Full Moon's and Celestial Spirit's
Hike of the Appalachian Trail

constructionPlease note that the following is still under construction(and probably always will be!). I've provided a table of contents and links back to the table at the end of each section, in case you only want to read certain sections. I have added our Trail Journal, if you care to read a day by day detailed accounting of our hike. Let me know what you think - what you would like to see different, etc. If you are planning a thru-hike and have any questions, please feel free to email us at mholmes@netva.com or jholmes@netva.com
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Table of Contents

A Bit of History
Our Decision to hike
Our Goals
A Typical Day
The Weight We Carried
How We Got Our Food
Our Trail Names
Trail Conditions
Our Physical State!
Our Gear
Highlights of our Hike
Excerpts from our Trail Diaries
Links to Fellow Hikers' Sites
Discussion Groups on Hiking
Our Trail Journal - including Mileages, Mail Drops, and Pictures!

Map of AT

The AT - all 2159 miles of it! (Use your right mouse button to click on the image and view at a larger size)

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The Founding of the Trail

The Appalachian Trail was the brainchild of Benton MacKaye ( a regional Planner for the TVA and the US Forest Service). Between the years of 1890 and 1921 he formulated the idea of a trail stretching from Maine to Georgia and in 1921 first proposed the idea in an article in the "Journal of the American Institute of Architects." Over the next 16 years the trail was completed thru the efforts of volunteer clubs,the CCC and government agencies. The formulation of the Appalachian Trail Conference in 1925 and the National Trails System Act of 1968 ensured that the Trail would remain protected.

Some interesting stats
Five million steps are required to walk the AT from Georgia to Maine, assuming you have a 27 inch stride on average, which is about right for someone 5'6" in height. If you are six feet tall, the trip can be done in only 4,583,000 steps (from Wingfoot's The Thru-hiker's Handbook)

Each mile of the AT has an average elevation gain of 217 feet, which means that a thru-hiker will climb and descend a total of 88.3 miles between Springer and Katahdin. This is the equivalent of going from sea level to the summit of Mt. Everest and back more than sixteen times! (from Wingfoot's The Thru-hiker's Handbook)

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What compelled you to quit your jobs and hike 2159 miles in 6 months?

While on a car camping trip in in the fall of '94 along the Blue Ridge Parkway and the skyline drive in Virginia's Shenandoah National Park, we had the opportunity to hike small sections of the trail. We reflected at the time on how it would be neat to just blow off our jobs and go out and do something we could be excited about. (That's what happens when you go to college in the late 60's)

At the time though, we really didn't think that was going to happen. However, in January of '95 we took another look at our lives and said why the heck not?? We decided that you only go around once in this lifetime and to always do "what is expected" was not something that appealed to us. Janet felt even a stronger pull, as her mother had passed away in her 40's from cancer, which drove home the realization that there are no guarantees in life.

Thus, with only 3 months to prepare, we made our decision and then boy did we have our work cut out for us! What made this whole venture even more exciting,was the fact that we had never backpacked in our lives. So for the next few months,while trying to do our jobs, we were simultaneously busy reading, on the computer researching, or attending backpacking seminars at REI in Atlanta.
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What Goals did you set for yourself?

I spent a long time pouring over Wingfoot's Workbook for Planning a Thru Hike (written by Dan Bruce of Hot Springs,NC - Dan has hiked the trail 7 times and has an outstanding web site on the Thru-Hiking community). We used his Workbook in planning our AT thru-hike. We hoped to be able to start off hiking 6-10 miles a day and after a month or so, be up to hiking between 12-15 miles per day and eventually 15-20 miles per day.

As we found out, it wasn't quite as easy as that. Having seen only parts of the AT in the Shenandoahs we had no idea what sort of terrain we would really be climbing over. As it turned out the section of the AT we had walked on in the Shendandoah's during our car camping trip turned out by far to be the easiest terrain on the entire trail (figures,huh?). On the other hand Georgia and North Carolina were really tough as you ascended steeply (Kelly's Knob-ah,thought you could beat us, huh?) and then descended rapidly!. We were lucky to hike 1 mph uphill and maybe 2 mph downhill, since to hike faster downhill meant more agony on the knees and a greater chance of falling (something we did quite a bit of anyway!)

I should also note here, that we were 45 and 40 respectively when we started and totally out of shape. And it probably didn't help that in April of '95, it was already in the 90's (that will be hard for those in '96 to believe!) Further increasing the challenge was the fact that we never even tried out our backpacks till the day we hit the trail. Heck, we were trying to cram things in them at 11 p.m. the night before our hike!

If I were going to offer any advice, I would suggest that you take a tad bit longer than 3 months to prepare for this adventure or you may be readjusting your goals, as we had to do more than a few times <G>. In fact, readjusting our goals was the cause for us eventually deciding that we were not going to make Katahdin by October 15th, so we jumped from Harpers Ferry to Delaware Water Gap with the intention of hiking that section southbound as soon as we finished Katahdin. Well, that plan would have worked, except that I broke my ankle coming across a wet, grassy slope just south of Woodstock,Vermont near Rt. 12. An ankle operation at the Hitchcock clinic in Hanover, 6 weeks of PT, and another year's worth of rehabbing it and we are looking forward to trying again in '97!
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Describe a Typical Day

A typical day meant getting up between 6 and 7 a.m., heading for the nearest water source (usually but not always! within a 100 yards of the shelter or campsite)to filter some water for coffee and cooking and then firing up the our Coleman Apex II white gas stove. We would drop some Folgers single coffee bags (not bad tasting actually) into our Nalgene bottles (get the smoked gray hard plastic ones - they don't trap tastes) to make some coffee and then down some instant oatmeal or some cream of wheat. Some mornings we would eat Cheerios or Raisin Bran (or Dust Bran after being in our packs for a while), other mornings those juicy Pop Tarts (get the ones with icing on them!). Never really learned to drink a quart of water before starting out,like you're supposed to. Some mornings we would even have a bagel w/ cream cheese - now is that living, or what?

Usually we would hike about 2 hours before stopping to drop our packs and take a break. We kept fairly close to that schedule for most of our hike. During our breaks we would snack on either trail mix, granola bars, kudo bars, snackwells, oreo cookies, gorp, or a rare Power Bar (thank God! - make sure you have something to drink if you're gonna eat these - I think they're akin to D-Con) These all weighed a lot, and quite frankly after a while, you could hardly look at the stuff. Unfortunately, our lunch was often made up of what we did not decide to eat as a snack in mid morning. This quickly became quite old and we took to stocking up with bread, peanut butter, bagels, cheese and summer sausage, whenever we went to town. We would take about 1/2 hour for lunch, sometimes 1 hr depending on how far we had to hike.

We had a Data book (indispensible) which we studied each day before we headed out which showed different water sources along the way, road crossings,shelters, campsites, etc. We would plan our hike around the water sources. The need for water never left your mind (temps in '95 were smoking hot! Hiking in N.Virginia with a 120 degree heat index) We generally started out each day with 1 1/2 qts. of water each and would replenish again by mid morning, again at lunch, mid afternoon and then have to stock up again to cook dinner. You always wanted to carry more water, but it weighs 2 lbs. per qt, so you don't have that luxury.

Most of the day, Janet and I hiked at our own paces. Since I could climb hills faster,(Janet is 5'1", I'm 5'9")I would hike on ahead (maybe a 1/8th of a mile or so) and then periodically stop and wait for Janet to catch up. This is one of the toughest things for couples to work out. It can be disheartening if you're the person following and you've just caught up with the person ahead of you(who has been resting for 5 minutes) and then they take off as soon as you get there. I followed Janet a few times to get a taste of my own medicine! ( I should make note here that about the only argument we ever had as a couple on the trail was when I suggested that Celestial Spirit could make it across that flooded creek - you guessed it- she fell in -good thing I didn't have my tape recorder playing that day!)

Most of the day, your head was down watching the rocks. If you try to hike the AT and look around while you are moving, you are going to be face down in the dirt in about 5 yards.(The exception to this is when you are slack packing - for some reason it is easier to look around without 50 lbs on your back) Often, you find yourself having walked miles without seeing anything but the rocks on the path ahead of you. You had to remind yourself to stop and look around and enjoy what you were seeing (sounds easy, but isn't, especially when you're whipped, sweating like a dying dog, thirsty,feet screaming, etc)

Whereas at the beginning, we would generally stop hiking around 4-5 p.m., as the days grew longer, we found ourselves hiking as late as 7-8 p.m. Those were 12 hour days and tough on the body. It was a lot nicer if you could hike into camp around 5 p.m. and have 3-4 hours to get dinner, fetch water, set up your tent and find some time to just chill out for a while (writing in your diary, reading a book, talking to friends). Of course, that meant you had to get up early - something maybe we'll master when we finish our hike in '97 (but I wouldn't lay good money on it!)
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What sort of weight did you carry?

We started with 53 lbs and 42 lbs. We tried everyway we could to get this lower and maybe by the end of the trail we were down to 45 and 38, if we were lucky. I was carrying 4-5 lbs. of camera gear which made it tough, yet resulted in some 1000 slides of the trail ( and Janet was quick to remind me of the weight saving she would realize if I would chuck the camera and carry some of her weight!)

We saw people who carried more and others who carried less. Some gave up their stove and ate everything cold to save some weight ("Dog" eating Mac and Cheese cold in a Nalgene bottle - yum!) Others gave up sleeping bags, tents (and often paid for it by freezing their butts off.). The less weight the better though, no doubt about it. It all depends on what you want out of the hike. I will say that there were some advantages to carrying 5 pairs of socks and 3-4 pairs of shorts - it was sure nice to hike in dry clothes. If I were to do it again, I would cut back some on those items.

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How did you get your food on the trail?

We had purchased all of our food ahead of time, much of it at Sam's Wholesale Club. A lot of Lipton Noodles, Ramen Noodles, Hamburger Helper Meals, and dehydrated peas,carrots,clams,shrimp,chicken,salmon,tuna that we had done ourselves. (Clams dehydrated are particularly tasty!). During our hike, we would just drop the dehydrated stuff in an empty Nalgene bottle a couple hours away from our destination, add some water, and by the time we got to camp, voila! - it was ready.

In the week prior to starting the hike, we worked 16 hours a day, every day, preparing and packing food for all 23 of our scheduled mail drops, while trying to move all of our belongings into a storage unit (we lived in an apartment). It damn near killed us and delayed the start of our hike by two days (April 5th) due to exhaustion.

Most of our drops were between 5-10 days worth of food. We later learned that carrying more than about 5 days of food was a killer (we would not exactly frighten Arnold if you know what I mean) and some of our larger mail drops we split up as we rec'd them and forwarded them to a new drop up the trail. Most of the food drops were sent to c/o General Delivery at the Post Office and marked with "hold for AT Thru-Hiker" with our anticipated due date. The Post Office would hold these up to 30 days past the due date. We also made use of hostels,outfitters and others who would hold our parcels as we didn't have to worry then about post offices closing on Saturdays or holidays.

Janet had a friend who shipped all of these parcels based on a schedule we gave her. We also left copies of our schedules with friends and family so that they could contact us at our mail p/u points if they so wanted to.

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What sort of wildlife did you encounter?

Surprisingly, we saw relatively little wildlife. Part of this was due to a theory we had that our hiking poles could be heard on the rocks and caused vibrations in the ground, thus scaring off game before we saw it. However, we did run into many grouse on the trail, and these little suckers loved to take off out of the brush with a helicopter type roar and scare the hell out of you.

We also saw wild turkeys, a number of deer, particularly in the Shenandoahs, and even saw two bears, one of which strolled into our shelter area at night. He was looking to see if we had hung any food on the bear poles. After he didn't see any, he started to amble our way, obviously deciding that we might be tasty morsels. But by that time on the trail, we were pretty skinny, stinky, and scary looking so he changed his mind and ambled back the other direction. (whew!) Those bear pole devices were intended to keep the bear from getting to our food - may have worked for bears, but raccoons ran right up the damn things and almost got our food one night. We hung the food in the shelter and the little Rascal came right into the shelter. Winged a rock at him and that finally drove him off.

We did run across many garter snakes, a few large 5' black snakes, and later in Connecticut, ran into a large Timber rattler which crossed directly in front of Janet, hissing and rattling. That demands your attention! . Along the way, we ran across box turtles, salamanders, newts (especially after the rain- you couldn't walk without stepping on them!) and lizards. Lots of birds, but hard to spot. Carried binoculars at first so that we could bird watch, but you have to stop too long to look for them, so we sent these back home.

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How did you pick your Trail names?

Janet My trail name is Celestial Spirit. As an artist, I use stars, moons and suns in my work. I wanted to use them in my trail name but I couldn't find a good combination. So I thought that Celestial covered them all, but I still needed something else, so I chose Spirit, for the creative side of my personality , but also for the spirit in which we intended to hike the AT.

Mark didn't have a trail name when we started out from Springer, but on the very first day of our hike, I was reading a log in the shelter and someone mentioned there was a half moon out that night. It occurred to me that Mark could be called Full Moon. I mentioned this to him and he liked it. He later mentioned that he should have been called "The Big Dipper" for all the water he drank. P.S. Click here (78K pic) for a picture of our "Brick"on the sidewalk in Damascus - designed by Celestial Spirit and fired by a very sweet lady in Damascus, Nancy Lamb.

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Describe the Trail Conditions

Well, I've already mentioned all the rocks. We had lots of steep climbs, sometimes while climbing rock faces, we had to hold onto tree branches, roots or whatever we could get our hands on. There were some areas such as these, where a fall meant good-bye forever. Albert Mountain was one of these and we faced others later on in the trail.

There were large sections of trail in Virginia called Brushy Mountain and that was no joke. We would at times hike almost all day through brush up to our faces and sometimes over our heads with rocks underneath that you could not see. We really learned to hate the Brushy Mountains of Virginia. And Virginia was supposed to be the flatter ,easier state of the trial. We found it to be one of the toughest. It was long, hot, and very wet - once thru Virginia, we knew nothing was going to stop us unless we broke something (must have cursed myself!).

Worst of all for us though were the road walks. I don't know about you, but it literally killed us to walk on the road or any flat hard section for many miles - nothing pounds your feet worse than that. I'll take uphills any day - easiest by far on your feet and legs (and good for your lungs). I should note that much of what I just said may not apply to those with good feet or who were smart enough to keep their packs under 40 lbs.

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Did you lose any weight? What sort of physical problems did you have?

Janet lost 15 lbs and I dropped 32 lbs during our 5 months of hiking. I think the heat didn't help. I ended up going from a Men's medium hipbelt to a woman's extra small before I finished.

The beginning of the trail played hell on our knees. Fortunately we used two hiking poles and they were a tremendous help. I seriously doubt if we could have made it without these. Our knees screamed all night at first - 3 Ibuprofen were mandatory. It took us a good 3 months before the screaming knee syndrome subsided. I have bad feet and wear orthotics and my feet hurt so bad after a 15 mile day, that once I stopped, I could barely walk. It took a good 10 minutes each morning before I could walk without pain. Fortunately, there were no long term ill effects. This had been my biggest fear before the hike - that my feet couldn't make it (my broken ankle doesn't count) Fortunately, that didn't turn out to be the case. (I am still in the hunt for a good podiatrist or orthopedic guy who is interested in backpacking and understands the stresses related to this sport - let me know if you know of one!)

Janet on the other hand had relatively few problems, exept for an occasional blister and a more serious problem with her shoulder harness on her pack and of course her knees as well. My advice if you are starting out on a thru-hike - do a lot of "quad" strenthening exercises.

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Our Gear

Note - The following gear items worked well for us. I'm sure there are many other choices that would have worked equally well. To future thru-hikers, I would only say that the equipment may make it easier, but it most likely isn't going to determine whether you finish the hike or not. That lies in your heart and mind. (Full Moon divulges ancient wisdom).
  • Tent - Sierra Designs Meteor Light (Mark)
  • Sleeping Bags - Moonstone Optima (15 degree synthetic bags)(Mark and Janet)
  • Sleeping Pad - Thermarest Lite Long (1 lb. 14 ozs.)(Mark and Janet)
  • Backpacks - Dana Terraplane (Men's Medium); Dana Alpine (Women's Small)
  • Pack Covers
  • Boots - Fabiano Rio (mine), Merrill McKinley(mine); Merrill Wilderness (Janet)
  • Stove - Coleman Apex II (Janet)
  • Fuel bottle - 2 (Mark)
  • Water Filter - Sweetwater Guardian + extra cartridge (mark)
  • Cookware - 1 Medium MSR Stainless Steel pot, 1 10" Teflon lid,2 plastic bowls and spoons (Janet)
  • Water bottles - 2 each Nalgene Qt. bottles; 1 each 16 oz. squeeze bottle.(Mark and janet)
  • Pack towels
  • Collapsible water bag
  • Toiletries (small film canisters make great containers for shampoo,etc)
  • Hiking Poles - Leki Super Makulu (love those Lekis!)
  • Knife - Swiss Army (Mark)
  • Flashlights - small Mag lite and Petzel headlamp(small)
  • Books/maps - Maps of each section (sent in mail drops)& Thru-Hiker's Handbook (Mark)
  • First Aid Kit(Janet)
  • Food (4-8 days worth)(Mark and Janet)
  • Microcassette recorder (Mark)
  • Cameras
    • Canon 35mm A2E w/ 20-35 zoom and 70-210 zoom. Polarizer. (Mark)
    • 2 lb. Slik 9600G Tripod (sent home after 1 month) (Mark)
    • 2-3 rolls of Fuji Sensia 100 or 200 slide film.(Mark)
    • Chinon Instant camera + Fuji 200 or 400 Print film (Janet)
  • Clothing
    • 1 each REI MTS short sleeve shirts and 1 each long sleeve light weight
    • Nylon shorts (hiking and running shorts)
    • Running singlets(2) (Mark)
    • REI MTS midweight Turtleneck (Mark and Janet) (sent home when it got hot)
    • REI lightweight long underwear
    • Fox River (Mark) and Thurlo Hiking Socks (Janet) w/ liners (5 pairs each)
    • REI fleece zip up jackets (sent home during hot weather)
    • Fleece hats (sent home during hot weather)
    • Lightweight insulated ( well, kind of) gloves
    • REI Ventura Rain Jackets (sent rain pants home)
    • Running nylon pants (for wearing around camp)
    • Kmart Teva like sandals (very light and very cheap!)

We were well satisfied with our gear. Not much we would change - perhaps carry a bit less (like about 30 lbs!) . I would maybe drop the camera gear (4+lbs) and take a 2 lb. video camera.

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Favorite Spots/Happenings/People on The Trail

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Excerpts from our Trail Diaries

Mark (aka "Full Moon")

Sunday May 21, 1995 Ash Gap to Bradley Gap Campsite (9.9 miles)

Got up late this a.m. - tired out after last 2 days - final 3.9 miles into Ash Gap were tough. Cold is still bothering me, so didn't really get moving till after 0700. Had to go way down the trail for water and it was only a trickle - could only manage a quart. Still we had coffee and cold cereal and at 0950 hit the trail for Roan Mountain. After a .9 mile climb, we stumbled on to the parking lot at Roan High Bluff. Janet washed her hair in the sink and I discovered that our water filter had crapped out - grid work was showing through. fortunately, we had a replacement filter. After about a 1/2 hour break, we hit the trail again and descended on a very rocky trail all the way down to Culvers Gap where there were a lot of tourists getting ready to climb Roan Mountain. Janet and I had been to this parking lot a year ago when we stayed at Roan Mtn. State Park.

Got a ranger there to take our picture @ the Culver Gap sign and then we headed up the mountain (Note - on the way down to Culver Gap, noticed a junco fly out from the bank along the trail - went back to where he flew out and voila! - 4 small eggs - white with rusty spots - just like Wingfoot had said in his book!) Climbed Roan Mtn. over the balds - beautiful views - took a number of pictures - thought we were headed towards the very top, but the trail suddenly swerved to the left and took us thru wet trails and bramble bushes (blackberries?). Ran into Winged Monkey eating lunch on a ledge about 1/2 mile south of Roan Highlands Shelter. Stopped for about 15 minutes to grab some eats, but it got cold, so we continued on. Passed another shelter, but didn't stop - couple of creepy looking guys there, but they did tell us to take a look at Overmountain Barn.

After a steep climb and a bunch of descents (1.7 miles), we finally reached the blue blazed trail to the barn. Took a picture of the sign talking about Revolutionary War soldiers coming thru this gap in the winter. Went on to Barn - breathtaking views looking thru the valley - not to be missed!. Ran into Cathy who was hiking Southbound. Stayed there for 30 minutes and around 4:30 p.m. decided to hike the next 2.1 miles to Bradley Gap. Tough climb from Barn with the sun burning a hole in us, but views were great. Saw a vulture or hawk perched in a tree and watched it ride the thermals out over the valley.

Climbed Little Hump Mtn. with fabulous views of the mountains - large rock formation near the top. Descended into gap short distance and found grassy area to camp. Fortunately Cathy had told us there was water further down the trail or we would never have found it Made a fire, ate Red beans and Rice, wrote in our journals. During the night visited by a very large dog - looked like a cross between a St. Bernard and an elephant! Was eating something in the brush near our tent - just stared at us, when we shined our light on it. Wierd to see this big dog out here.Glad he was more interested in what he was foraging for in the brush than us.


April 12th Blue Mountain Shelter to Tray Mountain Shelter 7.7 miles

Last night it rained and the wind blew fiercely. It almost caused our tent to collapse, it was so strong. This a.m. everything was wet and muddy and it was still raining,too! What a mess. We got up around 7 a.m., had cereal and started to reorganize. We decided to hike on to Tray Mountain Shelter even though it would be a long day. It was raining and misty for most of the day.

When we got to Unicoi Gap we saw "Primal Tang" and "Terrapin" hitching a ride into Helen. We stopped there for a snack, then we headed up (after all, it did say Gap,didn't it?) - what a climb! But it started to clear and turned out to be a great hiking day.

Around 3 p.m., we came to Indian Grave Gap and there was a guy in his truck which made me a little apprehensive, since I came down the trail first. But he was handing out bananas,oranges and sodas. What a blessing! We were going to stop here for a snack anyway. He was from Roswell, GA and worked for Publix Grocery Stores. He came out on his day off and handed out food to hikers. What a great guy - Mark Lenick. Will have to go visit him at the end of our hike - Publix #456. We thanked him profusely. I ate two bananas and drank a root beer in record time. We took some along for the trail,then stopped to eat an orange by the old cheese factory site.

The climb to Tray Mt. wasn't as bad as projected. It had a lot of switchbacks unlike Unicoi Gap which was straight up and down. There were great views from the top of Tray Mtn. We stopped to take a few photos. We got to the shelter and decided to sleep here because our tent was still wet. We washed out a few clothes and dried out the tent and ground covers. Sleeping in the shelter with the mice should be a new experience. They even have a privy here. May need to use it in the a.m. We will shoot for the Blueberry Patch tomorrow, some 10 1/2 miles away. We saw "Lima Bean" here as well as "Graybeard" and "Diesel". Well, good night and sleep tight, hope the mice don't bite!
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