Not all those who wander are lost

14 states, 2,180 miles, 5,000,000+ steps

Category: Uncategorized

Life!

Well it’s been six months since we have finished the Appalachian Trail. To be honest it has yet to sink in what exactly we accomplished. A common question we get asked is, “how was your hike?”. There is no easy answer to this question, just a flood of memories and flash backs. There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think about the trail. It is something that I know will stay with us for the rest of our lives. For the most part we are each living normal lives for people our age. I am cooking at a rustic italian restaurant in Chattanooga, TN called Alleia. Jared is finishing up a masters of education at the University of Georgia and Andrew is at St. George’s University in Grenada. There is always a thought in the back of my mind about going out on another adventure of that magnitude butfor now I must just keep it as a thought in the back of my head. I guess like Bilbo Baggins I will always yearn for another adventure and hopefully one day I’ll do it, but for now my memories will suffice. Thank you again for all your support while we were out there.

Alex “Wild Reeves” Mills

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One More Thing

Well, here I am again, thrust back into the hectic world of paperwork, highway driving, and “official” responsibilities.  It’s been a ridiculously long time since my last blog update, from way back in Rutland, Vermont – and even then I had to be bribed (by my mother) in order to muster up the motivation.  But our tremendous journey is finally concluded, and we’ve been resting and readjusting for a couple of weeks now.  We’ve spent Christmas with our families, and recently even got to enjoy the company of several of our other close friends from college.

As I said soon after being picked up for the ride home, it’s almost as if we awoke from a bizarre, outlandish dream.  I’m tempted to call it a nightmare, as that’s about how it felt while we were hiking through cold, unrelenting rain for days on end.  But we were able to hold it together, just barely, thanks to all of the help that we received.  It’s plain to see that, without it, we would have been in far greater peril of falling short of our goal.

There’s so much to say, I have no intention of trying to say it all.  I don’t mean to write a book.  Through all of the strain and hardship, we suffered no injuries, and our friendships were preserved, and even strengthened.  Our Lord saw us through to the very end – may He do so through the rest of our lives.

– Jared

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Message from my father

This is Andrew’s dad and I wanted to write something in honor of the task these three men are about to accomplish. Andrew had been asking me to join him on the trail. It’s not often that your children ask you to do something with them so I was determined to share a portion of this experience. I left home at 4:30 PM on Sunday, December 15 and headed to Gatlinburg Tennessee, where they were spending the night in a hostel. While they were at the hostel the weather had gotten worse, it had already been snowing and sleeting and the guys decided to get a reprieve from the weather and spend a night inside. I had spoke to Andrew earlier that day and he said the road to the trail was closed due to the bad weather and they might have to spend a second night in the hostel. Since they were trying to put in a lot of miles everyday I decided now was my time to help the young men get home before Christmas. Even though Andrew had been asking me to join him on the trail It had been four or five months since I had seen him last and I wondered if he would be glad to see me or if he would regret asking me to join him. My original plan was to hike with them but since they were hiking a lot of miles everyday I knew if I tried to hike with them I would only slow them down and my goal was to help them. At 8:30 PM I arrived at the hostel and Andrew came out to greet me. He immediately gave me a big hug and told me he was glad to see me. All my reservations about Andrew wanting to see me were gone in an instant and he genuinely made me feel that he truly was grateful that I was there. I immediately rounded up the other two guys, Alex and Jared, and took them to my favorite steak restaurant, The Alamo, and treated them to a bone-in ribeye steak. Since it had been a while since they had eaten any substantial food they had to take most of it back to the room and they slowly ate on it for the rest of the evening. I noticed several things about the young men. They had formed a tight bond with one another that will probably last a lifetime. It seemed to me that a lot of the worries of the world had left their thoughts and their main concern was finishing the hike. However, I could tell that they thought a lot about food and their most prized worldly possessions were their backpacks. The place they were staying was not very nice but they talked about it like it was a palace. The next day was Monday, December 16th, we got up before daylight and I treated them to a hearty breakfast. Immediately following breakfast we drove to the base of the mountain where the road had been closed the day before only to find that the road re-opened just moments before we arrived. The young men were pleased to see the road had re-opened and they assured me that me being there had saved them a lot of time. I dropped them off at Newfoundland gap which is 206 miles from their final destination. Instead of me hiking with them my role has changed, I will be setting up a base camp for them every evening so when they come off the trail they can eat and go to sleep. I will tear down camp every morning and relocate it at a mutually agreed upon spot. Hopefully this will allow me to be an asset instead of a liability and will make them more efficient. The young men told me that there were approximately 500 people who registered to through hike the Appalachian Trail close to the same time frame they registered. Most everyone has dropped out and less than 20 people are still on the trail. These young men are to be commended because they are about to accomplish something that they will remember for a life time. In times past my son Andrew has asked me if I was proud of him. Son, I want you to know I’m very proud of you and this is a job well done. Love Dad.

From Rex Fortenberry
For Andrew “Alpacka” Fortenberry

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It’s Been a While!

I must start off by apologizing for the lack of updates on this blog. When we are in town and able to update all we want to do is eat and relax. However, with the winter storm upon us, we have taken cover in a small hotel next to the trail.
We have less than 100 miles left in Virginia and about 530 left in the trip. We have been slowed down a lot due to foot injuries, weather, and people visiting… but we are still going. We hope to be back before Christmas, but due to the weather we might have to go home for Christmas and then finish the last little bit afterward.
We have continued to have many fun adventures out here. Every day is filled with something new and exciting, but as a group we are ready to get home to Georgia and move on with our “normal” lives – even though I don’t think any of us know what a normal life is anymore. We have been living in the woods for so long that this has become normal. It’s kind of frightening to think about how different our lives will be. We no longer will have to live on just the essentials. No more sleeping in the cold, and food will be within a walk to the fridge or a drive to the store.
Virginia has been the toughest state for me. I have definitely gotten the Virginia blues, and along with the cold, this state has been very trying. I’m ready for a new state, but it seems like everything is trying to keep us from getting out of this state. It is the longest state on the trail at 550 miles. Hopefully some of my motivation will be restored once I hit the Tennessee border. Sometimes the only thing keeping me going is the desire to finish what I have started. I love the trail and the amazing adventure that I have had, but it’s getting to a point where I’m ready to be done. I know I will have times when I miss the trail, but I doubt I will be like some other thru-hikers and hike it again or suffer from AT withdrawal.
With 530 miles to go, I know we will have many more adventures. I look forward to each one, but with every passing day I dream more and more of Georgia and Springer Mountain.

-Alex-
“Wild Reeves”

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1000 miles

We finally hit 1000 miles on the trail yesterday, but I can’t really think of anything profound to say so I’m going to post some pictures and a poem by Sam Walter Foss.

The Calf Path

One day, through the primeval wood,
A calf walked home, as good calves should;

But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail as all calves do.

Since then three hundred years have fled,
And, I infer, the calf is dead.

But still he left behind his trail,
And thereby hangs my moral tale.

The trail was taken up next day,
By a lone dog that passed that way.

And then a wise bell-wether sheep,
Pursued the trail o’er vale and steep;

And drew the flock behind him too,
As good bell-wethers always do.

And from that day, o’er hill and glade.
Through those old woods a path was made.

And many men wound in and out,
And dodged, and turned, and bent about;

And uttered words of righteous wrath,
Because ’twas such a crooked path.

But still they followed – do not laugh –
The first migrations of that calf.

And through this winding wood-way stalked,
Because he wobbled when he walked.

This forest path became a lane,
that bent, and turned, and turned again.

This crooked lane became a road,
Where many a poor horse with his load,

Toiled on beneath the burning sun,
And traveled some three miles in one.

And thus a century and a half,
They trod the footsteps of that calf.

The years passed on in swiftness fleet,
The road became a village street;

And this, before men were aware,
A city’s crowded thoroughfare;

And soon the central street was this,
Of a renowned metropolis;

And men two centuries and a half,
Trod in the footsteps of that calf.

Each day a hundred thousand rout,
Followed the zigzag calf about;

And o’er his crooked journey went,
The traffic of a continent.

A Hundred thousand men were led,
By one calf near three centuries dead.

They followed still his crooked way,
And lost one hundred years a day;

For thus such reverence is lent,
To well established precedent.

A moral lesson this might teach,
Were I ordained and called to preach;

For men are prone to go it blind,
Along the calf-paths of the mind;

And work away from sun to sun,
To do what other men have done.

They follow in the beaten track,
And out and in, and forth and back,

And still their devious course pursue,
To keep the path that others do.

They keep the path a sacred grove,
Along which all their lives they move.

But how the wise old wood gods laugh,
Who saw the first primeval calf!

Ah! many things this tale might teach –
But I am not ordained to preach.

Andrew “Alpacka” Fortenberry

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Helping Hands

Today we stopped in Dalton, Massachusetts, and we spent the night. While we were here, we took time to reflect not just on how far we have already come – which is just over 600 miles – but on how many complete strangers have offered us their services along the way. The good deeds range from free food, to free rides, and even dry places to sleep – whether it be a living room or a front porch. I guess the most remarkable part of this trip isn’t what you can learn about just yourself, but what you can learn about people in general. Yes, there are those that can be harsh and look at you like you are a homeless bum, without even taking the time to consider that you are in the middle of a great journey. The kind-hearted individuals that do lend a helping hand vastly overshadow the judgmental antics of the others. They go so far out of their own way to assist us that it warms my heart – so much that I am compelled to pay it forward in some fashion. The next chance I get. I think that is what an undertaking like this is about.
-By Andrew “Alpacka” Fortenberry

The Adventure Continues

It has been a while since I have posted on the blog. We are now over 600 miles into the trail, and we are picking up the pace. Today is the first day of fall, and this Georgia boy wasn’t ready for the New England cold. I’m definitely excited about my fleece jacket that my mom has mailed to me in the next town.
I can’t believe how far we have come and how much has happened to us out here. Just when I think that nothing different could possibly happen, I am blown away by a new sub-adventure or episode on the trail or in a town. The other day, I spent an hour playing ring around the rosy with a bull and his herd, and a few days after that, we were awakened by a porcupine eating the porch of the shelter we were staying in. Yes, porcupines eat buildings.
It blows me away how hospitable and kind people can be out here. On numerous occasions, a trail angel has opened their house for us to stay in and fed us. As a matter of fact, we are staying at a gentleman’s house tonight. He is doing our laundry for us and cooking us dinner. He asks for nothing in return and loves listening to our crazy stories about our adventure. The generosity of many of the people we have met has gotten me thinking about how Jesus calls us to live. As followers of Christ, we are called to love everyone no matter what. I ask myself if I put others first enough to take in a smelly, unbathed stranger and offer him food and a shower while I do his laundry… Hopefully, all of us who claim to follow Christ can honestly answer that question with “yes,” but I’m afraid that many of us, including myself, would find that to be uncomfortable, or just too much to ask of ourselves.

We crossed into Massachusetts a couple of days ago, and the terrain is even easier than Vermont. Our daily mileage has gone up to about 23 a day, and for the most part, our bodies have been able to handle the extra mileage. It has been kinda tough for me, because I’ve been battling a sore throat and my shoes are beginning to fall apart. But overall, our trail legs have done what they do best.
I’ve been missing the smaller things of life back home a lot more lately. The trail angel’s house that we stayed at in Dalton, Massachusetts had bicycles that we were able to ride into town, and we were able to attend a church service this morning. There are so many things that we took for granted while we were living our normal lives back in Georgia. I hope that upon finishing this adventure, we never take the little things for granted again.
The nice terrain is supposed to continue for the next 4-5 states, so we hope to gain a lot of ground quickly. We are trying to make up for the amount of down time we took in Maine and New Hampshire. I think that the approaching cold weather is the best motivation for that.

-Alex-
“Wild Reeves”

P.S- A big thank you to Mr. and Mrs. Fortenberry for visiting us, feeding us, and putting us up in their RV for a night!

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Patience and Fortitude

A little under 500 miles, and a little over two months into our journey, and I’m reminded that I’m long overdue for a blog update. So many times, we’ve heard it said that hiking the section that runs through Maine and New Hampshire is 20% of the trail, yet 80% of the work. We’ve heard tantalizing reports of flatter areas with terrain so forgiving as to allow us to hike 30 miles or more in a day. This all seems too good to be true, accustomed as we are to scaling mountains on a near-daily basis. Still, we eagerly look forward to this “promised land” – yet skeptically, as if it were some sort of mystical fantasy realm. I should say, the terrain has been getting easier, but in such small increments that we are almost tortured with anticipation.

I should also say, I’m almost baffled that not one of us has sustained any serious injuries thus far. We’ve stumbled over roots and rocks countless times, and dragged ourselves over mountains of slippery rock and mud – yet we’ve never fallen to our deaths… or worse. For this reason, and many others, I am very grateful for all of the prayer that has backed our journey, and for the help that has thus been granted us – even more often than we realize, I’m sure.

– Jared, A.K.A. “Slolemon” (formerly, “Moss Man”)

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Goodbye Maine, Hello Whites

So much has happened since the last time I updated the blog. We have made it out of Maine, and we’re about 60 miles into New Hampshire. The trail has been beautiful and the views have been even better.
Our last full day in Maine was rainy and dreary. It was almost as if the state were trying to keep us there. We only had 8 more miles until the end, but we had to go over 4 mountains and make our way through the slowest mile on the trail. The earlier part of the day was enjoyable because we were climbing over and under rocks in the mahoosuc notch – but that quickly changed when it started raining, and what had been fun became perilous. After the notch we started climbing. We made it over our first two mountains without any problems, but the third would prove problematic, because of bogs with mud that came up to our waist. The rest of the day was fairly normal and we arrived at the shelter with little daylight to spare.
We caught wind of an all-you-can-eat buffet in Gorham, NH, so we decided to wake up at 4:30 and hike the 17.5 miles into town. The 17.5 miles into Gorham would prove to be easier than we thought, because the sun was shining and the trail was beautiful. At one point we were even running through the woods because we were so motivated to get to town. When we arrived in Gorham we dropped off our packs at the hostel and ran the mile to the Chinese buffet.
Our two nights in Gorham were much needed and deserved, but we were ready to get started hiking in the White Mountain National Forest – a.k.a. The Whites. The Whites contain some of the tallest mountains of the trail, and we would spend most of our days hiking above the tree line while being exposed to the elements. The hiking above the tree line would prove to be my favorite hiking experience, because you get amazing 360 degree views. The only downside, though, is the sun is always on you, and the wind is constant. There aren’t many places you can camp above the tree line, but we were able to obtain a work-for-stay at the Madison Hut between Mt. Madison and Mt. Adams. This allowed us to sleep indoors and eat the leftover food from the dinner that they served to the paying tourists.
After our stay at Madison Hut we began our hike along the ridge that would lead to our ascent of Mt. Washington. The hike to Washington’s peak has been my favorite hike, to date. The weather was perfect and the hike up Washington was pleasant and rewarding. The view from the top was phenomenal, and we had completed one of our milestones on the trail. The only downside was, we had to share the summit with tourists who drove and took the train up the mountain. It really bothered me to see them take their picture at the top just like us, or to hear them say that they had “reached the top”. I felt like it took away from our accomplishment, but in the end I was still excited to have reached the top.
After Washington, we had a 1.5 mile climb down to the Lake of the Clouds hut where we wanted to try to obtain another work-for-stay, because it was 4 miles until the tree line and there was a thunderstorm coming in later. We were told that they had room for us to do a work-for-stay, but then the hut master decided that they didn’t, so they told us we could pay 10 dollars and sleep in the “dungeon”. The dungeon was a small rock room with a big metal door that was part of the original hut building. There were six rickety bunks in the room that we would come to learn that we had to share with some four-legged furry friends. I slept pretty well in the dungeon and I was only wakened a couple of times because the wind and the rain outside was so loud – but that is to be expected at that elevation.
When we woke up the next morning, it was 40 degrees outside with winds from 30-60 mph, and only a visibility of about 100 feet. We took our time getting ready and made sure we were bundled up to the max. When we finally set off we made sure we were close together and could always see each other so we wouldn’t get separated. This was a nerve-racking time, but the fog would soon give way to the sun, and we would drop down below the tree line so that we were shielded from the wind. We ate lunch at the Mizpah hut and then set off to finish the last 6 miles of our day.
The day would end with our hike taking us on the edge of the Webster cliffs for a mile and then 2000 feet down to the road. When we finally got down off the cliffs, we saw a sign for a free stay at a trail angel’s house about 20 miles away. We called the angel and asked about the sign, and he said we could stay in his house, but that he was at work, so he couldn’t pick us up. So, we split the cost of a cab and an hour later we found ourselves at a stranger’s house doing laundry and showering. We still aren’t used to random acts of kindness like this, but it is always an amazing feeling when someone opens their house for you or offers you a ride. The stay at the angel’s house was very refreshing, but the best part was that we met this 5-year-old named Christian – a.k.a. Buddy Backpack who was attempting a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail just like us. It is so inspiring that someone so young has the courage to try this. Even with his parents being with him, it is still so impressive.
We have about 100 miles left in New Hampshire, so we are hoping to make it to Hanover before the 31st so we can watch the UGA vs Clemson game and relax before we start Vermont. New Hampshire has been amazing, but I’m ready for Vermont. The trail has been amazing and the adventures continue. Oh, and we have our first sponsor, Probar.

-Alex-
“Wild Reeves”

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