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!

Day Hiking with Dogs

The winter in Western New York is typically very cold and very snowy.  This month though a 111 year record was broken when the temperature soared to 71 degrees on Friday, February 24.  I raced home after work and changed my clothes and fed the dogs.  My dogs were just as excited about the nice weather as I was and raced around the yard and rolled in the grass. When they came back inside the house I asked them if they wanted to go for a ride in the car and go for a walk.  Their ears perked up and they bolted for the door.  I gathered a few poop bags and found their leashes.  Royal and Maggie bounced in circles and made happy whiny noises while I removed their collars and put on their walking harnesses.  It is such a wonderful feeling seeing them so excited!  I love making my dogs happy!

 

I decided to drive to my sister’s house to ask if she would come with us.  She wasn’t home, but my nephew Matt was.  I barely got the question out when he eagerly accepted my invitation to take the dogs for a walk.  Matt knows the Joe Panza trail better than I do, so I was really happy he agreed. It took only a few minutes to arrive at the park.  Once we arrived the dogs jumped out of the car and started sniffing and tugging at their leashes.  Of course, they wiggled around so much that Royal pooped even before getting to the trail.  Luckily, it was right near a garbage can, so I was glad I didn’t have walk around carrying his poop.  It is one of my pet peeves that people don’t pick up their pet’s poop.  Even if your pet poops off the trail, always pick up the poop.

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No way to get a selfie with the dogs too! They do not cooperate.

Matt has never walked a dog before.  Something I hadn’t thought of when I handed him Maggie’s leash.  Maggie is great on a leash, although she does like to move around a lot so there is a little bit of dancing and twirling you have to do.  Royal on the other hand loves to lead the pack.  He doesn’t pull as much when he wears his harness, but he still tugs.  My shoulder gets a work out!  At least I gave Matt the easier dog to walk!

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Royal leading the pack!  There is a leash there, I swear! It’s just hard to see.

It had rained the day before so the trail was damp with some big puddles in places.  Royal is my water dog; he happily walked right though each puddle.  Maggie was very dainty and maneuvered around them all.  She does not like to get her feet wet.

Matt made the decisions on which way on the trail to turn.  He carefully peered down each trail to scope out the puddles before committing to turning left or right!  He was wearing sneakers and didn’t want to wade through the mud!  Of course, I’m glad of that! I didn’t want the back seat of my car to be more muddy than necessary!  Usually I have a vinyl protector on the seat so the dogs mess doesn’t get on my car, but I was lazy for this hike and didn’t put it on.

Another pet peeve of mine is meeting other hikers that have their pet off leash.  We heard some voices up the trail and actually met their dog FIRST!  I stood stock still and reeled in the leash on Royal.  The dog approached us slowly, didn’t growl, and his tail was neutral.  I still was shaking in my boots.  Then I remembered Matthew.  I told Matt to hold Maggie close on the leash and stay still.  The owners of the dog came along and called to their off-leash dog, of course the dog ignored the commands.  Their dog sniffed Maggie and Matthew and I encouraged Matt to just walk forward slowly.  They had another dog on a leash, thank goodness, because this dog was growling at us as the woman could barely hold the dog back from lunging at us.

It is so dangerous to have your dog off leash.  What if my dogs didn’t like to be approached by a strange dog?  I would have been in the middle of a terrifying situation. Fortunately all dogs and humans walked away from the encounter without incident.  We might not be so lucky next time.  I held my tongue from saying anything to the other dog owners, but I think they got the message when I refused to acknowledge them and concentrated on getting my dogs out of there safely.  Next time I use my friendliest voice to remind them of the leash law.

With that excitement past us we were at the car in no time.  Royal and Maggie jumped into the car and we drove Matthew home.  When I brought the dogs into the house I gave them each a couple treats and big bowls of cold water.  We snuggled together and had a nice nap and dreamed of our next hiking adventure!

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Same trail, SNOWY day!