahassee Brothers who spent a rainy day sitting in the stone breezeway. Will, George, and Jason, the employees of Mountain Crossings who were so helpful and kind to us; and, of course, Will’s dog Rush, the biggest German Shepard I’ve ever seen in my life. Pringles and Poptart, a father and his 9 year old son, who were doing a section to learn science, because home schooling. 

That’s literally just the people who made an impact in our first 30-odd miles. The sheer number of people we’ve met, and the, at least, 20 more who have made an impression in the 80-some since then is just incredible. We have met, I’m sure, well over a hundred people so far. All of them so nice, friendly, helpful, and welcoming. No matter our backgrounds or beliefs, we have this crazy endeavor that instantly breaks the ice and, more often than not, bonds us. 

So, yes, in large part this whole thing sucks ass. But in the best possible way. Even the pain isn’t all bad, because we are constantly becoming stronger; pace increasing, amount of time between necessary breaks lengthening. I wouldn’t change anything about what we are doing. Even the hardships we endured at the start have helped shaped the flow of our hike. 

We’re just shy of four weeks in at the writing of this post. In theory, we have at least 28 more weeks until we finish this ridiculous thing we decided to do. 

Stay tuned, kids. It’s gonna be a wild ride. 

Always,

Madison “Lady”

Return Everything Immediately: a customer service story

So that tent issue we had. It sucked. But, honestly, what was worse was the complete lack of concern we got from every person we spoke to at REI. We went with that tent because of their phenomenal reputation for helping thru hikers in tight spots. 

Not so much. 

Apparently, quietly and without much notice, REI stopped offering a lifetime warranty on most – if not all – of their name brand products. I can absolutely understand that, from a business perspective; I’ve heard an obscene number of stories of people taking advantage, still, of products purchased under lifetime warranty. People tell stories, proudly, of getting a new [insert product here] every year because they claim it has some issue or other. That sucks. Stupid people taking advantage of a situation ruining it for the rest of us, yadda yadda yadda. We’ve all heard that one. 

But that’s not what we were asking for. 

We just wanted a new rainfly. Happy to pay for it even. Tent only retails about $300, and I gladly would have shelled out $100 or more for just a replacement rainfly. While I think it’s a ridiculous missed opportunity, I understand that they don’t actively sell just the rain fly for all of their tent models, because they’d rather you just buy a new tent.

But remember that awesome reputation with thru hikers?

What a chance. A chance to go out of their way to SELL a product they ALREADY PRODUCE, work a little trail magic by shipping it to us in field (which I, again, would have PAID FOR) and create a phenomenal case of brand loyalty and life long customers. 

Nope. 

Instead, we were offered, for seven dollars plus shipping, seam tape. Instead, we were told tough luck, but if you take it in to a store we can sell you a repair process that takes a couple weeks. Instead, we have told every single person we’ve met, which is quite a number – since the wet tent saga cost us half a week of trail time) how terrible the customer service at REI is; we’ve swayed quite a number away from exchanging their gear for REI brand alternatives, unless they plan to return them within the year; and we will never purchase an REI branded product, or even something through them if we can help it, for the foreseeable future. 

Perhaps that sounds petty. Maybe you’re right. But there’s a saying in food service: if you have a good experience, you tell one person; but if you have a bad experience, you’ll tell ten. I can tell you this much, I meet at least ten people every couple of days and, “when did you get on trail,” is always one of the first questions. 

And I sure do love telling a good story. 

Embrace the Suck

Hitting the trail, packs and all!

Day one from springer to hawk mountain shelter. All in all around 9 miles total. It was a rough 9 miles. More strenious than any other hike we’ve yet to do together. The most difficult hike I’ve ever done in my life and thats before you add the 40 lbs I was carrying… Turns out mountains are tough. Who knew? 

We keep on learning our ability to push each other goes far deeper than we imagined. We make a damn good team if I do say so myself. All in all we made it to the shelter, tired, but we made it. We immediately started learning. Little things like, set up your tent promptly upon arrival. Because you know, rain and stuff. Once we set up the tent in a slight drizzle the rain stopped. Madison cooked and amazing dinner of noodles, summer sausage and cashews. We made new friends and like clockwork, when the sun went down every one retired to their sleeping quarters. 

Then there was rain…. 

Coming from Florida this storm rivaled some of our storms but lasted most of the night. This is the night we learned we were carrying a leaky tent…

The morning of day two consisted of a few choice words about our tent and a long rainy morning trying to dry stuff out. We didnt leave hawk mountain until about 1 pm. Well after the group of hikers we stayed with were long gone. But we still set out, our packs were significantly heavier with all of our waterlogged gear. We planned on making it to gooch gap shelter, another 9 miles or so. This did not happen as planned. Halfway through day two near sassafras mountain Madie and I came across a sign that read “Coopers Gap 3.5” without hesitation we both looked at each other and said “we’re going to Coopers Gap and calling it a day”…. We reached coopers gap around 4:30 pm and set up camp and didnt even bother making a campfire. We cooked our food right outside of the tent, hung our food in a tree and went to sleep. In bed by 730pm and happy about it. 

Final hours of the night of day two, more rain.

From 10pm until 4 in the morning of day three it rained. It took every ounce of my being to stop quoting Forest Gump. “Fat rain, sideways rain, rain that just seemed to come up from the ground”…. Daybreak Wednesday morning, April 19th we woke up to even more water in the tent. Gear soaked to the core and a very sour disposition about our tent. If it wasnt so wet I may have burned it to the ground… I woke up and set up a clothes line which didnt help much because it was foggy enough to be a scene out of the movie silent hill. I cussed the tent, cussed the rain. Paced around and cussed some more…. 

We had a choice to make, keep hiking in the weather that we’ve been having OR find a way into town and do a quick reset. This was not an easy decision. We fought with the thought of spending the money we really didnt have on a town run ON DAY THREE!

Fate made the decision for us. I heard a car coming up the gravel road not far from where we were set up. Full flip flop sprint to the road and just then a miracle happened. A trail shuttle from one of the local hostels rounded the corner and there it was! Our ticket into town! Reluctantly we made our way off the mountain and back into Dalhonega, GA just to get the very same room at the same hotel we stayed at the night before our first day on the trail. A mile walk to Wal-Mart to fetch us some seam sealer for the tent some scotch guard and a few other odds and ends. I then turned the parking lot into a makeshift workshop for making shitty tents better. 

Here’s Hoping it Holds (spoiler alert – it didn’t)

We had moes for dinner, made new friends who were also hiking the trail had a night indoors with a hot shower. Woke up with another hot shower because those are now a delicacy. Packed up all our gear and I walked to the post ofice to mail home 6.5 lbs of stuff that we could manage to part with. I sent back a plastic butter knife…… Shit got real, real quick when you’re sending home plastic flatware. 

Dogs Helping Pack Bounce Boxes

We called another shuttle to get us back to the spot we left the trail he wasnt supposed to arrive until 9pm but called us at around 5 and said he could take us now if we wanted. We jumped and waited for him to show up. I drank a beer and hung out with Greg “eleventh hour” and Garrett “Ga” until Ron, our shuttle driver arrived. We loaded his old Rav4 with two packs two dogs and us and we were back to the AT. 


With it being so late when we got back to Coopers Hap we decided to just camp there and head out in the morning. We met a man named Joel at coppers gap and the boys got to run around with his dog Sadie. All was well. Set up the tent started a fire and ate snacks for supper then went to bed. 

I’m happy to note there was not one drop of rain.

Day 4. Madison’s and my 3 year anniversary. 

“Lady” and “Tramp”

we packed up camp and got on trail the earliest yet 11 am. We set out to do around 5 miles so we wouldn’t wear ourselves too thin. Justice Mountain wasn’t as bad as Sassafras and we made relatively good timing to Justice Creek. Soaked our feet in the cool creek water and drank from the stream with strangers. It was an exponentially better day. 

We reached Gooch Gap Shelter around 3pm and before I could even set my pack down at the shelter I took a hard fall. Tripped over a root, snapped my treking pole in half  and landed full load on my left knee…. It was bad. Would’ve been worse had I not had on a knee brace. Although the brace didn’t stop me from gashing it open pretty good it did stop all the dirt from getting in the cut. We have all the stuff to keep it clean for the next few days and we’ll be keeping a close eye on it. I don’t have any pain as of writing this tonight but tomorrow is the real test. Dinner tonight was pasta sides and ramen with almonds and cashews mixed in and our dessert for our anniversary was a packet of Mountain House apple crisp. We’re in Suches, Ga tomorrow afternoon for a dog food supply box and some more gauze just in case. 

We didnt even bother to set up our tent and decided to stay in the shelter. Madison the boys and I slept in the loft as the rain lightly fell on the tin roof and lulled us to sleep.

Way better than a leaky tent

Till next time,

Dylan “Tramp”

Cat’s out of the bag

On Tuesday I officially announced to my staff that I will be leaving. The teensy circle of trust is now so big that guests of the restaurant are aware and asking me about it – especially some of the local regulars (sup John & Jan!) Continue reading “Cat’s out of the bag”

Moving Sucks

Today I woke up, in my bed, surrounded by my things, and with Baby Cat lying next to me, except its not my place. On Wednesday we moved all of my things to my mother’s. Its mine, but it’s not mine anymore. I’m a temporary resident. I sold mom the couches and dining set. My bedroom furniture is her guest room. I am living at home again, but in a home that isn’t mine. I didn’t grow up here. There’s no emotional attachment to marks on the wall or blind familiarity with corners and sticky drawers the likes of which any number of my fellow millennials have experienced in returning to the architectural wombs of our childhoods. Continue reading “Moving Sucks”

9 boxes.

I’ve been self-reliant since I was 17 years old. My life has been up’s and down’s since I was 4 when I lost my Mother. I’ve raised my kid brother from the age of 11 starting when I was 18.. I alone kept food in his mouth clothes on his back and for the most part, a dry bed to sleep in. All while fighting the recession .. He was 18 when he left and I was alone…. Alone for the first time in my life. I lost my house, my relationship, my little brother, friends, family and even my dog max…. down but not out. I stayed on a friend’s couch for 3 months.

Continue reading “9 boxes.”

jump feet first

*DEEP BREATH*

We could damn near count the hours until all of this planning, gear hunting, gear testing, and wild dreams come to one single moment in our lives… That first step.  The very first of five million steps we’ll take to make this dream a reality. Every night I look into the eyes of our dummies (our dogs) “are yall ready?” Ready to prove all of the naysayers wrong? Hike and survive well past 200 miles so we can tell Brian Moynihan to eat it? (Feel free to ask me about Brian)

Continue reading “jump feet first”

So…we’re doing this

We’re going to attempt a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. Me. Dylan. Bandit. Charlie. In just over two months we will be quitting our lives to go live in the woods for half a year. HALF a YEAR.  Continue reading “So…we’re doing this”

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