Tuesday, November 22, 2016

One Week

I have been so busy since leaving the trail that it came and went without me noticing - my one week anniversary since finishing the trail. Well, I didn't entirely forget, as I dreamt about finishing the trail last night. Thankfully my subconscious remembered the date. After an extended (flight delays) travel day back to Vermont, I spent the next day purchasing a new truck. Yay, I can drive again! I made the rounds to see as many people as possible before settling back into work. I worked for two days, with a beard net on to cover my gross beard and protect my patients from having to look at it. I then drove to Michigan and am visiting family here and in New Hampshire for Thanksgiving. Nothing like burning the candle at both ends - my specialty. Let's get to the hiking, however:

The last two days were relatively uneventful, but lovely at the same time. Sadly, the many forest fires ravaging the area left the air thick with smoke which made breathing a little harder and obscured the views. I tried to take in every second of those last two days, knowing full well that the end was so close and that I would (someday) miss this. It seemed to work out that the leaves were still colorful and hadn't fallen yet, which made for a lovely end of the trail. While the smoke was a nuisance, it almost added to the beauty sometimes.

Winter was definitely settling into the south, and the nights were chilly with lows near 32. This made for some challenging mornings in terms of getting out of my sleeping bag. My last day was still cold, so I decided to have breakfast in bed... mostly just to keep warm. As a treat to myself, I heated up water to mix my carnation instant breakfast into - what a joy! Once I was finally up and ready to walk, one of the first things of the day was Max Patch - one of the first big balds the NOBOs come to and therefore quite famous on the trail. I remember being sad back in May that I had missed Max Patch, but I was so glad to be able to enjoy it on my final day on trail. While the wind was whipping, and the smoke blocked most of the views, it was still a beautiful experience. Made more perfect by one of my most reflective songs coming on my iPod. The tears definitely were flowing as I enjoyed the limited views in solitude.

The walking the rest of the day wasn't challenging, just steady. In the afternoon we came up to the top of a hill with an FAA tower and a man from Ohio doing trail magic. He was handing out snacks, candy, drinks, and offering to cook hot dogs. He drives down from Ohio to the southern part of the trail for two weeks at a time doing trail magic and trail maintenance. What a perfect time to come upon a trail angel. They're relatively uncommon down south in the fall because the majority of hikers already went through there in the spring while going north. It was nice to sit for an hour, enjoy some snacks, and shoot the breeze. After that I only had a few miles left, and they flew by. I dropped off my pack at Standing Bear Farm, the hostel I was staying that night, and continued down the trail for my last three miles.

The slack-pack from Standing Bear was easy and beautiful. Before I knew it I could see Davenport Gap Rd, and the second tears of the day set in. I wasn't sure it was actually the road, until I was able to see the rock that I sat on so long ago, unaware of how different my thru-hike was going to end up from the one I planned. I got to my rock and sat down. I cried a little, I laughed, and I smiled. I was done. I had finally finished this massive feat. The next day I would be flying back home to Vermont and leaving behind this amazingly simple life I've lived all summer long. Bigger fears and worries than "where's the next water source?" and "how many miles do we have to get to the next resupply?" would start setting in, and real life would set its grip on me. As I sat waiting for my shuttle back to the hostel (Hey! I just walked 2,189.1 miles... I'm not walking backwards an extra three!) I was thrown back to the day I sat there waiting for my friends, knee aching, getting rained on, and not knowing what was in store for me. At the time that seemed like the worst day, but in hindsight with a different perspective, it all seemed so trivial. It also seemed like this was exactly how my hike was supposed to happen. I was meant to fight to get back on the trail, and I was meant to hike south for a month and meet another amazing group of hikers. I'm not sure if I've had a bigger lesson in "you can do anything if you can do this."

That night we all celebrated my finish with beer and frozen pizzas we bought from the hostel. It almost seemed like any other night. Everyone was talking, telling stories, and laughing. Everyone else was planning their next four days of hiking through the Smokies, establishing which water sources were dry, and ensuring they would have enough food to get to Fontana Dam. I just sat there as these conversations happened realizing that I didn't need to know where the next water was or which shelters I was staying at. I was done. I would be removing myself from this life for the unforeseeable future. I wasn't really sad with this realization, but more content. That's how I've felt since the second I stepped onto Davenport Gap Road. I haven't been elated, I haven't felt incredibly sad - everything has just felt right. I've had this overwhelming feeling of content and a sense of peace.  Don't get me wrong, I'm super happy and proud to be done and for what I've accomplished, but overall I just feel like everything is as it should be and everything will work out for the best. My worries are less, I've been trying to live every day in the moment, and I'm less worried about the future than I've ever been. I can't say I ever expected that this is how I'd feel at the end of the trail, but the Appalachian Trail is full of surprises. Maybe that's the best part of the trail - it has taught me to ignore the little stuff, gracefully accept life's challenges, and has put into perspective how simple I want my life to be - in terms of stuff, but never in terms of people and experiences. I want people around me, and I want all of the experiences. If I'm lucky, I'll be able to leave this world late in a life chock-filled with many amazing experiences. The Appalachian Trail being just one of them.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

48 Hours

I honestly can't believe that I am two days away from completing this thru-hike. All that separates me from finishing is 36 miles, where I will end my hike at Davenport Gap Road. Over six months ago, on May 13th, I hobbled 0.9 miles from the shelter we stayed at down to Davenport Gap Road. I then sat, in the rain, on a rock waiting for the Shady Creepers to come pick me up to go to Trail Days in Virginia. Little did I know, that a weekend of rehab in Hot Springs, NC wouldn't be enough to get me waking again, and that I'd need four weeks at home to get myself healthy enough to hike once more. I had spent so much time thinking about Katahdin and what it would be like to finish there. But in reality, I am going to be more excited to sit on the same rock I sat on back in May.

My month long departure from the trail, incredibly hard return to the trail (twice), and the strength it took me to do all of that will be perfectly summed up by that lonesome rock on Davenport Gap Road. It is the most nondescript dirt road, but to me, it is everything. It's the pain I went through in the Smokies, the determination it took me to rehab and return, and the strength it took me to come back to the trail to finish what I started. All along I thought Katahdin was what mattered most, and it definitely has personal ties for me, but this rock I sat on for three hours in May, could mean more to me than the hardest climb on the trail.

I have been thinking about the end of the trail for the last few weeks and have had so many emotions surrounding it. I've realized, that by completing my thru-hike in this southern section, I've been so fortunate. I've met amazing new people, have laughed endlessly, and have had the best four weeks. The trail has been amazing down here, and I have loved every mile. The last few weeks in Maine were so physically and mentally challenging. I had this constant "I want to be done" feeling while hiking up there - even though the hiking was some of the most beautiful on the trail! Down here, however, I haven't had that thought. I've really appreciated every single second of the trail. I think that knowing the end is near, not being constantly exhausted, and having more energy, I've been able to enjoy more of the trail. My mindset is now more on the lines of "enjoy every minute, because it's going to end soon." I feel that my perspective has changed, and I'm so grateful that I am taking in every last second of this trail while I have it. All of my friends who have finished already, keep telling me how much they miss the trail and its lifestyle. I think that has been super helpful in making me appreciate this even more.

I don't take any of this for granted. I truly understand how lucky I am to have the time, the means, and the determination to finish this trail. I don't underrate how small the trail community is and how supportive we are of one another. I have met some of the most amazing people both on trail and off. On the trail, one of the most cliche expressions is "this has restored my faith in humanity." It's so true. Whether it be the hitchhike pick up from the random local, a day hiker giving you food, or another ThruHiker telling you about the upcoming water sources. There are so many people in this world who are more than willing to help out random strangers.

Along with that, this trail has given me time to think. It has cleared my mind on so many fronts. I've been given the ability to prioritize what is most important in my life and what I want to accomplish. I've created long bucket lists. I've figured out what I DON'T want to do. I've realized it's okay to do things for myself. I've learned that I want to help people more. I've been broken hearted over the state of our country. I've been broken hearted over people. I've instantly loved random strangers I was hiking with. I've appreciated nature. And most of all, this trail taught me not to sweat the small stuff. Perspective is a hard thing to gain, and this trail has provided me with that luxury.

So I'm not sure how I'll react in two days when I finish the trail. I would imagine it'll be a mix of proudness, accomplishment, sadness, happiness, and excitement for what comes next. I do know, that I'll never forget these six and a half months. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Stick Season

What a week! The terrain since entering Tennessee and North Carolina (the trail crosses the border 40-something times) has been lovely! Most of the trail has been gradual, switchbacks when climbing or descending, and full of pretty balds and vistas. The balds have really accentuated this portion of the hike. Essentially, they are fields on top of mountains with 360 degree views. It is such a nice change of pace from the "green tunnel" to have views and a drastic change of scenery. Aside from the trail being lovely, the weather has been amazing as well! It is definitely getting colder, but it has been sunny most days, hasn't rained, and my gear is keeping me warm. A huge thanks to Joanna for hooking me up with so much awesome Mammut gear! We came to one bald just this week with an enchanting vista and decided to spend the afternoon, watch the sunset, and cowboy camp under the stars. Cowboy camping is just laying your sleeping bag out in the open, without a tent or shelter. It was my first time doing this and was so wonderful. Although, since we were in the open, the wind did make it a bit chilly. I got an early start that next morning, mostly to warm up and also because I was headed for town that day.

Over the last week I've stayed at two hostels, both very popular on the trail. I did two nights at each hostel which allowed me to slackpack 25 miles out of each. Of the two, I feel so incredibly lucky to stay at Kincora hostel run by Bob Peoples. Bob is a trail legend who purposely bought the land he now owns to create a hostel for AT hikers. Aside from that, he is in charge of maintaining hundreds of miles of trail. His expertise on the AT is unmatched, and his enthusiasm for the trail is second to none. Above all of this, he used to live two towns over from where I grew up. His positivity, humbleness, and love for the trail are so overwhelming that you can't help but smile while talking to him. He has hiked so many trails around the world and has inspired me to do the same. It was a pleasure to spend two days in his company - the trail is lucky to have him as an ambassador.

Fall has come and gone here on the trail and almost all of the leaves have fallen. The colors were spectacular when I first got back on trail, but at this point most of the leaves are on the ground. This is providing an extra level of difficulty, as the leaves are hiding all of the rocks, roots, and slippery acorns we've more affectionately renamed "trail marbles." Luckily, after 2,000+ miles, my feet are pretty well adapted to feeling for trouble underneath them. I'm still able to do big miles, feel little pain, and continue on with my trek. As I've mentioned many times, it has been incredibly dry this summer. This has been a blessing in terms of not hiking in the rain, but hard when it comes to finding water to drink. With that, comes the risk of forest fires. With as dry as its been, a few fires have cropped up around the trail. Most are down near Georgia in a section I've already hiked. Unfortunately, there are a few fires that are burning around TN/NC and are causing smoke to fill the air. It was a surreal feeling in town yesterday walking through the haze and smelling the smoke. I could even smell strong smoke while climbing some of the mountains during my slackpack yesterday. Luckily, it rained last night, the fires are under control, and aren't endangering the trail.

Okay, I've brought you up to speed on the trail, but must address what's been overrunning my thoughts for the last twenty-four hours. I have been listening to so many news and political podcasts all summer, and have felt incredibly involved with the process. Having been a YUGE Bernie supporter, I was disheartened when he was robbed of a nomination that he deserved. I decided to fall in line and support our nominee. I wasn't thrilled by her, but I was going to vote for Hillary - anyone but Trump. The rhetoric he propagated during the campaign was so unacceptable and totally horrifying. His hate towards Latinos, Muslims, African Americans, Women, and the LGTB community was astounding. I couldn't, and still can't, believe that he won not only the GOP nomination, but also the presidency, with such behavior. When I woke up yesterday morning to the results that he won, I was so disappointed and depressed. The weather outside, cold and dreary, was a fitting match to my emotions. All morning long I kept reminding myself that this was in fact not a nightmare, but real life. I am well aware that, as a white male, I carry a certain level of privilege in this world. At the same time, as a gay male, I have experienced a decent level of discrimination. I don't trust Trump to protect my LGBT rights, or those of the trans community. I especially feel for the young kids in our community who are struggling to find their way, acceptance, and the security in laws that protect them. A year ago I would have said things were moving in the right direction for our community, now with our new president's hate speech, I fear for those coming up behind me. I can't imagine being a young, scared youth listening to our President and Vice President saying that conversion therapy is appropriate. This horrifies me. On an equally awful note, how can the man who represents us to the rest of the world talk about banning Muslims and building a wall to keep out Latinos?! This isn't the country I want to live in. I'm so saddened and scared that he was elected - not by a majority, mind you. I am terrified that he will select at least one (maybe more) Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe V Wade, gay marriage, and so many other classic cases that effect so many of us.

My fear is that we will never pull together as a country. My hope is that, while I don't agree with him on most things, Trump will bring our country together. This is the only solution. We need to come together as a country to do what's best for everyone. I'm scared, however, that with all the hate and ignorance, that this may not happen under this presidency. I am definitely not happy with the result, and in fact I'm borderline depressed... But we must continue to be the best versions of ourselves, and set an example that his behavior is not congruent with our beliefs.

Early this morning with the wind blowing and temps in the low 40s, I was walking along the trail in a dense fog. I rounded a corner and came across a small doe standing in the trail about ten feet from me. We both stared at one another for ten to fifteen seconds. I said out loud "tell me this will all be okay" and she blinked at me. I'm hoping this is a symbol of our nation making it through this horror. It was a quiet and simple moment, but we both seemed to be on the same plane.

I am stunned the Trump has won, and I won't get over this easily. I am so sad that some of my friends and family would support a ticket focused on so much hate. This morning I thought of all of my friends who are teachers, looking in their students' faces trying to be civil and explain how a hate monger could prevail. All I could think today was I was glad I don't yet have children, because I don't know how I would explain to them why such a hateful and decisive person became our president. Eventually we all need to be Americans. We need to be nice to one another, help one another, denounce hate, and protect the civil liberties of those we love. I will continue to volunteer in my community. I will continue to take care of others - both at work and outside of work. I will continue to be the best person I can be, in order to make this country the best it can be. He may not be the president I wanted, but he'll be our president come January. For better or worse. So buckle up, America... Could be a bumpy four years.

"Never stop believing that fighting for what's right is worth it." - Hillary Clinton

Thursday, November 3, 2016


Again, time is flying and it's been over a week since my last update, and things have been great! Since my last post, I've finished Virginia, am into Tennessee, and have less than two-hundred miles to complete!! It feels so weird knowing I'm so close to finishing. Over the last week I've become much closer with my new trail family. They are: Thorny from Virginia, Bluegrass and Unicorn from Pennsylvania, One Piece from Maine, CrocFire from West Virginia, and Kremlin from New York. They all make me laugh and have been such a relief to be around for the last two weeks. We all hike at relatively similar paces and have shared many humorous dinners at shelters and in different towns. I owe them a lot for making this section of the trail so fun.

We spent Halloween in Damascus, VA and I rented a tiny house for the night! I have always wanted to build a tiny house, and this weekend definitely made that desire even stronger. This solidifies my plans to build/buy a tiny house sometime in the near future. We all ended up at the local watering hole in half-assed costumes to celebrate the holiday. It was perfect. Damascus is the home to the largest on-trail party every year, Trail Days. I attended Trail Days the day I left the trail in May for my original knee injury, not knowing it would be four weeks until I returned again. It was nice to revisit Damascus under better circumstances and also while it was far less crowded. Overall, it was a lovely town.

In terms of weather, we have been so fortunate. Not just here in the south, but really for the entire trail. It has barely rained this summer. This, of course, makes the water sources drier than normal, but I'll take that over hiking in the rain day in and day out. The last day it rained, we conveniently had a town day scheduled for Marion, VA. We made up for the yucky weather by going to this amazing Mexican restaurant for lunch AND dinner. It was glorious.

Recently a lot of people, both on trail and off, have asked me why I'm doing this. Originally it was to tackle a pretty awesome adventure with a good friend of mine. Also, to prove to myself that I could do it. It then became so much more. It became the simplicity of trail life, meeting so many amazing hikers and trail angels, and enjoying nature for all the beauty it has to offer. When I had to leave the trail back in May I was devastated. I had planned and prepped for so long, and my knees were sabotaging my hike. I not only overcame the knee pain, but was able to bring myself back to the trail after a four week hiatus. A task that many people would not be able to accomplish. At that point, I had only been hiking for about three weeks and 240 miles - still very green. I am so proud of myself for returning to the trail and sticking it out. There have obviously been hard days, but the good days outweigh them and are the ones I remember most. After summiting Katahdin and being home for three weeks, I was again challenged with returning to the trail. Not only did the task seem daunting because it was about five-hundred miles, I'd be doing it without my Shady Creepers. I'm again proud of myself for returning to the trail to finish what I had started. This experience has been so amazing, and I knew I needed to do it in its entirety. So, even though it will take me seven or eight weeks longer than I had hoped, I still overcame many obstacles to finish this epic journey. I did that. Twice. So in looking back at the trail I did this to prove to myself that I could indeed, walk from Georgia to Maine. The trail has taught me not to sweat the small stuff. It has placed a unique perspective on life's problems and reordered which ones matter and which ones don't. Even with all the challenges, I prioritized this hike and should actually be able to complete it. Pretty badass, I think.

With the end of the trail looming, I'm definitely being thrown into a hyper-reflective state. I'm thinking more and more about after the trail, friendships and relationships, what I should do next, how amazing it is that I've done this, and about all of the beautiful souls I've met along the way. I'm so blessed to have this opportunity. I truly am.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

How Lazarus Got His Groove Back

I can't believe that it's been over a week since getting back on trail, and even harder to believe that I summited Katahdin over a month ago. Being back has been hard, both mentally and physically. Before coming back out I thought I would really enjoy the alone time, but I'm finding myself really longing for more human interaction. I've met a nice little bubble of south bound hikers and we all seem to get along well, but it's hard coming into an already existing group with jokes and stories I don't yet understand. However, every single report card I received in elementary school said "Daniel socializes too much" so I'm sure I'll get through this! It just makes me miss my trail family even more. I miss my Shady Creepers SO MUCH. It's weird being on trail without them, and it has definitely changed my mentality. I don't have them in camp at the end of the night to share stories and jokes with. Luckily it seems my new group of friends is a total hoot, and I'm really liking sharing the shelters with them.

Trail life essentially has the same routines as before. The one big difference is that being further west and south the sun rises much later and sets later as well. I can definitely notice how much shorter the days have become since last being on trail in Maine. It makes it a bit harder to cram in a bunch of miles when you don't have a lot of daylight. Aside from that, I slipped back into the trail pretty easily. Aside from some new pains, that is. I didn't think after only three weeks of being at home would my legs reject the idea of hiking. In the first two days I had new pains I'd never had before in my ankles and then IT band pain again in my left knee. Luckily my dear friend Scottie gave me exercises for the ankles and I'm very familiar with how to treat IT band pain. After a week on the trail, and about 150 miles done, I'm feeling alright. Thankfully, the terrain in Virginia is nothing compared to New England - it's so much more gradual and level.

I will say, though, that this first week has had some hardships. Being back on the trail, without any of my old friends, by myself, and with new and unexpected pains, was really difficult. I kept telling myself "you came back, you tried, it's okay to quit." But then I would run into someone on trail and chat with them, get an encouraging message from home, or see a beautiful vista... all reminding me to keep going. The one time when I actually almost quit was one of the hardest days on trail. I had planned to do 19 miles this day to get myself into a town that evening. It started raining as soon as I left the shelter that morning. The temperature didn't get above 40 degrees and the winds were gusting. I have never been so cold and wet. My knee pain was killing me that day and I just couldn't walk fast enough to stay warm. At lunch I, for the first time, made warm tea and cooked one of my dinners for lunch - just to get warm. I rushed down the last few miles of switchbacks into town where I had a reservation at one of the hostels. A warm shower has never felt so good. I was really so close to quitting that day. I feel that if I didn't quit that day, I'm not going to quit unless I break my leg or something. That day tested me more than any other day, except for the days in the Smokies when I could barely walk.

All in all, things are going pretty well and I'm getting back into the hiking groove. My pains are subsiding, my mileage high, and my mood is doing well. I really like the bubble of hikers I'm hiking with, and have been laughing a lot. At the rate I'm going, I hope to finish before my planned end date, but everything can change.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Here We Go Again!

So, I have been putting off this blog entry, and I'm not entirely sure why. But it has been a month since I last wrote, and three weeks since I summited Katahdin. Procrastination has always been my strong suit!

The 100 Mile Wilderness in Maine was absolutely wonderful. The terrain was relatively level, and the lakes and ponds were to die for. Essentially we just walked around so many different bodies of water. As I mentioned before, Maine was definitely the most beautiful state... and potentially the hardest to hike through also. We were, yet again, blessed with beautiful weather as we made our way up towards Katahdin. The last 100 miles were so bittersweet, as we had to start saying goodbye to our trail friends who we knew we wouldn't see again. At this point, everyone had established a set summit date, and we probably wouldn't see those who were summiting after us. It was truly bizarre to see someone in the woods who you've hiked around for months, realize you wouldn't be seeing them again on the trail, hug, and then say goodbye. It was easily, one of the hardest things I've had to do on the trail thus far. All of these people get it. They get the jokes, they smell terrible like you do, they understand the nuances of this trail, they can also eat an entire buffet by themselves. The only thing I can equate it to is graduating from UVM when a large majority of my college friends moved out of Burlington shortly after graduation. Such an amazing experience suddenly over. Ripped off like a bandaid.

The last night before we arrived in Baxter State Park provided us with our very first view of Katahdin - the views prior were all fogged in. It did not disappoint. The sun was setting on the mountain, her peak was shrouded in clouds, and she stood there ominously towering over everything around. This was it. Katahdin was there for us to hike in two days time. Her beauty and grace perfectly juxtaposed against her fierceness and treachery. We were ready though, nothing was going to stop us. Just before entering Baxter we came out of the 100 Mile Wilderness and ended up at a store/restaurant/campground where many of our friends were also stationed. Drinks were had, meals eaten, and so many laughs were bellowed as we reminisced on the amazing summer we shared. Due to weather, we found out that a few of our closest trail friends (who were supposed to summit the day after us) were going to summit the same day as us. That helped ease a lot of the end of trail depression.

Summiting Katahdin was one of the top ten hardest parts of the trail, for sure. We got up at 4am to be hiking by 5 to get a head start before any day hikers. We really wanted the summit to ourselves. We were hiking in the dark until we were about 1/3 of the way up the mountain, luckily for the "easier" terrain. Once we made it above treeline it became closer to rock climbing than hiking. At one point I was looking at this spine of the mountain, going straight up the side of Katahdin, and I could see the white blazes going straight up it - meaning this was our path. Being 7am at this point, the sun was barely hitting us and the wind was definitely hitting us. It was cold. There were a few sections where rebar had been driven into the rocks providing a sketchy, albeit necessary, step or hand hold to facilitate the scramble further. After this crazy scramble we made it to "The Table." The Table is essentially a 1.5mile plateau leading up to the summit. It was honestly like walking on a moonscape. All that was there were short grasses and rocks. The wind was cutting at this point.

In true Shady Creeper fashion, we all waited near the summit so we could walk the final bit as a family. I don't think we'd have it any other way having walked the entire trail together since day one. It was truly surreal when we reached the summit, and the infamous Katahdin sign. So many thru-hikers before us have taken their photos at that sign upon finishing this beautiful trail. It was so weird to think we had done it. We all found shelter from the wind behind various rocks and contemplated the feat we had just accomplished. It was one of the most introspective times for me. After taking all of the photos (serious and funny) that we wanted, the cold had got to us and it was time to descend the mountain. We truly lucked out and were able to spend about 30 minutes on the summit with no one else but the Creepers. I appreciated that more than anything. Not because I didn't want to celebrate with other people, but because that moment was so personal to me that if I couldn't be alone, I'd only want my trail family to be there. I was also dealing with the fact that I wasn't truly done with the trail. I still have 500 miles to complete and as much as I tried to let that go and enjoy the day, it was still looming in the back of my mind. I did, however, try to remind myself that what I had done so far was still amazing, and the last section was going to be just as amazing and rewarding.

The downhill was hellacious (mostly on our knees) and took far longer than the way up. It was weird to be hiking south on a five mile section of the AT that we had just hiked north on. It kind of felt like we should just keep going all the way back to Springer in Georgia. If only time and money (and the knees) would allow for that. On the way down we passed so many of our friends and were able to say all of those final goodbyes. While everyone was congratulating the others, it was also a sad time to know it would be a long while until we saw one another again. That afternoon the Shady Creepers (with MUCH thanks to Sunshine's dad) reconvened in Millinocket for one last meal, hug, and sad goodbyes. Everyone went in their own direction that day, and it finally was real. The end of the trail that we didn't want to admit was coming. The end to the perfect trail family. The end of the laughs, silly jokes, and completely understanding everything about the small group of people we spent all day with. The end only temporarily, though, as we will most definitely be back together some day. I know it. There's absolutely no way we could hike through 14 states and 2200 miles together, pee in front of one another, smell one another, sleep like sardines, finish each other's sentences, and laugh uncontrollably without knowing that we'll be friends for life. This group of people has taught me so much, and I am so grateful to know my Shady Creepers.

Since coming home to Vermont, life has been a whirlwind. I went to a wedding, worked, flew to Texas for a music festival, worked even more, and have been slowly getting ready to get back on the trail where I restarted in Virginia in June. Someone asked me today what it was like being home and I said it was weird. I don't feel like I'm "home." Not because I don't think this is home anymore, because I do. But more because I am not done with the trail, and that is still my home. My crappy tent that leaks in big rain storms, the shelters along the way, and the woods are all still my home until I finish this trail. My belongings are all packed away, I've been living out of a suitcase for the last three weeks, and I've been working too much (really need money) to actually enjoy Vermont or to see everyone I want to see. I've been asked if I'm excited to get back to the trail and I think that I am. I'm excited to finish what I skipped, I'm excited to hike by myself and do my own thing, I'm excited to have a month to reflect on the trail, life, and the future. But most of all, I'm excited for my life to get back to normal once I'm done. While being a free spirit has sure had its perks over the last six months, I am so ready for some stability: sleeping in the same place every night, getting back to work and receiving a paycheck every two weeks, seeing friends and family, and hopefully working towards buying a house next year. I have always had, and always will have, wanderlust - but this trail surprised me with my desire to gain stability and routine. I'm not sure that's what I expected.

So this weekend, I will board a flight and head back to Virginia, to hike south to where I sat waiting for my friends to pick me up in May - broken and unable to walk. I am nervous, excited, eager, and everything in between when it comes to getting back out there. I hope my legs are still strong, I hope my knees hold out, I hope I can make big mile days even though the days are shorter, I hope I make new friends, and I hope I can sort out a few things in my mind with my alone time. So here's to the next three to four weeks of hiking. May it be fun, challenging (but not TOO challenging), enlightening, and everything I know this trail is and can be. 

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


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


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


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!

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. 

Thursday, June 2, 2016

I Miss the Woods!

I really can't believe I've been off the trail for two and a half weeks already. It has been incredibly painful watching my Trail Family's posts and reading their texts about trail life. Not only do I really miss them, but I really miss the simplicity of trail life. My day is as simple as: wake up, eat, "where am I going to find water?", walk, eat, sleep. My knee is feeling MUCH better, and I really appreciate all of the well wishes and inquiries from everyone about my knee. I have been resting, doing PT, and trying to strengthen my legs. Currently, I no longer walk with a limp (a HUGE deal!) and haven't taken any ibuprofen/tylenol/aleve in almost a week. I'm hoping with another week or so at home, I'll be able to get back on the trail and continue as if nothing happened. Of course, the risk of re-injuring myself is high and is one of my biggest fears. I do feel at this point, though, either I'm going to be able to do it, or I won't. I just need to try it and see. I think if I spend much more time in Vermont I'm going to get complacent, lose the calluses on my feet, and will miss my window to complete the AT this year.

Over my time hiking, as well as my time in Vermont, I've had many moments to think and reflect on life. Particularly the last few months. I'm going to be very honest, when I say that 2016 has not been a super easy year for me. I've been tried. Some things were relatively trivial (even if very annoying at the time) such as losing my phone and wallet in the woods while skiing. Some things were far more stressful and financially costly... like my car dying and essentially becoming worth nothing while in Colorado. Some were far more emotionally challenging, like the pretty tough ending of a relationship - still working my way through that one. To top it all off, I was robbed of an experience I've saved, trained, and planned consistently for two years. Having to come off the trail for an injury has been so incredibly frustrating. All I've thought about for the last two years has been the AT. Staying up late planning, researching gear, worrying if I had everything I needed, wondering if I could mentally handle the trail, etc. I talked about it nonstop, I dreamt about it,  and I breathed this trail. The hardest part about leaving the trail abruptly (aside from leaving my trail family) was that I was just really getting into a routine on the trail. Aside from my knee problems I mentally and physically felt great. I was up by 6am with the birds, hiked all day, and was in bed by 8 at the very latest. To have to get off the trail, become sedentary, and lose my routine was a huge challenge. Not to mention the complete culture shock of having a real bed, warm showers, people all around me, and the ability to travel sixty miles in one hour and not three or four days.

One benefit of being home has been seeing so many supportive friends and family. Everyone has been asking how I'm doing, what my plan is, and when I'm getting back on the trail. The words of encouragement have been endless, and super helpful to my fragile emotional state when I arrived back in Vermont. Along with recharging my physical being with mounds of food, Vermont always recharges my mental state. (Sidebar: in the first three weeks I lost 10lbs. I've since gained back 7.) Vermont is my home, and my favorite place in the world. The mountains, people, rivers/lakes, and mentalities here are familiar to me. Nowhere else in the world do I feel as comfortable as I do in Vermont. This fact has also terrified me while being home. Terrified that I will become so comfortable at home again that I won't have the desire to go back on the trail. Three weeks off the trail is a long time to stay focused and engaged with the final goal.

What is especially hard with staying engaged is that my plan is now totally messed up. I won't be able to return to where I left off in NC, because I would most likely not finish the trail before Baxter State Park closes in mid October. I would also be abandoning my trail family, which is not something I want to do. At this point, my plan is to hit the trail in Virginia fifty or so miles ahead of my trail family and let them catch up to me. They have already walked 540 miles and are doing really big mile days. If I joined them right off the bat, I would never be able to keep up. I'm hoping a week of conditioning by myself will both allow them to catch up, get my lets back underneath me, and allow for a gradual reentry into hiking. This will, of course, mean that I will have about four hundred miles of the trail to make up. My tentative plan is, if all goes well with my knee, to hike to Maine with the gang and then go back to hike the section I skipped. It definitely isn't the ideal plan, but I have been trying to remind myself to roll with the punches, make lemonade from lemons, and do all the other cliche things when unwanted events occur. I have been trying to convince myself that everything happens for a reason. Just hoping there's a damn good reason for this particular set back.

All of this alters my greater life plan as well. It was my hope to finish the trail before a really great internship in the Surgical ICU in Burlington started late this September. It is now almost impossible for me to complete the trail before then, even if my knee is pain free for the rest of the time. If I am able to finish the trail this fall, I will hopefully be able to apply for the same internship in the Spring or early Summer of next year. If I can't complete the trail this year due to my knee crapping out again, I will attempt the trail again next year and will shoot for the internship next Fall. Either way, I am trying to go with the flow in regards to this. I have given up so much for this trail already, that the trail is definitely the priority right now.

So there it is... all of my current emotions all wrapped up into a neat blog post for you. Fingers crossed that I can get a ride/flight to Virginia next week, I can meet up with my friends, I can continue hiking with minimal issues, and I finish this trail. I know I can do it, I just need my body to cooperate. Also... if anyone wants to drive me to Virginia this coming week... let me know. I'll pay for gas and snacks :)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Gut Wrenching

It is with the heaviest of hearts and the longest deliberation, that I must inform everyone I am headed home to Vermont today. It was one of the most painful decisions I've ever made, but my knee really hasn't improved much, and sitting around in North Carolina didn't make much sense to me. I am experiencing so many emotions right now, and have cried more than once. It is so frustrating that I worked so hard to plan and train for this trail, and after only 237.9 miles, I am going to take a large chunk of time off to rehab my knee. Not only that, but I am leaving my incredible trail family behind. This decision was so hard, and even up until yesterday evening I was going to try and hike further. Late last night, after walking from town to my hostel in a good amount of pain, I realized I would be doing myself a disservice to keep hiking. Most likely, my pain would have increased and I would have done more damage. While I know I'm doing the right thing, it still feels terrible.

On the other side of the coin, I'm very excited to see everyone at home and catch up. It will be really great to reunite with my loved ones. I love Vermont so much, and any opportunity to visit sounds amazing. In a perfect world, I'll only need a few weeks to get better, and can then meet my friends back on the trail where they are and continue on pain free to Maine. From there I'll go back to the south and hike the miles I will have missed. I'm really trying to subscribe to the "everything happens for a reason" mentality, but at the same time it seems wrong to leave the trail and my friends behind.

Here's hoping that everything is in fact happening for a reason, and I'll be able to complete the trail in it's entirety this year. Fingers crossed. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

Adding Insult to Injury

Well, as I write this, I am still icing my knee and resting up.

Trail Days in Damascus was a great time! It is essentially a huge festival celebrating the AT, the hikers, and the community in general. There were tons of vendors, lots of food, live music, a giant "tent city" for people to camp in, and tons of past and present thru hikers. It was a blast to be surrounded by so many people who love this trail. On Saturday afternoon I was sitting in front of the entertainment stage icing my knee and was fortunate to catch a presentation for Gene Espy, who in 1951 was the second recorded person to thru hike the AT. He had some neat stories to tell, and I can only imagine how different hiking was back then. No ultra-lite gear, no shelters, minimal trail maintenance. It must have been so much harder! It was an honor to see Gene and his family accept this recognition, and it was very inspiring to me.

After Trail Days, I was dropped off in Hot Springs, NC where I've been holed up for three days now resting my knee. Hot Springs is about 35mi north of where I last left the trail, and the plan was for me to rest here, recuperate, ice my knee and wait for my hiking buddies to arrive. I've been doing PT exercises sent to me from Brooke, Scottie, and my Uncle Mark which are definitely helping. A HUGE (Yuge) thank you to them for taking time to help me get better faster. I've been eating too many meals in restaurants, enjoying some local brews, checking out the outfitter in town, and catching up on my Netflix. I am so ready to get back on the trail tomorrow. My concern, however, is that my knee isn't ready. I still have a bit of pain while walking, and I know that won't get any better by traipsing through the woods and over mountains. I have one more night in town full of ice, rest, and stretches and will then decide tomorrow morning if I'll continue on or not. It is such a hard decision to make, and I'm seriously struggling with it. All I want to do is get back on the trail and continue hiking north, but I need to make sure my body is fully ready, or I'll risk further injury. This is not how I wanted my hike to go, at all. If I'm not ready to hike tomorrow, I may have to look at coming back to Vermont for some more extensive rehab for a few weeks. After that I can reevaluate my plan: where do I start back up, when, will I meet my hiking group, do I go south instead? So many questions that will come up if I can't start hiking tomorrow. I'm trying to take it all one day at a time and remind myself that everything happens for a reason.