Last night I attended a presentation by 2014 Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker Jesse “The Viking” Swensgard. Jesse is a USAF veteran who thru-hiked via the Warrior Hike “Walk Off The War” program.
The idea behind Walk Off The War is to assist combat veterans transition to civilian life through the therapeutic nature of long-distance hiking.
Warrior Hike accepts applicants who are combat veterans of any US war. In 2014 hikers included veterans from WWII through current conflicts.
Warrior Hike currently fully supports hikers on the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, Continental Divide Trail, Florida Trail, and Ice Age Trail. During the Q&A Jesse suggested veterans contact Warrior Hike if they are interested in assistance hiking other long-distance trails.
I recently moved to southwest Ohio. One of the deciding factors of where we chose to live was the proximity to the Little Miami Scenic Trail. The LMST runs through the town where we live, so it’s easy for us to access the trail without a car. My boyfriend and I both enjoy riding and this is a great rail trail connecting many small and large towns and historic areas. Additionally, the LMST is a component of:
While having backcountry sections, the cool thing about the BT is that it’s not entirely backcountry. Unlike the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail, there are significant sections of the BT that are front country or even urban. This makes the BT easily accessible for section hiking, slackpacking, day hiking, and easily resupplied backpacking. Bikepacking is another option for non-hikers. Cooler still, in my opinion, is that trail users (the BT is multi use in several areas) learn the history of Ohio by visiting railroad and canal towns as they follow converted railroad beds and towpaths.
I’m looking forward to exploring my adopted home state as time allows. I’m aware that my schedule will not allow a thru-hike of the BT, at least not currently, so section hiking will be my method of viewing Ohio on foot.
As is the norm for me, I’ll be covering ground with at least one of my dogs. I’m hoping both will complete the majority of the trail. My goal is to complete by the end of 2019. While that seems a far, far distant future (seriously, we live in the future), it won’t be long at all.
I’m starting out with a test series for a set of Sea to Summit Delta Cutlery. This is the first part of a three-part series sponsored in part by BackpackGearTest.org. The final report is expected in 4 months.
I’m starting out with a test series for the Osprey Tempest 40 women’s backpack. This is the first part of a three-part series sponsored in part by BackpackGearTest.org. Further reports are expected in 2 and 4 months.
Currahee Mountain is one of those trips I’ve had on my bucket list for a while. On paper it doesn’t seem like much–3 miles up and 3 miles down with a 900’ elevation change each direction. It’s on a red dirt forest service road that’s driveable even in a sedan, so what’s the challenge.
The forest service road is also known as the Col. Robert Sink Memorial Trail. It was dedicated by members of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment who trained at this location in WWII.
For those who know me well they know that I enjoy military history. I’m by no means a history buff, but when something interests me I like to learn about it. Sometimes that’s from documentaries or books, but other times it’s by visiting a location.
According to my family history my dad’s dad trained at Camp Toccoa. If true, I’m following his footsteps through the red Georgia clay. If not true, I’m still tracing the steps of many men who made great contributions in the European theater of the war and affected the outcome of the war.
One of the other reasons is for Ranger, my dog. When I named him I was originally going to register him as my radio call sign at the park where I worked at the time. His call name was always intended to be “Ranger.” I had this name picked out a year before he was even born. When my grandfather, who was in the 101st, passed away in 2007 I decided to name my puppy “Currahee”, the motto of the 506th. “Currahee–We Stand Alone.” In addition to all of this, the 101st includes the Airborne Rangers, hence his call name. (Yes, I’m taking a lot of poetic license with all of this. Work with me).
Heading out from my motel I decided to detour to Unicoi State Park (as mentioned in my previous report) to see if I really could score some swag for Nora. I did and it didn’t put me so far behind schedule that I couldn’t make up time.
Along the way I stopped at Fritchey’s Gardens for my favorite southern snack. It was a boiled-peanuts-and-peach-milkshake-for-lunch kind of day. After I finished my shake I hoped the dairy wouldn’t come back to haunt me on my afternoon trek in the heat.
When I entered the museum one of the women working the lobby asked me what my interest was. I explained that I was looking to see if my grandfather had trained here and, if so, was there any information on what he did.
Unfortunately, I was told, there was no way to look up any information on him without more specifics, including his Unit. I don’t know why I didn’t think to bring that with me given I obtained that exact information for my dad back in 2007. Oops. Well, I guess that’s just another thing I’ll have to collect the next time I’m in this area.
The second woman working the lobby attempted to help me find information, but ultimately it was the same result–there were so many men who trained here that even though they had a list, we weren’t going to find the information I was after without more specifics.
She then asked me if I was in the military as I (as she put it) “have that look about you.” I was confused, but rattled off the list of family members who were in the military in addition to my boyfriend’s service. She said that does explain it. I wonder, in hindsight, how much of how I carry myself (which is what I’m assuming she picked up on) is due to being raised in a family full of veterans and how much is from the past 14 years I spent wearing a government uniform nearly every day (which, tangentially, has resulted in my inability to pick out clothes on my days off, so I end up wearing nearly identical clothing every day. Hooray for habituation!)
She asked if I’d like to go through the museum, which I did–except I have the dogs waiting in the car. I told her their names (explaining Ranger’s name, but not explaining Halo’s) and she laughed. Both are paratrooper-themed names (also telling her that Ranger’s father was named Tomcat), which she immediately picked up on. This was the first time I didn’t have to explain how their names are related and that made me smile.
Since it was now pretty late in the afternoon I decided to buy a few small items and get going. The staff at the Stephens County Historical Society was a huge help in me finding the best route to the trailhead.
Yes, Ingress friends, I did indeed stop and hit 18+ portals in Toccoa on my way out of town. No, I’m not addicted. I’m on vacation and working on my stats.
My concern for the trek up the mountain was water. It was very hot (80+ F), so I knew we’d all three need plenty of water. The problem is that I failed to pack a day pack. All I had with me was my pack for my trip on Springer and an upcoming trip. It’s designed to hold up to 50 pounds. If it’s holding only a few pounds, say 10 or less, it doesn’t ride well. On my way out of town I ended up grabbing two 1-gallon jugs of water. One went with me up the mountain and the other stayed in the van for when we returned.
Also finding its way into my pack was an emergency blanket/tarp combo (a favorite pack item), rain gear, first aid kit, and a few more useful items to get the pack to ride properly. Ranger hauled their water bowl and an additional 2 L of water. Halo got to take this hike without her pack.
As I arrived at the trailhead a thunder storm started blowing over. Justifiably apprehensive about standing atop a mountain covered with communications equipment in the middle of an electrical storm, I checked the radar and saw that the storm would be gone by the time I got to the top of the mountain.
After grabbing a few pictures of the dogs at the monuments at the site where Camp Toccoa is being restored we headed up the Col. Robert Sink Memorial Trail.
The report I’d had of trail conditions was that the road was impassable if you didn’t have a 4×4 or something similar due to recent washouts from heavy rains. This didn’t seem to be an issue to any of the people who rolled past me in sedans. On the way up and down I was passed by about 7 people.
The majority of the trail seemed easy to me, most likely because I’d just completed Springer. While it was probably on par regarding the grade of the trail, the surface made traversing the terrain much easier–hiking is faster when you’re not constantly worried about where you’re placing your feet on the loose rocks.
We left the van at 4:30pm and made it to the top at 5:45 pm.
Remember what I told you about being able to drive to the top? That makes the view accessible to those who can’t make the hike up. On the other hand, it makes it easy to carry up paint and other items to deface the rock. According to a sign in the information bulletin board near the trailhead there is an Adopt-A-Crag program going on here that will hopefully address the graffiti problem now and in the future.
I spoke with several visitors who drove up to the top and explained why I had to hike while they drove. The ones I spoke to were about my age or younger, but were still aware of the area’s history. I’ve found that to be a rare thing in most areas, even those areas where the history is what brings people (and money) into the community.
I bid my farewells and made my way back down the trail to the van, arriving a little after 7:00 pm.
Once I got back I took a moment to think about the men and women who served and impacted the lives of so many. To be able to walk this trail and reflect on what they did is one small way I can honor their memory and legacy.
Appalachian Trail Approach Trail–Springer Mountain May 27-28, 2014
We arrived at our car campsite in Amicalola Falls State Park around midnight after 4 days of traveling from my home in Ohio to Louisiana for a 2-day dog show, then Mississippi to visit friends (including a crawfish boil!) before getting back on the road. By the time I got registered, watered, set up, dogs fed, etc. It was 1:30 am (shout out to the overnight staff at the lodge who were super friendly at midnight or so). I plugged my phone and Anker in to charge while I slept for an hour. When my alarm went off I shut everything off so I wouldn’t further run down the battery on my cranky old van.
When I woke up (a full hour after I planned to get on the trail), I fed dogs, crated them, then went to shower. While I was in there I could hear Halo start to sing, which in turn made Ranger sing.
I finally got everything set up where it belonged in our packs. When I started the van it had difficulty cranking. This is just another in the laundry list of reasons I need to retire the van. Within an hour I’d hear the transmission whine out going uphill and smell the brakes burning on the downhills (complete with red warning light which prompted me to add brake fluid–a situation that’s becoming more common for me).
When I finally got on the trail I quickly realized how out of shape I am. I hope I don’t end up with a bad case of Hiker Hobble. We have all day to find out.
Another issue is my boots. They are La Sportiva Eco 3.1 boots–virtually identical to my favorite (and nearly worn out) La Sportiva Eco 3.0 boots. These definitely don’t fit as well. I don’t know what I’m going to do to address that. My pack weighed a little much for an overnight, but it could just as easily be that I’m not as fit as I used to be.
Halo recently started barking at people instead of sitting politely for a greeting. This is bad enough in town or at home, but way worse on the trail. She is not being a good ambassador for her species. At least she’s cute. She has that going for her.
Outside of meeting other hikers briefly, nothing spectacular happened on our way up (though we may have startled a bear, but I’m not sure). We stopped for lunch and snacks a few times, with me constantly forgetting that while sitting on rocks is awesome, we’re now in an area where I need to check for venomous snakes before sitting down. During one of my snack stops Halo decided she liked the almonds I had in my pocket.
We also passed this marker placed in memory of Richard Fowler Shoolbred, Sr. from Spartanburg, SC, who was killed in a nearby plane crash along with three others in 1968 at age 33. The wreckage of the plane wasn’t removed until 1996.
The trail was rocky and steep–as if it was going up a mountain or something.
We made it to the top of Springer at 4:15 pm having left at 10 am. This is well withing the 6 hour estimated hike time shown on the signs.
While at the top I was able to get enough signal to check in with friends and family using a Google maps pin plus capture a portal (this type of portal is exactly what “Let’s Move” intended in the geo-location game, Ingress, that I play with my boyfriend, brother, and many of our friends). My friend Nora, who hiked the AT in 2012, suggested I keep going north.
While I was relaxing at the summit with the dogs, three college-aged people made it to the top. They ate their lunches (the guy in the group had a tuna sandwich, which I could smell 20 feet away–exactly the wrong thing to carry in bear country), complained that their phones were out of juice, then asked if I knew where the camping was because they had here there was camping at the top of the mountain. I tried to explain the shelter, but they didn’t seem to understand. One of the two girls asked where the trail ended. I decided to not mess with them by saying “Maine.” One of the girls took my picture with my dogs when I asked, then the trio left the summit when it started to thunder.
Before leaving I signed the register at the summit, wishing the class of ’14 good luck and safe travels. Maybe one of these days I’ll be starting a journey of my own here.
I also passed a father/son pair starting a 100-mile trip. I hope they had a good time.
About an hour later I stopped at the Black Mountain Gap shelter on the Approach Trail and met with John, one of the hikers I passed head on as I neared the summit. I relayed the story of the kids (who asked if they could crash with me if they got stranded before mentioning being in a survival experience like Bear Grylls). John said he passed them on his way down/their way up and saw them pass by on their way back down the mountain. John referred to them as “Those kids who were woefully under dressed for this time of night.” It was getting dark and rain had just moved through. All three were wearing trail runners and shorts, while the girls wore sports bra and the guy wore a t-shirt.
John gave my dogs some turkey jerky in the hope that it would settle Halo down (it didn’t). He let me know where water and the privy were, as well as telling me the privy was overflowing. Cat hole time!
John and I discussed trails we’re doing, friends and family who’ve section hiked, pros and cons of our favorite water filters and shelters. He later offered me some water that he collected but wasn’t likely to filter. It truly felt as if I had a host at the shelter. This friendly atmosphere makes up for the lack of solitude on a busy trail like this.
Other things that make up for the crowds is little stuff like this graffiti, which gave me a reminder of home on this trip.
John is hammocking–I wish I could do that with my dogs, but Ranger doesn’t like to be without cover (or blankies) and I feel badly leaving them exposed to insects, arachnids, and snakes. John is older–mid-50s I think–with gray in his beard and ponytail. His daughter thru-hiked in 2013.
My Fitbit says I’ve walked 26,647 steps and 11.83 miles. While I know the distance is wrong, the steps seem correct (Ed. this is the last time my Fitbit will work–there is some defect in it that will not allow it to sync with my phone or laptop. It also eats batteries at the rate of one per day. After a drawn out bout of troubleshooting with customer support Fitbit decides to replace my device, but not until after I complete my various hikes on this trip, so none of that data is captured, much to my dismay).
I ate well and hung my food on pulley cables. This is my first time using pulley cables and am pleased I don’t have to mess with canisters or finding the perfect tree for bear bagging.
In all I’m happy with my dogs, even though Ranger pulled a lot and Halo barked even more. They found a rawhide at the shelter and took turns chewing on it and bickering. When I got them in the tent they tried to roughhouse, but I stopped that before they could do any damage to my new tent. They finally settled down before it was even dark.
I made the summit of Springer at 4:15 pm, camp at 5:30 pm, and finally got to bed at 8:00 pm. It’s still light, but I’m ready for sleep.
Earlier I felt like heat stroke, but thankfully the rain knocked down the heat about 10 F and reduced the humidity. At night I have terrible heartburn, likely due to the physical activity. My thighs are chafed–I’m not used to hiking in shorts–but Gold Bond helped a bit. My feet are sore and knees are likely to be sore in the morning. I have sleep deprivation and am not likely to stay up much longer.
Despite the soreness, chafing, heat, bugs, heartburn, and sleep dep I feel great. The stress of my real life is far away. I know it will return when I get back to the real world, but for now the simplicity of things out here is exactly what I need.
Packed up after a night fighting ticks on all of us (EFFING TICKS!) and being slightly chilled. My bag is rated for 55F and I think the lows were in the 50s. Ranger was the worst. At one point he got under my mattress for cover. I know I yelled at him when he flipped me off the mattress and I hope I didn’t disturb John who was hanging about 100 feet away. Halo rolled off their blue pad and curled into a sad, tiny ball. She didn’t seem the worse for wear.
I pottied dogs near the privy as I figured no one would mind it there. John gave me 2 L of water to filter and took our picture for his own journal before he headed back out. I didn’t think to ask him to use my camera as well, or for a shot of him. The water he gave me got me back to my van without stopping to collect water. I may stop and get a bigger “dirty” reservoir on my way to Table Rock on Thursday night.
Breakfast was pretty much the same thing as what I had for dinner–pepperoni, slim bread, and water. It wasn’t fancy, but it tasted good and got me off the mountain. The dogs had their standard kibble. I have “high octane” dog food for the upcoming 77-mile trip, plus snacks, but I’m still concerned they’ll lose too much weight, even though we could all stand to lose a little.
The way down was uneventful, passing a few uphill hikers and overcoming one pair. As slow as I am that made me feel good. I’ve been slacking on my overall fitness lately and I’m already feeling it. Note to self for the next trip: cardio, weights, and maybe some yoga or something for dexterity and balance.
When we got back to the van I watered dogs and came to the sad realization that we started from the lodge, as it said in the guide I used to plan this trip, not the visitor center, where the approach trail starts, so I went ahead and covered some of that–the most important part. We descended and ascended the 604 stairs at the falls without our packs–now I fully understand the draw of slackpacking. The dogs weren’t too sure about the metal stairs, but they got the hang of it. Up was physically more difficult, but easier navigation for the dogs.
I got pictures of the dogs and of the three of us at the visitor center. I also bought patches for all three of us. I got a hat for myself. Because patches and hats.
We went on to Dawsonville to snag a few souvenirs from the Georgia Racing Hall of Fame–a patch for myself and a patch and some pins for my Dad. Dad’s favorite driver is Bill Elliot–Awesome Bill from Dawsonville.
From there we stopped at Tomato House, a roadside stand that sells fresh veggies, jars of goodies, fresh roasted nuts, and boiled peanuts. I had a late lunch of boiled peanuts while driving (probably not the safest thing in hindsight). I also grabbed two packets of dip mixes that were packaged to look like shotgun shells. My boyfriend target shoots, which earned him the nickname “GunGuy” from a friend. By extension the same friend refers to me as “GunGal” and our house as the “GunShack.” I have to remember to use these at the next get-together with that friend.
From there we went to Unicoi State Park to grab some swag for Nora (trailname UnicoiZoom). The visitor center was closed, so I grabbed her a map that is surprisingly good for a freebie (it’s the thought that counts and she likes maps). I considered another night camping, but a motel was only about $10 more, so I went that route.
I stayed at a motel in Commerce, GA, about 30 miles from Currahee Mountain. I’ll climb that one tomorrow after stopping at the Toccoa visitor center and Currahee Military Museum.
The dogs were happy to sleep in a bed. I had no access to laundry, so I stopped at a local super center to grab a clean shirt and a second pair of shorts for the long trip. I reeked (as noted by the woman signing in ASL to her daughter behind me in line–I don’t know much ASL, but I knew enough to catch that), but dealt with it long enough to check out and get back to the hotel for a shower. I also got pizza–can’t go wrong with a pizza and a motel after a day on the trail.
In all, I’m happy with my trip on Springer. The main issue was my boots. The trail was well marked and there were many good views. I even got a good experience of staying at an AT shelter.
I’d like to come back and do this again at some point. When Nora hiked in 2013 she didn’t hike this section. She said it’s one that she’d like to do in order to complete her route. I think if we’re both in good shape we could peak bag it. Who knows. It’s a good goal to shoot for.
SPARCS is an organization dedicated to scientific research and debate regarding canine behavior.
This year the topics include aggression and conflict, personality and temperament, and science in training. The speakers will touch on topics such as why different breeds act differently, neuroscience of behaviors, neurochemistry of behavior and motivation, temperament and personality (both canine and human), body language, learning theory/cognition, and more on the nature/nurture debate.
If you’re at all into dog training as a vocation or avocation this is worth checking out. There isn’t a dog trainer or owner who couldn’t benefit from many of these topics. Body language alone is a big help to many owners, especially those who encounter novel situations such as what we deal with on the trail (trail users, animals, situations, etc.)
I have been remiss in my introduction of my newest member of the pack, Halo.
I got Halo from my friend Tori at J Cross’ Catahoulas, which is where I also got Ranger.
After the loss of Beau in 2012 the house and my heart had an empty spot in it. I wasn’t sure I was ready for a puppy just yet, but this opportunity came along and I couldn’t pass it up. It turns out that Halo was just what I–and everyone in the house–needed. She came to live with us in July 2013.
Ranger and Halo formed an instant bond and they’re rarely out of each other’s sight for more than a few minutes (admittedly, this is something I need to work on to prevent separation anxiety with either).
She’s training up very well. Ranger is the type of dog that needs one task at a time so he can focus on that–and he excels at the one thing you gave him to do. It makes him a challenge to train at times, especially since food and toy rewards don’t always work well for him, and still hasn’t proven himself to be reliable while hiking off leash, so he stays on his leash.
Halo, like Beau, loves food. Any kind of food. This has made her very easy to train, by comparison to Ranger. At 10 months old she knows many skills that will make her a good little traildog. Like Ranger, her nose gets her into trouble, so for now she too is on a leash. I hope that as she grows she learns that if her pack is on she’s not to go hunting. Beau was able to understand that when he has a pack on he was to stay next to me, so I expect she can learn this, too.
Two weeks ago I showed her at a UKC show in Michigan and she showed well–three Best of Breed wins and two Group 2 placements in the Herding Group (11 breeds represented for the first placement and 10 for the second). The BOB wins alone were enough to give her competition for her UKC Conformation Champion title, which is pretty cool.
By the way, the dog she beat for BOB? My own Ranger–TD-CH, CA, UWPCH, GRCH, J Cross’ Currahee, WPSGRCH. Don’t worry, he got his share of winnings, too. Three Best of Breed wins and a Group 3 placement with 8 breeds represented. He also got to play with a new dog sport that I hope to try him in this summer–Barn Hunts. I’ll post about that if I do end up pursuing that.
Many other changes are coming to my life soon, which means more time to play with and train the dogs, more time on the trail, and more things to share here. I’m looking forward to all of it.
Looking at life and the outdoors from the back of the pack.