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.
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!
When things get difficult I tend to give up. Well, not this time folks. These past few months have been challenging for me. Nothing earth shattering or life threatening, just things happening that had me down in the dumps.
Hiking for me has always been a way for me to get away from it all. The woods are place of peace and calm. My soul just soaks it up. Unfortunately, the last time I went on a serious hike, it wasn’t a completely enjoyable experience. I don’t want to relive it, so I won’t write about it. Let’s just say that it didn’t go as planned and I felt like a failure and a phony. It took me a little while to get over that, but I did. We all have experiences that don’t go the way we think they should. I learned from it, I learned A LOT from it.
On top of that, my health hasn’t been cooperating. I seem to have acquired GERD –
It is crazy how something like “acid reflux” can make it difficult to just walk down the driveway or across the street – there’s no way I was hiking out in the woods! The pressure and pain in my chest was scary until I had a doctor confirm it wasn’t my heart. Now the doctor is trying to find a solution to make me more comfortable so when I am active I don’t feel like I’m having a heart attack. Needless to say, I have been a little depressed and disappointed that I haven’t felt well enough to train for my adventure.
Well, since I am unable to physically train, I have been researching light-weight and ultra-light-weight gear. This is one way of many to help me guarantee success on my Appalachian Trail hike – keep my pack weight LOW! There are many websites that offer advice on light weight gear, I’ve tried to read them all. My pack is about 30 pounds with food and water, so I hope to be able to get down to about 15 pounds. With a little money and not a lot of sacrifice! We shall see.
Thanks for sticking with me! Even when the going gets tough, the tough keep going!