When siblings promise to do something together when they 'grow up," do they follow through? When war and a Purple Heart Medal alter those promises, should the surviving brother continue? My promise to my brother haunted me for over forty years. Finally, when there were no more excuses, I set out on the Appalachian Trail to fulfill that youthful promise.
Three Hundred Zeroes describes the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) as it meanders for almost 2,200 miles (3,500 km) through some of the most awe inspiring, remote, vibrant woodlands and mountains in the eastern United States. Maddeningly indirect at times, the trail wanders aimlessly from Springer Mountain in Georgia, to Mount Katahdin, in Maine. Along it's length the A.T. is home to every conceivable form of plant life, vegetation, tree and animal from the minuscule pygmy shrew to the titans of the north woods, the American black bear and moose.
Three Hundred Zeroes describes a Norman Rockwell America that at times seems long lost and forgotten. Walking through small boroughs, villages and out-of-the-way places, I encountered people that don't judge others by their worldly possessions, the car they drive, or how big their house is. Conversations evolved around severe weather; trail conditions, distance traveled, and destinations. The predominate question that always arose was, "Can I help?" or "Are you hungry?" Appalachian Trail life is more often than not factored down to its lowest common denominator: honest to goodness caring and personal connections.
A menagerie of personalities leads to numerous comical situations. A cast of characters with monikers such as "Cookie Monster," "Bone Lady," "Half-Elvis," "Motor Butt," "Bilge Rat," "Privy Monster," and "Serial Killer," guaranteed that there was never a dull moment.
Serious obstacles abound. The difficulties I encountered walking over 2,200 miles were easily underestimated and trouble began long before setting that first step on the trail. Three Hundred Zeroes demonstrates that bears, rattlesnakes, extreme weather and challenging terrain may be far less formidable than some of life's more subtle dangers.
Explore this national treasure, the Appalachian Trail through my adventures in Three Hundred Zeroes.
About a mile before we arrived at the Low Gap Shelter, Blitz and I had our first bear encounter. It was a yearling, near the Trail, but when it saw us it charged up a very steep hill and stopped to spy on us. We had been seeing bear scat along the Trail but this was our first actual bear contact.
That night I hung my hammock very near the shelter, just off to one side. Several others decided to “cowboy camp” without a tent and just sleep on the ground with a ground cover and sleeping bag. It was a beautiful night to do so, cool and clear. About 3 a.m. there was a banjo-like, “BOOOIIIING” as something tripped over one of the support strings that keep the hammock steady. The moon was brilliant that evening and as I peered out through the mosquito net I could see the distinct form of a young black bear; I’m fairly certain it was the same one we had encountered earlier. He had tripped and tumbled and was recovering from the fall when I spotted him. He then continued on around the camp sniffing and looking for any food remains. He walked right by my sleeping friends, not aware they were being studied by a black bear. Finding nothing of interest, he left the camp. In the morning no one believed me when I told them about our intruder.
The next day Blitz and I made it to the Tray Mountain Shelter in good time and decided that it was too nice a day to stop so early, so we continued on another four miles and decided to cowboy camp at Sassafras Gap. It was a nice spot for a camp, the water source was just to the east about a quarter mile and there were a few areas just off the Trail where it was obvious others had camped before us. The campsites were surrounded by tall growths of blackberry bushes giving a sense of being secluded from the Trail. Two young college students were already there, local Georgia boys, Alan and John Scott. We had been playing leapfrog with them for a few days. Blitz and I hung our bear bags over the Trail using his rope. The boys hung theirs at another spot also near the Trail but south of ours. We all cowboy camped and hit the hay early, being tired from the day’s walk.
At midnight, much like in my trial hike in New Hampshire, I was shocked awake by a large CRASH! Blitz was also wide-awake. We lit our headlamps and couldn’t see what caused the noise but the calamitous nature of it convinced us it was a bear. With a trembling voice Blitz suggested that we try barking like dogs, since they hunt bears in the South using dogs. We barked. The bear charged through the underbrush with a tremendous amount of crashing and crunching, and disappeared to the west. Blitz went right back to sleep; I was still too shaken after that close encounter. It was obvious that the bear had been only a few feet away and we were unable to see it. I lay there listening to every little crack and pop in the dark of the night. About 2 a.m. I heard another crashing and crunching coming from the water source trail and this time the animal sounded considerably larger. I couldn’t see it at first. It was moving big, heavy logs looking for grubs and anything else that might live in the dead logs. It was like a scene from Jurassic Park, the taller bushes and blackberry bushes were tossing about and the smaller trees were trembling. All the while Blitz and the two young guys never stirred. I didn’t dare make a sound, but finally couldn’t take it any longer and put on my headlamp. I could just make out the outline of the bear; it was huge! I used my better judgment and decided against barking; imagining this bear might have dog tags in its scat. Unwavering, it worked its way up to the Trail, sniffed around where the boys hung their bear bags, then reversed direction and headed back down the same trail it had come up.
Then, about 3 a.m., I heard another bear coming from the west. I concluded that this was the same one we had barked at earlier because it passed around us in a large swath, avoiding where we were, and headed east. I couldn’t sleep the rest of the night. It was amazing that as I lay there I observed all sorts of small animals traveling through where we were camped. They seemed to know we were sleeping and disregarded us. I saw fox, raccoon, rats, mice (of course), and a few animals that I couldn’t quite make out in the dark. It was a veritable animal highway and we were sleeping right in the middle of it. I couldn’t have been more astonished if a rhino had sauntered through.
In the morning I mentioned the bear encounters the night before to Alan and John Scott and they said that they had not heard a thing all night. I’m a sound sleeper, but not that sound. I went down the access Trail about thirty feet and found where the first bear had created such a ruckus; an old dead tree stump about eight feet high had come all apart. Apparently the young bear had climbed up the rotted tree and it collapsed under its weight, and the whole thing had come crashing down.
Susan Alcorn - The Camino Chronicles
Hard to add to the reviews already given, so I'll echo a few of the positive remarks--this book was fun to read! I learned a lot about the experience of hiking the AT; Blanchard has a wonderful way of bringing the trail to life without getting bogged down in the details. In addition, it was heart-warming to read his descriptions of the interactions he had with the hundreds of people that he met along the way.
I am a long-distance hiker, too, but I don't think that this book's appeal is limited to hikers: it's also a good read for those who want to vicariously travel the Appalachian Trail.
Bill "Skywalker" Walker
Dennis Blanchard is a very nice guy, and by virtue of that he hides something. What lurks deep within Dennis is that he is one tough cookie. How many people in their sixties could have a serious heart malfunction while on the Appalachian Trail, go home and have surgery, and then be back on the trail several months later to complete the entire AT. Pretty damn impressive.
And I didn't realize he was a writer, but now I know. His book, Three Hundred Zeroes, is not just inspiring, but entertaining. That's what a hiking book should be because that makes it more likely to inspire others to set out on this national jewel, the Appalachian Trail.
It's a good, easy read, and I recommend it.
Bill Walker--author of Skywalker--Close Encounters on the Appalachian Trail
Ed Kacura "A Fan Of Canada"
If your a hiker or a backpacker, you will enjoy this story greatly! Dennis paints a wonderfully informative picture of life on the AT as a thru hiker! I've read many journals and accounts of thru hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail here in the west, but knew little about the AT on the east coast. This book was a real eye opener for me,I have a new insight and respect for AT thru hikers now, thanks to Dennis! Once I started the book, I could hardly put it down! K1's story is an inspiration and encouragement for all of us not so young in body, but still young at heart! I just wish the book had been longer, before I knew it, I was done reading and wanted more! I highly recommend this book, Dennis is a wonderful writer, and hope to see more from him in the future!