Here we have a whole new year full of opportunities to capture our dreams and follow our hearts. Let’s GOOOOOOO!
This article may be all over the place, so bear with me, please. First of all, I want to say, I am one of the very few people that did NOT want 2020 to end. With 2020 ending it meant my name, Trailchaser2020 becomes kind of dumb. What was I thinking naming this blog that? Anyway. Also 2020 was supposed to be the year I completed the Appalachian Trail and well, we know that didn’t happen. Whaa Whaa.
Here’s what I look like when I don’t get what I want.
I know, I know….I did do A LOT of hiking in 2020. I think I jinxed myself by naming this blog Trailchaser2020. I ended up not just chasing one trail in 2020, but 100’s of trails. I averaged 3.5 miles a day of hiking for 2020 according to my iphone tracker. The accuracy is to be determined, but I can honestly say I hiked over 1,000 miles in 2020. Not too shabby. It’s not the 2,193 miles I was hoping for, but I’ll take it.
When you make your Plan A, you should have a Plan B. A back up. I didn’t have that. I still don’t have that. My ONLY plan is to thru hike the Appalachian Trail. My pack is just waiting for the right time. This year the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is again asking hikers to postpone their thru hikes due to Covid. Would that have stopped me this year? Probably not. I understand the risks better and know how the trail community is adjusting to Covid to protect everyone. I would have totally hit the trail in March this year.
BUT! My son and daughter-in-law have blessed me and our family with the addition of my first grandbaby due in March 2021. There is NO trail in the WORLD that would tear me away from spending the first year with my grandbaby. I just couldn’t imagine spending six months away from him while I hike. Babies grow too fast and I don’t want to miss it! So my Appalachian Trail thru hike will wait for me and I will dip my boots here and there on the AT this spring and summer. ( I will be patient, I will be patient, I will be patient.)
Some of the hikes I already have in the books for 2021 are Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio. If you haven’t been, you must. Seriously, go right now. Read the rest of this later. It is stunning. My next article will be all about it because I have a lot to share. Here’s some sneak peek pictures.
Some other hikes in the works are section hiking the Conservation Trail in New York, Cranberry 50 in the fall, and two or three hikes on the Appalachian Trail. I have a lot to look forward to this year.
So, please wear your mask, get the vaccine if you can, wash your hands and last but not least, Take a HIKE!
White blazes mark the path of the Appalachian Trail. You can find them on trees, rocks, telephone poles, the road, guard rails, on buildings and more. When I see a white blaze my heart skips a beat and my mood instantly improves. I couldn’t get to the Appalachian Trail white blaze this year so I found another trail with a white blaze. The Finger Lakes Trail.
Most of this next paragraph is shamelessly stolen from the FLTC webpage. The Finger Lakes Trail System includes the main Finger Lakes Trail (FLT) that is routed from the Pennsylvania-New York border in Allegany State Park to the Long Path in the Catskill Forest Preserve. The main FLT is 580 miles long. There are six branch trails (I just completed the Letchworth State Park Branch Trail on August 22) and 29 loop trails and spur trails that extend from the main FLT. All of the branch, loop and spur trails currently total 412 miles. So that means all together the Finger Lakes Trail System offers 1,000 miles of hiking. I better get my boots on!
So I did! Well, I wear Altra trail runners not boots, but I put them on last week and packed my backpack for a 55ish mile week long journey on the Finger Lakes Trail. My good friend, Jim (who was also supposed to complete the Appalachian Trail this year, but couldn’t) and I took separate cars and we met at the east end of Robert Treman State Park at a trail head where the FLT meets a parking lot. We left my car there and took his truck to the FLT trail head near Todd Road. This is where Jim calculated we would be by mid-week and would need a food (and whiskey) re-supply. We hiked in about a half mile near a bivouac site and hung the bear bag. We both prayed that it wouldn’t be messed with by people or animals. At this point we drove the rest of the way past Watkins Glen State Park to Sugar Hill State Forest for our first night on trail. My nerves were rattling.
The next couple of days we walked through the town of Watkins Glen and Watkins Glen State Park. We enjoyed a fabulous apple donut at Tobey’s Donut Shop as the FLT passes right by the front door!
This section had some insane uphill road walks. We kept at it though and Jim fed me Jolly Ranchers to motivate me. I sang him songs to motivate him but I think that just made him hike faster to get away from me. So many road walks….
The trail was beautiful no matter where we were. Even the road walks took us past pastures of cows, hay fields, and views of the mountains around us. I highly recommend purchasing the FLT maps. There were times we didn’t think it provided enough information about water sources and bivouac sites, but they were helpful with some descriptions so we knew what to look forward to. Jim and I referred to the map a lot! Sometimes as a distraction from being out of breath or sometimes because we couldn’t find a turn. One section of trail would have blazes on every other tree and another section would be lacking blazes at crucial turns. Luckily we were never lost, just not exactly on the trail, haha!
We made it to the resupply bear hang we left and were relieved that it was exactly as we left it. At this bivouac site there was a ravine that had a beautiful creek running through it. We took time here to wash up. I couldn’t remember the last time I went swimming in the creek, but now I can. The water was cold but so refreshing and it felt so good to be sort of clean! Unfortunately, the feeling of clean didn’t last long.
We were glad to meet some super nice people on trail. One stand out is, Asha. She is 27 years old and is hiking 40 days on the FLT with no particular agenda. Her pack was bigger than she was! We spent a couple nights at the same campsites together, but she was faster than us. She said that her mentor was bringing her a resupply from Watkins Glen and we told her about the amazing donut we had. A day later as Jim and I were trudging on a snowmobile path (instead of the correct FLT path) we heard our names being called. We bushwhacked to the actual trail and found Asha walking toward us with a paper bag. Yes, she asked her mentor to bring us apple donuts and Asha had waited for us to pass by so she could give them to us. It was a definite highlight of our trip!
After a couple really long days, Jim and I revamped our mileage for the last few days of our trip. Jim had factored in a “zero day” mid week. A zero day is when you don’t hike at all that day. We were just going to stay at the camp and rest, but we took that day and hiked six miles to the next shelter in order to have smaller mileage days until we finished. It is so important to be flexible with your plans. I am so glad we did it this way and I think Jim was too. We had less stress and we were able to get to our campsites earlier in the afternoon each day so we could take a nap, get cleaned up, do laundry, filter water and relax.
One of favorite days on trail was our last full day. We hiked up to the Locust Lean To which is just before Robert Treman State Park. This shelter is new and has a solar charger for your devices. It also has incredible views! We met some other campers here and enjoyed the company. We were able to set up our tents to overlook the view so we could see the sun rise from our tents. It was amazing.
Our last day was about six miles through Robert Treman State Park. It was mostly down hill. As we got closer to the park we saw more and more people. We made it to the Sierra Shelter and had a little snack here then walked the one mile left to my car. We then had to drive to the beginning at Sugar Hill State Forest to get Jim’s truck.
If I could do anything over again, I would bring a notebook to write memories down. I don’t like using my phone to keep notes. I would also take more baby wipes and whiskey. You know, the important things…
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.
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!
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).
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!
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!
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!
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!
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?
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.
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.
Don’t mind Dave’s finger.
This month I will be back in the Smoky Mountains and plan to retake that before photo.
There’s a question I love to answer! The answer is – anything and everything to prepare for my adventure in the Spring! I definitely have some kind of Appalachian Trail Fever. I’ve been busy reading and researching the trail, gear, backpacking food, etc. The most important thing I have been doing is – Hiking!
Over the past month, I have completed six more trails of the Allegany 18 Challenge. For those of you keeping track, I have one more trail left. I promised Dave that he could hike that last trail with me so we can celebrate together.
I spent the night in Allegany State Park at the Ridge Run Trail lean-to. This is where I learned that my sleeping bag is not warm enough, that I can start a fire if needed and always remember to pack a little booze!
Typically, I hike solo, but two of the trails I completed were hiked with my good friend, Denise. She makes me laugh as you can see from the video below.
She really thought she would fit in that tree!
My best friend, Linda also went hiking with me. Well, I call it hiking, she calls it geocaching. We celebrated her 5000th cache found by hiking to a cache that was clothing optional. She was crazy enough to hike naked, so I did too. Unfortunately, it was rainy and chilly so the naked didn’t last long! Here are a couple of edited pictures.
The fun doesn’t stop there!
Of course, I am utilizing all the resources available to me to learn about thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. One thing I did was to join a group on Facebook specifically for people planning to hike the trail in 2020. Since it’s such a small world, I met another hiker that actually lives in a town over from me. Jim is starting the trail just before me and his brother will be hiking the first month with him. Jim invited me to join him on a shakedown hike in the Allegheny National Forest. A shakedown hike is where a hiker packs all their gear and sees what gear they used, what worked, what needs to be replaced or upgraded, and what gear they can live without, etc. My pack weighed in at 31 pounds fully loaded with food and water. Jim’s was 23 pounds. I would prefer to carry Jim’s pack, so I’m working on lightening my pack weight. We hiked out to the Tracy Ridge Campground on Friday evening and I faced my first night-hike. It was tiring and sometimes confusing because it was so dark, but we made it to the campsite and quickly set up our tents.
When I woke up on Saturday morning and finally saw my surroundings – All I can say is WOW!
We hiked a little on Saturday and Jim also gave me a fire building lesson. He showed me how a water bladder makes filtering water easier (it’s on my Amazon wish list) and more little bits of backpacker tips and tricks. It was so helpful! We spent another night and hiked out to the car on Sunday morning. Every mountain I climb makes the next mountain I climb a little easier!
Now, I’m looking forward to hiking in Letchworth soon and getting out for some fall hikes. And biting my nails waiting for Spring!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.