Thursday, February 15, 2018

Hiking My Own Hike

Hiking My Own Hike

Yes, I know that phrase is so overused, but, for me, I now think of it as a useful phrase that has many meanings.  Sort of like the versatility of the word fuck, it has come to be used in several different situations.

But I'm not here to discuss how I've come to think of HYOH as a semi passive-aggressive, faux polite way to say "shut the fuck up", but to explain my desire to make my hike a personal journey.  

An Obsession is Born

Since around 2010 or so, my interest in the Appalachian Trail has grown into an obsession. I have even spent three years extremely immersed in the Trail Culture that surrounds the trail from north to south, when I was the manager at the A.T. Museum in Gardners, PA.  The more hikers I met of every style there are, the more I wanted to make my hike something unique.  I didn't want it to fit into the cookie cutter shape that certain hikes have become over the years.  I wanted something special.

One day, as I was daydreaming about the trail, an idea came to me that this hike could be a Quest.  Being a fantasy nerd, a Quest seemed the only proper way to complete a full traverse of the trail. But what would this Quest entail?  

I started feeding my obsession in 2011 by doing a nine day section hike from Harpers Ferry north into PA, the state of my birth.  I hiked about 90 miles that time, starting to learn how hard it was to hike several days in a row for decent mileages each day.  I learned that my feet would hurt when you hike like that.  I learned that when the weather is concerned, you take each day as given.  You soldier on, no matter what, because there are miles to go before you sleep.  As soon as I finished that hike, I was planning my next.

At the Halfway point in 2011. The obsession begins.

So, as the next several years went on, I would pick a part of the trail that I hadn't hiked yet, and go out for three or four days, or a week or so.  Adding to my measly total of unique miles until I had about 15% of the trail complete.  

LoGear and I doing a section in northern VA in 2012

Accepting the Quest

In 2016, after recovering from a back injury that had me not only cancelling hiking trips, but walking with a cane for several weeks, I saw a window in 2017 where we could get a very large chunk of the trail walked, if not the whole thing.  The Quest was becoming reality.  Once we picked a time and place to start, the more times I said it, the more real it became.

My wife, LoGear was up to the challenge and would come along.  We picked late April for our start, as we had some responsibilities to complete before the window opened.  We would hike north as far as we could.  As far as Pamola would let us. 

If you have read any of my other writings here, you would know that Pamola is an ancient storm god who lives in Katahdin, the greatest mountain.  He has the head of a moose, the body of a man and the wings and talons of an eagle.  Being a storm god, he has the ability to control the weather.  Especially on the mountain where a peak bears his name.  I had learned about Pamola while working at the Museum and became fascinated with him and his story.  


Before too long, my Quest had a name and along with the task of walking the whole trail, I had a very important additional task to fulfill the Quest, now named Pamola's Quest.

In my fantastical daydreaming, I had come to believe that Pamola had come to me and assigned me the Quest.  I would walk all of the trail, gathering the elements of the Talisman of the Storm.  A powerful amulet of Pamola's that had become scattered from Georgia to Maine many years ago.  I would find these elements as I hiked along.  Gathering them together and rebuilding the broken Talisman.  I would deliver the completed Talisman to the famed storm god on Pamola Peak on top of Katahdin.  There I would receive my reward for completing the Quest.  I'm still not sure what that reward will be.

The elements of the Talisman would be small things like pebbles and nuts. Feathers and bracelets and anything that revealed itself to me as an element of the amulet.  I would know when I found one most of the time.  The way it usually worked is I would notice something as I walked along.  A small shiny stone or a perfectly round nut.  A bracelet waiting for an owner or a feather laying in the middle of the trail.  I would usually pick it up, put it in my pocket and forget about it for a while.  Later, I would come upon it as I fished in my pocket for something and remember.  If it was still there, I would move it to my electronics bag or the pouch of the amulet itself.  A new element of the Talisman would be added. 

The Talisman at its beginning

So we started this Quest like the other thousands of wanna-bes who start their adventure in Georgia.  At the beginning, it had the potential to be a Thru Hike, but that was never my main goal, or very important to me.  If it ended up being a Thru Hike, than all the more special, but I had decided that I would not give the completion of my Quest a time limit other than the span of my life or walking ability.  If it took more than the standard year, than so be it.  I knew going in that the odds were certainly not in my favor, but I just needed to get out there and become a long distance hiker.  Outsiders, who are living life on the Trail, traveling by foot, as far as we could go.  

At the Arch.  4/25/17.  I'm really fat.

After hiking 251 miles, LoGear had come to the realization that my Quest had become less important to her than seeing her daughters and our dog.  She decided to get off trail after we left Erwin, TN in late May.  I continued on alone, but when I walked into Damascus, VA. I knew that Phase I of the Quest was coming to an end.  I needed a break.  I had let my mind convince me that I didn't want to spend the WHOLE summer just walking all day, every day.  I needed a diversion.  I needed something that wasn't walking all day, every day. I knew we would be back, but I wasn't sure when or where.

Alone on the trail for a while

Entering VA. 30 lbs lighter

End of Pamola's Quest Phase I

Doing Other Things - And Hiking

I got "off trail"  (no one quits, we just get "off trail")  and went home.  I planted my garden, kissed the cat, harvested my garlic, opened the pool and we went down to the beach for several days.  It was good getting back to the variety of things I do every summer, but before too long, we were talking about getting back to the trail.  

Ginger and LoGear in Cape May

In early July we headed back to the Trail. Not where we had gotten off, but close to where we might have been, had we kept walking.  We got back "on trail" at Rockfish Gap, and hiked through Shenandoah National Park.  It was an awesome hike.  We moved along good even though we had lost most of our trail legs and the weather was much more hot and humid in July than it had been in May.  We met new hikers and even saw a couple that we had started with down in GA.  But, this Phase (Phase IIa) was only eight days as now we had things to do at home before I could return once more.

Back "on trail" in Shenandoah

Shortly after getting home the first time, I found that our heat pump wasn't doing too well and I had the HVAC guys come in and look at it.  They put some dye into the system to check for a leak and were coming back soon to see what was up.  Also, during our first hiatus, I purchased some Tom Petty tickets, so we now had a date in Philly to see one of the greatest rockers of my young adulthood and I was still a huge fan.  Once I heard of Tom's passing, I knew that getting "off trail" was the totally right thing to do.  I had been wanting to see him for several years and am thankful that I got to see him during his last tour, even though we didn't know that was the case at the time.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker in Philly, July 29, 2017

After the concert, LoGear drove me up to Lehigh Gap in PA which was the northernmost part (excluding short hikes in NJ, NY and ME) that I had hiked in my Section Hiking days.  From there I continued north to finish PA, then NJ, NY and CT.  Getting to within four miles of the VT border in MA.  At the end of August, I headed home once again finishing Phase IIb of the Quest.  

Climbing up out of Lehigh Gap with Scrambles and Grouch, two hikers we had met in NC
who came walking up to me 5 minutes after I had restarted.

Phase III

When everyone is ramping up for Trail Days in Damascus, VA this May, I will be heading back to the Trail to finish the Quest in two more Phases.  Starting in Damascus I will hike north to Rockfish Gap to finish my 11th state.  After a short break, I will head back up to Williamstown, MA and will finish the final three states heading north.

Once I complete the AT, I still haven't completed my Quest.  The plan is to continue along the Knife's Edge to Pamola Peak, where I will present my completed Talisman to the god who sent me on this Quest.  If I am found worthy, I will continue down the Helon Taylor trail, down to Roaring Brook campground and from there, make my way to Millinocket and then home.  Or, maybe I'll just keep hiking.  I don't know.   

The Talisman of the Storm after Phase IIb

Present Day and The Quest So FAr

So here we are on day 296 of the Quest.  I ended up hiking 910 new miles of the Trail in 2017 and when my Quest evolved into something that was not a Thru Hike in early June, when my lack of mental fortitude allowed me to decide to get "off trail" for a time, I decided to include the 15% of Trail I had hiked from 2011 thru 2015 for a total of 1299 miles complete and around 990 to go.  I have collected several elements of the Talisman and I know that I only have a few more to find.  

I am perfectly happy with the way this hike, this Quest, has progressed.  Once I let go of the time constraint that a Thru Hike entails, a huge pressure lifted from my chest.  Some people become obsessed with being a Thru Hiker.  I'm not one of them.  I'm hiking MY own hike and I'm ok with that.  

I know this is a long read, so if you are still here, thanks for sticking around.  I have had a hell of a ride so far during this Quest and I am sure that once this Quest is complete, my Adventures will be far from over.  LoGear will still keep hiking new miles and I hope will one day become a 2000 miler in her own right, so it will be fun hiking with her and supporting her as she does the miles.  I have also already started planning my next Adventure which will be a traverse of the state of my birth, PA, on foot, using the multitude of trails that exist in my favorite state.

Stay tuned.  I guarantee it will be a wild ride.


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Winter Backpack

Hiking in the Dead of the Year

For a few years now, I have been wanting to get out on the trail during the winter months.  Not for anything too long.  Just to experience the challenges that hiking in the colder, darker time of the year present.  

In February of 2016, I went out and spent the night up on the trail.  There was a lot of snow and I used the road to get near my camping spot instead of the trail, since that would have been a lot of post holing, but I had just hurt my back that day shoveling snow at the Museum (which would be the beginning of a months long back issue) and I was hurting some.  I set up a very small backpack tent on about eight inches of packed snow and spent the night.  It was fun, but there was no trail hiking involved and it was only one night.

This year, I decided to head out after the New Year and do a Yo-Yo of the state of Maryland.  After heading out on Jan 2nd in six degree weather, I ended up hiking about 4.6 miles before heading back to the truck.  It just seemed a little more dangerous than I was willing to risk. That plan evolved into a four day, 45.7 mile trip that covered most of MD and let me spend a night in Harpers Ferry.  This is an account of that trip.

20 degrees warmer, but still below zero

1.  Date: Skysday, Afteryule 18
2.  Day 1
3.  Morning temp: 26 (Noon)
4.  Weather: snow, sleet
5.  Time start: 1206
6.  Time stop and miles: 1531/6.8
7.  End point: Rocky Run shelter
After heading back to PA to pay my respects to my Uncle and cousins after the passing of my Aunt, I spent the night at my brother's house up in East Brady, PA. I woke up around 06, even after staying up way too late and drinking way too many beers. After laying around until after 07, I got packed and hit the road before 08. 

I felt good as I made my way down Tom's snowy driveway as snow, mixed with sleet ticked off my windshield.  It was a three and a half hour drive to the trailhead.

The snow stayed with me until I moved over a ridge, then was dry until I pulled into the parking lot. Large flakes were falling still mixed with the sleet.

I grabbed my pack and headed to the trailhead.  I felt cold at first after being in the warm car for over 3 hours and was doubting my decision to start the hike without my base layer on, but realized I had chosen wisely as I warmed up after a few uphills. 

The trail here is really nice and I ambled along at my usual pace.  Before too long I came to the Washington Monument and checked it out. 

Frosty Washington Monument

No water at the pump, which would be the theme of the day. Still too cold for even the frost free faucets. 

Next was the Dahlgren church and Turners Gap.  I entered the area of the civil war battle of South Mountain and checked out some of the info plaques along the way.

The Battle of Fox's Gap

No water at Dahlgren Camp, but I was doing fine with my two liters and still had plenty when I rolled into camp with an armload of firewood.

I set up the hammock, checked the spring, which was flowing nice and gathered some more firewood. 

Rocky Run shelter

I ate dinner and then made a fire as dark settled into the woods  After I burned all the wood I had gathered and processed, I headed to the hammock.  I had put my neo air in between my layers of my hammock, but it wasn't comfortable. It swings out of the way or something. I deflated it, but left it and the space blanket in place. I'm sorta warm, but can feel some cold spots below me. I have most of my clothes on and lots of things in my pockets to keep them from freezing.  We will see how the night goes.

Heading Into Town

1.  Date: Seasday, Afteryule 19
2.  Day 2
3.  Morning temp: 20s
4.  Weather: clear, cold
5.  Time start: 0738
6.  Time stop and miles: 1525/16.6
7.  End point: Harpers Ferry - Towns Inn
I slept pretty warm last night. A few times I recall waking up feeling down right toasty. But, alas, after almost 12 hours in the hammock, it was time to roll out and start the day. I started the day in the dark as I started packing up. There was a nice coating of ice on the rocks and it still felt like it was below freezing.  I was on the trail a little after 0730.  

A cold sunrise

The day started with a climb of course, that warmed me up fine. I made my way past remembered waypoints from past hikes and stopped for lunch at the Garvey shelter. The day had been warming up and it was very pleasant sitting at the shelter.

A woman (Jersey Badger) and her dog Shadow came by and we talked a bit. I was seeing more people today. Mostly day hikers and dog walkers. I met a guy at Weverton Cliffs that is planning a Thru this year. 

Classic view from Weverton Cliffs

I made my way down off the ridge and walked the C & O path for a couple miles before crossing the bridge into town.  

I found the Hostel and secured a bunk. It is an interesting place in an old building. 

Town's Inn Hostel and Cafe

I walked up to the ATC for a visit and talked with Mountain Laurel for a while before coming back to the hostel, showering and then having a good dinner.

I earned a free breakfast by carrying some wood pellets and rock salt up to the second floor for the owner. I am tired and sore from the day, but I did the chore no problem.

After dinner at the Inn's Cafe, I took it easy in the Hostel living area and hit the bunk around 2000.  

Tomorrow I will retrace my steps back to Rocky Run for one more night outside.

Heading Back North

1.  Date: Earthsday, Afteryule 20
2.  Day 3
3.  Morning temp: 26
4.  Weather: cold, overcast
5.  Time start: 0710
6.  Time stop and miles: 1556/17.3
7.  End point: Dahlgren camp
I slept good in the bunk in the Towns Inn Hostel.  It is a unique place amd I enjoyed my stay. Hasmig the cook and Karen the owner were fun to talk to. 

I ate my earned breakfast and then hit the road/trail.  It was a chill morning and the wind coming off of the river was biting cold. I got across and onto the towpath and the wind wasn't so bad. 

After the C & O, the big climb of the day is up to Weverton Cliffs. I made my way up slowly and started along the ridge. I stopped in at the Ed Garvey shelter and met a few hikers. Two I had seen yesterday. Before that I had met a hiker with a small dog who said he had done 3800 miles so far and had no food or money. I had some cheese in my pocket, so I pulled it out and gave it to him. 

Moving along I leapfrogged the other hikers a couple of times and stopped at Crampton gap for lunch. 

War Correspondents Memorial - Crampton Gap

I was making good time and my feet felt ok, so when I got to Rocky Run at 1420 I decided to go to Dahlgren after getting water. 

I arrived with some daylight left and set up. A fire, some good dinner and then to bed.

Dahlgren Campground

Tomorrow I finish.

Winter Backpack Complete (January Edition)

1.  Date: Starsday, Afteryule 21
2.  Day 4
3.  Morning temp: 30s
4.  Weather: calm, overcast
5.  Time start: 0725
6.  Time stop and miles: 1002/5
7.  End point: Rt 70 overpass

I was warm again during the night and was ready to roll out a little after 06. It was going to be a short day.  I took my time breaking up camp as a dim light slowly moved into the campground.  As I sat at the table heating water for my morning coffee, a Red Tailed Hawk screamed and slowly flew past me at the height of the nearby trees.  It was a very peaceful sight.  

I was all packed up, fed and ready to go before 0730 and I continued along the path I had walked a few days before.  The last five miles were nice and easy and I made good progress.

I took a few detours along the way to see things that I had not seen before in my hikes by here, like the miniature Washington Monument that sits at the entrance to the real thing just up the road.  When I checked the pump once again at the Monument area, it was now working.

Small replica of what is up the hill some.

Before I knew it, I was walking up the blue blaze towards the parking lot as the AT continues northward.  I threw my gear into the truck and started it up.  I headed to the nearby McDonald's for a second breakfast, then it was an hour or so until I was home again, putting my gear down in the basement "gear area" as I start thinking about what to do next.

I'm hoping to get out every month this year for at least an overnight.  I need my Outsider time.  It has become very important to my continued sanity and happiness.  


Saturday, December 16, 2017

Some Vital Statistics of the Quest Thus Far

Tracking and Sharing Our Journey

One of the things that I find important is taking good notes and recording the things that happen to me when I am out on a hike.  

If you have read my trail journals, you will see that I follow an interesting calendar and keep track of things like the temperature and weather.  I also record how many miles I hiked and how long it took me to get there. I tried to include event things like Views of the Day, interesting flora and fauna. The smells, sounds, Highs, Lows and Hopes of the day.    

I tried to write every evening and was pretty good at accomplishing that.  From time to time, I would be too exhausted or not in the mood to write, but I always caught up before the memories grew fuzzy or started to fade.  

How Much Does It Cost?

I also tracked our spending.  You hear over and over again that it takes "this much" dollars per miles on a long distance hike.  I wanted to see which "this much" matched my actual spending.  It appears that mine averaged out to about $3 a mile and was of course higher when I was alone and not splitting the cost of a Hotel or meal with LoGear.  

I didn't want funds to be a problem during the hike and luckily I had my military pension coming in each month which definitely helped us to maintain our home and also afford our hike and the occasional stay in a Hotel or Hostel.  

Some of our expenditures were due to how our Quest had evolved.  There are transportation costs that were a part of breaking up our hike this year that added to that category.  Some of the lodging costs were also due to waiting in town at a Motel until our bus was ready to leave.  Also, some of our restaurant spending was us paying it forward by treating some of our Tramily as we were treated by Cool Breeze way back in Franklin, NC.  All these extras resulted in our cost per day, per person sliding up the scale a bit.  

When I go back through the numbers and remove the spending that was due to us changing our plans, things like lodging, shuttles and bus rides, the total comes out almost $1000 less and comes out to an average of just under $2 per day.  

The Numbers

I (either with LoGear or alone) spent 74 days on the trail this year during the Quest.  Two of those days were zero days where we/I hiked no miles (except town miles).  I covered a total of 910 new AT miles.  LoGear's mileage was around 477.5 for the year.  

We/I spent $3,817.27 from April through August.  I tracked our spending in eight categories.  Lodging, Restaurant, Resupply, Transportation, Alcohol, Misc, Gear and Shipping.  Here is what I considered for each category and how much was spent on each. 
Breakdown by dollars

Lodging:  This included Motels, Lodges, pay campsites and Hostels.  We spent $1,055.90 or 28% of our total.  This was our highest spending category.  If you remove the stays in places that were due to our evolving Quest, the cost went down to $819.62.  As with just about everything, lodging was a little cheaper down south as compared to up north.  

Restaurants:  This category was for food that we ate, usually in town, that wasn't considered a resupply purchase.  Besides restaurants, delis and roadside stands fit into this category.  Also, things like a coffee or ice cream were included in this category. 

Having real meals cooked for you are an important part of keeping your sanity out on the trail.  We spent $1,029.45 on this category or 27% of the total.  This was the second most costly category, but I think it is pretty necessary for us.  I guess one way to lower this is to purchase food items at a grocery store and cook a meal or two yourself using Hostel kitchens if they were available.  We could have lowered this also if we didn't treat our Tramily to a couple of meals, but I'm very happy to have done this.  Treating others makes my heart glow.  

Resupply:  Everything we purchased and carried out with us was resupply.  Not only the food we needed, but the other consumables like fuel, lotions and creams, tape, etc. are included in this category.  We spent $669.02 on resupply which was about 16% of our total.  Our resupply strategy was what I call "Living off the land".  What that means, is we relied on whatever was available when it was time to fill our food bags again.  Sometimes that would be a nice grocery store in town, other times it was a gas station next to the trail that had enough of what we needed to keep going.  We did not rely on mail drops for resupply with a few minor exceptions.  

Transportation:  Any time we weren't walking to get somewhere, we were using transportation.  Sometimes it was free, other times not so much.  Luckily we used our credit card miles to purchase our flight down to Atlanta, everything after that is included.  We spent $608.70 on transportation, which comes to 16% of our total.  This number would have been a lot lower (more like $33.70) if we hadn't needed shuttles, ubers and bus rides when our plans changed.  

I was pleasantly surprised down south, at the beginning of our Quest that a lot of the rides into towns were free or included in the cost of staying at certain establishments.  We did use our miles to erase two of the three bus rides, but I still included them in this accounting.  

Alcohol:  I wanted to break this out from restaurant or resupply just so I could get a good idea on how much I spent on this part of our Quest.  We, (mostly I), spent $180.25 on beer along the way, which was only 5% of our total.  

That is most likely less than I would have spent during the same time at home.  I found that when I did drink, it was just a few beers.  Over drinking would have hindered the hike, I believe, so I usually kept it easy.  Also, the beers in Shenandoah were real cheap.  When I was up north, I started buying a tall boy or two and humping it out of town to enjoy later after I set up camp for the night.  Out there, even mostly warm beer tastes real good.  

Misc:  I needed a category that would cover all the miscellaneous things that cost money out there.  Here you will find our laundry costs, sodas, ice cream, tips, showers, donations for misc things and permits for the Smokys.  We spent $162.80 or 4% on these items.  

Gear:  There are always changes to your gear out on the trail.  Luckily for us, we made very few changes to our kit.  We $73.05 of gear during our hike which comes to 2% of our costs.  We only bought five things that qualify as gear.  A space blanket for my hammock at Top of GA, Trekking poles in Erwin (to replace one of my walmart poles that broke during a fall on the way to Erwin), headphone replacement in NY and replacement of my hat and a tent stake that I had lost and broke along the way.  That was it.  

Shipping:  As I stated before, we didn't rely on a lot of shipping during our hike.  We sent a box to Fontana Dam where I picked up my sleeping pad and some of the food after we heard that resupply is more expensive there, but we probably would have managed fine without it.  We also shipped our travel bags back home once we got to Atlanta.  These bags made it less stressful checking our packs for the flight down.  We also sent a box home with some items that we weren't using, but didn't want to hiker box.  We only spent $38.10 on shipping or 1%.

Breakdown by percentage


So there you have it folks.  Yes, this Quest continues, but I have learned a lot about where the money goes when you are out there.  Let's see if I can put any lessons learned into practice as we continue the Quest.  

Saturday, December 2, 2017

A Few Hostels of the AT - Part 1

Some Hostels of the Trail

In this article, I will talk about all of the Hostels LoGear and I visited on our trek this year.  This article won't be anywhere near all inclusive of the Hostels that sit near the Trail and serve those who walk it, but it will cover the ones we visited as we headed north.

I like Hostels and the unique experience each provides.  I mentioned a lot while hiking, that the Hostel visit is an important part of the Long Distance Hiking experience for me.  It adds flavor to the hike and can give you a break from the Outsider way and also provide relief when the weather challenges you and your batteries need recharging (both literally and metaphorically).

The List

Here is a list of the Hostels we (or I) visited, where they are and when we stayed there, plus my ratings of how they did:

(With LoGear)
Len Foote Hike Inn, GA, Day -1
Walasi-Yi, Day, Neels Gap, GA, Day 4
Top of Georgia Hostel, Dicks Creek Gap, GA, Day 8
Standing Bear Farm Hostel, Davenport Gap, NC, Day 23
The Hostel at Laughing Heart, Hot Springs, NC, Day 26
Uncle Johnny's Hostel, Erwin, TN, Day 31 and 32

Mountain Harbour Hostel, Day 36
Boots Off Hostel, Hampton, TN, Day 38
Crazy Larry's Hostel, Damascus, VA, Day 41

(Phase II-b, still solo)
Church of the Mountain Hostel, Delaware Water Gap, PA, Day 98 (just spent the day here)
Bearded Woods Hostel, CT, Day 112 and 113 (slack packed on day 113)
Upper Goose Pond Cabin, MA, Day 117 (not actually a Hostel, but close)

Len Foote Hike Inn - Day 1

The Hike Inn is so unique in so many ways.  It was our jumping off point and a great experience before starting our adventure.  Technically, this would be our first (and only, so far) "work for stay" of the Quest.  Also, we arrived at the Inn in a special way that all of the other guests are unaware of.  

Our adventure started on this day.  We flew into Atlanta from Baltimore, arriving just after noon.  We rode the MARTA up to its northern terminus and were picked up by Richard "Peregrine" Judy.  A good friend, double 2000 miler, Author and President of the Board at the Hike Inn.  

After gifting us some fuel and stopping at a post office so we could mail our travel bags home, Peregrin took us through a Chic-Fil-A drive-through, to Amicalola Falls State Park to check in and then along some crude, winding, gated roads to the secret parking area at the Inn.  For us, it was the Len Foote Ride Inn.  

A collection of old packs in the main lobby

This place is amazing.  They are all about conservation of resources and ecological conscience and education.  You are encouraged to turn your phone off (not much signal anyway) and each morning, if the weather is pleasant, they walk through the bunk room area, lightly tapping on a bongo drum, to let you know that the sunrise may be nice.  

They compost all their garbage (with the help of red worms) and promote a clean plate goal at every meal.  The food is very good so cleaning my plate wasn't a problem at all.  They use composting toilets and solar energy to heat water and provide electricity.
My clean plate after a wonderful meal

The cost of a night here is quite a bit above the usual Hostel price, but it is totally worth it.  We were lucky to be able to sing for our supper (not literally, that would be a disaster), but I was able to do a 45 minute talk about the Appalachian Trail Museum and also talk a little about what LoGear and I were doing there.  Starting our own long distance hike, our Quest.  Our one night stay and the meals were a part of the deal. Of course we through what we could in the tip box to try and express our gratitude.  

The accommodations are rustic, with bunks in a small room, but there is a place to put your stuff and the mattresses were fine for the night.  The showers were warm and the toilets soothingly caressed your buttocks as you sat, with the positive pressure the composting toilets use.  

Our simple bunk room

I hope to someday get back to the Inn as either a guest or a volunteer.  It was quite an experience and I would love to spend more time there.

The morning was perfect as the bongo announced and we were able to enjoy our first sunrise of the Quest at the cool stone henge they have set up on the hill side.  

The henge thingie. The Summer Solstice casts a circle of light into the grotto.

Our first sunrise of the Quest

LoGear enjoys the sunrise

Price: $$$ - $122 per single, $175 for double.
Remarks: Boxed lunches for $
Value: 8
Amenities: 9
Overall Rating: 9 out of 10.

Walasi-Yi Center - Day 4

The Walasi-Yi Center at Neels Gap, GA was our first actual Hostel experience of the Quest.  We arrived early in the day after an easy nero day and were the first to check in.  Rain was in the forecast and we were happy to pick our bunks, use the shower and do some cowboy laundry.  We also did our first resupply here at the Mountain Crossings outfitter.  

The Hostel is a simple affair.  It has a kitchen area, a sitting area, one bathroom and a bunkroom with about 12 beds.  By the end of the day, we were full and we got to learning the names of those we have been hiking around for the last couple of days.  The guys were actually outnumbered by the gals in the Hostel, which is always a good thing.  

Our bunks were sufficient and although there were a couple of snorers, no one was exceedingly loud.  Most of us had done some sort of laundry, but the Hostel doesn't provide any laundry service as their well is nearly dry and it can't handle 20 hikers trying to wash all of their clothes.  We all did our best and there was a nice breeze moving through the gap that helped dry our clothes quickly.  

Drying clothes in the breezy gap

As I lay in my bunk, playing with my phone, using the spotty Wi-fi that was there, I could hear the rain falling outside.  It was good to be inside for the night.  The night indoors, gave us what we needed to start the next Push of the Quest.  

The famous boot tree on a misty morning

Price: $ - $18 per person.
Remarks: No laundry service (when we came through). Resupply on premises. No Pets.
Value: 6
Amenities: 6
Rating 6 of 10.

Top of Georgia Hostel - Day 8

As we arrived at Dicks Creek Gap, rain was once again in the forecast.  Just as we walked into the parking lot, the van from the Hostel pulled up.  Odometer, the volunteer driver, confirmed that there were a couple of bunks left, but they were filling fast.  This was the time we realized that you can call ahead to these places to make reservations, which a lot of hikers behind us were doing, so I guess we were lucky that we were able to get bunks in the main rooms.  

We were whisked down the hill about .5 to the Hostel.  We met Bob and Carrie and checked in.  We were put in separate rooms, but it was no biggie. We got our showers and put on the provided scrubs so we could get all of our clothes laundered by the staff for $5 each.  

The bunks were soft and roomy and their hiker box had a lot of goodies in it and we did a lot of our resupply from there.  Saving some money for when we would shop later in town.  

The Hostel also provides a shuttle into Hiawassee that we took advantage of, looking like an OR staff as we walked around town in our blue, gray and green scrubs.  After eating a good town meal and doing some resupply, we were picked up and taken back to the Hostel.

I have developed a "clean your plate" habit.

The Hostel once again filled up with people trying to get away of the upcoming weather, but we would be off in the morning, come rain or shine.  The place was very nice.  Along with three rooms in the main building, they had some small cabins that will also accommodate a dog if you had one.  This is a nice sitting area with a couple of guitars for those who dabble and they also have a decent outfitter where you could resupply if you wanted.  The gear selections are small, but if you needed something, they probably have it.  

In the morning, you get to listen to Bob talk about his Thru Hiking theories as you eat the included breakfast of all you can eat cereal, with coffee and juice.  Afterwards, you are whisked back to the trailhead to continue your hike.  Refreshed and enlightened for what is ahead.  

Price: $$ - $25 per person
Remarks: Laundry $5. Resupply on premises. Breakfast included. Pets Ok in outer cabins. Free shuttle into town.
Value: 8
Amenities: 9
Rating 8 of 10.

Standing Bear Farm Hostel - Day 23

We strolled into Standing Bear after an awesome week in the Smokys with super nice weather.  But of course, now there was rain in the forecast and everywhere along the trail was buzzing with "Trail Dayz" fever.  We grabbed our choice of empty bunks in the bunkroom as the van, driven by a crazy looking dude, headed out full of hikers going to the festival.  

I like to describe the Hostel as Unique.  It has a very interesting layout.  There are several buildings at the farm.  Each has its own special use and also I found that each had its own unique smell.  There was the bunk house and next to it, the kitchen.  The laundry building was where you washed your own clothes using a scrub board and double sink.  There was a dryer though and that helped.  

The Hostel had a decent supply of fresh, frozen stuff and they had beer.  They had a store building that had plenty to purchase.  Just about every item was past the expiration date, but that didn't really stop us from doing a full resupply (it was only for two or three days).

Those of us who were foregoing Trail Days hung out around the fire pit and LoGear and I each had our own frozen pizza for dinner.  

The caretaker was Clark.  Clark was a skinny guy that hung out on the porch of the bunkhouse, sitting in his rocking chair and propping his foot up on the porch post.  Clark had a nice long beard and an ever present pack of Marlboros in his shirt pocket.  He told me he was dying of lung cancer.  (I recently learned that Clark passed away not long ago).  Clark was the one who would get your pizza out of the freezer and your beer out of the locked beer building.  Everything else at the Hostel was done on the honor system.  You got a piece of paper and a pencil and you recorded your purchases. Settling up with Clark before you headed out.  

Clark, the innkeeper

I really liked this Hostel stay, mainly due to the way the place was.  It was AT culture at its finest.  Nothing was 5 star and that was ok.  It was AT 5 star though.  

Price: $ - $20 per person, $15 pp, tenting.  
Remarks: Primitive laundry. Resupply on premises, although most stuff out of date. Beer!
Value: 7
Amenities: 9
Rating 8 of 10.

The Hostel at Laughing Heart - Day 26

When we rolled into Hot Springs, rain was once again in the forecast.  We arrived at the Hostel early in the day and were able to quickly secure a private room.  The Hostel was guaranteed to fill up tonight as the rain came and came hard.  We showered and got in line for laundry.  Along with the communal bathroom and laundry, was a kitchen you could use.  Outside, there was some covered areas with seats where we could hang out and stay dry.  

All the bunks filled up and there were a few tenters.  I think there is also a lodge type accommodation behind the Hostel, but I don't know the details of it other than it was more expensive.  

The Hostel is basically right on the trail at the edge of town.  There are a number of restaurants, an outfitter and a couple of decent resupply stores a short walk away.  We did the walk, but in the middle of the heavy rain, so we were a little drippy when we walked into the Spring Creek Tavern for lunch.  

Rain filled AT symbol in the sidewalk in Hot Springs

After we completed our town chores and the laundry, we just hung out and drank a few beers.    

The next morning, my back felt not too good and I spent the next three days trying to get it re-aligned and pain free.  I guess the mattress in the private room didn't agree with my back issues.  

Price: $ - $20 for a bunk, $30 for single occupancy private, $25 semi-private and $45 for private. 
Remarks: $5 laundry.
Amenities: 8
Rating 6 of 10.

Uncle Johnny's Hostel - Day 31 and 32

After a very challenging Push, that had us dealing with the harshest string of weather so far, we made our way into Erwin to once again find a Hostel next to the trail on the edge of town.  We had stopped early the day before to fight off hypothermia so we arrived later in the day than we usually had so far.  The place was already full as far as the bunkroom and the many small cabins due to once again approaching rain and I think it was the Memorial Day weekend too.  

Heading down into Erwin, the Nolichucky River 

We weren't there for the cabins though as I only wanted to sleep in my hammock from then on if I could, after my bach issue with the last Hostel.  Fortunately there is a fairly new hammock pavilion at the back of the property and there was only one other person in there at the time.  I think you can hang at least six hammocks in there.  It was covered, with a table and an electrical box with four outlets. Each hammock area had an overhead light too.  It was a perfect setup for us.  We could hang, and not need our tarps and everything we needed was under the pavilion, with the restrooms a short walk away.  

Pixie, hanging out in the hammock pavilion

Since we had not taken a zero yet on our Quest, we decided to take one here. The free shuttle into town was very convenient and we used it three times to eat and resupply.

I slept great in the hammock area and when the rain did come in the night, we didn't care at all.  

Mileage sign outside the Hostel

Price: $ - $20 per person in the bunk room. $30 - $95 for the private rooms and cabins. $15 Tenting/Hammock.
Remarks: $5 laundry. Resupply/gear on premises, but Walmart was better. Free Shuttles.
Amenities: 8
Rating 8 of 10.


Part 2 will talk about the Hostels I stayed at when I was hiking solo, both down south and up north.  Stay tuned.