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!