Everything Happens for a Reason

So it was the morning that I was to set out from Monson to begin Soutbounding for the first time after Northbounding the 100 Mile Wilderness. All I had to do was drive up to Greenville to get a few groceries and some fuel for my stove and I was good to hit the trail. By the time John (my trail angel and at this point good friend) ate breakfast and ran those errands it was practically 11am. I  had been saying all morning that as long as I hit the trail by noon I’m good. Because the shelter that I had to hike to was far enough in that I didn’t want to get too late of a start and have to do more than 2 hours of night hiking to get there. I night hike in the morning before sun up and in the evening after sundown every day but more than two hours of it can just drain on you. So there I am at the trailhead all ready to set out. The only thing I had to do was put my merino wool gloves on. Only there was a problem. I couldn’t find the left one. I dumped my entire pack looking for it. It looked like my backpack puked an explosion of gear in his already messy Ford F-150 4 door truck. I was pissed at myself and at the situation. I needed to hit the trail right then basically. Any deviation of this place basically meant I was sticking around another day. We called back to his house and asked Kim to see if she could find the glove. It turns out it fell on the ground in the basement after I pulled my clothes out of the dryer. What an idiot. What am I a rookie? Gear accountability, Marine.

So by the time we get back to his house I am just in a shitty mood. It was too late to make it too my destination at this point. The anxiety I felt as a hiker ready to start the mission, to get on the trail, to put my boots on the ground, to get walking, it was coursing through the boiling blood in my veins. I was ready to hike. I literally felt a pit in my stomach just disappointed in myself that I could have avoided this by doing a more thorough gear check before leaving the house.

But then the freezing rain started and it continued all day. But then something else happened. I started feeling sick to my stomach. I was wondering if the anxiety made that happen? And I don’t really get anxiety often. Or ever really. This is not a common thing for me. But my stomach pain worsened through the day and into the evening. I began to feel nauseous, weak, and achy all over. I was basically fighting puking. I couldn’t fight it for long. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and it was now almost 8pm. I finally couldn’t take it anymore. I staggered out of the worthless position that I was in on the couch and made my way to the bathroom like a pathetic fool. I put my finger down the chute and pulled the trigger unleashing several rounds of gut wrenching hell upon the porcelain. And thank God I did, I needed it. My entire breakfast came out. But I had another problem. I immediately felt a bout of explosive diarrhea comin’on. That’s right folks. The ole poop and puke had hit me. I don’t know if it was bad water, or bad food, or what. But it was all happening. All at once. I hope you’re not attempting to enjoy any food at this time while reading this. If you are my apologies but this is the raw uncut nature of my journey.

Meanwhile, the weather turned from dangerous freezing rain into several inches of heavy snow. I am just thinking to myself how awful it would be to be this sick somewhere on the trail fighting through this weather. Dehydrated and weak. It could be downright lethal. I was so thankful to have a toilet and warm dry conditions to be fighting through this illness. And a couple people who gave a crap about my well being enough to go pick up a couple of antibiotic prescriptions I had called in (Flagyl and Cipro) as well as pick me up some Pedialyte and Gatorades (3 of each) so that I could spend the next day recouping and getting back on the trail as soon as possible. And that’s exactly what I did. The entire next day was spent re-hydrating and trying to put some calories back in my body while the snow continued to fall outside.

What if I had had my glove that day I was trying to hit the trail initially? Where might I be and what condition would I be in? Everything truly does happen for a reason. All because I forgot one silly little glove. A glove that may have saved my life for all I know.

I’ve Been So Spoiled

Man, have I ever been so spoiled these last two years. I have been mostly hiking out west and those trails are practically sidewalks compared to the shit storm of ruggedness that I threw myself into here in Maine. Don’t get me wrong, I love it. ALL of it. But it is a whole different beast. Especially here in winter (albeit mild but most December Maine standards). I remember Maine’s beauty when I hiked the Appalachian Trail just back in 2013. It really wasn’t that long ago. But you all too easily forget the ruggedness of it all. I budgeted 7 days through the 100 Mile Wilderness  15 miles per day. I literally lost a whole day within the first 3 days. 10 miles per day was a struggle during the beginning of it. I had basically 10 days of food (which I consumed in 9) and had all the winter gear that I thought I might need. Snowshoes, ice ax, crampons, micro spikes. I had no idea what to expect from the 100 Mile Wilderness in winter. Hindsight will always and forever be 20/20, always. My legs are strong. They could handle the weight of all of it. I think my pack tipped the scales at around 60 pounds the morning I set out from Monson. But what I couldn’t account for was my slow pace over that terrain WITH all that weight. I just couldn’t foresee it. So really the 100 Mile Wilderness was like my tune up hike for the rest of the trail, haha. Now, THAT’S planning. The most remote and one of, if not thee most, rugged stretches on the entire trail was to be my tune up hike. Pretty ideal.

But if there is one thing I have always been good with in my life is rolling with the punches and taking it all in stride. So that’s what I did. I just kept one foot in front of the other. And then the fords hit. My plan beforehand (and I did legitimately no research on other people’s methods for safely doing this) was to just strip down on my lower half and cross all fords either barefoot or maybe with my neoprene socks on (these are actually my vapor barriers too). The first ford went pretty smooth. It was snowing on me on the first day and it was close to sunset. There was ice and snow all around. I realized that this was crazy what I was doing. But you can’t stop for too long and I didn’t let myself get psyched out. I just did the damn thing. Once I dipped my feet and legs in it hit me like a ton of bricks. Freezing cold. I powered to the other side as fast and safely as I could. Using my trekking poles to steady my balance as I fought the current over top of large slippery rocks under the water. It came about thigh deep. My legs and feet were numb well before I reached the other side. I got out safely and threw everything on as fast as I could. It took about a mile or two before I could feel my feet and toes again but I never felt like I was in legitimate danger of hypothermia or frost bite. Just had to suck it up for a little bit. The next ford was Big Wilson Stream in the dark. I don’t even wanna get into it too much. But there is a rope that goes across the whole stream. It’s a wide and swift current. The rope was too high to reach. Usually someone is on shore to help pull it down for you. I didn’t have this luxury. In the dark I couldn’t really see my footing even with my headlamp on high. I took two minor spills in while losing my balance on the slippery rocks. One I caught myself with my arm as my hand braced me on the bottom of the stream. The whole arm was drenched. Rain jacket and all layers underneath. The second spill I caught myself with my trekking poles but not before my whole ass went under. Getting my merino boxers soaked. Again I just threw my stuff on and had another mile to go until the shelter where I could get dry and warm in my sleeping bag.

The shelters were my savior, every night. I think I will do everything within my power to sleep in one every night if I can. Just having that dry space is a mental relief. I share them only with the mice. They creep up to me every now and then, and I don’t care. I talk to them a little. I make sure to keep my food away from them, but in the morning I leave a few crumbs for them. Kids gotta eat right? I stayed one of the nights in the Cloud Pond Lean To because I heard it’s been a favorite of hikers. Even though it wasn’t ideal for my miles that day, I just simply had to. I was exhausted anyways. While laying in the shelter, the massive iced over pond was just through a patch of trees, I heard this loud crack echoing through the terrain and the shelter. It woke me up. I had no idea what the hell was going on. When I finally came to my senses I heard another loud crack and realized that it was the ice on the pond. It was incredible. It was such a loud and powerful sound. I could literally feel the echo through the shelter floor. I got out of my bag to go use the privy in the wee early morning hours and as I am walking up to the door of it, I realize the moon is it. It is a crescent moon, the exact size and shape of the crescent moon on the door of the privy. I chuckled to myself. Some things are just perfect.

I wake up every morning at 430am and I am hiking by 6-630. Headlamp hiking both before sunrise and after sunset. 9 hours of daylight (and still losing) up here in Maine and I simply can’t afford to not hike just because the sun isn’t up. Plus I might go crazy with all that down time.

By the time I made it to the top of White Cap Mountain I had realized I had lost a day of hiking by how slow the going was over all the peaks. Ice, roots, rocks, snow, it was slow and dangerous going. I took my time with my micro spikes over the terrain. Slow and steady wins the race. And I am in no race. Safety is paramount as a solo hiker out here. And I do mean solo. I didn’t run into a single soul. Not even a sign of another human. Nothing. It was glorious. I did ditch the snow shoes on day two. I had my trail angel John meet me about a mile off trail at the base of the Barren Ledges on a forest service road. After the Long Pond Stream Shelter there is a rock cairn marking a side trail down into the valley. We coordinated and linked up. I will be bouncing those forward until I feel I might need them. Dropping that cumbersome weight really allowed me to move a lot better over the terrain.

Losing a day was kind of humbling, I knew I had a specific day for my permit to summit Katahdin. Gotta follow the rules out there though. I am clearly a more advertised hiker and setting the example is important. I would try everything in my power to make up the miles in the coming days in the lower elevations but it wasn’t looking good. The going was a little smoother but my biggest day was still only 19 miles and that was giving it everything I had. So used to crushing 30+ mile days out west with my ultralight setup on those groomed and graded trails. I thought about how I would come back once I got down to Georgia and summit Katahdin in spring. I could then have the luxury of doing it on a sunny and clear day. Something I did not have on my first AT thru-hike in 2013. But mark my words. I will complete the entire trail. No matter what. I feel extremely motivated out here. Going through the `100 Mile Wilderness was giving me plenty of confidence moving forward. I was really enjoying the challenges and being alone.

On the day I reached the base of Katahdin, I was indeed a whole day late. I had already come to terms with it. I still had a monster journey in front of me. My mind is on it. I am ready for it. When I got to view of Katahdin at Abol Bridge it was just before sunrise. I had already been hiking for a couple hours. But upon making it to the point, the mountain was totally clouded in. I had been walking through fog and rain for the past 3 days. But on this morning, enough of the clouds had cleared in the low land to see the foot hills of Katahdin and Abol Stream in front of her. The sun crested over the horizon and below the clouds for just long enough to see a golden scene of serenity being cast upon her base and the foothills. A rainbow sprouted up and I had one of the most glorious scenes that I could ever hope to experience. I might not have been summiting the mountain on this day but this beautiful moment was enough to appease me and give me surge of energy and excitement to set the tone moving forward. Especially after a few days of not being able to see further than a few hundred yards. I was in a good place. I was in the right place at the right time. I was exactly where I was suppose to be. A place I often find myself. The omen was good.

The whole trail was before me…

 

…Georgia bound

Solo Winter SOBO AT Thru-Hike Update

This is my first blog post in a long time. I have been extremely neglectful of this blog as my passions for sharing my journey typically lie with photos and short stories of my adventures (on Instagram and Facebook). But this winter thru-hike is going to afford me a lot of dark, cold, lonely nights in my sleeping bag. And I figure this will be a perfect opportunity to journal at the end of every day. I would like to remain diligent with this and upload my journal every time I get into town or have service or WiFi. Many of you who have been following along on what I’ve been up to are sitting there scratching your head at what I am about to set out to do.You might never understand. You might think I’m crazy. Maybe this post on Appalachian Trials can at least help you to understand a little bit why I’ve decided to set out on a solo southbound winter AT thru hike.

In the mean time let me just fill you in a little bit on why I didn’t start yesterday on December 1st like I had initially planned. With slapping this hike together so fast, I was so wrapped up in the gear list and getting up here (not to mention friends and family during Thanksgiving week) that I neglected to check to see what the winter permit procedure is for Baxter State Park. I have only been up here one other time and that was during the summer of 2013. I’m admittedly pretty ignorant to what goes on up here in winter. So that means one really important thing needs to happen for me in order to have a safe and successful hike. I MUST BE FLEXIBLE AND PATIENT. Things are most assuredly rarely going to go according to any sort of plan that I might come up with. During my bus trip from Philadelphia to Bangor (Maine) this past Monday I called up to Baxter State Park to book my winter camping permits. A nice woman named Nancy politely informs me (unbeknownst to me) that my permit must be submitted either in person or by mail. And it must be done so at least 7 days prior. Well now THAT puts a little wrinkle in the plans I had conjured up. So I casually and slowly replied over the phone back to her, “Oooooookaaaaaaaaay, I’ll call back!” Haha, what an idiot. Me, of course, not her.

So I quickly began to alter my conceived plan. I am incredibly fortunate to have a local Mainer in my corner. I good Marine Corps buddy, Jimmy, who was in my sniper platoon with me (we also lived together in a beach condo off base), his father (John) lives up near Monson, Maine with his long time girlfriend (Kim) and was more than happy to pick me up from the bus station in Bangor and accommodate me in any way that I needed (keep your heads out of the gutter). Was that the most ridiculous run-on sentence ever? Sue me. In order to account for this 7 days I need to wait in order to attempt to climb Mt. Katahdin, I decided that maybe it would make sense to start with the 100 Mile Wilderness and hike Northbound to Baxter State Park. And then from there, my friend’s father would pick me up and swing me back around to where he lives. I could wash up, clean and dry gear, charge all my stuff, resupply, and then get a move on Southbound from Monson after that. I don’t really have the luxury of sitting around and waiting for 7 days to begin, I have to make due with the time that I have so that I can try and get as far south (and particularly out of New England) as I can before the dead of winter sets in.

I’ve got just about every piece of winter gear you could possibly fathom. My pack is an abomination compared to the ultralight, sleek, smooth, and small knapsack like pack that I have been carrying all year. I will be sharing a detailed breakdown of what’s in my pack for this hike on Appalachian Trials website in the near future. If you don’t already follow them, you should. Especially if you’re an AT nut. I don’t know what kind of pace I can muster through ice, snow, potential mud, etc, through the 100 Mile Wilderness but my pack is going to be probably the heaviest it has ever been in my life (minus combat sniper missions in Iraq, a totally different beast altogether). I am going to need so much food for this. I also have acquired some first aid and survival gear that I NEVER carry with me during the summer months of ultra light backpacking. But since I am going to be out here entirely by myself, I am definitely going to need to be a little more prepared for the shit to hit the fan.

In the down days that I have had here near Monson while I anticipate my hike, I have been doing my best to fatten up. My hosts are both from Boston and moved up here a few years ago to raise their own meat for their own consumption and to sell. They have a beautiful log cabin that they had built and they have cows, pigs, turkeys, chickens as well as some horses. My first morning I had a legitimate farm fresh breakfast complete with eggs, bacon, and sausage straight from their animals. Absolutely delicious. Tonight, John is taking Kim out as today is her birthday. I am luckily reaping the benefits of this and they are allowing me to tag along for this. We are going to some sushi place an hour away near Bangor. Wish me luck!

Stay tuned for more updates.

Warrior Hike

Recently, I have been reflecting on how I got to where I am today. While it is true that I arrived here with great personal work and determination, I know that I have many people and organizations to thank for getting me here in the way that I have.  While I could sit here all day and list off every single one of them, today I am reflecting mostly on one organization in particular: Warrior Hike and the “Walk Off the War” program.

In the summer of 2012 is when I got linked up with their founder, Sean Gobin, by mere chance. The details surrounding that chance encounter are a whole different story altogether. Ultimately, I sought him out via Facebook after he completed his thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in which he raised funds along the trail to purchase adaptive vehicles for seriously wounded veterans. It was during this hike that the vision for the Walk Off the War program first occurred and when he completed his hike, it started to take shape. After a few months and several conversations, I decided that I wanted to be a part of this organization and the program’s inaugural hike on the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.  It’s mission is to support combat veterans thru-hiking America’s National Scenic Trails to better help us transition from our time in service into civilian life. It is an amazing program that has far reaching positive benefits. I consider myself extremely privileged to have been associated with such fine organization whose mission I believe in so much.

I am blessed in many ways, but sometimes I tend to feel guilty about one way in particular. So many of my brothers that I fought along side of (those that I’ve known personally and otherwise) have come home different than they were before. Some of them come home missing limbs, some of them have paid the ultimate price and leave families behind, and some of them come home with pain that they may never share with you, me, or anyone for that matter. I am referring to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. So many people come home and just are not the same. It’s something that most people will never understand. Even coming from a combat MOS (Military Occupational Specialty), I can understand WHY they might have it, but I will never understand what it is actually like to HAVE it. This is where I am blessed and at the same time what I feel guilty about it. Why does one person have difficulties coming to terms with the sights, sounds, and the implications of decisions and actions made in combat and another person can process all of that in a healthy manner? I don’t know if I will ever have the answer to that question and I am sure I am not the only one that feels this way. But what I do know is no matter what you are struggling with in life, you can find peace in the outdoors. You may not ever fully heal from whatever issues you are having, whether that is PTSD or even just the anxiety of normal every day life, but you can find a healthy break from all of this by getting outside and unplugging from the craziness that is our modern society. And trust me, it IS insane. It is chaotic. It is my personal opinion that our soul’s were just never meant to live this way. And yet here I am blogging and being a part of one of the reasons why life can be difficult. A lot can stem from being overly plugged in. The whole world is now connected. Probably to a fault. Breaking away from this can reset you and renew your spirit.

Warrior Hike aims to do this. And for me, it worked wonders. I never really felt like I had an issue living in our modern world before during or after my time in combat, but I recognized the difference in my peace and sanity once I had begun my hike on the Appalachian Trail with Warrior Hike in 2013. Warrior Hike gave me all the gear and support anyone could ever hope to have during a long distance hike. At almost every town stop along the trail there is a veteran organization (VFW, Legion Post, etc.) or a supporter of veterans there to help you out. Whether its a ride to town, a place to stay, a warm meal, or all three, you are taken care of. The best part is interacting with the members of these organizations. You get to spend quality time with veteran’s from previous generations who have served in previous wars so you share a common bond with these salt dogs who paved the way for you and me. So much respect between the generations of warriors, soldiers, sailors, and airmen. We share a common bond of selflessly serving our nation and fighting for freedoms that are constantly taken for granted by many. A bond that is shared between brother’s that have never met and yet was forged long before we were even born.  What a unique way to experience a trail and to travel by foot from town to town through the back country of our great nation.

I can’t begin to explain how fortunate I am to have the experience I’ve had. I may have made it to Mt. Kathahdin from Georgia all on my own with no help PHYSICALLY, but I’d be a fool if I sat here and told you that Warrior Hike didn’t play maybe the most integral role in the way my growth and experience on the trail unfolded.  I owe them so much and every supporter of Warrior Hike as well, whether that be a gear company that donated gear or the countless individuals that have been encouraging on Facebook, They all deserve recognition and the utmost thanks from me in my development and growth for the hiker and man that I have become today. I couldn’t have the peace in my life that I have today without everyone that has made Warrior Hike possible. And that start’s at the top with their founder, Sean Gobin.

If you have a chance, go ahead and check out their website and Facebook page as they have expanded to include other trails and adventures since my fateful AT hike back in 2013. And if you have a friend or know someone who is getting out of the service and they don’t know what they are doing in life, have them check it out too.  We’ve lost too many people who have come home that have found no direction or peace in their life. You might be able to do something about. At least tell them to get out and go for a hike and don’t forget that you can too!!

– This post is dedicated to my brother Travis Staats. May you Rest In Peace my friend –

The Tale of Onesimus and Super Sergeant Spencer

I had started this particular morning North of the small town of Blountstown, FL and began to hike across the long and winding bridge over the Apalachicola River and across the time zone border line into Eastern Standard Time. Just on the other side of the river was the even smaller town of Bristol where I had one of my famous double breakfasts. This stretch of the trail was an extremely long road walk into both of these towns and out of them as well. They were calling for a 60-70% chance of rain and I was hopeful that it would blow over. I had about an 8-10 mile road walk ahead of me and I don’t know about you but getting poured on is bad enough without the vehicles blasting past you on a shoulderless road where the sides slope off into drainage. Several miles into the road walk on a humid/sweaty afternoon, the clouds began to change from just overcast to looking more ominous. It even started to get a little chillier. This front felt to be more like a cold front than anything. I checked the weather on my phone while I was still in range of town to check the radar. I was about to get smacked in the beard with a good line of storms that were at best unavoidable. Several more miles down the road I heard that there was a teeny little mom and pop store. I picked up the pace to see if I could get there before the worst of it hit. It became quickly apparent that this was futile as the winds picked up and the dark clouds were upon me.

Now, A little over a year ago I made a purchase. I bought a Chrome Umbrella. Actually what I bought was the GoLite Chrome Dome but they went out of business and now I am shamelessly plugging the new Gossamer Gear equivalent which is literally the same exact thing, as far as I know. In any case, I bought it because I didn’t know what to expect from the New Mexico desert and what that sun would bring for me. I carried it on my first stretch on the CDT and used it sparingly and ultimately didn’t carry it past Lordsburg (the first town stop). Later on in my CDT hike there were definitely times that I wished I had it with me, especially since I carry a very thin and flimsy rain jacket that usually eventually wets out over the course of a substantial storm….anyways, I’m probably giving you all too much back drop but guess what, you’re gonna suck it up.  So to get to the point, I am now carrying the umbrella with me because I don’t know what to expect from Florida storms and figured my jacket could use the help, if indeed its cold enough for one. On this particular day I didn’t feel it was necessary to break out the rain jacket AND the umbrella so I went with just the umbrella for the first time in the rain. And I gotta tell you, I LOVED IT! It kept everything dry that I gave a damn about, my upper torso, and the top of my pack is all that I really care about. Feet and legs are going to get wet, screw ’em. So anyways, I’m walking along getting trashed by torrential rains on the side of this road, but what was awesome about this was the never ending stream of big rigs hauling timber to a facility down the road. They’d woosh past me with their hurricane drafts and the added water that came along with it, blowing my umbrella nearly inside out and out of my hands. I had to have it clipped to my shoulder strap, handle tucked into my chest strap, and both hands around the shaft (no chuckling). This went on for about 90 minutes until I finally passed the facility, now all I had to do was manage wind and the rain that was already happening. Not like that’s difficult or anything, just a minor annoyance. Finally the rain began to taper off and the winds died down, just in time for me to make it to that little store. Perfect timing (he says sarcastically). I’m bitching because I can, not because it is really merited here. I hung out in the store with the owner, Hubert, for about 30 minutes while I dried off and warmed up. Had a couple sodas and candy bars and exchanged pleasantries with him. He was born and raised in this area and it was nice to get a taste of the local flavor from someone who had been around. He was a retired gentleman with kids and grandkids. Once the spritzing had ceased altogether, I rucked up and said my goodbyes and shoved off.

Only another mile or so down the road until I reached the turn off to where the trail cut into Apalachicola National Forest. From that point I had another few miles of swamp walkin’ to go until a campground at Camel Pond where I was going to clean out my shoes from swamp debris and get ready for a nighthike. Ya see, I have been doing big mile days to get as close to Orlando as possible by March 20th so that I can enjoy some downtime in the area visiting with some relatives that I had not seen in some time. I still have some miles to go before I was content with my mileage for the day. But what happened next, well my friends, that is the real story here….and I am about to tell you.

When I reached the pond, the sun half showed its golden face from behind the rest of the grey clouds. I ran (literally) to the water’s edge to try and capture some photos but the lighting just wasn’t right. I took several shots anyways. I walked all around to size the place up. First I saw a pavilion with picnic tables and I thought to myself that I could cowboy camp on top of them protected from any future rains but then quickly remembered that I was going to do night hiking so I tried to block the thoughts of setting up shop from my brain. Although, I kept exploring the campground like I was looking for a reason to stay. I got to the vehicle entrance and I saw a sign that read “Camp Host” in front of a spot that had a Honda Odyssey towing a teardrop trailer behind it (if you don’t know, google it). I make a motion towards her and I began to walk her way assuming that she was, indeed, the Camp Host. Before I could get any words out of my mouth she said, “I bet you think I’m the Camp Host.” I quickly replied with, “If you aren’t, what have you done with the body!” She half laughed and quickly I laughed twice as hard to break the awkwardness. I am so smooth, it’s not even funny. We chatted briefly about what little she knew of the campground and then we talked about where we were from and where we were going. Her name was Polly (if I remember correctly) and she was from Ohio. I told her I was from Pennsylvania and she immediately declared me the “enemy”. She was barking up the wrong tree and she didn’t even know it, poor girl. She was retired and on an epic long road trip that was going to take her to Yosemite and a few other places. She was so excited about it and full of glee to share it. I told her I was a long distance hiker and that I would be out that way later this summer and that I hoped to run into her! She then started walking me down the road further into the campground which was beautiful. Spaces were big and open and the pond was visible from everywhere. A lot of the spaces had hookups for RVs. At the very least I was going to fill up on potable water and get a charge on my phone a little bit, I thought to myself.  As she was preparing to part ways with me she began to point at the farthest RV spot where an old smaller RV was parked. She said, “You gotta go down there and talk to the guy at that RV, he has claimed to have done the AT twice.” As soon as those words rolled out of her mouth and my eyes made contact with the RV….It all clicked!! I knew this RV. But there was no way. What were the chances of that?? I looked back her with pure excitement as we grew further apart, “I think I know this guy! Does he have a dog?” She replied with a yes. “Shut the front door,” was what I wanted to say, only not so PG.

Two years ago, I was on the Appalachian Trail and I had just come off of Max Patch. Let me rephrase that, I had just blasted over one of the best spots on the Appalachian Trail. A complete 360 degree view of the surrounding mountains from atop the bald that is Max Patch. Why did I just blast over this scenic spot you ask?? Because I was racing the clock to sundown. I was on a mission to make it to a particular spot where I thought that I would be getting picked up to head to a lodge that was doing trail magic for the Warrior Hikers. They were putting us up for the night and making steak dinners for us as well as breakfast in the morning. All you gotta do is say the words “food” or “trail magic” and I’ll rip the door off if I have to. So I was trucking along all day to try and make it to this alleged pick up point. I got there and I saw what I thought was my pickup vehicle. Only, this was not the case. This person informed me that they were merely doing trail magic for the hikers but he did direct me to to two pieces of paper in a plastic envelope that had a map and directions on it to where I was supposed to go. He said,”If you don’t mind saving my trail magic for the other hikers who aren’t getting steak dinner, I would appreciate it.” I, of course had no problem with that, but secretly wanted that chicken, burgers, and dogs he was grilling. Upon looking at the map and instructions, it was clear to me that there would be no ride. Damn it! I still have a ways to go. It was getting towards the end of the day and I knew I could still make it before dark but I had three other people behind me that were also trying to go to the same place. Two females (Joelle and Flo) and another one of the Warrior Hikers (Gary). Now, Joelle and Flo had actually decided to slack pack this day and didn’t have any of their overnight stuff, assuming that we would be making it to this lodge for the night. I forget how they planned it out but their packs were supposed to be meeting them at the lodge. But now came the hard part: getting the whole crew to this lodge together without getting separated. But at the same time, we were already late for dinner. I decided to break apart from them to make it there as fast as I could. You know the old saying, “Haste makes waste?” Well this could be applied here I am sure. In my rush to get to a place that I had no idea where it was…I didn’t snap a photo of the map and just assumed that finding this alternate trail off of the AT wasn’t going to be a problem.  As it would turn out, it was. I hiked for almost a half an hour and never found this orange blazed side trail. I turned around for fear that I would lose the other 3 behind me and finally met up with them and they hadn’t found it either. Flo and Joelle began to worry about what they were going to do for sleeping accommodations. It was a no brainer really. Flo was to sleep with Gary and Joelle was to sleep with me and we would use all of our collective clothing to keep people warm since we only had two tents and two sleeping bags. We would exhaust the majority of the food that Gary and I had to make sure everyone got fed and the next day we would make a strong push into Hot Springs, NC to sort out the mess of getting their packs back to them. Not to panic, just gotta think on your toes a little and cooler heads always prevail. We ended up making camp with a cool group of hikers, Surfer Dude and Caboose to name a couple. We were surely bummed about missing the food and warm bed but the new company, fire, and bottle of whiskey that was making the rounds made up for the loss.

The next morning, we woke up and slowly were getting ready to get out of camp. The other crew had already left while we were still discussing our strategy for the day. Before we could actually break camp, we had a couple of women walking down the trail towards us planting little American flags in the ground. We asked them what this was all about and they said that they were doing trail magic for the hikers, but more specifically for the Warrior Hikers!! I looked back at the crew with eyes wide open and then looked back to the women and was like, “You’re lookin at two of em right now!!” They got all excited and and we got all excited and urrbody got all excited. Excited! When one door closes, another one opens. I keep telling myself and others that ever since I started living the hiking life that “everything works out”. So we walk a few hundred feet up the trail to where there were a couple trucks parked and there were at least 4 people (if I remember correctly but there were other hikers there too and my memory is a little hazy) putting on trail magic. There was breakfast food of all sorts. You name it, it was either being cooked or was already made. I don’t have the time to explain it all since I am currently starving and the thought of detailing all the delicious food might actually kill me. We wouldn’t want that now would we? So while we were there, we got to know all the people that were taking care of us. I informed them that all the rest of the Warrior Hikers were at LEAST a day behind because they spent the night at the Lodge. Two of the people, Rebecca and Tom (husband and wife)  decided that, after hearing our story of the day before, they wanted to do us a favor. They lived on property nearby and had cabins for rent on their property and were prepared to offer us them to rent at a “very discounted price”. We told them that while that was very generous of them that we had to cover some ground today and that our predicament with getting the girls packs made it not a very easy situation for us to just up and decide to hop off trail for some R&R. They told us that the discounted price was actually going to be free!! That REALLY made the decision difficult but I knew that no matter what we had to make some miles on this day and there was no way around it. We thanked them kindly for everything and and reluctantly went on our way. We started rounding the hill and were almost out of site when I stopped for a moment and looked back at Gary, Flo, and Joelle. “What are we stupid?? We gotta go take them up on this!!” Haha and they were all in agreement. We turned back and told them that we wanted to reconsider. They told us that they would take care of everything. Food, Laundry, showers, the works. She told us that we could even hike a full day if we made to a particular road crossing and they would pick us up!! it was perfect. So we hiked on all day until we made it to the dead end dirt road road. They picked us up within 10-15 minutes and brought us to their property and showed us the cabin we would be staying in. It had several bedrooms and had a hot tub on the deck! That was all we needed. She gave us some snacks to hold us over until dinner and told us to get showered up and follow one of the dirt roads up the hill from our cabin to the property that they lived on. It was out of sight and past several other cabins that they rented. We did laundry and took showers and basically just reveled in the current situation we found ourselves in. 24 hours earlier we were under very different circumstances. It’s funny the way the trail life works out sometimes. After we were all cleaned up and ready for dinner we made our way up the hill to Rebecca’s Mermaid Lodge. It wasn’t one big open space in the shape of an L. The short side of it was the kitchen area with sink and wood fired stove and the long side of it was the dining area as well as a reading space or nook. It was custom wooden hand-built structure with so much charm. Windows and glass everywhere and the inside was decorated with a lifetime of items that looked like each one could tell a lifetime’s worth of stories. Most of it was mermaid themed, hence the name. Rebecca claimed that once you skinny dipped in the pool, you were a Mountain Mermaid (MAN).  Dinner was served and we ate like kings and queens. There was no shortage of food and while that took center stage initially, the real treat of it all was the companionship we shared with our hosts that night. To have two complete stranger take in 4 weary hikers who were down on their luck, well you just don’t know how much that means to someone until you are on one of the two ends of it. We were so appreciative and thankful for their generosity, words can’t even express. We must have sat and enjoyed conversation with them for a couple of hours until our bellies were stuffed, complete with dessert. Once the lethargy started kicking in and it began to near hiker midnight, we said our thankful goodnights to both of them and started back down the hill towards our cabin, but not without a bottle of sparkling wine that they sent us off with. Too kind. We capped off the evening with a relaxing soak in the hot tub and a couple glasses of the wine. Life doesn’t get much better than this day.

Am I getting to the point of the story yet? Almost. Shut up and keep reading.

When we woke up in the morning we took our time getting ready. We were in no hurry to get back to the trail. Rebecca was going to take us back to where she picked us up the day before but she wanted to take us, first, to a friends of her. Apparently one of her distant neighbors was a very interesting person with a very interesting home. Camille Shaffer was from France and she is the oldest living civilian WWII casualty. I hope I’m saying that right. What I mean is when she was a little girl she lost part of her arm when she was trying to pick up a booby trapped toy doll in the streets left behind by Nazi troops. You can read her whole story in the link I provided but she is a lovely woman and passionate artist. She runs a magical property made for artists of all kind to take up residency. This place is called Azule. And once Rebecca began driving up to it, we knew it was a magical place. Hands down one of the most beautiful and unique places I have ever been to. And Camille was a real delight and let us roam the place freely. If I could ever build something as unique and magical as this, life would surely be complete. I encourage you to check out the links I have provided here. After an hour or more venturing through the caverns and secret places of this place we decided that it was time to get back to the trail. We thanked Rebecca a million times over with hugs all around and went about our way, onward to Hot Spring, North Carolina. For the record we made it there no problem and the girls were reunited with their packs and all was right with the world.

Now, time bring us present. Back to the Camel Pond campground we go. I am walking closer to the old, shorter-style RV and I make out what appears to be a woman, and immediately I think that this can’t be the same camper. I don’t recognize this person. And no sooner was I thinking this when out popped the bright blonde/white mop I remembered from that fateful day two years ago past Max Patch. It was Onesimus and his RV!! He was the one doing trail magic by the side of the road where the map was to the lodge I never made it to!!! I looked back to Polly and said, “IT IS HIM!” and I turned without a reaction to almost shift into sneak up mode. I came around the corner in clear view of him, the two people he was with, and his dog. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you, but we met two years ago on the Appalachian Trail” I said interrupting the party. He looked at me like somebody who has given trail magic to too many hikers in his day. Time to jog the noggin’. I recanted the ENTIRE story to him. He walked into his camper and came out holding two sheets of paper and said,” I remember.” There it was, the map and directions. The son of a gun saved them!!! I was holding the very map that would have led me into an entirely different direction that day!! Wow. I couldn’t even believe it. Not only was I holding the maps, but here stands before me a trail angel that I had met before on the AT two years ago?? What are the chances of this. He takes his winters to Florida apparently and he had been at this location for a couple weeks now. He had his mountain bike and kayak with him. What better spot? A Connecticut man originally but he served 30 years in the United States Army, which brings me to his companion. Super Sergeant Spencer. A part Australian Shepherd and part pit stray puppy that he found on Fort Benning Georgia while being stationed there. Onesimus was a Ranger and Delta aka Special Forces. He was a boss but he has the heart of a servant. He had my respect long before I learned any of that but once I learned of this I had a whole new respect and bond with the guy. He also had two other people with him. Enter Missi and Jack (or was it Jake, Onesimus’ real name was Jack or Jake, you can imagine my confusion). Missi and Jack/Jake were from Michigan and were retired. Jack (not remembering which was which is driving me crazy) was a heavy equipment operator and him and Missi were escaping the northern winter in their RV while towing their Harley. Now, the funny thing about these two (and there was a lot) was that they were each each other’s first and third marriages. Meaning this was the second time they were married to one another with another marriage in between. They were so much fun though and you would have never known they were ever divorced. He affectionately referred to her as the Cannabitch, he was the Cannaworms, and their RV was called the Cannabus. Did I mention that pot was medically legal in Michigan? They had funny stories for days. Anyways, so we make friends all around and Onesimus invites me for dinner. There was NO WAY I was going to walk away from this. Sometimes your ambitious hiking plans just have to be put on hold. Night hike through swamps? ORRRR enjoy grilled chicken and fire baked potatoes and good company? Hmmm, tough call here.

The temperature was rapidly dropping as the sun was beginning to set over the pond. I ran back down to the waters edge to grab a couple more photos before it was gone. Then made me way over to the bathrooms to use the sink to rinse out my shoes. When I walked in it turned out there was a shower. Jackpot. I climbed in to rinse off quick with warm water and rinsed out my shoes in the process. Its called multitasking people, maybe you’ve heard of it? It’s like taking a shower while you’re bathing your dog. Oh you’ve never done that either? Well then forget I said anything. I made it back to the camp and began to set up my tent before it was pitch black and before dinner was ready. We shared so much fun and good conversation that night. Mostly we were all just so astonished by the random connection of two travelers. I was taken back by it all. I must have said a dozen times how awesome it was that we all were spending the evening together. It felt like we were all old friends or something. We made the correlation between hikers and RVers that its really all about the connections you make with the people you meet during your travels. I could see a thousand sunsets and hike a million mountains, but the power of human connection will usually trump most of those. It’s the people you remember more. Dinner was served and the boys sat at the picnic table and enjoyed our meat and potatoes by kerosene lantern. Missi sat by the fire and enjoyed her beer as she had already eaten.  Not much talking could be heard during that time, mostly just the sounds of eating satisfaction. We continued to visit with each other for awhile until just before 9pm when we all decided it was time to call it a night. I said my good nights with sturdy handshakes for the men and a hug for the lady. What an awesome surprise evening this was. I still can’t believe it.

In the morning I awoke to a beautiful cool and sunny morning. I walked over to Onesimus’ camper where he said he would have coffee for me. We spent a good part of the morning enjoying a few cups and had some conversation ranging from all topics such as hiking, traveling, religion, and what our plans were for the rest of the year. His plan was to leave Florida in the coming weeks to start doing trail magic on the AT again. I informed him of my hiking plans and we figured that we would probably run into each other down the road again sometime. I’m sure it will happen. I walked over to Missi and Jack’s RV and said my goodbyes but made sure they had my information to follow along on my journey’s in the future. Sad that such a fun time was so brief and yet had to come to an end. That’s the nature of hiking. Eventually ya gotta keep moving. Fare thee well my trail magic friends. On the way out of the campground I had another camper run up to me. He had the look of a hiker. An older gentleman with a feather in his cap. He told me he had hiked the AT before and he was just traveling in Florida with a borrowed car to see what the Florida Trail was all about. He told me his trail name was Feather and asked what knowledge I had about the trail, which wasn’t much. It’s funny how hikers can easily spot other hikers. His first words to me were, “Are you a thru hiker?” Haha. What gave it away??

Then I hiked through 60 miles of swamps and other shit happened…..I’m done typing. There is your story. Hope ya liked it.

The Florida Trail: Week One

I’ve never been to Florida. You hear quite a mix of opinions about this place. But then, this state can’t quite be categorized as one place, can it? No state can, really, but Florida might be in a league of it’s own in that respect. First you have miles and miles and miles of coast which varies depending on which part of the state you’re in. Then you have the inland territories of the north and the south. The culture, from what I hear, is quite different. But that’s what I’m here for, to experience Florida. I am under no illusions about the trail in front of me. I know there aren’t any mountains, or crazy vistas, or wild country like that of the Continental Divide. This is a humid place with humid-loving flora and fauna. No, I am not here to have the experience I had on the AT, or the CDT. I am here because I like adventure in new places.

After a weekend in New Orleans with my oldest and best friend, Cody, I got picked up in NOLA by a Marine buddy who I met through another Marine buddy while I was on the Appalachian Trail. Justin offered to pick me up and bring me to Pensacola for the start of the trail. I can’t thank him and his fiance enough for putting me up for a few days while I rounded up the last of my supplies and did the last bit of loose-end tying, After one seriously gluttonous breakfast they drove me to the start of the trail at Fort Pickens. We said our goodbyes and there I stood, at a very unlikely place about to hike in a very unconventional environment. You don’t think of ocean and sand when you think of hiking. You think of mountains and dense forests with fresh water streams and grass. Yet there I stood next to a cannon atop a pentagonal fort that was closing in on being 200 years old.

I walked the beach for awhile until I decided that it was too much effort to trudge through the sand, so I bounced over to the road that paralleled the beach (it was a very narrow barrier island). I finished the day on the road, roughly 6 miles of blacktop walking. I forgot how much I loathed the feeling of my feet walking mile after mile on black top. I’m not carrying Crocs like I was last year when I started the Continental Divide Trail. They were a staple and a go-to for my road walking endeavors through New Mexico. I don’t carry a camp shoe anymore. I can’t justify the weight of things that aren’t needed anymore. Although, I’m sure once I get into some more swampy areas of the FT, I may be wishing I had my trusty ole ‘Socks N Crocs’.

The next day I vowed that I would stay on the beach all day. Sure it might be harder work and the miles might come slower, but my body in general felt better after doing miles on end in sand. And really, it was more beautiful. I might as well enjoy the beach while I’ve got it. Once I cut inland, I don’t think there is too much beach walking, if at all from here on out. I enjoyed walking on the beach so much that I decided to actually continue on the beach off of the official trail. Once you get to Navarre Beach the trail cuts inland around the west side of Eglin Air Force Base and then cuts east through the base to just north of Freeport. I decided to bypass Eglin Air Force Base altogether and stick to the beach. Not only do you require a permit to hike through Eglin but in my experiences, base training property/grounds are never really very scenic. Camp Lejeune (where I was stationed) was just one big swamp and briar patch basically. I found myself losing myself in thought along the beach, enjoying the sounds of the waves crashing. I drifted up and down the slope of the beach as the waves faded in and out. It became like a game to find the hardest parts of the sand so that I could more efficiently walk along the beach without my feet slipping in the sand. Luckily I wear gaiters or I might as well have been walking bare foot the whole time with the amount of sand that would have piled up in my shoes. I did, however, walk a ways barefoot, more so for the novelty of it than anything else. It was nice to dip my toes in the sand and ocean. The water was exceptionally warmer than I thought it would be. I eventually came to a stretch that was “off-trail” and forged on without a second thought. I just figured, “This is beach, I can walk it.” It was a cold and windy day and a couple miles in I started drinking some of the leftover whiskey that I had from my New Orleans trip the weekend before. You’re damn right I saved it. Now, I didn’t get shnackered (not a real word but I doubt it needs explaining), but I was feeling the right amount of good to be talking to myself and hollering at oncoming seagulls and pelicans. I laughed out loud to myself as I knew I looked like a crazy person, but really I was just having a good time, and nothing was going to stop me. Not even the restricted sign that said “permit required” that was on the beach could stop me. I was too far to care about turning back, there was no way that I was going to walk around. I kept trucking. The only thing that had me worried was what looked like a giant air traffic control tower. But there was no runway nearby so I just kept moving. My hope was that they could care less about some dude with a backpack walking along the beach yelling at birds minding his own business. And my hopes were realized, I passed no problem.

Eventually I made my way to Fort Walton Beach. This was where I would spend the night because one of my closest friends from the Marine Corps lived there. His name is Decoteau (last name). I haven’t seen Dakota (not how you pronounce it but what we call him anyways) since I got out of the Corps. It’s unfortunate when you lose touch with someone you were so close to for so long. We were together from basically the beginning. After boot-camp, if you are going to be in the infantry, you get sent to SOI, or the School of Infantry.  Dakota and I were squad leaders together at SOI and when it was time to get sent to the Fleet Marine Force we got orders to the same Battalion! Not only that but the same Company! Not only that but the same Platoon!! Now, it would be too much to ask to be in the same squad but being in the same platoon is damn close enough. We were brothers, and always will be. After we came back from our first deployment to Iraq we decided to make the move over to Scout Snipers together along with our friend G-Spot (I swear that’s what we all called him on account of his last name being Gearino, even my parents called him that). The three of us made the transition together and we deployed once more to Iraq as a threesome of best buds. After our 4 years of Active Duty service we all decided to take our honorable discharges and seek a new life in the civilian world and the three of us would never be together again, at least yet.  So Dakota picks me up at a Waffle House and man let me tell you it was like we were never apart. We didn’t skip a beat. I was so glad that I cam down here to hike this trail if for no other reason than to run into him for a night. We went out to Chili’s and had a few beers and reminisced about old times. I get a little emotional just thinking about how lucky I am to have served my country with such an amazing crew, even beyond Dakota and G-Spot. I crashed with him for the night and then he dropped me off at the trail head the next morning. Wished I could have spent more time with him.

The next day I finally got into some woods and off the beach and roads. I had no idea what to expect from this new environment but I can tell you that if there is a way to enjoy it, I’ll find it. The ground became soft and needle covered. The trail winds in and out of shallow sand creek beds in woods that appear like something out of The Lord of the Rings (I described it on Facebook as being like Fanghorn Forest). I enjoyed it. I liked the solitude. There wasn’t a person in sight once I left the road. Only distant sounds of a feint car engine. I saw plenty of what appear to be panther tracks. I have been keeping my eye out for one and I am hopeful that I’ll bump into one sooner or later. My first official wooded campsite was perfect. It had a fire ring and two benches. I enjoyed a couple of burritos there and camped with my rain fly off but there was a chance of rain that night so I had it handy in case.  The next day I walked into my first resupply spot in Ebro where I had a box sent to the Ebro Motel. Lovely people run that place and it was recently renovated to my delight. Clean rooms and everything a hiker could need. They did my laundry for free. Ironically, staying directly next to me were 3 other Florida Trail Hikers. Captain Glen came to my room to introduce himself and insisted that I come over and visit with him and his companions, Dos and Bat. They were on their home stretch heading in the opposite direction. It was nice to encounter some other hikers, especially since they had information about the towns and trail that were ahead of me. They also had a friend visiting them who is somewhat of a hiking legend himself, Nimblewill Nomad. We all had a great time talking about hikes and conversation over a few beers.

Man, It’s great to be back on trail. This life is what I need. I could be anywhere as long as I’ve got my pack with me.

It Is Time.

Time to do this again. Time to change gears. Time to flip the switch. Time…..to be free.

I don’t always get that pre-anxiety, or jitters, or butterflies when I am about to do something exciting. I usually don’t experience the gravity of what I am doing until I am knee deep in it. I don’t know if thats because of my time in the Marine Corps or that I have been living what I consider to be an exciting life or what the reason is. But for some reason, this year, I feel like I have set the bar just a little bit higher for myself. As if hiking the Continental Divide Trail last year wasn’t enough. As if completing the Triple Crown in 3 consecutive years wasn’t enough. Well…..it’s not. And it likely never will be. This is the drive that exists within someone who has that insatiable appetite for adventure. It’s what led me to this life. I have never been the one to settle for what is calmly resting in front of me. I have always wanted to go after the big fish. I have carved myself out of the confines and structures of what is widely considered the normal American life and I have begun to truly know what it takes to live MY life. And I now know, and am extremely happy, that they are two totally different things.

So, today, I have those pre-adventure jitters. Just a wee bit. And it’s not a bad thing, it’s just a feeling inside that helps me keep in perspective the gravity of my current and future actions. Its like my body telling me, “You know you’re just a little crazy, right?” Right on body, right on. Maybe I am. But then again, maybe thats just the old me (the one that grew up in rural Pennsylvania that didn’t get out much) trying to fight its way to the surface, trying to remain relevant. Step aside son, you’ve had your time.

For those of you who don’t know, here is the brief background on my hiking career. In 2012, I was working for an outdoor gear titanium manufacturer and was asked to run a vendor booth at Trail Days (a hiker festival on the Appalachian Trail) in Damascus, Virginia. I basically got hooked just from those brief couple of days interacting with thru-hikers. I had always known about the AT and loved the outdoors and hiking/backpacking but had never actually considered going on a long distance hike myself. Less than a year later, I was on the Appalachian Trail. I spent 6 months hiking from Georgia to Maine and the further along the trail that I went, the more I fell in love with the hiking life. The simplicity and freedom is what I loved most. After completing the trail I knew that I needed more. And I am not the kind of person that has the patience to wait years and years for the things that they desire. I knew that if I wanted to make a life of this, I needed to find a way to make a name for myself so that I could, hopefully, one day make a living and provide for myself within this life.  So, with help of my sister Laura, we began to brainstorm ideas on how best to get this bearded face of mine on YOUR screen (P.S. If you’re reading this you’ve all been hypnotized into liking me).  No matter what, I knew that whatever it was going to be called, it was just going to be me. My personality, goofball nature, idiotic antics, and my friendly spirit accompanied by the wonderful people that would come in and out of my life along the way. I wanted to show you all that there is more to life, more to this country, more to this world, and more to US as individuals than just going to school and then getting a job so you can retire after your career is over. Don’t confuse what I am saying, I am not saying that those are bad things. I am merely wanting to convey that there is SO MUCH MORE. You have options in this world and they don’t have to revolve around being a consumer of products. I have next to nothing compared to your average American. And I would be willing to bet that I am twice as happy (at least). I digress. So I brainstormed this baby, The Real Hiking Viking. It’s just me. That’s all this is. My adventures for you to see and enjoy.

The first order of business was to get back to hiking. So I started with the most difficult trail that this country has. The Continental Divide Trail, 3,100 miles from Mexico to Canada over some of the most rugged terrain our country has. What better test for a Hiking VIking? It was a magical experience that I will always cherish as being a “coming of age” moment for myself in regards to this long distance hiking life. See, I got my start on the Appalachian Trail but it wasn’t until my experiences on the CDT that I really (and I mean REALLY) came into my own. All the pieces just starting fitting and I felt truly at peace. My hometown of Lewisburg will always be home to me, but this now felt like my new home. I felt at home with this wandering, adventure world I now lived in. And the CDT was only the beginning.

Before I continue I want you to know that I don’t care about spelling and grammar, this is a blog…..not my thesis. I write as if I would be talking to you. If i misspell something, it’s because I didn’t proof read this. My time is valuable and taking the time to write this is time enough. Grammar? Again….think of this as a completely one sided conversation that has been transcribed for you. Also, i do not pre craft my posts. Everything flows from the fingers in the moment. I speak from the heart, in the moment, and from my experience. That is it.  Any complaints about grammar, topic, or otherwise, please stop following. This world is full of enough negativity as it is and this is not the place for it. I aim do just the opposite. So lets all just be friends and enjoy.

Having said that, last year, I tried to journal every single day and it went pretty well…for the whole state of New Mexico. Every time I got to town I would upload my backlogged journal to my blog here and you would get to read detailed accounts of my journey. But by the time I got to Colorado, I was pretty burned out and I stopped having the time or energy to do that every day. So I gave up and focused on my hike. This year,  I would like to get back to journaling, but I don’t want to pigeonhole myself into failure like last year. I am going to journal as often as I can. And when I don’t feel like I have the time or energy to do that, i will mitigate those moments with video blogging. Let’s hope I can remain fairly consistent with this as I know it’s going to be a fun ride for everyone to following along with. Not to mention I would love to look back years from now and have these accounts of my adventures.

So that basically brings us fairly current. I am writing this to you from Pensacola, Florida. I am on the precipice of a big hiking year. Wednesday, I will begin walking from Fort Pickens on the Florida National Scenic Trail to the Orlando area. I got sick of not having that long distance adventure in my life. I have become spoiled in that sense. I need my scenery to be changing. It’s February and I have never been to Florida in my life. So here I am. I will spend roughly a month (600-700 miles, depending) as a tune up for the Arizona Trail (800+ miles) which i will begin no later than April 1st. After that I will hitch down to San Diego from Utah (with maybe a stop in Las Vegas) and grab a ride to the start of the Pacific Crest Trail at the Mexico border by May 10th. I have a (self-imposed) timetable for myself. I would like to finish these 4,000+ miles by the beginning of the last full week in August. That would be roughly 6 months from now. My time on the CDT taught me discipline in terms of my hiking routine and I know that if I stay disciplined that I can easily accomplish these goals I have set for myself.

This is my schedule through August. It is always subject to change, as goes this life. After August, I do not plan to slow down really. I plan just to take a little time off and then get back to it. You will be kept abreast of future plans as they come into the fray.

Bottom line here people, I am excited. I can’t wait to see new places, meet new people, and to be outside. Living outside, to me, there just isn’t anything better. The smells, the sounds, the wildlife, the stars, sunsets, sunrises, nature….nothing man has ever created remotely rivals the raw, untouched beauty of the wild…

…and getting back to that is thrilling.