The Middle Days of Virginia

When you’re not “just getting started,” you’re not “almost finished,” and you’re not technically “half way” either, you’re just in the middle.

That’s where Will is… somewhere in Virginia, somewhere in the middle of his journey.

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These are the days I thought about in February when Will got serious about this idea of hiking the Appalachian Trail. I thought the middle days would drain him, bore him, and leave him thinking that it wasn’t worth the effort. I knew he would still be running on adrenaline in the beginning, with lots of visits from family and friends and the thrill of something new pushing him forward. But the middle (cue Jimmy Eat World early 2000s) would kill his motivation.

I was sure of this…

…and I was wrong. I have learned from watching Will that the middle isn’t all bad, in hiking and in life. Here’s why:

1) You learn as you go. Will has learned so much through trial and error and is able to put that knowledge to use now. He’s got this backpacking thing down to a science, which makes things easier and more enjoyable than they were in the beginning.

2) It grows on you. Over time, being an AT hiker has become Will’s “new normal.” He enjoys his routine and the hiking community he has embraced. He’s used to trail living now and when he breaks in a town, something feels “off” until he gets back into his natural habitat.

3) You’ve got more to lose. Will would have a lot to lose by quitting at this point. All of the work he’s put in thus far, all of the people who are rooting for him… simple math proves that you’ve got more to lose in the middle than you do in the beginning. That’s strong motivation.

Of course there are days that are challenging for him, and there is a reason hikers have coined the term “the Virginia Blues.” There are times of frustration, boredom, and all of the things I imagined there would be. But I thought Will would want to quit after three weeks, and he hasn’t even had the thought of quitting yet, over two months in. I think sometimes we can get caught up in our thoughts about how we think something is, or might be, or should be- but the only way to actually know is to get outside of your thoughts and experience it. Thinking is helpful only up to a point… and I’m not always right. That’s both humbling and freeing to me. That’s what I’ve learned in the middle.

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Will/Root Beard is at mile 800-something. He is headed for Waynesboro, VA where he will take a day off on Monday to rest his feet and dry out his gear after a long week of downpours and thunderstorms. After that he will head into the second (and final) National Park on the AT, Shenandoah National Park.

I’ll keep you posted! More photos and updates are on Instagram: @thetreelogs. Also, if you’re in the Forsyth County, NC area, check out the May issue of Forsyth Woman magazine for our story (it’s right smack dab in the middle)!

-Meridith

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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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scenery16

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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.

happybirthday

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

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

 

How to Fit Your Life (for 6 months) into a Backpack

Well… the secret’s out.

Will is leaving this Saturday (February 27th, 2016) for a 6-month hiking trip on the Appalachian Trail! As we have shared this news with friends and family, we’ve received varied responses and questions. There are many questions we’d like to answer on this blog- both for those of you who are very familiar with the culture of Appalachian Trail thru-hikers and those of you who are not- but we’ll start by dumping out and analyzing the contents of a backpacker’s best friend – his backpack. Hint: it does not contain a gun (this has been a popular question).

Below we’ve divided all of the gear in Will’s pack into 8 main categories. Read on to learn what goes in the pack and what stays behind (warning: extreme puns ahead)…

Main Gear Cropped

1. Backpack because there would be no such thing as “backpacking” without it.
The popular trail saying “pack it in, pack it out” is both a call to protect the environment and a picture of a thru-hiker’s life – each morning you pack up your life and you carry it. Will is using a Granite Gear Leopard AC 58 (58 means 58 liters, or the size of the bag; a typical thru-hiker’s backpack is somewhere between 50 and 65 liters). Also included in this section: a pack cover for rain protection and a trash compactor bag (a really thick trash bag) which acts as a liner inside the pack. It is white which helps you see inside the bag more easily.

2. Shelter system- because it can get in(tents) out there.
Will is using a Zpacks Duplex cuben fiber tent which is extremely lightweight and durable. This section also includes tent stakes and trekking poles. Using trekking poles to hold up the tent rather than carrying separate tent poles saves on weight. #multipurposegear!

3. Sleeping system because you need a place to “saw logs” after a day in the woods.
At home you’ve got box springs, a mattress, a Tempur-Pedic pillow, and sheets. In the woods you’ve got a sleeping pad, a sleeping bag, an inflatable pillow, and sleeping bag liner. Will’s sleeping bag is a Nemo Nocturne 15 (the 15 means comfortable down to 15 degrees) goose down bag; his sleeping pad is a Thermarest NeoAir X Lite; and his sleeping bag liner is a Sea to Summit Thermolite (essential in cold weather because it adds warmth; also keeps the sleeping bag clean inside).

4. Navigation- because there’s no GPS in the wild.
That little green book in the top center of the photo is the A.T. Guide by AWOL. This book is popular among thru hikers because it lists all the shuttles, hostels, maps of towns, shelters, elevation, and mileages along the A.T. Will also has a Suunto compass, which is not absolutely necessary on the trail because the A.T. is so well-marked, but he likes using a compass and it also has a mirror that can also be used for hygiene (checking for ticks= very important).

5. Nourishment- because your hunter/gatherer instincts are probably lacking.
Will’s backcountry kitchen will consist of a Jet Boil Mini Mo (you cook/eat/drink right out of the pot), a spoon, and toothbrush to wash out the pot. For water treatment, he is using Aquamira drops to treat water from streams. For now he is going to go with #nofilter, but if it becomes necessary he can pick one up along the way. He’ll bring 4 liters of water storage, but will not carry that much at once. He’ll also store his food in a  Zpacks cuben fiber food bag.

6. Electronicsbecause you’ve got to keep in touch with those of us in the 21st century.
Perfect for keeping in touch, taking photos, and staying sane while detached from civilization. Will is bringing his iPhone 6, an Anker battery-powered phone charger which can charge his phone up to 6 times, headphones and an iPod Nano to listen to music, and a StickPic for selfies with woodland creatures.

7. First Aid/toiletries- because you need to stay so fresh and so clean.
Will is bringing a toothbrush, toothpaste, bandaids, nail clippers, Neosporin, sports tape for blisters, Body Glide, homemade salve (really, he made it!), multivitamins, and ibuprofen for sore joints and muscles. He is NOT bringing deodorant. ::cringe:: (“Deal with it.” – Will)

8. Repair kit because everything that can go wrong, will.
When your only worldly possession is your gear, you’ve got to protect it. Will is bringing patches for his sleeping pad in case it gets a hole, cuben fiber tape to repair the tent, duct tape, a mini Bic lighter, small multi-tool, and spare batteries for his headlamp.

So there you have it- our 8 categories of trail living! Notice one important element that is missing from this list? Stay tuned for our next post!

P.S. Follow along on Instagram at @thetreelogs

Meridith and Will