Tuesday, August 16, 2016

ILOVERMONT!

So many things have happened since I last updated! I finished Connecticut and Massachusetts, crossed 1,200 miles, and have entered Vermont!

One of our last nights in Connecticut was spent sleeping in the lawn behind a cafe, which provided for an amazing breakfast to power us through the day. The state line between Connecticut and Massachusetts was so lovely; mossy, bouldery, waterfalls, and a light fog. The dampness really gave it a New England feel. The hardest part of this day was saying goodbye to Caroline. She had decided, after many weeks of deliberation, to leave the trail to pursue new adventures. Her humor on this trail will seriously be missed by me. I wish her all the best, but will miss her more than I can say.

After living in the woods for a good four or five days, we decided a hotel was necessary so we could shower and do laundry. You know, the simple joys of life! It just so happened that our town night coincided with the opening ceremonies of the Olympics (which we are all so bummed to be missing,) so that worked out perfectly! We did, however, cram 8 people into a standard sized hotel room to watch. Thank the lord for the pool to sit next to, because the smell within the hotel room was quite raunchy. It really just smacked you in the face when you entered the room. So aside from the ceremonies and sleep, I was usually outside by the pool... and the fresh air. One of the coolest spots in Massachusetts is a shelter (more of a cabin really) owned by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. It had a massive bunk room upstairs, a fireplace downstairs, a huge deck, THREE privies outside, and was on a pond so came complete with canoes and kayaks you could take out on the water. It was such a relaxing afternoon sitting by the lake, floating on an inner tube, playing Monopoly with new friends, and laughing lots. The next morning we awoke to the smell of blueberry pancakes, with fresh blueberries picked by the southbound hikers who were staying with us. You can imagine how hard it was to leave in the morning.

Now that we are closer to Maine, we are starting to cross paths with the southbound (or SOBO) hikers who started at Katahdin. It's really fun and interesting to pick their brains on the trail ahead of us and behind them. Honestly, I admire them for starting their thru-hike with some of the hardest terrain on the trail. A pretty impressive feat with very little established trail legs!

Before entering Vermont, we had to climb over Mt. Greylock, which is the highest point in Massachusetts. There's a really neat tower there, but sadly is was closed for renovations, so we weren't able to go up inside of it. We made up for that with bacon cheeseburgers at the lodge on top of the mountain. Finally that afternoon, I made it to the BEST part of the trail... VERMONT! Now, the Long Trail and the AT coincide for approximately 100 miles of Vermont. Having done the LT two summers ago, it was really fun to be reminded of so many different parts of the trail I had forgotten. I was so surprised how many little details of the southern Vermont section of trail that came back to me as I walked it for a second time. The first full day in Vermont was so "Vermont"... it rained. And rained. And rained. I don't think my feet have ever been so wet. That night when I took my shoes off the bottoms of my feet were SO pruny that the ridges in my skin were close to a centimeter deep, and so painful to step on! It took a good few hours for them to dry out and return to normal.

One of the best parts of hiking this section before was knowing which shelters had the best views, had ponds, were newer, etc. I was able to hand pick which shelters I wanted to stay at, and I picked all of my favorite ones. Hiking those 100 miles was just lovely, and I enjoyed every bit - even in this hot weather! Although I didn't hike in the rain again this week, the humidity made me feel just as soaking wet! It was amazing that what I hiked in one day this week, took me three whole days at the beginning of my Long Trail hike. Definitely made me realize how I am in much better shape after hiking 1,200 miles.

At the end of the 100 miles I've already hiked was the Inn at the Long Trail in Killington. While this is a great place to stay on trail, it was made even better by a party organized by one of the hikers we've known for a while known as "The Dude." The Dude created and organized DudeFest, which was a buffet and party for over sixty AT hikers that came from all directions and distances to come celebrate all of our accomplishments with our fellow hikers. It was a great way for us to see some of our hiking friends that we haven't seen in a while. As you could imagine, all of us hikers partied until late in the night, which made for a very hard and late start this morning. I had an absolute blast dancing and laughing with everyone last night. Hoping to get one more party in before we all start summiting Katahdin.

Overall, I loved Massachusetts, and have LOVED being in Vermont - it all just feels so right. I will be in New Hampshire by the weekend, which is crazy to believe and also sad that I'll be leaving Vermont again. Such is life if I ever want to finish this trail!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Connecticut!

The last week has really been a total blast! We got back on trail for ONE WHOLE NIGHT of camping in, get this, the woods! We hiked about seven miles and found a nice tenting site on a ridge. The next day we hiked in some torrential rain and thunder to get to a state park where Dad was picking us up. I had to hide out in a gulley to avoid being on a ridgeline during the storm. Dad met us with snacks and beer and took us to an AirBNB in CT so we could do more slackpacking! And thank god, because those two days with a pack were just too much. Well, not really... We were just spoiled. The AirBNB was really nice, and had access to a lake! It was so relaxing to come back from a day of hiking and go for a swim to cool off. 

We ended up slacking southbound instead of northbound that week for a few different reasons. One of the best parts of hiking south was that we were able to pass all of our friends for three days in a row, as they were doing similar mileages but going north. We took a little bit of heat from them (all in good fun) for slackpacking for so many days. So on the last day we carried a dozen Dunkin donuts to hand out to everyone. Definitely got us some points in the friends department. Dad not only slackpacked us, but he also catered lunch for us every day. We really were starting to get spoiled - but boy was it fun! For a few days we were able to share our extra lunch with some of the other hikers. 

On Thursday, Caroline's parents picked us up just shy of the CT border and had an amazing spread of beer, Gatorade, fruit salad, and other snacks. After devouring most of that, we went back to their house in CT to take showers, eat Thai, drink beer, eat ice cream, and Caroline and I got to watch our favorite movie.... TITANIC! It was a great and relaxing night! The next morning, Caroline drove the other four creepers up to Springfield where dad picked us up to take us to Vermont for Umbker Day! One of my fears while planning this trip was that I would miss the best party of the year. Dad wasn't going to let that happen and offered to schlep the Creepers to VT for the epic fun. 

It was so fun to be at Umbker Day, and also share the experience with the Shady Creepers. Especially after talking about this party for months! It was also so great to see so many friends and family in Bethel. I just wish I had more time to see others who didn't make the party. Overall, it was a great weekend. So many laughs and funny stories. Mom let us all stay at her house, even though she was in Maine, and left us a big spread to eat throughout the weekend. At the party, it was fun to share stories from the trail with people who were interested. Also, it was really refreshing to get a taste of home, see familiar faces and sights, get a creemee from Tozier's, and sleep in my own bed. However, at the same time it made it very difficult to be excited to return to the trail. It was yesterday morning, however, when I woke up in the woods for the first time in a week and I knew this is where I was supposed to be. 

In other news, we are officially done with NY and are into CT. We should be in Massachusetts by the end of the week. Maybe it's just in my head (although Alice and I both felt it), but it really feels a lot more like New England. It's been cooler, the woods damper after a few storms, and lots more rocks and roots. It's making me very excited to get further into New England and hike on similar terrain to what I'm used to normally. 

A HUGE thank you to Dad for all he has done for the trail family, this past week especially. To Mom for setting us up nicely this weekend. To Charlie and Cheryl Hafey for all of their generosity in CT. And finally to Beth and Willy for an amazing party, and for allowing the Shady Creepers to experience it. 

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!
HAPPY SOLSTICE!