Bartram Trail complete!

Yesterday I competed my thruhike of the Bartram Trail! Last time I was at Cheoah Bald was November 2010. Views are much nicer in April.

I love these mountains.

The Bartram was wild, rugged, and occasionally brutal. There are good reasons it was on my wishlist since 2010!

Yaaaaaas.

I’ll write more about it later this spring. For now I’m focused on my upcoming Smokies trip. My itinerary looks awesome; the weather looks horrific. Can’t wait.

Good old Ledbetter Creek.

I’m enormously grateful for those I met along the way, especially the maintainers, Debbie with water at Jones Gap, Chica and Sunsets, and the awesome section hiking couple whose names might have been Christie and Don… but might not have been.

Onwards. Or rather, upwards.

Bartram Trail Halfway Point

Technically, mathematically, I’m over half done with the Bartram Trail, having hiked 57 miles since gistrailblazer dropped me off at the southern terminus on Sunday. But with the 2 gnarliest climbs still ahead of me, the remaining 41 miles are likely to be harder than what I just did. So we’ll call it halfway.

I guess most trails have a Wolf Rock.

The Bartram Trail has been on my dream list for a decade, and for good reason. It’s rugged and wild and gorgeous. And pretty interesting.

As usual I have too many photos and stories to share at the moment. I’ve enjoyed a super easy 3.5 miles today followed by a glorious afternoon at Chica and Sunsets Hostel. They are amazing.

I hope the 2nd half delivers less interesting weather – I endured a 12 hour deluge and a night of 40mph winds – not concurrently at least.

Foothills Trail complete!

On Friday, April 8, the incomparable Taz met gistrailblazer and me at Table Rock State Park and shuttled us to Oconee State Park. For the next week we hiked 76.2 miles through South Carolina and North Carolina.

Chatooga River

There are too many sights and stories to share in one short post but here is a small sampling.

Descending Round Mountain

During our week on the trail we encountered snow, heat and humidity (by my standards), and rain.

Whitewater Falls

The trail took us to places I’d never heard of before, like Whitewater Falls, the highest falls east of the Mississippi. It also took us through incredibly remote places.

One of many, many bridges

The Foothills Trail had some pretty incredible structures, and some I’ll admit we maybe didn’t love, but they make good memories.

So many stairs.
SO many stairs…

We met some awesome people on the trail and loved sharing sites with Lewis and Clark, Russ and Giselle, and others. But half the nights we were actually alone.

Halfway up Sassafras Mountain

We were grateful for the trail, camaraderie, and for the intense volunteer effort which goes into maintaining this trail.

Done!

I look forward to writing up a more in depth report when I have a computer again.

Getting storms out of the way

Last night a hellacious thunderstorm raged across the mountain where we are camping. At one point during the night I asked gistrailblazer if we should bail to the car rather than risk being out in the elements, but then I promptly fell back asleep so it apparently wasn’t that bad.

Today we visited two national battlefields, Kings Mountain and Cowpens. On a scale of 1-10, my interest in national battlefields is, generously, about a 0.2, but it was a lovely day to be meandering on trails.

Pretty nice meanderings.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm about battlefields in general, I am super excited that we were not on trail for last night’s storm. Everything needed to dry out a bit today and with luck, everything will be dry when we get our shuttle tomorrow!

One of several cool structures

Traveling around this state has been a unique experience. I am looking forward to exploring it on foot, which is where I feel most at home.

All around South Carolina

My travel buddy gistrailblazer and I drove through some worse than usual Charlotte, NC traffic yesterday, all during an epic deluge which was part of a system which created tornadoes and flooding.

Given those circumstances, we decided to get a cheap motel room rather than press on to Congaree National Park where we had a campsite reserved. Though we were disappointed in this change of plan, it was definitely the safe thing to do.

Congaree National Park

We resumed our plan this morning and spent several hours at the park and in Congaree Wilderness Area. Given the amount of standing water near the campsite where we would have been staying, we both feel confident that we didn’t really miss out when we bailed to a motel room.

gistrailblazer on the 2.5 mile boardwalk

I was really happy I got a chance to visit Congaree despite the bad weather.

The best part of Congaree

The ecosystem of Congaree National Park is unlike anything I have ever experienced before. It was really good for my brain to be confronted with something so different.

Amazing infrastructure.

In the afternoon we headed to a National Park Service site called “96.” I gave our shuttle driver a call to confirm our plans and we have no reason to expect equally ridiculous weather once we are on the trail.

Everything is in bloom.

Eastern timezone

Obligatory bad plane photo

I made it to the eastern timezone last night and although the weather is likely to impact my exact plans for the next few days, the hike itself should not be impacted.

Looking forward to getting over this wave of bad weather. Appears to be lovely on the other side.

Expedition LOST

I won’t be on trail for awhile yet, but I also won’t be home, so in a way my journey begins today. I’ll be turtle-sitting and roadtripping for the next couple of weeks, but thought I would give an update on what’s coming up.

This is a journey I am calling Expedition LOST (Long Overdue Southeastern Trails). It is a combination of 3.5 trails I have wanted to hike since around 2010. I’ll be hiking from early April to early May.

The southern Appalachians are a magical place.

In early April I will be setting out onto the Foothills Trail with a friend. The Foothills Trail is a 77-mile trail through surprisingly mountainous terrain of South Carolina and a bit into North Carolina. Unlike most trails I have hiked, it is a west-east trail, as opposed to being north-south. We will shuttle from Table Rock State Park to Oconee State Park with the legendary Taz, then spend a week enjoying spring in South Carolina, including a summit of Sassafras Mountain, South Carolina’s high point!

After a zero day in town, I will get dropped off at the southern terminus of the Bartram Trail. This trail intersects a couple of times with the Appalachian Trail, which is how I discovered that the Bartram exists. The trail begins in Georgia and ends in North Carolina, over a hundred miles north. I first saw the Bartram Trail at Cheoah Bald (its northern terminus) but also Wayah Bald, where poor weather guaranteed no view. I look forward to maybe, hopefully, having a view this time. I’ve owned the maps and guides for the Bartram Trail for over a decade and kept thinking “next year…”

Wayah Bald in 2010.

The Bartram Trail ends on Cheoah Bald at the Appalachian Trail. From there I will hike north for a couple of days on the Appalachian Trail to Fontana Village and Fontana Dam. I am incredibly excited about being back on the AT, even if only for double-digit miles. I will resupply in Fontana Village, snag a shower at the “Fontana Hilton” (not a Hilton) and prepare for the next leg of the journey.

Crossing Fontana Dam with Karma in 2010

My last week of backpacking will be within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I have a route planned which will take me to Horace Kephart’s old homestead area, several cemeteries, and too many ascents to name. I will know more about my itinerary later this week when I (hopefully) secure my permit. I have hiked about 180 miles in the park, all told – mostly on the Appalachian Trail (2010) and Benton MacKaye Trail (2012), and this route will easily push me up over 250. It’s a far cry from my lifelong goal of being a Great Smoky Mountains 900-miles (someone who hiked all the trails within the park), but at least I am putting a dent in it. I am also excited because I have never experienced the Smokies in full-on spring glory.

The Smokies always look like this when I go.

It’s almost feeling real.

Because in the end…

…you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain. -Jack Kerouac

I miss being this person.
Benton MacKaye Trail, 2012
My last day, with Alan the Alien

On December 3, 2021, on my 11-year Springerversary (the day I completed the Appalachian Trail), I left what had long been my dream job. Basing my life out of Two Harbors was a joy – I found it possible to camp out 52-70 nights per year. This year I completed a goal to camp at every Superior National Forest campground. I’ve had many journeys like this, all of which enriched my life since 2015.

Although the work I did was fulfilling and I truly believed in the mission, I found myself becoming more unhealthy as the years went on. I could no longer quickly rebound with a short vacation like I could during my first years. I was grateful for the opportunities I was given, but I knew it was time to focus on my mental and physical health.

For years, I worked hard at my position and I lived frugally. I was able to pay off my student loans and save enough to take a year off of work, so I am creating a sabbatical to meet my needs. This is only possible because of the support and help of my family and the many privileges I’ve had in my life and I’m very grateful. I look forward to feeling like a human again soon.

What am I going to do with a year off of work?

  • Sell my house, Little Villekulla
  • Renovate a new space to live in near Willow River
  • Sleep. A lot. My first two days off, I slept a cumulative 21 hours
  • Spend time with family and be present for various health situations
  • Participate in events I have always wanted to attend but have never been able to, such as Book Across the Bay
  • Work on creative projects I have not had time for, including a project I call “CLOP”
  • Read books. I’ve barely read since 2017. I miss reading…
  • Hike. A lot.

What trails are on the horizon? Well, I am 100% open to my plans changing, but here is what I am thinking about:

  • Foothills Trail (SC-NC)
  • Bartram Trail (GA-NC)
  • Smokies (TN-NC)
  • Continental Divide Trail (MT-NM) – if not all of it, at least Montana.

I also plan to visit as many wilderness areas as possible.

2021 was hard. I lost my two pets, including Mitsie, the best pet I ever had. I lost the stability of a job and I am in process of saying goodbye to my house. I lost a few friends — to old age, COVID, and white supremacy. I sprained an ankle and lost some mobility. I lost faith in the place where I lived, as I watched the town make some terrible decisions. I even lost the only online video series I watched! Yes, it’s a tiny thing, but man. It’s been a lot.

I will believe that 2022 must be better. We could all use a win.