If at first, you don’t succeed…

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.

img_4230
My Trail Angel

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!

img_4290
I70 Pedestrian Bridge

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!

img_4303
The original Washington Monument.

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.

58825849420__0fda18f9-9508-451e-964e-bbc8d58d4690
Wet.

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. 

Now to plan the next adventure…..

Happy Trails!

My proudest achievement, always.

As you may know from previous posts, my son was married last fall.  As some of you may also know, once your child is married, you don’t see them as much as you once did.  I was missing my son more than usual so I asked my daughter-in-law if I could borrow her husband for a weekend.  My son, Carl is a hard worker and has many commitments.  I am grateful for the time I get to spend with him.

Carl was born with a natural affinity for the outdoors, animals and nature.

And video games, philosophy and history, etc. etc.  Well I scooped up the chance to take him to my most recent favorite place, Allegany State Park.

There are some trails on the Allegany 18 Challenge that intimidate me because the trails may be steep or long.  I was glad to have his company on the trail I chose for us, Beehunter Trail.  Beehunter Trail is about 6.5 miles long, is steep in sections and one of the longer trails in the challenge. We decided to walk the loop backwards starting at the bike trail near the Beehunter cabin road.

We packed my day pack with waters and our rain gear and some snacks.  The trail began with a steep section.  Steep for me, anyway.  Carl ran up the hill easily.  He was encouraging and helpful; guiding me and leading the way.  I enjoyed hiking with him, knowing how capable and strong he is.

The temperature was in the 80s during our hike and we finally found a pretty spot to stop and have a snack.  The bugs were atrocious and the Deet we applied had little effect on them.

img_3472

We checked to see how much further to the end and we estimated we were half way there. Suddenly, the sky began to thicken with clouds and the wind picked up.  There was thunder in the distance.  We quickly put our rain gear on.  Me, my Marmot rain jacket; he, a big green poncho.

Then the thunder and lightening started.

I think we made record pace getting off that mountain! The lightening was so close and the thunder was deafening!  I was wearing my “waterproof” Keen boots.  Well, the water got in and couldn’t get out.  My feet were sloshing in my boots.  I wish I were wearing my Altra trail runners.  Carl stayed pretty dry in his poncho.  Luckily my day pack was under his poncho staying dry.  One good thing about the rain is that the bugs stopped!

As we approached the trail head we could see two beams of light.  There was a park ranger car there crossing the trail head.  Due to the thunder and lightening storm they closed the trail.  Well, obviously we survived!  It was definitely good experience for me for my thru hike.  I’m sure I will be hiking in thunder and lightening a few times next year!

If you think that was the end of the story, it’s not!  We just couldn’t get enough of the trails!  After a quick bite to eat and a change of clothes we headed over to the North Country Trail.  We donned our heavy packs and hiked in 2 miles to the Willis Creek lean to for the night.

Since it rained all the wood at the lean to was wet.  So wet, I was afraid we wouldn’t get a fire started.  I wasn’t too worried as I had packed my pocket rocket stove and kettle to make our Mountain House dinners.  Or at least I THOUGHT I had packed my stove.  Another learning lesson here – always double check you have everything you need!  Usually my stove is kept in my kettle, but the last time I went out I moved my stove to a small bag and inadvertently left that bag sitting on the dining room table.

Luckily, I was camping with the world’s most brilliant man (trust me on this) and he was able to somehow create a fire. Carl scoured the surrounding area for tree stumps that had dry wood in them and was able to get enough to start a great fire that boiled our water so we could eat dinner.  That fire also dried out other sticks and logs that we used to keep the fire going well into the night.  Did I mention he was brilliant?

img_3478
Carl chopping dry wood from a tree stump.

That night we played cards and talked until the fire was out.  In the morning, I laughed out loud seeing Carl sleeping in his wife’s sleeping bag.  I think I know what he needs for Christmas!  He looked like a mummy stuffed in that little bitty sleeping bag!

img_3498

As we hiked out the two miles back to the car in the morning, we decided we would have breakfast at the park restaurant.  Before that though, we had a quick stop at Thunder Rocks.

Then another quick stop at Camp Allegany where years ago Carl and I spent many weekends with the Buffalo Museum of Science.  I made him pose next to the creek he played in.

After breakfast I took my tuckered out son home to his wife!  He slept almost all the way!

img_3531
I love my son!  

Happy trails!

 

I AM NOT AFRAID! I AM NOT AFRAID!

Fabulous!  Excited!  Amazing!  ALIVE!

I have a Bucket List.  Do you?  If not, you should!  A Bucket List details things that you would like to accomplish during your lifetime.  Recently, I was able to check off a couple things on my Bucket List.

my-bucket-list

Well, I’m trying to step outside my comfort zone in baby steps.  It’s not easy for me to do things that I feel intimidated by.  I know, I know, I want to thru hike the Appalachian Trail…pretty intimidating.  So I have to start putting myself out there NOW.

One really fun thing I did off my Bucket List was participate in the Color Run.  A Color Run is a 5K non race.  Just my thing!  During the run/walk/skipping along the course there are “Color Zones” where a bunch of people throw different colored powder at you.  There’s an orange zone, pink zone, blue zone, purple zone, you get the drift.  By the end of the course you are covered head to toe in different colors.

Participating in the Color Run was a little intimidating for me.  I was afraid you had RUN or JOG the whole thing.  Heaven forbid!!  NOT TRUE!!!  The more I read other people’s experiences I was satisfied that I could just walk or skip or jog a tiny bit.  Unfortunately, the night before the race I was anxious.  I didn’t want to go alone.  I was ready to back out.  My registration was paid, I had my t-shirt and polka-dot socks, but I was NERVOUS!  My husband came to my rescue, like he often does, and when I asked him if he would join me on the course, he said he would.  He is such a trooper.  We both got thoroughly covered in different colors and we walked pretty much the entire way, but at the end we still got shiny silver medals and we weren’t the last ones across the finish line!

Another thing I really had to do was sleep outside in the woods all by myself. Since I was a little girl I’ve been afraid of the dark.  Now, I’ve outgrown being afraid while in the darkness of my house.  Mostly…but especially when my dogs or others are around.  When I am with others outside in the dark, easy; I’m not scared really at all.  If I am alone outside, with only a tent, how will I do?  Well, I survived!

I started out with a baby step.  I slept in my backyard!  Now, I have a very woodsy backyard.  Where I slept, I couldn’t see my house, but I could see my shed.  It was pitch black out.

img_20160818_204214
I know I heard something weird…

I knew my dogs and husband were only a few hundred feet away.  I knew I could easily walk back to my house in the dark.  I also had a headlamp and my phone so I had light.  Like I said, baby steps.  It was also a baby step for my husband.  He loves to worry!  He was pretty freaked out about me sleeping outside by myself.  It was good for both of us.  I slept okay and managed to not freak out more than twice from the weird noises.  When I woke up at 6 am, I walked to the house and slept another couple hours in my bed.

Just this past weekend I decided it was now or never to actually camp out in the woods away from home.  I convinced my husband to drop me off at a nearby trail head where I knew about 2 miles down the trail was a lean to.  We left late in the day so I wouldn’t be at the lean to bored out of my mind for too long before bed.

There was one car in the parking lot and as any worry wart would, my husband took a picture of their license plate.  As I hiked, the woods became darker and darker.  I forgot how it gets darker in the woods more quickly.

image

image

Whew.  I made it to the lean to and unpacked my gear.  I started a small fire in the fire ring, and I mean small.   

While settling in I realized the mosquitoes were going to kill me.  Even with repellent on.  There were mouse droppings in the lean to.  I felt exposed. And scared. And nervous. And worried. And And And!

So, in the dusk, I rapidly set up my tent.  I’m so glad it’s so easy! In less than 15 minutes I was snug as a bug inside my tent watching the fire die out.

image
I love looking at my little home away from home.

Somehow during my rush I butt dialed my mother.  When I realized it and put the phone to my ear and heard her beautiful voice it was like magic!  It was like I was cheating a little though.  I was supposed to be outside in the woods overnight by myself.  Well, my mother couldn’t do anything to protect me when she is just on the other end of the phone so we chatted for 10 minutes and she encouraged me and I felt so much more brave!

Inside my tent that night I could hear the nearby amusement park roller coaster and what I thought were the screams of the riders!  It’s crazy how sound travels.  Then I heard their fireworks at 9pm and then again at 10pm.  Then it was eerily silent.  Just the sounds of the forest around me.  The call of a barred owl, the miscellaneous insects and some weird licking sound?  Seriously??!!??  I heard a raccoon and YELLED at it!  It must have run off because I never heard it’s chittering sound again.  I kept hearing the “licking” sound, though.  Like my dog licking his paw over and over and over…ugh.  I have no idea what that was, and I don’t care.  I just turned Adele Radio on and drowned it out for 20 minutes.  It worked.  I fell asleep and dreamed.  I posted a 4 minute video at the end of this article if you want to know really how my night was and what my dream was about.  Just be kind; it was a no makeup kind of day.

image
I’m the green lantern.

My body clock finally woke me at my usual time just before the sunrise and gradually I could hear the forest waking up all around me.  The birds began their morning songs and I debated whether to hike for awhile or just head back to the trail head and have my husband pick me up.  I started my little stove and ate hot granola with blueberries.

img_20160905_065553
This was delicious.

As I walked around the trees while eating and breathing in the sweet morning air I felt exhilarated!  I made it through the night!  But, I wanted to go home.  I packed up and headed back.

img_20160905_072630

Baby steps.

Next time I will hike longer in, camp out and hike longer out.  All by myself.  Sigh.  Now to just do it.

A couple other small things I have checked off my Bucket List is making a little gnome home.  I did that at the base of one of the largest red oak trees in Erie County, which happens to be in my front yard.

image

The other thing checked off was that I had wanted my picture taken with Shark Girl.  She is a lot like me!  Quite a resemblance.  Especially the teeth!

img_20160903_140633

Also at Canalside in Buffalo was the world’s largest rubber duck. I didn’t realize that seeing it was on my bucket list until I heard about it.  But, how could you NOT go see the world’s LARGEST rubber ducky!  It was 6 stories tall and weighs about one ton!

img_20160826_223723

Next week on my bucket list is:  I get to meet Alison Arngrim.  She is the actress that played Nellie Oleson on Little House on the Prairie.  Can’t wait!

manyan

The week after that I have PRK eye surgery scheduled.  That will cross off another thing on my Bucket List!  No glasses for me on my thru hike!

Whew…that’s quite enough for now!

As promised here is the scary video!  Sorry about the vertical video.  I’m learning!

Checked off another one on the bucket list!  Add video to my blog!

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.

IMG_20160612_152755845

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!

 

IMG_20160612_152854453

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!

IMG_20160612_152948059

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.

IMG_20160612_165140598

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!