Brewpub Camping

Brewpub Camping

Good morning! I’m writing today from a fantastic Adirondack chair in the sun at Devil’s Backbone Brewpub. Barnum and I got here around 6:00 yesterday evening, and we’ve had an awesome stay. It’s a huge property that feels more like a resort than a brewery. They have indoor and outdoor restaurants and bars, many fire pits, a big grassy field, and a stage for events. The coolest part is that it’s all surrounded by Virginia’s Blue Ridge mountains. 
They sent a free shuttle up to the trailhead to pick us up and drive us the 5 miles down the mountain to the brewery. We headed straight into the pub for beers and dinner. I had a Vienna Lager and a pulled pork sandwich with fries, followed by some really delicious chicken wings. It was all top notch. We paid our checks and refilled our glasses before playing a couple games of cornhole.

Once the bar was shutting down and most of the other customers had gone home, I set up my sleeping pad under a nearby pavilion. It had outlets to charge my phone, a faucet with potable water, and lightning fast wifi. I joked that it was the best campsite I’d had all trip. I even streamed a movie before falling asleep!


They also offer a hiker breakfast in the mornings for only $5. I’ll hang here until breakfast is served, then I’ll catch another free shuttle back to the trail. In my opinion, this place was well worth the stop. All of the staff has been incredibly nice. I caught a few funny looks from some of the other patrons who had clearly showered this week, but some others were really friendly and interested in the trail. If I’m ever in the Roseland, Virginia area again I will definitely stop by. 

I’ll be back on the trail in a couple of hours, and it’s only twentyish more miles to Waynesboro. I haven’t yet decided if I’ll get there tonight or tomorrow morning. Either way, only a couple more days until Shenandoah National Park, and not much longer until West Virginia and the halfway point. 

More soon…

Cheers,

McLovin

McAfee Knob & Tinker Cliffs

McAfee Knob & Tinker Cliffs

Hello friends! I am writing this morning from the Howard Johnson motel in Daleville, VA. I arrived here around 6:30 PM yesterday, after hiking 26 miles from Four Pines Hostel in Catawba, VA. It was my longest day yet, and also my first slackpack. For those who aren’t familiar, slackpacking is when someone drives the majority of your gear ahead of the trail, and then meets you at an agreed upon spot to deliver your backpack. This way you can hike while carrying only water and snacks, which allows for bigger days and faster hiking. My backpack was waiting for me in the lobby here when I showed up last night. Some people might call it cheating, but it sure was nice! 

The day started with an early morning at Four Pines Hostel. This is a super cool hostel located just .3 miles off of the trail in Catawba, VA. It’s on a small farm, and the views of the surrounding valley are stunning. The hostel building is a large garage, filled with couches and cots for sleeping, a large table for eating and playing games, and a makeshift kitchen. There is also a barn with wooden platforms for sleeping, and tons of grass to set up your tent if you choose. The place has a really laid back vibe, and it is donation based so you pay what you can afford. I had a really nice night there, and the next morning a friend and I paid their shuttle driver Eddie $6 each to drive our packs ahead to Daleville, where we would be stopping that evening. He let us borrow some small drawstring sacks, which we used to carry our water bottles and some snacks. We took off towards McAfee Knob around 8:00 AM, with 26 miles to cover.

Sunrise at Four Pines Hostel
The Dragon Wagon- Four Pines hiker shuttle

McAfee Knob is one of the most photographed spots on the trail; if you’ve ever googled Appalachian Trail then you’ve definitely seen a photo of it. We would cross the knob about 7 miles into our day, and we knew that it would likely be the most exciting part of the hoke. Unfortunately since we were there on Memorial Day Weekend there was quite a crowd at the top, but the view was still spectacular. A small cliff juts out from the mountainside, over what seems to be an endless drop below (think Lion King). Incredible mountain views stretch out in front of the Knob, which makes standing atop it a really special feeling. Since there was a crowd at the top and we still had a lot of ground to cover, we only hung out for a few minutes before pushing on. Hiking down from McAfees Knob, we saw a HUGE rattle snake hanging out just beside the trail. It was about three and a half feet long, and it’s definitely the biggest snake I’ve seen in the wild. Pretty neat!


This thing has been eating well…

From Mcafee Knob the trail follows a ridge line six or eight miles north, and then curls around to the east and offers views back towards the Knob. It’s always cool to look back after a morning of hiking and see exactly where you’ve come from and the route you traveled. The next 1/2 mile of trail north of here is known as Tinker Cliffs, where the trail parallels the edge of a steep cliff. Only a foot or two to your left, the ground drops off into nothingness and dozens of tiny farms can be seen in the valley below. Looking at the ridge line directly across the valley, we could just barely make out the knob we had been standing on earlier that morning. This little stretch was really exciting hiking, and I enjoyed it almost as much McAfees Knob itself. 

Barnum surveying the scenery

Cool old farming equipment

When we rolled into town yesterday evening, we headed directly to the local barbecue restaurant. For dinner I had chips and guacamole, a buffalo chicken wrap, and peach cobbler a la mode. Everything was delicious! By the time we got the hotel, I could barely move. Everything hurt, especially my feet. I made it onto the bed just as Step Brothers was starting on Comedy Central, and I knew I wouldn’t be moving for the rest of the night…
I’m taking the morning off in town to rest my feet and take care of some things. I’ll hike out of here around noon and will probably only cover 10 or 15 miles today. I think that will put my at the 1/3 mark. Time flies!

More soon…

Cheers, 

McLovin

Ponies & Pizza Parties 

Ponies & Pizza Parties 

The Grayson Highlands were incredible! It was without a doubt one of my favorite days of hiking since starting the trail. I had heard really great things about the area, and it definitely lived up to the hype. The day that I had originally planned to hike through the park tuned out to be foggy and rainy, so I zeroed at a shelter just before the entrance to the park and waited for better weather. Luckily the weather was much better the next day, and I ended up being really glad that I hadn’t blown through the park the previous day without being able to enjoy the views. 

Part of what makes the Grayson Highlands so cool are the wild ponies that roam and graze in the area. They are really cool to see, and there were even several baby horses around when I passed through. Some of them are super friendly, and even love to be pet. As nice as they can be, they’re known for going after hiker’s food bags. I camped on a grassy ridge on my first night in the highlands, and I was awoken around 10:00 pm by a pony who had wiggled his nose under the vestibule of my tent and was sniffing around for food. I gave him a little tap on the nose and he wandered off. 

As we were walking down out of the park, we got word of a big hiker picnic that was being hosted that evening at a local baptist church. Sure enough, as soon as we got to the next gap a van pulled up to shuttle people to the picnic. I’m not one to turn down a free meal, so I hopped aboard. Next thing I knew I was sitting under the pavilion at Troutdale Baptist church. Apparently they put on a huge hiker picnic once every year, and I just so happened to be passing through on the day it was happening. There were about 65 hikers there, and the spread was incredible. Every one of us had seconds, and there were still leftovers. I ate: Two cheeseburgers, one chili cheese dog, potato salad, pasta salad, chips and queso, macaroni salad, cole slaw, fudge, lemon squares, blueberry cobbler, and ice cream. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so much in my life. Hiker hunger is real…

Unfortunately my phone died after my first night in the highlands, so I wasn’t able to get as many photos as I would have liked to. Here’s what I captured before it died:


I’m posting this from a motel in Marion, VA. Last night I stayed at the famous Partnership Shelter, where pizzas can be ordered to the shelter. Of course I had to take advantage of that luxury….

More soon!

Cheers,

McLovin

North Cackalacky & Tennessee

North Cackalacky & Tennessee

Hello friends! 

This post is coming to you from Damascus, VA. I’ve spent the last two days here at the annual Trail Days festival. It’s a huge celebration of former thru-hikers, aspiring thru-hikers, and all sorts of other A.T. enthusiasts. There’s been music, entertainment, a vendor village, free food, and even a thru-hiker parade through town. Good times for all!!

I crossed the Tennessee/Virginia state line on Friday, which makes it three states under my belt thus far. Virginia is by far the longest state on the trail, so I won’t be seeing another state line for at least a month. It’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve had a chance to post anything, so I’ll do my best to share the most memorable moments.

CARLOS EL BADIDO

Bebop at Uncle Johnny’s
While staying at Uncle Johnny’s hostel in Erwin, TN we were treated to a little complimentary entertainment by the boys in blue. To make a long story short-ish, a local gentlemen named Carlos showed up at the hostel one afternoon with a heavily intoxicated hiker. Apparently the two had linked up somehow a few days earlier, and had been cruising around the town on some sort of wild bender ever since. They had returned to the hostel to retrieve the belongings of the spun-out hiker, who had checked into the hostel 4 days earlier, before wandering off with Carlos. Somewhere in the process of packing up the hikers belongings, we all heard yelling coming from the driveway of the hostel. We spun around quickly to see Carlos held at gunpoint by an Erwin police officer. In Carlos’ hands were two trekking poles, which he had apparently picked up as the officer was approaching, in an effort to blend in. As fifteen or twenty of us thru-hikers watched in excitement from the front porch, the officer kept his gun pointed at Carlos and demanded that he get on the ground and don’t move until his backup arrived. It was at this point that the following exchange occurred: 

Officer: (holding Carlos at gunpoint) “God damnit Carlos, we been friends for too long, don’t make me do this!”

Carlos: “Well shoot me then damnit!”

Uncle Johnny: (hostel owner, walking up the front steps) “Entertainment is free here at Uncle Johnny’s!”

Four other police cars arrived shortly after, and detained both Carlos and the shit-faced hiker. It was at this time we learned that Carlos was being arrested for grand theft auto; it turns out that they had stolen the PT Cruiser that they had been whipping around town in for the past 3 days. It all made for a very exciting evening…

MURPHY THE A.T. PUP

Peabody & Murph Dogg
Just outside of Erwin, I had the great pleasure of meeting Murphy, the now famous thru-hiking Australian Shepherd puppy. A story about a hiker finding the 8 week old puppy and deciding to carry her with him to Maine had recently gone viral on social media, and my mom sent me a link to the story, asking if I had met the dog and its owner yet. As it turns out the story on social media wasn’t completely true, but Murphy is stupid cute, and she is indeed being carried to Maine. 

GOOD FOOD AND GREAT COMPANY

My wonderful parents came up one Sunday evening to treat us to a night off the trail in a cabin near Roan Mountain, Tennessee. They rented an awesome little house on a river right near the trail, and brought up tons of beer, food, and games to play. They picked up a few friends and I from the trail around 2 PM and shuttled us down to the cabin. We feasted on pasta and homemade meatballs with sauce, chips and guacamole, lemon pound cake, and many a Fat Tires. We watched a couple of movies and played some Catch Phrase before enjoying a warm bed for the night. We had a big breakfast in the morning and got back on the trail around 10:00 AM. It was awesome to see my parents, and a treat to have a hearty meal and a bed for the night.

Mom & Dad!
Bebop, Blue Indian, Peabody, Me
HIKING THE ROAN HIGHLANDS


The stretch of trail through the Roan Highlands was some of my favorite hiking on the trail so far. It crossed several wide open balds and offered dramatic views. We took our time crossing the balds, and stopped a few times to shoot the shit and enjoy a beer. The weather was great, and it made for one of my favorite days on trail thus far. 

Me, Peabody, Blue Indian

LOUNGING AT OVERMOUNAIN

Me, Bebop, Peabody
We took a short day to make sure we could spend a night at Overmountain Shelter. It’s one of the better known shelters on the trail, and for good reason. It’s a big red converted barn, which sleeps over twenty hikers. It has two stories, amazing views, and tons of flat grass for tenting. We showed up early and lounged around in the grass all afternoon, snacking and napping and talking about nonsense. A local couple even showed up with trail magic, laying out fresh fruit and cookies and nuts on a picnic blanket in front of the shelter. It was an awesome night, and we all took our time getting out the following morning. 

TRAIL DAYS!


Trail Days has been a really good time. Some of the highlights for me were strolling the vendor village and picking up a couple of new pieces of gear, walking in the parade, and being invited for cheeseburgers and moonshine in the backyard of some Damascus residents. That white lightning is the real deal! We also met triple crowner Chimp and his wife Tipsy at a pub yesterday. They bought us beers and hung out to talk trails for a while. Awesome folks. 

Blue Indian, Tipsy, Peabody, Me, Chimp
I’ll be packing up and walking back to the trail this afternoon. The couple of days off have been really great, but I’m ready to cover some more ground. I’ll be walking through the Grayson Highlands in the next couple of days, so you can expect some wild pony pics in my next post. The 1/4 way mark is within sight! 

Cheers, 

McLovin

The Smokies!

The Smokies!

I was really excited to get into the Smokies, because even though I grew up only a few hours away I had never visited the park before. The Appalachian Trail follows the North Carolina/Tennessee border through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for seventy some miles. The weather was ideal and the trails were both well made and scenic. I always enjoy visiting the national parks, and this was no exception. Here are some highlights from my four days in the park:

THE VIEWS.
Hiking through the park you’re constantly awarded with breathtaking vistas. The trail follows high ridge lines with panoramic views, and a couple of short side trails lead to fire/observation towers where you can get an even better look around. 

GREAT TRAILS.
As with most National Parks, the hiking trails inside GSMNP are very well-built and easy to travel. Long gentle traverses and wide sweeping switchbacks make climbing up and over mountains unbelievably easy. 

MAGIC AT NEWFOUND GAP.
About halfway through the park, A.T. hikers cross Newfound Gap. It’s a major road that crosses through the park, and I get the feeling that most park visitors never step foot off of it. When I got to the gap, there was a baptist group hosting some trail magic; cold sodas, candy bars, chips, cookies, and brownies. I was tired and hungry and sick of all the food in my pack, so this was greatly appreciated! 

MAX PATCH.
Max Patch is a high grassy bald just north of the park. The mountaintop was originally cleared for cattle some many years ago, and now it’s maintained as a bald. It offers incredible panoramic views, and it’s a great place to lounge in the sun. I got there around 9:00 AM, made a cup of coffee and hung out on the bald for a couple of hours.

STRAWBERRIES AND BLOODHOUNDS.
Another bit of trail magic came at the Deer Park Shelter, just a few miles south of Hot Springs, North Carolina. I was staying there for the night before heading into town the next morning. Around 7:00 P.M., a guy showed up at the shelter with two bloodhounds on leashes. I was excited to see the dogs as they’re always nice to have around on the trail, but I was even more excited when he pulled a bucket of fresh picked strawberries out of his backpack. He put them down on the table and told us to enjoy. I have never eaten so many strawberries…

I hiked into Hot Springs yesterday morning, where a friend picked me up and brought me back to his house in Asheville. I’m hanging here for the weekend, binging on food and movies. He’ll be driving me back to the trail sometime tomorrow. There is a 15 mile section of trail just north of Hot Springs which is closed due to a forest fire that was just recently contained, so it looks like I’ll need to skip that section. I was hoping it would reopen by time I was ready to get back on the trail, but it’s looking like it will remain closed for a few more days.

Enjoying a zero today, and looking forward to getting back on the trail tomorrow. I should be in Erwin, TN in three or four days. More soon!
Cheers,

Ben

N.C. Border to Fontana Dam

N.C. Border to Fontana Dam

This week I hiked from the GA/N.C. border to Fontana Dam, N.C., miles 78- 165. I’m writing this post from the front porch of the general store here. I just had a bacon cheeseburger and fries at the restaurant, and now I’m waiting for a package to arrive while doing some laundry.

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I’ve been pretty lucky and have had great weather thus far; I haven’t even gotten wet. We are definitely due for some rain though, as some of the water sources have already dried up and fires have already forced trail closures in some sections. A small section of trail in North Georgia was just closed, a couple of days after I passed through. Unfortunately, it sounds like that fire may have been caused by hikers. There is rain in the forecast for tonight and tomorrow, so that should help the situation.

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So far the trail in North Carolina has been a bit tougher than Georgia. The climbs have been really rewarding though, with lots of views and some beautiful campsites. Now that I have a couple of weeks under my legs, I’m trying to increase my mileage a bit and shooting for about 15 miles each day. It’s obvious that spring is approaching quickly; some small flowers are beginning to poke through the ground, and the trees are just starting to show their leaves. It’s also getting hot, FAST. Just last week the night time lows were below freezing. Now the lows are around 55, and daytime highs have been in the low 80s. I’ve been getting pretty hot in the days, and I know things are only getting hotter.
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Since my last post I’ve taken two half days off to rest my legs and enjoy my surroundings a bit. The first was in Franklin, North Carolina. It’s a really nice little town, which caters to hikers. We got a $40 room at a hiker hotel, and spent most of night at a party at the nearby hostel. They had a ton of free food, and a keg of beer from the nearby Lazy Hiker Brewery. The next morning I resupplied at Ingles grocery store and then hopped on a shuttle back to the trail.
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Two days later I was at the Nantahala Outdoor Center, where I took another half day off. The NOC gets a lot of hate from hikers, but personally I had a pretty great day there. I rolled in just in time for a big breakfast at the restaurant, and shortly after I rented a raft to take down the Nantahala River. After a couple of beautiful hours on the river, we got burgers at the restaurant for lunch, and spent rest of the afternoon drinking beers by the river. I cowboy camped by some railroad tracks about and 8th of a mile from the NOC, and got back on the trail early the next day. Sure, their prices on food and lodging may be a little steep, but I enjoyed my twenty or so hours there.
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Tonight I’ll stay at the famous “Fontana Hilton” shelter. It’s one of the nicest on the whole trail, and it even has a shower and toilet! Tomorrow morning I’ll start hiking into Great Smoky Mountain National Park. The stoke is high!
More to come…
Cheers,
McLovin

One Down, Thirteen to go.

One Down, Thirteen to go.
     Only 15 or so miles left until North Carolina! I’ll be finishing off my first state tomorrow morning. I’m writing this post from Top of Georgia Hostel in Hiawassee, GA. It’s a really nice hostel, and last night was the best night’s sleep I’ve gotten since starting the trail. It’s funny how luxurious a rock hard hostel bunk feels after a week on the tail. I got to take a shower, they did my laundry, and shuttled us all into town for beer, food, and supplies.
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     Several new friends from the trail are staying here as well, so it’s been pretty fun. Last night we had a little hiker pot luck in the hostel. I made guacamole, and there was also pizza, tacos, mashed potatoes, steak, salad, and cake. We had a fire outside after dinner, and enjoyed a couple of growlers of local beers from the beer store in downtown Hiawassee.
     My first week on the trail has been great. I’ve met some awesome people, and hiked some really beautiful trail. The trees are still bare, which allows for really great views along the trail. The weather seems to be warming up quickly though, and I’m excited to start seeing things turn green. Some highlights from the week include: a hiker feed at Unicoi Gap, meeting trail angels Onesimus & Trixie and hitching a ride from town in their RV, catching views of the Atlanta city skyline from several points around Blood Mountain, and of course stuffing my face with food here at the hostel last night.
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     I’ll hike out of here around 10 or 11 this morning, and I’m thinking I’ll just do a few easy miles before setting up camp. My legs feel great, but I’m trying to pace myself as much as possible to avoid any unnecessary injuries. Also I still have another frozen pizza here which I’ll cook for breakfast. Mmm.
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     People have been calling me McLovin, so I guess that’s my trail name. I’m not sure that I see the connection myself, but several people around camp one night agreed that the way I talk reminds them of the character from the movie Superbad. He’s a goofy character but I don’t really mind the name, so I’ll roll with it.
     The next town I plan to stop in and resupply is Franklin, North Carolina. It’s about 40 miles from here, and I’m expecting to get there in 3 days. I’ll post another update sometime next week, whenever I can get in front of a computer. If anyone has questions about my first week or the Georgia section of the A.T., feel free to drop a comment below.
Cheers,
Ben