Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas!  I hope you have all been blessed with family and friends this holiday season.
Although I didn't spend Christmas with Hillbilly Bart, he sent me a surprise in the mail: a new mascot!  

A lot of long-distance hikers hike with a mascot.  Before I left on my first really long hike (the Appalachian Trail), my coworker Dennis made me a pomegranate monster, who I creatively named "Pomegranate Monster." He even hiked the southern half twice!

 When I went to finish the Long Trail, my friend Gabe took me to the northern terminus to begin my hike, but not before we found a LEGO guy on the ground in Burlington.  I carried LokiTron the LEGO guy throughout the Long Trail.

Last month on the Benton MacKaye Trail, I carried my nephew Ben's Flat Stanley "Flatsta."  I learned that one round of lamination is not enough for a paper dude.

And now, I introduce . . . KATNISS EVERDEEN.  She will be making at least part of the journey with us.  Someone threw bread at her.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

On his way

Hillbilly Bart is on his way!

Although I won't be meeting him down south until January 4th, he has all of his gear and supplies ready for our hike at his brother's house in Georgia.  From there, we will get a ride with one of his lovely relatives to Alabama.  He won't see his hometown of Mullens again until he and I have hiked over 800 miles.
Mullens, WV
Our mental halfway point

I am looking forward to spending the next ten days with family and friends.  I am not looking forward to catching the bus to Georgia on January 3rd.  Nothin' like 28 hours on a Greyhound bus to make me SUPER DUPER ready to hit the woods. We both feel as ready as we're going to get, so we're excited to hit the trail!

Merry Christmas to all!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Maildrop preparation

My task today was to find travel-sized supplies.  My timing could have been better, but at least I was not trampled to death by a horde of consumption-driven Christmas procrastinators with their glowing life-sized stuffed puppies that actually wee and the clearance-rack camo-colored ShakeWeights. 

I felt like a dork when I was checking out.  The cashier must have thought that I buy everything in travel-size containers due being obsessive-compulsive or that I give the world's lamest Christmas gifts EVER.  Hopefully neither of those assumptions is true.
My Christmas gift to myself.
Ho ho ho.

Backpack weight is the enemy of every hiker.  Keeping that weight down is priority #2, and it helps significantly with priority #1, which is "don't die in the woods."

Sometimes Hillbilly Bart and I will arrange to have a supply box sent to us at points along the way so we can get new supplies. We can't avoid maildrops, primarily because of maps.

Maps weigh a lot.  

 I have accumulated piles to help us through the trail.  Some piles weigh over a pound. There's no overall guidebook, no one place to access everything needed to hike the Great Eastern Trail.  It has been a delightful journey to find all the resources we need to make this hike a reality.

We begin the trip carrying the maps for Alabama and Georgia.  This keeps the weight down and will keep us from getting overwhelmed.  Tackling the trail in chunks is necessary for sanity.  In Georgia we will pick up Tennessee information and in Tennessee we will get Kentucky maps, and so on.  Along with maps, our maildrops will include travel-sized toiletries, new journals, socks, and so on.  These are things that I have had problems finding in towns during my previous hikes, so I am buying them now.

Some hikers along the Pacific Crest and other long-distance trails mail food to themselves along the way.  Bart and I are not doing this.  First of all, we think we can reasonably figure out ways to resupply from the Great Eastern Trail.  We may not always have the food we want, but we can likely get by, as neither of us is very picky.  Secondly, we are both very passionate about the economic impact that this trail will have in small towns such as Mullens and Pineville, West Virginia.   Trails can mean big business for small towns, and we want to model that by buying groceries locally.

We'd love to get mail along the way.  Email may be difficult to access, and letters can really brighten up a day.  If you send mail to Jo's parents' house, they will include it in the next upcoming mail drop.  Contact Jo for their address.  Thanks to Mom and Dad Swanson for rocking the maildrop situation yet again!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Thank you!

Last week, beloved friends of Hillbilly Bart gathered together at Calacino's Pizzeria in Beckley, WV to send him off in style.  We are both overwhelmed with the support and love we have received from friends and family.  Thanks to the folks who came out that evening!  Your financial support will allow us to stay warm and dry on nights of terrible weather, to eat a hot meal, and to replace gear we destroy along the way.  A special thank you to Calacino's Pizzeria for hosting the event!

Thank you to all who were able to give at this event.  If we have omitted anyone, please let us know.  For a full list of our sponsors, see our sponsors page. 

Thanks to everyone who had to deal with Hillbilly Bart.
He just had his wisdom teeth out and was probably more
incoherent than usual.
  • Gerald Hayden and David Hart of Hayden and Hart, PLLC Attorneys at Law (Beckley, WV)  
  • Butch and Patty Miles of PCM Contracting Services, LLC (Sophia, WV) 
  • Dr. Anthony Flaim D.O. 
  • Jerry Zaferatos and Staff of Calacino's 
  • Clint and Andrea Houck 
  • Todd Houck, Attorney at Law (Mullens, WV) 
  • All who want to remain anonymous in their support

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

West Virginia Public Broadcasting interview

Check out a news story about our hike!  A big thank you to Jessica Lilly for her time and effort that it took to make this story happen! 

If you're in southern West Virginia and want to get involved with TuGuNu Hiking Club, drop the club an email by clicking this link!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Jo's warm-up hike

Fiskars and Someday atop Springer Mountain
I just returned from a 26-day hike from Davenport Gap in the Smokies to Springer Mountain, Georgia on the Benton MacKaye Trail.  My friend Fiskars went with me and completed her first long-distance hike.  She rocked! 

We started on November 6th, and encountered some a lot of Sandy's snow.  Luckily, the Benton MacKaye Trail maintains generally lower elevations throughout the Smokies compared to the Appalachian Trail, so after a few days the snow had melted.

It was great to get out and back into the hiking groove, making sure all my gear will work for a long trip.  On night two, we learned that my tent's rainfly was no longer waterproof.  At all.  I called the company and was able to purchase a replacement and have it shipped to our next resupply point. I'm glad I learned that before hiking the Great Eastern Trail.  Logistics on the GET will be difficult enough without having to deal with gear issues.

The Benton MacKaye Trail was absolutely fantastic and I highly recommend it.  It was nice to hike a trail and need a map; my other hiking experiences have been in places where a person would really have to try to get lost.  It was very good practice for the GET, which in some places doesn't quite exist yet.

On my way back to Minnesota I stopped in West Virginia to go over some plans with Hillbilly Bart.  I leave Minnesota in less than a month, so I am busy planning maildrops, mapping out some roadwalks, and accumulating maps.

Thank you to everyone who helped us out during the Benton MacKaye Trail trip: Hillbilly Bart for driving us to the Smokies, Mom for the roadtrip home,  Mad Dog, Ali, Jen, and Brandon for visiting (and treats!), Mike for being brave enough to pick up two stinky hitchhikers, The Hike Inn for being wonderful people, the Fish Hatchery for going above and beyond, the Green Cove Motel for my favorite zero day on the trail, Mike and company at the Ducktown Copper Inn for being sweethearts, and the Iron Bridge Cafe and Hostel for being exactly what we needed.  Oh, and thanks Sgt. Rock!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Last day melancholy

Jeff, Joanna, Tim, and Steve (photographer)
blazing the Great Eastern Trail through
Twin Falls State Park.  November 2011.
Today is my last day at my job.  Tomorrow starts the hiking chapter of my life, even though we don't leave for the Great Eastern Trail for a couple of months.

For the last year I have been working as the Great Eastern Trail VISTA here in Mullens, West Virginia.  It's more than volunteering with less pay than a job.  It gave me a chance to move to southern West Virginia and learn more than I ever knew I wanted to learn about landowner issues, indemnity, and shootin' guns.

I'm sitting in my abandoned office at the Mullens Opportunity Center.  When I started my year here, there were three others in the office with me.  It's been mostly just mine since March. Even the plant died months ago.  There's a plastic duck with the number 21 on it that hangs from the ceiling.  This has been a positive place for me, and I leave it today.

There are a lot of things I look forward to about hiking the Great Eastern Trail, but most of all I am looking forward to making it back here, to Mullens.  I can't wait to poke my head into the MOC next spring and seeing who is around.  I hope to meet up with all of you then.  Thanks for a truly fantastic year, and thanks for helping me get so much done.  It wouldn't have happened without our volunteers.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

The planning process

The trail's not all there, but neither am I!

What does it take to hike a trail that isn't completely marked?  This picture is part 1 of the information that I'll be bringing with me.  I have maps on order for the Tuscarora Trail, Crystal Hills Trail (Finger Lakes), and the Headwaters Section (National Geographic maps 791 & 792).  There's a lot more information to print out from the internet, more maps to order and organize, and I have to get a waterproof system and figure out how to get the information to me as I hike, since hiking with all this would add 5 pounds to my pack.

I've really been enjoying the planning process, though I know that as the start date nears, it may get stressful.  I just wanted to take a moment to thank some folks who have helped me out so far, particularly the board members of the Great Eastern Trail Association and my dad.

The Board has been very generous with advice, insider knowledge, and offers of help.  One of the experiences I am looking forward to along the hike is to hopefully get a chance to visit most of them - you all are welcome to join the hike for a day (or days!). 

My dad has been my publisher for this journey.  Living on a budget in West Virginia, I don't have a printer and I don't want to use my work printer for the massive number of maps I require.  I've been harassing him for months already with links to documents I need printed, and they always turn out perfectly.  Thank you for all your help!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Gathering

I just returned from three incredible days at The Gathering here in West Virginia.  I was able to talk to a lot of people about the Great Eastern Trail, and I met a few folks who I hope to visit along the way.  Thanks to all who came and made my first Gathering absolutely magical.  Thank you to everyone who helped make this event a reality!

My favorite moment was singing Walkin' Jim's ALDHA Song, which you can listen to HERE.

I loved seeing "my friends of the trail and my trail of friends."

Monday, October 1, 2012

A squirrel's fault

When a squirrel in my chimney woke me up way too early, I knew I wouldn't be able to get back to sleep.

It was springtime in Minnesota, 2011.  I was about a week from leaving for Vermont's Long Trail, and I had no intention of doing much until then.  I was very put-out about being awake so early.  Unable to snooze, I grabbed my laptop and starting bumming around the internet, looking for the next adventure.

I don't know how I ended up on the AmeriCorps website, but I remember typing in "trail" just to see what would come up.  Three jobs came up on my screen.  One was so exciting that I don't remember it, one was with the Tahoe Rim Trail, and one was the Great Eastern Trail.

I had never heard of the Great Eastern Trail, so I Googled the name.  I was surprised that I had never heard of it: after hiking the Appalachian Trail and falling in love with the east, I thought I would have run across any long-distance hiking trails in the area.  I immediately hoped that this was going to be my next adventure.

Happily, I moved to West Virginia that November and began the seemingly impossible task of creating the Great Eastern Trail link between the Pine Mountain Trail and the Appalachian Trail.  Living and working in West Virginia has been incredibly challenging and rewarding.  I have met so many wonderful people and seen so much beauty.  I've also had my heart broken by the roadblocks for this trail - roadblocks that don't need to exist, but sadly do.  The WV portion of trail has a long, long way to go before becoming reality, but I hope it's in slightly better condition after working for a year on it.

Oddly, it didn't occur to me to try to thruhike the trail.  It was not on my radar.  Oh, it was a "someday" dream, but I envisioned it being something I'd tackle in ten or fifteen years.

Last July I thought about what I would do after my year in West Virginia, and I realized how much I wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail again.  I had such an amazing time on the AT that doing it again sounded like a dream come true.  The only problem was my schedule -- I would have to start in January.  As I researched the weather situation in the Smokies that time of year, my enthusiasm waned.  And then it struck me -- the Great Eastern Trail begins farther south, keeps a lower elevation, and has been my project for the last year.  Everything aligned, and I feel incredibly lucky to have this chance.

I wonder if this would have happened if it hadn't been for that squirrel.