AT: Family backpacking trip

For my birthday, I wanted to do a family backpacking trip.  We opted to do nearly the same exact trip we did with the HTC men’s group in early June, documented here, here, and here.  As the trips were almost identical, I’ll not go into the details of the journey.  I’ll just say that the kids did very well in the 20 miles and nearly 4000′ of climb that we did, and post some photos.

Day 1


We stopped for a “coffee break” for me and a rest stop for everyone else.  Reece threw up the hammock and chilled while Kelly got some sun in the back.


Here’s the kid’s tent site near Wise Shelter (just on the other side of the creek):


Mess hall:


Day 2

Heading out:


(a bit of a joke as we had only walked about 5 minutes!)




Rock climbing:



Lunch break


Evening camp site:



Our site was invaded by ponies…  Some editing done by Riley:






Day 3







AT: HTC Summer backpacking trip day 3

I slept much better on the 2nd night, as per usual.  I was a bit worried about the cold, but it ended up not being as cold as the 1st night.   Sometime just before 6 a.m., though, I was woken by sounds that are very hard to explain.  In hindsight, it’s easy to call them “aggressive munching sounds.”  This was right next to me on the right side of my tent.  And then something was making noise on the upper side of the left tent.  I quickly looked up, and saw the shadow of a head of some kind of animal poking its snout all over my tent!  Based on the way the light was behind it, and not being fully awake, it was not a shape that made sense to me, but my 1st guess was baby bear.  I sleep with my hiking poles in the tent, so I “gently” tapped the top corner of the tent a couple times to get it to move.

Once that was done, I could hear munching all around the tents.  I poked my head out and could see lots of animals — adult and baby horses!  I couldn’t get my phone camera to work for a bit, and all I got was this crazy video:

Well once the animals cleared out, there was no getting back to sleep.  But being awake did allow me to watch an incredible sunrise:


After we had breakfast and packed, we walked down to a nice site for morning prayer.  This was the site on way down:


IMG_0966.jpgThe altar:


During prayer:


During prayer there were horses all around us, and some kept going after various packs — trying to get inside, etc.   During the NT reading, there was literally a stampede right through the middle of our group, and Shea had to jump out of the way, while I had to jump behind a tree.  I have a little video of the aftermath where they were running back through:

Eventually the horses let us be and we were able to complete a wonderful morning prayer service, including communion.

As the last day we just had a 5 mile hike, mostly downhill;

Screen Shot 2017-06-12 at 2.02.44 PM.png




All in all another great trip.  I hope to take some of the 2sparrows clan out on this same loop in July.  But every time I am on the AT, I can’t help but thinking about thru-hiking.  I’ve done close to 500 miles on it now, but spread out over many years.   I really would like a crack at doing it in one go someday!

AT: HTC Summer backpacking trip day 2

I never sleep well on Day 1 on the trail, and this trip was no different.  Despite a camp site right next to a load stream, which was wonderful, I still tossed and turned a bit.  And I was chilly, even in my so called 20F bag.  :-/  Granted I did not put on my socks or jacket, but still!  I woke up early and decided to walk the 5 minutes towards the shelter, as there were two nice privy’s there.

Shea was camped near me, without even a rainfly:

On the way back I heard what I thought sounded like a lot of cows coming our way, and hoped the guys up on the ridge were awake!  (Shea, David, Caleb, and myself had all camped lower by the stream.)  I arrived and luckily the guys were up, with at least 10 large steer (including LARGE horns) all mixed amongst their tents, including this fire eating bad boy:

And a video:

After all the excitement, I made another amazing cup of stream side coffee:

The privy (“a poo with a view”):

We had a shorter hike today, but it was still a climb:

Once we reached the top of that climb it was really open and exposed — and crowded.  There’s a day hiker’s parking lot not far from there, and there were a lot of people out.  It was still gorgeous:

We debated at the top about what to do.  Shea had scouted the area by the spring, and it was crowded.  There were other options further on, but since he hadn’t scouted them, we didn’t know if they’d be any better.  In the end we headed to the spring and eventually found some good camp sites.

After setting up, Bob and I decided to “fast pack” to Mount Rogers (just a small day back).

AT: HTC Summer 2017 backpacking trip day 1

The summer Holy Trinity Chatham back packing trip was set for Grayson Highlands State Park in VA.  Michael and I drove up and met the crew — large this time at 15 hikers, at the trail head.  We were joining the AT at Fairwood Road (VA 603). The two of us got there late due to a nail in the tire that had to be taken care of before we left Pittsboro, right when most of the hikers were ready to go. The big group took off and Michael and I left 15-20 minutes later.

We caught the main group half way up the hill, and then I decided to keep moving to find Shae, Caleb, and Bob, who were ahead.  After at least an hour or more on my own, I started to worry that perhaps the plan had changed and I hadn’t been told!  I had stayed on the AT, but never saw the lead group.  I reached the 6 mile point, where the itinerary said the shelter would be, but it was at least another two miles according to the map and other hikers.  I debated for quite some time here on what to do, eventually finding a nice rock to make a cup of coffee on and wait.  And wait.  And Wait.

After 45 minutes I debated whether I should just go forward to the shelter/camp site and wait, or go back.  I assumed either way if the plan had changed, someone would realize I was following the original plan and come find me.   I opted to hike back to the group, and after at least a mile, finally came across Shea, Caleb, and Bob.  They had waited at a trail junction, but slightly off the trail, and we never saw each other. The four of hiked on to the camp area and set up our own tents, and waited for the rest of the crew to show up.

Photo’s below:

Strava data – this includes my back and forth route along the AT:

Trailhead sign (and my HEAVY pack — I packed enough to solo thru-hike the AT other than food!):

I was my own barista on the trail, waiting for the group and debating whether to go forward or back…  The coconut is a bit sweet for me, but the frothiness was good.

Lots of ponies by the shelter… We had camped before this, on the other side of a fence and stream as no tents were allowed in this area.

A good place for the food, considering the bear stories we had heard on the trail and read in the log book at Wise Shelter…

AT: US19E -> Damascus Run

On June 12th Sho Gray and I ran from US19E to Damascus, roughly 74 miles by trail distance, but more like 75 miles or more by the time we were done.  Not due to getting lost, but due to “side trips” to get water, back track a bit, etc.  I had estimated maybe 20-22 hours based on the elevation profile and from what through hikers had told me — namely that the last 30 miles into Damascus was “easy.”  Boy did I underestimate it!  It was a very difficult run that took over 25 hours to complete, had 15,000′ of climbing, and was filled with rocks and roots and mud most of the way.  Both Sho and I had moments of despair, but we persevered and made it through!  Here are photo’s from the trip…

First, the map from the GPS data: Screen Shot 2015-06-23 at 5.12.39 PM

Next, the elevation profile: Screen Shot 2015-07-01 at 4.25.02 PM And now just random photo’s Sho and I took along the way: 11289861_653365220273_477716749_n 11541296_653365250213_939594453_n 11541318_653365275163_2045145477_n 11637869_653365439833_950857036_n 11647317_653365429853_1157875560_n 11650466_653365320073_1523579652_n 11650666_653365225263_1299348017_n 11650761_653365030653_1015992070_n 11651311_653365409893_75085878_n 11652126_653365290133_325504724_n 11653477_653365160393_1481651955_n 11655529_653365364983_1754572062_n IMG_5108 IMG_5110 IMG_5111 IMG_5116 IMG_5119 IMG_5120 IMG_5128 IMG_5130 IMG_5132


  • Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek pack – ripped across the top and I lost my Sawyer filter bag and maybe (?) some food…  UD is replacing the pack, and I still love it, though maybe a touch small for this distance/length of a run
  • Sawyer Squeeze Bag water filter system — will next time use the Sawyer mini filter in-line from the hydration pack to mouth piece, and a collapsable cup to  fill the hydration bladder.  The Sawyer squeeze bags are great when you have running water, but not so great when you have a small spring / puddle, which is what we had the 2nd half of the run.
  • Altra Superior 2.0 — my 1st pair ripped in the toebox and this was a brand new pair, never worn before.  Had a bit of a hot spot the 1st day but overall this shoe was still great, considering it was brand new.
  • Nike combat compression – still happy with these after moving on from under armour.
  • Petzl Tikka RXP headlight – love this light.  One charge lasted all night.
  • Fenix PD32UE – super bright hand held helpful for finding the trail in some areas when it’s not always obvious.
  • Icebreaker bodyfit 200 top — got some terrible chaffing between this and the pack.  Had never chaffed in this shirt before, but had not worn it with the SJ pack.
  • Icebreaker 200 hoodie — ended up wearing this at night and taking off the body fit due to chaffing, and it got me through.
  • Injinji toe socks – awesome as always.
  • Buff – never leave home without it…
  • Had a knife, black trash bag,  and a rope for emergency purposes — ended up using the rope to tie my pack together once the top ripped so badly.
  • Food:  Started with Ucan super starch in the bottles and a bit of gatorade for flavor (it’s all the shop at the hostel at the start had…).   Epic bison bars.  Vfuels.  One pack of pop tarts, one pack of peanuts.  Was really low on food the last 5 hours, but I’m not sure if I lost some food due to the torn pack or if I just had the perfect amount to get through to the end….
  • Water:  gathered along the way from water falls, streams, and springs.

AT: Rock Gap -> Fontana Dam

I met Ethan and Mike at Fontana Dam on Tuesday night.  I arrived around 5:30 p.m. and checked out the shelter, affectionately known as the Fontana Hilton due to toilets and showers near by, and decided it would be a nice place to stay the night before we were going to start the trek from Rock Gap to the dam.  The shelter sleeps 26, and there was plenty of space.  They arrived a little after 10 p.m., and of course all the other hikers were already asleep so they crept into the shelter as quitely as possible.  We awoke a few minutes before 6 a.m. and were on the road right away, since we had a 90 minute drive to the start.

Here is a small map of the area… We started just south of US 64, and ended up at Fontana Dam, right where the “green” for Smoky Mountain National Park is.


Here are the elevation profiles for the section we hiked.  We started near mile marker 103, at the gap before Winding Stair.  The hike out of the NOC near mile 104 was quite the climb!  About 3300 feet to the top at Cheoh Bald, though we stopped at the shelter at Sassafras near 2900′ of climbing.


And we stopped at Fontana Dam, so next time we start it will be quite a climb up.  I am actually thinking of “fastpacking” the Smokies in one-go.  It has been done as low as 17.5 hours, though most people are in the 22-23 hour range.  I think I would shoot for less than 30 hours!  Anyone game? 🙂


Day 1:  Rock Gap to Cold Spring Shelter, 19.5 miles

We started just after 9 a.m. and hiked pretty hard.  We wanted to make good miles the 1st 2 days so we would have a short hike out on Day 4.  We got to the shelter, but it was very old and only slept 6.  We set up the tent on the ridge line above the shelter with the plan to have Mike and myself in the tent, and Ethan in the Shelter.  But apparently around 9 or 9:30 some younger guys got to the shelter, made their way into tight quarters, made a lot of noise, etc., so Ethan came up to the tent.

Day 2:  Cold Spring Shelter to Sassafras Shelter, 18.4 miles

We again pushed hard so that day 4 could be easy.  Sassafras shelter was packed, so we found a site for the tent and set it up.  There was no level ground so we adjusted a few times, but at the end we still had a good 5″ drop from head to toe, which I think adversely affected my leg and foot recovery!  One interesting point while here.  One guy, who I never actually saw, wandered off into the woods and was killing it on his harmonica and blues singing.  He was really good!

Day 3:  Sassafras Shelter to Cable Gap Shelter, 15.2 miles

Again pushed hard to get 15.2 miles in.  I was shooting to hold a 3.0 mph pace and made it in around 2.9, not including a 1 hour lunch stop at Brown Fork Shelter.   Many folks at Sassafras had said they were going to try to make these 15 miles, but after hiking it and arriving a little before 5 p.m. to find the shelter empty, I thought not everyone could make it since it was a pretty tough hike with a couple killer climbs.  I was surprised by the number of folks that did make it, but not everyone did.  While sitting around the camp fire (only one of the trip!), we were talking to one 69 year old and his son.  They had made it from Sassafras, so I was impressed with the older gentleman’s stamina and endurance, because it was tough.  Anyway, the son was someone that worked at IBM in Tampa where I had worked back in the 90’s, and we knew each other’s names and had probably worked together on a few things, but had never met face to face.  Small world! Here is a link to his blog.

Day 4: Cable Gap to Fontana Dam, 7.3 miles

I finally made the 3.0 mph mark I was shooting for!  We got to the dam a little before 10, showered up, and drove back to the car at Rock Gap.

All in all a great trip, though this is the 1st without any kind of major “story” to tell.  Like the blizzard we got caught in in 2005 — in April, in NC.  Or the many equipment failures we had last year.  Uneventful, but a great time.  Can’t wait to continue on towards Maine!

Here are a few photos, with a link to the full photo album below:

P1030133 P1030152

P1030212 P1030127

Photo Album: Click Here

Quote of the trip: On the last night at Cable Gap, we had been there fore a few hours and a couple came in really fast around 8:30 p.m.  When they found the shelter was full, they sad they had no tents so they were going to keep going.  I assume they at least had a tarp or something along those lines.  They treated water and looked at the maps for where they wanted to go.  We asked how far they had come, and they said Wesser, which is the NOC, so they had come about 25 miles and were now planning on at least 3 more.  We then found they had made it to this point, about 150 miles into the trail, in just 7 days, including a “Zero” where they rested up!!! That is just insane fast.   They explained they had to make it to Maine in 90 days to get a free ride home.  These two looked very energetic for having done so many miles already. I asked what they had done to get in shape.  The girl, with orange and pink hair, said:  “I just skate boarded.  Like 8 hours a day.  I’m addicted!  I guess all that moving like this did it!” where she demonstrated a kind of frog squat.   That was NOT an answer I ever expected!  I wish I had gotten their trail names so I could follow them to see how they hold up at that kind of pace.

AT: Exercises

Ok, last post on my recent AT hike… I promise. 🙂

I wanted to record here a few of the exercises I should have done before we set out. As I was hiking along, I kept thinking of these, and how I would have been better off had I done them. 🙂

  1. Hiking: This is of course obvious, as it is very hard to get into hiking/backpacking shape by doing anything else, though there are other exercises that will clearly help, and I’ll get into those below. Last year we went in June, so I had a couple of months to hike locally, up to 6 miles, usually with one of the kids in the backpack. In fact I remember taking Riley in the backpack for 6 miles, and how heavy she had gotten, and saying it was the last time she was getting a ride. And it was! This year we went in April, and I just had less time in general to get out and hike. And now with the kids the age they are, I can only really hike hard with Reece in the pack or on my own.
  2. Step-ups/step-downs: I had been doing these a lot last year for my knee, and had kind of moved away from them. It was obvious as I hiked how much I missed doing them! After my recent PT visit, these are back on my routine, as it is clear I still have more work to do in that area, especially on the R side, where I am quite weak laterally, and have trouble staying straight on the step down because of that. Much of that lateral weakness is not due to the quads, but the supporting muscles, especially the hip adductors, so I am working on those as well.
  3. Quads: in general, quad exercises like lunges and squats, would have helped.
  4. Tri-ceps: this one may not be intuitive, but I rely heavily on my trekking poles on both the ups and downs. On the downs, it saves my kness. On the ups, I estimate I am taking 15-20% of the weight lifting off of my legs and putting it on my arms, which means I use my tri-ceps heavily! I would lean towards military presses which work not just the tris, but shoulders and chest as well, all in a way that is similar to how I use the poles.
  5. Shoulder shrugs: this is another one that isn’t obvious, but what I found in my adventure racing days is that my shoulders would get extremely sore and tired from the weight of my pack. By bulking up in the traps, it seems to take that load off… I think this is due to both the strength improvements as well as the additional bulk to distribute the load better.
  6. Aerboic exercises: I was definitely in better aerobic shape last year as well. I think some of that has to do with being sick the week prior to this hike. Running and orienteering are both good, but next time I will add both elliptical and stair-master to my routine.
  7. Yoga: Nothing specific about yoga, other than I think it is the best overall exercise you can do, as it works on strength, flexibility, balance, and even cardio if you do a vinyasa/flow based style.