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  • Berryman Trail Hike: April 9-10, 2015

    2015-04-09 13.26.49 HDRThe Berryman Trail (BT) is a 27-mile trail in between Steelville and Potosi about an hour south of St. Louis, Missouri. The BT is a loop, making it possible to hike the trail over 2 days without needing a shuttle. I hiked the trail with Ben, my brother Jeff, and my friend Dave from St. Louis. Ben and I have hiked two other times (here and here) and my brother and I hiked the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail last summer. This was Dave’s first hike.
    We started the BT on Thursday, April 9 at 1:15 p.m. Our plan was to begin with the eastern loop, hiking the trail counter-clockwise. We headed out under sunny skies and it was in the upper 70s. I had read that the eastern side of the loop was the “dry side,” meaning less water. After days of rain in the area, we found all the streams to be full. I only carried a liter of water and filtered water out of one of the streams when I ran out. We hiked through a a mixture of hardwoods and pines on a beautiful day.
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    It seemed like we had a stream crossing every few miles or so. We enjoyed finding creative ways to cross the streams without getting our feet wet.
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    It turned out to be a hot day with the temperature reaching near 80 degrees. There were no tough climbs but we tackled more steep ups and downs on this side of the loop than we would on day 2. We all had AT&T phones and cell service was spotty. We found a signal from time to time.
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    We arrived at the Brazil Creek Campground at 6:00 p.m., completing 10 miles on our first day. Before we left from the Berryman trail head, we dropped a vehicle at the Brazil Creek Campground because there was a 60% chance for severe thunderstorms. We stashed a pop-up canopy and four chairs in Dave’s vehicle at Brazil Creek. Once we arrived at camp the clouds started rolling in so we set up our shelters first. Dave, Ben, and I were all hammocking. Jeff brought his tent. We set up the canopy over the fire pit and gathered some firewood to keep the wood dry whenever the rain started. But the rain never came.
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    We built a small fire and started cooking supper. I ate mash potatoes and turkey bites, one of my favorite meals on the trail. Ben had a weather radio and we listened as severe thunderstorm warnings and tornado watches were issued for our area. The winds blew up to 20-25 mph. We watched storm clouds come and go and heard thunder in the distance but all the severe weather went around us. We only had a few sprinkles. We never needed the canopy.
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    I slept pretty good in my hammock. My new underquilt worked great but the winds continued to rattle my tarp until midnight. Lows dropped down to the low 40s and I woke up cold at about 5 a.m. I used my 40 degree down bag as a top quilt. I should have used my 20 degree synthetic bag. I got up at 6:00 a.m. and built a small fire. I was never shivering cold and I couldn’t see my breath, but it was chilly. After heating water for coffee and oatmeal and after the sun began to peak through the trees, I started warming up.
    2015-04-10 07.10.54 HDR
    Brazil Creek was a nice campground. No running water or privy, but it was right by the creek and it did have a picnic table, which is always a plus. It looked to be primarily a horse camp, but there were plenty of flat spots for tents and trees for hammocks. We hit the trail at 9:15 a.m. thinking we had a 14-mile day in front of us but it ended up being a 17 miles to get back to the Berryman trail head. Some of the maps online for the trail are old. We figured out that trail maintainers have rerouted certain sections of the trail to do more ridge walking, following the contours of the bluffs instead of dipping down into the valleys. You do not need a map to hike this trail, but if you are looking to hike the BT and want a map, use this one.
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    It was cool when we started hiking, but it warmed up quickly. We continued hiking through pines and hard woods. There was even a couple of “views,” at least views for the Ozarks. The second day seemed to have less ups and downs than on the eastern side of the loop. We continued hiking until noon, when we stopped for lunch by a stream. I set up my hammock to enjoy lunch “off the ground.” I love hiking with a hammock because where ever you go you always have a place to sit.
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    When we were stopping for lunch, two other hikers stopped to chat for a second. They were day hikers, hiking the entire trail that day. One of the guys was from Columbia and the other was from St. Louis. We talked a bit about the BT and gear and then they mentioned that they hiked on the AT last May. They hiked from Springer Mountain to Dick’s Creek Gap in Georgia in May, a couple of weeks before Jeff and I hiked the entire Georgia section. Funny. Small world. These were the only people we saw on the trail.
    As we wrapped up lunch, I laid back in my hammock and thought about taking a nap, but we  had miles to go before we got to camp. We packed up and headed back down the trail. The longer we hiked, we realized we had more to miles in front of us than expected, which was fine with me. It was sunny and 65 degrees. A great day for hiking.
    The western side of the loop overlaps with the Ozark Trail.
    2015-04-10 11.12.05
    The Ozark Trail (OT) is a collection of trails in the Missouri Ozarks, 390 miles worth. There are plans to connect all of the trails to create a continuous footpath, but right now there is 200+ miles that are connected. While hiking, I thought about doing a long section hike on the OT, maybe 100 miles or so. Maybe summer 2016. Who knows?
    There were a number of access roads crossing the BT, but there were signs at every intersection. There was no way of losing the trail. I appreciate the volunteers who have kept the trail in good shape. We passed a couple a new blow downs and one tree that had recently been struck by lightning, presumably from storms the last couple of days. We didn’t see much wildlife on the trail. I heard turkeys early in the morning and we saw one tree frog, a chipmunk and a squirrel, and one small black snake. We stopped at an artisan well on the trail at the Edward Beecher Recreation Area. This would be a great camping spot. We filled our water bottles from the spring without filtering and then pressed on.
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    We pushed on realizing we had seven miles to go. I noticed the conversations came to an end as we continued to hike, a sure sign we were getting tired. We took a short break and I checked for a cell signal and got one! I laid down on the ground and rested on my pack. I texted home and posted some pictures from our break spot and then we made the final push to camp.
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     We made it Berryman Trail head about 5:45 pm and I shot a quick video.
    Jeff and I collected firewood, while Ben and Dave  drove over to the Brazil Campground to pick up Dave’s vehicle. We set up camp and started supper. We could have driven home, but I would not have gotten back to the house until 11 p.m. I am glad we decided to camp a second night. We ate supper and I built a good-sized fire.
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    Ben drove into town and returned an hour and a half later with pizza and gummy bears. Even thought I had eaten supper, I ate a slice of pizza. I figure I burned enough calories hiking 17 miles that day. It was a cloudless night and the stars were out as we sat around the fire. We headed to bed around 10:30 p.m. or so and I was fast asleep within about five minutes. I slept good. I did wake up at 4 a.m. a bit cold. I realized that my underquilt had slid out from underneath my hammock. My mistake. I hung it too lose under my hammock. A mistake I will not make again. I fell back asleep and woke up about 6 a.m.
    I boiled water for coffee and oatmeal. Ben stoked up the fire and we warmed up. It was about 4o degrees or so. We packed up and headed home about 8 a.m. I am looking forward to my next adventure this summer on the Buffalo River Trail.
  • Lent 2015

    lent_2015Lent comes early this year. Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season, is tomorrow. Christmas Day is the same day every year on the calendar. Easter moves around…something about the phases of the moon. I’m not sure. Lent has been a part of the Christian tradition for a long, long time; I have only been observing Lent for six or seven years. My mistake.

    Lent has become a regular part of the year for me. I look forward to it, not in the same way I look forward to Christmas or Easter (Have you ever tried frozen peeps!). I look forward to Lent because it has been a time-tested practice of the church to grow in faith and identify with Jesus. Lent is a season on the church calendar the 40 days before Easter that helps us to prepare for Easter. It is designed to be a time of confession, prayer, repentance, fasting, and “giving something up” in order to identify with the sufferings of Jesus. Every Sunday is a mini celebration of the resurrection, but Easter Sunday is the ultimate celebration of the resurrection. For those of us following Jesus resurrection is a BIG deal. So for many of us the season of Lent has become a big deal. Lent is important as a way to prepare for Easter, because…

    You cannot know the joy of the resurrection without enduring the sorrow of the cross.

    Lent gives us a slow, winding, meticulous way to reflect on the sufferings of Christ culminating on his death on the cross. Lent is not convenient. Lent is not comfortable. It does not fit our consumer-driven sensibilities. It does help to form us in Christ-likeness. It does help expose our idols. It does help us to grow up.

    At Word of Life Church, we are venturing out into the Lenten season with four Ash Wednesday Services (7 a.m., noon, 5:30 p.m., and 7 p.m.) and then we are praying every day (except for Sunday) in our Upper Room prayer chapel at 12:15 p.m. These prayer gatherings will follow a Midday Prayer Liturgy that will sound and feel the same every day. We are baptizing people on the first Sunday of Lent and we are offering Lenten Small Groups on Sunday morning immediately following the worship service. We have also put together a Lenten Scripture Reading Guide to focus your Bible reading on the sufferings of Christ.

    For me personally, I am reading three books: Simply Good News by N.T. Wright, Early Christian Writings: The Apostolic Fathers compiled by Andrew Louth and Maxwell Staniforth, and Four Witnesses: The Early Church in Her Own Words by Rod Bennett. I try to pick books to read during Lent with a particular focus on Jesus. This year I wanted to read from some of the writings of the church fathers. I threw in an N.T. Wright book in the mix just because.

    I invite you to join us on this Lenten journey. Pick some meals or days during the week and fast. Give something up. Seek out silence. Repent. Give yourself to prayer. Join a small group. Read. Read slowly. Read contemplatively. Expect things to change. And most of all, look for Jesus.

  • Reflecting on 2014 with Just a Little Patience

    As I sit here waiting for some friends to come over to the house for our New Year’s Eve celebration, it’s a good time to reflect a bit on the calendar year that is passing. I was recently asked to recount what had happened in 2014 and share any aspirations I had for 2015. The first thing that came to mind about 2014 was a little truth that became real for me this year. I think I am further down the road in becoming a patient person. What I have learned is this:

    Almost all wisdom can be summed up in patience.

    I have known for quite some time that patience is a Christian virtue, a fruit of the Spirit, the calling card of the aged sages. I have never really been a patient person. I have been in a hurry for seemingly all my life. When I was 13 years-old, I wanted to be 16. When I was 16, I wanted to be 18. When I was 18, I wanted to be 25. It was not until my early 30s when I begin to really practice the patience I had heard about for so long. In my early 30s I was pastoring a church and learning the slow, difficult process of loving people on the way to becoming more like Jesus. In my vocation as a pastor I adopted patience as a philosophy of ministry; it is the way pastors love and serve their congregations. We do so with patience.

    I had learned to serve God’s people with patience, but I don’t know if I had reallybecome a patient person at that time. I was still unsettled, discontented, and unsure about myself. I pursued further education and began to write books, which were deeply satisfying, but not enough to change me. Then came 2014. I turned 40 years-old. The transition from 29 to 30 came and went without much thought, but turning 40 was a big deal for me. If by strength we are given 80 years of life then I had reached the halfway point. I turned 40 in the most memorable way. I woke up on my birthday at the Hawk Mountain Shelter on the Appalachian Trail (AT) and by the early afternoon I was standing on top of Springer Mountain in North Georgia, the Southern terminus of the AT. By the end of the day, I was standing2014-06-15 19.20.47 under the iconic arch at the visitor center at Amicalola State Park bringing the end to a 17-mile day and a 100-mile hike that had started 8 days earlier in Deep Gap, North Carolina. Long distance hiking requires a lot of patience. I could drive 100 miles in less than 2 hours. By foot, it took me 8 days. I did a lot of thinking on the trail, a lot of thinking about they kind of person I wanted to be in my next 40 years of life. I thought a lot about patience and about being present to the present moment. I think I am getting closer to being a patient person.

    My wife Jenni and I recently (re)watched Seven Years in Tibet with Brad Pitt. The movie reminded me of the great patience and contentment of the Buddhist people. What drives them towards patience and contentment is different than what drives me as a follower of Jesus, but the patience is the same. I can rightly look at practitioners of Buddhism and call them wise as they reflect the patience I see in Jesus. Please do not misunderstand. I am committed to the Christian faith. I am committed to God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I am committed to allowing the Holy Spirit to produce the life of patience in me. I am equally committed to admiring all who exhibit patience. I asked my wife if she thought I had become a more patient person. Her hesitation and silence told me all I need to know; I still have a long way to go. She agrees I have become more patient but we both agree I have not yet arrived.

    Now back to waiting for my friends to arrive.

    Waiting. This is what patient people do.

  • Thoughts Gathered from Hiking on the Appalachian Trail

    2014-06-12 09.51.51I finished my 8-day section hike on the AT just eight days ago. People have asked me about my experience and I have answered in a variety of ways: “epic,” “an adventure of a life time,” “totally fulfilling,”  “an incredible experience.” I spent over 18-months dreaming, talking, and learning about hiking the Appalachian Trail. I tried to manage my expectations, so I didn’t start my hike with romantic notions about trail life. For the most part I did fairly well. I knew the trail was going to be hard; it was. I knew we would get rained on; we did. I knew I would have trouble sleeping some nights; I did. I knew I would run into interesting people; I did. I knew I would be overwhelmed by the views; I was. I knew I would be sweaty; I was. I did NOT expect it to be so cool at night. Most nights were fine, but I did get cold in my hammock one night. I used every piece of gear I took, so I felt really good about my gear choices. I got ZERO blisters, making me very happy in my decision to hike in trail runners and not boots. Would I do another section again? Absolutely.

    I am not sure if I could do a thru hike or not. A thru hike is a complete hike of the entire 2, 185-mile trail from Georgia to Maine (or the other way around) completed in one hiking season. My brother and I discussed this topic a couple of times. I know I could physically do the hike. They say if you can make it through Georgia then you can make it to Maine. The Georgia section may not be as difficult as the White Mountains in New Hampshire or the rugged terrain of Maine, but the Georgia section is no walk in the woods. It is littered with rocks and roots; it is constantly going up and down. We completed the Georgia section plus the Approach Trail and 5- 6 miles in North Carolina in 8 days and I could have done it in 6 days. I know for sure I could do a thru hike physically, but I do not know if I could do it emotionally. On my 8-day trip I was still in the honeymoon of hiking. I hadn’t been out there long enough to hit the wall of monotony. I was out there long enough to miss home and that subtle homesickness would be the one thing to keep me from attempting a thru hike. I am blessed with a great wife and great kids and even though they drive me crazy sometime, I love them. I love being with them and leaving for a 5-6 month hike would be a daunting task.

    This hike however was doable. I was only gone for a week and a half or so. Now that I have been home for a week and have looked back, here are my big takeaways from the hike. I did not learn anything new. I did not have any mind-blowing epiphanies. Rather the trail reminded me of a few simple things I already new.

    #1 Technology is not the enemy of simplicity

    There are a number of debates in the hiking community. One debate is over electronics on the trail. Do you carry the electronic comforts from home with you or do you try to “unplug” and soak in all nature has to offer? Another debate is pack weight. Do you worry about the weight of your pack? Are you a lightweight hiker? An ultra lightweight hiker? An extreme lightweight hiker??? These debates are somewhat connected because they are related to gear. To weigh in on the second debate, I would say I am a lightweight hiker. My base weight before food, water, and fuel for my stove is right at 14 lbs. With food for three days, water, and fuel my pack was 25.5 lbs. I am 200 lbs and a 25 lb. pack was very comfortable.  I met a guy on the trail, Hobbit, who was about 5’6″ and 130 lbs and he was carrying a 55 lbs. pack! Crazy talk!

    Over the last 18 months, I have enjoyed learning how to hike lighter. I have learned how to weigh all my gear, choose certain gear according to weight, and figure out what I could leave behind. I number of hikers have experienced the freedom of simplicity on the trail, learning to live on just the essentials. I too share the love of the freedom of simplicity, but on the trail I did carry my iPhone, an iPod shuffle, and an external battery charger. The iPhone may be the best piece of technology ever invented for the hiking community. (I am sure Steve Jobs was thinking about hikers when he created the iPhone, right?) My iPhone, case, charger, and ear buds weigh in at 8 oz. and it may had been the most important 8 oz. I carried. My iPhone served as my camera, video camera, journal, communication device, music player, and video player. (I had the movie Tombstone on my phone. We watched the first hour of it one night in the shelter.) It was a piece of technology that did indeed make my life simpler. I was able to document our hike and carry a little entertainment we me as well. I enjoyed listening to music when I had trouble sleeping or when I was tired and was facing a tough uphill climb. You can be a lightweight hiker and still carry key pieces of technology. In the “real world” we all need to simplify our lives and possessions, but simplifying does not mean throwing everything out.

    #2 I am my brother’s keeper

    Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote: “We are all responsible for everyone else—but I am more responsible than all the others.” Never did I find these words to be MORE true than on the trail. There exists an unspoken ethic on the trail that everyone is responsible for everyone else. Whether it is warnings about bears or rattlesnakes or directions to the water source or warnings about the weather, it seems like the hiking community understands we all need to watch out for each other. Such an ethic flies in the face of a culture dominated by rugged individualism and yes, such stubborn individualism can be found on the trail. You hear it behind the condescending and over-used-trail-phrase: “Hike your own hike.” I refuse to use the phrase because it is just a way to dismiss other people. Obviously, each person is going to decided what is the best way to hike the trail and we will not always do things the same, but “hike your own hike” sounds like a way to tell people off. It sounds like there should be an expletive at the end of the phrase: “HIKE YOUR OWN HIKE, @#$%# !!!” We do not need to judge one another on the trail. If Hobbit wants to hike with a 55 lb. pack, then so be it; I say nothing.

    But…we should watch out for each other. This thought became clear in my encounter with Paul. I have reported on Paul in my previous blogs, but we stayed with him on our first night. He was hiking in flip-flops and carrying a gym bag. We shared food with him and boiled water for him. We later learned that he is a mission person who may be suicidal. When I first met Paul, I knew he was strange. I was not surprised to learn he was suffering from a metal illness and was off his medication. We shared gear and food with Paul because he was hiking the trail and he was in need. I felt responsible for him as I felt responsible for everyone I met on the trail. I understand how deep bonds are formed among thru hikers. It doesn’t take long for that sense of responsibility to carry over into a solidified emotional bonds. I have heard more than one thru hiker on the AT speak of their “trail family.” I understand why. On the trail we look out for each other and we form a bond; we begin to love each other in the way I hear Jesus calling us to love one another. I wonder if such love for neighbor can really happen in the real world?

    #3 Community is not only necessary for human existence; it makes life better

    We cannot survive on our own because we were designed by our Creator for each other. We were created to live in community, to go through life living interdependently with other people. I could not have hiked the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail if it had not been blazed and maintained by other people. I could not have got off the trail in rainstorm and taken into town if it were not for other people. I would not have a backpack or gear to put in it if it were not for other people. I would not have had delicious freeze-dried trail food if it were not for other people. Yes community (other people) are necessary for human survival, but other people also make life better.

    I loved hiking with my brother Jeff and our friend John. My brother and I had not spent that much time together since we were kids. I loved it, even when Jeff got impatient like our dad. I enjoyed calling him “Ed Vreeland.” John cracked me up constantly. I will never look at a purple shirt again and not think of John (sorry…inside joke)! I also enjoyed meeting so many interesting people at the shelter at night. Our first night it was Paul. Enough said. The second night was Senator, Amanda, and Kendall. Kendall had a can of bear spray proudly displayed on her hip. I think it was creepy-guy spray as much as bear spray. She was not wearing it the next morning. I guess she figured we were harmless. They were all great fun. The third night we were in town. No interesting people in town. Night #4 was the best night at camp. We slept in the shelter with Colin, Jason, Sampson, and Hobbit. Too many stories. Too many laughs. Those guys were great. Night #5 we camped alone. Night #6 we stayed the night in a cabin at Neel Gap. Night #7 was the most crowded night at the shelter, maybe 13 of us. Most of us tented. I did enjoy talking with Carrie and her husband from Atlanta. We were hoping to stay the night with them on the eighth night at the Springer Mountain Shelter, but we hiked out on the eighth day. These people were really a major highlight of the trip. I love hiking, but walking into camp always felt like a downer, except for the people we encountered.

    #4 Everyone needs a little kindness

    This need for kindness is connected to the idea that people make life better. Philo of Alexandria said: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.” The trail is an adventure and, in some ways, it is a kind of battle. You are battling the weather or the terrain or the ascents OR the descents (we would say that going downhill is just a different kind of pain). Sometime you are battling your body or mind. I love hiking, but it includes some degree of suffering. Everyone is fighting something. A small act of kindness goes a long way. After shivering in my hammock one night I was looking to sleep in the shelter the next night on the trail when we expected a thunderstorm. I did not have a sleeping pad, but Hobbit loaned me his. He wasn’t using it and it was just a small act of kindness but it went a long way.

    We never know what small acts of kindness do for other people. I included Paul in our morning prayer before we left the shelter. He said, “Thanks for the prayer.” Who knows, maybe that prayer saved his life? Maybe Paul was ready to take his life that night at the shelter, but he found some kind of hope in the prayer from a stranger. By the way, we have received word that Paul is still on the trail. His girlfriend is concerned about his well-being. I hope he can find his way home.

    #5 Physical health is a part of the good life

    I worked hard to get in good physical shape for the hike. I turned 40 years old while on the trail and I believe I am as fit as I have been since college. I lost 12 lbs before the hike (and lost another 5-6 lbs while hiking). I ran hard during the winter and spring months and it really paid off. It is true; you do not need to be in shape to hike on the Appalachian Trail. If you start with low mileage days and then build up, you can get into trail shape. You do not HAVE TO be in shape to hike the trail, but it sure makes hiking much more enjoyable. John was…how shall I say…the least fit hiker in our group. He was a trooper though. He never complained, but I can tell he was struggle up some of those mountains. (We did find out John lost 18 lbs while hiking on the trail!) I found the climbs to be difficult at times, but not strenuous. I was easily able to set a pace and then hike 30-45 minutes up the mountain without a break.

    As I enter my 40s, I am more convinced of the importance of good physical health. I do not want to go back to the laziness of my early 30s. I started running about five years ago. I loss over 30 lbs. and I feel great. I am thankful for good health and I want to treat it as a gift. I know our human bodies are a part of God’s good creation and I know God is a healer, but I have to participate with him. I cannot choose a sedimentary lifestyle and eat junk food every day and then expect a miracle when my body begins to fall apart. I want to live the good life, the life God has designed for us and a part of the good life is staying in shape.

    #6 The God of the trail is the provider for and sustainer of his good and beautiful creation

    I have often heard the popular saying on the AT: “The trail will provide.” The thought is whatever a person needs they can find on the trail. Very often the trail provides through the kindness of other hikers. Other times provision comes through trail angels, people close to the trail who provide food or rides or some form of “trail magic.” We did not experience “trail magic,” but Jason at Mountain Crossings did give me a piece of foam that kept me warm in my hammock. I understanding the saying, but every time I hear it I want to rephrase it to say, “The God of the trail will provide.” The God of the trail did provide for us at every turn. He provided everything we needed including the occasional encounter with his beautiful creation.

    The very first overlook view I saw was, in my mind, the best. I described it in my Day 2 blog post. We had been hiking for two days in the green tunnel, under a constant canopy of green leafy trees. We followed a blue-blazed trail .2 miles off the AT to a vista and we were reward with a breathtaking view. It was a God-encounter. I brushed up against the finger prints of God. I do believe in Natural Theology, the idea that the attributes of God can be seen (in a reduced way) in creation. As the Psalmist declares, “The heavens declare the handiwork of God.” Well the mountain declare his handiwork too! Seeing the mountains from that overlook took me by surprise. It took me to a place of gut-instinct primal faith, where I could look at creation and see the work of the Creator. God not only creates things like this, but he sustains it. Encounters like this one remind me that life is such a gift. Humanity has such a way of screwing things up…myself included! The only thing holding us together is the gracious hands of a loving God.

  • Appalachian Trail Georgia Section Hike: Day 8

    Sunday, June 15, 2014
    17 miles to Amicalola Falls State Park

    I finally figured out how to sleep in a hammock…hike 16 miles the day before! I fell asleep last night with my phone in my hand. I was trying to finish yesterday’s blog but exhaustion took over. I woke up at 10:40 PM and put my phone away and I was back asleep.

    I woke up while it was still dark and I checked the time. It was 5:48 AM. I slept 7 hours uninterrupted! I dozed back off to sleep and woke back up at 7:20 and laid in my hammock finishing yesterday’s blog. We had a leisurely hiker’s breakfast and took our time packing up. One of the women staying at camp here wished mechappy birthday, which was kind. It was a good reminder. Today is my 40th birthday. Unreal. I am glad we pushed hard yesterday because today plans on being an easy day. I will be standing on Spring Mountain on my birthday.

    We left camp at 10. I stopped to lead us in prayer as we got back to the AT. Today is Trinity Sunday on the church calendar so I prayed the prayer for today:

    Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

    We hiked down the gravel road to the Hickory Flats Cemetery and campground owned by the New Bethel Church. It had a bathroom (which I regrettably used) and a covered pavilion. The sign outside the bathroom said they had a Camp Meeting Revival last week that ended last night. It is strange that I have missed Sunday morning worship two Sundays in a row, but being at that campground on a Sunday reminded me of the people of God. There was even a pulpit in the rafters of the pavilion. I walked the grounds and prayed the prayer the Trinity Sunday again. John and I also played in the two-person merry-go-round and we walked the old cemetery before leaving.

    We hiked on to Long Creek Falls, took pictures there. The air was filled with the smell of coffee and donuts. We did not see the food but we could smell it. We made it to the footbridge over Long Creek near Three Forks. The creek and surrounding trees looked like a postcard. We made it to the Stover Creek Shelter and had lunch with Carrie and her husband. We stayed with them last night. We laughed about some of the funny characters we stayed with last night. They are from Atlanta and have two daughters. They want to section hike the entire AT.

    They left the shelter and we finished up lunch and were out by 1:30 PM or so. We hiked in the final remaining miles of the AT slow and steady. I continued to review the previous 7 days in my mind and let the anticipation of Springer Mountain build in my head. We made the climb up to Spring Mountain Shelter and Jeff and I sat down on the picnic table. When John arrived, Jeff said we should hike down to Amicalola. It was only 3 PM. I said I felt good and thought we could do the remaining 9 miles and be out by 7 PM. John said he was ready for it. So we changed plans! Instead of 8 miles today and 9 miles tomorrow, we were going to do 17 miles in in one day!

    I called Gabe and my Dad to tell them of the change of plans, and I called Jenni too. And then we were off! Before we made the climb down to the finish line at Amicalola we had .1 more miles to the AT.

    It was only 5-10 minute hike to the summit. I could see the clearing for Springer in the distance. It was sunny and there were 5 or 6 people there. The summit is small, just a small clearing in the trees with a small view and the two plaques. Carrie and her husband were there. We told them of our change of plans. He took our picture and we each took pictures of the summit plaques. Springer Mountain isn’t a tall mountain but it is the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. It is where thousands of northbound thru hikers start their journey and where a smaller number of southbound thru hikers end their journey. It was a special place and I was standing there on my 40th birthday.

    I signed the register with these words: I was born on June 15, 1974. 40 years later I hiked the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trail! Living the dream! Derek (aka Arrowmaker). We stayed on the summit for 30 minutes. By 3:30 we were down the Approach Trail.

    We made it to the archway at about 7:30, hiking the nine-mile Approach Trail in four hours. We stopped once for water and a few times at the falls to take pictures. Finishing was more about the miles than the smiles. The Approach Trail does not count as AT miles but it was a tough trail. We hiked it southbound but it would be even harder northbound. It is up and down and littered with rocks and roots just like the AT. My advice to thru hikers and section hikers is SKIP THE APPROACH TRAIL. There is no reason to going on a hike before going on a hike (HT: Pox Holiday).

    We passed through the archway behind the visitor center in a single file line. The guys wanted me to go first. I took off my trekking poles and held them with my right hand and lifted them up in the air as I passed under the archway. My Dad and Uncle Andy and his wife Gail were there waiting for us. They hugged our sweaty necks and took pictures. We were tired but overwhelmed at the sense of accomplishment.

    In 8 days we hiked 85 AT miles and when we added up all the blue-blaze miles, we hiked well over 100 miles…33 of those miles on the last two days. Not a bad way to spend my 40th birthday.

  • Appalachian Trail Georgia Section Hike: Day 6

    Friday, June 13, 2014
    7.4 miles to Lance Creek Campsite

    I tried to stay up last night but I was falling asleep watching the game. It was nice to sleep in a bed in my own room. I did have a chance to talk to Jenni and the boys las night even though the cell service is week at the Blood Mountain Cabin. It was good to hear their voices. As much as I am loving the trail I do miss the family. I was asleep by 10:45 PM and awake by 6:30.

    I checked the weather on my phone before I got out of bed and they are calling for rain again today.

    We checked out and made it to Mountain Crossings by 10:30 AM. John and Jeff shipped some gear home. I talked to Jason at Mountain Crossings about my lack of insulation in mu hammock. He showed me some foam pad but I didn’t want to spend the $15 just for three nights. He went to the back of the store and came out with two foam pads about 4 foot long. He said I could have one because they were donated. I chose the blue pad. I had to put it in my pack because it would take on water. It fit perfectly in my pack. We weighed our gear before we left:

    Derek: 25.5
    Jeff: 26.5
    John: 38

    The climb up Blood Mountain was enjoyable. It was the highest climb but not the hardest. There were stone steps and a couple of steep switchbacks but I took my time and enjoyed it. Jeff caught up with and we reached the summit together. We passed a really nice view south of the summit, but we hiked on. Jeff took my picture on top of a large rock on the summit. The view was amazing even with the approaching clouds. We dropped our packs in the shelter located right on the top of the mountain and walked back to the spot we saw south and took some more pictures.

    We walked back up to the top and ate lunch on the steps going up into the shelter. We had a good conversation with Grong and Lallygag, an older couple hiking North to Damascus, VA. We finished up lunch and I started talking to another hiker, Ronnie, a super fit 51 year-old guy from Florida. We asked him if he had heard about Paul, the missing person we stayed with Sunday night. He knew all about it. He had been a Neel Gap when the authorities were searching for Paul. He also heard Paul was found in North Carolina and returned to his family. It was good news. Ronnie said, “O so you are the guys who made the call.” Apparently we were the only ones to have seen Paul and called in a tip. It is strange how news travels on the trail.

    We were going to hike down Blood Mountain when it started to rain. We stayed in the shelter to wait out the storm. We were joined by Adam a day hiker and 4-5 young guys looking to camp out on Blood Mountain. We chatted about our hiking adventures and talked football too. The temperature dropped whole it was raining. I felt like grabbing my rain jacket just to warm up, but the rain stopped and the sun came out. We wishes Adam and the boys well and then we were gone.

    The trail down blood mountain was slick but we made our way down without a fall. We continued hiking down to the blue blaze trail for the Wood Hole Shelter. We thought it was .2 off the trail but it turned out to be .5. We turned around before going to far and stopped at the water source for the shelter to fill up on water. When leaving to get back on the AT Jeff slipped while trying to step over a log. He went to his knee and the fell on his shoulder and rolled. He stood up and I asked if everything was still working. He said yes. John waited about 10 seconds before saying, “I watched that in slow motion. It was like a Jeff-alanche!” We all busted out laughing. Jeff included.

    We hiked on passing a couple other hikers on our way to Lance Creek. We arrived about 5:00 or so. Jeff and John pitched their tents and I hung my hammock. I drive the last stale into the ground when it started raining. I pulled my pack and all my gear in under the tarp and I laid back in the comfort of my hammock as the rain fell until 6 PM or so. We stayed dry during two rain storms tonight which is a real plus. Hiking in the rain is no fun. John fell asleep in his tent while it was raining.

    When the rain stopped, Jeff and rolled out and walked down to the creek and checked out our campsite. We wanted to build a fire but everything is wet at camp. We started cooking supper at 7 PM. I are the gumbo Jeff had given me from Pak-it Gourmet. It had a lot of flavor. I would definitely eat it again. John made banana pudding, also from Pak-it Gourmet and shared some. We talked about our day tomorrow and agreed to hike a 16-mile day to Gooch Mountain Shelter. This will our biggest day.

    John went to bed at 9 and Jeff and I stayed up talking until 10 PM.

  • Appalachian Trail Georgia Section Hike: Day 5

    Thursday, June 12, 2014
    11.4 miles to Neel Gap

    It rained off and on all night. I stayed dry and warm but I did not sleep so well on the yoga mat in the shelter. I listened to music until well after midnight. I took out my earbuds and dozed off listening to the sound of the rain fall on the shelter roof. I tossed and turned until about 5:30 AM. I am ready to sleep in my hammock again!

    I sat up at 5:45 and finished up my blog entry from yesterday. I thought about the rest of my trip, knowing that day five is the halfway point. I am still trying to live in the present moment. This has been such a great adventure, even with the rough sleep last night.

    By 6:20 our misty camp was waking up to the sound of birds, dripping ran, and hikers ready for breakfast. We ate and packed up and hit the trail by 8 AM. Our first climb was 600 feet up Poor Mountain. A good way to start the day. We made it to Hogpen Gap by 10 AM. Four miles in two hours. We crossed the road to get back on the trail and we saw a posting from the Union County Sheriff’s Office regarding a missing person who was suicidal. Jeff looked at the picture and it was Paul, the strange guy we stayed with at Plumborchard Gap on Day 1. John called the sheriff’s department and reported our encounter with Paul. Looking back I am glad we showed him kindness. I even included Paul in our morning prayer when we were leaving Plumborchard on Sunday. When I said “Amen” and opened my eyes, I watched as he crossed himself and said, “Thanks for the prayer.” Who knows, maybe that prayer saved his life.

    We made a quick ascent up Wildcat Mountain and took pictures of the view. We had a tough 700 font climb up to Cowrock Mountain. We ate lunch on the open rock face on the summit and had the opportunity to dry out our shoes, clothes, and some of our gear. It felt good to get our sweat-soaked shirts and water logged shoes dry. It was short lived. 30 minutes down Cowrock it started raining. It rained for the next hour and a half. The trail became a river in spots. We tried to walk along the edge of the trail but we gave in and walked through the muddy, sloppy trail.

    It finally let up as we hiked the numerous switchbacks up Levelland Mountain. I walked passed the view on the way to the summit. I saw a nice view but didn’t take pictures. I assumed there would be a view at the top, but I was wrong. We made it to the top of Levelland and the trees blocked the view. We were drenched and getting cold as the wind whipped through the trees. We made a quick descent down to Neel Gap. The sun came out and we warmed up.

    We made our way to the historic Mountain Crossings at Neel Gap. We walked through the breezeway and I signed the register. We walked on to the Blood Mountain Cabins which were farther away than we expected. We checked into the Mountain Lion Cabin, got our camp shoes on and returned to Mountain Crossings. We bought T-shirts, snacks and some gear, and picked up our mail drop boxes. We talked to the owners about Paul. They said Paul’s pack was found a half mile from Neel Gap with $3,000 in cash and expensive gear. He was presumed dead. They searched in the woods around Neel Gap searching for him…such a tragic story. They were happy to hear he was alive.

    We returned to the cabin with our boxes with resupply food in it. My mom sent me a box with cards, snack cakes, and candles for my birthday Very kind. I went through my food and pulled out all the food I didn’t need. I sent myself some extra food but I am going to leave it in the hiker box at Mountain Crossings. We got a pizza and spaghetti from the general store and cooked it at the cabin. We took showers and are planning to watch Game 4 of the NBA finals before going to bed.

  • Appalachian Trail Georgia Section Hike: Day 2

    Monday, June 9, 2014
    8.1 miles to Deep Gap Shelter

    Woke up this morning at 8 AM to the voice of my brother saying, “Derek, you up?” He had already got up and pulled down our food bags from the bear cables. There are black bears in this area so people hang their food from a high branch or from cables if they have been installed at the shelter. We didn’t see any bear activity, which is to be expected.

    I got up and ate a typical hikers’ breakfast: pop tarts, oatmeal, and coffee. I started packing up when nature called. I had the wonderful opportunity of visiting the privy behind the shelter. Most shelters have a composting privy which, despite the way you may imagine it, is a bit of a luxury on the trail.

    We started hiking at 10 AM. We stopped for a break at Cowart Gap and I reached into my front pouch hanging from my shoulder straps on my pack looking for a Snikers bar. My to my dismay I discovered a mouse had a midnight snack in my pouch last night. I left my pack hanging in the shelter and I forgot to take my snacks out of the pouch. A mouse had eat quite a bit out of the top of my Snikers. Lesson learned. Keep food out of the shelter.

    We hiked on to Dick’s Creek Gap passing a Boy Scout troop on their way to Deep Gap where we started a yesterday. We filled up on water and then ate lunch on the stone picnic tables at Dick’s Creek. We did get a cell phone signal (I have an AT&T iPhone 5S) even though AWOL’s guide said there was no signal there. I sent a few texts home and then searched for a trash can but none was found.

    With our bellies full we hiked up the 1200 foot climb up Powell Mountain. This was the hardest climb of the hike so far. The ascent was 1200 feet over 1.8 miles. I tend to hike faster than the other guys so I took lead. I suggested we meet at the Moreland Gap but for whatever reason I missed the gap. Once I got to the top of Powell Mountain I started leaving arrows made of sticks on the trail hoping they would see them and know that I was hiking on. I made it to the Vista campsite (.1 mile off the trail) and followed the blue blaze to the vista. The Appalachian Trail (AT) is marked with a white blaze, a 2 inch by 6 inch white rectangle painted on trees or rocks or whatever trail maintainers can find. I blue blaze is the same size and shape but it marks a side trail off the AT.

    As I made my way along the blue blaze trail, I passed the campsite and a little further down the trail, I could see the clearing through the trees. I could feel my heart racing. I turned the corner and saw the massive view. After hiking in the “green tunnel” for two days, it was an overwhelming sight. I literally got chill bumps and I whispered a spontaneous prayer, “O my God…this is incredible.”

    I sat for a moment, enjoying the view and then I hiked the back to the AT to make sure John and Jeff didn’t miss it. Once we all made it to the vista we sat for a while enjoying the view. We then hiked the 1 mile hike to the Deep Gap Shelter. We spent the night with three other section hikers. Kendall and Amanda who are on a two month hike and Sentor, a guy hiking from Spring Mountain in Georgia to Hot Springs, North Carolina. They’re hiking North. They were all very talkative and friendly. We enjoyed eating supper with them, laughing and talking about our hiking adventures.

    We collected wood and made a fire. We sat by the fire as the sun was going down. I had another good cell signal so I was able to talk to Jenni and upload some pictures.

    It was a great day. We only did eight miles but we had a tough climb, but we enjoyed a great view and good company at the shelter.

  • Food List: Appalachian Trail Section Hike

    I am ten days away from hiking the Georgia section of the Appalachian Trial. I am trying to contain my excitement, but it is becoming difficult. In between responsibilities at church and home, every other thought these days seems to be focused on the hike. I have completed my food list for the hike and I thought I may share it with you.


    This is an example of four days worth of food. (The only thing not in video is pepperoni slices and summer sausage.) I hope to complete the Georgia section (from Deep Gap in North Carolina to Amicalola State Park) in nine days. I will be carrying five days worth of food. I will mail the food I need for the final four days to Mountain Crossings, an outfitter on the trail at Neel’s Gap. The great people at Mountain Crossing will hold on to my “mail drop” until I arrive there.

    I have experimented with different kinds of trail food over the last year or so and I have figured out what I like. I am always paying attention to calorie density, trying to the get the most calories for the least amount of weight. My goal is to eat at least 4,000 calories a day, which is TWICE the average calorie intake by the average person on an average day. But hiking is not “average.” From what I hear, hiking in the North Georgia mountains is more strenuous than most people think, so I want to make sure I have plenty of fuel for my body. It is a high carb diet and yes a lot of junk food. I plan on taking a multivitamin every morning, which I am sure will cancel out all toxins in the poptart I will be eating everyday!

    This is pretty standard hiking food, the only thing unique about my food is my gorp. One bag is over 1000 calories! It is a simple recipe:

    • 1/4 cup peanut butter M&Ms
    • 1/4 cup honey roasted peanuts
    • 1/2 cup of yogurt covered raisins

    It is pretty sweet, but I like it a lot. I will not eat a full bag everyday. I am bringing three bags for the first five days. Here is my complete food list with calorie amounts per item.

    2 poptarts 400
    2 pks rasin & spice oatmeal 320
    Folders coffee/splenda 0
    2 med tortillias 280
    2 Peanut Butter cups to go 500
    4 honey packs 200
    1/4 cup dried blueberries 140
    2 med tortillias 280
    2 tuna pouches 120
    4 mayo pks 140
    28 cheez its 150
    1 snickers 250
    2 med tortillias 280
    4 cheese sticks 320
    32 peporoni slices 280
    2/3 cup dried pineapple 315
    Mountain House 550 550
    instant mashpotatoes 440
    12 summer sausage bites 200
    Nekot cookies 240
    2 med tortillias 280
    spanish rice 600
    4 cheese sticks 320
    2 Taco Bell hot sause packs 20
    2 packs ramen 760
    56 cheezits (hot & spice) 300
    1/2 oz of olive oil 125
    1/2 box stove top stuffing 330
    12 summer sausage bites 200
    2/3 cup dried pineapple 315
    Nekot cookies 240
    Gatorade mix 50 50
    Cliff bar 260 260
    Snikers 240 240
    misc. candy 100 100
    1/4 yougurt covered rasins 300 300
    Great Value beef jerkey 10 oz 800 800
    1/4 cup pb M&Ms 220
    1/4 cup honey roasted peanuts 190
    1/2 cup yougurt covered rasins 600


  • My Gear List: Appalachian Trail Section Hike

    With less than three weeks before my section hike on the Appalachian Trail, I have (finally!) finished gathering all the gear I will need for the hike. I may have some last minute additions or deletions, but I feel good with the gear I have for THE BIG hike. I have learned so much from watching other gear videos that I am submitting my own. I am passing on what I have learned from others and adding a few tips I have come up with on my own. My complete gear list is below the video.

    My base weight (minus food and water) is just under 14 lbs. Much of the work that has gone into gear selection for this hike has been learning how to pack lighter. When I started hiking six years ago I was carrying a 40 lb. pack. I have enjoyed the challenge of learning how to get my pack lighter without spending thousands of dollars and without giving up too many comforts. After three shakedown hikes this Spring covering 51 miles, I am confident my gear will get me through the Georgia section.

    Here is the video:

    Here is the complete gear list:

    ULA Circuit 43
    trashbag liner 5.2
    BIAS Weight Weenie Hammock 9
    BIAS suspension 4.6
    Tarp & stakes 24.6
    Coleman 40 deg sleeping bag 35.6
    32 oz Coloman solo max pot 5.8
    alcohol stove & measuring cup 1
    MSR folding spoon 0.4
    MSR folding spoon fork 0.4
    windscreen & paper clip 0.4
    camp soap & scrubbing pad 0.8
    2 oz olive oil bottle 2.2
    knife, lighter, lanyard 1.4
    bowl 1.2
    aluminum foil lid 0
    Zpacks pack towl & elastic band 1
    Smartwool socks 1 pair 1.4
    Long sleeve cotton t-shirt 9.5
    Nike running shorts 5.2
    Frogg Toggs rain jacket 6
    Knee brace 3.2
    Stick Pic and phone holder 0.8
    Sawyer Mini water filter 1.8
    1 Liter Sawyer bag 1.2
    1 Liter Platypus 0.8
    Sawyer backwash syringe 1
    headnet 0.8
    iPhone, case, charger, earbuds 8
    iPod shuffle and charger 0.8
    id, insurance & debt card, cash 1
    Nite Ize 50′ 2.4 mm cord 2.4
    10′ paracord & carabiner 0.8
    50′ paracord 3.2
    matches 0.1
    headlamp 3.4
    trail maps 1.6
    deck of cards 3.2
    iTorch external battery & cord 5.4
    4 gallon size ziplocks 1.2
    zip ties 0.2
    plastic rain kilt 2.6
    Outdoor Research food bag 2.6
    First aid kit 2.2
    Colman biodegradable wipes 3.2
    face wipes 0.2
    mirror 0.8
    hand sanitizer 1.2
    toothbrush and toothpaste 0.8
    Chapstick 0.2
    sunscreen 2.2
    insect repellent 1.4
    Body glide 2.2
    Gold bond 1.2
    blue stuff sack 0.8
    TOTAL 221.2 13 lbs 13.2 ozs