Thursday, September 15, 2016

One Hundred Mile Wilderness

Over the last week, Alice and I have done some long mile days and some night hiking to catch up to the rest of the Shady Creepers! The terrain has finally started to level out a little bit, which has allowed for us to do higher mile days. It has been a nice little break from all of the steep ups and downs of southern Maine. With all of the high mile days, we have left behind one bubble of hikers and have caught up with another bubble full of people that we've been hiking with for the last few months. It has been fun meeting so many new people, and also seeing familiar faces we haven't seen in a while. Because we are near the end of the trail, and everyone has a different hiking speed and desired finish date, we have had to say goodbye to some people who we probably won't see on trail again. It's a weird feeling, realizing that you may never see any of these friends again. I'm trying to subscribe to the idea that I will run into all of these people again someday in some fashion.

After leaving Rangeley, and doing some hard days, Alice and I decided to head into Stratton for another night with a warm meal, bed, and shower. It was a tiny little town, but had a nice store to resupply, and a cafe for us to hide out in the next morning to avoid torrential thunder and rain. We got back on trail after the storm passed, and had to hike our last "hard" mountain range before Katahdin - The Bigelows. While the storm had passed, the winds associated with the cold front behind it were incredibly fast; I'm guessing somewhere in the 70mph realm. I was almost blown over on multiple occasions. The views, however, of the lakes around the mountains were just stunning. Maine has no shortage of amazing ponds, lakes, views, and mountains. This could easily be the most beautiful state on the trail. We've stayed at multiple shelters on or near a lake, and the sounds of loons calling has lulled me to sleep. What has really instilled that fact that there are lakes everywhere for me, is that I'll be walking through the woods with no water in sight, and hear loons calling in the not too far distance.

We caught up to the Shady Creepers in the town of Monson, the last town before Katahdin. We have decided to take a zero today to recharge our batteries before entering the One Hundred Mile Wilderness. This is a 100 mile stretch of trail between Monson and Baxter State Park with no road crossings or bits of civilization. Unfortunately, this means we need to carry food for about a week, up until the summit of Katahdin. I usually only carry up to four days worth of food, so carrying seven or eight days worth will be an adjustment. It's really weird to think that in a week I will be on the top of Katahdin, and will be saying goodbye to the Shady Creepers and all of our other friends. I know that I will embrace the break from hiking, but I will totally miss the camaraderie and simplicity of trail life. It's so very bittersweet.

The next time you near from me, I'll be in Vermont and resting on the couch. Not too much, as I'm already scheduled to work three days after my summit of Katahdin. I need to replenish the bank account before heading back down to Virginia to make up the five-hundred miles that I owe to the trail. Back to the woods!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Vacationland!

I've made it to Maine! I've been fortunate to visit Northern Maine every summer of my life to spend a week on the lake at a family camp. I've always known the beauty Maine has to offer: rolling hills, farmlands, woods, moose, bears, loons, and most special to me, the lakes. The trail so far in Maine is very similar to everything I've known. I saw a black bear the other day, am still waiting to see a moose, and with the countless lakes and ponds I've walked along I've even seen a few loons and heard their songs! The hiking in the southern part of the state was just as tough and slow going as The Whites, which I wasn't really expecting. Only being able to walk 15 miles throughout the course of the day, when the goal was 20, was so disheartening. Alice and I are really trying to push on the miles so we can catch the rest of the Shady Creepers, and also so we can finish this trail! The other day we hiked 23.5 miles, which was incredibly tiring and challenging in this section. We even had to hike two hours in the dark by headlamp to get to our goal for the day. Luckily, the terrain has settled down a bit in the last day or so, which hopefully means we'll be able to speed up again soon.

With the "wanting to be done" feeling, it's sometimes easy to become jaded and ignore the beauty around me or to pass up a short side trail to a vista or viewpoint. Maine, however, with all of its beauty has encouraged me to remember to enjoy every second of the trail until the very end. Regardless of how badly I want to finish. I try to remind myself that after all of this is done, I'm going to miss it so much, and may regret rushing this section. So I'm trying to find the words to balance of finishing soon and enjoying the last few days. Speaking of missing things, this trail has made me miss many activities throughout the summer. One that is the most annual for me is the Tunbridge Fair... I have never missed a year of the fair. Ever. So if someone could eat cheese fries, a giant eclair, and some fried dough for me, pet the cows, and also take a walk through the vegetable hall... I'd be more than appreciative. I know the fair never changes, and isn't going anywhere, but it's an institution for me. Another thing I'm super bummed to be missing is the Grand Point North music festival in Burlington. Grace Potter has put together an amazing lineup, and I'm sad to be missing it. But I'll just sing her songs extra loudly in the woods that weekend.

I think the hardest thing for me to accept is that we will actually be on Katahdin in under two weeks. And with that, it'll be over. We'll all get into separate cars, drive in different directions, and be the furthest apart that we've been from one another in months. I've made so many friends from around the world, and it'll be hard to not see them randomly around some corner in the woods. The trail creates an amazingly weird and perfect community. The only comparison I can think of is freshman year of college. Everyone is thrown into this new situation, trying to find their way through it, and with that common thread people from all different walks of life become fast friends. I may not miss every aspect of this trail when I finish, but the people will be what I miss most.

And with that, I must pack up my backpack, leave this hotel on a beautiful lake, and hitchhike back to the trail. I have 220 miles left, and rain is forecasted for the weekend... Never my favorite. Luckily I was able to shower and do laundry last night, and I'll have Alice to get me through the rain! Until next time

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Getting Misty

I have officially hiked through the White Mountains, and they were definitely the most challenging, though the most beautiful, part of the trail. Having constant (or very frequent) 360 degree views from summit after summit was such an amazing treat and change of pace from the "green tunnel" that I've been in for so long. We had PERFECT weather on the Franconia ridge... sun, almost no wind, and almost a bit too warm. Each of the peaks in that range is approximately a mile apart, so naturally... we stopped at each one for at least a half an hour to take in the newly changed view. It was a slow day to say the least. Mt. Washington, on the other hand, posed some serious difficulties the day we came up to it's base. Alice and I hiked 4.5 miles from the Mizpah AMC hut to Lakes of the Clouds hut which is 1.3 miles below the summit of Washington. We did this stretch in some of the strongest winds I've ever been in. It wasn't until we got to the next hut to find out that winds were sustained at 70mph and gusts were 90mph. Having been denied a spot in the "dungeon" (a very basic basement with bunk space for 6 thru-hikers) our options were hike 8 miles over Washington and across the Presidential Range to the next hut, or pay a large amount of money to stay at the hut. Thankfully, Dad offered to pay for our safety. A huge thank you to Dad for helping us enjoy the Whites even more! We later found out that at the same time, some of our friends who were on top of Washington were being told not to continue and to shuttle down off of the top. The lack of communication between the summit and the huts was very frustrating. In the end, it was nice to be a hut guest, have a warm meal and place to sleep, and know we'd be safe overnight until the weather cleared. And boy did it clear! The next day we, yet again, had near perfect weather for summiting Washington and for crossing the presidential range. We really were lucky at all the right times.

As I mentioned before, the hiking in The Whites is HARD! Definitely the hardest part of the trail thus far. Some of the steepest climbs and descents, wet and slippery rocks encouraging you to twist an ankle, and rock scramble after rock scramble. We've definitely earned and added to our trail legs in the last few weeks. This difficulty, however, does mean I've slowed down my miles even more than I anticipated I would. I went into the Whites thinking I could do 12-15 miles a day, and we ended up averaging 8-10. This did allow for my knees to remain intact, which is paramount to me finishing this trail. My knees, while definitely hurting more in the Whites, are doing pretty well. I'm still proud to say that I haven't taken one pain reliever since returning to the trail in June. The wedding season I mentioned in the last post (ending today) has also slowed me down, causing me to take 1 or 2 zeros a week for the last three weeks. As a result, Nichole and Eric are further ahead than Alice and I, and we're really hoping we can catch up to them again soon!

One benefit of being so slow and taking zeros, is we are meeting so many different NoBo hikers that we have only briefly seen in passing, or who we haven't met at all before. I've had a lot of fun meeting new folks and hearing new stories. It definitely reminds me that the people are one of the main reasons that I'm doing this hike. It also reminds me that we are so very close to the end. It seems so bittersweet to meet all the new, cool friends, when I have less than 300 miles to Katahdin. It almost doesn't seem fair that I'll get to know these people, only to (maybe) never see them again after just three short weeks. This also applies for friends I've seen throughout most of the trail, and even more so... my trail family. I'm trying not to dwell in the sadness of this, but it's hard to not remember that this experience is almost over, and everything I've worked towards for the last two years is coming to a close. I truly have met some amazing people on the trail so far. People who've made me laugh, have influenced me, educated me, and have just been a friend when I needed one. While not everyone on the trail can be amazing, most are... and it's been reaffirming that people in the world are generally good people. Perhaps when you strip your life down to the simplicity of living in the woods with just a small amount of possessions on your back, you are brought back to the basics - treating people with respect, treating nature with respect, and treating yourself with respect. I definitely understand how fortunate I am to be hiking this trail. Yes, I grumble every morning when I have to get out of my sleeping bag, into the cold, and start walking. But, I know already that I am seriously going to miss this little world I've created for myself in the woods when it draws to a close.

With that, it's time to prepare for the last wedding during this stretch. I'll be back on trail tomorrow, in Maine on Monday, and ticking down the miles until this phenomenal experience ends. Yes, I still have 500 miles to hike in VA/TN/NC, but it won't be the same without my trail family and all of our friends around me. I guess, if I'm lucky, I'll add some more cool people to that friend group.

Take every experience, never say no, and meet new people.
Or to quote a friend... "Jump! The net will appear!"



Saturday, August 27, 2016

Wedding Bells In The Air

Not MY wedding bells... don't worry. It is officially wedding season, and that means many weekends away from the trail visiting various venues to watch my friends tie the knot! As you can imagine, this comes with a whole mess of logistics... who is going to pick me up in New Hampshire or Maine? Who will drive me back to the trail? How many miles will I have to hike to catch back up with the trail family after I miss a day or two? But honestly the hardest part is reinserting myself into "normal" life and then going back to the trail after a small taste of things like showers, my own bed, and seeing friends and family. I am definitely in a stage of the trail where I really want to be done. I don't want to quit, but I am also ready for the next part of my life. However, I still have seven or eight weeks of hiking, so I'm definitely nowhere near the end. Last weekend I had a particularly hard time going back to the trail. Why go back to living semi-uncomfortably in the woods when I could just stay in the regular world?

Fortunately, I have received so many reminders as to why I am doing this, and why I need to finish. Whenever I am feeling down about the trail, I try to remind myself that there are so many people who would give everything to hike this trail, but feel they are unable for whatever reason. It is for these people that I need to keep hiking. Another reminder came in the form of the NBC Nightly News audio podcast this week which was telling the story of an eight year old boy who received a double hand transplant after losing his hands to an infection at an early age. He was quoted as saying: "Before you quit and say 'I give up,' try everything first." If this little boy knows the importance of not quitting, for any reason - even while facing such adversity, I can certainly hike this trail. So these are the things I am going to remember, when I leave the comforts of home life and familiar faces over the next few weekends.

In other news, I have completed all of Vermont, walked over 1,300 miles, and am currently in the White Mountains! Everyone has warned us about how tough the Whites are, and also to slow down our miles to enjoy them and to prevent injury. No one was wrong. The hiking in NH is TOUGH! Definitely the hardest part of the trail thus far. My right knee is giving me a little bit of trouble, but nothing in comparison to the pain in the Smokies. I just have to keep reminding myself to use proper technique, do my stretches/exercises, and take shorter days through this hard terrain. We were doing 20-24 mile days through Massachusetts and Vermont, and are now doing 10-15 mile days in New Hampshire. Mostly this is to prevent excruciatingly long days, but also so we can enjoy the beauty! The Whites are totally unlike anything we've hiked so far. So many of the peaks, and whole ridge lines, are above tree-line. This means we have constant 360 degree views for hours on end. It also means that with almost every step, the view changes a little bit and provides for a new perspective. It has been so wonderful to enjoy this section of the trail. The challenge of the hiking definitely adds to the beauty of the views! For every section of trail above tree-line, we usually climb two or three thousand feet of elevation to get there. Often with boulder scrambling, or hiking straight down a waterfall, it would seem. One of the best parts of the Whites so far was when I was able to see Camel's Hump and Mt. Mansfield clear as day. So many times I've stood on those mountains and looked east at the Whites. It was an interesting perspective to be doing the opposite this week.

Overall, things are still going well. I plan to slow down even further in the coming week, until we are out of the super difficult hiking, to protect my knees. I think we are estimating a mid to late September summiting of Katahdin! I'm trying my best to stay focused, enjoy these last few hundred miles of New England, and to remember why I came out here and why I need to finish. 

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.