Sunday, July 24, 2016

Two More States Down!

So much has happened since the last time I've updated, which I admit was far too long ago. I have finished two more states, crossed the 800 mile mark, and should be crossing the 900 mile mark in a few days. Let's dig into it!

When I last left off, Eric and I were going to go to Hershey Park for a day of relaxation and tons of roller coasters! The night before, Caroline's bear bag was attacked by a bear and all of her food ruined. Without much communication that morning we were able to find her at a road crossing and take her back into civilization... to Hershey Park! The three of us spent the day riding as many coasters as possible, with a brief intermission at the Troegs beer brewery in the middle of the day. That night, we picked Alice up at the airport and started a few days of slack packing. This allowed us to hike many of the rocky Pennsylvania miles without our packs, giving our feet some reprieve. I also got my new shoes this week! My previous pair lasted for about 700 trail miles before the bottoms had lost all cushioning. Once we saddled on our packs again, we did a few days of actual hiking and sleeping in the woods. I have to admit, I really missed it. Slack packing is definitely a nice change, but it removes the social aspect from the trail. If we're not camping in/around shelters at night, we don't get to see a lot of our friends from the trail. I was surprised at how much I had missed that portion of the trail. Shooting the shit with the trail family, and our other friends at the end of the day is such a nice wind-down to the day.

There are so many rumors about Pennsylvania being rocky, not having a lot of water, and being hard to deal with. While the south half of the state was relatively flat and lovely, the second half was certainly not. The trail is littered with jagged rocks that make it almost impossible to find a place to step without hurting your feet. On top of that, we're starting to get into a historically dry section of the trail. Streams are further apart, or dry altogether. I've known from pre-trail research that parts of NJ, NY, and CT can be pretty dry in terms of finding water, but wasn't expecting to come across it so early in PA. This means we have to carry more water throughout the day to compensate for the less frequent water sources. Needless to say, between the rocks, heat, and lack of water, we were all ready to cross into NJ from PA at the Delaware Water Gap and put yet another state behind us.

Nichole, who lives in NJ, has been so generous this past week to let all of us stay at her house and slack pack the entire state of New Jersey! Really, it's her husband Skylar who is the saint. He has allowed all of our stinky gear, stinky bodies, and empty bellies to crowd his house for five days, and I am so thankful for him for this! It has been nice to have a home base for the slack packing, especially on these really hot days. Water has continued to be an issue in New Jersey, and it is rumored to only be worse in New York. Since we had access this week to two vehicles, we split into two groups every day with half of the Shady Creepers hiking north, and the other half hiking south. When we met in the middle we would swap the keys to the cars we had driven in the morning, and hike to the car the other half started with. This has eliminated hours of driving between cars every day. Another person who needs a ton of thanks is Nichole's mom Heather. Heather has continued to show her endless generosity and made us multiple meals, picked us up at the trail, and loaned us her car. She is so giving, and it's been a real treat to see her again! With all of this help, we were able to compete all of New Jersey in just over three days of hiking. We have a few more days of slack packing set up for this coming week, as Dad has rented an AirBNB for a few days to help us slack through New York. It's possible we cross New York off the list by the end of the week.

I've mentioned lots about our day to day updates, but don't always focus on a "me" update, so here is a little look into some of the psychological aspects of the trail. While I do listen to a lot of music, audio books, and podcasts (news and politics mostly) on the trail, I still have so much time to think. It's been a neat adventure in my thoughts for the last few months. I've thought about what I want from life, what I want to do with my career, and how I could change myself for the better. I've been compiling mental lists surrounding so many different aspects of my life. A lot of people come on the trail to "find themselves." I didn't necessarily have that intention prior to starting, but I do feel like I've opened myself up to change and improvement. I feel very fortunate that I still have 1300+ miles to continue with these thoughts. Without going into too much detail here, I definitely have some new life goals and things I want to accomplish. Here's hoping it all comes out better on the other side of the trail. I'm sure it will.

Monday, July 11, 2016

It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint!

A lot has happened since my last post a week ago, here's a brief update before digging into the full post: an old friend joined us on the trail, we lost a Shady Creeper, I went swimming, I crossed 600 miles, and I did my first 1% AND marathon day. Discuss.

Our stay in Harpers Ferry was absolutely lovely and relaxing. One of the coolest things was that the AirBNB we were in was directly across the street from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy's headquarters, where everyone stops for their "half way" photo and hiker number. This allowed us to see all of the hikers coming through during the weekend and reconnect with some people we hadn't seen in a while. Again, a huge thank you to Alice's mom, Kate, for the AirBNB - it was really such a treat. In sad news, Audrey has decided that her time on the trail has come to an end. While I am very sad for her to leave our family, I am excited to see what she gets into next. I know it'll be exciting! Maybe, if we're lucky, she'll join us later on for a few weeks.

Alice and I were joined in HF by our friend Jill, who I met on the Long Trail when she was hiking it with Alice and their other friend Meredith. Jill, who is so darn funny, provided us with many laughs and some new trail games to pass the time during her three days on the trail with us. It was really refreshing to have another face on the trail and to change the pace a bit. In other sad news, Alice's amazing and strong grandmother, Alice, passed away while we were on trail. Luckily, Alice was able to get off the trail with Jill, get to an airport, and make her way back home to Massachusetts to be with her family and celebrate her grandmother's very full life. That left me alone for a few days, and I missed my family terribly. I was able to hang out with some familiar, and some new, thru hikers for a few days. We all met at the Pine Grove Furnace State Park (just after the AT half way point) for the famous Half Gallom Challenge. Most hikers participate in this essentially useless challenge - eat a half gallon of ice cream in one sitting. The current record is 8 minutes, which I think is shocking. I ate my mint chocolate chip and raspberry ice cream in 50 minutes... And was still hungry after! I think I ate close to 4,000 calories in two hours. I also came up to anther state park which had a pool complete with a snack bar! I spent many hours there swimming, eating, and drying the clothes I washed in the bathroom sink on the chain link fence.

When I finally made it to the adorable town of Boiling Springs, Eric picked me up (in a truck full of our trail family members) and brought us to his parents' house for a party with family and friends. It was really special to meet Eric's family and friends who have been supporting him this entire time. Since his parents live in relatovely close proximity to the trail, we were able to slackpack for a few days, which is such a good change of pace. Today I was able to hike 26.8 miles... which makes it my first 1% day and also my first marathon day. 1% being 21.89 miles, or 1% of the total trail length. Tomorrow Eric and I will take a zero, and spend the day at the Hershey Amusement Park! I'm super excited. Alice arrives tomorrow night, and our day off should let Nichole catch up as she was behind us from a few days of rest in NJ to visit family. I think the fam, minus Caroline who is trying to make  miles to see family in CT, should all be together by the end of this week. A HUGE thank you to Eric and Karen Hutchison for hosting a bunch of smelly hikers all week, throwing a great party, feeding us from the garden, and shuttling us to and from the trail. True trail Angels!

All in all, things on the trail are going well. I've crossed off two more states - West Virginia and Maryland, and we're now into Pennsylvania. The terrain has leveled out a bit, and while
PA is known to be very rocky, the change is still nice. I've hiked through lots of farm lands and fields, and it's such a treat to hike through anything that isn't the "green tunnel."

Hope everyone is doing well and enjoying their summers. 

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Happy Fourth!

I would say that I had a pretty lovely week after leaving Front Royal. The miles coming out of the Shenandoah went pretty smoothly, that is until we got to the "Roller Coaster." The coaster is a 13.5mi section of trail that continuously goes up and over mountains. Up until this point, most of the trail has had a lot of switchbacks to get up and down the hills. Essentially the reason for the Roller Coaster is that many property owners around the trail didn't want to grant land rights to the ATC. Most of the trail is government owned, but some portions still lie on private property. So this particular section required the trail to go straight up and over mountains. Overall, it wasn't too bad. A lot of hype is thrown up around the Roller Coaster, but in reality the hiking isn't too hard and it's more of a head game. In the hot Virginia afternoon heat, I had a hard time finishing the last few miles, but somehow managed to pull it out.

This section of trail has an amazing group maintaining it - the Potomic Appalachian Trail Club. They must have a huge number of volunteers as well as a large endowment. They have paid ridgerunners, people who go from shelter to shelter to maintain the trail on a daily basis. That is a rarity along the trail. Also, the shelters in this area have been AMAZING! Huge decks, Adirondack chairs, horseshoe pits, and one even had an outdoor shower! Honestly, between frequent town days, the abundant food in the Shenandoah, and these high class digs... We've been pampered lately. One night this week we stayed at Bear's Den hostel which is this gorgeous stone building owned by the ATC. Caroline, Eric and I stayed there and HOUSED the full pizza and pint of ice cream that came with our stays.

The next day we met up with Alice, who was a day or so behind us. Caroline and Eric pushed on to camp just before the VA/WV border so they could attempt the four state challenge the next day. Alice and I were coming to Harpers Ferry, so we called it a short day and lounged at one of these Taj Mahal shelters - complete with a porch swing! The four state challenge (don't recall if I explained this yet) is  a 44 mile distance that starts in Virginia, covers the entire trail in West Virginia and Maryland and then ends in Pennsylvania. Caroline made it 34 miles before a pulled muscle helped her make the decision to back off. Eric was able to complete the whole thing and did it in amazing time! I'm truly in awe!

Once Alice and I got to Harpers Ferry, we found Audrey in the ATC headquarters and then went for some celebratory mimosas. Alice's mom and sister were so generous to rent this amazingly gorgeous and historic home here in HF. We've been doing laundry, watching Netflix, walking around town, and stuffing our faces with great food! Thank you so much to Kate and Jessie for their generosity! We should be back on trail sometime tomorrow to celebrate the fourth! Hopefully there will be an overlook to watch some fireworks from.

Happy Fourth, Everyone!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Shenandoah is so Beautiful!

A lot has happened since my last update! I've seen my first bear, hiked through Shenandoah National Park, ate way too much food at their restaurants, and decided to take a zero day!

After leaving the rental cottage, we started our way back up a super steep climb. There was a side trail that went by some waterfalls and cut out 4miles of the AT that went right up and over this giant mountain. I felt a little guilty skipping a portion of the trail, especially knowing I could do the hill no problem. Shortly after asking for a sign on what to do (I was being very indecisive), a deer slowly walked up the AT... I knew I needed to go that way and not on the shortcut. I met my crew later in the afternoon at the shelter. The actual trail was straight up a mountain and was actually pretty brutal, but I'm glad I went that way. I met a school group doing some of the same cheers that we do at HOBY, so I did a few cheers with them at the top of the mountain. That certainly put a smile on my face.

The next morning I saw my first bear! A little cub about 20ft off the trail. Couldn't see a mom around, so once I decided that bear wasn't going to come after me I hightailed it down the trail. They're kind of cute from far away. The Solstice is traditionally known as Hike Naked Day, and while I didn't hike naked, I did wear my shortest shorts... so that's as close as I came. I may (or may not) have managed to take a naked summit selfie, however. The day after, we got up super early and hiked 5 or so miles so we could hitchhike into Waynesboro for a filling breakfast and some gear purchases at the outfitter before entering Shenandoah. I had to buy a new air mattress, as the baffling in my old one broke causing two of the air chambers to merge into one giant one - which made for some uncomfortable nights.

Shenandoah National Park is so beautiful! The hiking wasn't terribly hard either. Once we got ourselves up on the ridge, we basically followed it, frequently crossing Skyline Drive, and walking from wayside to wayside to eat delicious food. Nichole's mom, Heather, met us again on her trip back up to NJ and she allowed six of us to cram into her tiny hotel room with her one night. It couldn't have come at a better time as Alice and I had stealth camped the night before in torrential rains and thunder, and everything we had was soaked. Including our spirits. We were able to do laundry, take a shower, eat warm food, and also drink some beer. That night, after dinner, we watched one of the most amazing sunsets. It seemed to last forever and was filled with the deepest, darkest oranges and reds. It truly was the perfect end to what started off as being a pretty hard day.

I think the best part about the Shenandoahs was that we were able to eat real food, in large quantities, so frequently. There are so many hotels, campground stores, and waysides along the way. I don't think a day went by where I didn't eat at some kind of eatery. The highlights were an entire bag of chips and a jar of queso for lunch with Alice, multiple blackberry milkshakes (the park's specialty), cheese fries, and the grand pooba: an all you can eat breakfast buffet. I must have eaten close to 5,000 calories at the buffet. They didn't know what hit them after 8 thru hikers came in. This will probably be the only week on the trail where I gain weight, and I'm not complaining! We also met some amazing people in the park. Because the shelters are more spread apart here, we spent a lot of concentrated time with other thru hikers. We also met a ton of section hikers and weekend campers who were so eager and happy help us. People offered us rides, gave us beer, gave us food, wanted to hear our stories, and even gave us a CAMPSITE(!) in the largest campground that was full at noon that day. Otherwise we would have had to hike 4 more miles to get to the next shelter. We were so grateful and fortunate for that bit of trail magic.

Caroline and I decided to hitch into town yesterday to take a zero mile day today. My knees were starting to act up just a little bit, and I figure a few days of rest is needed. I'm trying to listen more closely to my body this time. I figure I need to take breaks as soon as I start to feel anything. Back on the trail tomorrow!

The trail really does provide when it needs to. I've been blessed with meeting the nicest people, amazing trail Angels, cool thru hikers, and people willing to give us a hitch into towns. Overall, it's been a great week. We only have about 50-60 miles of Virginia left, and then it's on to West Virginia! After that, the states are really going to start flying by... Which will be a nice way to keep motivated. Also, I passed 400 miles this week and should be crossing 500 by the weekend. Trying to work out some plans to celebrate the Fourth of July... Sounds like fireworks in Hershey, PA close to where Eric is from. Life is good!

Monday, June 20, 2016

Happy Solstice!

Wow! I can't believe it's been a week since my last post. I took my sweet time hiking the miles last week while waiting for my trail family, the Shady Creepers (formerly known as the Slacking Minglers.) The miles were relatively uneventful and the weather was beautiful, but just incredibly hot. Insanely hot. The nice part about hiking by myself, and only doing short miles was that I was able to stop often to enjoy views, smell the flowers, and take in that around me. The smells in the woods this past week have been so lovely. Strong sweet smells have just been flowing everywhere, I've been loving it. 

In the middle of last week I stopped in a small town called Glasgow. The town is heavily oriented towards hikers and even has a free shelter in the middle of town complete with a shower, outlets, clotheslines, fire pit, and even a microwave! There were tons of thru-hikers there, and unfortunately a good number of them were very interested in the party side of the hiking lifestyle. I found this to be a bit much, and ended up spending some time alone from them - allowed for some nice reflection. It is so nice when towns like Glasgow embrace the hikers and provide us with help. Not every town is as open or receptive of our kind. It has definitely been my intention to be as courteous as possible when in town, to keep our reputation on the positive side. One of the main rules of hiking is "Leave No Trace." I believe that rule also applies while in town, and I am proponent of that. We may be Hiker-Trash, a self-given term of endearment, but we know how to behave in town respectfully. 

On Friday, I FINALLY met up with my trail family! Eric came up behind me shortly after I left my shelter that morning - they were coming in from the shelter that was eight miles south of me. In time we met up with Alice up the trail at a water source. The plan was to get a hitch into town and spend the night in Buena Vista for some Mexican food, showers, laundry, and a bed. We were offered a ride from Miss Janet, a well known Trail Angel who supports hikers up and down the AT. It was pretty cool to meet someone you've read about so many times. Once at the hotel we met up with Audrey, Nichole, and Caroline who greeted us with cold beers. It was such a fun reunion and felt so good to be back with the crew.

The trail family has been great and slowed down the miles a bit to allow my knee even more time to acclimate. We hiked two more days over some amazing terrain. I missed a lot of the balds (mountains with large open fields on the tops) in Southern Virginia, but we came upon a few on Saturday and they were so gorgeous. I spend most of my day hiking in what is called the Green Tunnel and when we get a chance to have sweeping vistas to look at, it is such a treat. The weather was also PERFECT that day - mid 70s, low humidity, and the occasional cloud cover. It was maybe the best hiking day so far. 

Yesterday, Nichole's mom picked us up (and somehow fit seven people and their packs in a Subaru) and brought us to this quaint little cottage in one of the valleys of Virginia. The cottage overlooks all of the mountains we've hiked in the last few days as well as some rolling farm pasture. We ate dinner on the porch last night and were greeted with a large herd of cows. It was all so tranquil and lovely. I spent a good hour or so just walking the grounds and enjoying the scenery. A HUGE Thank-You to Heather and Nichole for arranging this lovely time off the trail. Heather met us with fresh fruits and veggies as well as cold beers at the trail - so appreciated!

I've definitely reached that point of the trail where it's harder for me to be inside than outside. Obviously it's nice to sleep on a real bed and take a shower, but I'm starting to feel confined while inside. I experienced this some after being on the Long Trail, but I have a feeling because this is a much longer experience, this feeling may last a lot longer this time. 

I believe we've hiked almost all of the really steep/hard sections in Virginia, and from here things should really level out. My hope is that with easier terrain ahead, it should give my knee a really good chance of strengthening and allow me to finish this trail. Fingers crossed. Also, I've hiked over one-hundred miles since getting back on the trail. Truthfully, that's much further than I predicted my knee to last. 

Hope all is well with you, and that your Summer is off to a great start!

Monday, June 13, 2016

Back From the Dead

Before I really get into this post I must acknowledge a few things.

First, the world is a little less bright after losing our family friend Jim Goodwin, and my great-uncle Alphie Jandreau. Both men were stand up men, positive, funny, and dear to me. They will surely missed! Uncle Alphie was the last of my grandfather's siblings to pass. I'll always remember spending time at his house in Caribou swimming in his pool.

Second, I am stunned and horrified to learn of the massacre that occurred in Orlando. To call it anything other than a hate crime or a terrorist attack is nonsensical. As a member of the LGBT community, my heart goes out to the families of my brothers and sisters whose lives were taken so viciously from them. I have been very fortunate to grow up, come out, and live as an openly gay male in a fairly liberal and accepting state. However, I am hyper-vigilant of how I am perceived by those around me when I visit other places in the world. I have carried myself differently in the south and the Midwest for fear of what some nutjob around me might do. In locations where guns are so readily available, I am constantly aware of my surroundings. It is so terrifying that I still feel this way, and that also this massacre took place in what most gay people would have thought to be a "safe" space. Why is it that in this world, I am still walking around on eggshells in places, worried about what someone who doesn't like my orientation might do to me?! And for this to happen at a gay bar, I am so shocked and saddened. This is a place where gays can go to be who they are, to feel free, to feel safe... To kiss their partner without worrying if someone across the street is watching and might take offense. What if I was in Orlando on vacation this weekend? I could have been in that very bar. I really hope that if any good comes from this, it's for people to start standing up for the LGBT community and realize that we're normal people too. Those people in that club did nothing to deserve this tragic and early death... Other than be gay. The United States as a whole, needs to condemn this horrible act of violence. With this being the mass shooting with the highest death toll (horrifying that we have so many to compare,) when is it going to be enough to start regulating firearms in this country? I am a proponent of guns for the military, and for hunting or sport, but why does a civilian need an automatic rifle - other than to mow down 50 gays and lesbians in an environment they thought was safe. Or to slaughter dozens of children as they were learning - also a safe space. The time was long ago for something to be done about this... Hopefully this will be the time something IS done.

Okay, enough with that. I'M BACK ON THE TRAIL! I've covered 39.5 miles and feel pretty good! Also, I have a newly minter trail name... Lazarus! Fitting, I think. My knee doesn't feel perfect, but between my PT exercises (Thanks Scottie!), the KT tape on my knee, and doing relatively low mile days, my knee is alright. I'm hoping to ramp up the miles in the days to come. I'm doing 15miles tomorrow to test the waters. The good news, is I will be taking a zero the next day. So if pain gets bad, I'll have a day to rest. Or I can cut my miles short tomorrow and finish them on Wednesday. Overall, the hiking in Virginia has been nice! The terrain isn't too challenging, and there's been plenty of water. I truly need to thank the Seymours for helping to get me back on the trail. Bob, Marcia, and Drew picked me up at the airport, fed me, loaned me a car for a night, gave me a tour of Roanoke, and finally brought me to the trail. I am so grateful for everything they did, as they were instrumental in getting me back on the AT. While I was in Roanoke I was able to meet up with my trail family for dinner and drinks. It was so fun to catch up with them, reminisce about trail life, and exchange all of our stories from the last four weeks. They are currently about 40 miles south of me and I anticipate them to catch up around the weekend. Hoping that's enough time to get my trail legs back underneath me and be able to keep up with them.

These last few days have been lovely. I've met some super fun hikers and have shared many laughs in camp at night. Yesterday I arrived at an amazing swimming hole around midday. I was met there with the best kind of trail magic - BEER! After having a few brews, swimming in the cold mountain stream, and washing my body in said stream, I got a ride to a local hamburger joint and devoured two grilled cheeses with bacon as well as a chocolate peanut butter milk shake. It was delicious. The hard part was that I still had a three mile climb up and over a mountain to complete on a VERY full stomach. I'm proud to report that I kept all of my stomach contents where they belong. Wouldn't want to be wasting any calories.

The views have been amazing from the top of the ridges, the weather nice, and my body feeling pretty good. Now if someone could do something about the bugs... I'd be all set. Other than that, I feel great. I'm eager for my crew to catch up to me, but at the same time don't want it to be too soon - I need to be ready. So with that, go and hug your loved ones, tell them you love them, and reach out to a friend you haven't spoken to in a while. We never know what life has in store for us, or when it will be taken from us.

Love you all!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Here We Go Again!

In about 24 hours, I will be boarding a plane to Virginia to re-attempt the Appalachian Trail! I've been resting and doing PT for three and a half weeks, and hope that I'm ready. My knee feels pretty good overall. Not perfect, but pretty good. It is my hope that I will have no pain or be able to manage and tolerate any pain that comes up. I am being very realistic with myself when I think that it is possible I hike for a week or two, the pain starts up again, and my 2016 attempt of the AT will be over. While that isn't the way I want this to play out, I am reminding myself that the option is certainly possible. I have already come to terms with this less than ideal outcome. If I get back on the trail and it doesn't work out, I'll know it wasn't meant to be for this Summer. I'll go back to Vermont, work hard, save money, train harder, and get back on the trail next Spring.

But I truly believe that it is now or never. If I don't go back out on the trail and try it out soon, I'll be stuck here in Vermont. Too long gone from the trail to get back into the mentality or physicality of the routines. Being home has been so wonderful, and I was able to see so many friends and family. But I need to go back to the trail to see if I can do this - to see if my knee will cooperate. My trail family is positioned in a way that should also make this return go smoothly. So here I go. Off to see if I will finish this trail this year. If not, there's always next year!

As always, a HUGE thanks to everyone for all of the kind words of encouragement, both on this blog and on Facebook. It truly means the world to me.