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Coast-to-Coast for End Polio Now

4 May

[UPDATED 30 June 2011, 4:58 PM]

I am now three days away from leaving on my coast-to-coast hike across Scotland to raise money for Rotary’s End Polio Now campaign! On Sunday, I will set forth from the town of Montrose on Scotland’s east coast, and will arrive at the Atlantic Ocean two weeks later at the Knoydart peninsula, one of the British mainland’s most westerly points. My 200-mile route passes through some of Scotland’s most rigorous terrain, including a summit of Ben Nevis, the highest point of the British Isles! I have been very busy the past few days making last minute preparations, checking my maps, and packing my gear. I can’t wait to get out on the trail and see Scotland the best way I know how—one step at a time.

So far I have raised about $1,000 for End Polio Now, and my goal is to reach $3,000 before I return to the US in September (roughly equivalent to $15 per mile walked). If you are interested in making a donation, please follow this link to my donation website and click on the big orange button that says “DONATE.” It’s easy, safe, and for an excellent cause. All donations go directly to the End Polio Now campaign.

For the latest updates on my hike, follow me on Twitter. I’ll be trying to post something every day while I am out on the trail, so check back frequently!


[Original post follows below]

So…it’s been a while since I’ve posted, about six months or so I think. As you have probably noticed, I have been more interested in photography than writing as of late. That being said, I am planning something exciting for this summer that I thought I should bring to your attention.

But before I get there, a brief answer to “How’s Scotland been recently?” It’s been quite lovely actually. The weather has been fantastic for the past few weeks, full of long sunny days and blue sky. I finished my semester over a month ago and am getting ready for final exams. I also went back to Texas for a few weeks in there, which was really nice. I’ve been making lots of friends with other students in my program, who are from all over the world. So I am here for the summer, working on my dissertation and then coming back to the states in the fall. Okay, that’s enough of that, let’s get to the exciting bit.

I am going to walk across Scotland, from the Atlantic Ocean to the North Sea. It’s roughly a 200 mile trek, should take about two weeks. Oh, I’m going to use the hike to raise money for Rotary’s End Polio Now campaign, which I think is one of the most important charities in the world today. My goal is to raise £2,000/$3,000, or enough to vaccinate about 6,000 children against this devastating disease.

As many of you know, a few years ago I hiked from Maine to Georgia along the Appalachian Trail. Although this trip will be similar in many ways, it will have its own unique set of challenges. For instance, there is no single coast-to-coast trail in Scotland. Instead, I’ll make my way across the island by piecing together a variety of different paths, including deerstalking trails, range-rover tracks, old military roads, and good old-fashioned bushwhacking.

Right now I am in the planning phase of the trip. I’ve been working with my friend Michael Reader-Harris to chart my route (pictured above). Michael and I go to church together here in Glasgow and he’s pretty much an expert on hiking in Scotland (or ‘hillwalking’ as the locals say)—he is only a few summits away from having climbed all of Scotland’s 283 Munros (mountains over 3,000 feet tall). As of now, my route will take me through some of Scotland’s wildest regions and will include summitting Ben Nevis, the highest point in the British Isles. I’ll even swing by The Old Forge, which holds the record for the world’s most remote pub! Pretty cool!

So. That’s what’s new. I’ll keep you posted as things develop!


It’s Time for Something New

1 Apr

Nine months ago, I began hiking from Mt. Katahdin in Maine south along the Appalachian Trail. Six months and 2,178 miles later, I reached its southern terminus at Mt. Springer in Georgia. The story of my journey is in this blog.

But I have been back in civilization now for almost four months. It’s time for something new. I’ll be heading to graduate school in Scotland this fall. Until then, I’ll be posting a picture a day to my new photoblog. I hope you will come along for the journey.

Georgia On My Mind

14 Dec

Day 166, Mile 2178.3

On December 12 at 1 o’clock in the afternoon Lightweight, GFog, and I summitted Springer Mountain and reached the end of our adventure on the Appalachian Trail! It was an epic last few weeks to top off an already amazing journey.

The 1212 Gang at the End

Before I get into the story of my last week on the trail though, I want to take a moment to give some much deserved “thank yous” at the top of my post, just to assure that these person’s names get read. First and foremost, I need to thank my Dad who has been the “ground-control” and foundation of my hike. He spent countless hours arranging mail drops, preparing food, and sending me gear–but most importantly he believed in me from the very beginning when the AT was just a far-off dream for me. Next, I need to thank the rest of my family for their support and encouragement along the way–Mom, Meredith, John–this is for you! Also, my gratitude goes out to GFog’s family and girlfriend Jess for all of their hospitality to the three of us during the last leg of our trip. My sincere thanks goes to the following people who gave me encouragement, hiked with me, provided a hot meal or a bed to sleep in, sent me letters and baked goods, and all the other countless ways you helped me get to Springer: John and Kelly, Aunt Donna, “Coach” Craig, Andrew, Rachael, Sarah, Heather, Julia, Christy, the trail angels who took care of me–Dave and Robyn, Dutch, Babu–the folks at all the great hostels I stayed in–Green Mountain House, Bear’s Den, Shaw’s, Wood’s Hole, the Amee Farm, Elmer’s–and anyone who has been part of my trail family–GFog, Lightweight, Treehugger and Petunia, Crow, Pilgrim, Lefty and Homefry, BB and Gastank, the K-Bob Sisters, Rocketman, and the rest of the gang. I know there are people on here who I am forgetting, so sorry! And finally, all of you readers out there–it’s been a pleasure to share the journey with you!

Sunset over Neel’s Gap

Whew–that was a long list. I hope you made it past that paragraph and are reading this one. And the story continues: It was a long and hard push to the end. I remember back in October worrying to myself that the end of my hike would be “too easy” and perhaps anti-climactic–and oh how wrong I was. For 12 out of the final 15 days of our hike we averaged 20.3 miles a day in some of the worst weather I have seen yet. Although the terrain was not as tough as it was in Maine and New Hampshire, the constant rain, snow, and cold added a physical and mental challenge that truly tested my capabilities.

We crossed over the border into Georgia on December 7. Words can hardly describe how that felt to have finally made it to my last state. To always be talking about how you are walking from Maine to Georgia, and then to actually accomplish it! The end was in sight! The 80 miles from the border to Springer looked like they would be a piece of cake–but the AT wasn’t going to let us just mosey to the end like a Sunday walk in the park, and the next day proved to be one of my most difficult of the entire trip.

The 8th was going to be our last huge day, and then we were planning on taking it easy for the last stretch into Springer. When I woke up that morning though, the 35 degree temperature and the threatening rain clouds told me that it was going to be an even tougher day than I originally thought. Sure enough, it started to rain and blow almost as soon as I hit the trail that morning, and I realized that we may have to stop short that day and try to make up the lost miles later. But then something happened that I can only describe as providential: as I was coming to the first road crossing of the day, I bumped into a couple who looked at me and said, “Are you Tex?” I stopped, and said, “Yeah…how do you know me?” They said, “Oh, we’re Dave and Robyn, we’ve been following you on Twitter and figured we might see you here today. GFog and Lightweight have already dropped their packs in the car and are slackpacking to Unicoi Gap. You want to slack with them?” Slackpacking refers to when someone takes your full pack and drives it to the next road crossing, so that you only have to carry a water bottle and some food and can move light and fast. I said, “Absolutely!” and before I knew it I was flying down the trail reflecting on how well things fell into place! Slackpacking to Unicoi Gap put us only 1 mile away from our original goal for the day, meaning we could stay on schedule and not have to play catchup later!

In my rush to get down the trail and catch GFog and Lightweight, I foolishly only brought some light gloves and my rain jacket. At first I was plenty warm, but as I climbed out of the gap and up to elevation, the temperature dropped and the wind started howling. After only a few miles the rain started to seep through my jacket and I was in what my first-aid book would call “classic hypothermia conditions.” The only way I could stay warm was to keep moving, and I practically sprinted down the trail trying to make it to the pickup point at Unicoi before things got too much worse. Somehow I made it through the 16 miles, but by the time the three of us made it to Unicoi we looked like a pack of wet rats. When we got there, Dave and Robyn were waiting for us and said, “Well boys, you have two options. You can either hike another mile up to the next shelter, or you can come back to our place and spend the night.” We looked at each other for about half a second and said, “Your place!” So we ended up spending the night at their house, enjoying a home cooked meal, a hot shower, and a dry place to sleep! The whole trip I had been lamenting how “Southbounders get no love” when it comes to trail magic, but after that day I changed my tune.

After that last “battle” with the trail, we really did cruise into Springer. The next day the sun came out and it was 60 degrees. We took a leisurely day and didn’t get into camp until well after dark, but it felt great not to be fighting the weather. We spent that night at the old Civilian Conservation Corps house at the summit of Blood Mountain, the highest point on the AT in Georgia. From the top we could see the lights of the Atlanta skyline, and in the morning we caught one last amazing sunrise.

Sunrise/Moonset on Blood Mountain

My dad came out and joined me for the last three days of my trip, which meant so much to me. He started with me in Maine and got to “bookend” the journey by summitting with me in Georgia. Our last days were really just about celebrating, and we had bonfires, cigars, and lots and lots of food! I told GFog and Lightweight that they had the right to give my dad a trail name. They settled on “Lava Cakes” after one of the “gourmet” deserts he brought along for us to cook one night.

And then, alas, the sun rose on Saturday December 12 and the end of my adventure was upon me. My dad and I left bright and early to get a head start on GFog and Lightweight, who caught up to us later in the day about 2 miles from the summit. When they caught us, I left my dad and hiked onward with them towards the end. In many ways it felt just like all the other days we had hiked together, but the knowledge that this was the last hung heavy on my mind.

And then, we were there. Springer is not a particularly difficult or spectacular mountain, but for what it symbolizes–determination, endurance, and the conclusion–it is the most significant of my journey nonetheless. A few minutes after GFog, Lightweight, and I hit the summit, Treehugger and Petunia summitted as well, so I had my entire “trail family” there to celebrate with me! We even had a bottle a champagne that I had carried since my last resupply in Franklin, 100 miles previous. There was one mishap on the way down to the parking lot. The trail was really icy that day, and my dad slipped on a patch of ice and really hurt his ankle. After getting some x-rays today we found out that it’s actually broken, so he’ll be on crutches for the next few weeks it looks like.

At Springer with Treehugger, Petunia, and the 1212 Gang

That night my parents and I drove to Atlanta and had a celebratory dinner at GFog’s house with his family and Lightweight. And then yesterday we got on the plane and now I am home. It’s strange being back; it really hasn’t even hit me that it’s over. Today just feels like a zero day and that I’ll be hitting the trail tomorrow–but I’m not. I went to the barber today and got a shave and a haircut as well. I’ve posted a before/after comparison below for your evaluation:

Before and After

I’ll be taking the next few days and weeks to get unpacked, sort through my pictures, and do alot of reflecting on what I’ve accomplished and what I am going to do next. It seems so long ago that I was at the summit of Mt. Katahdin at the start of my journey. One of the many things I’ve learned on this trip is to take things one day at a time, and I think that is applicable to readjusting to civilization as well. And so, as always, all I can say is “onward.”

The End of the Journey

12 Dec

I just wanted to post a quick update that Lightweight, GFog, Treehugger, Petunia, and I all summitted Springer Mountain and completed our journeys today! I’ll be heading back to Dallas tomorrow, and I’ll have a full report about the end of my trip up here in a few days. Until then, check out this video from this afternoon: