Day 153 – Looking Up

The hardest days for me on trail were in New York, so we took a break from steep rock climbs in rain by spending time off trail in New York City. It was fun, although exhausting, to be a tourist, so when Mountain Dew suggested a third day off trail, I agreed. The three of us spent that day doing almost nothing.

I returned to the trail having missed the worst of the rainstorms and thought I would enjoy the trail again. I was wrong. I had been living trail life over four months by then and thunderstorms the next day knocked me back into misery. This post isn’t about that though, so suffice it to say that my friend’s prediction of “…every day a new misery” was absolutely correct.

Right after that a string of Trail Angels changed my attitude even though the rain kept coming. Looking back, it seems like an entire community of thoughtful people were where I needed them to boost my morale and keep me hiking north.

First, we ran into Bill, a thru hiker from 1998, who was doing shelter maintenance about four miles into our day. He invited us to go skydiving with him. We said “Yes!” and the day became even better. First, we had an awesome jump. I have wanted to skydive for 26 years and now I have! Loved it.

Afterwards, Bill dropped us back on trail so we could hike three more miles without our packs to his house. He treated us to ice cream and cokes, let us clean up and do laundry, then showed us to his rec room where we could sleep warm and dry. The next morning, his wife Amy made us a full breakfast while we visited with his kids. The whole experience was so unexpected and wonderful it was hard to believe.

A few days later, in Connecticut, we were facing a long rainy day punctuated by sudden hard rains. Heather, the daughter of my mom’s friend, Kathy, was going to meet us in a town about seven miles away. She surprised us by waiting at the trailhead with cokes and fruit and a plan for the day. We put our packs in her car and slack packed the next five miles with more of her treats in our daypacks, then called her when we finished. She picked us up after navigating closed roads and muddy unmaintained dirt roads, then took us to the post office and visitor center hiker showers before we headed for an early dinner.

All the while the rain simply poured, but we didn’t care because our packs were dry and so were we. After dinner, Heather brought out her laptop and we finally had a chance to look at our skydiving photos and post them. The whole day was awesome because of Heather. Without her help, we probably would have hitched to town and given up the extra hiking. Instead, she dropped us where we had left off and we hiked to camp in light drizzle which stopped before we set up camp. I know we were smiling all the way to camp and thankful to have had an easy way to put in a full day of hiking plus spend time cleaning up and enjoying her company.

The third set of Trail Angels came along on my second worst day of the trail. The rain had been relentless. There had been three flash flood warnings over five different days. Once, the trail literally was underwater 6 inches within minutes, and lightning was striking in front of my face. I woke up the morning after the third one and looked at Wingman and said “I don’t want to carry this pack anymore.” Of course I put my pack on my back and walked anyway. Four miles into our hike we arrived at the Cookie Lady’s house and our luck changed completely.

The Cookie Lady had a cat that loves hikers and gave us delicious homemade cookies, then let us pick blueberries in her blueberry orchard for no cost at all. We just needed to give her half of what we picked! It was wonderful – and delicious. While we were there, Tom stopped by. He was waiting for some southbound hikers that he was helping slack pack. He offered to let us camp out at his home which was on the trail in the town of Dalton, Massachusetts. Then he offered to take our packs the rest of the way there for free! We made really good time, go to the community center shower before it closed. Plus, it didn’t even rain that day which was a miracle in and of itself! The next morning by dawn, Tom had laid out an entire picnic table full of all kinds of donuts and coffee and juice for the 20+ hikers that were camped out at his house. He also took our packs all the way to Bascom Lodge, 17.5 trail miles, so we could make it there before dinner. Wow!

Finally, as we walked up to the top of Mount Greylock and Bascom Lodge, Brad, one of the co-owners and the brother-in-law of my friend Ellen, was waiting for us as we arrived. We were already booked to stay at his place, but he made it even more special by taking the time to to treat us to dinner and visit with us then – and at breakfast next day. The meals were fabulous as was his company!

We were able to hike a little over 17 miles that day, fully loaded and coming into Bennington, Vermont in the dark with headlamps down some steep rocks. We were happy though, because we made a lot of good miles and finally hiking is becoming good again.

I’ve finally recaptured my love of hiking again. If I can hold onto that feeling for seven more weeks, I may reach the summit a happy hiker!

Day 95 – Family Focus

It’s wonderful to have something special to focus on when your slogging through the miles everyday, and my favorite is meeting up with Marc, Davis, and Ann. They visited in Harpers Ferry last weekend and my excitement built as the weekend neared.

There are many hours during some days when hiking is simply pushing yourself to keep going, rather than feeling the miles fly by. That’s when it’s especially critical to feel the pull of something good to keep you moving along. I had these three to keep my focus positive:

We all pick daily mileage goals and usually have a couple spots picked for camping that night. Basically, you can pitch your tent anywhere along most of the route, so its enticing to stop early some days. Knowing you have someplace to be by a certain date on down the trail can make it easier, as long as you don’t make it into a grind.

I had to let go of my goal to reach Harpers Ferry by the time they arrived and instead figure out how to find a shuttle driver to Harpers Ferry once I was out of Shenandoah National Park. It was so much more fun to hike after I reduced the pressure on myself, had the shuttle lined up, and could enjoy the hike while anticipating their visit.

One lesson made clear on this journey is you can easily turn your dream into a trap by making up rules and schedules which are only in your head, like “I must be there by….” The reality is I can usually jump off trail at the next road crossing by having a shuttle driver meet me there, and then drop me back when I’m ready.

It’s a great life lesson, too. Much of the pressure I feel, is put upon me by myself. I don’t need to add pressure to my journey or arbitrarily create schedules when they aren’t needed. Right now, I’m trying to remember that wherever I am on the trail is exactly where I need to be, and no other expectation really matters.

In the meantime, I’m glad to have perks and extra encouragement from friends and family to help me stay focused on moving forward to Katahdin. It sure helps the daily grind be the daily hike instead.

Day 83 – Rainy Days

Today is the first day I actually came off trail because of bad weather. I hiked 7 miles before I came off and was thoroughly soaked and cold. It had been raining since 1 PM the day before, and I decided to go to a hotel where I would be warm and dry. It turns out many of my hiker friends did almost the exact same thing today.

Hiking in the rain is okay. Being soaked all the way through your rain gear and having wet shoes to wear and a wet tent to sleep in is not so much fun, especially when you’ve been in rain nearly every day of the last 49 days – since the middle of April.

It’s far easier to think of all the miseries associated with constant rain, so I challenged hiker friends to come up with things we like about rain:

1) No snakes when it’s raining, including timber rattlers

2) It’s usually much cooler too, which is terrific for hiking as long as you stay dry enough not to shiver when your core cools down after you stop. (Three of us were shivering so much today we had to pick up the pace.)

3) It keeps the mosquitos, gnats, no-see-ums, sweat bees, and all those other pesky flying insects from swirling around your head and biting you.

4) We don’t have to wear a brimmed hat or sunscreen, but we do pull on the hood of our rain jackets.

5) We are grateful for the additional water sources, as every spring and wet weather creek is full of water. Here in Virginia we have had longer mileage between some water sources, so having unexpected refill spots is very nice.

One of my friends back home suggested quiet time contemplating, which is a plus. However, we usually hike alone for hours and hours every day, so we have lots of thinking time, rain or shine.

Even though we had four days without rain last week and a couple days that it only rained right as we set up camp, when the rain started back again three days ago it was very discouraging. Let me give you some background facts to set the stage:

  • A part of I-40 by the Great Smoky Mtns was closed due to mudslide from rain a few weeks ago.
  • The highway I was picked up from today was closed two weeks ago, because of mudslides across the highway.
  • Virginia set its record rainfall for May this year.
  • Four miles of the AT near Harper’s Ferry, was five feet under water several days ago.

This is my typical day in multi-day rainstorms:

I awake and look around at the wet clothes hanging in my tent. The smell of mildew hits me full force as I dress, but thankfully some clothes are just damp and I put them on hoping body heat dries them quickly. I unzip my rainfly and look out at the mist and fog, glad it isn’t actually raining because I need to run out of the tent for a potty break.

Hurrying back, I carefully plop my hind-end inside the tent door, leaving my feet outside until I can take off my mud covered camp shoes. I try in vain to wipe the dirt and wet leaf bits off my feet before pulling them inside the tent. If it isn’t raining yet, then it’s back outside soon to cook breakfast and coffee, where I huddle on a foam pad placed on a rock or log to keep my shorts dry.

Then I pack up my stuff and put it into my backpack, covering it with it’s rain cover in case it starts raining before my tent is down. Then I take my soaking wet rainfly and stuff it into its bag with the tent, where all will be thoroughly wet until I (hopefully) have a chance to dry it when the sun comes out. Finally, I put on my last dry socks and then put on my wet boots, knowing the boots may soak my socks all the way through.

Now I am all set to make another crucial decision: raincoat or no raincoat? Going uphill in a raincoat is like being in a sauna. Leaving off my raincoat with a gentle rain is the best option, but if it suddenly downpours…, then I am as soaked as if I fell in a river.

Finally I start hiking. It’s 8 am and I am stepping in mud right away, hopping around puddles and looking for high ground when the path is completely flooded. Much of the time I walk straight up running water as the path is now a little creek. Lately, I notice lots of newly fallen trees across the path, tumbled when the saturated earth could no longer hold them. I climb up and over the branches and trunks, thankful none fell as I hiked along.

Rocks and tree roots are especially slippery, so I hike slower than I would like, to keep from twisting an ankle or knee, or stepping into a hole covered by water.

Squish, squish, squish go my feet. I come to a view point. It’s fogged in and I see nothing. Squish, squish, squish and I arrive at a shelter and sit for awhile wondering if the sun will come out so I can dry my tent. I didn’t take earlier breaks because everything was soaking wet, and it’s no fun opening your pack in the rain. Scooting back against the shelter wall, I eat lunch and ask other hikers if they have an updated weather report. Everyone hopes the sun will come out. Then I close my pack, make the raincoat decision for the umpteenth time that day and keep hiking.

As I near the place I want to camp, I mentally go through my packed clothes, assuring myself I have something dry to wear that night for sleeping, and hoping the rain will stop long enough to set up my tent. Muddy boots come off and wet camp shoes are put on. Dinner is made. I check the weather report and say goodnight to fellow hikers. It’s 8 pm and I’ve hiked fifteen or more miles through another wet and foggy day. As I lay down to sleep, I think about how lucky I am to be able to do this hike and am still glad to be on the AT.

Day 47 – Bears

We have been warned about bears pretty much consistently by every Ridgerunner, park ranger, and other experienced person along the trail for six weeks now. We diligently hang our food bags (even though it’s really hard sometimes to hang on a high branch), and use the bear containers or bear cables whenever they’re available. One time we used a very secure back door to a trash bin to keep all our food. Mice were our primary concern at that shelter.

These videos show you how much work it is to hang food bags, which for some reason we call bear bags. Ironic, isn’t it?

https://fromdreamtolife.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/img_0958.movhttps://fromdreamtolife.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/img_0960.mov

Sometimes a Shelter area will have bear cables, which make it much easier to hang the bags well. They are on pulleys and have handles to pull them up and down, with clips to hold them in place. Bears haven’t figured out the pulley system yet. Look closely and you can see the cable system in this photo after a freezing rain.

I have to admit most the time I think I’m hanging my food bag to keep the mice from getting my food more than worrying about bears. Still, all those past stories of bears dragging hikers out of their tents because they had a candy bar in their pocket come back to haunt me as dusk settles and I snuggle into my sleeping bag.

A couple of days ago we were near an area closed due to aggressive bear activity, and when we stopped to pick up a friend’s mail drop at a nice hostel and campground, we decided we would just camp there. It would be 7 miles before we were completely out of the bear zone and we didn’t want to hike that far after 4 o’clock.

A fellow thru hiker, Smoke, decided to hike on and made it to the outer edge boundary of the Bear zone. He was the only one camping at his campsite, and in the middle of the night he heard something large moving around his tent. It became pretty plain it was two bears circling his tent and looking for something to eat. While he frantically googled what to do about bears, they continued sniffing around until they found the source of the smell that lured them to his site.

It was his food bag, which was not too close to his tent and hanging in a tree about 10 feet off the ground and a few feet from the branch and trunk. He thought he had done a pretty good job of hanging his food bag, but in the morning it was gone – not a trace of the bag, the food in it, or even the rope he used to tie it off. The bears had snatched it all and taken off.

Although there was much consolation that they just took the food bag and didn’t bother him, he was about 17 miles from a road. His guidebook listed a barbecue place that would deliver meals to that road crossing, so his plan was to hike as hard and fast as he could and make it by dinner, order two meals to be delivered and hike on to Damascus the next day, another 21 miles.

Fortunately for him, there were trail angels at that highway who had tons of food, fed him well, then gave them a lift to town where his dad could come meet him. He must’ve been doubly lucky, because his dad had already planned to come meet him the next day and wasn’t too far away. Many dollars later, he had a new food bag, cook stove and food, and his dad was bringing him back where he left off just as we were enjoying the same trail angels’ generosity the next day.

We all quizzed Smoke about how he hung his bag, where he was, and what it sounded like. You can believe we are much more careful to hang our food bag according to protocol now.

I’m glad we hung our bag so well that next night, because although nothing happened on the forest service road trail where we were camped, two other friends who camped right on the trail had bears prowling around their tent that night. They didn’t have their food bag stolen, so I guess we are becoming better at hanging food bags!