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.
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 announced my intention to thru hike the Appalachian Trail in 2020 WAY back in July of 2015. Some people seem to be assuming that I have given up on it. What??? No. I still intend on starting my hike in April of 2020. Ready or not here I come. This summer I will be buckling my pack and staking my tent even more; going to places I have never been and gaining some valuable experience. And I’ll even write about a few of those adventures. Plans are in the works for a trip to the Maryland section of the Appalachian Trail, and a possible trip to Maine. I’ll, of course, also keep hiking around Western New York.
Right now though, Mother Nature has not yet received the message that Spring is about to be here and has been unleashing some serious snow and cold around here.
I’m not letting that stop me though. I revisited an old favorite place to hike, Tillman Nature Preserve. The last time I visited there was a monsoon! (Read about it here.) I was up past my ankles in water while hiking in my work boots and a skirt! (This was back when I didn’t prepare very well.) It was a little different this time. The weather was cool, but it had just been raining so the trails were mushy and muddy in places and downright ponds to walk through. The boardwalks and waterproofed boots were sure handy!
Of course, I always say – It isn’t a truly good hike unless there’s a little mud!
Before and after of my boots.
Tillman Nature Preserve has a great loop trail that is just over 2 miles. It crosses and recrosses a road and is completely and utterly FLAT. There were a few interesting photo ops though.
Some kind of fungus, a neat little bridge and it seems as if someone built a couple “shelters”. Only one seemed to be big enough for me to get in, so I did.
As you can see by the sunshine over my shoulder the shelter is not very weatherproof, but it’s still fun. I cleaned up some litter around the shelters and on the trail.
There must be at least a six pack of Bud Light and a couple Gatorade bottles. What a shame. I’m glad I brought a bag to collect it all in. I actually washed and kept the orange shaker bottle. It looked brand new! I’m guessing it fell off a fat-tire bike rider.
A week later, my big green pack was looking sad, so I packed it lightly and buckled it up to revisit Hunters Creek Park. I was worried about the snow in the parking lot, but I didn’t need to be. So many people love this park it must have been plowed. I put on my micro spikes for a short hike around the most used trails. The trails with no human tracks made me nervous. I didn’t want to blaze my own trail yet and I had left my snow shoes in my car.
It was not even 30 degrees, but I was plenty warm with my layers. I was confident hiking on the icy paths with my micro spikes. I had my taped together, well-used map, so I didn’t get lost. Although at one point I thought a blue dashed line was the creek when it was actually a trail. Oops. So much for having a map. I am seriously considering taking an orienteering class this summer.
I love this picture below of the brilliant sunset (my AT dream) behind poles (work, life) with a directional sign (chose left or right). I don’t want to go left or right; I want to go straight into that brilliant dream!!! Those poles can just get out of my way! When I’m on the AT, I will take many photos of the sunset I am sure; and NONE of them will have poles in the way!