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

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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

Hong Kong Hikes

Hong Kong Hikes

That’s right- this big city has a lot more to offer than dim sum and neon sky scrapers (though the former is reason enough to plan a visit).

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When you think of Hong Kong, pristine mountain trails may not be one of the first things that come to mind.  This city has enough on offer to keep any semi-ambitous traveler busy for weeks, if not months or years.  The city’s superb public transport, abundance of attractions, and many english speaking residents make it an ideal destination for westerners.  While the roast geese and egg tarts get plenty of well-deserved love from those passing through town, many visitors will overlook the world class hiking that lies just a short cab ride away from the bustling city streets.  As much as forty percent of Hong Kong is designated as Country Park, much of which is laced with well built and scenic hiking trail.  I was able to venture out on a couple of day hikes there during a visit last week, and I feel that I’ve barely even scratched the surface.

Hong Kong Trail Section 8; Dragon’s Back

This is probably the most iconic and well known hike in the region, and for good reason.  Though it ranks near the bottom on the difficulty scale, this hike offers coastal views and sublime ridge walking that would be worth an entire day’s climb.  You can easily reach the trailhead by taking the MTR (HK’s subway system) to the Chai Wan station, or hopping in a cab from Central for about $15 USD.

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After a short ascent from the trailhead, you’ll find yourself walking along an exposed ridgeline with coastal views over both shoulders.  On one side the mountain drops away to the South China Sea, and on the other to the Hong Kong Bay.  Be sure to take your time, as the entire hike is only about 5 miles and this is be far the most impressive stretch.

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After following the ridge for a short while, you’ll begin your descent and quickly be reminded of the metropolis that lies around the bend.  Continue your descent and follow signs for Tai Long Wan to end up Big Wave Bay.  Once there, I’d strongly recommend treating yourself to an ice cold TsingTao and taking a load off while watching local surfers catch some waves.

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Wilson Trail Section 1; The Twins and Violet Hill

This hike presents a somewhat significant physical challenge, and is best suited for those who are prepared for steep climbs and descents.  The section is only about about 3 miles long, but the consistently steep grade will make it seem longer.  The trailhead is serviced by 3 bus routes from Central (6, 6a, 260), which makes getting to this hike a breeze.  Grab a seat on the the upper deck of the bus and enjoy the views along the way.

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Get off the bus at the Stanley Gap/ Wilson Trail stop, where you’ll see abundant signage for the trailhead. The trail begins with a steep climb from the trailhead, be sure to take a few breaks on the way up to enjoy the view behind you.  You’ll continue ascending until the trail skirts the summits of The Twins and drops into the valley on the other side.

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If you decide you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, there is a bailout point about halfway through where an easy path leads down to Repulse Bay, where transportation is available back to Central. While this hike offers spectacular views and rewarding climbs, it should be noted that much of the trail follows STEEP stone steps.  If you’re someone who’s knees are bothered by this type of descent, then you might consider other sections before setting out on this one.

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After continuing up and over Violet Hill, the section ends at The Hong Kong Parkview residences.  Here you can grab a cab or walk a quarter mile downhill to Wong Nai Chung Gap and hop on a bus back to Central.

More info and other Hong Kong hiking trails

These are just two of the many day hikes which are easily accessible from downtown Hong Kong.  I thoroughly enjoyed both of these hikes, and I look forward to exploring other trails on my next visit to HK.  If you’re visiting Hong Kong and interested in doing some hiking, you can find find great information on trails and transportation here. If you have any questions about my experiences in Hong Kong, whether hiking or otherwise, I’d love to hear from you!

Happy trails,

Ben