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.
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!
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.
Don’t mind Dave’s finger.
This month I will be back in the Smoky Mountains and plan to retake that before photo.
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!
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!
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.