Monday, April 28, 2008

Friends on the Trail

Well, we're still here in Erwin due to torrential rains and the aroma of Pizza Plus...

Thought I'd go ahead and put some more pics up while I have all this unlimited internet access. I'm thrilled to report that I was able to cut more patches/straps/pockets etc. off my pack and mail some more clothes home. Cutting pack weight is better than pizza - and you can quote me on that.

I thought I'd go ahead and share some pics of the people we've met along the way. Trail life would never be as good without them!

Random order of both friends and chronology.

Happy Tracker on the top of Blackstack Cliffs.

Dustan in Hot Springs at the outfitter with Wayne - a gear expert with an all-too elusive ingredient: HUMILITY.

Hoot and Sundance in the Smokies. Check them out at (basically they're telling the same story, we're hiking together!)

Random one of me that I can't rotate - I take great lengths to get bananas on the trail.

Muffin Paste overlooking North Carolina (or is Tennessee?)

Holler at the post office (also not rotated).

Dustan by a stream.

Bert. Great guy - used to have looooooong hair. Has a dog at home named Ernie that looks like Trail.

Matthewski. I took his picture by this sign because it pretty much captures him. He's 47 and you would never know it. He's a little crazy. I think people are looking for him....

Freefall, Bert, Longshot, Paste. And the dog - Heidi. We were at a home of some former thru-hikers who gave AMAZING trail magic. We're talking belgian waffles, a long drink list, veggie beef stew, and for dessert - banana splits, ice cream sundaes, etc. I have pictures, but those are for another time.

The gang hiking.

The gang eating breakfast in a gas station in Erwin, TN where a short-order cook makes some mean biscuits and gravy. Blaze and The Breeze are the ones seated. Great guys.

Happy Tracker. We love this guy. Yes, he's always happy. Tracker because he tracked a bear and recovered some bear bags. This picture was taken in the morning and we were all eating breakfast but he charmed our waitress into bringing him a double cheeseburger with fries. At like 9 in the morning.

Crashing at a shelter. Holler, Bert, Paste.

Cayenne and Rie. We miss you guys! Somehow we got separated. These are our American Idol buffs. Go David Archuletta

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Quick hello from Erwin, TN

Brahma Bull and Sweet Potato signing in to say hello from Erwin, TN. We arrived this afternoon around 12:14pm - just before the deluge! We were given a room and quickly shuttled to an AYCE buffet at Pizza Plus. The life! I (Betsy) am doing much better with the whole queasy thing, in fact, I am feeling better than ever.

We will be in Damascus before long - maybe like less than 2 weeks? I have some pics to upload but not sure I have the time. I'm sharing the internet with a hostel full of hikers who miss their email.

Happy Trails!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Max Patch

Sunday was my birthday. (you know I'd work that in at some point) Sweet Potato called me early Sunday morning from Deep Gap to wish me Happy Birthday. She said they would probably be coming through Max Patch in the morning sometime and that they were on their way to Hot Springs, NC. Mike and I were all ready for church. We got in the car, drove halfway down Chapman Hwy and I said "this is ridiculous! I wanna see my sis! Let's try to catch them" So, we drove 2 hours to Max Patch (it's not that heroic, we were headed that way anyway for the Feist concert in Asheville) and parked our bums on a blanket right in front of the Trail. About 40 minutes later, look who showed up:

It was just so unbelievably cool and amazing that we actually caught them. we had no idea what time they'd be coming through..just that it would be sometime that day.

It was so cold up there so we relocated to the car for a while. Here's sis looking like she's eating her very first orange:
Off they go. Back to their adventure...(you can see them in the distance if you click to enlarge the pic)

Hello from Hot Springs, NC!

Hey friends - Betsy here! I'm at a public library in Hot Springs and finally got the chance to login. Thank you so much for all the comments - it's so fun to check and see who is following. Guess what - we've hiked 271.7 miles so far!

I saw that several of you were asking about sending mail. Our next stop will be Erwin, TN. Send to:
Betsy (or Dustan) Balkcom
Post Office
Erwin, TN 37650
Please hold for AT thru-hiker

Things are going good for us. I got sick a few days ago (Thurs night) feeling queasy and just unwell. I don't know what it was but now I'm feeling better. All I know is that it was pretty brutal and if someone gave me an easy button, I would be hitting that thing and sending myself home. I cried going up a hill (plus it was freeeezing) and Dust said "Wifey when we get to Hot Springs, you're getting a massage." So I have an appointment in an hour and a half. :)

We are definitely getting stronger and more fit. I bought a belt, Dustan keeps buying more and more candy bars and refusing to share them with me. No but honestly, I'm getting a little sick of camp food. If I see another pot of ramen I might hurl. I think that might be part of my queasiness. Dustan on the other hand is the all-consuming machine. Every day for lunch he eats 2 peanut butter and honey tortillas (ugh). Today we went to the Smoky Mountain Diner for breakfast. He ordered 2 eggs, bacon, gravy, biscuits, fried apples, ate it all and then told our waitress "I'd like to do that all over again." So she brought him another breakfast.

We are staying in a little creekside cottage here in Hot Springs, and it is heaven on earth. There is no satisfaction in this life like hiking for literally days in grimy hiking clothes, in sweat and wind and rain, and suddenly walking into a town with a hot shower and a king-sized bed and a diner that serves everything from hashbrowns to cheeseburgers. I still have what I call hobbit feet - meaning my feet and toes are swollen and have an unbudgeable dirt around the toenails no matter how much soaking - but other than that our bodies are holding up well. We ended up mailing our boots home before the Smokies and getting shoes. The boots just weren't necessary and comfort is what matters when you're hiking 15 miles a day.

Sunday (seems like forever ago) we crossed Max Patch and had an amazing surprise. Dustan looked up and saw a guy with a glider and he goes "Bets, that's Mike Lantz!" We were staring, stumbling in disbelief and then - there was my sister! They came to see us and brought us fruit. We sat in their warm car and talked, and it totally got us thru the day. I had been feeling pretty bad, and that was just a huge cheer-up. They took a bunch of pics so I'll let sis insert the pics from that day.

I just want to say a big thanks to her for keeping this website updated. I know you guys are loving having current info and we sure love the feedback.

Here are some pics of us in the Smokies and beyond:

First day in Smokies, gathered firewood:

The "cage" you see is a chain-link fence to keep bears out. Yeah, real comforting.

Second day in the Smokies the snow hit. A ridgerunner (a person from the ATC that monitors a chain of shelters) came and told us to stay at our shelter, even though we were just stopping in for lunch. The storm was coming, the temp was dropping so we all stayed there.

And we were glad we did. As people rolled up, the shelter filled and tents were pitched outside the shelter. We probably had 30 sets of chattering teeth there that night.

We built a roaring fire (so cool that the ATC included a fireplace in the design of all the shelters in the Smokies) and dried out our clothes. This saved us from going into Gatlinburg and getting stuck there for 3 days like many of our friends! Apparently they closed the road due to weather.

The next day was glorious. The sun came out, and we were overjoyed.

But I did burn the logos off my new shoes - guess they got a little too close to the fire!

The snow made the view in the Smokies that much better. I'll spare you a million boring landscapes, but here are a few amazing vistas (much better in person).

Me on the Clingman's Dome lookout. Clingman's is the highest point on the AT, at an elevation of 6,643 feet. We have this saying "It's all downhill to Maine." What a joke.

I was kinda obsessed with the fallen trees and massive root systems exposed as a result. Here's me in front of one.

When we came out of the Smokies, we literally walked into spring. Before I could snap the picture, a fairy landed on my shoulder. I swear!

Standing Bear Farm was a nice respite for weary hikers in the Smokies.

Except for the fact that I had to wash my clothes by hand like a pioneer woman. They basically marinated in sock juice. I don't recommend this antiquated style of doing laundry! But it was a cool photo opp.

Lastly, just before we arrived at Hot Springs we passed a few shelters (and camped at one) where a mother bear and 2 cubs have been stealing some serious amounts of food. Seen here are our "bear bags." At the end of every day before you retire to your tent, you gather all food, trash and food-smelling items, consolidate them into a few bags and hang them from a tree branch at least 10 feet up, 4 feet out and 4 feet down. It's a chore, but it's worth it!

The warming trend has caused bears to come out of hibernation earlier, and the berries aren't ready yet. So we have a lot of hungry bears wandering around that have gotten hooked on Snickers, oatmel, pasta and granola. Our friends Pixie, Holler, Muffin Paste, Happy Tracker, Blaze, and Hiker Dave all had their food stolen the night before last. The bear also dragged Hiker Dave's tent into the woods about 30 feet and ripped his rainfly. (Fortunately he wasn't in the tent!) Since bears are primarily vegetarians and all they're after is the food, we're really not afraid of them. But all of this to say to the laidback hikers who use their food bag as a pillow: it pays to hang your food!

Ok, I better scram (like I said, I'm getting a massage - because it's a hard life on the AT!). Thanks again to sis for updating and for all of you for checking in.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Quick Update: The hikers are already through the Smokies! They've hiked 11-15 miles a day through 8" of snow in some spots and are now at Davenport Gap. More to come...

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Mike and I had a great time meeting the hikers in Fontana to pick up Trail. They got a room for the night at the Fontana Village Resort and we chilled with them in the room and had a delicious meal at the restaurant in the village. I offered to bring a picnic but Sis stated emphatically that she did not want to eat outside. I guess she's been doing that a lot lately!  I got to hear lots of stories about people they had met and what a typical day on the AT consists of.  
Which goes something like: 

~ wake up (on & off all night) at 6:30am
~ Find hiking clothes in the tent, change into them horizontally    (this is apparently really difficult)
 ~ Stuff sleeping bag into stuff sack
 ~ deflate and pack up Thermarest sleeping pad
 ~ get all clothes, head lamps, reading materials out of the tent
 ~ dismantle tent, pack backpacks item by item
~ heat water for coffee and oatmeal
~ munch all day (see pic for a typical AT fare), stop for lunch & air out feet if sunny
~ hike to camp spot
~ set it all up again

It was cool to hear about all the different people they have met (like this couple from Canada who are in their 60's!) Apparently, everyone signs log books along the way with their trail names in them and when hikers then catch up to one another or cross paths, it's like they know a little piece about the other hiker already. I love hearing all the names too. Pick, Sherlock, Bucky, The Weatherman (this guy always writes the forecast in the log one knows how he always has it). It sounds like they've met some real characters already.

When we met them in Fontana, I think they had hiked 141 miles. Haven't 
heard from them in a while but they should be at Max Patch in North Carolina in a couple of weeks or so.
They looked great and well cared for....I was glad to see my sis wasn't stumbling out of the woods with dreadlocks and a loin cloth. Although, she could probably get away with that. If anyone would like to send them mail, just leave a comment and I will try to get you an address (either to me or to a post office along the way) We should be seeing them again in a few weeks so we can deliver anything then.

 Just from talking to them in person, it sounds like  they're having the time of their lives, learning a  lot about each other (according to Bets, she needs  work on her decision making skills) and meeting some great characters  along the way. 

 Trail is safe and sound back at Hidden Valley. She didn't  seem too sad      to curl up on the couch in Betsy's room. Ha!

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Bye, bye Trail (the dog)

After careful consideration, Bull and Sweet Potato have decided not to pick Trail back up after the Smokies. Doesn't she look bummed? I think the Sis and Dustan just feel like it's best for her and them if she goes back to Hidden Valley. Here's a little look back at her AT experience. After all, she did hike 130 miles with them:

Rarin' to go...

First night in the tent... that's more like it...

On a rainy day at an AT shelter..

Catchin' a ride on a magic bus..

Dreaming of Hidden Valley....

The decision to not bring her along any further will definitely lighten their loads mentally and physically (no more dog food to carry) but I know they'll miss that ole Bah-bah girl.