You win some. You lose some.

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.

Here’s before:

IMG_20160425_132801610Don’t mind Dave’s finger.

And now.

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This month I will be back in the Smoky Mountains and plan to retake that before photo.

Happy trails!

 

What have you been doing?

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!

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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!

 

Happy Trails!

 

Hey, Bear!

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.

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Bear Cave Trail – Allegany State Park

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.

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This is me after seeing my first bear.

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.

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I swear that’s a bear.

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.

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I survived!

Happy Trails.

 

Welp, I finally did it and then some.

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!!!

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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!

BUT-WAIT-THERES-MORE

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?

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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????

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I’m NERVOUS. 

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!

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ALONE AND BRAVE

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?

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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.

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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.

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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!!

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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!

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One foot in Pennsylvania and one foot in New York.

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.

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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……

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MY PHONE!!!!!!!!

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?

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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.

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Not today, kitty.

I stood in the middle of the trail.  ALL ALONE.  ALONE and BRAVE!

So I sang a song.  “If you want to be happy for the rest of your life, never make a pretty woman your wife. From my personal point of view, get an ugly girl to marry you.”  (Worth the click. It’s not me singing, don’t worry.)

Mountain lions do not like that song.  They must not, because I never saw one.

I did hear a dog bark.   Or was it a coyote?

There was no murder, no mauling, no investigation was necessary.  I made it back to my car in one piece.

What do we say to god of death?

Not today.

 

 

 

 

 

Distractions, Challenges and Gettin’ it DONE!

wedding CAThere was a major distraction in my life this past year.  My handsome son was married in September 2018!  My dining room became wedding central.  Two tables were full of centerpieces and every kind of wedding paraphernalia.  The wedding was beautiful!  Anyone who has planned a wedding knows that after the big day it takes a few weeks to recover.  Well, I took a few months.  Now I can get back to my agenda of training for the AT!

Last summer, before the big day, I took a couple of hiking trips to Kinzua Sky Walk, Kiasutha Recreation Area and Allegany State Park – among many other day hikes locally.

Click here for information on Kinzua Bridge State Park and the Sky Walk.

Kinzua Sky Walk is an old railroad bridge that was knocked down by a tornado.  They bolstered the remaining trestle and made a really, really cool walk way out of it.  I highly recommend walking the trail to view the bridge from below!  There is also a brand new education building with extremely interesting history of the bridge, the tornado and how the sky walk was built.

Click here for the visitor guide.

Kinzua State Park - Mount Jewett, PA Kinzua looking up

kiasutha tent

Kiasutha Recreation Area was about 40 minutes from the Sky Walk but worth the ride.  I had the most peaceful campsite with a beautiful view (Tent site number 12) right next to the lake and just a minute walk to the sandy beach.  I highly recommend it!  It was a peaceful and beautiful place to camp out overnight.

Last year I also camped out at Allegany State Park.  I rented a cabin though because the campground was closed.  The cabin did not have heat or electricity.  I wasn’t there for the cabin though!

I’ve been to this park over a hundred times and I was able to see five new things that I never saw before!

Bear Caves, Thunder Rocks, Stone Tower, Quaker Lake, and Science Lake.

 

The park has a program called Allegany 18.  It is a challenge to hike all 18 original trails of Allegany State Park.  It totals about 70 miles.

Most trails average 5 miles or so.  You pay $20.00 for your packet which includes separate maps of each trail and a neon pencil.  As you walk each trail you come across yellow markers with the trail number, which you etch onto your map for proof you actually hiked the trail.  After hiking all 18 trails you can claim your neat water bottle and sticker!

Currently I’ve only hiked one trail, but I plan to complete them all by August.

My thru hike is only a year away now, so it’s time to get to business.  I hope to be writing about my challenges and adventures more often.  I’ll be headed back to the gym (!!!!) to get some muscle built.  Gyms are intimidating to me, so send positive thoughts that I get my big girl panties on and just DO IT!

hiking partner shadow

My faithful hiking partner is never far away, although sometimes she fades into the shadows.

 

 

My goal is still 2020!

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.

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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.

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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!

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See you on the trails!