Days 1-4

Greetings, and thanks for checking in on us. We’re four days into hiking and have covered 30 miles so far. We’re inside tonight at Mountain Crossings hostel  at Neel Gap. We’ve done about 8 miles each day so far. Our first night was at Hawk Mtn. Shelter— Gavin slept in the shelter, but I pitched my tent. Both of us slept comfortably. We were greeted at Hawk Mtn. by Santa from Atlanta, whom I have seen in several videos. It was cool to meet a trail “legend,” or at least someone with quite a bit of trail experience. Our second day was to Gooch Mountain. I was planning to tent again, but there weren’t enough flat space to set up so I wound up inside. Santa was there again and has really taken Gavin under his wing. Day 3 was another 8ish miles to Lance Ck. Reforestation area. Ho, ho, ho! Santa was there again. We got a bit of rain last night, but thankfully it finished doing what it was doing before we got going. Today was our hardest day. We climbed Blood Mountain, which was the toughest climb yet, but the views from the top were phenomenal. We met a guy who was trail running who told us a little about the area. On a better weather day, we would have been able to see the Atlanta skyline from the peak. The trip down to where we are now was incredible. To this point, all of our downhills have been gradual and earthen. Today, it was nothing but rocks on top of rocks, but we made it here.

Gavin has been dealing with foot pain for the past day or so, but last night we were fortunate to meet a young woman from Finland who actually had a spare pair of insoles. They seemed to make all the difference for Gavin today. I dealt with a bit of knee pain on the last of the uphill and definitely on the downhill, but it seems to have abated.

To go back to the beginning, we started “hiking” on Saturday. We did the steps up to the top of Amicalola falls. 605 steps! Thankfully, there were landings along the way to stop and put my lungs back where they belonged. Also thankfully, we were with family, and the view was phenomenal.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t tell you about Alaska and his hiking buddy. We met them Sunday at the summit of Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the trail. Alaska was toting a single-shot pellet rifle for hunting birds and other small game. His buddy was carrying a 14” skillet dangling from paracord on the outside of his pack. They were definitely packing heavy. They were with us the first couple of days, but “Skillit” hitched off the trail yesterday from Woody Gap with the intention of doing work-for-stay at a hostel until he could lighten his load. I don’t know of Alaska’s fate. Thankfully, Gavin and I are much more prepared, but we still have heavier packs than we need.

Edit, 3/4/19: though “Frying Pan” is off trail, Alaska has dropped the pellet gun and an extra pack and is still moving up the trail. We have crossed paths several times and stayed with him last night at Deep Gap Shelter. He is also here with us at the Budget Inn in Hiawassee tonight and probably tomorrow. My turn to eat crow and to learn not to trust first impressions.

As I mentioned above, we arrived at Mountain Crossings, which is a hostel and outfitter right on the trail. They will do a free pack shakedown to give you suggestions of things that you should send home to save weight, and they’ll also suggest items that you may need that you don’t already have (and I’ve heard they’re more than willing to sell it to you.) We’ll have them look through our packs tomorrow. I’m sure they’ll suggest that I ditch my iPad and keyboard (about two pounds worth, together), but I’m still holding out the hope that they’ll be worth it when I feel like writing/editing at the end of the day. Right now, I have been in bed between 7:00-8:00 each night and it is still hard to get up and get going. I’ll be interested to see if they can save us any other weight. I expect our cook kits are too heavy to make it all the way to Maine.

I notice that I am supremely rambling here, but in my defense, I am exhausted. I  am going to go ahead and end here. I am hopeful that as we get into better shape, and on days when we are hiking less distance (or at least finish earlier in the day), I will be able to blog more often, and more thoughtfully. I am also hoping that in the next day or so I can put up some videos on YouTube. What I hope I can do is do one video each day and schedule them to come out one day after the others. So far, we have footage for the first four days, but it’ll take me a little while to put them all together.

Again, thanks for following our journey. We’re having a great time, sore muscles not withstanding. We’re supposed to get rain tomorrow, so pray for us. And always remember to keep taking the “Next Step.”

**Note from Beth: Rob wrote this last night with the intention of my editing and posting this morning, but due to a slight miscommunication, I am just now posting it. They have actually finished hiking for the day (day 5) and are back in town. They “slack-packed” today, which I’m sure he’ll tell you all about in his next update. Anyway, sorry for the delay, and thanks for reading!

Q & A Post

“What are you guys going to eat out on the trail? Berries and ramps?”

It is a fairly common question and the answer is, “Yes.” At least the berries part. Blueberries are rampant (sorry) along the trail once they come into season. Actually, ramps are too, but I’m not so sure about those. Never had ‘em.

In truth, for most of the trip we will be able to get into town every 3-4 days. When there, we’ll shower (yeah!), do laundry, and resupply our food. We’ll also have the option of sleeping indoors in one of the many hostels and hotels in towns along the trail. Even though there are few grocery stores adjacent to the trail, hostels usually provide shuttle service into town for meals and resupply.

Gavin and I did our initial food trip today. I hope we got everything we need. Actually, I’m sure we did, and then some. So what do we eat? Here is our startup menu:


  • Oatmeal
  • Carnation Instant Breakfast
  • Coffee/Hot Chocolate
  • Cliff Bars
  • Powdered Milk


  • Tortillas with peanut butter & raisins or pepperoni & cheese
  • More protein bars


  • Peanut M&Ms
  • Snickers
  • Dried Fruit
  • Slim Jim’s
  • Cheese
  • Fruit Gummies
  • Nuts


  • Knorr Pasta or Rice Sides
  • Ramen noodles
  • Summer Sausage
  • Spam
  • Chicken in a pouch

All the above is typical hiker fare which will be heavily supplemented with cheeseburgers and pizza when we get into town.

When on the trail, we’ll be burning 3,000-5,000 calories/day. That averages out to about two pounds of food each day. What I’ve learned about backpacking food is, the more calories, fat, and protein, the better. This seems incredibly wrong to me, but I’ve heard that even though a hiker’s diet is largely junk food (think honey buns for breakfast) for six months, all the extra exercise day in and day out makes it all okay. On a hiker podcast I was listening to today, the 50ish host said his cholesterol levels just off the trail were the best they’ve ever been.

Even though we’ll be eating tons of food that is high in calories and as light in weight as possible, I still expect we’ll lose a bunch of weight. It is not uncommon for a hiker of my stature to lose 40+ pounds along the journey, even while eating and snacking all day long. About a week into our trip, we will develop “hiker hunger,” which is akin to the “see food diet.” For all the demands being placed on our bodies, we will develop an insatiable appetite and will somehow still lose weight. I’m looking forward to that part. I just hope I can turn it off when we get off-trail.

“Are you going to sleep in a tent for the whole six months?”

Yes and no. As I mentioned above, we’ll be able to sleep indoors at least once a week if we want to. Our options in the woods are either our tents or shelters, which are 3-sided structures that are located every 8-15 miles along the trail. They will be a welcome site (see what I did there?) when it is raining or snowing, but my feeling right now is that I’d rather stay in my tent as often as possible. Shelters tend to be crowded, especially in inclimate weather. I’d rather not have to climb over and around folks if I need to get up in the night. They also tend to be a hotbed for norovirus.

“How far are you going to hike each day?”

We are intentionally planning to start slowly to mitigate the chance of early injury and to give our bodies time to adjust. Our stop/start locations will be largely dictated by shelter and campsite locations which are spaced fairly closely together early on along the trail. In the first two weeks, most of our planned days are less than 8 miles, but there are a couple that are 11.5ish. Since we usually hike at a pace of around 2 mph, this will mean 4-6 hours hiking each day. This will give us plenty of chance to acclimate ourselves to the trail. We will also be able to stop to rest and enjoy the views without feeling the need to push onward. Most important, we will arrive in camp with plenty of time to set up in the daylight.

Once we get farther up into NC/TN and definitely VA, we’ll develop our “trail legs,” meaning we will be in top physical shape and can do longer days. I expect that through Virginia, we’ll be able to put up 15-20 mile days with regularity. That will keep up until we get into New Hampshire where we will confront the White Mountains. Because of this section’s difficulty, most folk’s mileage is cut in half there. There is even one area, Mahoosuc Notch, which is called, “the most difficult mile on the AT.” Here, we will be climbing over, under, and around house-sized boulders. It takes most folks 1-2 hours to complete this single mile of the trail.

“How will you keep in touch with folks back home?”

Though there will be periods of interruption, we should have cellular service most days while we are on the trail. With luck, Gavin and I will be able to call home and check in, or at least send messages at the end of the day. We are also bringing along a SPOT Personal Locator Beacon which was loaned to us by a friend. It is a satellite-based GPS unit that will ping our location every 30 minutes. Beth will be able to “see” us on a map, and when we don’t have cell service I can have it send a precomposed message such as, “Made it to camp and are doing okay.” It also has an SOS button on it that will summon wilderness rescue personnel should we find ourselves in a dire situation. Hopefully we won’t accidentally hit that one! For that matter, I hope we don’t hit it on purpose either. With luck, we’ll have enough service to update the blog frequently, if not daily.

“What about bears? Are you taking a gun/bear spray?”

No. There is really no need for a gun for protection on the Appalachian Trail. If the bears have read the same books that I have, they know that they’re way more scared of me than I will be of them, though I’m not really sure that’ll be the case if I encounter one on-trail (mental note: pack extra underwear). The only real danger from bears is getting between a mama bear and her cubs. Bears only come around humans to get their food. For that reason, we will either be hanging our food from a tree limb or putting it in bear-proof containers provided at many shelters. Unfortunately, some people are careless with their bear-hangs, or they just don’t bother. When bears begin to associate humans with food, it usually ends badly for the bear. Last summer there was such a bear in the Grayson Highlands section of the trail, just across the VA line. Because of the bear’s frequent assaults on food bags, a 20-mile section of the trail was closed for camping in that area. Unfortunately, bears that become a nuisance are generally euthanized. Thus the saying, “A fed bear is a dead bear.”

Congratulations! You’ve made it to the bottom of another lengthy diatribe where I try to use as many big words as possible! Gavin and I really appreciate you for following us along the trail, and we hope you’ll send us comments with words of encouragement as we hike northward. If you would like to be notified by email when we post, just put your address in the subscribe box in the right margin of the page. Also, please check out our YouTube channel; subscribe if you like. It is linked at the top of this page.

Trail Names, Revisited…

In a previous post I described a trail name as an alias taken on by a hiker on the trail. People are more commonly known by these pseudonyms than by their real monikers. In that post, I waxed philosophic about the name “Next Step,” and how it may be a suitable trail name to use on my hike. On our December hike in the Smokys, though, Gavin suggested another trail name that I’ve been considering. It is truly incredible how creative he is, and he has a special mastery of the pun.

We were standing in the shelter packing up after a restful night’s sleep and he said, “Dad, I’ve got a trail name for you: Aftermath. Get it? After. Math.” For the uninformed, I have spent the past 29 years teaching high school and community college mathematics. My first impression was that it was a creative name, but I didn’t give it much thought because I was somewhat vested in “Next Step.” Since then, I’ve had some time to ruminate over the name and it has grown on me somewhat.

When I initially looked up the word online, the first thing I saw for a definition on Google was, “consequences or aftereffects of a significant unpleasant event.” That didn’t sound too good. Though I had some of “those days,” and a very few students over the years that I didn’t particularly care for, I certainly wouldn’t deem my teaching career as a significant unpleasant event. I also hope that I’m not a consequence or an aftereffect. Those seem to be quite negative terms. Then I looked on down the page for other definitions.

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary ( has “consequence” as the second definition. As Cliff Clavin, of Cheer’s Fame, would say, “It’s a little known fact that…” aftermath dates to the late 1400s and refers to a “second-growth crop.” It seems that in older British English, math refers to mowing a hay crop. Thus, in its originally used form, the word aftermath refers to the second planted crop. Further in the entry, it is stated that this second crop was often used for grazing, or plowed under, presumably to add nutrients to the soil. At least in this sense, aftermath seems to be a helpful thing.

I have to confess that I started writing this post on January 17, and it has been languishing on my hard drive since. I just haven’t been able to come up with a decision or a proper ending. While I truly want to honor Gavin’s creativity, I’m still somewhat selfishly stuck on Next Step. As I wrote in my Trail Names entry, I am partial to that name because of its multifaceted meaning to me and to my hike. I have discussed both names with Gavin, and while he is proud of the trail name he came up with, he understands why I like Next Step. Truth be told, it is still highly likely that I’ll do something dumb on trail and will become known to others as Wrong Way, Breaks the Wind, or something equally as embarrassing, and all the mental effort I’ve spent in this deliberation will be for naught.

At least for the present, I think my decision has been made. I am honored to introduce myself to you by my trail name: Next Step. Now I’ll turn the keyboard over to Gavin to share his thoughts about trail names.

Hi! This is Gavin again, and I’d like to share my thoughts on trail names. I really like the concept of trail names, because they are a way of getting to know someone. I feel like a trail name is more personal when it is given to you based on of your characteristics or actions on the trail. This makes it feel more meaningful to me when other people pick out your name, and that is why I’m going to leave the option of my trail name up to you, my readers, and to those whom I’ll meet along the trail. Whether or not I regret this decision remains to be seen. Do any of you have any suggestions? If so, post them in the comments below. Hopefully, I will be able to respond to all of your comments before the trip.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about the trail name Little Bear, because I’m so bad at throwing bear hangs and so good at climbing trees. If you’re wondering why this is funny see the article about the Pisgah National Forest trip. There, we got attacked by a bear. Well, we didn’t get attacked, but our food got attacked by a bear because he was really good at climbing really small trees. In closing thank you for your time. Your comments and suggestions are always appreciated, and remember to just keep taking the Next Step!

Help Needed for Q & A Post

As the date for our journey draws near, I would like for us to do a Q & A article, answering questions that you have about our trip. I already have a few thoughts in mind, based on the things that I’m most asked about the trip in conversations, but if you have a question or few, please put them in the comments section below.

I will go ahead and answer one FAQ now. I am frequently asked, “How can I follow along on your trip?” Actually, that is a fairly easy one, and you’re doing it right now. It is our intent to blog as often as possible on the trail, and we hope to post regular video updates on our YouTube channel as well. The easiest way for you to keep updated is to subscribe to one or both. To get email updates when we post here, there is a subscription box at the bottom right of the page. Just enter your email address and you will get a notification whenever we upload a new entry here. Subscribing to our YouTube channel is just as easy. The link for our YouTube channel is at the top right in the menu bar. Once you’re on our channel, just click the big, red Subscribe button to get email notifications when we post a video.

Thanks in advance for following along and sharing this journey with us. Don’t forget to post your questions in the comments section below, and we’ll address then in a future post.

Gavin’s Gear List

Hello and welcome back to our blog. This is Gavin again. Today I’m going to be talking about the gear that I’m going to be taking on our thru-hike. Let’s start with the big three. The big three are my pack, my shelter, and my sleeping system. Let’s start with my backpack. Originally I was going to take a North Face Terra 55L back, but I decided to change to an Osprey Exos 58L pack to save weight and because it could carry a little bit more. This new pack is about a pound-and-a-half lighter than the older one, and it fits me more comfortably.

Next we shall talk about my shelter. I’m currently camping in an REI Quarter Dome one-person tent that weighs about 2.75 pounds. It is a very comfortable tent, and I fit in it very well. My pack goes on the outside under the rain fly so that it doesn’t take up so much room in my tent. I really like this shelter because it’s so small and so light. I have noticed that the lighter a tent gets the more expensive it is. REI equipment is generally lightweight, quality gear at a reasonable price.

The sleeping bag that I am taking is the REI Lumen 25 degree bag which weighs about 2.38 lbs. I am also taking a Sea to Summit Reactor Extreme sleeping bag liner which weighs about 14 oz. This bag liner will increase the comfort rating of my sleep system by about 15 or 20 degrees. It is also way easier to wash the liner than the whole sleeping bag. I will be bringing a lightweight Trekology inflatable pillow and a Therm-A-Rest Neoair Xtherm sleeping pad so that I will sleep warmer and more comfortably. Together the big three: pack, shelter, and sleep system, weigh about 9.91 pounds.

I’m also going to need to take something to cook with, which includes my stove and fuel, pots, a spork, and water storage and filtration. My stove and pots are the Soto Amicus stove and cook set combo which weighs about 7.6 oz. My water storage units are 2-1L Gatorade bottles which are lightweight and disposable. We need to filter our water so that we do not get sick from harmful bacteria or parasites. For this, dad and I will share a 4L Platypus gravity filter.

Since it’s inappropriate the hike naked, I also will be taking some clothing. I couldn’t just grab some stuff out of my closet because hiking clothes need to be lightweight, warm, and sweat-wicking. It’s important for the clothes to be non-cotton because cotton absorbs moisture and doesn’t dry quickly. Wet clothing has the potential to give you hypothermia so it is important to wear wicking, quick-drying clothes. When I hike, I will be wearing Smartwool crew socks which are really padded on the inside and wick away moisture. I’ll be wearing REI Sahara Convertible pants with legs that can zip off. I’m going to wear either a Patagonia capilene midweight crew shirt or a sweat wicking tech shirt. I’m also going to take my Buff. When it is cold and rainy, I will be wearing Seirus Extreme gloves with REI Gore-Tex mitten shells. And finally, for camp clothing, I’m taking REI merino wool long johns as well as an extra pair of socks.

There are several other things that I will be bringing with me for camp use and use while hiking. For night hiking and seeing my way around camp, I’ll use my Black Diamond Storm headlamp. I am also taking some trekking poles. These are hiking poles which help you keep your balance and prevent falls. So that I can sit down on logs and rocks without getting wet, I will be taking a Therm-a-Rest Z-Seat which is basically a lightweight, folding foam pad. In addition to this, I’m taking a Classic Swiss Army knife, trowel and toilet paper, a bandana, and playing cards.

We really hope that we won’t have any injuries on the trail, but it’s best to be prepared. Because of this, I’m going to take a first aid kit, which includes simple items such as band-aids, antibiotic ointment, meds, nail clippers, duct tape, and ibuprofen. We will often be close to the roads and towns, so if there are any big injuries, we can get medical attention fairly easily.

That pretty much wraps it up for my gear list. There will probably be a few other small items that I have forgotten to mention, but I have described the most important items that I will be taking. Thank you for reading and be sure to watch the video attached. You can subscribe to receive email updates when we post. Please subscribe to our YouTube channel as well. May all your trails be happy, and just remember to keep taking the Next Step.