Favorite Pastime - Resting!

Favorite Pastime - Resting!

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Barefoot AT Hike - Fontana Dam to NOC

Hello Barefooters,

Fontana Dam NC in the Rain
4 Amigos at the Start
Wow, where did September go?  It was a very busy and fun month.  I started off with a quick two day business trip to CA which included a nice barefoot run in San Jose.  I came back that weekend to get ready for my two week trip on the Appalachian Trail.  I left on Monday and drove down to Fontana Dam in the remnants of Hurricane Irma.  I did a barefoot walk across the dam and back, and then went to meet my hiking buddies (Steve Walker, Bill Johnston and Bill Schulke) at the Fontana Dam Shelter (aka the Fontana Hilton).  Shortly after arriving and sitting by the campfire, we witnessed a loud Crrrrr-ACK and looked up to see a large tree falling just 75 yards from the shelter...although it was down the hill, and not dangerous from our position, this would be an omen of what was to come for the next week of walking in the woods...Many downed trees and branches to hike over, around and through!

"Pack Off" break on the trail
Barefoot on the AT
It rained pretty consistently through that first night in the shelter, but began to clear up nicely as we started our 29 mile, 5 day hike from Fontana Dam to NOC (that's Nantahala Outdoor Center) and yes, I went barefoot.  My thought was to switch to sandals as needed...and as it turned out, I never unclipped them from my backpack the entire week.  As hikes go, this was actually a fairly easy schedule, hiking only 6 or 7 miles per day, although some of the elevation changes were extreme.  This was the perfect opportunity for me to try barefoot hiking once again, while I had done some sections in Virginia this way a few years ago, that time I only went for a mile or so and then had put my shoes back on as we were trying to do 12 mile days on that trip. 
Barefoot Coffee Break

Bill Johnston
This time was different.  With lower mileage goals, I took it slow, and did a full "pack off" break each hour, moving about 1 mile an hour on average.  This pace allowed for good careful foot placement as I walked.  And there were many things to avoid.  Of course the usual rocks and roots, but now with the wind damage there were MANY acorns on the trail along with downed leaves, branches and whole trees.  The acorns liked to hide under the freshly fallen green leaves and found my arches over and over again.  But again, slow careful foot placement was the key whether going up or down the mountains.

Hurricane Irma wind damage on AT
Tent Under the Laurels
We camped in the shelters the first two nights and after that I broke out the tent...mainly because that third night there was no shelter, but after that I used the tent every night since I remembered how easy it was to set up.  No sense carrying it if I wasn't going to use it.  Backpacking is all about conserving weight in the pack.  It's nice as you go along day after day, literally "Eating your load" and the pack weight keeps getting less and less.  I start with a roughly 35 pound pack which allows for full tent, sleeping bag, cooking system, 5 days of food and oh, 1 pound of unused sandals!  This time I also experimented with a reduced sleeping pad.  Instead of the traditional roll out/blow up Thermorest pad, I used the backpack frame pad integral to my borrowed First Ascent pack.  This pad is part of the backpack frame, but is Velcro removable and can be used as a camp seat as well as unfolded at night to make a half sleeping pad.  It's not quite as comfortable as a full pad, especially on the hard floors of the shelters, but worked very well when using the tent and saved about 2 pounds (and lots of space) in the pack.
The Motley Crew Ready for Kayaking

After 2 days, one hiker (nameless) got injured (rolled ankle) and opted to leave the trail with another of our 4 at Stecoah Gap while Bill J and I marched on toward the NOC.  We stayed together more than previously now that the group was thinned by 50% but we still separated on the trail each day...no matter who you a hiking with, it usually turns into a solitary effort for most of the trail.  The nice part about this is you have lots of "alone" time to think about life and get extra praying time with God.  In my case, these were mostly breath prayers, looking for help and safety with the next step or trail section.  Barefooting definitely makes my prayers more necessary and immediate as sometimes without it, I would be completely paralyzed and unable to move forward or see clearly how to get around, though or over the next obstacle in my path.  There is always a smooth part of the path...a better way forward...if we wait for Him to direct our steps.

Kayaking was Fun
We did make it to the NOC where we were met by two other Indiana hiking buddies, Paul Peak and Shelley Lea.  We stayed at the Ash Cabin for week two, which was a nice change of pace from the trail.  We played golf one day at Smoky Mountain Golf Course and rented inflatable kayaks another day for a 4 hour "Class 2" (yeah right) float trip back to the NOC.  On Wednesday and Thursday, Shelley and I hit the trail Southbound from NOC to Wesser Bald Shelter...5.5 miles out + one overnight + 5.5 miles back.  For this 11 mile adventure, I did use my new Merrill hiking shoes...I figured I paid for them I might as well use them while I'm here (but I think I still prefer barefoot if I can go slow and at my own pace)  Paul Peak joined us each day for the 1 to 2 mile section closest to the NOC.  He was a sight for sore eyes on day 2 as he was carrying a beer cooler back pack which made the last two miles SO much more enjoyable.

As far as running, I took a big ZERO for the first week of the AT experience but did get in a couple of runs in week two along the somewhat dangerous Hwy 74 leading into and out of the NOC. 
Shelley, Paul, and Dan - week 2

The last week of the month was spent up in Traverse City Michigan with my work collegues on a team building exercise where at one point we built a Rube-Goldberg machine with 22 people, 7 teams and 35 individual motions...it was a neat experience.  The weather was nice in upper MI and I got in a barefoot run each morning, one with my collegue and new running buddy Ravi on the first day of the conference.  The last day I went long and ran straight up and back on MI-22 for a nice 14 miler.

BCHS Class of 1982 (26 of 145)
Now I'm down in Seymour IN at my step-mom Helen's house where I got to come and enjoy my 35th High School Reunion last night in Brownstown IN.  John Nichols and I met for golf at our local course Hickory Hills in Brownstown and then we met up with 26 classmates last night for the party.  It was so good to see everyone and reconnect.  Our class is fairly good about doing this every 5 years or so and I'm always amazed at the diversity in the students of BCHS and where they've all ended up over the years...of course in a class of 145, there are still many we don't know what happened to, or where they are, but FaceBook has helped us stay connected for this one.

I'm hoping the nice weather continues in October and I can get back on pace for another 2000 mile year.  We'll see what God provides. 

Stay Safe and Enjoy the Fall Weather!

Barefoot Dan

September Mileage (running only/not counting hiking miles = 191.8 miles)

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