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!

@#!% – not a typo.

March 21, 2020!  The day has finally arrived!  I flew from Buffalo to Atlanta super early this morning.  Dave rented a car and drove us to the Amicalola Falls State Park. It’s 54 degrees and cloudy.  It’s a perfect day to begin my journey of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.  My pack weighs 30 pounds and I am full of excitement, adrenaline and nervousness.  My plan is to climb the 604 stairs to the top of Amicalola Falls and then spend the night at the cushy Amicalola Lodge with my husband.  In the morning, I will have a delicious breakfast and continue my hike on the approach trail 8 miles up to the top of Springer Mountain which is the official start of the Appalachian Trail.

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SCREECH!

Yeah, that didn’t happen.

Thanks to a wee invisible beastie (yes, I quoted Jamie Fraser Outlander fans!) called Coronovirus our amazing country is grinding to a halt.  People everywhere are contracting the virus and it is spreading, making them very, very ill and killing people.  REI is closed, restaurants are take out only, you can’t socialize in groups, toilet paper and cleaning supplies are sold out at every store.  In my mind, I was so glad to begin my hike away from the outbreak.  Alas, more areas in the south and along the trail were closing.  And the situation along the trail is just like the situation at home.  The restaurants and bars were shut down except for take out.  Hostels along the trail were closing.  It is recommended you create a 6 foot distance between you and others – called social distancing.  My hike was changing rapidly.  I started to plan out where to send resupply boxes so I wouldn’t need to rely on trail towns for food and toilet paper.  Dave and I decided that I would fly down alone to the trail head so he would be put at less risk of contracting the virus.

Then I realized….this hike is not the hike I had been dreaming about since I was a teenager.  I dreamed of sitting among other hikers around a fire, making dinner at the shelter with others close by, meeting my “tramily” in towns and enjoying a burger and beer at a the best places along the trail.  I dreamed of carefree, worry-free hiking day after day.  Stopping for rests only when I felt like it and if the mood struck me.  I would walk into trail towns and resupply everything I needed.  I would go to hostels and meet the most interesting people.  And Trail Days!  Trail Days is a festival in mid-May in Damascus, Virginia.  Dave would meet me there and we’d party for three days and I would walk in the Hiker Parade.  Trail Days is cancelled this year.

So, I am officially postponing my hike.

However, if things change, I will section hike this year.  Am I disappointed?  Of course.  But I will be better prepared to start my thru hike next year.  Some of the hikers on the trail now have traveled from other countries only to have to return home without reaching Katahdin.  Some people left jobs and homes to start their hike.  Now they are jobless and homeless.  Plans are ripped up and shredded. That being said, there are still hikers on the trail. They are committed and I support their decision to stay on trail and fight for Katahdin.  I know there are trail angels and limited support from open outfitters and hostels.  They are hiking their own hike and if I had already been on the trail when this started, I probably would have held on to the trail until officials closed them.  As of now, the AT is closed through PA, CT and NJ. 

I don’t want people to feel sorry for me.  I have the opportunity to continue preparing for my thru hike next year.  I’ll have more hiking under my belt.  I’ll do some longer overnights – nearby and taking all my food, so I don’t need resupply in towns.  Then next year, I’ll be all the more ready to tackle the 2,193 miles.  I will be rethinking how I start my hike next year, but more on that later.

For now.

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And the  WNY Hiking Challenge  – 32 trails for 2020 instead of just 1.

Well, after I spend just today doing this:

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and feeling sorry for myself.

Stay safe everyone and for God’s sake, WASH YOUR HANDS!

 

 

The Countdown is On!

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I can’t believe it.  Am I dreaming?  Is this real life?

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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.

Happy Trails!

 

R

Hey, Bear!

Ever since I’ve started this journey in training for my thru hike I’ve wondered when I would see a black bear!  It was beginning to feel like it would never happen!

Well, it’s finally happened!  I’m a real hiker now!  On August 4 at 4:24pm, the elusive black bear has been spotted!  Then as a bonus on August 5 at 12:03pm, I saw it’s bigger brother!

Having a few more trails to knock out for the Allegany 18 Challenge, I headed to Allegany State Park on a Sunday morning.  I had packed my tent and pack for sleeping at a lean-to along the North Country Trail.

The first trail of the day I decided on was the Flagg trail.  This trail is about 3 miles point to point.  The trail head is across from the Quaker Lake Bath House so I parked in that parking lot and walked across the road.  There is a little hill with a road and a gate that has a sign that says “Road Closed” so I went around the gate and hiked up a little hill.  I didn’t see any sign of the trail or trail markers and then I heard the most frightening sound; a pack of coyotes yipping and barking.  I didn’t waste anytime running back to my car in fear.  Then I remembered that I won’t be able to run to my car when I am thru hiking the Appalachian Trail.  That I have to figure out what to do as the situation arises, I can’t just run away. So, I gathered my fears and put them behind me.  I walked back up the little hill off the road and saw the real entrance to the Flagg trail with markers on the trees and everything!  (Do not go past the gate! The trail is to the right!)

I did hear the coyotes again but this time I stood still, I listened until they stopped, then I kept right on going.  My heart was in my throat, but it was a great first time experience to have now, rather than on the Appalachian Trail.  The Challenge marker was at about half way along the trail. There were a few other people on the trail as it seems pretty popular with the Cain Hollow campground at one end and the Quaker Lake Beach on the other.

Having had the success of the morning hike I couldn’t be stopped.  The Bear Caves trail was a trail I had partially completed in the past, actually I had never gone beyond the large boulders and rocks that gave the Bear Caves trail its name.  The trail itself is about 4 miles from point to point.  Not having a partner with a car I had decided to hike up to the summit of Mt. Seneca, find the marker for the Allegany 18 Challenge then hike back the way I came back to my car.  It was a solid plan that failed.

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Bear Cave Trail – Allegany State Park

As I climbed Mt. Seneca I think I died three times.  I’m still far from being in great shape and my stamina was low.  Recently, I decided to try intermittent fasting to help me lose weight.  That morning I had not had breakfast and already hiked three plus miles, bad mistake.  After many stops for rest I made it to the top of Mt. Seneca and found the marker for the Challenge.  When I stopped to think about going back the way I came, with all the rocks, boulders and what would be now a steep decline, I decided to continue on and go to the end.  It meant I would have just over a mile road walk back to my car, but at this point it seemed way easier to do that than go back the way I came.  Notably, this side of the mountain was definitely less rocky and I was able to pick up my pace and get lost in my thoughts.

This is just a piece of advice….don’t get lost in your thoughts on the “Bear” Cave trail, because that’s when it happened!  I saw my first bear!  Well, the bear’s rear-end anyway.  We startled each other and the bear took off like a flash!  It ran towards the Diehl cabin area and I took off in the opposite direction.  The adrenaline kicked in and I flew the last couple of miles to my car. I excitedly stopped at the Quaker Registration building and reported my sighting.  They had me fill out a bear sighting form. The workers there were not as excited as me.  Go figure.  I was hoping for a pin or a patch with “Bear Spotter” on it.

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This is me after seeing my first bear.

While I was at the Quaker Registration building I rented a campsite at Cain Hollow campground.  I think I was a little leery of staying in a lean-to after seeing my first bear!

The next morning I hit the trail and decided on hiking to the Mt. Tuscarora Fire Tower.  However, looking through all my maps I couldn’t find the sheet I needed to etch the Challenge marker on.  In the past, not having the map would have stopped me from going.  This time I found a blank piece of paper and downloaded the map from AllTrails and set off.  I received a hint that the Challenge marker was located right at the Fire Tower, so my plan was to hike to the Tower, get the etching and hike back to the car the way I came.

This trail is steep.  The bugs were atrocious.  A fire tower is generally located at the highest point around so I knew this trail was going to be challenging.  There were a lot of rests where I contemplated my life’s decisions and goals.  However, once I reached the ridge line and everything was flat again I knew all my decisions and goals were spot on.

And then, it happened again!  A bear!  This time the bear was just 20 feet in front of me on the right just off the trail.  He was big boy.  Digging and rooting around.  I backed up and backed up and backed up again all while keeping my eyes glued to his large behind.  I cleared my throat – no response.  I whistled – no response.  Then to my surprise, I shouted calmly and professionally – “Hey Bear!”  Guess what?  He did exactly what he was supposed to do!  He ran away! He stopped a good distance away to check me out.  I zoomed in and snapped a picture.  Blurry, but hey!  I then shouted at him again “Hey, Bear!  I can still see you!  Go Away!!!”  And off he went!  Good boy!  He had to be a boy, as he was about 300 pounds.  Just beautiful.

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I swear that’s a bear.

The adrenaline kicked me into high gear and I was still giddy when I met a couple on the trail.  They immediately told me they were disappointed they couldn’t climb the Fire Tower and there were no views.  I excitedly told them about the bear and to watch out for him.  Then they asked me what poison ivy looked like.  To be clear – they literally had little to no reaction to me saying there was a bear!  And there wasn’t even any poison ivy around.  Sheesh.  They were lame.

Hiking back from the Fire Tower I was a little worried the bear might be still around.  Being a professional hiker now, I made it a point to talk to myself and sing songs the whole way back to my car.  The bear didn’t make an encore appearance.

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I survived!

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.

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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?

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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!

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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!

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I love my son!  

Happy trails!

 

Welp, I finally did it and then some.

I registered my thru-hike intention with The Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

The Conservancy asks people that hike the Appalachian Trail to register in order to better monitor the impact on the trail and its resources.  Sooooo, I did it!!!

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Yep.  My official start date will be March 22, 2020.  I wish I had the guts to start 2/20/2020.  That’s just a little to cold for me.  As it is March will be cold enough. So, there you have it folks.  Wow.  It’s like this will really happen!

BUT-WAIT-THERES-MORE

C’est fait.  E ‘fatto.  Esta hecho.  IT IS DONE!  Yes.  I quit my wonderful, well paying, comfortable JOB!

Now I will have more time to hike longer trails.  Woohoo!

Is this real life?

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So many emotions!  Am I crazy?  I’m going to climb mountains!!!  Did I do the right thing?  I will cross creeks, hike in the rain and get really smelly!!!!  Do I really think I can hike the whole thing?  I will be crawling on my hands and knees some parts of the trail!

Then I have people asking me all sorts of hard questions like:  Why don’t you wait until you retire?  Because, who knows how my knees will be by then!  What will you do for money?  My husband and I have been saving and planning for this.  How does your husband feel about you leaving him for six months?  He better be sad and miss me a lot!

All silliness aside, I don’t want to wait until I retire.  You never know what will happen tomorrow, so I want to do my living now.   I am forever grateful to my loving, supportive husband who works very hard for us.  He enjoys his job and supports me quitting mine to follow my lifelong dream.  I owe him – big time.  I also promised him I would be more frugal and keep my hike on budget.  Yes, he made a spreadsheet.

Oh no.  What am I feeling now????

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I’m NERVOUS. 

Nervousness is a whole bunch of emotions all trying to get out at the same time.  Fear, longing, concern, desire, doubt, and panic are a few emotions in my nervous packet.  You might have others in yours.  At the beginning of any solo hike I have a bout of the nervous jitters.  My knees feel wobbly, my hands sweat, my mouth goes dry and my breathing becomes faster.   This feeling stays with me for a quite a while into my hike.  While listening to the radio one morning I heard an interview of English actor, comedian, James Corden.  He does the carpool karaoke with famous people and he’s so funny!  This interview was about how he gets so nervous before performing that he sought professional help.  I am going to quote what he learned.  This is just copied from this cnn.com article: James Corden interview on CNN.

“This is a few years ago now, and then he taught me this thing that you’ve got to see nerves as a good thing. You’re only ever nervous when you want to do your best. You’re only ever nervous when something matters. So when nerves come, you’ve got to go, ‘Oh my God, this is great. I’m doing something that is important to me, and this is great that this thing has turned up to help me.’ ” James Corden.

So, I think I’ll be ready to apply this way of thinking on my next solo hike.  Maybe my knees will not be so wobbly and my hands won’t be sweaty.  It’s worth a shot!

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