The epic journey of a sibling pair as they trek 2,181 miles from Georgia to Maine on the Appalachia Trail.

Monday, May 30, 2011


Today was a little better for Hansel.  The heat persisted, as did the grassy fields, but there was a trip into town that broke up the day a bit.  In the morning, Hansel awoke and quickly hiked into the town of Duncannon with two fellow thru-hikers Pajamas and Budd Heavy.  Today's field walk was not quite as fun.  Because it was hot, Hansel hiked without his shirt on.  And because the grass was tall, it was constantly hitting Hansels bare belly.  The pollin was especially bad today, which was a little bit of an issue considering Hansel has a fairly significant grass allergy.  When he was younger, he used to get an asthmatic reaction and had to use an inhaler in order to breath.  When Hansel arrived in Duncannon today, he had rashes all over his abdomen where the grass had hit him and his eyes were nearly swollen shut.

Their first stop was the Doyle Hotel.  This is a very famous spot for thru-hikers.  It is over 100 years old and apparently it was "super glamorous" in its day; however... in the words of Hansel, the place has "gone to crap."  You lay in bed, and you gaze up at the ceiling, and you think to yourself, "How did that stain get up there?"  The place was pretty gross, BUT it is incredibly hiker-friendly and they have great food and great beer!  Hansel had a delicious barbecue pork sandwich, half an order of buffalo chicken wings, fries, and a strawberry shake that he took on his way out.  Silver Fox got the most enormous banana split anyone had ever seen.  It was delicious going down, but it then took him about 3 hours to hike 4 miles to camp because his belly hurt so badly.

One thing that Hansel decided not to accomplish while in town was showering.  Although it would have been extremely nice to wash all the grass pollen off of himself, the cost of showering was a bit steep.  Paying $7.50 at the hotel was just not happening.  The good news is, the shelter where Hansel and Silver Fox stayed that night had a very good water source.  They decided to work out a little guard buddy system.  Silver Fox took the first watch while Hansel went down for a creek bath and then they traded posts.  Cheep, effective, and au natural!

Happy Trails!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Hans Solo

"Sunday was the toughest day ever," Hansel recounted after hiking 26 miles.  The day was characterized by hiking through fields, something that a thru-hiker typically does not experience very often.  The grass was uncut and it was up to his waist.  The fields were also extremely muddy and it didn't help that the temperature was about 95 degrees and since trees were scarce in the open fields, he was in the sun all day long.

Luckily, Hansel met up with Silver Fox at Boiling Springs partway through the day.  "He is the reason I made it today."  Between the moral lift that Silver Fox provided and very special energy goo that he gave Hansel, they were able to make it last 18 miles to their camp.  Mentally, the Trail has been really difficult for Hansel.

"I don't know how I'm going to do this without [Gretel]," he confessed.  Not only was Gretel their chef and navigator, she also contributed to the overal moral of the Trail experience.  When you get to camp at the end of the day, it's nice to have someone to share your experiences with.  Someone to talk to.  Someone to pump you up about hitting the trail again the following morning.  And when Hansel was feeling down, Gretel was there to help build him up again.  Arriving at a shelter only to cook for himself and maybe exchange a few words with strangers was just not as thrilling as Gretel's company.  But, Silver Fox has definitely made the days better and Hansel has appreciated his companionship greatly.

Happy trails, and keep your chin up!

Silver Fox

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Half Gallon Challenge

The day after Maryland, Hansel was moving a little slower than usual.  He didn't hit the trail as early as he usually does so he was only able to put in about 15 miles.  This ment he needed to do an extra five miles today.   Today also happens to be the day of The Half Gallon Challenge taking place in Pine Grove, PA.  Traditionally, thru-hikers were challenged to eat a half gallon of ice cream in celebration of completing half of the Appalachian Trail, but now the halfway point has moved slightly north due to relocations.  If a thru-hiker is able to finish the entire tub of ice cream, he gets it for free in addition to a picture of himself on the Wall of Recognition next to all the other members of the Half Gallon Club.

Hansel started the day earlier than he did yesterday and found the trail much easier.  Consequently, he actually ended up running parts of the trail.  At 4:15 he was already in Pine Grove and was gearing up to consume his half gallon.  He carefully picked his poison: chocolate chip cookie dough.  He had come prepared with his favorite topping: Nerd candies.  Lately Hansel has been obsessed with adding Nerds to his ice cream.  Knowing this, Julie had provided Hansel with an entire back of Nerds when he stayed with her in Virginia.  And now it was time to begin.



Hansel dug in.  Spoonful after spoonful he consumed his ice cream.  After 30 minutes he was nearing the bottom of the carton.  Right at the 40-minute mark Hansel astounded everyone watching when he proceeded to rip open the box and lick the very last drop of his cookie dough ice cream!  He did it!  The woman in the store said she had never seen anyone do that!   He was honored with a small wooden spoon that said "Ice Cream Challenge" on its handle.

In a log book kept at the store, past hikers have written about their experiences.  It seems as though certain flavors go down more easily than others.  For example, mint chip is apparently a bad choice.  You'll never make if you select the mint.  Cherry jubilee tends to go down pretty smoothly.  Chocolate chip cookie dough is usually pretty good.  Hansel's thru-hiking friend, Silver Fox, was another half gallon champion and had selected banana split, which he loved.

And now I shall provide you with some nutrition facts.

1/2 Cup of Hershey's Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough contains 190 calories and 11 grams of fat.

Now, Hansel ate a half gallon of the stuff.  There are 16 servings in a half gallon.  SIXTEEN!  I'll help you with the math on this one.  In a 40 minute sitting, Hansel consumed a total of 176 grams of fat and 3,040 calories!  And I'm not even counting the nerds he added!

But why stop here with the 176 grams of fat?  There is more to tell.  After Hansel finished licking the carton, he decided he was feeling pretty good and the day was young.  So, he strapped his pack onto his back and hit the trail.  He banged 8 more miles before hitting the shelter for the night.

All in all, it was a big day for Hansel.  He hike a total of 30.1 miles, he became a member of the Half Gallon Club, and he reached the half-way mark for his Appalachian Adventure!  Woohoo!!

Happy trails and sweet ice cream dreams!

Ripped open the carton and licked every last drop!

Half gallon of chocolate chip cookie dough with Nerds

Half Way Point!  

Friday, May 27, 2011

Gretel's Difficult Decision

A difficult decision was made today.  Gretel will be leaving the trail for a little while to take care of some things that she cannot do while walking in the woods.  Leaving Hansel, her brother and trusty trail companion was hard for both of them, but Gretel is hoping to return as soon as she is able.  For a little while, Hansel will have to figure out how to cook his own evening meals.   Even though Gretel is taking this break now, she has every intention of completing the Trail in its entirety.  She will join up with Hansel when she is able to hike again.  After finishing through Maine, she will go back to the parts of the Trail she did not yet hike.  Thru-hiking the AT is a dream Gretel has been holding onto for several years now.  She is over halfway through, she is a strong hiker, a brilliant trail chef, and one day soon, she will accomplish this dream.  For now, we’ll just say good luck to Hansel.  We’ll miss you Gretel and can’t wait to see you back on the Trail.  

Happy Trails to all.

We'll miss her, but she'll be back!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Maryland Challenge

They did it!!! 41 miles through the wilderness in a single day!

At 4:30am the alarm clock sounded and in a sleepy stupor, Hansel and Gretel prepared for their hike.  On their car ride back to the trailhead they through back some McDonalds sandwiches.  Gretel had egg and cheese on a bagel and Hansel had the McSkillet burrito- clearly the breakfast of champions.  At 5:40am they were on the trail.  Hansel had been wearing his headlamp around his neck thinking they might need it, but the morning light was enough to illuminate the path.

Usually when Hansel and Gretel walk together, Gretel takes the lead.  This way she can set the pace since Hansel tends to be a little quicker.  Today was different.  Today Hansel took the lead.  If they were going to make it across the entire state, they would need a little extra fire under their fannies.  After ten minutes they each turned on their ipods.  As a special treat, we charged up 4 ipods loaded with music so that Hansel and Gretel would have some entrainment on this grueling hike.  This, naturally, resulted in several dance breaks from Hansel, who can never resist the opportunity to get his groove on when "Party In The USA" comes ringing through his headphones?

They had their first experience with Aquamira, a tablet to add to water.  It kills bacteria and makes it safe to drink.  Since they didn't have their packs with them today, they could not carry their water purifier apparatus.  The tablets made the water taste a little funky, but at least they had Gatorade powder to help disguise the funny flavor.

Hansel and Gretel did not sit down for a break until they were 30 miles into their trek.  The last 10 miles were the hardest.  Not only were they getting weary from having covered so much ground, they had also hit the hilliest and rockiest part of Maryland.

Two hours before they expected to finish, they started to hear thunder.  They didn't think much of it, but when they were about one and half miles from the state line, giant storm cloud rolled in and the sky became extremely dark.  With one mile to go, they started feeling rain drops.  Having left their packs with Two Bad, they had no rain gear should they get caught in a storm.

Meanwhile, Two Bad sat waiting in the parking lot at the trail head where he was expecting them to arrive.  Watching the sky and knowing they had nothing to keep them dry, he started to get nervous.  Hansel and Gretel had already walked 40 miles, but with the storm quickly approaching, they decided it was time to run.  Flashing down the trail, leaping over rocks and sticks, they dashed through the forest, the storm licking at their heals every step of the way.  Two Bad couldn't believe his eyes when his two children came flying out of the woods, trekking poles pumping!  They did it!  They made it!  41 miles in 13 hours!

Exhausted, they piled into the car and drove to a gas station where they refueled on donuts, a Kit Kat, and a Twix bar.   Hansel reported this had been the most physically challenging experience he had ever had.  They went to the Macaroni Grill for dinner, which should have been heaven, but Hansel and Gretel were just too beat to eat their food and spent most of dinner staring at their respective meals.  Somehow their energy returned when they stumbled on Maggie Moo's Ice Cream!  It must be said, when you talk to a thru-hiker, there is something about ice cream that is just magical!

Happy trails and good night's rest!

Breakfast at 5am

McDonalds: clearly the breakfast of champions

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

1,000 Miles!

Big things are happening!  Today Hansel and Gretel passed the 

If the average person's stride length is about 2.5 feet long, it takes just over 2,000 steps to walk one mile. This means that Hansel and Gretel have taken more than 2 million steps on the Appalachian Trail!  

Other big news: 

Tomorrow Hansel and Gretel will complete The Maryland Challenge!  Their goal is to walk the entire state of Maryland, which is 41 miles, in a single day.  Tonight they were met by our dad, Two Bad, in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.  Oh, I guess it is also worth mentioning that they have completed the state of Virginia as well as the state of West Virginia.  So tomorrow they will start bright and early.  Two Bad will hold onto their packs and equip them with smaller bags large enough to hold water for the day and some snacks to keep them going.  They will be able to cover more ground if they are not weighed down by their 40 pound packs.  They will meet Two Bad on the other side of Maryland at the end of the day so he can return their packs and they can continue on their way.  

They have deduced a plan to help with their fundraising efforts for Multiple Sclerosis.  They have asked people to pledge a monetary amount for each mile they complete in Maryland.  Two Bad has offered to match 50 cents to every dollar they raise up to $500.  We are hoping this will put them up to $5,000 for MS, which would be the halfway point for their fundraising goal.  

Wish them luck tomorrow!  It is going to be a long day!

Happy Trails!

Natural Trail Magic- Beautiful Butterflies!

Snack Time!

Green Tunnel 

Trail Maintenance 

Why did the deer cross the road?

Fab Family Fun!

As they emerged from a little hole in the woods, they were greeted by our cousin Julia and little baby Leah!    Julia met them in a parking lot at the edge of Bears Den Park in the early evening.  She loaded the stinky hikers into her car and took them straight to the grocery store where they restocked their Candy Bags.  Their Candy Bags are one of the more invaluable items that they carry with them.  It's difficult to imagine where they might be without the essential Peach Rings and Swedish Fish.  Hansel and Gretel feel it is necessary to specify that Candy Bags should not be confused with Munchie Bags, which are used by certain hikers when they have the munchies.

When they arrived at Ben and Julie's house, they found Caleb (1st grade) and Molly (3 years old) who were returning a turtle to a creak by their house.  Little Molly was sure to remind Hansel and Gretel several times throughout the night that they were stinky.  They took her cue and gathered their laundry together to be washed and then took showers.  Molly might not have been convinced that the shower was enough since all of their belongings were still a little ripe.  Two months on the Trail just doesn't come out in a single washing.

Aunt Heidi arrived to join the party and brought with her a supply of her famous clipper cookies, which Hansel and Gretel sampled immediately.  Then they all enjoyed some tasty snacks while Molly performed her newest favorite-thing-to-do, which is water bending.  It's a fancy series of moves that looks like a form of marshal arts and is featured in the show Avatar.  Molly's last favorite-thing-to-do was ballet, but water bending is probably much cooler.

They ate a delicious dinner of hamburgers, hot dogs, portobello mushrooms (Ben and Gretel speculated over the best way to cook a mushroom on the grill- the resulting morsels were delicious), a tremendous pasta salad with feta cheese, corn-on-the-cob, and shrimp!  What a feast!  They spent a little time digesting and Aunt Heidi gave Gretel the ultimate foot massage.  She offered Hansel a rub as well, but since his feet hurt him so much, he had to decline.  More love for Gretel!!

Of course such a quality evening could not be concluded without a tasty morsel to top off the experience.  Julie revealed the Ice Cream Sundae Extravaganza!  There were four different ice cream flavor options and an assortment of toppings including Nerds!  Hansel has been obsessed with putting Nerd candies on his ice cream which is apparently quite difficult to find.  Gretel claimed the Reese's Explosion was the best ice cream flavor and after Hansel finished his first dish of vanilla with Nerds, he went for a second bowl of Reese's.

After dessert, they did a little more chatting, a little more water bending, and then Hansel and Gretel retired to their very own, huge, comfy beds for the night.  Caleb was very kind to give his room to Gretel for the night while he had a sleep-over with Molly.  He, of course, gave Gretel some very careful instructions not to touch any of his stuff; particularly a very specific drawer, which Molly told her was his underwear drawer!

The next morning introduced a delicious breakfast of home-made blueberry buckle, yummy pancakes, sausage for Hansel, and a hot cup of coffee!  They folded their fresh laundry and packed their bags.  Julie, Molly and Leah dropped them off at the trail head where they disappeared back into their hole in the woods.  What a wonderful and refreshing visit!  Sometimes an evening with family, delicious food, and a big hug that comes with love is the most anyone can ask for!  Thanks Julie, Ben, Caleb, Molly, Leah and Aunt Heidi for taking such great care of Hansel and Gretel and being a part of their journey!

Happy Trails!

They made it!
Family greeting!  
Hansel, Molly, Julie, Leah, Gretel

Ice Cream Sundae Extravaganza!

Hansel, Molly and Gretel
Back into the woods they go!  Thanks Family!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Soggy Return

Returning to the trail this time was very difficult for Hansel and Gretel.  All the novelty is gone and they knew the challenges that would be facing them.  After a week with their family, it was tough to go back into the isolation of the woods and their bodies had forgotten how to be thru-hikers.  They were more sore now than they had ever been.  Gretel's knee is aching and Hansel's boots are causing him plenty of pain.  He has been walking with his shoes untied (which provides absolutely no support) so they will stop pressing on one of his nerves.

It also did not help that their first day back on the Trail was a long one with some unwelcome complications.  They started their hike a bit later than they would have liked in pouring rain.  Luckily, t did clear up in the middle of the day.  They had expected to arrive at the shelter around 9pm, but Hansel made it by 8:15.  Five minutes later, the cats and dogs returned and it was pouring rain once again.  By 9 o'clock, Gretel still had not arrived.  At this point, Hansel put his boots back on and set off to look for his sister.  After walking a quarter of a mile in the dark and pouring rain, he decided to return to the shelter.  It did not make sense for both of them to be out in the rain and walking alone in the dark increased the possibility of both of them getting lost.  He knew Gretel had the right gear for the rain and at least the air temperature was still warm so she wouldn't be freezing in the woods by herself.  Hansel returned to camp where he was met by two older thru-hikers, Booksmarts and Caveman, who offered to join him and go look for Gretel.  Just before the search party was about to return to the forest, they spotted Gretel's glowing headlamp approaching from between the trees!  She made it!

When she reached the camp she explained that at about 8:30 she started to wonder if she had mistakenly passed the shelter.  It was dark and perhaps she missed a turn, so she decided to walk backwards to be sure she had not already passed it.  Little did she know, she had only two tenths of a mile to go before she decided to turn around.  Wet and weary, she sank into the hard floor boards of the shelter and Booksmarts and Caveman rejuvenated her with some hot chocolate.

The next night, Hansel and Gretel found some comfort in staying at a hostel in Waynesboro, VA.  It was located at Grace Lutheran Church which reminded them of home since the church we grew up in is Lutheran.  They had a "Fellowship Hall" and and they slept on cots similar to the ones we used to help set up at Calvary.  They also happened to have the BEST showers because they had seats in them.  Who can resist the opportunity to sit while you scrub?

Happy trails and elevated spirits.

A biscuit for the road... I mean trail.

Hansel and Gretel are disappearing into the trees... 
you might be able to make them out.
A Very Awesome Woodpecker 

Hitching... an aqua pick-up!

The wind in his hair!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Pine Forests and Why We Like Them

On the windy ride back into the woods of the Shenandoah’s, Hansel enlightened us on the three reasons why hiking in a pine forest is so enjoyable:

1.     The needles from the trees fall and make the ground softer to walk on.  The needles pack down, unlike the leaves in hardwood forests which just lay on top and hide rocks, bumps and holes.    
2.     There is no undergrowth in a pine forest because the needles makes the ground more acidic.  This leaves the forest feeling very open and you can see much further through the trees. 
3.     The branches in pine forests are higher up so even though there are many tree trunks, there are no branches whacking you in the face as you walk and you are able to see much better. 

Gretel agreed that hiking through a pine forest is neat, though she enjoys being surrounded by the green of a hardwood forest too.  Pine forests are neat because they are so rare.  “It’s kind of like walking through peoples fields.”  You just don’t get to do it that often so the novelty makes it fun.  

Happy Trails!

A stop at the only store in Damascus, VA before getting back on the Trail.
Hansel and Gretel in their new light-weight hiking shirts.  A vibrant pair!

Taking shelter from the rain under the trunk of the car as they prepare to return to the woods.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Graduate!

Today we all watched as Gretel put on her cap and gown to join her graduating class.  Even though she officially graduated from William and Mary this past December, it was a special moment to watch her file in, big purple flower in hand (so we could identify her), among the sea of black robes.  The weekend has been filled with inspirational speeches about hope and courage and following your dreams.  The whole family had some drippy eyes as we thought about the dream Gretel was pursing right now and the courage she was mustering every day to make it a reality.  The dream of finishing her undergrad is now behind her, the challenge of law school is ahead, and she is in the midst of completing the longest walking path in the world with her brother by her side!

Congratulations Gretel and Happy Trails!

The Whole Gang! 
(Gretel is holding her oar that she gets to keep after 3 years on the William and Mary Crew Team)

Hansel and Gretel... And Two Bad

Three Sibs

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Star Trekking

Here is another example of the silly ideas thru-hikers come up with when they are given too much time to think.  Cascade, another hiker friend, has invented a new way of hiking the AT (to be added as an alternative to White Blazing, Blue Blazing, Yellow Blazing, etc).  It’s called “Star Trekking.” 

Let’s just review our AT Terms:

White Blaze: following the "official" Appalachian Trail as marked from start to finish. i.g. what Hansel and Gretel are doing.

Blue Blaze: hiking parts of the official AT but also taking some side trails, short cuts, or alternative routes. 

Yellow Blazing: Hitch hiking over parts of the Appalachian Trail to get further ahead.  aka skipping sections.

Night Hiking: hiking at night (duh).

Cascade invented “Star Trekking” after meeting some people who seemed to be covering a lot of ground in an unnaturally small amount of time.  When asked, they claimed they had been doing a lot of night hiking to get further ahead.  The truth is, they were most likely Yellow Blazing and skipping over parts of the Trail, but they didn’t want to admit that they weren’t pure White Blazers.  Therefore, Star Trekking refers to the hikers who say they have been night hiking, when in fact they have actually been hitching rides. 

Happy Trails!

AT "Challenges"

As Hansel and Gretel get further north, they have been considering doing “The Maryland Challenge” in which they would hike the entire state of Maryland in one day.  It is about 41 miles- by far the longest hike they will have ever taken.  They shared their thoughts on completing this challenge with Red Wood, another thru-hiker.  He had no intentions of following in their footsteps.  41 miles was well beyond anything he was interested in doing in one day.  But it did get him thinking about another “challenge” he will be adding to the list of Thru-Hiker Challenges. 

He is calling it “The West Virginia Challenge.”  (For those of you who don’t know, West Virginia happens to be less than 6 miles long.)  Here is the challenge: You must do West Virginia as slowly as you possibly can. 

The Rules:
1.     You must camp no further than 100 feet off the trail (this prevents people from sleeping comfortably in hotels for days at a time).
2.     You can only stay in the same location for 2 days or less.
3.     You must move at least 50 feet on the trail each time you make a new camp.
4.     You can not go backwards.
5.     It only counts if you finish the entire AT

West VA = < 6 miles

To Crunch or Not To Crunch?

It’s been about a month, and the magic of Little Debbie’s Star Crunch has not been depleted.   The third day after Hansel and Gretel picked up Two Bad, they were finishing up dinner at a table with Schmuck, another thru-hiker.  For desert, they had 2 remaining Star Crunch to divide between the three of them.  They each ate a half a Star Crunch and split the extra piece into thirds.  Before consuming the final 3rd, Hansel looked over to Schmuck who had shared some of his food with them earlier.  He offered Schmuck the bite-sized piece of heaven.  Two Bad followed suit.  Gretel looked at Schmuck, looked down at her Star Crunch, and then back at Schmuck.

“Well,” she considered, “If I don’t give this to you, then I’m kind of a schmuck.”  These are the kinds of dilemmas hikers are faced with on a daily basis.   

Happy Trails and Happy Crunching!

Two Bad or Too Bad?

Now we all know how Two Bad acquired his trail name: two bad hips, two bad knees, two bad ankles, two bad feet.  But on the trail, when introduced with a verbal name exchange and a visual intake of his appearance and equipment, more than a few hikers thought he was Too Bad: Man-Who-Carries-a-Mighty-Knife-and-Probably-Says “Too Bad” After-Slicing-You-for-Looking-at-Him-the-Wrong-Way.  

On the shoulder strap of his pack, Two Bad carried knives that are used by the US Special Forces guys.  It was clearly hard to miss these weapons, which he stored in an easily accessible location.  The truth of the matter is, those knives were mainly used to cut chunks of cheese, but that didn’t inhibit the intimidation other hikers felt when meeting old Two Bad.  The only person who guessed the real significance of Two Bad’s name was Bum Knee; another senior hiker (with a bum knee) who could relate to the aches and pains.  

Happy Trails and Knife Safety!

Breakfast Reflections and Trail Philosphy

Saturday morning brought the family to The Art CafĂ© for a German/Austrian breakfast.  As the five of us sat around the table, Life Lessons from the Trail began to trickle into the discussion.  Here are some of the things that came up.

From Gretel:
“We just take a positive perspective.  Negative people can get you so down and I’m like, ‘Why are you here?’  It’s just such a waste of time [to be negative].  Even on the bad days like that horrible day (when it was snowing and freezing and Gretel got lost), I say ‘Some time today I will get to the shelter and somehow I am going to be warm and tomorrow it’s going to be sunny.’”

From Hansel:
“I realize I don’t need anybody else to make me feel better about things.  If I’m not feeling good, I just think about Pirates of the Caribbean and I feel better.”

“What we are doing is crazy.  But when I think about it, the things people worry about in normal life are crazy.  I’m in a tent in a snow storm and the people back in DC are all up in arms about whether or not NPR can get enough funding.”

“I can’t judge anyone.  People tell their stories and I would have had no clue.” 

“People treat us differently in towns in a positive way.  Because we are helpless and dirty, they know that we are not going to judge them.  So they feel more comfortable.”

From Two Bad:
“One thing about thru-hikers, everyone is reduced to the same common denominator.  We met a guy named Calculator (that’s his trail name).  Big guy, wears a bandana.  He takes his bandana off and he has a huge mohawk underneath.   We asked him how he got his name.  He says, ‘I got a PhD in mathematics…  No just kidding.’  He’s just good at math.  But the point is, anything is possible.  For all we knew, he could have had a PhD in mathematics.  Anybody could be anybody.”

“Anything you have materially is irrelevant.  It’s all about what you have in your pack and how many miles you did and how your boots are feeling.”   They talked about meeting hikers who probably are very wealth in the real word, but in Trail Life, everyone is on an equal playing field and economic status means nothing. 

From Gretel:
“It’s all about your metal capacity.  You can research and have all the best stuff, or you can be like Grandpa, do no research and have nothing.”  The people that make it to the end are not necessarily the ones who planned every stop and have the latest and greatest gear.  Your most valuable piece of equipment is your own mind and your determination.  

Happy Trails!

The Youth

Manda and Hansel

Friday, May 13, 2011

Graduation Weekend!

Friday evening was the start of a weekend family reunion in celebration of Gretel's college graduation!  Mom and I (Manda) flew down to Virginia and were picked up by the big black Suburban that Two Bad rented for the weekend.  You might be thinking that such a rig is a bit excessive, but we filled every seat by the time Aunt Ruth and Uncle Mike arrived!  I am still trying to decide if we looked like a special government vehicle or a clown car when 8 people climbed out of the thing.  

Anyway, Hansel and Gretel's weekend off the Trail gave them plenty of time to reflect on their journey, share some stories, enjoy motivational speeches given at various graduation ceremonies, eat delicious meals, and relish some quality family time.  The next few posts will include some of the events, conversations, and reflections that took place along with a few pictures of course!

Happy Trails!

Hansel, Gretel and Two Bad (Note the Beards!)

Three Siblings! 

The Whole Family!  
(Uncle Mike, Two Bad, Mommo, Aunt Ruth, Hansel, Gretel, and Amanda)

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Fox Hill

After their stay at the Dutch Haus, Hansel, Gretel, and Two Bad called their old friends Mark and Sue.  In addition to being wonderful people, Mark and Sue are the owners of a beautiful bed and breakfast in Lexington, Virginia.  Following their phone call, Sue hopped in the car to come pick up the three hikers, drove them to pick up their rental car, and then they followed her back to The Fox Hill Inn.  It's probably been about 10 years since this gang was last together in Vermont, where their old Bed and Breakfast used to be located.  Even though significant time has passed, Hansel and Gretel claim that Mark and Sue have not changed a bit.  Actually, Hansel said, "I forgot how awesome they are!"  And their inn is gorgeous!  Upon arrival, they were given a tour of the cozy Fox Hill and then they were taken out to the stable which is about a hundred yards away from the main house.  It is here that Hansel, Gretel and Two Bad would spend the night, sharing the stable with two horses and a donkey.  Sue assured them that she was not putting them here because they smelled and looked like animals.

Don't worry, they didn't have to sleep on hay.  On the contrary.  Mark and Sue built the "Heron's Nest" a few years ago.  It's a separate, finished part of the stable with a private kitchen, bathroom, living room and bedroom!  

As dinner time drew closer, Two Bad asked Mark and Sue if they had any recommendations for dinner, to which they responded, "Well sure.  Right here!"  Sue proceeded to make them all a delicious dinner!  As they ate, they shared stories and enjoyed catching up with their old friends.  Hansel, Gretel, and Two Bad told their Trail memories while Sue talked about her latest, and most fascinating interest in animal telepathy.  She has been studying and practicing this very special technique of communicating with animals and has been able to hear their needs and feelings by looking at pictures of them after talking with their owners.

As always, the visit was such a pleasure and our Inn Keeper friends met our hikers with such kindness and generosity.  Their entire Fox Hill experience came free of charge; a gift that was well enjoyed by all!  So many people have been sending love and care to Hansel and Gretel for the past 2 months and it has made this journey ever so much more enjoyable.  Mark and Sue certainly went above and beyond this week!  We are all so appreciative!  Thank you!  And if anyone is looking for a peaceful, scenic get-a-way in Shenandoah Valley, be sure to visit The Fox Hill Inn!

A view of Heron's Nest

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Two Bad Turns Hard Core

"So I'm hard core now!"  Two Bad reported.  Yesterday he hiked a whopping 17 miles with Hansel and Gretel to finish out his week-long adventure with his kids.  They spent last night in a bed and breakfast called The Dutch Haus in Montebello, VA.  Hansel and Gretel both confirmed that Dad had done a great job with them.  Even though they slowed up for him a little, by the end of the week, they had covered a lot of ground.  Two Bad hiked about 120 miles with Hansel and Gretel!  Not "too bad" for an old guy!

After the first day, Two Bad was doubting himself a little.  "Man, I might have made a mistake," he thought as he did his best to ease out the cramps in his thighs and back.  Even his shoulders were sore.  But the second day was a little better, and by the third day he really felt like he was adjusting to Trail life.  But then the blisters hit him.  Fortunately, Gretel knew the best way to deal with this problem since she battled her own blisters when she first started the Trail.

For Two Bad, this trip has been a physical challenge; one he trained hard for and still experienced plenty of aches and pains along the way.  But it was also a chance to see his children in action and share this life-changing experience with them.  After all, it was Mom and Dad who first exposed Hansel and Gretel to the woods and the joys of backpacking on the Appalachian Trail.

There was pride an his voice when Two Bad said, "They are doing great.  They have it all figured out.  The whole organizing, camping, set up, tear down, shopping, cooking."  He talked about the delicious meals that Gretel makes, throwing extra flavorful ingredients into various concoctions that she has perfected.  Not every father has the opportunity to spend quality time like this with his children after they have left college.  Walking through the woods with only the bear essentials on their back, singing the words to their favorite Bruce Springteen songs as they hiked, sitting around the campfire talking about life as their put their feet up after a long day.  The days on the Trail that Two Bad spent with Hansel and Gretel is a testament to the ever-present support and unconditional love that he has shown all three of us since the day we were born.  We are a lucky crew to have known such love from our parents.

Happy Trails!

Here's one Bruce song they sang together: If I Should Fall Behind
And the Lyrics:

We said we'd walk together baby come what may
That come the twilight should we lose our way
If as we're walking a hand should slip free
I'll wait for you
And should I fall behind
Wait for me

We swore we'd travel darlin' side by side
We'd help each other stay in stride
But each lover's steps fall so differently
But I'll wait for you
And if I should fall behind
Wait for me

Now everyone dreams of a love lasting and true
But you and I know what this world can do
So let's make our steps clear that the other may see
And I'll wait for you
If I should fall behind
Wait for me

Now there's a beautiful river in the valley ahead
There 'neath the oak's bough soon we will be wed
Should we lose each other in the shadow of the evening trees
I'll wait for you
And should I fall behind
Wait for me
Darlin' I'll wait for you
Should I fall behind
Wait for me

Monday, May 9, 2011

Two Bad's Out of Reach Feet

Gretel watched her clothes spin around in the washing machine as she called me from the Laundromat in the “lame-o” town of Glasgow while Hansel and Two Bad went to the grocery store to find “some kind of lame dinner.”  So far everything about Glasgow was falling short of expectations.  The hotel they had planned to stay at had closed down.  Then they went to a shelter-type-thing for hikers to take a shower, but there was no hot water.  Gretel said she had to exhale deep breaths so she didn’t suffocate from the shock of the ice cold water.  Hansel spent his shower shouting, “Ooooh!  Oh! Oh! Oooh! Ohh!” which Gretel overheard as she was braiding her hair outside the shower area.   There was a restaurant listed in the Trail Guide book, but that had closed down.  When they asked a Glasgow local, they were told that there was another restaurant across the railroad tracks… but actually it was closed on Mondays.  Finally they heard about some kind of deli that sold Philly Cheese Steak sandwiches.  Gretel, being a vegetarian, asked if the boys could bring her a cheese steak sandwich without the steak.  They still have three more days of hard hiking ahead of them before our family friends (who also happen to be the owners of an awesome bed and breakfast) pick them up in Montebello.

Tonight they will be staying at Johns Hallow Shelter, which is exactly 777 miles from Springer Mountain where they started in Georgia! 

I know you are all wondering how Two Bad is fairing.  Gretel reported he is doing quite well.  Today was a bit rough for him because their hike was characterized by an excess of downhills, which tend to be a little painful for his two bad knees.  Other than that, he is feeling pretty good and getting into the swing of the hike.  One of the problems he encountered was the very same blister issue Gretel had in her first few weeks on the Trail.  The difference between Gretel and Two Bad, is that Gretel can actually reach her feet to tend to her blisters.  Two Bad’s hips sometimes prevent such luxuries, so he had to request a hand from his children.  (Warning: the next few sentences might sound a little nasty.)  Two Bad asked Gretel to help him pop his blisters the first night, but the second night she had to decline on account that such a task is a little too high on the Gross Scale.

“I’m sorry Dad, but I just can’t do that again.  You’re going to have to ask Hansel.”

Luckily Hansel was able to take care of Two Bad’s feet and then they covered the blisters in duct tape for the hike the next day. 

Shoe tying is also a bit of an issue for our dear Two Bad.  His hips are particularly stiff in the morning, so Hansel has been lending a hand with shoes too.  He usually loosens up over the course of the day though.  At one point in the hike he stopped and said,

“Hold on, I think I need to tighten my boots.”

“You mean need to tighten your boots,” replied Hansel.

“No, no, I think I can reach them now.”  And with some degree of effort, Two Bad tied his shoes all by himself.  Hooray!  (Thanks Vincent* for helping my dad with his flexibility and his endurance!  We all know that without you, this hike would have been a LOT harder!)

Until next time, happy trails!

*Vincent is a wonderful family friend as well as an incredible personal trainer.  Over the years he has trained the whole family and now he has his own business, Westfield Fitness Studio.  You can see a picture of Two Bad pumping iron in the second photo down on the website.  If you are local and want to do something great for your body, I highly recommend visiting Vincent!  He’s amazing! 

Hansel, Gretel and Two Bad crossing the longest footbridge on the AT

Snores Galores!

Last night the gang stayed at Bryant Ridge Shelter, which happens to be one of the largest shelters on the AT.  It has three tiers of sleeping space so naturally, Hansel, Gretel and Two Bad selected the very top tier.  The whole night time sleeping thing was all going well until Grandpa showed up. 

Let’s just talk about Grandpa for a minute.  According to Gretel he is quite a character.  This middle-aged fellow with a SUPER Boston accent started thru-hiking the trail with basically nothing at all.  He had a Jansport backpack- the kind you pack your books in when you are in high school.  He was using a sleeping bag that was meant to fit a two-year-old.  He hiked in blue jeans, a cotton sweatshirt, and a pair of work boots.  So far he has gone through about 6 pairs of boots because he keeps getting really trashy old things.  His current boots seem to be holding up pretty well though.  At last he acquired a pair of real hiking boots.  People have been giving him things along the way, so he now has some slightly more practical equipment.  Some guy at a hostel gave him a proper backpack, and he got a sleeping bag from a hiker box.  In the words of Gretel, “he is looking pretty legit.”   Grandpa decided to start hiking the Trail after making a phone call to his sister in Florida.  He asked her what the weather was like down there.   She told him it was about 80 degrees, so he figured that probably meant it was about 70 in Georgia.  Needless to say, the snowstorms, freezing temperatures and wind that he hit in the Smokey’s were not something he was properly prepared for!

Hansel and Gretel have crossed paths with Grandpa several times.  It is hard to miss him because he is a notoriously bad snorer and he has a history of rolling into shelters really late at night and then waking everyone up with his nocturnal grunts.  This is exactly what happened in Bryant Ridge Shelter.  At some point in the night, Hansel and Gretel were awakened by the growls of Grandpa.  Now, considering it must have been dark and late by the time Grandpa arrived, it is easy to assume that he would have chosen to bunk up on one of the lower tiers.  Oh no.  Grandpa decided to climb all the way up to the third tier with Hansel, Gretel, and Two Bad where he smooshed himself into the corner right next to Hansel!  Unable to sleep with Grandpa snoring right next to him, Hansel gave Grandpa a little kick to wake him up, then Hansel and Gretel snuggled back into their sleeping bags and tried to fall asleep as quickly as possible before Grandpa’s snores resumed. 

While we are on the topic of snoring, let’s bring our attention back to Two Bad.  Although he may deny it, Two Bad Dad has been known to get a little noisy in his sleep as well; therefore, ground rules have been set.  Two Bad is not allowed to sleep on his back when they are spending the night in a shelter.  Side lying only.   He snores way too loud if he is lying on his back. 

That being said, Two Bad has been enjoying the nights when they camp in their tents away from shelters.  As a matter of fact, the whole gang has been enjoying this.  Shelters are great because they are convenient and require little preparation, but everyone is much more comfortable in their own tents on the ground.  Their first night camping was wonderful.  Two Bad made a nice fire, he was able to sleep comfortably on his back, and everyone dozed peacefully until morning! 

Happy trails and a good night's sleep!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Two Bad!

Introducing the newest, short term, member of the Jabeccawalk Team: 


Around 9 this morning, Dad stuffed his pack and a small suitcase into the trunk of a cab headed for the airport (since you can’t take knives and fuel in your carry-on bag, he will have to mail the empty suit case home after he reloads the off-limits items into his backpack).  Around 3pm Dad met Hansel and Gretel at their hostel in Catawba and they started their march back into the woods. 

One problem: they weren’t nearly as far as they thought they were yesterday after tumbling down the mountain.  Very quickly, their 3-mile hike to the next shelter turned into a 6-mile hike.   So much for easing Dad into the Appalachian experience! 

I was wrong before when I said there was only one problem.  It also was raining, so they all got wet.  Good thing Dad came prepared with rain gear.  And then we have the problem of age.  As Dad was hiking he reminded the young and spry Hansel and Gretel that he was doing this hike with “two bad hips, two bad, knees, two bad feet, two bad…”  He continued to repeat all of these problems as they hiked until Hansel interrupted him.  

“Well Dad, I think you just got your trail name,” Hansel declared.  “Two Bad!” Isn't that too bad?

And so, Hansel, Gretel, and Two Bad have begun their week together!

Happy trails!

Who needs an alarm clock when you have a rooster?  This little guy woke up Hansel and Gretel this morning!

A Hostel Friend
Gretel making an epic breakfast!

Hansel with his plate.  They picked the eggs right out of the nest!
Also, does anyone else thing that Hansel's hair is getting rather fro-tastic?