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 :)