5 Weeks ’til the Finale

Will is in Vermont! If you’re as confused as I am about the layout of the New England area, here’s a recap of his progress, starting from way back in Springer Mountain: Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont. He’ll be in New Hampshire within a few days, and then on to the big finish in MAINE!

It’s hard to pinpoint Will’s exact finish date at this point, as Maine has a lot of really difficult sections, but we are planning on him finishing in 5 weeks (the first weekend in August). I can’t believe it! We had a great visit in Massachusetts/New York and even had the chance to see our friends in upstate New York while we were there.

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Right before swimming in Lake Ontario – my first experience with any of the Great Lakes!

I’m planning on flying to Maine for the finale, but we’re still working out the logistics to make that happen. As Will heads farther north, it’s actually getting cool again. I just mailed him a package with his hat, gloves, and some long pants that he will pick up this week in Hanover, NH. He’s also headed into more remote, rugged terrain for the remainder of the trip, and cell service may be spotty. It’s been amazing to see so much of the varied landscape of the East Coast, including the towns, the people, and the environment! I’m not as in touch with the hike as I was at the beginning when I was visiting every weekend, so I’m thankful for Will’s photos and journals to stay connected. Hope you enjoy the photos above documenting the life of a thru-hiker (including a random trail goat)!

-Meridith

Highlights From the Trail

In May I took on a new project – working as Editor for the next issue of Carolina Weddings Magazine! It’s a great opportunity and I’m enjoying it, but because it has taken a lot of my free time, I haven’t been able to devote as much time to the blog as I would like. Hopefully that will change later this month as I meet deadlines for the magazine. For now, I want to share a brief update on Will: he’s at mile 1,155 as of the last time I talked to him, headed toward Port Clinton, PA. We’re still working out details for the next time I’ll see him, but it will likely be mid-to-late June. It seems so far away, and I miss him a lot, but we’ve already been through three months and we should only have two more… coming down the home stretch!

Will standing on rocks

Over the past few days, Will has taken the half-gallon ice cream challenge (it’s exactly what it sounds like), been bitten by his first tick, dealt with a broken cell phone and got a ride to a Verizon store to get it replaced, sewn up a hole in his shoe with a needle and thread, enjoyed a hiker Memorial Day picnic, and hiked through both wide open farmlands and trails covered completely in rocks. It has been a week of ups and downs, but Will continues on through it all!

Forsyth Woman magazine has been kind enough to let me tell Will’s story in the May, June, and July issues. Below is the article I wrote for the July issue- four of Will’s picks for special/memorable places on the AT. Read on for Highlights from the Trail!

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Every day is an adventure for Will on the AT, but there are a few highlights that have really made an impression on him. These are bright spots, milestones, and places he has made note to visit again someday.

Nantahala Outdoor Center

Hike from Franklin, NC to Nantahala Outdoor Center

Franklin, NC is a cute, quiet trail town and Nantahala Outdoor Center is a whitewater rafting and outdoor adventure center located at the intersection of the Appalachian Trail and the Nantahala River in the Nantahala National Forest. Early in his journey, I met Will in Franklin, NC for the weekend. As he hiked on from Franklin, he saw the most beautiful sunrise one morning at his campsite. Will and I hope to travel this path together sometime in the future so that he can show me the campsite, and maybe we’ll even try out the whitewater rafting at Nantahala!

Damascus

Damascus, Virginia

Damascus is a must-visit site on the Appalachian Trail. It is famous for “Trail Days,” an annual celebration for thru-hikers featuring food, live music, and outdoor product vendors from around the region showcasing everything from energy bars to rain jackets. We visited Trail Days together last year, and although Will passed through Damascus before the event took place this year, we did spend some time together in the town – his parents visited that weekend, too, and we all relaxed together in a cabin by the river (accompanied by lots of friendly ducks). Damascus is located just over two hours from Winston-Salem and is also known for the Virginia Creeper Trail, a 34-mile bike path that passes through it.

McAffee Knob

Virginia Triple Crown (McAfee Knob, Tinker Cliffs, and Dragon’s Tooth)

The Virginia Triple Crown was one of Will’s favorite sections on the trail because it features some of the best views within a short distance. McAfee Knob, Tinker Cliffs, and Dragon’s Tooth are all conveniently located within a few miles of each other just outside of Roanoke, Virginia (another great town only two hours from Winston-Salem!). McAfee Knob may be the most photographed spot along the AT. Will posed for a photo sitting atop the ledge overlooking the vast valley and distant mountain ranges below. My guess is that most thru-hikers have a similar shot – it’s just too good to pass up!

 Harpers Ferry

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

There are so many things that make Harpers Ferry special, and I started hearing about them before I ever began the drive to visit Will. The small town is full of natural beauty – the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers meet there, and everything is exceptionally green. It is also full of history, being a key battleground during the Civil War. It’s got scenic railroads and huge bridges, the downtown area is full of character, and it is located just an hour outside of Washington, DC. Although Harpers Ferry is not exactly halfway mile-wise, it is considered the “psychological midpoint” of the AT, and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is based there. Whether you are a hiker, nature enthusiast, or history buff, Harpers Ferry is the place to be.

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These are only a few of the highlights of Will’s journey through 14 states on his way to Mount Katahdin. I am sure plenty more highlights await him over the next two months! We’ll keep you posted 🙂

-Meridith (@thetreelogs)

A Million Flying Bugs

This weekend in Pearisburg, VA we found a beautiful area called Whitt-Riverbend Park. It featured a large, fast-flowing river, open grassy spaces, and a train that ran just above the water. What a scene! So picturesque, so scenic, that it makes a girl want to pack a bag and hike the Appalachian Trail.

Except. There were these little gnats EVERYWHERE. When you stopped long enough to smile for a picture, there they were, trying to settle down on your eyelashes and dive into your ears. I was in shock by how relentless these little buggies were (nature, how could you turn on me like this?!), but Will just said “welcome to my world.” I don’t think I’d do well in his world.

Now that the weather is warm, the animals – and tiny flying bugs – are making their appearance at every turn. Will has seen a bear and three snakes in the past week!


In other news: last week Will got food poisoning and it slowed him down a bit. He’s back to 100% and has started this week strong. There is only one problem – his shoes (or clodhoppers, as my grandpa calls them). The Hokas are not holding up well – in fact, they are falling apart after less than 200 miles. For comparison, the Brooks Cascadias lasted a solid 500 miles on the trail, and Will had them for a year before he even started his hike. So the Hokas are a huge disappointment.


Will contacted the company and explained the situation; they said he could send the shoes in for an evaluation and they may be able to send him a replacement. His plan is to buy a new pair of shoes in Troutville, VA this weekend and stick the Hokas in the mail. They don’t make clodhoppers like they used to.

Speaking of Troutville (aren’t the names of these places the best?)… Will is on his way there! I’ll meet him in Troutville – only 20 minutes from Roanoke, VA – on Saturday. This will probably be the last time I will see him for a while. If everything goes according to plan (when has that ever happened?), this is Will’s schedule for the next month:

4/30 – Troutville, VA (near Roanoke) – mile 729
5/7 – Crabtree Falls campground, VA (north of Lynchburg)
5/14 – Skyland Resort in Shanendoah National Park, VA (north of Harrisonburg)
5/21 – Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia (considered the “psychological midway point” on the AT!)
5/28 – Boiling Springs, PA (south of Harrisburg)


Talk to you soon! Don’t forget to check out more photos on our Instagram page, @thetreelogs.

-Meridith

No Words Necessary (But I’ve Included a Few)

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Vast expanses, dense forests, waterfalls, sunsets, soft snow, and all the shades of blue in the Blue Ridge Mountains. As I filed through Will’s photos to “curate” this gallery of images, I was amazed at the diversity of scenery – wild and unfiltered – as seen through his eyes. These photos tell the story of his journey in a way that words cannot.

And now for a brief update: last weekend included Will’s parents and nephew, Christopher, a log cabin on the river, and lots of duck-watching. Damascus, VA has our hearts, now more than ever.

Tomorrow Will hits mile 547 – the 1/4 mark on his 2,188-mile journey! This is great, big, HUGE news! See jumping photo above!

Thank you for sticking with us – all of you, in all of the various ways you have stuck with us through your words and tangible expressions of love (I could, and will, write an entire post just on that). That’s all for now!

-Meridith
(@thetreelogs)

Visting Small Towns Makes Me Think…

…but before we get to that, let me start with something else. Because this is not a regular Wednesday.

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Today, March 30th, is Will’s 30th birthday! Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you, happy gooooolden birthday, happy birthday to you! It is a special day, and many of you helped us make it more special by showering Will with birthday gifts for the “Trail Fund” I set up. We raised $440 which is far beyond what I thought possible. Will was floored when I showed him. We’ll keep the fund open until Saturday in case there is anyone else who wants to join in (I couldn’t share on here earlier since the whole situation was very hush-hush).

Thank you – thank you so much – for your kind gifts and words. Will is so excited. We’ll keep you posted with how he puts the Trail Fund to use!

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Now, for our trail town escapades. Erwin, TN was a delight last weekend, just a real delight. I mean, look at how perfectly this goose posed for my photo.

Weekends are for rest and resupply. We stayed in the Super 8 motel, ate lunch at Pal’s, went grocery shopping and laundry washing, and lounged and laughed a lot. We walked along the Erwin Linear Trail which was quiet and beautiful and a stone’s throw from all the fast food joints which meant you’d come across a styrofoam cup or paper bag every now and then. That part reminded me of Pawnee, Indiana which made me want to pull a Leslie Knope and lead a riverside trash pick-up to dispose of the litter from the local Paunch Burger.

But really I adored Erwin- the nice Super 8 owners who offer a discount for thru-hikers and let us check out late because we didn’t have anywhere else to go, the Mexican restaurant beside the Wal-Mart where everybody clearly knew each other, the laundromat with its huge, bright windows and beat-up chairs. I love exploring big cities, but when you visit Nashville or San Francisco or New York City it’s a lot of striving – to get the full experience, to avoid chain restaurants at all costs, to fit everything in and check everything off. You hunt down the places that Yelp or your friends or your cousin who lives there tell you to find, and then you breathe it all in and let it fill you up (while emptying your wallet). Ahh, the beauty of new experiences.

When you visit Franklin or Robbinsville, NC, or Erwin, TN, it’s different. The people you come across in big cities are often recent transplants, or maybe even visiting for the weekend like you are. The people you encounter in Erwin, TN live there. They were born there. You’re not just experiencing a new place, you’re experiencing people’s real lives . I felt that strongly in Erwin – almost like we were spying on them, like aliens beamed in to quietly observe (and as the say on the AT, “leave no trace”). When there are no museums or Broadway shows or street performers or fine culinary experiences to distract you, you don’t think of traveling as a way to experience things but as a way to experience people.

You notice and contemplate different details; like the couple sitting side by side at the lake (do they do that every weekend?), the little girl shrieking as her bike starts heading downhill on the trail (stick with it, the hill will seem smaller next year when you’re bigger!), or the high school baseball team dining at the Mexican restaurant (are they all best friends? will they still be when they move away to college next year?).

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A heartfelt “thank you” to the people of Franklin, Robbinsville, and Erwin for letting us drop in and experience life on your doorstep for a weekend. And thanks to the AT for leading us there.

Also: Will is flying. Today he hiked 21.8 miles. This weekend I’ll meet him in Hampton, TN near the 400 mile mark. Wha-wha-whaaat? How is he almost 20% finished with the entire trail?

A lot happens between my weekly posts here, so check out Instagram, too. Thanks to everyone who is reading this, near and far. I’d love to hear from you!

-Meridith

All About Trail Life – Notes from Will’s Journal

Will is keeping a daily journal on his phone and this week he got it connected to the iCloud so I could read his entries at home. I loved reading them and thought you might, too. I’ve picked a few quotes, in no particular order, that span Will’s journey of several weeks on the trail. I think these highlight some interesting aspects of trail life – the people he’s met (known by their trail names!), the food he’s eaten, the weather he’s encountered, and the mental and physical toll of a long-distance hike. I hope you find these highlights as interesting as I did!

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I made it into NC today! It was immediately more rugged but much more gratifying of an experience. There were more views in the miles I hiked in NC today than in all of GA.”

“We all ate and talked a little and then, as is thru-hiker custom for some reason, got into bed right at dark, which is about 7pm right now.”

​”As Lumpy was showing us the resupply area, he said ‘I have everything a hiker could ever need in here.’ I asked ‘Do you have Aqua Mira [water purification tablets]?’ ‘Well, no,’ was his reply. So that just sums up my stay there.”

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​…a trail angel named Rodney had set up his tail gate on his truck with peanut butter cookies, fresh fruit, coffee and orange juice. I stood and talked to him for about 45 min while I waited on the shuttle to come get me. I had 6 cookies, a banana, coffee, and 2 cups of OJ.”

“I was so worn out at the end of today. I was really hating the AT for how it goes up so steeply, only to send you right back down immediately. I was mad, but I never once thought of quitting. It’s not even in the cards at all as long as I can walk.”

​”A section hiker named Boston told me that a guy at the shelter might have norovirus, so I ended up setting up my tent beside his to try and minimize my exposure. I probably washed my hands a half dozen times tonight in the bathroom.”

​”…eventually the bottom dropped out and it began to pour. It rained from probably 1:30 till about 5:30 heavily.”


This side of Clingman’s really reminds me of the Sierras. There are large grassy balds on the sides of the mountains. And lots of hemlocks. Looks more like something out west than in the Appalachians.”

They hiked the trail several years ago and had 2 broken bones along the way. Took them 3 years the first time they said.”

We ate frozen cheese burgers and shared a bag of Rice Krispies from the hiker box with some powdered milk we also found in the box. Bow Tie went and bought 10 sugar packets for 25 cents and distributed them among us for our cereal.”

“It rained, snowed, and/or sleeted all day. About mile 13 I was really getting fatigued, and just sat down on a log in the rain.”

I got stocked up on water and ate dinner on a log close to where I had set up my tent. Backcountry pad Thai tonight. Ramen noodles, peanut butter, soy sauce, Knorr dried vegetables, and a little of the seasoning packet that came with the Ramen.”

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Today would be my longest day yet. 19.8 miles to Cosby knob shelter.”

I noticed as I rolled past the shelter that all were gone except 2 people who I later would learn were Cabot and Hobbes. Pilgrim, Pinky, and Free 2 Go were all there the previous night but were gone now.”

We got changed and decided to wait for the snow to die down before going out for water to cook dinner. It was snowing so hard and blowing all around that the shelter began to get covered inside.”

Woke up in the shelter after probably the best night’s sleep I’ve had. I heard a mouse right as I was about to get in my sleeping bag and didn’t have too high of hopes for the night’s rest, but all in all it was pretty good!”

​”I set everything up, ate and brushed my teeth just as it started getting dark… now I’m going to enjoy the night and look at the stars a while before heading to the tent to read and get some much needed rest.”

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Will is now north of I-40 (a milestone!) and has hit the 300-mile mark. I didn’t visit last weekend, but I’m meeting him again this Friday – Saturday (3/25-3/26). We are planning to meet up at mile 317.6 and stay in Erwin, TN.

So far so good!! Thank you for all of your encouragement and support along the way! 

-Meridith

French Fry Salad, Anyone?

This past weekend I met Will in Fontana Dam, NC, a resort village located at the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park where North Carolina meets Tennessee. The nearest actual town is Robbinsville, NC, which is a 30-minute drive away from the resort and has a population of just 620.

We stayed at the Fontana Village Resort, which offers a special rate for thru-hikers, and explored nearby Fontana Dam. It is the highest dam east of the Rocky Mountains and has a pretty fascinating history.


The main event on the weekends, of course, is the FOOD! As delicious as Ramen noodles and granola bars may be, Will does look forward to non-trail food every once in a while. We made the journey into Robbinsville on Saturday to see what kind of small-town local fare we could find.

For lunch, we spotted an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet joint and decided to continue our tradition from the previous weekend. As we stepped out of the car we heard shotgun blasts and saw orange discs flying overhead. WHY was there a group of people shooting skeet right beside of the restaurant? We’re not sure, but they didn’t seem to find it odd in the least. If nothing else, it made for some great “all-you-can-skeet” buffet jokes.

Dinner was at the local Mexican restaurant. Having attended my fair share of family reunions and potlucks growing up in the south, I thought I had seen “salads” of every variety – but we spotted a new one here. The following menu item was listed under the Salads section exactly like this: “A bed of french fries topped with ground beef, covered with cheese and pico de gallo.”

Wait. What?

Not only does that not qualify as a salad even under southern law (and we make salads out of macaroni, eggs- anything you can mix with mayonnaise), but I’m not even sure that is a legitimate food.

French Fry Salad and all, Fontana Dam/Robbinsville was full of personality and we loved making memories there. I can’t wait to visit the next town along the trail!

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Will on 3/14, his first day in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Today (3/16) he reached Clingman’s Dome, the highest point on the Appalachian Trail.  It is also the 200-mile mark!

Today marks 21 days on the AT and Will is doing an amazing job! We’re updating the Instagram account (@thetreelogs) regularly, so check it out. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who has followed along and offered words of support. You make this so much more fun!

-Meridith

The Most Underrated Piece of “Gear” is…

… reading material.

Imagine you come home for the evening and there is nothing to do. There are no chores to be done, no to-do list to complete, no family, no pets, no electricity, no books or games… nothing. In fact, there is not even a physical home. It is just you, your tent, your headlamp, and miles and miles of dark forest. Oh, and it is 6pm

How would you spend your time?

Will did not bring a book starting out (those pages weigh precious ounces), but I am going to bring him one this weekend per his request. The time also changes this weekend so the days will get longer, meaning more time to hike and fewer hours of evening boredom. I know Will is looking forward to that on the trail, and I am SO looking forward to it at home. I think “Daylight Savings Time Begins” might be my favorite day of the year. I just really love sunshine.

Although it’s nearing mid-March and spring is coming, the North Carolina mountains know not the meaning of this. Will snapped the stunning photo below last week while walking in a winter wonderland, and then this week temperatures reached the high 60s. Transitions are hard.

AT Frozen cloud on trees


Now that we’ve got the weather report… where is Rootbeard, anyway?

Tonight he is here, somewhere in the woods:

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Tomorrow he will continue onward toward Fontana Dam, NC, where I will meet him on Saturday. Last weekend we explored Franklin, NC together – it is such a cute mountain town (so cute that I wondered if its namesake was Franklin the Turtle). Will was able to do important things like wash his clothes, eat at a pizza buffet, and watch NetFlix. He even saw a few of his trail pals at the motel we stayed at; most hikers stop in the same towns.

Fontana Dam, NC is the last stop before “The Smokies” as thru-hikers call it (otherwise known as Great Smoky Mountains National Park) and is located at the 166.7 mile mark on the trail. Since Fontana Dam is the last stop before a week’s worth of hiking through the national park, it is an important place to rest and resupply. We’re staying at a nice lodge-type place that has a special rate for thru-hikers. It’s been fun to become immersed in this unique AT culture – these trail towns and the people in them are so welcoming and friendly!


By the way – I know this is the question on everyone’s mind – Will’s feet miraculously have NO blisters. Stay tuned for an update next week, and don’t forget to follow along @thetreelogs on Instagram!

-Meridith

Shoes in a Tree and Other Trail Tales

To be honest, my second post was supposed to be about clothes.

But it’s a lot of work preparing to depart for 6 months. Time got away from me and so I’m saving the clothes post for a later date and skipping right to the main event… Will’s launch this past weekend!


Since Will had hiked from the start of the trail in Springer Mountain, GA to Neels Gap (about 30 miles) a few weeks earlier, we began at Neels Gap on Saturday, February 27th. Neels Gap is a landmark along the Appalachian Trail; it is the home of Mountain Crossings, a specialty outfitter  with a certain cultural significance. Many hikers actually quit the trail at this point and many others use the stop to re-evaluate their pack weight, eliminate gear, or trade out their shoes. The discarded shoes end up hanging inside the store or on a tree outside (really – a designated shoe tree!).

Let’s talk about pack weight, since I’m on the subject. Pack weight is to thru-hikers what orange soda is to Kel (and for those of you who didn’t grow up on 90s  Nickelodeon – pack weight is to thru-hikers what lasagna is to Garfield?). It is always on their mind. Will stayed at a hostel the other night and told me that he and others were cutting tags off their clothes, cutting the excess straps off their backpacks, even getting rid of hand warmers (which seem essential to me – any other Raynaud’s sufferers out there?).

After checking out all that Neels Gap had to offer on Saturday, Will and I had an awesome 5.5 mile hike to the next stop. The next morning I drove back home while Will kept walking toward Maine. As of today (3/2), he’s camped out at mile 81.4 on the trail. I can’t wait to visit in Franklin, NC on Saturday! He’ll be at almost 110 miles by then.

To conclude, here is a brief Q & A with Will, or Rootbeard as he is known on the trail:

What has been the most surprising part of this experience so far: There are so many places to camp! This means that my schedule is more flexible than I had anticipated; if I decide to walk a little further or a little less one day, there is likely still a campsite within a relatively short distance from wherever I decide to stop.

What has been the worst part of this experience so far: The ups and downs. There are parts of the trail later on where it gets flatter, but right now it’s just a lot of ups and downs. You do all of that work on an incline, only to head right back downhill.

What has been the best part of this experience so far: How good I feel. I did the first 30 miles a few weeks ago and I did it in two days, which was too much hiking initially. Now I am pacing myself better, carrying the right equipment, and thankfully have had great weather most of the time.

P.S. Don’t forget to follow along on Instagram @thetreelogs for more frequent updates. Talk to you soon!

-Meridith