Here we have a whole new year full of opportunities to capture our dreams and follow our hearts. Let’s GOOOOOOO!
This article may be all over the place, so bear with me, please. First of all, I want to say, I am one of the very few people that did NOT want 2020 to end. With 2020 ending it meant my name, Trailchaser2020 becomes kind of dumb. What was I thinking naming this blog that? Anyway. Also 2020 was supposed to be the year I completed the Appalachian Trail and well, we know that didn’t happen. Whaa Whaa.
Here’s what I look like when I don’t get what I want.
I know, I know….I did do A LOT of hiking in 2020. I think I jinxed myself by naming this blog Trailchaser2020. I ended up not just chasing one trail in 2020, but 100’s of trails. I averaged 3.5 miles a day of hiking for 2020 according to my iphone tracker. The accuracy is to be determined, but I can honestly say I hiked over 1,000 miles in 2020. Not too shabby. It’s not the 2,193 miles I was hoping for, but I’ll take it.
When you make your Plan A, you should have a Plan B. A back up. I didn’t have that. I still don’t have that. My ONLY plan is to thru hike the Appalachian Trail. My pack is just waiting for the right time. This year the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is again asking hikers to postpone their thru hikes due to Covid. Would that have stopped me this year? Probably not. I understand the risks better and know how the trail community is adjusting to Covid to protect everyone. I would have totally hit the trail in March this year.
BUT! My son and daughter-in-law have blessed me and our family with the addition of my first grandbaby due in March 2021. There is NO trail in the WORLD that would tear me away from spending the first year with my grandbaby. I just couldn’t imagine spending six months away from him while I hike. Babies grow too fast and I don’t want to miss it! So my Appalachian Trail thru hike will wait for me and I will dip my boots here and there on the AT this spring and summer. ( I will be patient, I will be patient, I will be patient.)
Some of the hikes I already have in the books for 2021 are Hocking Hills State Park in Ohio. If you haven’t been, you must. Seriously, go right now. Read the rest of this later. It is stunning. My next article will be all about it because I have a lot to share. Here’s some sneak peek pictures.
Some other hikes in the works are section hiking the Conservation Trail in New York, Cranberry 50 in the fall, and two or three hikes on the Appalachian Trail. I have a lot to look forward to this year.
So, please wear your mask, get the vaccine if you can, wash your hands and last but not least, Take a HIKE!
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.
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.
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…
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.
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!
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).
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!
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!
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!
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!
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?
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.
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.
I can’t believe it. Am I dreaming? Is this real life?
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.