@#!% – 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.

patience (1)

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?

joyce snow

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

I’m Hiking Alone. Ha!

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!

If you want to go hiking, send me a message!

Happy Trails!

You win some. You lose some.

So many exciting things have been happening lately.  October is my favorite month of the year.  First, because it’s my birthday month.  Second, the fall is so beautiful with the changing leaves and the earth is so fragrant this time of year.

Just to catch up on all the wonderful wins for me this fall:  I DID IT!  I finally finished the Allegany 18 Challenge!

My darling husband hiked the last 5-mile trail with me.  I literally skipped to the Registration Building after the hike to claim my winnings!  A very cool water bottle that lists all the 18 trails and a sweet sticker!  I put the water bottle in my china cabinet alongside Dave’s 300-game bowling trophies.  It deserves to be in a place of honor.  Hahaha!

Way back in March I signed up for the Allegany 18 Challenge because of a post by the  Outside Chronicles Facebook page.  After a bunch of us completed the challenge we were invited back to Allegany State Park for a bonus hike and social.  It was a lot of fun meeting everyone and making connections with people that have the same passion as me!

After that excitement, my BFF, Linda and I went hiking/geocaching in Letchworth State Park.  We hiked seven miles in one day on the Finger Lakes Trail – Letchworth Branch.  It was the best of times.  The entire week was cold and damp mostly but we managed to find a lot of caches and I may have seen Linda’s full moon during a campfire!  We even spent a few rainy hours at the Dunkin Donuts in town using the WiFi.

I just can’t help but take photos while hiking in Letchworth.  There is beauty around you at every step.  I even managed to catch the “Hidden Indian” looking out over the Genesee River from the Middle Falls.  Can you see him in the photo below?  In the other photos, I visited the Mount Morris Dam Visitor’s Center.  That is a dam photo from the Visitor Center side of the river.  I highly recommend checking out the dam visitor center and watching the short dam movie.  I learned a lot of dam things.  I also hiked a good portion of the Gorge Trail and the Wolf Creek Trail. The gorge trail is about 7 miles long and you have amazing views along the way.  There are helpful stairs to get you up and down the steep sections.  The Wolf Creek trail has a really pretty waterfall and neat bridge.

I visited Letchworth a couple more times and Allegany State Park too.  Nearby Emery Park has a few ski hills I’ve been hiking up and down.  I’ll hike anywhere on a dirt path. I can’t keep myself out of the woods for too long or I get jittery.

There was more fun in October! My birthday is the day before Halloween.  My sweet husband gifted me with a personalized hoodie with my “name” on it and an Italian flag heart!  Best gift ever!  And we had a Halloween party where I made an ashtray out of pretzels and white chocolate.  No one minded that everyone was smoking!  I even carved a pumpkin to celebrate my upcoming hike.  See I do more than just hike all the time!

One more extremely exciting thing that happened, that some of you already know, is that I booked my ONE-WAY plane ticket to Atlanta for March.  I even have my room reserved at Amicalola Lodge for the night before I hit the trail.  It’s really real, folks!  All in all, this Fall has been a big WIN for me!

But sometimes, you lose too.

Don’t worry too much and don’t start praying to St. Anthony to help me find what I lost!  I am proud to say I’ve lost 40 pounds.  Woot Woot!  My backpack fully loaded is about 30 pounds.  When I started my weight loss journey I wanted to lose the same amount of weight as my pack and I surpassed that because I needed to.  I am thrilled that I am healthier and more confident.  Heck, I even think I look pretty good.  Although I still have about 15 pounds to go to reach my goal weight before I leave in March, I know I will get there.  For those interested, I have been using the weight loss app Noom.  I found it very helpful.  If you want more information about it, I’d be happy to personally chat with you.

Here’s before:

IMG_20160425_132801610Don’t mind Dave’s finger.

And now.

WIP 6

This month I will be back in the Smoky Mountains and plan to retake that before photo.

Happy trails!

 

What have you been doing?

There’s a question I love to answer!  The answer is – anything and everything to prepare for my adventure in the Spring!  I definitely have some kind of Appalachian Trail Fever.  I’ve been busy reading and researching the trail, gear, backpacking food, etc.  The most important thing I have been doing is – Hiking!

Over the past month, I have completed six more trails of the Allegany 18 Challenge.  For those of you keeping track, I have one more trail left.  I promised Dave that he could hike that last trail with me so we can celebrate together.

I spent the night in Allegany State Park at the Ridge Run Trail lean-to.  This is where I learned that my sleeping bag is not warm enough, that I can start a fire if needed and always remember to pack a little booze!

Typically, I hike solo, but two of the trails I completed were hiked with my good friend, Denise.  She makes me laugh as you can see from the video below.

She really thought she would fit in that tree!

My best friend, Linda also went hiking with me.  Well, I call it hiking, she calls it geocaching.  We celebrated her 5000th cache found by hiking to a cache that was clothing optional.  She was crazy enough to hike naked, so I did too.  Unfortunately, it was rainy and chilly so the naked didn’t last long!  Here are a couple of edited pictures.

The fun doesn’t stop there!

Of course, I am utilizing all the resources available to me to learn about thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail.  One thing I did was to join a group on Facebook specifically for people planning to hike the trail in 2020.  Since it’s such a small world, I met another hiker that actually lives in a town over from me.  Jim is starting the trail just before me and his brother will be hiking the first month with him.  Jim invited me to join him on a shakedown hike in the Allegheny National Forest.  A shakedown hike is where a hiker packs all their gear and sees what gear they used, what worked, what needs to be replaced or upgraded, and what gear they can live without, etc. My pack weighed in at 31 pounds fully loaded with food and water.  Jim’s was 23 pounds.  I would prefer to carry Jim’s pack, so I’m working on lightening my pack weight.  We hiked out to the Tracy Ridge Campground on Friday evening and I faced my first night-hike.  It was tiring and sometimes confusing because it was so dark, but we made it to the campsite and quickly set up our tents.

When I woke up on Saturday morning and finally saw my surroundings – All I can say is WOW!

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We hiked a little on Saturday and Jim also gave me a fire building lesson. He showed me how a water bladder makes filtering water easier (it’s on my Amazon wish list) and more little bits of backpacker tips and tricks.  It was so helpful!  We spent another night and hiked out to the car on Sunday morning.  Every mountain I climb makes the next mountain I climb a little easier!

Now, I’m looking forward to hiking in Letchworth soon and getting out for some fall hikes.  And biting my nails waiting for Spring!

 

Happy Trails!