Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Food: It's never been so great!

Written by: Emily Ginger "Lightning"

First, I want to do a shout out to my Grandparents who have backpacked and hiked various sections of the AT- Thank you for exposing me to nature throughout my life, for your support in my adventures, and for following my blog! I am proud to be partaking in something you treasure!

It still amazes me that I get to walk up and down mountains all day, everyday! I am constantly reminded of how lucky I am to be alive and out here enjoying natural beauty because anytime I glance around I see an awesome setting rich with an assortment of plants, trees, rocks, rivers, streams, or mountain ridges for miles. At times the environment feels surreal and I envy myself for being so privileged.

I am impressed at how well our bodies have adapted to these arduous daily work-outs over and through the Appalachian Mountains. Since our strength has increased so has our daily mileage. Some days we walk 16 miles and on others we walk 24 miles. Also, we have entered into the state of Virginia which has a somewhat “flatter” terrain than what we were tackling in Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee making the higher mileage more manageable. With my body feeling strong and the terrain being easier, I have taken to trail running. I can’t run uphill, and I can’t run everyday, but on a majority of days I will do at least a portion of my hike running (so far I’m up to 10 miles). I get the same adrenaline rush when I sprint down the trail as I would from longboarding down the streets of Chicago or speed rollerblading along the lake front. I am hoping that after 5 months of hiking I will be quicker and stronger when I return to longboarding, rollerblading, and bicycling at home!

Regardless of whether you are walking or running, doing almost an entire marathon up and down mountains everyday with 30 lbs on your back burns a lot of calories. Out here, food has acquired an entirely different purpose for me and is no longer enjoyed for its flavor or texture. If there are calories in something, I’ll eat it! Every morning when I wake up I’m hungry so I eat right away. Breakfast is two packets of instant oatmeal, freeze dried fruit, and some-odd amount of powdered milk (sometimes I’ll add a packet of hot cocoa mix instead). In the interest of saving fuel and money I just add cold water to my oatmeal, stir, and then eat. It’s heavenly but not enough calories so I eat two pop tarts as well. I usually take a snack break after 3-5 miles where I shovel a couple heaping handfuls of gorp into my mouth and eat a Cliff Bar. This gets me to Lunch. For Lunch I’ll eat some tuna or peanut butter with crackers and more gorp or granola bars. By the time dinner rolls around I have already eaten more than I would in an entire day were I at home in Chicago. Hiking takes a lot of energy, and leaves me hungry, so like I said… I eat anything! For instance, a few weeks ago, we stopped for lunch on a rainy day and we were too cold/ tired to pump some water to make a nalgene of powerade. We wanted the electrolytes so we decided to just pour the powerade mix straight into our mouth, like a pixie stick. Since then, we often just pour a mouthful of “electrolyte powder” straight into our mouth and then wash it down with a sip of water. Another day, while sitting and enjoying a view, Kate snacked on some crackers and I mindlessly ate all of her cracker crumbs that had fallen on the rock. Whatever I drop in the dirt (whether it’s a sunflower seed or a melted piece of cheddar cheese), I pick it up and eat it. At night, instead of boiling more water for hot cocoa, I just use cold water and eat chunky hot cocoa, but I enjoy having the dessert!

Not only have my food standards gone out the window, but so have my standards of cleanliness. We have to filter our water, so we use it sparingly and try not to waste a single drop. When I wash my bowl after every meal I just rinse it with about ¼ cup of water and sometimes I will just drink that “dirty” water. Living outside I’m constantly covered in dirt, but I don’t bother to wash it off because shortly thereafter I will just be dirty again. It’s interesting how relative normalcy is and that nobody notices my “disgusting” habits because these are the norms out here- everyone is covered in dirt or drinking their dirty dish water. I look forward to seeing what other adjustments and changes I will experience while out here!

Anybody Can Comment!

Hello everybody!

Thanks again for following the blog - we love knowing that there are supporters and we love to hear from you. We know that some followers were having difficulty leaving comments. The problem is fixed! If you wish, you can leave an anonymous comment. You no longer need a gmail account to leave a comment!

Hope this helps.

-Ringleader, Lightning, and Monkey of the Traveling Circus

I Can't Hit a Baseball, But I Can...

Written by: Brandon "Monkey" Imp

To me, hiking the Appalachian Trail is hard! I never thought it would be easy. I never thought it would be a walk in the park or a vacation. It is a lifestyle, and it takes energy to maintain the lifestyle. I have to watch every step I take and every cent I spend. I have to stay mentally alert and determined. I need goals. I need motives. Since I have pushed my medical school application plans one year ahead, I have little to construct. I am okay with this. I have thought of a better motive: to prove to myself that I am capable of overcoming physical challenges.

I have never been physically "gifted." Yes, I am slender, but I am uncoordinated, have little muscle, and care little for athletics. I was the kid picked last in gym class. I played baseball for four years and hit the ball once. I am the opposite of a prodigy. History has told me that I am unathletic and should not attempt to take on physical challenges.

But I can do this. I can hike the Appalachian Trail. I have already walked 20 mile days through the mountains and lived to tell the tale. My mind is in it and I am feeling good. If I ascend Mt. Katahdin, I know my slothful couch-potato days can be over. I still may not be able to hit a baseball, but it won't get me down any more.

If you check out our itinerary, you will notice that we are about one week behind schedule. I am not worried though. We are finally leaving the mountains, where we averaged 16-20 miles per day. Virginia? We will be doing some marathons: 26 miles in a day. People train for months, years even, to run a marathon. We will be doing it often, over hard terrain, with 30-35 pound packs. How cool is that?

The 'Why' Factor

Written by: Katherine 'Ringleader' Imp

I lost my 'why' in Hampton, TN. I was sitting in Kinkora hostel, watching Brandon play Jenga with Prophet, Cowgirl, and Moonpie. I was full from a pizza buffet and had a bag of jelly beans in my hand. I was showered. My clothes were in the laundry. Hell, I'd even painted my toenails with some nail polish Emily found. Everything was in order . . . but I couldn't answer the ultimate question: Why am I thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail?

In real life, the inability to answer the 'why' question is a red flag. Why am I in school? Why am I working here? Why am I dating this man? The day you can't answer these questions is the day you start to re-evaluate your life. Does the same hold true on the AT?

There were a lot of reasons I wanted to thru-hike the AT before coming out here. I wanted to sit on top of mountains and watch the sunset. I wanted to exercise and get my body in shape. I wanted to visit small, Southern towns and talk with the locals. I wanted to spend time with Brandon and Emily. I wanted to meet people on the trail that I would otherwise never meet and exchange stories. I wanted to see the stars. I wanted to try something new.

Now, here I am, sitting in Damascus, VA, about 450 miles into the trail, and I feel like I've accomplished everything I set out to do.

But we still have 4 months left.

And I can no longer answer the 'why' question.

Is this a red flag?

There are approximately 50 miles between Hampton, TN and Damascus, VA and for 50 miles I debated whether it was time for me to leave the trail. When I got to Damascus I was ready to tell Emily and Brandon that I was done.

And then I remembered something Cowgirl (a young woman from Wyoming) told me in the interview I did with her for the documentary. She told me that she'd been hiking for a month and still didn't know why she was out here . . . but that she was looking forward to answering that question throughout the rest of her journey.

Okay, so I've lost my 'why' factor. And that made the last 50 miles feel like 5000. But this isn't a job or a boyfriend. This is a trek that is 5 months long and spans 14 states. The 'why' factor will change over time. Moreover, I can't expect to be skipping up and down mountains every day, happy and care free. It's unrealistic. Instead I need to put the last month of my life in the memory drawer and look forward to opening the next chapter of this journey.

So that's what I'll do. Virginia, here I come.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Trail Update #2

1. Check out our pictures:

2. Approximate number of miles hiked: 360 miles

3. Towns we've visited:

- Neels Gap, GA
- Hiawassee, GA
- Franklin, NC
- Nantahala Outdoor Center
- Fontana Dam
- Gatlinburg, TN
- Hot Springs, NC
- Erwin, TN

4. Number of times we've hitchhiked in towns: too many to count

5. Emily ('Lightning') will be at Trail Days in May [Kate & Bran will be in Champaign for Kate's law school graduation), so please stop by and say hello if you will also be attending!

6. Want to send us something in the MAIL? Here's how:

*UPS and FedEx packages CANNOT be sent to Post Office
*Post Office Address (e.g.):

Katherine Imp
General Delivery
Franklin, NC 28734
Please Hold for Katherine Imp
Estimated Date of Arrival: 03/19/2010

Post Offices We Will Definitely Stop At:

Damascus, VA 24236 [04/17/2010]
Pearisburg, VA 24134 [04/29/2010]
Waynesboro, VA 22980 [05/11/2010]
Harper’s Ferry, WV 25425 [05/28/2010]
Duncannon, PA 17020 [06/05/2010]
Vernon, NJ 07462 [06/18/2010]

We need calories and protein, so anything from baked goods to dried fruit to candy bars works for us!  We also love receiving letters and emails of support, so if you'd just like to send a letter we love that too!

7. Thus far, our favorite thing about the Appalachian Trail is the people. This is truly an amazing community....

The Media Does Not Fool Me!

Written By: Emily Ginger "Lightning"

This morning I am sitting in the lobby of a Holiday Inn Express in Erwin, TN. As I sip my coffee and check my email on the computer there is a t.v. running next to me showing the Today show. The noise of the show and especially the commercials is annoying and just sounds like a bunch of noise. I know who some of these people are (the news anchors, Regis and Kelly, etc.) but I don't understand why people watch them or care about who they are. Some of the information is educational and useful, however the majority of the Today Show's content is full of unimportant irrelevant information that nobody needs to know nor would they care if it weren't being presented on the t.v. by these people we "know." Why does our society glorify certain people and credit them as being our authorities of truth? Why do we look to these strangers on the t.v. to see what we should care about? Why do we flip on the t.v. to "unwind" or "relax?"

We are all influenced by what we see and hear. I haven't watched much television in the past six months (I dislike mainstream news and hate commercials), but only after being totally withdrawn from the incessant influence of advertisements do I realize that media is everywhere and unavoidable; turning off the t.v. and not reading the newspaper doesn't remove me from the influence. There are companies telling people how to think, look, and act everywhere: billboards, bus stops, store fronts, public buses, public trains, gas stations, restaurants, grocery store checkouts... everywhere. It's amazing how much these media influences shape our morals, values, priorities, habits, opinions, looks, insecurities, competencies, etc. At home I constantly felt like I needed things to be satisfied but out here, removed from all the influences of society I am totally satisfied. Perhaps if more Americans found creative ways to satisfy their "needs" that doesn't entail watching others tell you what to do or think (i.e. the television, and commercials) then people wouldn't have insatiable desires or so many things. I don't understand why any home needs more than one television (unless you're a big family) or 3 extra bedrooms. Having more than what we need is destroying our planet and leaving us dependent on "things." Our gluttony is dangerous to our health both mentally and physically, but it is so embedded into everyday society that it's nearly impossible to escape unless you just escape society itself. For me it's a bittersweet situation- as much as the excess media and consumerism sickens me, it's also comforting because that's what I know. I can honestly say that I would have a difficult time parting with the familiar societal norms of excess. For now I am enjoying my temporary departure from the American "standard of living," and I look forward to integrating what I learn about myself and my happiness out here into my life when I return to Chicago.

The Stink

Written by: Brandon "Monkey" Imp

First, a promised shout out to Troop 99 from North Carolina - hope you finished your 50 miler with flying colors!

We are now in Erwin, TN, somewhere around 350 miles into our hike. April 10th was our one-month anniversary and yesterday was Lightning's birthday, so we splurged on a Holiday Inn Express reservation in town. It is now 8:30 am the next morning, and I just finished round one of the glorious continental breakfast including bacon and orange juice. Yum!

Five of us shared the room last night: the three of us, Yianni, and Prophet. Our smell is pretty unbelievable. When you open the door, a thick wall of must, sweat, and dirt hits you in the face. We know we smell and we try to stay clean. Honestly, though, perpetual stink is a thru-hiker fact. After my 20 minute scrubbing in the shower, I still smelled. I do not know where it was coming from but it was there! I carried a stick of deodorent the first week, but dropped it as soon as I could. There is nothing strong enough to prevent what we deal with.

Laundry is always fun. I have one set of hiking clothes, one set of sleeping clothes, an extra pair of socks, a down jacket, and my rain pants and jacket. When it's laundry time, that means it's rain clothing time - no matter the heat or need to walk through town. At first, I did not mind. However, after one month of continual wear with little washing, even my plastic-y rain jacket is taking on an unpleasant funk. There is no escaping it.

Plus, I am one month in. I have four months left, and it will only get warmer. If you run into me, make sure to stand clear!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Best Day of My Life

Written by: Katherine "Ringleader" Imp

Today I got an email from the Illinois bar examiners.

It said that I had passed the Illinois bar exam.

I read the email in a small library in Hot Springs, NC.

This is the best day of my life.

The Turnaround

Written by: Brandon "Monkey" Imp

My last blog entry was about some of the worst days on the trail. As the title indicates, here is the turnaround. I have written an "entry" in my journal only once thus far, and I am sharing it with you. (I'll try to clean up the grammar a bit for you too...)

Sunday April 4, 2010 Easter Sunday
Today has been my favorite day on the trail yet, and I want to preserve its memory by writing the day's events down.

It started at sunrise. Kate, Emily, and I tented on top of a Bald a few miles past the Standing Bear Farm. The hill with the UFO-looking air traffic control building. Tornado (Evan) and Yianni tented with us to - Tornado in my tent and Yianni in his own. At sunrise, Yianni woke the two girls and said he was going back to sleep. So, I went back to sleep. At some point Tornado left to watch with Kate and Emily. An hour passed and I emerged with Poptarts in hand. The three were in their sleeping bags on the other side of the hill - Kate and Emily talking and Tornado back asleep. I walked around and ate my breakfast (swatting at the incessant flies). I grew tired and, aggravated at the flies, drew out my sleeping bag too. More time passed as I cat napped. Yianni got up and we all gradually packed. As we were doing so, hikers came up the mountain and looked at the view - we knew some of them but not all. We had our morning stretch (and a little yoga) on the mountain top - don't worry, we filmed. Eventually we all headed out, feeling energized, and walked .5 miles to the water source. The water was basically mud, and the bugs were dive-bombing into us. For some reason, though, the pumping went fast and with little spraying (our pump is a little leaky).

I took off first. The first 2 miles were easy and downhill. This is where the first surprise happened - I ran into Nobody! Nobody is another thru-hiker. He is mid-thirties, tattooed, owns a bar (Flannigans (sp?)) in New Orleans, and is basically one of our favorite new friends. We thought he took a few zeroes, so we were not expecting to see him for some time (if at all). That he caught up, and passed us, was incredible, a huge surprise, and a happy reunion!

I continued on for a few miles when the second surprise happened - SNAKE. It was a foot long, striped, and tired to eat me. I swear it did. It was slithering and probably looking me up and down thinking, "I'm going to bite this guy and eat him." I yelled when I saw it, and continued yelling until it left. And, even though it left, I did not see where to so I hiked up and around the spot. It was so so so scary.

A mile later I came to a road and stopped for a snack. Nobody and Lightning caught up to me and both were really really hot (it is in the 70s/80s and we were going up and down - LOTS of sweating). Nobody only has pants right now, so I lent him my nail scissors to make cut-off shorts hiker-style. Emily took off her shirt (had sports bra) and they joked how a passerby would think the group to be weird/in underwear on the side of the road! I told Lightning I would stop for lunch at Max Field - apparently a good view. We estimated we had done 2.5 of the 7 we needed to do. But! 20 feet down the trail was a sign that siad it was only 3.5 miles! Hiking far and fast and unexpected is a big plus in hiker world.

The 3.5 was up and down. Not deadly, but enough to keep the sweat dripping down my face and keep the flies ineterested. There were a few great stream crossings and I met up with a bunch of hikers .8 miles before Max Patch. Finished the hike up the hill with Twigs, taking in the 360 degree view and talking about our film. Commented on how it is hard to film the AT because we want to be truthful - rain, snow, revelations, bad days, etc. are hard to film! As we were getting to the top, two women with coolers were coming down - surprise #3 is trail magic! Clumsy and the other woman left food and drinks and games at the top. When we reached the top, it was a regular party. About 20 thru-hikers were relaxing and socializing. Some more would come and some would go. I ate my peanut butter (Justin's Nut Butter with Honey - to die for!) and pita supplemented with a delicious apple and grape soda. I shared some peanut butter with Nobody and Big Dipper - like giving candy to a baby. (It's so weird that Americans love penaut butter but most of he greater world thinks it disgusting.) Lightning and Ring Leader got up there and we relaxed. Prophet was already on the hill and Yianni and Tornado eventually came. Just a giant gathering of great people. Kate showed us a video clip she filmed - her spinning around for 4 minutes like in the Sound of Music. Hahaha hilarious. She asked Emily and I on camera where we were from 1 to 10. Emily was 10, I was 9.5, and Kate was 9.97. I said the only way to raise me to a 10 was with funnel cake...I run a hard bargain. A Lady Gaga song came on the wind up radio...Bad Romance. After it, Kate and I left. 6.7 miles to Walnut Mountain Shelter.

Kate walks fast downhill, so she sped off fast in front of me. Lost sight. It was ok because I had "If you're happy and you know..." in my head. Worked out well for me...wear a bandana, stomp your feet, use trekking poles, hike...tailored to me perfectly!

I crossed a stream and did not see the trail. I took what could have been it, but was skeptical. I had to climb over blowdown trees and the bushes were thickening. I did not see white blazes and then had to go up. At that point, about 10 minutes in, I decided to go back to the crossing. I found it at the stream..had to do a sharp turn. Then! It was all flat walking. I walked in rhodendrum tunnels and past fences. It was literally and figuratively a "Walk in the Park." And it continued all the way until 1.3 miles before the shelter. The walk in the park was so relaxing, for hiking 5.4 miles, that it brought me up to a 10.

I knew the last 1.3 miles was up...700 feet. I passed Yianni at the bottom. I hiked hard and finished the day strong. I broke a sweat again, but I did not care. A few were at the shelter already - Nobody, Tornado, Nefis, Big Dipper, and a father and daughter and dog on a 3-day trip. The shelter was terrible and rotting. I saw a cockroach nearby. Nobody was going to push on...a water source and gap in 4 miles so that would probably be it. I wanted to go, but waited for Emily and Kate. None of the hikers saw Kate after the hill, but she was in front of me, so I was worried. When Lightning got there though she said Kate was close behind...took a wrong turn. So, we stayed the night. We went down to a thron field with 9 other hikers and Yianni (no flat space by the shelter) and set up tents. By myself tonight, and am happy. The front is open to let the breeze in!

Dinner was Cache Lake. Getting to the end of that food order. Their food is decent, but no enough nutrition/Calories for thru-hikers. (We are fine though because we always supplemented with rice or cous cous, and some extra sides).

Eventually I went in my tent. Turned on my phone and received some texts - Happy Easter from Amy and some "miss you" from Carla, Vanessa, and others. Tried to text back but it failed - bad service in the south for AT&T I guess.

Turned on my iPod and scrolled to find something soothing. Came across Feist - only have 1234. I listened. This song was the height of Beane and Molly's love story in "Love Song" - the last play I was in. Brought on a wave of emotions. I tried to text Kelly D. the "listened and miss you and want to see you" bu it fell through (bad service!) I said "it was the cherry on top of a wonderful day on the trail." And I meant it.
Then, I wrote this, my first journal entry.

Now, I will have delightful dreams of friends and happy days.
Today, I am happy.

Hope you enjoyed the journal entry. I am not sure if others will find it as wonderful as I did.
Also, if you would like to learn more about Cornell's theatre department and shows, check out the website The college is cutting a large portion of the budget, so Theatre, Film, and Dance may not be around much longer at the IVY LEAGUE school.

Live Simply so that others may simply live

By: Emily Ginger

Prior to this I only had a small taste of what it's like to be removed from civilization when I did a five day canoe trip with my family in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota. That experience opened my eyes and stirred my interest in being an outdoors woman. After 270 miles of hiking and living on the Appalachian Trail I feel accustomed to the lifestyle. I really enjoy the simplicity of things out here, I've totally downsized my life! It's easier to have so few options for clothing to put on when I wake up in the morning, a lot of times I just wear whatever I slept in. I go for days without looking in a mirror, or brushing my hair, and I haven't worn deodorant since we started. I enjoy having the low maintenance life. Being stripped of everyday amenities is grounding and really puts into perspective what really matters in life. All I really need to be happy is some clean water, food, and warmth. It's beautiful to be happy just from pumping a liter of water from a stream and then drinking it. I don't know what I will do with myself when I have to go back to the "real world."

Snowshoe-ing Without Snowshoes

Written by: Katherine "Ringleader" Imp

The day we hiked to Gatlinburg I hitchhiked 5 times.

We woke up in a shelter in the Smokies, about 12 miles from the road that brings you to Gatlinburg. I got out of my warm sleeping bag to find everything covered in snow and frost. We began the walk to Clingman's Dome, the highest peak on the AT. The snow was gorgeous and picturesque, but every step was unknown. I'd step forward onto the snow, and suddenly fall 3 feet. Then the sun came out. When the snow melted it seemed to come at you from every angle. I was cold and wet but my adrenalin was pumping.

Emily, Brandon, and I do not hike at the same pace so when I hit a fork in the trail up to Clingman's I took a left. I went up a ways but couldn't find a trail because of all the snow. I yelled for Brandon and Emily but got no response. I was on top of a mountain in the Smokies, a mountain covered with snow, and I had no idea where I was or where my companions were. Talk about an "Into the Wild" moment.

I decided to backtrack to the fork, and apparently Brandon and Emily had the same thought. We met up and continued the hike, but because of the snow the miles were slow. When we hit a road later on down the trail, we decided to flag down a construction worker for fear that we'd otherwise not make it to Gatlinburg before dark.

We got in the back of the truck and he drove us to his construction site a few miles down the road. We thanked him and kept walking until another truck passed by. Again, we ran after it, and the friendly workers offered to take us to Newfound Gap, the place where tourists from Gatlinburg tend to go.

We got out of the truck and for the first time in weeks we were surrounded by people. Everything was a blur. Tourists came up to us, asking questions as if we were a tourist attraction. Next thing we knew, a nice couple was offering to take us 15 miles down the road to Gatlinburg. We got to town and were immediately surrounded by lights, and Ripley's Believe It or Not, and taffy, and tourists with fanny packs.

Emily and I went to the gas station to ask about the post office and the man behind the register offered to take us across town to safe us from having to take the trolley. He told us about his life. He's a cousin of Dolly Parton.

After the post office we crossed the street to the grocery store and bought enough fresh vegetables for a feast. We stood outside the store, not sure how we were going to get back to the hotel when a nice couple offered to bring us back. We talked about hippie festivals, and tourist towns, and the Appalachian Trail, and their kids.

The day started with us snowshoe-ing without snowshoes and by the time the day was over I'd stood on the highest peak on the AT, jumped into 5 different vehicles, and heard the stories of all the people that were kind enough to stop for us.

At the hotel I cracked open a beer, laughed with my fellow thru-hikers, and dreamt about what new adventures were coming my way. What an amazing day.