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?
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.
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!
I announced my intention to thru hike the Appalachian Trail in 2020 WAY back in July of 2015. Some people seem to be assuming that I have given up on it. What??? No. I still intend on starting my hike in April of 2020. Ready or not here I come. This summer I will be buckling my pack and staking my tent even more; going to places I have never been and gaining some valuable experience. And I’ll even write about a few of those adventures. Plans are in the works for a trip to the Maryland section of the Appalachian Trail, and a possible trip to Maine. I’ll, of course, also keep hiking around Western New York.
Right now though, Mother Nature has not yet received the message that Spring is about to be here and has been unleashing some serious snow and cold around here.
I’m not letting that stop me though. I revisited an old favorite place to hike, Tillman Nature Preserve. The last time I visited there was a monsoon! (Read about it here.) I was up past my ankles in water while hiking in my work boots and a skirt! (This was back when I didn’t prepare very well.) It was a little different this time. The weather was cool, but it had just been raining so the trails were mushy and muddy in places and downright ponds to walk through. The boardwalks and waterproofed boots were sure handy!
Of course, I always say – It isn’t a truly good hike unless there’s a little mud!
Before and after of my boots.
Tillman Nature Preserve has a great loop trail that is just over 2 miles. It crosses and recrosses a road and is completely and utterly FLAT. There were a few interesting photo ops though.
Some kind of fungus, a neat little bridge and it seems as if someone built a couple “shelters”. Only one seemed to be big enough for me to get in, so I did.
As you can see by the sunshine over my shoulder the shelter is not very weatherproof, but it’s still fun. I cleaned up some litter around the shelters and on the trail.
There must be at least a six pack of Bud Light and a couple Gatorade bottles. What a shame. I’m glad I brought a bag to collect it all in. I actually washed and kept the orange shaker bottle. It looked brand new! I’m guessing it fell off a fat-tire bike rider.
A week later, my big green pack was looking sad, so I packed it lightly and buckled it up to revisit Hunters Creek Park. I was worried about the snow in the parking lot, but I didn’t need to be. So many people love this park it must have been plowed. I put on my micro spikes for a short hike around the most used trails. The trails with no human tracks made me nervous. I didn’t want to blaze my own trail yet and I had left my snow shoes in my car.
It was not even 30 degrees, but I was plenty warm with my layers. I was confident hiking on the icy paths with my micro spikes. I had my taped together, well-used map, so I didn’t get lost. Although at one point I thought a blue dashed line was the creek when it was actually a trail. Oops. So much for having a map. I am seriously considering taking an orienteering class this summer.
I love this picture below of the brilliant sunset (my AT dream) behind poles (work, life) with a directional sign (chose left or right). I don’t want to go left or right; I want to go straight into that brilliant dream!!! Those poles can just get out of my way! When I’m on the AT, I will take many photos of the sunset I am sure; and NONE of them will have poles in the way!
A few weeks ago I celebrated my birthday. My bff, Linda aka MsBirder, knows I love hiking and so does she, so we set out on a birthday adventure of geocaching and hiking in Letchworth State Park. The park is in Livingston and Wyoming counties, New York and is about 14,500 acres. WOW! It has numerous waterfalls and it known as the Grand Canyon of the East. The gorge is about 600 feet deep in places and the Genesee River flows through it. The views are amazing!
Usually when I go to Letchworth State Park I end up at the same end of the park, seeing the same things. This time we went to the opposite end to see the Mount Morris Dam. The dam is not exactly in the park, but right next to it. It was built between 1948 and 1952 by the US Army Corps of Engineers. My bucket list includes the Hoover Dam, it must be massive compared to this little dam! It’s still a modern marvel how man can build something like this!
At this time we were losing our minds and just having a great time!
Linda was not trying to choke me, she was taking a funny selfie and I had to capture it!
Linda and I continued on to do some hiking. We weren’t exactly sure where we were going, but we had some coordinates for geocaches. The trail we took had a yellow blaze with the number 20 on it. I looked it up once at home and it is the #20 Highbanks Trail which is almost 5 miles. It follows the west rim on the northern part of the state park. The trail starts at the Mt. Morris Entrance and ends at cabin area C. We didn’t get that far, maybe 2 or 3 miles because I was hungry! There was a small ravine we had to carefully make our way down. Unfortunately for Linda, and fortunately for me and your viewing pleasure, Linda slid down on her butt. Here’s a very short video that she will have to forgive me for sharing. Love you, Linda!
It’s not poop! LOL!
We found a geocache and a little lean-to that was being re-built.
The face on the tree wasn’t the geocache, I forgot to take a picture of that! But, isn’t the face cool!
We hiked about 2 miles or so, maybe 3 and I got hungry! There is a restaurant in Letchworth called Glen Iris Inn. We had a great lunch there and visited the Middle Falls.
We made our way out of the park and headed home with the geocache app on. We made a quick stop in a cemetery for a cache and then a Christmas tree farm. I couldn’t believe how beautiful the Christmas tree farm was!
As we continued on we were stopped in traffic on the road. Apparently a horse had gotten loose. It was captured and thankfully no one was hurt, not even the horse.