@#!% – 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.

screech

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

Deeply Ever Burning

Quiet sleeping fierce desires
Slumbering solid ice
Above rapid flowing water
White soundless snow
Covering reaching roots
Resting bare branches
Whispering wishes of spring

 

Meditation and introspection during a long winter’s walk.

Way Outside my Comfort Zone

We are our own worst critics.  At least I know I judge myself harshly.  I pick on myself and my faults.  I tear myself down to the core at times.  I don’t feel like I am good enough, thin enough, smart enough, tall enough, tough enough.  You might be thinking…NO way, Trailchaser2020, you are all of those things.  Well, thank you, but sometimes I don’t believe it.  In fact, some days I really believe that I will never hike the Appalachian Trail.  No matter how much I talk about it and train for it, it just won’t happen for some reason or another.  I’ll find some “excuse” that will stop me.

One small obstacle that could prevent me from hiking the trail is my physical condition.  I’ve read stories how some hikers have never hiked a day in their life before completing the trail.  I’ve also read about middle aged women hiking the trail and breaking a leg!  So, to err on the side of caution I decided to jump out of my comfort zone and join some exercise classes.

I DO NOT EXERCISE.

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Disclaimer: This is not me.

Now, I have taken a Yoga class or two.  I’ll hike and walk outside all day, too.  But a real exercise class with a teacher in the front and a bunch of strangers all around me while my fat bounces up and down is NOT what I would sign up for.  But I DID!

Our little town has a community education program that offers a 20/20/20 class(20 minutes of aerobics, 20 minutes of cardio and 20 minutes of weights) and a Yoga class.  The session is 8 classes once a week.  The classes are held in the local primary school (five minutes from my house!) and my insurance company covered the ENTIRE cost of these classes!  So, I signed up for BOTH classes so that I will be exercising each Wednesday and Thursday for eight weeks.  Oh boy.

Well, I missed the first 20/20/20 class because I had to go to the dentist.  I was actually GLAD to go to the dentist so I didn’t have to exercise!  But, I did go to Yoga the first week. I couldn’t think of any good excuse for me to miss it.  Imagine my delighted surprise when I tried to open the doors at the school and everything was locked.  I tried a side door.  Locked.  Secretly I was rejoicing that I didn’t have to go to Yoga.  I headed back to my car when I heard a lady yell at me that the door was now open.  Rats.  I guess I was going to Yoga.  There were about 10 women in the class and it was okay.  I didn’t die.  My clothes weren’t “Yoga” clothes, my mat was too thin, I was too fat to bend the way I thought I should – WHAT was I doing here?!?!  Then the instructor told us to breathe.  And I did. I no longer cared that my shirt was exposing my fat stomach, I doubled up my mat when my knees hurt and I just bent over as far as my body would let me.  The teacher was so nice!  And Yoga, is just so peaceful.  It’s impossible for me to not like practicing Yoga.  At the end of the class when you are just melting into the floor my mind drifted to the Appalachian Trail and how Yoga will help with my flexibility, stamina and balance.

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The second week approached and yes, I actually called the lady running the program asking how I can get out of the 20/20/20 class.  She wouldn’t let me.  She offered different locations and days, but no; I HAD to go or pay the price since my insurance wouldn’t pay them if I didn’t go. So I went.  I was freaking out!  Even as the instructor started explaining the aerobic steps I was swearing in my head.  I was telling myself that I hate aerobics, I hate dancing, I hate the music she was playing, I hate the lighting in the gym, I was tired, I was getting a headache, I was hungry.  And then I just did it.  I was doing aerobics while I was dancing to the music I hated under the bright lights with energy I didn’t know I had while suffering from a little headache and hunger.  I did it.  It wasn’t so bad.

You know what?  I am actually proud of myself.  Was I comfortable at the classes?  Heck, no.  My comfort zone was two time zones away!  But, I laughed at myself when I was facing front instead of facing back or raising my left leg instead of my right leg.  I made up my own steps instead of doing a “step ball chain.”  What on earth are my feet supposed to be doing???? I probably have the name of the step wrong because Google didn’t even know what I was talking about!

Learning to not be so hard on myself is tough.  I doubt I’ll ever succeed.

See what I did there?

Trail? What trail?

So my husband has decided that he likes hiking with me!  Yay!!!!  He has a great sense of direction when I get turned around and he makes funny faces to keep me happy!  That is all you need in a great hiking partner, right?

Last weekend we ventured out to the good ole’ Joe Panza Trail.  It’s where my training for the Appalachian Trail began way back on July 20, 2015.  I’ve been back there a few times since because it is so close to home.  When we started out I asked him how far he wanted to go.  I braced myself for his answer of one mile, but he surprised me when he said two miles!  I was giddy!  I set my app on my phone to measure our distance.

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It’s nearly winter and we were bundled up, but it wasn’t raining.  The trail is very flat and since I’ve been on it so many times, a little boring.  Well, not today.  I seem to always go a certain way on the trail.  Today my husband turned left instead of right and right instead of left and low and behold we were OFF the trail!  Where did the trail go?  With all the leaves on the ground we somehow missed a turn and it was obvious we were no longer on the trail.  We were walking along the creek and of course I knew we weren’t “lost” just not on a trail.  I remembered that there was a geocache near where I thought we were so I opened the geocache app on my phone and checked.  Nope.  Not where I thought we were.  At least now I had an idea of where we were since I could see the other geocaches that I have found in the park.

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My husband checked the app and together we decided to hike next to the creek until we came to “something.”  We slowly made our way along the creek. I found a green mossy tree that reminded me of a dinosaur foot and we found some litter.  I didn’t have my backpack so I didn’t have a garbage bag, but we took turns carrying the trash. Which reminds me, I still have a yucky bottle cap in my puffy jacket pocket!  About this time my app said we had hiked one mile!

We kept walking through the woods not positive where we were going to end up and then BAM!  There was a trail!  Well, I hope you weren’t worried!  Jumping back on the trail dear husband again took a left instead of a right and the trail ended at an open field that was behind the high school.  This time we knew the main trail was only about 200 feet to the right so we carefully made our way through the brush to the trail.  At this point we were on the main trail so there was a garbage can where we unloaded the trash we found.

The Joe Panza trail has identification on some of the trees.  We stopped to read a few and I hugged and loved on them.  The red maple did not want to let me go and snagged my scarf.

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I freed myself from the amorous maple and hubby and I then decided to play on some tree stumps!  My husband tried to impersonate The Thinker pose.  I think he looks a little constipated.  When I showed my sister the picture of me posing on the tree stump she said I reminded her of a twirling ballerina inside a little girl’s jewelry box.  Awe!  I wasn’t even trying!

While heading back to the car my app said we had hiked 1.97 miles.  It looked like we would make my husband’s goal of two miles by the time we reach the car. The last time we hiked we went about a mile. If we keep doubling our distance and if my husband could retire early, we could hike the Appalachian Trail together in 2020!  I think I’ll start playing the Lotto!

Disclaimer:  I try to make it a rule to not venture off trail.  I understand it could harm the plant life and I could get really lost.

Mono-vision = Mind Blown

A few months ago I bought a pair of glasses.  I love getting new glasses, everything is so clear without all the scratches that somehow accumulate no matter how careful I am.  This time was no different.  I bought new, pretty frames and new lenses.  I wear bifocals, so the price was almost $500.  YIKES!  But, I’ve worn glasses for 40 years so the price was, well, the price I pay to be able to see!

Just a few short weeks after getting my pretty new glasses a terrible tragedy occurred.  I scratched them.  Not just a little scratch in the corner, but a big enough dent, smack dab in the middle of my line of sight.  This was not good!  I was so upset with myself.  I didn’t want to fork over another $500!  Nothing could be done to fix them.

I had HAD IT!  I picked up the phone and called Lasik Vision Institute.  Maybe they can fix my eyes, instead of me buying new glasses every year.  I didn’t think I was a candidate for eye surgery.  I wore glasses for 40 years, I wore bifocals, I had an astigmatism.  I made an appointment anyway.  Of course, I was prepared for them to tell me my eyes were too bad for this procedure, but I had to try!

I wasn’t even excited about the appointment.  I just knew they would say it wouldn’t work on me.  I went through the tests, one by one.  They kept putting me in the next room.  Another test, next room.  Another test, next room.  What’s going on?  Why aren’t they just giving me the bad news?

The only bad news they had for me was that my corneas were too thin for Lasik surgery, so they had to do the PRK surgery instead.  It had a longer recovery time, but it would have the same results.  I was SHOCKED! AND TERRIFIED!

Fast forward to the day of my surgery.  Saturday, September 24.  I was very emotional.  My mind kept racing imagining the worst outcome.  I could go blind if that laser slipped!  I was a nervous wreck.  Thankfully, I had the support of my friends and family that encouraged me to always be the best I can be.

Then, upon further exam by the doctor he informed me that my distance vision was such a small prescription that they recommended that it does not require surgery. WAIT, WHAT?  Yes, you read that right.  I had been wearing glasses for 40 years thinking I had horrible vision, when in fact, I was just shy of 20/20.  WHAT???  Of course, wearing my glasses gave me 20/15 or so in vision, but, WHAT?????

So, I practiced walking around the office wearing the big goggles with no prescription in my left eye and with my right eye corrected for near (because otherwise I would need “readers”).  I LOVED IT!  Not everyone tolerates “mono-vision.”  Some people get nauseous or vertigo.  I took to it right away!  It made me feel like Wonder Woman!

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Yes, the name tag is on upside down on purpose.  So the Dr. can read the information from above my head during surgery!

Knowing that my distance vision was going to be untouched was a HUGE relief to me. The view I have of the stars, moon, sky, etc will remain the same!  Only one eye needed surgery, so the recovery would be easier.

My husband loves to take photos of me in unflattering moments, so I amused him.

 

I was still nervous about the pain, but the only real pain I had was when I put the steroid drops in the first 3 or 4 times.  It felt like little razor blades were on my eyeball.  That pain only lasted a minute or two each time.

Here I am typing this article just a mere three days after surgery!  I can see!!  I’m cleared to drive!!  My vision is not exactly perfect, but I know it will be better in time.  The doctor says it may take up to three months to be completely acclimated to the mono-vision and for my eye to heal. And, I do look like the Terminator.  My right eye is blood shot and creepy looking!  I still have a contact lens bandage on my eye.

Now if I can just retrain myself to not keep trying to push up my non-existent glasses or look for them on the bedside table every morning, it would be all good!

I’m imagining myself hiking the Appalachian Trail in the rain and not worrying about how in the world I would dry my glasses when everything I own is soaking wet!  I don’t have to worry about losing my expensive glasses and oh yeah, my $500 prescription sunglasses!

After wearing glasses for over 40 years, I felt it was only fitting to have a proper memorial service at our local bar.  I made a cross out of a twist-tie I found in my pocket and we had a couple shots.  RIP, glasses!

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I feel so FREE!!!!

If you would like to learn more about the eye surgery I had here is the link to their website.

This click will change your life!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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!