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.
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!
Oh, help me! I read so many articles about hiking, but why, oh why, do I read the articles about hikers gone mysteriously missing, hikers shredded by mountain lions, hikers eaten by bears, hikers attacked by a machete wielding crazy person! Oh, good grief, it gets in my head and stays there!
I’ve been so excited to work on completing my Allegany 18 challenge I woke up early on Sunday and drove the hour and a half to the park! The park was so quiet. At this time of year not many hardy souls venture out when the weather is iffy. Do murderers?
I headed to a short and sweet trail called Bear Springs. BEAR!???!!!!??? Did that sign say BEAR??? Yes it did. Well, psht, bears aren’t around trails, right. Off I went. Out and back, easy peasy. Well, it was a muddy trail and the trail stewards had been hard at work in the last few years building neat “board” walks to bypass the wettest areas. I just love how unique each trail is. This trail is very easy and highly recommended for old dogs with arthritis and husbands like mine.
I found the marker on the tree for the challenge, raced up to the end of the trail and quickly made my way back to the car. Look at me! No make up, no hair products, completely au natural. (Please don’t enlarge the photo. I cannot be responsible for broken monitors.) My mother always said I was a natural beauty. I believe everything my mother says.
I didn’t see any bears on “Bear” Spring trail, so I went next to Black Snake Mountain! SNAKES! I actually am not afraid of snakes. Bring it! Being brave and doing things that are uncomfortable are two things that I’m learning to be good at. Black Snake Mountain Trail is 2.8 miles. Sounds easy? It’s Black Snake MOUNTAIN Trail. But, yes, actually it was physically easy”ish” for me. The not physical part where I remembered I was –ALONE! ALL ALONE! wasn’t as easy.
I tried to text my husband to let him know where I was, but I had NO SERVICE! That’s okay; my car’s at the trail head, so if I go missing, they’ll find my car. WHY, WAS MY HEAD GOING “THERE”? I shook it off and headed up the trail.
First thing I encounter? A CREEPY SHED where a murderer could live!!
I ran past that and picked up my pace.
This part of the trail goes up the mountain. I took a lot of pictures because I stopped a lot to catch my breath. AND to look behind me to make sure the murderer wasn’t following me.
The Allegany Challenge map indicated I would find a stone marker where I could be in two states at once. I found it!
For those few lovely moments I had forgotten about the murderer following me on the trail.
I was at the summit and realized I had cell service! Quickly, I sent messages to my husband and best friend with a couple photos of where I was. You know, in case of the murder. Of course, I didn’t let on to them that I was afraid. I felt like if I typed that out at that time, it would just make them worry more about me. There were lots of birds singing – which is a good sign of nothing bad around. I just kept telling myself that. There at the summit was the marker I needed to prove I was here. My phone will tell the story to the investigators when they find my body.
At this point I reallllllly had to pee. REEALLLYYYY bad! So I peed in the woods. I was buckling my pack and as all hikers should – I looked back at where I peed. Guess what I saw?????? Not a murderer. Not a bear. Not even a snake……
Of course it isn’t in the picture, because I used it to take the picture. But, pfeeyoof! I’m so glad I looked back to make sure I didn’t drop anything, because I DID! How could the detectives follow my trail if I lost my phone before I was murdered?
Now, for some reason, I began to think of mountain lions. WHY???? I didn’t even know if mountain lions lived where I was! How could I not know this! Seriously. My brain went there.
I stood in the middle of the trail. ALL ALONE. ALONE and BRAVE!
By cleaning your house, I actually mean the one that your soul lives in. The physical body that your mother and father made for you. The beautiful body that contains your thoughts, dreams, aches, and pains should be really cleaned out once or twice in your life. Cleansed of negativity, cleansed of brain clutter, cleansed of – well, everything that makes the aches, pains and stress. Now that it is winter, it is the perfect time to dig inside yourself, not just dig in the snow. Dig inside yourself and shovel out that crap! (Figuratively and literally.)
In my last article I talked about de-cluttering my home. That is still a work in progress. In the meantime, I’m taking three weeks this month to see what happens when I de-clutter the way I eat. I tend to snack at night – on a big bowl of popcorn, or a few m-n-m’s. I love to eat candy! Chewy candy or caramels…yum! So, needless to say, I gained a few pounds. I’m not on any medicines, and I would like to keep it that way for the rest of my life! So changes need to be made!
My friend introduced me to a wellness program called the Ultimate Reset . Before I even read anything about it, I signed up. Woah. I panicked. I spent money on health stuff. That is not like me. I must have a fever. I took a deep breath and talked to my friend – shout out to Tabatha! She is a coach with Team Beachbody and a darn good one. She always says the right thing to put me back on track and believe in myself.
This article isn’t to sell the program. I don’t know enough about it to sell it. The big thing that sold me on Ultimate Reset is that there is only light exercise involved. If by some chance you want to know more, let me know and I can connect you to Tabatha. These are just a few observations about my personal experiences during this process.
VERY, VERY simply, Ultimate Reset is a 21 day program where you gradually eliminate meat, dairy and sugar and all food that tastes good. heheheh. That’s not true. At least that last part. I’ve had great food and new foods! Never had tempeh before this! Or miso soup! Actually, the Ultimate Reset says that it will “reset” my body’s inner workings and fine tune all my parts to make it strong and as healthy as possible. They name the three weeks: reclaim, release, restore.
RECLAIM! I am reclaiming my body as my own. I am reclaiming my health! As I look back at week one it was challenging! I had to spend a lot of money on food that I never knew existed (wakame seaweed, jicama, liquid aminos). The meal prepping was mind boggling. There were videos of other ladies drinking their “power greens” with their nose plugged because it smells so bad. Doubts crept in. The old familiar voice in my head started telling me I could never eat like this, I would never follow through, I was going to eat candy! I didn’t feel like I was “reclaiming” anything! Then. Then, I spoke out loud to the voice in my head and told it to SHUT UP! I reclaimed the voice in my head!
My fear of failure is still always there. I set myself up for success this time by setting a lot of alarms on my phone. Reminding me to take the supplements on time, to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner, an alarm to remind me to go to bed! If I had to remember it, I set an alarm for it.
The recipes and almost all the food was delicious (miso soup is not my favorite). I learned to substitute things (veggie broth for the miso soup) and was brave in trying new foods – tempeh and wakame seaweed. I even made nori gomasio.
The instructions of this program are that you are only to do light exercise, like walking or yoga. It was freezing outside so I took my sister and nephew on a wintery hike in the woods. My sister had a chickadee eat out of her hand for the first time. She is now the newest Disney princess! She is a master bird whisperer.
RELEASE! Please release me! Release week is when you take a “detox” supplement that should help you “release” – be it physical, mental, and/or spiritual. Looking back at Release week I remember I was excited that I didn’t have to buy as many groceries! I’m released from grocery shopping! Wait….am I going to be hungry? Why am I only eating mashed chickpeas for breakfast? What did I sign up for? Then. Then, I released my concerns and followed the program. I stopped my questioning and drank my power greens like a big girl and made some delicious, healthy meals.
The Releasing for me has been releasing control of my comfort. Letting myself feel uncomfortable.
It’s okay to feel a little hungry. For I know I will feel hungry while hiking the Appalachian Trail, so I might as well see how it feels now!
It’s not comfortable or fun cooking every single day for 21 days. My husband and I ate at restaurants 3-4 times a week. But, I’ll be cooking for myself nearly every day for six months on the Appalachian Trail. Better get used to cooking!
Pushing away cravings for food is difficult for me. I admit, I did sneak a teeny tiny piece of my husband’s steak while I was supposed to be eating vegan. I might have accidentally put a teeny tiny piece of chocolate in my mouth. I’m human. One thing I really want is a big bowl of buttery, salty popcorn. But on the Appalachian Trail, I won’t be able to succumb to cravings, so I better figure out how to manage them now.
On a side note: My dreams have been spectacular! So vivid and funny. In one, my husband and I were flying (just our bodies, no plane or spaceship) into outer space and nearly collided with a satellite. My husband was supposed to know where the parachutes were to go back to Earth, but he wasn’t sure. Somehow we landed and NASA was interrogating us about our trip. Then my friend Linda showed up and said that next time we should look up where the satellites are first, so we don’t almost hit one. Seriously, I dreamed this! The only thing I had to eat before bed was a big glass of water.
RESTORE! Week three! What a week it was! I ate roasted fennel (my favorite) and other veggies, tons and tons of fruit and started a new supplement to put the good bacteria back in my gut. Well, I started out the week by getting sick. Puking sick. I haven’t thrown up in a long time! Some of my friends on the same program said I had a flu. Sure felt like it. Being sick and on a diet is so hard. My body just wanted comfort food and not power greens. This week is supposed to be entirely vegan. I failed. I am not ashamed. I didn’t feel good! My husband made me a scrambled egg because if I threw up again, it wouldn’t hurt coming back up. The next day I stayed home from work because my stomach still didn’t feel right. I ate most of the food suggested, but I added a very small chunk of fresh chicken my husband made to the salad I had for lunch. I skipped a half day of supplements and stopped taking power greens. Again. It’s what I felt like I needed to do to feel better. The next day I was back to the program. Only you know your body best. It’s great to push yourself, but don’t make yourself miserable.
As you can see from the length of this section and lack of pictures, this week was tough for me. It’s the week before Christmas so I was extremely busy, extremely sick and getting tired of having to prep and plan every meal. By the end of the week I did have a couple slip ups. But I did the best I could.
My program results are about what I expected. I am excited to say I am down over ten pounds and four inches all around. My energy level has improved and I slept better than ever. Amazingly, my GERD has not been an issue at all during this. I did make sure I didn’t eat problem foods, of course. As I transition back to eating meat protein I will see how I feel and take careful notice of what I eat that makes me feel tired, bloated, and sick.
There are some other programs by Beachbody that Tabatha has suggested I try starting in the new year! I’m excited to continue this great process of getting stronger and healthier in order to make sure my thru hike of the Appalachian Trail is a success!
I ate a good breakfast. (My husband made it for me.)
I laced up my boots and threw my pack into the car.
I had packed my big backpack the night before with all the essentials. You know, everything you need on a short day hike. Stove, pots, 2 liters of water, rain gear, head lamp, emergency blanket, extra clothes, gloves, food for two days. I just wanted to be prepared – I am in training after all.
I asked my nephew to hike with me and was happy he agreed. Matthew hikes fast and doesn’t complain when I can’t keep up.
My husband drove us to the trail head on Getman Road and I discovered a very fast moving stream about shin deep right across the trail. I wasn’t familiar with this trail head, but I looked up and down the creek and couldn’t find a way across that wouldn’t mean hiking in wet boots the rest of the way, so we moved to Plan B.
Plan B was entering the trail at Mammot Road. We would have had to hike .7 miles on this road anyway, now we will avoid the road walk. I peeked down the trail before making the commitment to the hike. It seemed wet, but not impassable. I sent my husband on his way back home and Matthew and I took off down the trail.
We encountered many, many “puddles” aka swampy areas. Matt has LONG legs and moves like a gazelle. I have short stubby legs and I lacked any finesse hopping over these areas, especially carrying my full pack. I prayed my boots stayed dry and the prayer worked. And I really sloshed through the water. As long as it wasn’t over my ankle I was good. (I love my Keen boots!)
Matt and I stuck close together while the ground was a giant puddle but once the trail dried out, Matt was off like a flash. The trail was very easy to follow. The bright orange blazes were close together and I knew Matt would be able to follow it no problem.
Matt backtracked a little to find me and told me saw a railroad track ahead. Sure enough we came upon the track and glanced in both directions. No trains in sight. Drat. That would have been a treat to see a train so close. We didn’t want to wait around not knowing the schedule at all.
We spotted the orange flag in a tree branch indicating the trail entrance and Matt took off again. I stopped a few times to take some pictures, look at the sky, admire the forest and listen to the birds. We didn’t see any deer, only their footprints and some scat.
We saw some gorgeous waterfalls, including one that I drive by everyday and didn’t even know that it was there! It was spectacular especially with all the snow melt and rain we had recently.
We crossed Broadway into Darien Lake State Park. We found the log book and signed in.
It started to really warm up so I stopped to take off my jacket and we had an impromptu snack time. After a few cheese puffs, beef jerky and red fish we were fortified.
I put a few red fish in my pocket and we continued our journey. It didn’t take long to come across the blue trail to the lean to.
I gave Matt the option to hike it and he declined so we continued on following the orange blazes towards Sumner Road.
We actually heard a tree fall somewhere nearby and we both stopped in our tracks. We looked at each other relieved that it wasn’t a bear crashing through the woods to eat us. Then I found a ninja tree stump! Tell me it doesn’t look like ninja??
The trail ends at a parking lot on Sumner Road, so when I started hearing traffic I called my husband to pick us up. Timed right we wouldn’t wait long for him. We exited the trail and found a picnic bench, snacked again and had a drink. I picked up trash I found in the lot.
It was a beautiful day of nearly 60 degrees in January. It took us about two hours to hike about 4 miles. Matt said he’d be up to hiking this trail again when it was dry!
I have a few other trails up my sleeve for us, too! I just ordered and received a bunch of maps from the Finger Lakes Trail Conference. My goal this summer is to hike the Letchworth State Park branch trail of the FLT.
So my husband has decided that he likes hiking with me! Yay!!!! He has a great sense of direction when I get turned around and he makes funny faces to keep me happy! That is all you need in a great hiking partner, right?
Last weekend we ventured out to the good ole’ Joe Panza Trail. It’s where my training for the Appalachian Trail began way back on July 20, 2015. I’ve been back there a few times since because it is so close to home. When we started out I asked him how far he wanted to go. I braced myself for his answer of one mile, but he surprised me when he said two miles! I was giddy! I set my app on my phone to measure our distance.
It’s nearly winter and we were bundled up, but it wasn’t raining. The trail is very flat and since I’ve been on it so many times, a little boring. Well, not today. I seem to always go a certain way on the trail. Today my husband turned left instead of right and right instead of left and low and behold we were OFF the trail! Where did the trail go? With all the leaves on the ground we somehow missed a turn and it was obvious we were no longer on the trail. We were walking along the creek and of course I knew we weren’t “lost” just not on a trail. I remembered that there was a geocache near where I thought we were so I opened the geocache app on my phone and checked. Nope. Not where I thought we were. At least now I had an idea of where we were since I could see the other geocaches that I have found in the park.
My husband checked the app and together we decided to hike next to the creek until we came to “something.” We slowly made our way along the creek. I found a green mossy tree that reminded me of a dinosaur foot and we found some litter. I didn’t have my backpack so I didn’t have a garbage bag, but we took turns carrying the trash. Which reminds me, I still have a yucky bottle cap in my puffy jacket pocket! About this time my app said we had hiked one mile!
We kept walking through the woods not positive where we were going to end up and then BAM! There was a trail! Well, I hope you weren’t worried! Jumping back on the trail dear husband again took a left instead of a right and the trail ended at an open field that was behind the high school. This time we knew the main trail was only about 200 feet to the right so we carefully made our way through the brush to the trail. At this point we were on the main trail so there was a garbage can where we unloaded the trash we found.
The Joe Panza trail has identification on some of the trees. We stopped to read a few and I hugged and loved on them. The red maple did not want to let me go and snagged my scarf.
I freed myself from the amorous maple and hubby and I then decided to play on some tree stumps! My husband tried to impersonate The Thinker pose. I think he looks a little constipated. When I showed my sister the picture of me posing on the tree stump she said I reminded her of a twirling ballerina inside a little girl’s jewelry box. Awe! I wasn’t even trying!
While heading back to the car my app said we had hiked 1.97 miles. It looked like we would make my husband’s goal of two miles by the time we reach the car. The last time we hiked we went about a mile. If we keep doubling our distance and if my husband could retire early, we could hike the Appalachian Trail together in 2020! I think I’ll start playing the Lotto!
Disclaimer: I try to make it a rule to not venture off trail. I understand it could harm the plant life and I could get really lost.