What makes you happy?

During the last couple months I’ve had time to think about and discover what does and does not make me happy.  In my last post waaaayyyy back in April I talked about setting goals that I could achieve since the Appalachian Trail was off the table.  So, I was the first challenger (out of about 700 people) to complete the Western New York Hiking Challenge, hiking 20 of the 34 trails in the challenge.  I had eluded to completing the entire 34 trails in the challenge and I’m happy to say, I was the first challenger to complete all 34 trails!  Here are just a few highlights from some of the final trails I hiked or not, because I can’t remember which trails I did when.  Just enjoy the pictures.

That wasn’t all though.  Since then a few of my friends have signed up for the challenge and I’ve been “guiding” them on the trails.  I use the term “guide” loosely since I hike so slow I let them lead!  It’s been great fun watching them achieve their goals and makes me happy I can be part of it.  One of my favorites was the Holland Ravine section of the Finger Lakes Trail.

A few pictures of that, because my mother likes to see the photos.

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So, yes, that makes me happy, but is that all?  Recently I completed the FREE online Yale course “The Science of Well-Being” that taught me I don’t need nearly the amount of things I thought in order to be truly happy.  Taking that course helped me see very clearly that helping others and setting goals makes me a happy girl!  One of the best parts of this course was that I joined a group of women led by my AT trail angel, Alys, on Zoom every week to discuss the course materials.  The women I met were so amazing and insightful. Also I’ve never completed college, so it felt AWESOME to complete a YALE college course!

Yale certificate

After discovering that I thrive on goal setting I wanted to keep accomplishing things.  Early this year I made a good friend, Jim, who was to be on the Appalachian Trail this year too.  He lives nearby so we have been hiking together to stay in trail shape.  We recently hiked the 22 miles of the North Country Trail through the Allegany State Park over a three day weekend.

We started by staging my car at the end of the trail then drove his truck to the beginning of our hike.  The trail began in Pennsylvania and I didn’t even realize it until I saw the trail sign that we were entering New York.  I guess I should have paid more attention to where we were driving, I was just too excited to get there.  My pack was just over 30 pounds and the first section of trail was all uphill.  Lucky for me, Jim is kind and let me lead us slowly up the incline.  Along the way we spotted a few doe with their fawns.  We stopped for a break halfway up the hill and after the break I felt much better and we eventually made it 7 miles to the Willis Creek lean-to.  Unfortunately it was full and there were two tents already set up nearby.  We decided to keep hiking to the next campsite, but again, lucky for me, Jim spotted a flat spot and fire ring on the other side of Willis Creek and we gratefully made it home for the night. Jim carried in steaks for dinner and I brought the cheesy potatoes and brownies.  There was only one minor fail.  Jim tried to make bannocks.  I’ve never had them before so I was intrigued.  Unfortunately we never could get them to bake well and they were a little doughy or burnt.  We put honey on them and that only made them marginally better.  It was a learning experience and we will try again! The steaks and potatoes were amazing though!  We ate well Friday night!

Saturday was our long day, we took our time getting on trail though, enjoying a morning campfire.  Our destination for lunch was the Stoney Creek lean-to.  The trail was incredible.  So lush and green.  The weather was perfect for hiking.  There was just enough of a challenge to keep me breathing hard most of the way.  We eventually reached the Stoney Brook lean-to where there was an outhouse and spring nearby.  It would have been a great place to stay, but we were only having lunch.  After refilling our water and filtering we hiked off and it felt like forever until we finally saw the Beck Hollow shelter.  Dinner on Saturday was not as glamorous, but we did enjoy having a fire and some drinks.  Not that we needed anything to help us sleep, we were tired!

Waking up on Sunday, Jim and I were both sad our adventure was coming to an end.  We enjoyed a celebratory bloody mary and another morning campfire for a little while until we finally trekked out the two or so miles to my waiting car.  FYI, if you are staging a car anywhere in Allegany State Park, tell the park police.  You want to make sure they don’t tow away your car if it looks abandoned.  Lucky again, the officers assumed I was hiking and just left me a voicemail asking me to let them know I was okay.

This two night backpacking trip helped me achieve another two goals I had set.  I had signed up for the North Country Trail 100 challenge and the Finger Lakes Trail 50 challenge.  Lucky for me the Finger Lakes Trail is the North Country Trail in New York so with this hike (and a few other hikes not mentioned here) I was able to complete both the NCT100 challenge and the FLT50 challenge.  I have already received the FLT50 patch and sticker in the mail!  I love the design. Click those links above to sign up (it’s FREE).

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These wonderful, happy things in my life are happening because of Covid preventing me from hiking the Appalachian Trail this year and of course, my incredibly patient, kind, understanding husband is always encouraging me to hike.  I’ve been able to meet incredible women and men that enjoy the outdoors as much as I do and the summer is just beginning!  The longer COVID goes, the less I think about where I was “supposed” to be this year and the more grateful I become for where I am.
Now to set some new goals!  Tell me what goals you have for yourself this summer.  Let’s go hike!

Happy Trails!

Bonus picture of my mom at Letchworth State Park, just because she is beautiful and amazing! I hope I grow up to be just like her!

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Never Gonna Give Up

A few weeks ago I was preparing my gear for my thru-hike, minding my own business and dreaming of spending the next six months in the company of nature.  Then, kind of out of nowhere, the Covid-19 pandemic hit the United States.  My brain was frantic, I was going, I wasn’t going, I was going, I wasn’t going….  Ultimately, you know I chose to delay my thru-hike.  It was the wisest and safest decision for me and my family.  But, wow.  I was disappointed!

Goal-Setting

There is usually a time in everyone’s life when we work toward a goal.  We study to pass a test, diet to lose 10 pounds, save money for a house, etc…  Sometimes we achieve our goal, but sometimes that goal gets shifted.  That test you studied for led you to a new goal of a doctoral presentation, you now need to lose 15 pounds, that money you were saving for a house is now paying for your car repairs.  Well, my goal of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail has shifted.  Don’t get all nervous….it’s still my big picture and ultimate goal!  Right now that goal just isn’t reasonable in the next few months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the past, I have always been so afraid to set a goal.  As soon as I set a goal, something usually sidetracks me and derails my progress (usually my inner fear).  I wrote about some of that fear in one of my past articles. Stand Still and Use Your Inner Compass This time, my goal was thwarted by something completely out of my control.  I had to find a new goal that I could control. Something that could direct me away from the disappointment I was feeling about not starting my thru hike.

Last year I completed the Allegany 18 Challenge You win some. You lose some.  and then the Western New York Winter Hiking Challenge and I remembered there was a NEW Western New York Hiking Challenge posted by Outside Chronicles.  The challenge asked you to complete 20 trails out of 32 (plus 2 bonus hikes).  I immediately clung to the goal of completing the challenge, telling only a few select friends that I wanted to be the first to complete it.

While hiking the trails of the challenge I savored every minute. There were bridges to cross or go under, trees climbed, muddy trails, waterfalls, abandoned ruins, a cemetery, a lighthouse, rusty things left in the forest, dog kisses, very interesting statues, big rocks, little rocks, amazing views, random signs, a snake’s nest, birds eating out of my hand and nature galore.

These photos are just some of the highlights:

 

I didn’t care when the trail was muddy, I didn’t care when it was cloudy, I didn’t care when it was raining.  I hiked up hill, I hiked down hill, I hiked the road, I hiked it all.  My friends hiked with me sometimes (keeping the proper social distance), they all helped me reach my new goal by encouraging me, keeping me laughing and pushing me up the hills.  And guess what?  I managed to be the first to complete the challenge. Go me!

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Now, that only means I completed 20 trails and there are 32 plus 2 bonus hikes…sooooo, you know what my next goal is then, don’t you?

If you would like to enter the hiking challenge, please visit Outside Chronicles WNY Hiking Challenge.  We have all summer and fall to complete the challenge!  Join me!

Happy Trails!

You win some. You lose some.

So many exciting things have been happening lately.  October is my favorite month of the year.  First, because it’s my birthday month.  Second, the fall is so beautiful with the changing leaves and the earth is so fragrant this time of year.

Just to catch up on all the wonderful wins for me this fall:  I DID IT!  I finally finished the Allegany 18 Challenge!

My darling husband hiked the last 5-mile trail with me.  I literally skipped to the Registration Building after the hike to claim my winnings!  A very cool water bottle that lists all the 18 trails and a sweet sticker!  I put the water bottle in my china cabinet alongside Dave’s 300-game bowling trophies.  It deserves to be in a place of honor.  Hahaha!

Way back in March I signed up for the Allegany 18 Challenge because of a post by the  Outside Chronicles Facebook page.  After a bunch of us completed the challenge we were invited back to Allegany State Park for a bonus hike and social.  It was a lot of fun meeting everyone and making connections with people that have the same passion as me!

After that excitement, my BFF, Linda and I went hiking/geocaching in Letchworth State Park.  We hiked seven miles in one day on the Finger Lakes Trail – Letchworth Branch.  It was the best of times.  The entire week was cold and damp mostly but we managed to find a lot of caches and I may have seen Linda’s full moon during a campfire!  We even spent a few rainy hours at the Dunkin Donuts in town using the WiFi.

I just can’t help but take photos while hiking in Letchworth.  There is beauty around you at every step.  I even managed to catch the “Hidden Indian” looking out over the Genesee River from the Middle Falls.  Can you see him in the photo below?  In the other photos, I visited the Mount Morris Dam Visitor’s Center.  That is a dam photo from the Visitor Center side of the river.  I highly recommend checking out the dam visitor center and watching the short dam movie.  I learned a lot of dam things.  I also hiked a good portion of the Gorge Trail and the Wolf Creek Trail. The gorge trail is about 7 miles long and you have amazing views along the way.  There are helpful stairs to get you up and down the steep sections.  The Wolf Creek trail has a really pretty waterfall and neat bridge.

I visited Letchworth a couple more times and Allegany State Park too.  Nearby Emery Park has a few ski hills I’ve been hiking up and down.  I’ll hike anywhere on a dirt path. I can’t keep myself out of the woods for too long or I get jittery.

There was more fun in October! My birthday is the day before Halloween.  My sweet husband gifted me with a personalized hoodie with my “name” on it and an Italian flag heart!  Best gift ever!  And we had a Halloween party where I made an ashtray out of pretzels and white chocolate.  No one minded that everyone was smoking!  I even carved a pumpkin to celebrate my upcoming hike.  See I do more than just hike all the time!

One more extremely exciting thing that happened, that some of you already know, is that I booked my ONE-WAY plane ticket to Atlanta for March.  I even have my room reserved at Amicalola Lodge for the night before I hit the trail.  It’s really real, folks!  All in all, this Fall has been a big WIN for me!

But sometimes, you lose too.

Don’t worry too much and don’t start praying to St. Anthony to help me find what I lost!  I am proud to say I’ve lost 40 pounds.  Woot Woot!  My backpack fully loaded is about 30 pounds.  When I started my weight loss journey I wanted to lose the same amount of weight as my pack and I surpassed that because I needed to.  I am thrilled that I am healthier and more confident.  Heck, I even think I look pretty good.  Although I still have about 15 pounds to go to reach my goal weight before I leave in March, I know I will get there.  For those interested, I have been using the weight loss app Noom.  I found it very helpful.  If you want more information about it, I’d be happy to personally chat with you.

Here’s before:

IMG_20160425_132801610Don’t mind Dave’s finger.

And now.

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This month I will be back in the Smoky Mountains and plan to retake that before photo.

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!