Hey, Bear!

Ever since I’ve started this journey in training for my thru hike I’ve wondered when I would see a black bear!  It was beginning to feel like it would never happen!

Well, it’s finally happened!  I’m a real hiker now!  On August 4 at 4:24pm, the elusive black bear has been spotted!  Then as a bonus on August 5 at 12:03pm, I saw it’s bigger brother!

Having a few more trails to knock out for the Allegany 18 Challenge, I headed to Allegany State Park on a Sunday morning.  I had packed my tent and pack for sleeping at a lean-to along the North Country Trail.

The first trail of the day I decided on was the Flagg trail.  This trail is about 3 miles point to point.  The trail head is across from the Quaker Lake Bath House so I parked in that parking lot and walked across the road.  There is a little hill with a road and a gate that has a sign that says “Road Closed” so I went around the gate and hiked up a little hill.  I didn’t see any sign of the trail or trail markers and then I heard the most frightening sound; a pack of coyotes yipping and barking.  I didn’t waste anytime running back to my car in fear.  Then I remembered that I won’t be able to run to my car when I am thru hiking the Appalachian Trail.  That I have to figure out what to do as the situation arises, I can’t just run away. So, I gathered my fears and put them behind me.  I walked back up the little hill off the road and saw the real entrance to the Flagg trail with markers on the trees and everything!  (Do not go past the gate! The trail is to the right!)

I did hear the coyotes again but this time I stood still, I listened until they stopped, then I kept right on going.  My heart was in my throat, but it was a great first time experience to have now, rather than on the Appalachian Trail.  The Challenge marker was at about half way along the trail. There were a few other people on the trail as it seems pretty popular with the Cain Hollow campground at one end and the Quaker Lake Beach on the other.

Having had the success of the morning hike I couldn’t be stopped.  The Bear Caves trail was a trail I had partially completed in the past, actually I had never gone beyond the large boulders and rocks that gave the Bear Caves trail its name.  The trail itself is about 4 miles from point to point.  Not having a partner with a car I had decided to hike up to the summit of Mt. Seneca, find the marker for the Allegany 18 Challenge then hike back the way I came back to my car.  It was a solid plan that failed.

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Bear Cave Trail – Allegany State Park

As I climbed Mt. Seneca I think I died three times.  I’m still far from being in great shape and my stamina was low.  Recently, I decided to try intermittent fasting to help me lose weight.  That morning I had not had breakfast and already hiked three plus miles, bad mistake.  After many stops for rest I made it to the top of Mt. Seneca and found the marker for the Challenge.  When I stopped to think about going back the way I came, with all the rocks, boulders and what would be now a steep decline, I decided to continue on and go to the end.  It meant I would have just over a mile road walk back to my car, but at this point it seemed way easier to do that than go back the way I came.  Notably, this side of the mountain was definitely less rocky and I was able to pick up my pace and get lost in my thoughts.

This is just a piece of advice….don’t get lost in your thoughts on the “Bear” Cave trail, because that’s when it happened!  I saw my first bear!  Well, the bear’s rear-end anyway.  We startled each other and the bear took off like a flash!  It ran towards the Diehl cabin area and I took off in the opposite direction.  The adrenaline kicked in and I flew the last couple of miles to my car. I excitedly stopped at the Quaker Registration building and reported my sighting.  They had me fill out a bear sighting form. The workers there were not as excited as me.  Go figure.  I was hoping for a pin or a patch with “Bear Spotter” on it.

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This is me after seeing my first bear.

While I was at the Quaker Registration building I rented a campsite at Cain Hollow campground.  I think I was a little leery of staying in a lean-to after seeing my first bear!

The next morning I hit the trail and decided on hiking to the Mt. Tuscarora Fire Tower.  However, looking through all my maps I couldn’t find the sheet I needed to etch the Challenge marker on.  In the past, not having the map would have stopped me from going.  This time I found a blank piece of paper and downloaded the map from AllTrails and set off.  I received a hint that the Challenge marker was located right at the Fire Tower, so my plan was to hike to the Tower, get the etching and hike back to the car the way I came.

This trail is steep.  The bugs were atrocious.  A fire tower is generally located at the highest point around so I knew this trail was going to be challenging.  There were a lot of rests where I contemplated my life’s decisions and goals.  However, once I reached the ridge line and everything was flat again I knew all my decisions and goals were spot on.

And then, it happened again!  A bear!  This time the bear was just 20 feet in front of me on the right just off the trail.  He was big boy.  Digging and rooting around.  I backed up and backed up and backed up again all while keeping my eyes glued to his large behind.  I cleared my throat – no response.  I whistled – no response.  Then to my surprise, I shouted calmly and professionally – “Hey Bear!”  Guess what?  He did exactly what he was supposed to do!  He ran away! He stopped a good distance away to check me out.  I zoomed in and snapped a picture.  Blurry, but hey!  I then shouted at him again “Hey, Bear!  I can still see you!  Go Away!!!”  And off he went!  Good boy!  He had to be a boy, as he was about 300 pounds.  Just beautiful.

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I swear that’s a bear.

The adrenaline kicked me into high gear and I was still giddy when I met a couple on the trail.  They immediately told me they were disappointed they couldn’t climb the Fire Tower and there were no views.  I excitedly told them about the bear and to watch out for him.  Then they asked me what poison ivy looked like.  To be clear – they literally had little to no reaction to me saying there was a bear!  And there wasn’t even any poison ivy around.  Sheesh.  They were lame.

Hiking back from the Fire Tower I was a little worried the bear might be still around.  Being a professional hiker now, I made it a point to talk to myself and sing songs the whole way back to my car.  The bear didn’t make an encore appearance.

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I survived!

Happy Trails.

 

My proudest achievement, always.

As you may know from previous posts, my son was married last fall.  As some of you may also know, once your child is married, you don’t see them as much as you once did.  I was missing my son more than usual so I asked my daughter-in-law if I could borrow her husband for a weekend.  My son, Carl is a hard worker and has many commitments.  I am grateful for the time I get to spend with him.

Carl was born with a natural affinity for the outdoors, animals and nature.

And video games, philosophy and history, etc. etc.  Well I scooped up the chance to take him to my most recent favorite place, Allegany State Park.

There are some trails on the Allegany 18 Challenge that intimidate me because the trails may be steep or long.  I was glad to have his company on the trail I chose for us, Beehunter Trail.  Beehunter Trail is about 6.5 miles long, is steep in sections and one of the longer trails in the challenge. We decided to walk the loop backwards starting at the bike trail near the Beehunter cabin road.

We packed my day pack with waters and our rain gear and some snacks.  The trail began with a steep section.  Steep for me, anyway.  Carl ran up the hill easily.  He was encouraging and helpful; guiding me and leading the way.  I enjoyed hiking with him, knowing how capable and strong he is.

The temperature was in the 80s during our hike and we finally found a pretty spot to stop and have a snack.  The bugs were atrocious and the Deet we applied had little effect on them.

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We checked to see how much further to the end and we estimated we were half way there. Suddenly, the sky began to thicken with clouds and the wind picked up.  There was thunder in the distance.  We quickly put our rain gear on.  Me, my Marmot rain jacket; he, a big green poncho.

Then the thunder and lightening started.

I think we made record pace getting off that mountain! The lightening was so close and the thunder was deafening!  I was wearing my “waterproof” Keen boots.  Well, the water got in and couldn’t get out.  My feet were sloshing in my boots.  I wish I were wearing my Altra trail runners.  Carl stayed pretty dry in his poncho.  Luckily my day pack was under his poncho staying dry.  One good thing about the rain is that the bugs stopped!

As we approached the trail head we could see two beams of light.  There was a park ranger car there crossing the trail head.  Due to the thunder and lightening storm they closed the trail.  Well, obviously we survived!  It was definitely good experience for me for my thru hike.  I’m sure I will be hiking in thunder and lightening a few times next year!

If you think that was the end of the story, it’s not!  We just couldn’t get enough of the trails!  After a quick bite to eat and a change of clothes we headed over to the North Country Trail.  We donned our heavy packs and hiked in 2 miles to the Willis Creek lean to for the night.

Since it rained all the wood at the lean to was wet.  So wet, I was afraid we wouldn’t get a fire started.  I wasn’t too worried as I had packed my pocket rocket stove and kettle to make our Mountain House dinners.  Or at least I THOUGHT I had packed my stove.  Another learning lesson here – always double check you have everything you need!  Usually my stove is kept in my kettle, but the last time I went out I moved my stove to a small bag and inadvertently left that bag sitting on the dining room table.

Luckily, I was camping with the world’s most brilliant man (trust me on this) and he was able to somehow create a fire. Carl scoured the surrounding area for tree stumps that had dry wood in them and was able to get enough to start a great fire that boiled our water so we could eat dinner.  That fire also dried out other sticks and logs that we used to keep the fire going well into the night.  Did I mention he was brilliant?

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Carl chopping dry wood from a tree stump.

That night we played cards and talked until the fire was out.  In the morning, I laughed out loud seeing Carl sleeping in his wife’s sleeping bag.  I think I know what he needs for Christmas!  He looked like a mummy stuffed in that little bitty sleeping bag!

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As we hiked out the two miles back to the car in the morning, we decided we would have breakfast at the park restaurant.  Before that though, we had a quick stop at Thunder Rocks.

Then another quick stop at Camp Allegany where years ago Carl and I spent many weekends with the Buffalo Museum of Science.  I made him pose next to the creek he played in.

After breakfast I took my tuckered out son home to his wife!  He slept almost all the way!

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I love my son!  

Happy trails!

 

Eternal Sisters Visit the Eternal Flame

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Do you know your family? While I was growing up I feel like I never knew my sister, Anne.  I knew the simple stuff.  She was taller than me.  She received better grades than me.  She rubbed my back until I fell asleep.  She protected me from thunderstorms.  She loved me.  I still tell her she’s my favorite sister and she still answers back, I’m your only sister!

Anne is a few years older than me so we didn’t have a lot in common.  When I was playing with Barbies, she was dating boys.  When I was hiking with my dog, she was – well, I never knew what she was doing!  She was mysterious. 

The mystery is over.  We are years older now and we have gotten to know each other in a deeper way than I thought possible.  It helps that we live down the street from each other.  We recently started to walk together in the evenings.  Anne always acts interested when I tell her about my recent hiking adventures.  I thought she was just being polite.  Until one day she said she wanted to hike to the Eternal Flame in Chestnut Ridge Park.  WHAT?  My sister walking on an uneven, dirt path?  It’s madness!  She’ll kill herself!  I’ll be responsible!  How would I tell her children?

Now, my sister has done some things that surprised me.  She attended an outdoor all day rock concert, standing in the front row, on a hot summer day, surrounded by sweaty concert goers.  I won’t even do that!  She’s traveled with her husband overseas to many countries, visiting places I doubt I’ll ever see in my lifetime.  I’m always impressed how she overcomes being in uncomfortable and new situations.  

So, I guided her on a hike to the Eternal Flame.  This is a path I know well so I was confident.  It’s less than a mile long, and I knew she could hike that far.  However, we hiked this trail immediately after a rain storm which made the creek higher than usual.  Oh, and most of the hike is in the creek.  Welcome to hiking, Anne!

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I think she was trying to stab me with her hiking pole. Caught her in the act!

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As I watched my sister navigate through the downed trees, stepping from rock to rock to avoid the deepest parts of the creek, I really began to appreciate her stubborness, er, I mean, strength.  I looked over my shoulder watching her pick her next step and I kept waiting for her to tell me it was too hard; she didn’t want to finish; she wanted to go back.  If the thought was in her head, she never let it escape her mouth!  She got dirty, REALLY wet and she didn’t stop until we got to the flame!

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One thing I have learned the last few years about my sister is that she has a wicked sense of humor!  Anne says that she tries too hard to be funny and then isn’t funny.  But that makes it funnier.  Growing up we both learned how to crochete.  Anne has taken it to an expert level.  She even sells her crocheted items in a local gift shop.  Why am I telling you this?  Well, Anne decided she wanted to crochete on the Eternal Flame Trail.  She brought out a crochete hook, took a long weed and started making single crochetes.  Just when you think you’ve seen everything there is to see on a trail, you see a woman crocheting a scarf from a vine.  Survivalist to the core!

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As we returned down the trail she told me that her good friend had walked this trail in flip flops and if she could do it, so could she.  She kept that thought in her head the whole way to encourage herself to keep going.  I’m so glad that helped her!

By the time we got to the end of the trail a group of ladies were just beginning the trek and they asked us about the trail.  My favorite sister (aka – my only sister) answered their questions and provided advice like a professional hiker.

10 out of 10 would hike with my sister again!  Maybe I can convince her to hike the Appalachian Trail with me!

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Happy trails!

Welp, I finally did it and then some.

I registered my thru-hike intention with The Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

The Conservancy asks people that hike the Appalachian Trail to register in order to better monitor the impact on the trail and its resources.  Sooooo, I did it!!!

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Yep.  My official start date will be March 22, 2020.  I wish I had the guts to start 2/20/2020.  That’s just a little to cold for me.  As it is March will be cold enough. So, there you have it folks.  Wow.  It’s like this will really happen!

BUT-WAIT-THERES-MORE

C’est fait.  E ‘fatto.  Esta hecho.  IT IS DONE!  Yes.  I quit my wonderful, well paying, comfortable JOB!

Now I will have more time to hike longer trails.  Woohoo!

Is this real life?

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So many emotions!  Am I crazy?  I’m going to climb mountains!!!  Did I do the right thing?  I will cross creeks, hike in the rain and get really smelly!!!!  Do I really think I can hike the whole thing?  I will be crawling on my hands and knees some parts of the trail!

Then I have people asking me all sorts of hard questions like:  Why don’t you wait until you retire?  Because, who knows how my knees will be by then!  What will you do for money?  My husband and I have been saving and planning for this.  How does your husband feel about you leaving him for six months?  He better be sad and miss me a lot!

All silliness aside, I don’t want to wait until I retire.  You never know what will happen tomorrow, so I want to do my living now.   I am forever grateful to my loving, supportive husband who works very hard for us.  He enjoys his job and supports me quitting mine to follow my lifelong dream.  I owe him – big time.  I also promised him I would be more frugal and keep my hike on budget.  Yes, he made a spreadsheet.

Oh no.  What am I feeling now????

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I’m NERVOUS. 

Nervousness is a whole bunch of emotions all trying to get out at the same time.  Fear, longing, concern, desire, doubt, and panic are a few emotions in my nervous packet.  You might have others in yours.  At the beginning of any solo hike I have a bout of the nervous jitters.  My knees feel wobbly, my hands sweat, my mouth goes dry and my breathing becomes faster.   This feeling stays with me for a quite a while into my hike.  While listening to the radio one morning I heard an interview of English actor, comedian, James Corden.  He does the carpool karaoke with famous people and he’s so funny!  This interview was about how he gets so nervous before performing that he sought professional help.  I am going to quote what he learned.  This is just copied from this cnn.com article: James Corden interview on CNN.

“This is a few years ago now, and then he taught me this thing that you’ve got to see nerves as a good thing. You’re only ever nervous when you want to do your best. You’re only ever nervous when something matters. So when nerves come, you’ve got to go, ‘Oh my God, this is great. I’m doing something that is important to me, and this is great that this thing has turned up to help me.’ ” James Corden.

So, I think I’ll be ready to apply this way of thinking on my next solo hike.  Maybe my knees will not be so wobbly and my hands won’t be sweaty.  It’s worth a shot!

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Learning Lessons

In my last article I wrote about being afraid while hiking alone.  The article was lighthearted and some called it cute and funny.  I tried to make light of being afraid while hiking alone.  Like my fears were not real.

Trust me. 

THEY ARE REAL. 

And those fears became even more real when Army Veteran Ron Sanchez was brutally murdered on the Appalachian Trail a few weeks ago.  I do not want to put the incident in my own words; you can google it.

I have read that Ron Sanchez was thru hiking the AT to seek healing from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  He had served three tours in Iraq.  People set out to thru hike the AT for different reasons.  Therefore, on the trail I expect to encounter people like Ron, who are hiking the trail to find inner peace.  On the trail I also predict I will encounter happy people, sad people, grumpy people, friendly people and yes, scary people.

Scary things can happen to you, me, and those we love – anywhere and at anytime.  Recently I was speaking with my nephew, Matthew, about scary things and what does he do to come to peace with it.  He said – when really bad things happen and I can’t do anything about it, I try to learn a lesson from it.

The lesson I learned is that I will be the friendly, cheerful, happy, kind person that others encounter on the trail.  I will be the person that others can trust.  I will “trust my gut” when I encounter suspicious people.  However, I will continue to solo hike.  I will also carry a Personal Locator Beacon in case of an emergency.

Most of all, I will not live in fear of the unknown.  I will not let scary things control me or discourage me from my thru hike in 2020.

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Ron Sanchez Trail Name “Stonghold” Rest in Peace

 

 

 

ALONE AND BRAVE

Oh, help me!  I read so many articles about hiking, but why, oh why, do I read the articles about hikers gone mysteriously missing, hikers shredded by mountain lions, hikers eaten by bears, hikers attacked by a machete wielding crazy person!  Oh, good grief, it gets in my head and stays there!

I’ve been so excited to work on completing my Allegany 18 challenge I woke up early on Sunday and drove the hour and a half to the park!  The park was so quiet.  At this time of year not many hardy souls venture out when the weather is iffy.  Do murderers?

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I headed to a short and sweet trail called Bear Springs.  BEAR!???!!!!???  Did that sign say BEAR???  Yes it did.  Well, psht, bears aren’t around trails, right.  Off I went. Out and back, easy peasy.  Well, it was a muddy trail and the trail stewards had been hard at work in the last few years building neat “board” walks to bypass the wettest areas.  I just love how unique each trail is.  This trail is very easy and highly recommended for old dogs with arthritis and husbands like mine.

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I found the marker on the tree for the challenge, raced up to the end of the trail and quickly made my way back to the car.  Look at me!  No make up, no hair products, completely au natural.  (Please don’t enlarge the photo.  I cannot be responsible for broken monitors.)  My mother always said I was a natural beauty.  I believe everything my mother says.

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I didn’t see any bears on “Bear” Spring trail, so I went next to Black Snake Mountain!  SNAKES!  I actually am not afraid of snakes.  Bring it!  Being brave and doing things that are uncomfortable are two things that I’m learning to be good at.  Black Snake Mountain Trail is 2.8 miles.  Sounds easy?  It’s Black Snake MOUNTAIN Trail.  But, yes, actually it was physically easy”ish” for me.  The not physical part where I remembered I was –ALONE!  ALL ALONE!  wasn’t as easy.

I tried to text my husband to let him know where I was, but I had NO SERVICE!  That’s okay;  my car’s at the trail head, so if I go missing, they’ll find my car.  WHY, WAS MY HEAD GOING “THERE”?  I shook it off and headed up the trail.

First thing I encounter?  A CREEPY SHED where a murderer could live!!

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I ran past that and picked up my pace.

This part of the trail goes up the mountain.  I took a lot of pictures because I stopped a lot to catch my breath.  AND to look behind me to make sure the murderer wasn’t following me.

The Allegany Challenge map indicated I would find a stone marker where I could be in two states at once.  I found it!

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One foot in Pennsylvania and one foot in New York.

For those few lovely moments I had forgotten about the murderer following me on the trail.

I was at the summit and realized I had cell service!  Quickly, I sent messages to my husband and best friend with a couple photos of where I was.  You know, in case of the murder.  Of course, I didn’t let on to them that I was afraid.  I felt like if I typed that out at that time, it would just make them worry more about me.  There were lots of birds singing – which is a good sign of nothing bad around.  I just kept telling myself that.  There at the summit was the marker I needed to prove I was here.  My phone will tell the story to the investigators when they find my body.

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At this point I reallllllly had to pee.  REEALLLYYYY bad!  So I peed in the woods.  I was buckling my pack and as all hikers should – I looked back at where I peed.  Guess what I saw??????  Not a murderer. Not a bear.  Not even a snake……

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MY PHONE!!!!!!!!

Of course it isn’t in the picture, because I used it to take the picture.  But, pfeeyoof!  I’m so glad I looked back to make sure I didn’t drop anything, because I DID! How could the detectives follow my trail if I lost my phone before I was murdered?

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Now, for some reason, I began to think of mountain lions.  WHY????  I didn’t even know if mountain lions lived where I was!  How could I not know this!  Seriously.  My brain went there.

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Not today, kitty.

I stood in the middle of the trail.  ALL ALONE.  ALONE and BRAVE!

So I sang a song.  “If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty woman your wife. From my personal point of view, get an ugly girl to marry you.”  (Worth the click. It’s not me singing, don’t worry.)

Mountain lions do not like that song.  They must not, because I never saw one.

I did hear a dog bark.   Or was it a coyote?

There was no murder, no mauling, no investigation was necessary.  I made it back to my car in one piece.

What do we say to god of death?

Not today.

 

 

 

 

 

Distractions, Challenges and Gettin’ it DONE!

wedding CAThere was a major distraction in my life this past year.  My handsome son was married in September 2018!  My dining room became wedding central.  Two tables were full of centerpieces and every kind of wedding paraphernalia.  The wedding was beautiful!  Anyone who has planned a wedding knows that after the big day it takes a few weeks to recover.  Well, I took a few months.  Now I can get back to my agenda of training for the AT!

Last summer, before the big day, I took a couple of hiking trips to Kinzua Sky Walk, Kiasutha Recreation Area and Allegany State Park – among many other day hikes locally.

Click here for information on Kinzua Bridge State Park and the Sky Walk.

Kinzua Sky Walk is an old railroad bridge that was knocked down by a tornado.  They bolstered the remaining trestle and made a really, really cool walk way out of it.  I highly recommend walking the trail to view the bridge from below!  There is also a brand new education building with extremely interesting history of the bridge, the tornado and how the sky walk was built.

Click here for the visitor guide.

Kinzua State Park - Mount Jewett, PA Kinzua looking up

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Kiasutha Recreation Area was about 40 minutes from the Sky Walk but worth the ride.  I had the most peaceful campsite with a beautiful view (Tent site number 12) right next to the lake and just a minute walk to the sandy beach.  I highly recommend it!  It was a peaceful and beautiful place to camp out overnight.

Last year I also camped out at Allegany State Park.  I rented a cabin though because the campground was closed.  The cabin did not have heat or electricity.  I wasn’t there for the cabin though!

I’ve been to this park over a hundred times and I was able to see five new things that I never saw before!

Bear Caves, Thunder Rocks, Stone Tower, Quaker Lake, and Science Lake.

 

The park has a program called Allegany 18.  It is a challenge to hike all 18 original trails of Allegany State Park.  It totals about 70 miles.

Most trails average 5 miles or so.  You pay $20.00 for your packet which includes separate maps of each trail and a neon pencil.  As you walk each trail you come across yellow markers with the trail number, which you etch onto your map for proof you actually hiked the trail.  After hiking all 18 trails you can claim your neat water bottle and sticker!

Currently I’ve only hiked one trail, but I plan to complete them all by August.

My thru hike is only a year away now, so it’s time to get to business.  I hope to be writing about my challenges and adventures more often.  I’ll be headed back to the gym (!!!!) to get some muscle built.  Gyms are intimidating to me, so send positive thoughts that I get my big girl panties on and just DO IT!

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My faithful hiking partner is never far away, although sometimes she fades into the shadows.