I AM NOT AFRAID! I AM NOT AFRAID!

Fabulous!  Excited!  Amazing!  ALIVE!

I have a Bucket List.  Do you?  If not, you should!  A Bucket List details things that you would like to accomplish during your lifetime.  Recently, I was able to check off a couple things on my Bucket List.

my-bucket-list

Well, I’m trying to step outside my comfort zone in baby steps.  It’s not easy for me to do things that I feel intimidated by.  I know, I know, I want to thru hike the Appalachian Trail…pretty intimidating.  So I have to start putting myself out there NOW.

One really fun thing I did off my Bucket List was participate in the Color Run.  A Color Run is a 5K non race.  Just my thing!  During the run/walk/skipping along the course there are “Color Zones” where a bunch of people throw different colored powder at you.  There’s an orange zone, pink zone, blue zone, purple zone, you get the drift.  By the end of the course you are covered head to toe in different colors.

Participating in the Color Run was a little intimidating for me.  I was afraid you had RUN or JOG the whole thing.  Heaven forbid!!  NOT TRUE!!!  The more I read other people’s experiences I was satisfied that I could just walk or skip or jog a tiny bit.  Unfortunately, the night before the race I was anxious.  I didn’t want to go alone.  I was ready to back out.  My registration was paid, I had my t-shirt and polka-dot socks, but I was NERVOUS!  My husband came to my rescue, like he often does, and when I asked him if he would join me on the course, he said he would.  He is such a trooper.  We both got thoroughly covered in different colors and we walked pretty much the entire way, but at the end we still got shiny silver medals and we weren’t the last ones across the finish line!

Another thing I really had to do was sleep outside in the woods all by myself. Since I was a little girl I’ve been afraid of the dark.  Now, I’ve outgrown being afraid while in the darkness of my house.  Mostly…but especially when my dogs or others are around.  When I am with others outside in the dark, easy; I’m not scared really at all.  If I am alone outside, with only a tent, how will I do?  Well, I survived!

I started out with a baby step.  I slept in my backyard!  Now, I have a very woodsy backyard.  Where I slept, I couldn’t see my house, but I could see my shed.  It was pitch black out.

img_20160818_204214
I know I heard something weird…

I knew my dogs and husband were only a few hundred feet away.  I knew I could easily walk back to my house in the dark.  I also had a headlamp and my phone so I had light.  Like I said, baby steps.  It was also a baby step for my husband.  He loves to worry!  He was pretty freaked out about me sleeping outside by myself.  It was good for both of us.  I slept okay and managed to not freak out more than twice from the weird noises.  When I woke up at 6 am, I walked to the house and slept another couple hours in my bed.

Just this past weekend I decided it was now or never to actually camp out in the woods away from home.  I convinced my husband to drop me off at a nearby trail head where I knew about 2 miles down the trail was a lean to.  We left late in the day so I wouldn’t be at the lean to bored out of my mind for too long before bed.

There was one car in the parking lot and as any worry wart would, my husband took a picture of their license plate.  As I hiked, the woods became darker and darker.  I forgot how it gets darker in the woods more quickly.

image

image

Whew.  I made it to the lean to and unpacked my gear.  I started a small fire in the fire ring, and I mean small.   

While settling in I realized the mosquitoes were going to kill me.  Even with repellent on.  There were mouse droppings in the lean to.  I felt exposed. And scared. And nervous. And worried. And And And!

So, in the dusk, I rapidly set up my tent.  I’m so glad it’s so easy! In less than 15 minutes I was snug as a bug inside my tent watching the fire die out.

image
I love looking at my little home away from home.

Somehow during my rush I butt dialed my mother.  When I realized it and put the phone to my ear and heard her beautiful voice it was like magic!  It was like I was cheating a little though.  I was supposed to be outside in the woods overnight by myself.  Well, my mother couldn’t do anything to protect me when she is just on the other end of the phone so we chatted for 10 minutes and she encouraged me and I felt so much more brave!

Inside my tent that night I could hear the nearby amusement park roller coaster and what I thought were the screams of the riders!  It’s crazy how sound travels.  Then I heard their fireworks at 9pm and then again at 10pm.  Then it was eerily silent.  Just the sounds of the forest around me.  The call of a barred owl, the miscellaneous insects and some weird licking sound?  Seriously??!!??  I heard a raccoon and YELLED at it!  It must have run off because I never heard it’s chittering sound again.  I kept hearing the “licking” sound, though.  Like my dog licking his paw over and over and over…ugh.  I have no idea what that was, and I don’t care.  I just turned Adele Radio on and drowned it out for 20 minutes.  It worked.  I fell asleep and dreamed.  I posted a 4 minute video at the end of this article if you want to know really how my night was and what my dream was about.  Just be kind; it was a no makeup kind of day.

image
I’m the green lantern.

My body clock finally woke me at my usual time just before the sunrise and gradually I could hear the forest waking up all around me.  The birds began their morning songs and I debated whether to hike for awhile or just head back to the trail head and have my husband pick me up.  I started my little stove and ate hot granola with blueberries.

img_20160905_065553
This was delicious.

As I walked around the trees while eating and breathing in the sweet morning air I felt exhilarated!  I made it through the night!  But, I wanted to go home.  I packed up and headed back.

img_20160905_072630

Baby steps.

Next time I will hike longer in, camp out and hike longer out.  All by myself.  Sigh.  Now to just do it.

A couple other small things I have checked off my Bucket List is making a little gnome home.  I did that at the base of one of the largest red oak trees in Erie County, which happens to be in my front yard.

image

The other thing checked off was that I had wanted my picture taken with Shark Girl.  She is a lot like me!  Quite a resemblance.  Especially the teeth!

img_20160903_140633

Also at Canalside in Buffalo was the world’s largest rubber duck. I didn’t realize that seeing it was on my bucket list until I heard about it.  But, how could you NOT go see the world’s LARGEST rubber ducky!  It was 6 stories tall and weighs about one ton!

img_20160826_223723

Next week on my bucket list is:  I get to meet Alison Arngrim.  She is the actress that played Nellie Oleson on Little House on the Prairie.  Can’t wait!

manyan

The week after that I have PRK eye surgery scheduled.  That will cross off another thing on my Bucket List!  No glasses for me on my thru hike!

Whew…that’s quite enough for now!

As promised here is the scary video!  Sorry about the vertical video.  I’m learning!

Checked off another one on the bucket list!  Add video to my blog!

Appalachian Trail Dreaming

Since my vacation in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park I’ve tried to wind down my obsession with the Appalachian Trail a little. Honest! I want to concentrate on solo hikes in my neck of the woods and few group hikes.  Hopefully I will be able to get a handful of over-nighters during the summer months, too.

But, I can’t seem to get my head out of the Appalachian Trail or out of the Smoky Mountains! When I fall asleep I see those amazing mountains of blue, grey and purple. If you’ve seen them, you know what I mean.

IMG_20160425_150214365
See what I mean?

You would think my dreams would be calm and sweet.  But NO!  My dreams are filled with walking the trail and sometimes the trail is a DEAD END! Or there’s a scary BEAR! Or I keep walking the same trail over and over and over.  I wake up in a sweat and can’t fall back to sleep.

Bear Affair 2010
Please don’t let this EVER happen to me!

Well, I think I need therapy.  How about I take a walk!  No, seriously, I need help!  I’ve decided to step back from the Appalachian Trail a little, no a lot.  I’m going to concentrate more on my immediate surroundings, my house, my family and friends and even other hobbies besides hiking!

Let me clarify, I have not given up on my goal of thru hiking the AT!!

Recently, I’ve hiked with my MOM!  My mom grew up loving the outdoors and wandering around the woods between the border of NY and PA not far from the Allegheny National Forest.  I think I get my love for the woods from her!  We went to a trail that I’ve discovered before and that I knew would be “kind” to her.  It’s a mile and a quarter long trail with gentle slopes and meanders along a little creek with little waterfalls.  I know we will be back.

IMG_20160523_185001076
My mom making a swan dive into the waterfall. I stopped her.
IMG_20160523_185012406
My mommy!!
IMG_20160523_184940012
She only accused me of trying to kill her once. She though the hill was too steep.

Linda and I have also been out in the last few weeks exploring (and geocaching).  I’m lucky to have friends and family that enjoy being outside.

IMG_20160517_175729207_HDR
My bestie!
IMG_20160517_181815608
Linda and I made an Inukshuk.
IMG_20160517_183222434_HDR
Little waterfall.
IMG_20160517_182821536
Big waterfall.

I was out on National Trail Day, June 4.  I visited the Eternal Flame in Chestnut Ridge Park.  My favorite place to go.

IMG_20160530_081717280
These natural gas flames are in a grotto behind a waterfall. So beautiful!

Unfortunately, I said good-bye to my good friend and hiking partner, Shelly!  Livingonthedirt.com  She left for her grand adventure on Memorial Day. She’s traveling out West to visit many of the National Parks!  I’m going to miss this woman soooo much! She took me on my very first overnight backpacking trip and taught me so many things. Please follow her blog!  She’s so excited to start this new path in life.  I’m so excited FOR HER!

IMG_20160512_175524118
Shelly is a secret Disney Princess – birds just land in her hands!

 

No Choice, Joyce

Well, that was a learning experience!

Packing my pack on Thursday night, I proceeded to: crack my headlamp, have my water bladder leak all over the padding of my pack and removed, replaced and added extra items at the last minute.  I ran out to the local hardware store and bought a $5 headlamp, my pack stayed slightly damp and I carried probably about a pound of extra weight on items I never looked at while hiking.

We started out Friday headed south to the Morrison/Rimrock Trail Loop in the Allegheny National Forest.  We had all the excitement of kindergartners on the first day of school!  It was snowing, but we laughed and didn’t care!

IMG_20160325_110939919
The snowflakes were small and we bundled up.

This was my first time carrying my pack on a hike.  It was almost 30 pounds.  Filled with everything I would need to survive one night and two days in the woods. Morrison Trail including the Rimrock Trail is about 12 miles long.  The terrain is very steep in sections and also beautiful as the trail follows the creek.  There are many creek crossings where I am beholden to my hiking poles for saving me from getting wet. I know I would not have stayed dry without them!  I think I may have even kissed them once or twice!

IMG_20160325_134152458
Not so wide to cross here. This one was easy!
IMG_20160325_130033844
Four little waterfalls in row.  So beautiful!
IMG_20160325_134201057
Everything was starting to turn that perfect Spring green.  Shelly blended in!

We stopped to camp after hiking about 7 miles.  Unfortunately for us I could not manage to climb down a steep slope to the reservoir below where there was some flat land.  (I slid down and got muddy and upset – poor Shelly.)  Our little camp had to be set up on a slope.

IMG_20160325_185820679
Don’t do this unless it’s all you got.  This was not ideal.  We made it work.

We ate our dinner at about 5:30 and hung out in my surprised (!) tent for a little while. It was becoming very cold and weather.com said it could be down to 26 degrees!  Shelly went back to her tent and I was all alone.  Being on the slope made it very challenging to sleep.  We slid down in our tents because….gravity.  Her tent wasn’t staying up with her hiking poles because she kept sliding into it.  Finally, I convinced her to sleep with me in my one-man tent.  Eureka should know that four grown women could sleep in the fetal position in the solo tent.  The two of us only took up half the tent!

I do think this was one of the longest nights ever.  I couldn’t stretch my legs.  Our feet were pressed up against the tent holding us up.  It was so uncomfortable.  At least we were warm next to each other.  Unfortunately for Shelly, I also snore.  Loud.  She woke me up a couple times to stop me.  I stayed awake for awhile so I could make sure she slept a little.  In the end I’m sure I slept more than she did.  All I did all night was watch the time on my phone.  Anxious for sunrise and being able to eat some hot oatmeal and a boiling cup of tea.

At around 6 am I heard a Barred owl saying “Who cooks for you?  Who cooks for you all?”  Shelly woke up and we chatted and stayed warm until the sun rose around 7am. We retrieved the bear canister and pots and cooked our breakfast as the sky became brighter and brighter.  Packing up our tents we discovered ice coated everything!  Our tents, poles, anything we left outside of our tents.  It was really, really cold!  Our fingers and toes were numb!  But, we had a lovely view of the forest with the reservoir in the background!  Staying positive here!

We hit the trail about 8:30am.  The sky was blue and it was warming up.  The trail continued up the mountain and we said if there was a flat spot within the next quarter mile we would have been so mad we made camp where we did, but there wasn’t. So, we made a good choice.

IMG_20160325_164435911
Beautiful, huge moss covered boulders.  They look like they are sliding off the mountain, much like we nearly did the night before.

The trail took us up the very last inch of the mountain, with no apologies.  In my head I was drafting my next blog post -“I’m never hiking again.  I’m quitting!” “This is too hard.”  “I can’t do it.”

On one particular steep section, I stopped because I was exhausted and sweaty.  I wanted to close my eyes, twitch my nose and be in my bed at home.  Then it hit me.  I HAD NO CHOICE.  At this point of the game, the only way I would ever see my bed at home again was if my two feet kept going.  I looked down at my feet and said, “Feet, you have to do this for the rest of the body.  You must continue.  You have NO CHOICE, JOYCE!”  With that, I continued, I continued to complain, whine, climb and walk and eventually we made it to some glorious flat ground.

We were anxious to see some sign that we were going in the right direction.  We knew we should be coming up to a turn in the trail.  We finally saw a sign and made the turn.  Walking and walking and walking we thought maybe we turned at the wrong spot!  At worst we would have to walk an extra 2.6 miles, lucky for us we came across some day hikers that told us the parking lot was about a mile away.  Can you hear angels singing? I can.

IMG_20160325_115510031
Can you find Shelly?

Hiking out that last half mile was hard.  Who am I kidding, it was all hard. If someone would have asked me on Saturday, if I would do this again I would have said, maybe.  Today, I can’t wait to hit this trail again – in warmer weather!  Now that I know where to stop to camp it should make that part so much more tolerable.

I want to thank my good friend, Shelly aka livingonthedirt.com.  She taught me how to adjust my pack straps.  It was magic!  She taught me about bear canisters and cooking away from your camp to discourage animal visitors.  She gave me a pat on the back when I fell and slid down the mountain. (It helped, it really did!) She also listened to me whine and complain and when I look back at myself, I wish I didn’t do so much of that.

Watch out, Appalachian Trail.  I’m getting ready!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mud, Bones and What am I doing????

I personally love the feeling of walking in mud.  It’s squishy and soft and makes the grossest sound as you pull your foot out of a deep mud puddle.  I love it!  After a heavy downpour the trails are made of slippery, chocolate brown mud!  Mud doesn’t stop me!

While hiking, one periodically comes across unusual things.  Recently, after an uneventful 2 miles or so I noticed the decomposing leg of a deer had been draped on a tree branch.  GROSS!  Of course I took a picture because I’m morbid.  I won’t put it here, but if you want to see it (you sick, sick person) I won’t judge you, just send me a message!

It was a bonus unusual day.  Off the trail about 50 feet was a little white cross. Someone must have buried their pet in the woods.  Or was it the remains of the deer and someone put a cross over it. I decided to admire the cross from trail just in case whatever was there wasn’t completely buried!

IMG_20160309_174121045
Shelly and I didn’t waste anytime getting away from the decomposing bones!

Hiking with different people I don’t know, I generally ask them, “How do you spend your time outside of hiking?”  Almost always, the answer I get is, “Work.”  Well, besides that!?  Next the answers are about their children or grandchildren, pets, education and travel.

When I am asked that question the first thing I want to tell people is about my family.  Dave (my husband) and Carl (my son) are my most favorite people!  My two golden retrievers are great hiking buddies, too!

Another hobby I enjoy is hand crafting homemade greeting cards.  I have a room in my house dedicated to my stamps and crafts!  I also love Halloween, cooking and reading everything I can about the AT.

Truth be told, I really just want to talk about hiking the Appalachian Trail.  I want to talk about my gear, maps, books, planning – YOU NAME IT!  My hike may be 3.7 years from now (or maybe sooner if I can manage it) but I eat, sleep, and breathe the AT.

I’m planning a trip to Gatlinburg, TN in late April and plan to visit many trails there.  I had made a promise to myself to not hike any of the AT until I started my thru hike.  I wanted everything to be new on the trail.  Now I have a chance to go to Clingman’s Dome!  I should do it, right?  Or, should I not?  I should.  Maybe not.  Ugh!

In reality I should be focusing on planning and preparing for a backpacking trip I am taking to the Allegheny National Forest in ONE WEEK!  Shelly and I are spending one night on a trail out there.  I’m very nervous about putting up my tent.  I will be practicing it over and over in my yard this week!  I’ll be documenting my success or lack thereof!

As you can tell, it is Spring and I’m excited for backpacking season to begin.  I’m looking forward to wearing my heavier pack on some trails to get more accustomed to it.

Happy Trails and thanks for following my adventures in training for my thru hike of the AT!

Chasing Waterfalls

I hadn’t worn my boots in over a week.  It’s funny how I began to miss them!  My name was sitting on a “waitlist” for a hike to chase waterfalls in a nearby State Park.  I checked my phone for alerts every half hour hoping my name would be put on the “confirmed” list.  I woke up at 7:00 a.m. the day of the hike and saw that I was finally confirmed.  Enough people had backed out, clearing a spot for me!  Jumping out of bed and scaring the dogs, I hurried to shower and pack my backpack.

The December day was forecast to be in the 60’s and nice.  I was looking forward to being outside and among friends on the trail. Stepping outside it was foggy, damp and dreary – it did not look promising.  Driving to the park it began to sprinkle.  It still felt more like an April day than a December day, so I carried on.

The group was beginning to assemble at the meeting point and it started to rain harder.  People were changing their RSVPs to No every couple minutes and before we knew it, we had only 14 people instead of 25.  The rain was putting sour faces on most of us, but no one backed out.  We all hoped it would stop soon and lucky for us it did.

Fog was still settled below.
IMG_20151213_095829933

We were chasing down a number of waterfalls in the park and since there hadn’t been much rain, except for the little that fell early in the morning, the waterfalls were only trickling.

Our leader, Chuck took us past interesting old ruins of park infrastructure.  IMG_20151213_094706730The park was built in the 30’s and many of the old stone incinerators and mysterious buildings remain.  A few took us a minute to figure out what they might have been used for.  I still don’t know what this large dog house building would be.  It had no floor – only mud, trash and a large pipe running through it.IMG_20151213_101037986

 

 

 

We eventually chased down a few waterfalls. Not very exciting this time of year with no water rushing over them, but beautiful, just the same.

Just a trickle.                       I swear there is a waterfall here.IMG_20151213_115515109

IMG_20151213_110445909

 

IMG_20151213_093813748Chuck said this one wasn’t on his list, but it was flowing better than any of the other waterfalls!

 

 

There’s a teeny tiny waterfall in the middle of this picture.  It didn’t make Chuck’s list either.

IMG_20151213_102709995

This hike felt different to me than any other so far.  I was talking to everyone, breathing easily and having so much fun.  My feet were even smiling in my boots!  There were a couple of challenging, steep inclines and I was glad I brought my hiking poles.  They sure do come in handy.  Chuck had us walking in the creek bed in order to view another waterfall.  The creek bed was SLIPPERY!  Those poles saved me from getting wet!  So did Ali – my happy Drill Sargent was there lending a supportive hand and motivational words whenever I needed it!

At the edge of the park there was a marker engraved with the name, Cliford Robert Pettis, State Forester.  Of course, I had to “Google” his name!  Turns out he was named the “Father of Reforestation” and was the New York State Forest Superintendent from 1910-1927. Seems this man was responsible for the planting of 20,000,000 trees in New York State.  Here is a website if you want to learn more: https://localwiki.org/hsl/Clifford_R._Pettis.

IMG_20151213_111652927

Nearing the end of the hike we were climbing and climbing.  My heart was beating out of my chest!  My face was RED!  I reminded myself that this is why I am in training for my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail.  As long as I am still breathing I will get through it!  I concentrated on my slow even breathing and setting small little goals.  For example on one steep section of trail I concentrated on different shape rocks ahead of me and told myself to get to that one rock, then the next rock, then the next weird looking root, then the next bright leaf in trail.  Sometimes these goals were only 2 feet apart, but it worked!

Luckily the last steep climb landed us right at the parking lot near our cars.  I quickly caught my breath and we said our farewells.  My muddy boots and poles needed a little TLC.IMG_20151213_120944591