White Blaze, Baby!

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.

I’ll take any white blaze I can get!

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.

First night accommodations. Sugar Hill State Forest.

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…

Bonus pictures of random things on the trail.

All Done.

For Now.

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.

WIP 6

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

Happy trails!

 

Alone to Explore!

Ah, alone time.  As much as I love to hike with others, I love much more to hike alone.  There is something about the quiet solitude and keeping my own pace that I find very peaceful.

After leaving a detailed note for my napping hubby on where I would be I set off for Darien Lakes State Park.  My plan was to hike the Conservation Trail that runs through the park, turn around and hike back to the car.

It was windy, warm and a great day for being outside.  When I parked my car there were two other cars in the small lot at the trail head.  I didn’t anticipate seeing anyone though as this is a big park!  The trail started at the top of a gully and I could look down and see the creek that looked pretty dry. Don’t worry, I stayed away from the edge!

The Conservation Trail runs from Pennsylvania to Canada for about 177 miles.  The trail was built and is maintained by Foothills Trail Club of Western New York. The Conservation Trail is part of the Finger Lakes Trail System which extends eastward across New York State to the Catskills. I’ve hiked other sections of this trail in Hunter’s Creek Park and Akron Falls Park and others.  I was impressed by the trail markings here. You really can’t get lost on this trail!

This trail looked like a lot of people used it.  Or, so I thought.

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Yes, there is a trail here.   Or there usually is!  The grass is growing so fast the trail is almost obscured, but I could just barely make out the orange blaze on the tree at the far end of the picture!

Don’t worry I sprayed myself with Deet and checked myself for ticks after this hike!  I found one on my shirt sleeve.  Killed that sucker!

 

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Not long after that crazy overgrown section, a perfectly new, beautiful boardwalk appeared.  The dragonflies were bouncing off the ground ahead of me enjoying the sunshine even more than me!

Some of the trail was mucky and trail maintainers or other hikers had used large sticks and logs to try to cover the mud in the path.  It worked for the most part.  I don’t mind getting my boots muddy anyway.

 

After hiking a while I saw a blue trail blaze.  On the Appalachian Trail a “blue blaze” will take you to a shelter, water, vista, or other point of interest off of the “white blazed” Appalachian Trail.  Here, the Conservation Trail is “orange blazed” and this “blue blaze” led to a lean-to!

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Of course, I just had to check it out!  I figured it would add an extra mile to my hike, so I would do it on my way back.  I nearly sprinted to finish up getting to the trail head at the other end of the park because I wanted to go back to see this darn lean-to!

Here is a pretty photo of the trail at the opposite end from where I started.

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Doesn’t this look so incredibly inviting?  It pulls me in like a magnet.  

Those rocks lining the trail’s entrance are perfect. I imagine it could have been easy to just create the trail by clearing the way, but to add the rocks at the entrance to welcome you and make it beautiful just brightens my day.  Thank you to those people that lugged those rocks and put them in place for me to enjoy!

 

Okay, enough of that.  I hiked back to the blue blaze trail head to go to the lean-to and then for a horrified moment realized I left a note that explained I would be only on the Conservation Trail, not on a side trail.  In case something happened to me I would want someone to know where to find me.  I checked my cell service and realized I had service and could call for help if needed.  I was fine.  I should have sent my husband a text so he knew, but I didn’t.  I guess I figured the bloodhounds would find me.  Ugh, the things solo hikers worry about.

The half-mile blue blazed trail was not as well maintained as the Conservation Trail.  Probably not as well used, either.  It was mucky, but fun!  Here is what I found at the end!!! (Hint: I think if you click on a picture it will get bigger so you can see it better!)

Now I wish I had packed my overnight pack!  I could have been right at home here!  This lean-to was Justin Yaw’s Eagle Scout project on May 24, 2003, Troop 67, Corfu, NY!  How awesome is that!  This Eagle Scout is a man now, moved on to bigger and more important things I’m sure.  He has no idea that a crazy hiker lady just fell in love with his little lean-to he built back in 2003!

The wind was picking up and the sun was getting lower and I was getting hungry for dinner!  So, I picked up the pace and headed back to the car, but not before I heard a wild turkey, saw a chipmunk, squirrel and a bear.  Oh wait, no, there wasn’t a bear.  It was my imagination.  When you’re hiking alone, sometimes your head plays tricks on you!

It’s all good, keeps the heart pumping!

Until next time!  Hike on!

!*^% Snowshoes and Sunshine

What a beautiful weekend in Western New York!  The weather was warm and the sun was shining on all creation!  I was lucky enough to have both Saturday and Sunday planned for hiking!

Saturday morning I met my best friend, Linda and we drove to Bear Creek State Forest.

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Finger Lakes/North Country Trail

 

It is in or near Machias, New York.  We were meeting our Buffalo Day Hike Group and the Foothills Trail Club for a joint club snowshoe hike.  I’ve been on snowshoes maybe three times before and always had a good experience so I was excited.

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The snow is about a foot deep here.

 

As we were putting on our snowshoes, Linda noticed that one of her shoes was completely broken.  She wouldn’t be able to wear them.  We checked with the leaders, Chuck and Marty and they agreed that if she wore micro spikes and walked behind the group, she could participate.  Phew! It was a long drive to the trail head to not be able to hike!

Of course the hike started up a hill.  Hills are a challenge for me!  I have no stamina and I get out of breath quickly.  Now, add in that I am wearing snowshoes!  Yikes.  Well, we went slowly and stopped often as the rest of the group quickly hiked out of sight.  Determined to continue I pushed myself further than I thought I would.  The leader of Foothills Club, Marty, hiked back to check on us.  Linda made a point of telling Marty that I was training to hike the Appalachian Trail.  Marty looked at me cross eyed.  I can only imagine what he was thinking of my goal.  While he hiked with us for a little while, I told Marty I was thinking of joining the Cross County hike this summer.  He was very nice and told me to join the half-hike group.  It breaks the 96 miles into shorter hikes. I agreed that it would be a good place for me to start.  Our slow pace was now a crawl and we convinced Marty to go on ahead.

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I do not look happy.

Linda and I pushed up the hill (it felt like a mountain) and I tried to maintain a positive attitude.  About a half hour later, Marty joined us again he said it was only another half mile before the turn around point.  Right then and there I said we would turn around now.  Marty went ahead again and Linda and I were on our own going back down the hill.  We had walked up hill a mile and a quarter, now we had to go back down!  Our moods were elevated knowing that we were headed back to the car!  I just couldn’t wait to get my snowshoes off!  We were in the homestretch when Linda took a huge fall and twisted her ankle.  When she fell I was in front, I turned around and saw her looking like a human sled.

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Ooph! Poor Linda! I told her not to move until I got this picture!

Linda was a trooper and slowly started downhill again.  Suddenly she shouted that she heard voices coming.  I’d be damned if the group caught up to us!!  We high-tailed it the rest of the way and finally made it to the car.  On our way home, we, of course, stopped to find a geocache.  It was super cute!

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There’s a geocache hidden in this little outhouse!

Linda had x-rays on her ankle and it’s a bad sprain, but nothing is broken!

Sunday was another beautiful day for a hike.  It took everything I had to get out of bed. My legs were sore from using muscles snowshoeing that I don’t normally use hiking. The only thing that motivated me was knowing it would be a flat hike and there would be very little snow at Beaver Island State Park on Grand Island.

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Short loop trail that had a great viewing area for bird watching.

Chuck was again my leader for this hike and he razzed me a little about dropping out of yesterday’s hike.  I told him I wouldn’t abandon him this time!

We walked around Beaver Island State Park for 4.5 miles and some of the trail was icy and/or flooded.  My Keen boots kept my feet dry and warm!

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So much happier on this hike!

This hike didn’t have any falls, steep hills or snowshoes.  Woohoo!

I know I have to continue to challenge myself on my hikes and my endurance needs to grow to successfully hike the Appalachian Trail. I’ll get there.

Next step, register for the Finger Lakes Trail Cross County Half-hikes.