A few weeks ago I was preparing my gear for my thru-hike, minding my own business and dreaming of spending the next six months in the company of nature. Then, kind of out of nowhere, the Covid-19 pandemic hit the United States. My brain was frantic, I was going, I wasn’t going, I was going, I wasn’t going…. Ultimately, you know I chose to delay my thru-hike. It was the wisest and safest decision for me and my family. But, wow. I was disappointed!
There is usually a time in everyone’s life when we work toward a goal. We study to pass a test, diet to lose 10 pounds, save money for a house, etc… Sometimes we achieve our goal, but sometimes that goal gets shifted. That test you studied for led you to a new goal of a doctoral presentation, you now need to lose 15 pounds, that money you were saving for a house is now paying for your car repairs. Well, my goal of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail has shifted. Don’t get all nervous….it’s still my big picture and ultimate goal! Right now that goal just isn’t reasonable in the next few months due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In the past, I have always been so afraid to set a goal. As soon as I set a goal, something usually sidetracks me and derails my progress (usually my inner fear). I wrote about some of that fear in one of my past articles. Stand Still and Use Your Inner Compass This time, my goal was thwarted by something completely out of my control. I had to find a new goal that I could control. Something that could direct me away from the disappointment I was feeling about not starting my thru hike.
Last year I completed the Allegany 18 Challenge You win some. You lose some. and then the Western New York Winter Hiking Challenge and I remembered there was a NEW Western New York Hiking Challenge posted by Outside Chronicles. The challenge asked you to complete 20 trails out of 32 (plus 2 bonus hikes). I immediately clung to the goal of completing the challenge, telling only a few select friends that I wanted to be the first to complete it.
While hiking the trails of the challenge I savored every minute. There were bridges to cross or go under, trees climbed, muddy trails, waterfalls, abandoned ruins, a cemetery, a lighthouse, rusty things left in the forest, dog kisses, very interesting statues, big rocks, little rocks, amazing views, random signs, a snake’s nest, birds eating out of my hand and nature galore.
These photos are just some of the highlights:
I didn’t care when the trail was muddy, I didn’t care when it was cloudy, I didn’t care when it was raining. I hiked up hill, I hiked down hill, I hiked the road, I hiked it all. My friends hiked with me sometimes (keeping the proper social distance), they all helped me reach my new goal by encouraging me, keeping me laughing and pushing me up the hills. And guess what? I managed to be the first to complete the challenge. Go me!
Now, that only means I completed 20 trails and there are 32 plus 2 bonus hikes…sooooo, you know what my next goal is then, don’t you?
I can’t believe it. Am I dreaming? Is this real life?
In 33 days I will embark on a life long dream to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail. My palms are sweaty, my stomach is doing flips, and my brain is swirling with last-minute details. I am in control of my nerves. My nerves do not control me. It’s been an incredible journey just getting this far.
There have been a million little things in the last few months that I’ve done to prepare. I’ve been watching some really informative videos created by successful thru-hikers. They have given me ideas on the type of gear to bring, how to put up my new tent, what food to bring, how to hang a bear bag, how to stretch your muscles after a long day, the best hostels to stay in and views not to miss on the trail. I especially appreciate the videos on where to find the best hamburger and beer on the trail. You know, the important stuff.
I took a minute or two (okay about an hour) to review some of my past articles. Just to remind myself just how far I’ve come. Sometimes I feel like a completely different person wrote those articles from way back in the beginning. That girl had no idea what she was doing and I’m afraid I don’t know much more than that now! One thing I know now is that I can ASK QUESTIONS. Find someone who looks friendly and ask for help. The hiking community is filled with generous, kind people who are eager to help and teach. Thank goodness!
One of my most fond memories was my very first overnight backpacking trip with my friend Shelly. I felt so bad for Shelly re-reading this. I really was a whiner! My article all about it is here: No Choice, Joyce. Definitely one of my favorite articles. Another favorite is my very, very first article. Somewhere. Sometime. That girl that wrote that was so excited to start this journey and I am so glad she’s coming with me!
In the last few weeks at home, I will continue to pack and unpack and pack my backpack again and again. Layout all my items and fine-tune every last one. How many band-aids do I need? Should I take two buffs or one? Do I really need a pillow? (YES!) I’m making all the decisions with the knowledge that if a piece of my gear isn’t performing the way I’d hoped it would I can always replace or upgrade it at the next outfitter on the trail. Or better yet, I’ll find what I need in a hiker box. A hiker box is found in hostels and some shelters. The box is filled with FREE gear that other hikers have abandoned. Maybe it was a pair of heavy microspikes or a water filter plunger, or a pair of socks. You just never know what might appear in a hiker box. I once left a book in a hiker box. It was way too heavy to continue carrying, so I left it. I still don’t know how it ends.
Also in the last few weeks at home, I am going to EAT. I need to have Bocces pizza and BarBill chicken wings before I go for sure! And, in the last month or so, I’ve developed a little tendonitis in my ankle so I am going to physical therapy to strengthen my joints and increase my flexibility.
As much as I will enjoy every minute of the good, bad and ugly on the trail, I am going to miss a lot about home. My bed, my electric blanket, my iPad, my running water, my TOILET! Above all, I will miss my family and friends. There is decent cell service all along the trail so I plan to keep in touch when I can. I wish I could squish everyone down and stuff them into my backpack and bring them along! I created an Instagram account that I am going to try to update every day with a photo. Come with me! Follow me at @Trailchaser2020.
So many exciting things have been happening lately. October is my favorite month of the year. First, because it’s my birthday month. Second, the fall is so beautiful with the changing leaves and the earth is so fragrant this time of year.
Just to catch up on all the wonderful wins for me this fall: I DID IT! I finally finished the Allegany 18 Challenge!
My darling husband hiked the last 5-mile trail with me. I literally skipped to the Registration Building after the hike to claim my winnings! A very cool water bottle that lists all the 18 trails and a sweet sticker! I put the water bottle in my china cabinet alongside Dave’s 300-game bowling trophies. It deserves to be in a place of honor. Hahaha!
Way back in March I signed up for the Allegany 18 Challenge because of a post by the Outside Chronicles Facebook page. After a bunch of us completed the challenge we were invited back to Allegany State Park for a bonus hike and social. It was a lot of fun meeting everyone and making connections with people that have the same passion as me!
After that excitement, my BFF, Linda and I went hiking/geocaching in Letchworth State Park. We hiked seven miles in one day on the Finger Lakes Trail – Letchworth Branch. It was the best of times. The entire week was cold and damp mostly but we managed to find a lot of caches and I may have seen Linda’s full moon during a campfire! We even spent a few rainy hours at the Dunkin Donuts in town using the WiFi.
I just can’t help but take photos while hiking in Letchworth. There is beauty around you at every step. I even managed to catch the “Hidden Indian” looking out over the Genesee River from the Middle Falls. Can you see him in the photo below? In the other photos, I visited the Mount Morris Dam Visitor’s Center. That is a dam photo from the Visitor Center side of the river. I highly recommend checking out the dam visitor center and watching the short dam movie. I learned a lot of dam things. I also hiked a good portion of the Gorge Trail and the Wolf Creek Trail. The gorge trail is about 7 miles long and you have amazing views along the way. There are helpful stairs to get you up and down the steep sections. The Wolf Creek trail has a really pretty waterfall and neat bridge.
I visited Letchworth a couple more times and Allegany State Park too. Nearby Emery Park has a few ski hills I’ve been hiking up and down. I’ll hike anywhere on a dirt path. I can’t keep myself out of the woods for too long or I get jittery.
There was more fun in October! My birthday is the day before Halloween. My sweet husband gifted me with a personalized hoodie with my “name” on it and an Italian flag heart! Best gift ever! And we had a Halloween party where I made an ashtray out of pretzels and white chocolate. No one minded that everyone was smoking! I even carved a pumpkin to celebrate my upcoming hike. See I do more than just hike all the time!
One more extremely exciting thing that happened, that some of you already know, is that I booked my ONE-WAY plane ticket to Atlanta for March. I even have my room reserved at Amicalola Lodge for the night before I hit the trail. It’s really real, folks! All in all, this Fall has been a big WIN for me!
But sometimes, you lose too.
Don’t worry too much and don’t start praying to St. Anthony to help me find what I lost! I am proud to say I’ve lost 40 pounds. Woot Woot! My backpack fully loaded is about 30 pounds. When I started my weight loss journey I wanted to lose the same amount of weight as my pack and I surpassed that because I needed to. I am thrilled that I am healthier and more confident. Heck, I even think I look pretty good. Although I still have about 15 pounds to go to reach my goal weight before I leave in March, I know I will get there. For those interested, I have been using the weight loss app Noom. I found it very helpful. If you want more information about it, I’d be happy to personally chat with you.
Don’t mind Dave’s finger.
This month I will be back in the Smoky Mountains and plan to retake that before photo.
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!
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!
There 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.
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.
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.
Skinned my knee scrambling up here before my camera timer went off!
This rock is falling on me! Help!
Did not see bears. Disappointed. Not!
Stone Tower. I love the history of this park!
Sitting in the lifeguard chair at Quaker Lake. No one drowned.
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!
My faithful hiking partner is never far away, although sometimes she fades into the shadows.
I announced my intention to thru hike the Appalachian Trail in 2020 WAY back in July of 2015. Some people seem to be assuming that I have given up on it. What??? No. I still intend on starting my hike in April of 2020. Ready or not here I come. This summer I will be buckling my pack and staking my tent even more; going to places I have never been and gaining some valuable experience. And I’ll even write about a few of those adventures. Plans are in the works for a trip to the Maryland section of the Appalachian Trail, and a possible trip to Maine. I’ll, of course, also keep hiking around Western New York.
Right now though, Mother Nature has not yet received the message that Spring is about to be here and has been unleashing some serious snow and cold around here.
I’m not letting that stop me though. I revisited an old favorite place to hike, Tillman Nature Preserve. The last time I visited there was a monsoon! (Read about it here.) I was up past my ankles in water while hiking in my work boots and a skirt! (This was back when I didn’t prepare very well.) It was a little different this time. The weather was cool, but it had just been raining so the trails were mushy and muddy in places and downright ponds to walk through. The boardwalks and waterproofed boots were sure handy!
Of course, I always say – It isn’t a truly good hike unless there’s a little mud!
Before and after of my boots.
Tillman Nature Preserve has a great loop trail that is just over 2 miles. It crosses and recrosses a road and is completely and utterly FLAT. There were a few interesting photo ops though.
Some kind of fungus, a neat little bridge and it seems as if someone built a couple “shelters”. Only one seemed to be big enough for me to get in, so I did.
As you can see by the sunshine over my shoulder the shelter is not very weatherproof, but it’s still fun. I cleaned up some litter around the shelters and on the trail.
There must be at least a six pack of Bud Light and a couple Gatorade bottles. What a shame. I’m glad I brought a bag to collect it all in. I actually washed and kept the orange shaker bottle. It looked brand new! I’m guessing it fell off a fat-tire bike rider.
A week later, my big green pack was looking sad, so I packed it lightly and buckled it up to revisit Hunters Creek Park. I was worried about the snow in the parking lot, but I didn’t need to be. So many people love this park it must have been plowed. I put on my micro spikes for a short hike around the most used trails. The trails with no human tracks made me nervous. I didn’t want to blaze my own trail yet and I had left my snow shoes in my car.
It was not even 30 degrees, but I was plenty warm with my layers. I was confident hiking on the icy paths with my micro spikes. I had my taped together, well-used map, so I didn’t get lost. Although at one point I thought a blue dashed line was the creek when it was actually a trail. Oops. So much for having a map. I am seriously considering taking an orienteering class this summer.
I love this picture below of the brilliant sunset (my AT dream) behind poles (work, life) with a directional sign (chose left or right). I don’t want to go left or right; I want to go straight into that brilliant dream!!! Those poles can just get out of my way! When I’m on the AT, I will take many photos of the sunset I am sure; and NONE of them will have poles in the way!
Well, traveling in Southern Florida is nothing like Western New York or the Appalachian Trail. The only thing similar is maybe how hot it can get! Florida is very flat and there are a lot of paved paths!
Sanibel Island is on the Gulf Coast of Florida near Fort Myers. The Island is about 12 miles long and you get there by crossing a long bridge from Ft. Myers. The main attractions (for me) on Sanibel Island are the (1) BEACH and (2) Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge.
The Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling Wildlife Refuge comprises more than half the Island. There is a Wildlife Drive that you can drive your car through, walk, or bike. There are other trails that I didn’t get a chance to do mainly because it was very hot and also, I was on vacation and slept in or went to the beach!
At the Refuge you can see a lot of different kinds of birds like the Roseate Spoonbill (many people think they are flamingos, nope!), Great Egret, Great Blue Heron, Ibis, Green Headed Night Heron, and many, many others. Just naming a few. Years ago I was avid birdwatcher, now, not so much. I needed my Peterson Guide to help me identify them. There is other wildlife on the Refuge like Alligators! (Remember, you can click on a picture to make it bigger!)
We looked and looked for Alligators, but had no luck here.
One early morning, I took a leisurely drive along Wildlife Drive. I would drive a little, get out and walk and look and drive a little further. It was so quiet, only fishermen were around. I had the place pretty much to myself. Just me and a couple thousand birds! It was very peaceful and calm and I enjoyed my walk about the Refuge very much.
We stayed at the Blind Pass Condos. It was located on the Western end of the Island away from the restaurants, shopping and touristy things. That was good and bad. Good that it was quiet on our beach, bad that we had to drive to restaurants, shopping and touristy things! That being said though, we were on Bowman’s Beach! The sand was soft, the shelling was super and it was never crowded. We rented bikes for the week for the kids and that seemed to help with their desire to explore. Our condo was set up with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. The owner thought of everything you might need for a beach vacation: beach towels, hats, beach toys, shelling tools, buckets, pool noodles, boogie boards, beach chairs, beach umbrellas, beach cart to lug it all, a cooler, even tennis rackets and balls if you wanted to sweat it out on the court. It was nice to have a kitchen to keep food cost down; we only ate out for dinners mostly.
Back to the outside! On our condo property there was a bridge that led to the beach.
The bridge went over a murky lagoon that we could kayak or canoe in. NO THANKS. That’s where we saw our Alligator!! In our entire week stay we didn’t see anyone kayaking or canoeing in that lagoon! We also saw the Manatees here. I think there were two big ones and a small one. The pictures didn’t come out well. My son’s girlfriend, Amanda, took the nice photo of the Alligator! I shamelessly stole a few of these photos in this article from her Facebook! Thanks, Amanda!
On the other side of the bridge was the BEACH!
I just realized I didn’t take many pictures of the beach during the day!
The fabulous thing about Sanibel Island is the amount of sea shells you can find and collect! I think I brought home 10 pounds worth of sea shells! I must have walked miles on that beach with my back hunched over scanning the waves. The Islander’s call it “The Sanibel Stoop.” It’s amazing I didn’t need a Chiropractic adjustment when I came home! On the beach you will see taped off areas that are nesting grounds for sea turtles. The little babies hatch and come out after dusk and follow the moonlight into the ocean, and if they see the lights in our homes they might be drawn the wrong way, so we had to close our blinds in our condo by 9:oo pm so the baby sea turtles would not be confused!
One of my most favorite times of day is sunset. The beach seems to always have an incredible view of the sun disappearing.
And the sunset from the lagoon was stunning, as well. Amanda took an amazing photo!
At the Eastern end of the Island is the Sanibel Lighthouse. We visited the grounds there and the beach. The beach seemed rockier on this end of the Island and had more seaweed (yuck!).
Of course, I did a little geocaching! I was close to finding 100 geocaches so I decided I would find my 100th geocache on the Island! Dave and I went bike riding on the bike path, which is LOADED with caches. Then I got the fever and we found a few more with the kids.
We also visited the Sanibel Island Historic Village. It’s a group of original and replica homes and businesses from the beginnings of residency on the Island. It was Carl and Amanda’s idea to visit and Dave and I tagged along. We were glad we did, it was really interesting to learn about the hardships the Island pioneers dealt with. There was no bridge back then and everything was brought to the Island by ferry. The hurricanes that hit the Island would often completely demolish all the buildings and they would have to start from scratch.
On our way to the airport we stopped by the Henry Ford and Thomas Edison Museum in Fort Myers. We walked about the gardens and were amazed by the banyan tree. It was planted in 1925 and is believed to be one of the biggest banyan trees in the United States. This is ALL ONE TREE! Its limbs drop down to make it appear it is multiple trees, but is actually ONE TREE! It is 400 feet tall and spreads nearly an acre! These pictures just do not do it justice. We all wished we could play in the limbs and climb through it, but it was all roped off.
In Tampa we checked out the Museum of Science and Industry. With my Life Membership at the Buffalo Museum of Science we got in FREE! Carl rode a bike that was on a tightrope high up in the air! Carl also finally found a brain (see photo) and we studied all about the human body.
There was a really beautiful trail outside near where we parked. Too bad we had a plane to catch; I didn’t have to time to do more than take a picture of the enticing trail head.
After a two hour plane delay, we were glad to be home. I will miss the beach, the relaxing, and the important quality time spent with my son and his girlfriend and of course, my husband!