If at first, you don’t succeed…

Over a year ago I attempted to hike the Maryland section of the Appalachian Trail.  Things did not go as planned.  I was under-prepared, physically unfit, and mostly inexperienced.  It was a big blow to my confidence and made me really question if my dream was achievable.  You can read all about it here.

Since that huge wake-up call, I have been hiking, hiking, hiking!  I’ve lost weight.  I’ve researched and bought new gear.  I’ve read books about mentally preparing for personal challenges.  But was I really ready to try again?

One piece of gear that I would like to upgrade is my shelter.  I have a decent shelter, but it weighs over 3 pounds and there are tents that weigh in at a lot less.  Speaking with my husband I expressed a desire to purchase my new light-weight tent and he made a case that I haven’t actually used my current tent on a trip longer than 2 days.  Point made. Then he said I should really go back to Maryland.  WHAT?  That state HATES me!  I understood his argument and said, “Fine, I’ll leave Monday.”  Why did I say that?  It was Thursday, I had three days to prepare! Panic mode, I researched food options (miserable fail), watched Maryland section trail videos and gathered my gear. I made a reservation at the Teahorse Hostel in Harpers Ferry, arranged to keep my car there for five days and then called to arrange a shuttle to Pen Mark Park from Trail Boss Chris.  I even reached out to my trail angel, Alys, from last year just to let her know that I would be in her area again.  This was getting real.

Monday – 0 miles hiked, 360 miles driving:

I woke up and left the house by 9am for the 6 hour drive to Harpers Ferry.  I arrived at the Teahorse Hostel and was thoroughly out of my element.  Only a top bunk was left. I never visited a Hostel before.  Everything was very foreign to me. I walked around and visited the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters that was nearby.  I had dinner with a hiker/wanderer named Garlic Salt who was a very unusual person.  I slept well but was too nervous to eat the waffle breakfast. 

Tuesday – 7 miles.

I woke up early and made sure my pack was ready.  Trail Boss Chris picked me up at 8am sharp.  We made the nearly hour drive north to Pen Mar Park.  He dropped me off at the trailhead in Pennsylvania so I could walk to the Mason Dixon Line, which I missed in my last attempt.  My nerves were on end as I remembered the rocky ascent to High Rocks Overlook.  Before I knew it I was there!  I took off down the trail towards the Raven Rock Shelter (I totally screwed up the name of this shelter in last year’s article about this hike.) I was so proud of myself when I hiked past the blue blazed side trail to the shelter.  I was determined to get to the next shelter.  Until I wasn’t determined anymore.  There were three more miles to the shelter and I couldn’t continue.  I made a quick call to my trail angel then resigned myself to stealth camping along the trail.  My tent went up quickly and I slept well.

Wednesday – 12 miles:

When I woke up in the morning I hiked the three more miles to the shelter and met Alys at the Ensign Cowall shelter.  There is a long, steep climb out of the shelter to the ridge.  She was determined to help me and offered to carry my heavy pack up the half-mile climb.  I was grateful.  I huffed and puffed up that climb and rested every few feet.  Alys was right behind me letting me set the pace.  She’s a strong, amazing woman. I want to be just like her.

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My Trail Angel

After we reached the ridgeline I put my pack back on.  Alys made her way back to her car and promised to meet me later with turkey sandwiches!  We had planned to meet at Pogo Memorial Campsite but I made good time and it was too early to stop, so I quickly texted her and made plans to meet at Annapolis Rocks campsite.  I’m so glad I did!  What a view! I spent the night in my tent at Campsite #3. Can you see my tent in the picture?

Thursday – 10.5 miles:

Fortified by TWO turkey sandwiches, oranges, gatorade, breakfast bars and Alys’ encouragement I continued on Thursday knowing I would be seeing some history this day along with the trail being relatively flat.

First, I became slightly emotional crossing the pedestrian bridge over I70.  Having gone under this bridge in a car wishing to be on the bridge and now actually hiking on it was amazing!

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I70 Pedestrian Bridge

Second, the original Washington Monument is on this section of trail.  It was built in 1827 and just refurbished.  I walked up the stairs to see the view from the top. It’s not an attractive monument, but remarkable when you think of what people had to do in 1827 to build something so big on the top of a mountain!

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The original Washington Monument.

After filling up with water I continued on to Dahlgren Campground.  This campground has the only free shower directly on the trail.  Also, I had heard you could order pizza and have it delivered here. Additionally, there is a restaurant with air conditioning nearby.  It was early when I reached the campground and I spent a long time taking my shower.  It rejuvenated me and it didn’t take me long to decide that I was going to continue hiking to the next shelter just a couple miles more.  (No pizza….) That night I stayed at the Rocky Run Shelter.  There was a family of seven staying the night along with a few others sleeping in tents and hammocks.

Friday – 8.5 miles:

It was overcast and misty in the morning.  I prepared by putting my pack cover on and having my raincoat handy.  I made a rocky, steep climb out of the shelter.  My motivation today was that Alys was meeting me again.  It started to downpour.  I decided that the Appalachian Trail was baptizing me; giving me a taste of what hiking in the rain feels like.  I was drenched.

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Wet.

Everything from the top of my head to tips of my toes was waterlogged.  While texting Alys she said she would meet me on the trail and bring with her more turkey sandwiches!  Well, she outdid herself and brought me towels, dry socks, so much food, water and best of all her contagious smile that really encouraged me.  We sat in a pavilion at Gathland State Park while I dried out and had some lunch.

Alys helped me find the blazes to continue on my way and off I went into the rain.  Watching her drive away in a warm, dry car wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be.  I was excited to get to my last stop.  Ed Garvey Shelter.

The Ed Garvey Shelter was vacant when I arrived.  I changed into dry clothes, checked out the loft, the privy, found the bear pole, and made some ramen soup.  Then a young man arrived to spend the night in his new hammock.  Then two young women hung their hammocks, too.  There was a campfire, laughing, talking and a great night’s sleep.

Saturday – 8 miles.

The sun was barely a glint in the sky when I awoke.  I was eager to get packed up and down to Harpers Ferry.  There was a long steep descent then a very flat section on the C&O Towpath.  Unfortunately, my phone and battery backup both died so I could not take pictures.  As I approached the pedestrian bridge that would take me over the Potomac River into Harpers Ferry I was shaking my head in disbelief.  I was pretty amazed that I had actually made it.  I hiked through Lower Town and up to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters, triumphant!  I charged my phone a little and spoke with a hiker that had just completed her first half of a flip flop hike.  She had hiked from Harpers Ferry to Mt. Katahdin in Maine.  She was back in Harpers Ferry to now go South to Springer Mountain in Georgia.  How I wished I could go with her.  I put some of my left over food in the hiker boxes and then hiked on to the Teahorse Hostel where my car was waiting.  I decided that I needed to go back to the Harpers Ferry National Park and take the bus shuttle to Lower Town Harpers Ferry and take the pictures I missed and have a bite to eat (and a beer).

I spent the night in a hotel about an hour away to be that much closer to home. The hotel had a king sized bed and a hot tub. Boy, did that feel good!

I am forever grateful to my Trail Angel, Alys.  She made me feel like I was the most important person in her life for my whole hike. I made some mistakes with my food choices and she really helped by bringing me those turkey sandwiches, Gatorades and granola bars! Her friendship made all the difference for my successful hike!

By the way, all those hikers out there that say Maryland is easy….it was not easy.  However, it may be easier than New Hampshire, Maine or other states. 

Now to plan the next adventure…..

Happy Trails!

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!