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).

FLT50

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!

I’m Hiking Alone. Ha!

It’s true.  Almost everyone I meet when they hear that I am hiking the Appalachian Trail they ask, “Are you hiking alone?”  Yes.  But, there’s a big, HOWEVER!  I am hiking alone with the hundreds of other thru-hikers and section hikers on the trail.  Most thru-hikers start out “alone” and acquire a trail family aka “tramily” along the journey.  Being a friendly sort of person there’s a good chance I will be hiking with others along the way.

It makes me proud to be a solo woman attempting a thru-hike.  Walking alone lets me dictate how far I go, how fast I go and if I even go at all.  I alone make the decisions that impact my hike.  That being said, there’s no one around to grab the snacks out of my backpack, consult the map with, or try to save me before I fall in a creek.   It can be pretty nice to have a helping hand when needed.

These last few months I have found some amazing friends to hike with around Western New York!   Now that Winter is here Outside Chronicles has announced a WNY Winter Hiking Challenge.  Hikers are challenged to complete 6 of 9 trails around Western New York.  I am hiking the trails along with Kim, Stephanie and Sara whom I met through the Allegany 18 Challenge I completed over the summer.  I couldn’t dream of better hiking partners.  These strong women inspire me, make me laugh, encourage me to push myself and they also bring good snacks.

Our first hike took us to Chestnut Ridge Park in Orchard Park.  The challenge landmark was the Eternal Flame.  Being hardy hikers we decided to go the long way.  Unfortunately, we became a little misguided, but Google set us straight and soon we were at the “Not so Eternal” Eternal Flame.  The flame was out!  I had my mini Bic lighter and Stephanie bravely climbed the ice-covered waterfall.  She waved that little flame all over the grotto and could not get it lit.  As you can see from the photo above, we were still all smiles.  If you attempt this hike in the winter, I highly recommend microspikes.

Still feeling strong we headed to the Knox Farm State Park to find a little pond.  We circled around the park and asked directions a few times.  Finally, we found the right little pond for the challenge photo.  Knox Farm was tricky as the trails were not well marked or at all.

We just didn’t get enough so we all headed out again a couple of days later (minus Stephanie) to Zoar Valley MUA.  This was my first time at this amazing park.  The trail took us down into a gorge along the Cattaraugus Creek.  The challenge landmark was the confluence of the Main and South branches of the Cattaraugus Creek.  It was amazing!  I highly recommend this hike and again, in the winter, bring your microspikes.

Our second stop that day was to the Erie County Forest to find “A Bridge Too Far” for the next challenge landmark.  This trail had a few footbridges to cross and was so beautiful.  It was a really nice hike.  “A Bridge Too Far” was just far enough.

After those two hikes, we eagerly drove over to Sprague Brook Park for the trifecta for the day!  It was getting later in the day, but we were determined to find the challenge landmark of a “unique tree”.  Unfortunately, we were all unfamiliar with the park and the trailhead eluded us.  We wandered around for a few miles and called it quits before it got dark.  We obtained better directions and a few hints and plan on returning to Sprague Brook to find that darn tree! All of these hikes were made immensely better by hiking with good friends. Maybe one of my friends will meet me for a few miles of the Appalachian Trail this year.  Until then, I look forward to a few more hikes with them before I leave in March – alone!

If you want to go hiking, send me a message!

Happy Trails!