Ten Month Countdown

Me and Mom Hiking


There are three major thru-hikes in the United States which make up the Triple Crown of Hiking. The Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail.

I’ve already done the shortest one… so, guess what I have planned for the end of next April? If all goes as planned I’ll start the PCT at the end of April and finish sometime in September. People shake their heads when I describe the miseries of thru-hiking and then announce I can’t wait to go on another trail. I keep thinking this time will be more fun. Gosh I hope it is!

Pacific Crest Trail

If you want to follow along, I hope to post stories and photos more often than I did on the AT. It depends on cell service and whether or not I can still function after hiking all day. Regardless, you will have fun joining me without worrying about lack of water in the desert, rockslides across steep mountain slopes, or 40 mph wind and snow in the High Sierras. You can always wonder what’s wrong with my head as you read along. I’ll never know.

You may remember I decided to never, ever hike the AT again. This is still true. However, I didn’t pound out my love of hiking on that trail. It was completely worth every bit of frustration and all the rain and mud. I learned a lot and was given much, both by the trail itself and especially by so many of the people I met. Hiking the AT strongly affirmed how good people really are, how folks are willing to help a stranger when they can, and of how encouraging the smallest acts of kindness can be. The people I met will always define the AT experience for me.

There were lots of other lessons as well, and some things I didn’t learn as well or as easily as I had hoped. Maybe the PCT will let me learn some of those lessons better. I want to not only learn, but adapt, to not just know something, but live it. People ask what I will leave behind when I go on the PCT. They mean gear, food, water and the like, but what I immediately think of is fear. I want to take less fear with me this time. There are plenty of new dangers, different ones with new strategies to match, …but I want to plan for them without being worried about what terrible fate might await me. I want to hike without worrying I will make a crucial mistake or literal wrong step. I want to hike feeling I have what it takes to adapt and persevere.

I’m looking forward to other new experiences as well, like open vistas rather than being under tree cover most of the time. Fellow hikers on the PCT right now say you can see your destination for days before you reach it. So open views will be a disadvantage, too. I wonder how well I’ll do on a lower grade, and if I can really finish a month earlier than it took me for the AT. Most hikers who have done both finish the PCT much earlier, even though it’s at least 450 miles longer. This is because the incline is less steep and path smoother much of the time – or so I’m told. There are plenty of challenges on the PCT to make up for an easier grade and smoother path. Long stretches without water sources, terrible weather in the higher elevations, snowmelt flooded rivers ready to sweep you away and long distances between roads and towns along the trail will make it hard. It sounds exciting!

I’ll tell you a bit more about the PCT between now and April. In the meantime, I have some training to do.

Day 199 – Better Late Than Never

The finish for northbound (NOBO) AT thru-hikers: Mt Katahdin

I did it! On October 5, I finished backpacking 2,190.9 miles over 6.5 months – 199 days to be exact – through 14 states and lots and lots of rain. The Appalachian Trail thru-hike dream became my life for many months and now it’s done. A success. I am delighted to once again go to sleep each night without having to crawl on the ground and carefully pull off muddy boots as I ease into bed.

Fall in Maine on the AT

The last two weeks were fantastic. The trees in Maine were beautiful, plus we had mostly warm temperatures. Mrs. Santiago picked us up each night it was possible to reach a road crossing, and pampered us with drinks and treats as we headed into town for showers and yummy restaurant dinners. We grew soft from slack packing most of the last six weeks, so when we did carry full packs and camped out, we were quickly reminded how much tougher it is to backpack and camp. However the few nights we camped during those last days were gorgeous, with lakes and fall color everywhere. I enjoyed camping, even though I took advantage of every chance to be picked up and taken to a hotel with shower and warm meals.

Many people ask if I plan to hike the AT again. Nope. Not ever. I’m glad I hiked it and reached my goal, but I thought the AT was all about hiking when it turned out to be all about the kindness of others. Lots of people went out of their way to help me be successful and those are my best memories. Future posts will reveal some of the wonderful lessons and insight gained by stubbornly sticking with the challenge, but it was the generosity of strangers and friends that stand out the most.

Very happy NOBO thru-hikers celebrating on top of Mt Katahdin

Well…, okay I would hike part of it again, just not the entire trail. More than two months after finishing, I can say I am in love with hiking and have made time for many day hikes since finishing the AT. I have plans to hike the Chisos Mountains in early February, and part of The Lone Star Trail at the end of February. The year 2021 is my target for starting and finishing a Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike, which is 2,650 miles and purported to have an easier grade and fantastic views… plus hardly any rain. I research trails almost every day. Yep, the hiking bug is still with me.

In the meantime, lots and lots of people seem to want to hear me speak about adventures from the trail. I plan to use my stories to entertain and motivate people to go out and reach their own goals, whatever they may be. There are plenty of life lessons from the trail which can be applied to any other goal and I have both the skill to weave those stories into presentations people want to hear, and to help people reach their own goals through life coaching. I plan to keep hiking while encouraging other people to move from dream to life, too. When I’m a part of helping others reach their life goals, I’m a happy camper – and after 199 days of mostly camping along the trail, I definitely know how to be a happy camper.

Day 187 – Slacking

Ahhhh, it’s a wonderful feeling to carry six pounds on your back when you usually carry thirty plus pounds. I’ve been the lucky hiker who has been able to “slack pack” over three hundred miles at the end of my trek thanks to two Trail Angels – my husband, Marc, and Santiago’s wife, Laura. We are a couple days from beginning the 100-mile wilderness, and even in that desolate stretch Laura has found a way to meet up with us every few days so we can light-pack at around twenty-some pounds.

Marc started our stretch of slack packing at the end of August, and after he went home a couple weeks later, we found kind shuttle drivers who took some of our stuff up north so we could light pack the days between his visit and Laura arriving. Not only does a light pack make the days lots better – easier footing on steep slippery rocks and less wear on my knees, but it usually means we stay in a hostel, hotel, or off-trail campground that night. Showers, electricity, and restaurants are greatly enjoyed when you’ve been living in the woods for six months! We still camp out a night or two every week, because we hike through such remote areas. Slack packing has made the camping out in between fun again. Even when it’s raining or dips down close to the freezing point, we aren’t too glum because we know in a day or so we will be warm and dry.

Friends and followers, we are only about twelve hiking days from finishing our 2,190.9 mile trek! I have been enjoying the journey far more these last weeks than we were in the middle, thanks to Marc and Laura. It’s been tough and challenging, beautiful and humbling, …and ever so much better since our favorite Trail Angels came to help lighten our load.

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!