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?
It’s true. Almost everyone I meet when they hear that I am hiking the Appalachian Trail they ask, “Are you hiking alone?” Yes. But, there’s a big, HOWEVER! I am hiking alone with the hundreds of other thru-hikers and section hikers on the trail. Most thru-hikers start out “alone” and acquire a trail family aka “tramily” along the journey. Being a friendly sort of person there’s a good chance I will be hiking with others along the way.
It makes me proud to be a solo woman attempting a thru-hike. Walking alone lets me dictate how far I go, how fast I go and if I even go at all. I alone make the decisions that impact my hike. That being said, there’s no one around to grab the snacks out of my backpack, consult the map with, or try to save me before I fall in a creek. It can be pretty nice to have a helping hand when needed.
These last few months I have found some amazing friends to hike with around Western New York! Now that Winter is here Outside Chronicles has announced a WNY Winter Hiking Challenge. Hikers are challenged to complete 6 of 9 trails around Western New York. I am hiking the trails along with Kim, Stephanie and Sara whom I met through the Allegany 18 Challenge I completed over the summer. I couldn’t dream of better hiking partners. These strong women inspire me, make me laugh, encourage me to push myself and they also bring good snacks.
Our first hike took us to Chestnut Ridge Park in Orchard Park. The challenge landmark was the Eternal Flame. Being hardy hikers we decided to go the long way. Unfortunately, we became a little misguided, but Google set us straight and soon we were at the “Not so Eternal” Eternal Flame. The flame was out! I had my mini Bic lighter and Stephanie bravely climbed the ice-covered waterfall. She waved that little flame all over the grotto and could not get it lit. As you can see from the photo above, we were still all smiles. If you attempt this hike in the winter, I highly recommend microspikes.
Still feeling strong we headed to the Knox Farm State Park to find a little pond. We circled around the park and asked directions a few times. Finally, we found the right little pond for the challenge photo. Knox Farm was tricky as the trails were not well marked or at all.
We just didn’t get enough so we all headed out again a couple of days later (minus Stephanie) to Zoar Valley MUA. This was my first time at this amazing park. The trail took us down into a gorge along the Cattaraugus Creek. The challenge landmark was the confluence of the Main and South branches of the Cattaraugus Creek. It was amazing! I highly recommend this hike and again, in the winter, bring your microspikes.
Our second stop that day was to the Erie County Forest to find “A Bridge Too Far” for the next challenge landmark. This trail had a few footbridges to cross and was so beautiful. It was a really nice hike. “A Bridge Too Far” was just far enough.
After those two hikes, we eagerly drove over to Sprague Brook Park for the trifecta for the day! It was getting later in the day, but we were determined to find the challenge landmark of a “unique tree”. Unfortunately, we were all unfamiliar with the park and the trailhead eluded us. We wandered around for a few miles and called it quits before it got dark. We obtained better directions and a few hints and plan on returning to Sprague Brook to find that darn tree! All of these hikes were made immensely better by hiking with good friends. Maybe one of my friends will meet me for a few miles of the Appalachian Trail this year. Until then, I look forward to a few more hikes with them before I leave in March – alone!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!!!
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!
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?
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????
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!
In my last article I wrote about being afraid while hiking alone. The article was lighthearted and some called it cute and funny. I tried to make light of being afraid while hiking alone. Like my fears were not real.
THEY ARE REAL.
And those fears became even more real when Army Veteran Ron Sanchez was brutally murdered on the Appalachian Trail a few weeks ago. I do not want to put the incident in my own words; you can google it.
I have read that Ron Sanchez was thru hiking the AT to seek healing from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He had served three tours in Iraq. People set out to thru hike the AT for different reasons. Therefore, on the trail I expect to encounter people like Ron, who are hiking the trail to find inner peace. On the trail I also predict I will encounter happy people, sad people, grumpy people, friendly people and yes, scary people.
Scary things can happen to you, me, and those we love – anywhere and at anytime. Recently I was speaking with my nephew, Matthew, about scary things and what does he do to come to peace with it. He said – when really bad things happen and I can’t do anything about it, I try to learn a lesson from it.
The lesson I learned is that I will be the friendly, cheerful, happy, kind person that others encounter on the trail. I will be the person that others can trust. I will “trust my gut” when I encounter suspicious people. However, I will continue to solo hike. I will also carry a Personal Locator Beacon in case of an emergency.
Most of all, I will not live in fear of the unknown. I will not let scary things control me or discourage me from my thru hike in 2020.