March 21, 2020! The day has finally arrived! I flew from Buffalo to Atlanta super early this morning. Dave rented a car and drove us to the Amicalola Falls State Park. It’s 54 degrees and cloudy. It’s a perfect day to begin my journey of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. My pack weighs 30 pounds and I am full of excitement, adrenaline and nervousness. My plan is to climb the 604 stairs to the top of Amicalola Falls and then spend the night at the cushy Amicalola Lodge with my husband. In the morning, I will have a delicious breakfast and continue my hike on the approach trail 8 miles up to the top of Springer Mountain which is the official start of the Appalachian Trail.
Yeah, that didn’t happen.
Thanks to a wee invisible beastie (yes, I quoted Jamie Fraser Outlander fans!) called Coronovirus our amazing country is grinding to a halt. People everywhere are contracting the virus and it is spreading, making them very, very ill and killing people. REI is closed, restaurants are take out only, you can’t socialize in groups, toilet paper and cleaning supplies are sold out at every store. In my mind, I was so glad to begin my hike away from the outbreak. Alas, more areas in the south and along the trail were closing. And the situation along the trail is just like the situation at home. The restaurants and bars were shut down except for take out. Hostels along the trail were closing. It is recommended you create a 6 foot distance between you and others – called social distancing. My hike was changing rapidly. I started to plan out where to send resupply boxes so I wouldn’t need to rely on trail towns for food and toilet paper. Dave and I decided that I would fly down alone to the trail head so he would be put at less risk of contracting the virus.
Then I realized….this hike is not the hike I had been dreaming about since I was a teenager. I dreamed of sitting among other hikers around a fire, making dinner at the shelter with others close by, meeting my “tramily” in towns and enjoying a burger and beer at a the best places along the trail. I dreamed of carefree, worry-free hiking day after day. Stopping for rests only when I felt like it and if the mood struck me. I would walk into trail towns and resupply everything I needed. I would go to hostels and meet the most interesting people. And Trail Days! Trail Days is a festival in mid-May in Damascus, Virginia. Dave would meet me there and we’d party for three days and I would walk in the Hiker Parade. Trail Days is cancelled this year.
So, I am officially postponing my hike.
However, if things change, I will section hike this year. Am I disappointed? Of course. But I will be better prepared to start my thru hike next year. Some of the hikers on the trail now have traveled from other countries only to have to return home without reaching Katahdin. Some people left jobs and homes to start their hike. Now they are jobless and homeless. Plans are ripped up and shredded. That being said, there are still hikers on the trail. They are committed and I support their decision to stay on trail and fight for Katahdin. I know there are trail angels and limited support from open outfitters and hostels. They are hiking their own hike and if I had already been on the trail when this started, I probably would have held on to the trail until officials closed them. As of now, the AT is closed through PA, CT and NJ.
I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. I have the opportunity to continue preparing for my thru hike next year. I’ll have more hiking under my belt. I’ll do some longer overnights – nearby and taking all my food, so I don’t need resupply in towns. Then next year, I’ll be all the more ready to tackle the 2,193 miles. I will be rethinking how I start my hike next year, but more on that later.
I can’t believe it. Am I dreaming? Is this real life?
In 33 days I will embark on a life long dream to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. My palms are sweaty, my stomach is doing flips, and my brain is swirling with last-minute details. I am in control of my nerves. My nerves do not control me. It’s been an incredible journey just getting this far.
There have been a million little things in the last few months that I’ve done to prepare. I’ve been watching some really informative videos created by successful thru-hikers. They have given me ideas on the type of gear to bring, how to put up my new tent, what food to bring, how to hang a bear bag, how to stretch your muscles after a long day, the best hostels to stay in and views not to miss on the trail. I especially appreciate the videos on where to find the best hamburger and beer on the trail. You know, the important stuff.
I took a minute or two (okay about an hour) to review some of my past articles. Just to remind myself just how far I’ve come. Sometimes I feel like a completely different person wrote those articles from way back in the beginning. That girl had no idea what she was doing and I’m afraid I don’t know much more than that now! One thing I know now is that I can ASK QUESTIONS. Find someone who looks friendly and ask for help. The hiking community is filled with generous, kind people who are eager to help and teach. Thank goodness!
One of my most fond memories was my very first overnight backpacking trip with my friend Shelly. I felt so bad for Shelly re-reading this. I really was a whiner! My article all about it is here: No Choice, Joyce. Definitely one of my favorite articles. Another favorite is my very, very first article. Somewhere. Sometime. That girl that wrote that was so excited to start this journey and I am so glad she’s coming with me!
In the last few weeks at home, I will continue to pack and unpack and pack my backpack again and again. Layout all my items and fine-tune every last one. How many band-aids do I need? Should I take two buffs or one? Do I really need a pillow? (YES!) I’m making all the decisions with the knowledge that if a piece of my gear isn’t performing the way I’d hoped it would I can always replace or upgrade it at the next outfitter on the trail. Or better yet, I’ll find what I need in a hiker box. A hiker box is found in hostels and some shelters. The box is filled with FREE gear that other hikers have abandoned. Maybe it was a pair of heavy microspikes or a water filter plunger, or a pair of socks. You just never know what might appear in a hiker box. I once left a book in a hiker box. It was way too heavy to continue carrying, so I left it. I still don’t know how it ends.
Also in the last few weeks at home, I am going to EAT. I need to have Bocces pizza and BarBill chicken wings before I go for sure! And, in the last month or so, I’ve developed a little tendonitis in my ankle so I am going to physical therapy to strengthen my joints and increase my flexibility.
As much as I will enjoy every minute of the good, bad and ugly on the trail, I am going to miss a lot about home. My bed, my electric blanket, my iPad, my running water, my TOILET! Above all, I will miss my family and friends. There is decent cell service all along the trail so I plan to keep in touch when I can. I wish I could squish everyone down and stuff them into my backpack and bring them along! I created an Instagram account that I am going to try to update every day with a photo. Come with me! Follow me at @Trailchaser2020.
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!!!
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!
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?
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????
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!
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!!
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!
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.
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……
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?
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.
I stood in the middle of the trail. ALL ALONE. ALONE and BRAVE!