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!
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.
In my last article I wrote about being afraid while hiking alone. The article was lighthearted and some called it cute and funny. I tried to make light of being afraid while hiking alone. Like my fears were not real.
THEY ARE REAL.
And those fears became even more real when Army Veteran Ron Sanchez was brutally murdered on the Appalachian Trail a few weeks ago. I do not want to put the incident in my own words; you can google it.
I have read that Ron Sanchez was thru hiking the AT to seek healing from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He had served three tours in Iraq. People set out to thru hike the AT for different reasons. Therefore, on the trail I expect to encounter people like Ron, who are hiking the trail to find inner peace. On the trail I also predict I will encounter happy people, sad people, grumpy people, friendly people and yes, scary people.
Scary things can happen to you, me, and those we love – anywhere and at anytime. Recently I was speaking with my nephew, Matthew, about scary things and what does he do to come to peace with it. He said – when really bad things happen and I can’t do anything about it, I try to learn a lesson from it.
The lesson I learned is that I will be the friendly, cheerful, happy, kind person that others encounter on the trail. I will be the person that others can trust. I will “trust my gut” when I encounter suspicious people. However, I will continue to solo hike. I will also carry a Personal Locator Beacon in case of an emergency.
Most of all, I will not live in fear of the unknown. I will not let scary things control me or discourage me from my thru hike in 2020.
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.
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!
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!
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.
My husband and I met on a blind date. We spoke a few times on the phone before our first date, but that was WAY before cell phones and the internet. It was actually even an accident that we met at all. Loooong story. One thing I told him was that if he didn’t like camping in the rain, he wasn’t the right guy for me. I think I could feel him cringe through the phone. He asked me to marry him six weeks later. Apparently, there are many other things we love about each other and here we are twenty years later, through rain and shine!
My supportive husband has hiked and camped with me in the rain. He does it because he loves me and I love him for it! Now that I am training for my big Appalachian Trail thru hike I would like to hike longer and more miles. Husband, on the other hand, likes to keep it short and sweet. I compromise usually. This past Black Friday we “opted outside” instead of fighting through the crowds and shopping to save $5. Unfortunately, when we put on our hiking boots that morning it was raining. Not a hard rain, just an annoying sprinkle. I needed to get every moment outside that I could, rain or shine! My husband was excited to test out his new Merrell hiking boots in the rain. He wanted to be sure that his feet would be warm and dry the next day while tailgating before the Buffalo Bills game. (They were great!)
I packed my backpack and he packed two umbrellas. Hahahaha! He said he was going to use one and the other was for me. Now, I have heard of hikers using umbrellas on the trail, I just won’t be one of them. Fact, on the trail you’re going to get wet if it is raining. Just deal. The umbrellas went into the trunk anyway. I love that he was trying to take care of me!
We settled on hiking the Boy Scout trail in a local park. It’s only 3/4 mile long. Enough for my husband; a tease for me. My husband was going to use one of my hiking poles. He twisted and pulled it out too far and oops. I had to push and twist to get the darn thing back together! He said that my poles were shot and I should get new ones so he could have my old ones! Sounds good to me! (Please comment with recommendations!) Before I closed my trunk I asked him if he wanted his umbrella. He declined. Hardy soul that he is! He also likes to make funny faces when I take his picture!
We each had winter hats on and the sprinkle wasn’t even noticeable once we were on the trail. The Boy Scout Trail meanders along a creek. The water was really moving since it was raining. The trail is very flat although there is a little tiny hill at the end. We stopped to take some pictures near a tree. One side had horrible orange graffiti. I hate it when I see graffiti on trees!!! What is wrong with people? It makes me so angry and sad. On a different trail recently I even saw “Will you marry me?” each word spray painted on four separate trees! On other trees around it, they painted hearts. The vandal probably thought it was romantic and cute. NOT! If I were that unlucky girl I would say NO! and break up with the vandal then and there!
When my husband took the first graffiti filled picture, he didn’t say anything about it. I don’t know if he thought it was “normal” or if he thought it added to the artistic value of the photo or more likely he just didn’t “see” it. I was so disappointed and sad when I saw the photo on my phone with me smiling next to a graffiti covered tree. I asked him to retake the photo from the other side of the tree. I didn’t lose the meaning of the fact that the side of the tree with the graffiti was the side of the tree getting rained on. Like Mother Nature trying to wash it off by crying on it!
I didn’t let the graffiti spoil our hike. As we neared the last curve of the loop heading back to the car, my husband tried to sneak a short cut through the grass! I gently guided him to the tree line where the trail was. I needed every step available!
Later on that day we were driving somewhere and it was so sunny! Isn’t that how it works sometimes!
Reflecting back to our recent hike and our twenty year marriage I noticed that frequently we have different views, ideas and beliefs. We “see” things differently. We have learned to listen to each other and respect those differences. Opposites do indeed attract! I like to think we compliment each other. I’m horrible at math, he is a certified public accountant. He can program a computer, I can type on a computer. I’m good at planning things, he is a procrastinator. I run on emotion and he is very logical. It all works out.
Rain or shine, besides my shadow, my husband is my favorite hiking partner, on the trail and through life!