October 10, 2014

Hikers are Back in Tennessee!

The East Tennessee tribe is home! We got off trail in Virginia at McAfee Knob with plans to complete the remaining section of the Appalachian Trail later in the Spring. Dad’s medicine was freezing and it was just too dang cold to get up in the mornings. So for now I will consider 1, 400+ miles on the AT an impressive achievement!

I must say, the decision was bittersweet. The trail has been my greatest joy, teacher and adventure.

I sat down to write a post about our 4 month journey and how it feels to be off the trail. Although, I still can’t put into words what it's like to travel over a thousand miles on foot with everything you need to survive on your back. Plus, what it’s like hiking with family!

All I can say is that I am changed. In many ways, I am changed. I no longer look at the sky the same or the mountains the same. I even look at people differently. I feel connected to earth and long to wake up with the sun. I believe in living sustainable more than ever now. The earth is precious and we need to take care of her.  My dreams and passions seem to burn more. Life is too short to be unhappy.  It really is true how people say that life experiences can shape and mold you.

Adjusting back to “normal life" gives me a bit of anxiety. It’s strange to imagine life without camp chores, sore ankles or counting miles. I know I will miss the A.T., especially the simplicity of trail life, but I am so excited to start a new adventure.

The Appalachian Trail will always have a piece of my heart. Thanks to everyone who made this trip great. I am forever grateful. I hope that our trip has inspired many others to branch out and take outdoor adventures!

September 19, 2014

Half Way Home

Hi guys,

We passed the offical midpoint nearly 100 miles ago; however, it didn’t sink in until we reached Harpers Ferry and signed in at the Appalachian Trail Conservacy Headquarters. We each got our photo taken for the official ATC register and walked out feeling on top of the world.

Woo, what an adventure we are living! We are across the Mason-Dixon Line and more over half way to Georgia! Fourteen states down and four to go.

It feels good to be half way, but it feels even better to spend some much needed time with our family!
The McDermids and Adams took on Harpers Ferry, WV and Washington, DC this week! Oh, yes. It was an adventure all on its own. Big thanks to Stacey’s uncle Cecil for letting us crash at his place and making us feel at home.

Being in the South and knowing that we are so close to home is comforting and exciting. Our spirits are higher than ever. Our bodies are rested and feeling rejuvenated from the time off. We will be entering the Shenandoah National Forest tomorrow- something I've waited years to experience.

Let's see, whats’s new . . . Oh, the tribe has grown from 4 to 5 hikers! Luke, also known on the trail as Tree Frog, has decided to rejoin the tribe! We are all super excited to have his energy back with us.

On a more serious note . . . Tuck has been treated for Lyme Disease. He contracted it through a tick bite on his chest and started showing symptoms about a week after the bite. We took him to an Urgent Care and sure enough, it was Lymes. Thankfully, it was still in the early stages. Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers for a quick recovery!

All for now. It’s way passed my bed time. Thanks for caring about our adventure.

Happy trails,

September 9, 2014

Starve the Ego. Feed the Soul.

How often do you catch yourself thinking, " I really need this in order for that to happen."  Now insert your choice words for this and that , i.e. money --> things, stuff --> stuff. 
Its a never ending cycle of wants disguised as needs.  A never ending cycle that leaves your soul empty, but your home bountiful, however you want to look at it. Instead of being overwhelmed by the obnoxious weight of what your ego says you need, how about taking time to tune into your spirit and realize that YOU ARE ENOUGH.  You are an individual given endless possibilities.  You are the writer,  the director, and the leading role in your story.  The "things" that you give in to due to your ego are not necessities to defining your person.  They are just simply things.    

Rather than being proud of conquering the shit your ego says, be proud that you listened to your spirit.  That you know where you stand with most important person in the world...yourself.  My challenge to you, dear readers, is to not sit and ponder about all the things that you need or events that need to happen, but simply sit back and say I am contented, full, and the best version of myself as I can be.  
And walk out into world radiating light, happiness, and love.  

Below is a humorous info graph from belegit.co

|| Make the most of yourself for that is all there is of you.||  

September 5, 2014

The darkness brings a new light

The older I get the darker the world appears to be, but I can't decide if it is my naivety slowly leaving my vision, or if it is our culture spiraling down into a dark hole of despair.  But I find myself fighting, climbing, and scrambling out of the dark hole of despair.  I WANT TO LIVE! I want to breath in new adventure, see a new light, and never lose hope that humanity, at its core, is a compassionate, giving, and loving being. Recently, my family lost a close friend, he was an attorney-some may argue that this is not the most admiral position to be held due to some compromising choices one would have to make in the position, but this man, LIVED.

Photo by: Kris Bible
His presence inspires me to never settle and to always continue to climb the mountain of your dreams, that everything you wish can and will be tangible, if you are willing to sacrifice.  In death, we are reminded that our time is indeed short, and can end at any moment.  Sometimes with death, we are forced to acknowledge and reevaluate our lives, at least I do.  As I get older, I am finding myself creating new bucket lists and I am noticing that my bucket list consists of places and experiences, not things.  It consists of adventure not a social status.     So with all the darkness that is beginning to consume our world, I hope and pray that you see the light in the darkness because the only way to make the sun shine again is if we, as a compassionate humane community, become the light in this dark world.  So, my thought for you, dear readers, is to take unfortunate circumstances and allow those circumstance to motivate you to live!

Also, if you do not have a bucket list, make one!  A small portion of mine is listed below.

Jodi's Bucket List (as of now) :) :
1. Travel to Spain - this also includes participating in the tomato fights and the running of the bulls
2. Skydive
3. Bungee jump the canyons of Utah (which I plan to do in May 2015)
4. Hike the John Muir Trail in California (because let's be honest, I love his writing, and I would consider it a privilege to walk where a man that I hold to close to my heart walked and found inspiration.)
5. See/hike the Rockies.
6. Hike Oregon
7. Thru hike a portion of the AT (which will finally happen next month with my East TN SOBO tribe)
8. Teach English as a Second language in a school in South America
9. Volunteer on organic farms throughout the United States
10. Travel to Germany (that is where my family originates)

August 31, 2014

Trail Update: Mid Atlantic Recap

It's always interesting to see how the terrain changes in each state. Overall, the terrain has been easier (as far as elevation changes) since New Hampshire. So we are able to do more miles. There has been less views and far less water. As our friend Obi said, "we are packing water like a camel." Thankfully, we are crossing more roads and are able to get food in towns rather than having to carry it. Our food bags mainly consist of candy bars, chips and leftover pizza for snack breaks. Don't worry, Mom, I'm taking my vitamins. 
Vermont was just the beginning of our mental challenge. We had to push through the green tunnel, mud and crowds of egotistical Northbounders to get to the even more demanding, Pennsylvania. Now we are fighting against the rocks, snakes and dried up streams. They will not defeat us! 

Our spirits are good. Especially when we get a good view of the valley, come across a refreshing coca-cola or if you are TallMilk - climbing trees.  

Family Surprise!
I was really missing family. Especially, since Lexi spent all of July in Haiti making our communication very limited. I knew Badweather was missing Mom. This was the most they had ever been apart. So I devised a surprise visit in Great Barrington, MA! 

TallMilk and Badweather were stunned to see the familar faces so far away from home. (We later saw our neighbor, Jim Catlett, in town. He was riding his motorcycle to Maine. Talk about small world!) We took 2 zero days to catch up with each other and make memories.

 Lexi (aka Butter) went slackpacking with us (in a downpour rain) and fell in love with the trail so much that she is currently thinking about joining us for an extended period of time!  It was much needed family time; although, it did make me more homesick. 

Oh and TallMilk, Buttter and I got tattoos. (eek!) 

Forest Sounds
There have been many nights when I've been woken up by the sounds of the forest. Some are soothing like the lake loons in Maine and some are frightening like the thumps and the crinkles of footsteps in the leaves. 
There was a night that I woke up to the sound of a frantic TallMilk fighting off a mouse. He left a Snickers bar in the side pocket of his tent and the mouse had eaten through the tent and the wrapper to get to the delicious treat! Although it spooked and frustrated TallMilk, it was entertaining to watch as he tried to chase the mouse away. 
One of the most memorable night of forest sounds was in Massachusetts: the night our camp was invaded by porcupines! Our tents were set up in a semi circle with a tree in the middle. Around 2am, I heard something walking around our tent. I was already on high alert since we spent the evening talking to our friends about the night their tent was attacked by something. I woke up FireSquirrel and we carefully reached for our headlamps to investigate what was making all the noise. Paralyzed in fear, we yelled out to Badweather and TallMilk, "Yall hear that?"! Our loud screams made one of the critters run for safety up the tree. All 4 of us shined our headlamps at the tree. We could just see the glow around his body. "Oh gosh, it's a baby bear" I yelled. Our hearts started thumping really fast thinking momma bear was out there somewhere. "No... I think it's a porcupine," said Badweather. I didn't know pocupines could climb trees, but I was relieved to find out they could. I would much rather deal with a porcupine than a baby bear. We waited for him to climb down so we could sleep soundly without the fear of being quilled, but he kept teasing us by climbing down and then up again. We eventually all fell back asleep. The porcupines were gone in the morning. We later googled to learn that porcupines can not throw quills. Phew. 
We had our first bear encounter during a night in New Jersey. We weren't actually in the forest. Yep, we were in town! FireSquirrel and I were camping on the lawn of a church hostel with Opi and the Slug Squad (sobo thru-hiker friends) when a 600 lb bear visited us. FireSquirrel woke up to the sound of the bear grunting and snorting. After the beast grazed our tent, FireSquirrel looked out the tent just in time to make eye contact with him. I wake up to "THERE'S A BIG ASS BEAR BY OUR TENT".  In an attempt to scare the bear off, FireSquirrel yells for the other hikers. The bear runs off and we all get out of our tent to watch him cross into a near by parking lot. We spend the next hour packing up our stuff and moving into the church basement. 

New York City
TallMilk, FireSquirrel and I were looking forward to visiting the big apple since the day we set foot on the trail. Badweather had no desire to see the city so he pushed on to the historic Fort Montgomery. 

Honestly, I thought I would hate the city. I was more excited to see my "best friend since kindergarden", Lillie Somerfield, and her way cool boyfriend, Dan Webb.

 However, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed New York. It was a bit overwhelming at times, but it helped tremendously to have locals show us around. We spent a day doing the whole tourist thing - Time Square, Central Park, 9/11 Memorial,  Rockafeller Plaza, China Town, Brookyln Bridge and all that jazz. 
We walked and walked and walked. Although, my favorite thing about visiting New York was experincing a city that was alive with diversity everywhere! 

It was much like the movies with street performers, tiny apartments, people walking dogs in the park and markets on every street! I was pleasantly surprised at the kindness of the people. I thought everyone in the city was supposed to be cold and heartless- wrong. Most people were friendly, warm and helpful. And creativity was everywhere! From people's style to the merchandising in the shops. So incredibly inspiring and hopeful. I left the city questioning "Do I belong in the woods or do I belong in the city?" 

Getting Lost
There has been several times where we have hiked off trail. It happens. Your looking down, you miss a double blaze and suddenly you are a mile from the AT. Well, the day we hiked Bear Mountain was one of those days. Actually it's one of my favorite days on the trail thus far. 
TallMilk, FireSquirrel and I got so completely turned around that at one point we were standing at a trail junction with 3 ways to go - none of them being the AT. Luckily we had service so we were able to bring up Google Maps to see where we were in relation to the AT. To our surprise, we were way off trail and had been for about 2 miles. After half an hour of trying to get back on course, we gave up. We decided to just make an adventure out of it. So we took turns picking trails to turn down. We called home to have John pull up the Spot (our GPS tracker) to make sure we were at least heading South. Nope, we had been hiking North. Great. 

We finally came to a road which we later realized led to a castle that inspired the castle in Wizard of Oz. Now that we were on the road, we could easily navigate our way to Bear Mountain Bridge, which was 4 miles away. . . adventure at its finest. Getting lost is usually so frustrating (and at times dangerous). I'm glad we chose to just accept it and make the best out of it. 

After we crossed the Hudson River via the bridge, the 2nd half of the day was spent hiking through Bear Mountain State Park (which is where the lowest part of the trail is located) and up Bear Mountain. The park was part museum, part zoo and part lake. As TallMilk said, "Days like today, make me really love the AT."

Trail Towns
Boy oh boy have we explored some amazing and not so amazing trail towns in the Mid-Atlantic!
The A list includes (in my opinion):
Warwick, NY - A super hip little town! We stopped in for dinner and ended up in at a place called Cafe a la Mode. We ate delicious burritos and split a spinach quesadilla. We had multiple people coming up to us on the streets asking if we were thru-hikers and wanted to know all about our adventure. 
Great Barrington, MA - Decent size town with a lot going on! All the shops were pricey, but very unique. The whole town had a great, ecclectic vibe. I loved being able to explore the hippie shops and test out the local coffee with my sister. If you find yourself in the area, I highly recommend The Gypsy Joint for lunch or DInner! They make killer food with fresh ingredients. 
Bennington, MA - This was FireSquirrels favorite stop. Lots of history in this small town. It has a great coffee shop and old school Diner!
Manchester Center, MA - Very nice town with the absolute coolest bookstore ever! It also has a great outfitters. Ihighly recommend   the maple latte at a cafe called Up for Breakfast. We stayed across the street from a farmstand that sold local produce and homemade doughnuts! We got to check out their weekly farmers market, too! Thanks to Mary Ann for picking us up about 15 times and driving us around. 

We have had some of the best experiences in these hiker friendly towns. We have also had some very unpleasant experiences in other towns along the way. But hey, they make for great travel stories! Maybe I'll share another time. 

Trail Angels
Yes, we have met some of the world's kindest people on the trails. I am always amazed at how these strangers go outof their way to help us. Some people love hikers and love the trail; they would do anything to help us. Other people we've met have no idea what a thru-hiker is but are still willing to do what they can for us. We have had multiple rides from all sorts of people. We have been given sodas, water and treats. We have had our meal paid for. We are so incredibly grateful for the trail angels that come our way!! 
I want to extend a specail thanks to these people who helped me at my weakest moments.
Colleen King - We met Colleen at a Diner in NY. She was our waitress and was thrilled to find out we were hikers. She took me, FireSquirrel and TallMilk back to her home after her shift so that we could shower. She gave us all kinds of food to take back to the trail. She even offered to wash our clothes! 
Regina Anderson and her son Rohun - FireSquirrel and I showed up very late in Delaware Water Gap to a full church hostel and full Inn - The only 2 places we could stay. Regina and Rohun saw the despair in our faces and offered to drive us to the next town. They even waited to make sure our negotiating with the not-so-nice front desk man went ok. 

So yeah, those are the highlights. The tribe will continue to go sobo! We are meeting family in Harpers Ferry and spending some time in Washington, DC! Can't wait!!

August 30, 2014

Dandelion's Break Down

Tomorrow will mark 3 months on the trail. Some days it feels like we were climbing Katahdin just yesterday and other days it feels like so long ago. 
The Mid-Atlantic section of the trail has been a huge mental challenge. Honestly, that's a big reason why I haven't posted lately. The trail has drained me mentally. Everyday has been a battle to keep going. I'm constantly reminding myself why I am out here and trying my best not to take this journey for granted.
I hit my lowest point a week ago in New Jersey. Springer Mountain seemed farther away than ever. I was tired, dirty and hungry. I didn't want to walk any further and I certainly didn't want to sleep in the woods since we had a bear encounter the night before. Why didn't anyone warn me about how much the trail can suck sometimes?! Like really really suck ... for days. The pain, fatigue, monotony, mosquitos, boulder fields, body odor and lack of water had the best of me. I knew that this journey would not be a walk in the park; however, I did not know that there would be weeks of misery. 
I like to believe I'm generally a strong minded person. I find the positives in circumstances easily, but I couldn't find any positives during my break down in New Jersey. "Maybe you are not as strong as you think you are", I thought to myself. 
I miss my friends, family and cats; I miss good smelling shampoo; I miss cooking in a kitchen; I miss being able to walk in the mornings without limping! I found myself questioning why I was putting myself through this torture. So I did what any 25 year old would do, called my mom sobbing. She instantly went into mom mode to help me regain my emotional strength and reminded me that I was living my dream and that "I can do this." Yet, every fiber in my body was saying "just go home to your warm bed and cuddly kitties." The one thing standing between hiking and quitting was my pride softly saying "no way, you aren't giving up now." I sat hopelessly quiet for a long time not knowing what to do. Looooong story short:
FireSquirrel and I ended what we now call "the worst day yet" in a semi-clean, overpriced hotel room . . . safe from bears. We then decided to take a few days off the trail to try to shake my funk. 
8 Days Later
After a few days of rest, milkshakes and soul searching I found my internal strength.
I'm feeling much better- taking it day by day. Although, Pennsylvania hasn't helped the situation. I never thought I would hate rocks so much. They slow you down and you can't enjoy the trail because you have to look at your feet the whole time. Reading the trail registers make me feel better because it seems like everyone is feeling the same. We all curse the rocks! One hiker hated PA so much that she decided to do a flip-flop, meaning she skiped to GA and is hiking back to PA, leaving it for last.  
Voluntary Discomfort  
For all of you who think we are walking through fields of daisies and waking up to colorful sunsets everyday ... well ... now you know that is most certainly not the case. We are usually walking through clouds of mosquitos or boulder fields and waking up to nothing but the stench of our sweaty clothes. 
However, (and that is a big HOWEVER) despite our recent struggles, we are still happy and grateful to be out here.
It's true that the bad days just make the good ones even better. I appreciate sunny days, cool breezes, shelter, clean springs and flat ground more than I ever thought possible.  Even though the trail has pushed us to our limits it continues to reward us with jaw-dropping views, memorable critter encounters, interesting trail towns and kind strangers. Oh, and don't get me wrong, we are blessed with days where we do walk through fields of flowers and wake up to beautiful painted skies. 
My Prayer
One thing I wanted to achieve during my thru-hike was to become a stronger spiritual person. NO DOUBT that has happened. I tend to be a pretty private person when it comes to spiritual beliefs. Though, one thing I am not shy about sharring is that there most definately is a creative most magnificent God that has helped me overcome the toughest obstacles.  My prayer last week is that he would simply help me fall back in love with the woods. (sounds strange) Yeah, how does a hiker not like the woods? Well it happened. I was mad at myself for not enjoying nature like I did at the beginning of my thru-hike. I prayed and prayed for my burning desire to be outside to come back. I can happily say- it did. God has helped me see things through new eyes. He has walked with me over the PA rocks and protected my weak ankles during each clumsy fall. He's calmed me during the nights when I've been afraid. He has even kept me company during the times I hike alone to ensure I keep a positive attitude. Yeah, it's safe to say that I'm gettin' down right spiritual. 

MidAtlantic Recap to come! 
A lot has happened since the last time I've posted. I feel like some stories are worthy of sharing so I'm going to get to work on a Mid-Atlantic recap! It will probably take up my whole zero day but that's ok because it's YOU who helps us keep on going! 

Thanks for all the support and love. BIG thanks to my sweet friends Rob and Nicole Anderson for our thoughtful care package. The bug spray came in super handy! Also, thanks to the most loving and supportive parents- mom, Tanja and John and my sweet Nana. All of the supplies you send us each week, well, kick ass. Lastly, thanks to all of you who send us encouraging texts and Facebook messages. You will never know how much that fuels our strength. 

Happy trails~ dandelion

July 25, 2014

Trail Update from "THE WHITES"

I can confidently say that this is the second time in my life that I have been completely blissed out (First being my wedding day). Hiking in the White Mountain National Forest, better known as "the whites", has been an experience I will always remember. The scenery has left me speechless. The rugged trail and 360 views humbled me and lifted my spirits.

We hiked at a significantly slower pace due to the fact that we couldn't resist stopping to look around every 30 minutes. The plan was to do a modest 10-12 miles through the Presidential Mountain range but quickly changed
to it 6-8 mile days. It's been a nice change to not think about the miles. Instead, we all have been soaking in every bit of the beautiful mountains and spontaneously setting up camp whenever we felt like it. We met a 60 year old fellow named Birdman and talked with him for a long time on our way up to Mount Washington. He was going north and had a wealth of advice for us, but one thing that stuck was to "just hike until ya get tired then pull over ... Take your time and enjoy everything." 

Soon after that Stacey mooned the cog...twice. It's a thruhikers tradition apparently. 

I was shocked when we reached Mt. Washington and had to stand in line to get a picture at the sign. "You mean I have to stand in line behind all of these people who rode a train up the mountain after we spent all day climbing it?!" Yeah, I had a moment of thruhiker self entitlement ... but I do think the hikers deserve an express pass. 

I was a bit apprehensive about being above treeline for so many miles. Especially since the area was known for the worst weather in the nation; however, we were blessed with sunny days and cool breezes through the presidentials. God is definately looking out for us! 

We just had one bad day of weather on top of Mt. Lafayette. A rain and hail storm forced us to change our plans at a trail intersection. The strong winds were so bad that we decided to take a side trail off the mountain to take cover under trees. Little did we know that the side trail would continue for another mile above treeline! Fire Squirrel, TallMilk and I spent half an hour trying to figure out how to get a message to Badweather that we were cutting our day short. We tried for a while to put duck tape on the trail sign but the storm was not letting it stick. Plus the sharpie was smearing off. Luckily, Fire Squirrel had the great idea to spell it out with rocks. We destroyed the nearest rock cairn and got to work on our message. Then we all prayed he would see it and ran for the trees. 

After hours of being annihilated by the storm we finally reached Greenleaf hut. We walked in to the hut drenched to the bone (rain pants and jackets can only take so much) hoping they would allow us to do work for stay. 

Sidenote: There are huts along the trail that allow thru-hikers to do "work-for-stay". For all my friends from the Smokies, think: Mt. Leconte Lodge. Day hikers and weekend hikers are able to hike from hut to hut with the luxury of not having to carry heavy packs. 

The Greenleaf hut crew welcomed us with open arms and treated us like family. Kimble, the hut master, fed us soup and coffee cake as soon as we dried off. He even offered us one of his beers. As for our "work" duties, Fire Squirrel and Badweather gave a thruhiker presentation to the guests while TallMilk and I had to simply accompany the crew on a short walk to watch the sunset. 

I was lovestruck with the whites. Even in the torrential downpour, I was loving every second. 

Once we trekked up and down Mt. Moosilauke, we noticed the terrain had changed significantly. There are far fewer boulder fields and the elevation has remained fairly level. There has been more grassy areas which causes us to stop and check for ticks! 

There has also been way more thruhikers! It seems like the Southbound and Northbound bubbles are colliding. I love how common it is to stop and chat with each hiker you pass. I often think about how it would be in the "real world" to stop and talk to strangers about their day, where they are coming from and where they plan to go. Wouldn't it be nice if we all legitimately cared about each other?

Exiting the White Mountain National
Forest was bittersweet for me. I felt like I was floating on the biggest fluffy cloud and I didn't want to ever leave. Although, it's amazing to know that one of the toughest parts of the trail is now behind us.

Our journey has continued to teach us about the Appalachian community. The kindness that surrounds this area is truly inspirational. We stayed a night at Mt. Cube Sugar farm where Maple Jimmy and owner, Pete, taught us the process of how they tap the trees to produce maple syrup. They also opened up their kitchen and let us make pancakes! The next night we stayed at legendary, Bill Ackerly's house. He is famous for giving hikers free ice cream in exchange for a game of croquet.

The hospitality and generosity of the trail soothes my soul. Thanks to all the trail angels who open up their home, give us rides and leave sodas in the river for us hikers! 

We arrived in Hanover late Wednesday night, minutes before a thunderstorm. The town has a great reputation on the trail. Every Northbounder we passed has raved over all the free stuff that hikers get. We have all been looking forward to experiencing the "big" trail town since we left Gorham. Honestly, I'm not sure how I feel about it. It's a bit overwhelming after being in the woods for so long. Don't get me wrong, it's been a blast. We've toured the Hood Art Museum along with the rest of the Dartmouth campus, spent hours in a bookstore, took advantage of the free pizza and doughnuts for hikers and splurged on luxury hotels. I also found a folk clothing store and bought a new outfit. Although, being around this many people, cars, noises, choices and busyness has been rather stressful. I about had a panic attack when I tried to order a drink at Starbucks. The lady at the register was in a rush and tapping her finger while I quickly pushed the words, "grande soy vanilla latte" out of my mouth. Actually, everyone in the shop was in a rush. We saw other hikers just staring in the distance and realized we were not alone. We were in sensory overload. Anyway, it's good to be in town to do laundry and get clean, but mostly it's great to just rest. 
Thanks to my sweet mom, loving South African family and our friends, Jodi and Kris for our care packages. It really does put smiles on our faces to read your letters and our food bags are now over flowing with yummies! 

We are returning to the trail now ... well as soon as I visit the chocolate shop. Everyone is in a great mood and looking forward what the trail brings next. There is still so much to tell but the mountains are calling! Remember to enjoy your day and slow down a bit. 

Also big shout out to my dear friends Shelby Vance and Amanda Tate! They are getting married!!!!! I can't wait to hug your necks! 

July 7, 2014

Goodbye Maine, Hello New Hampshire

Hi readers! Amber here. We've made it to New Hampshire. That's right- we've walked all the way through majestic, mossy, muggy, Maine. (insert happy dance) We are currently resting at the White Mountains Lodge & Hostel before we enter the infamous "White Mountains." Let's see . . . since the last update, not only have we crossed our first state line, these things have happened:I got my trail name: Dandelion.
  • We raced down Baldpate Peak in thunder and lightening. 
  • A tree was 12 ft away from falling on our tent one night!
  • Chief Badweather finally got a sleeping pad.
  • We made it through the Mahoosuc Notch! (in the rain)
 You can find photos of our journey through Maine on my Facebook page, here. Please continue to keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we trek home!

  "Ode to Maine" written by my dad also known as "Chief Badweather."  


You have my respect for being a true "wilderness." Your mucky bogs (some knee deep) have slowed our pace. Your black flies and mosquitoes have fed off of us for days. Your many river crossings are cold and deep. Your trails are wet, rocky, full of roots and some straight up and down. 
Our equipment has suffered with breaks, rips, tears and smells just plain ole plum nasty. 
Our bodies are swollen, bruised, bit, scraped, cut, blistered and smells just plain ole plum nasty. 

After 281 miles we are leaving so that you can greet the next bunch of hikers. We will remember the days of hiking through you for the rest of our lives. Seeing equipment from hikers that went before us scattered all over the first 25-50 miles made us nervous. What was the rest of the trail going to do to us? The clothes, tents, tarps, packs, sleeping bags, pots, pans, cups, bowls, axes, machetes, food, water bottles, rain gear, cold weather gear and more was just laying everywhere on the side of the trail. It looked like the dark forest just chewed up the lone hikers and spit them out on different parts of the trail. (I had named the lone hiker . . . "Divorced Hiker" . . . since the trail had taken everything.)

Our memories will be of the days that we topped out on mountains like White Cap, The Bigelows, Old Blue, Old Speck, The Baldpates, The Horn, the grand daddy, Kathadin, and my favorite, Avery Peak. Sleeping at Antlers campsite and the other big ponds and lakes while watching the beavers play and hearing the loons at night will never be forgotten. 

Thank you, Lord Jesus for this time of my life and letting me have a true wilderness experience in the state of Maine. The people of Maine have treated me and my small tribe from East Tennessee very well. May the Good Lord Bless those on and around the Appalachian Trail. 

Ricky J. Adams, "Chief Badweather" SOBO 2014, leaving Maine . . .

June 30, 2014

Trail Update: Mile 246.8; Andover, ME

Ahh ... civilization once again. Coming into towns have been a big part of our encouragement while we are hiking. It's nice being able to shower and clean your clothes. It's also great to plop down on a bed instead of setting up a tent and blowing up a sleeping pad. I have developed an intense appreciation for civilization and all the things I can't have while I'm in the woods. For example, being able to eat raw, healthy foods that I can't carry with me. I'm looking forward to the opportunity to eat the biggest, vibrant salad ever! 

Although, I must confess that it doesn't take very long for the mountains to call me back. I never thought I would miss being out in the wilderness after spending so much time out there . . . but I do. I miss the stillness and the sounds of nature. I miss the smells of the trees and the waters. I miss the simple life of waking up with the sun and going down with the moon. 

The trail since Rangeley has been great. We have had absolutely beautiful weather and the terrain has been pretty kind to our muscles and joints. (except for the 2 big wipe-outs Dad and I had) Stacey is feeling much better. The bugs have not been bad and we haven't hiked through any bogs! YAY! We've seen lots of frogs, snakes, squirrels and chipmunks; a few birds beavers, grouse, and loons; and one snapping turtle. Still no moose. We are seeing more and more Northbounders who have been informing us about what's ahead. We are all getting anxious about "the whites," but are thrilled for the views. Mom, stop googling and freaking yourself out. We will persevere!   

We got a hitch from local into Andover, ME. It's is a very small town much like Monson and Stratton. We are staying at the Pine Ellis Hiker Lodge. It's kind of quirky, but full of character. The owner's ex-son-in-law showed us around and informed us of all the rules of the hostel. He's a Native American Indian form the Mayan tribe. I told him that I was currently reading a book about the Lakota tribe. He slowly turned around and grabbed a flute that was made from the Lakota. As he started playing it I thought about how awesome it was going to be pick his brain and learn all about his culture! Well so far I've learned that he believes Maine is the perfect state to die in because it only costs $25 for a pine box and someone to come cry at your funeral. While doing our laundry in his make shift garage I saw a huge pile of Moose scat. He is the infamous moose poo jewelry maker!! Apparently, there are people that actually pay money for a moose nugget necklace. Hey, to each his own, right?? Oh, he just walked by me and asked if I wanted to learn how to play the flute. Awesome. 

Other than that, it's been a typical town day. We've ate breakfast and lunch at the only restaurant. We resupplied at the restaurant. We picked up our care packages (thanks Momma, Lex, Mum T and John). We washed our clothes and hung them on the clothes line to dry. Now, we are all RELAXING. Stacey is e-mailing gear companies to tell them about how their products are holding up. Tuck is reviewing the elevation change in the White Mountains (yikes!). Dad is chatting with some fellow hikers. While I am keeping all of you sweet readers informed!

We are slack-packing tomorrow and staying one more night in Andover. I hope everyone back home is having a great day. Thanks for following our journey and encouraging us along the way. The East Tennessee tribe will continue to carry on! 

Happy Trails, 

June 26, 2014

Trail Update: Mile 220.4; Rangeley, ME

Hi all! 

Amber here (still no trail name).

The gang is doing well. We made a pit stop in Rangeley to dry out our gear and clothes since it has been raining the past several days. The town has been pleasantly surprising. It has everything we need and more: good pizza, a post office, a laundry mat, a motel with wifi and a decent coffee shop! We got a ride from a local named Erin, who offered to give us a ride back to the trail head tomorrow! (Amazing trail angel!)

The past few days since leaving Stratton have been draining. We've hit the bubble of early bird SOBOs and we've been meeting more NOBOs. The shelters and campsites are getting crowded and louder. A virus has been going around and unfortunately Stacey caught it. Dad woke up in a mud puddle yesterday. I think he is regretting sending his tent home in efforts to reduce weight. And yes, he is still trying to tough it out by sleeping without a sleeping pad (fellow hikers call it "cowboy style"). 

The trail has turned into a creek once again. We hiked with wet shoes all day today. I've been praying for no blisters. 

Stacey had a wipe out on top of Saddleback Junior and snapped one of his hiking poles. 

We've had many steep inclines but not many views. Though, our spirits are still high. All of us are happy to be in town for the night. 

Next stop: Andover, ME! 

Good vibes, 

June 24, 2014

|| SLOW down ||

Lately, I have found myself staring at customers drifting away to a mountain range in an unknown land only to snap back to just to see two hateful eyes darting back at me while tapping the counter with their fingers or clicking a pen to hurry my pace.  It makes me wonder, "When in the hell did we get in such a hurry?!!!?"  I have noticed this in all facets of life-driving, talking on the phone, buying....well anything, I mean, we can't get the gas out of the pump fast enough to speed to wherever we are going that is soo important.  

How can we be actively engaged in our surroundings if we are constantly thinking about getting to the next check point on the "to-do" list?  

It is a good question, I know, and I have thought long and hard about it...the answer is fairly simple.  JUST SLOW DOWN.  We spend the majority of our time in our heads, think about it for a minute.  Think about how much time a day you spend with someone other than yourself. Can you believe that you spend the majority of the time (in the presence of others) thinking about events, work, people, etc.??   Instead of actively engaging in conversations, remembering experiences, and recollecting information, we only half-way listening, half-way  remembering, half-way recollecting the information that is ingested throughout our interactions.  If you continued living your life that way, you would only be living a half-way life. If we took the time to stop, look, and listen; you would be amazed with the information you would acquire; the relationships you would develop; the experiences you would remember.  In return being happy with your day knowing that you did everything wholeheartedly and embraced every moment that created your day.  And at the end of the day, you would be surprised at how good you would feel because you would feel accomplished and fulfilled.  All due to actively engaging in every interaction you encountered throughout the day.  Because you never know who will meet, who you will impact, or what you will learn...simply...by being present. 

Don't let the worries of life cloud up a sunny day.  You control the pace of your life-slow down, and enjoy it. 

June 22, 2014

This is Adventure

I nervously stepped into the water after changing out of my trail runners and into my chacos. Stacey agreed to carry my pack accross since the water was over my waist. We hiked 3 miles beside the roaring river and I was praying the entire time that we wouldn't have to ford it. "Surely, we don't have to cross this" I kept thinking, "it looks like the Ocoee!" Thankfully we had to cross at a wide spot with no rapids; yet, the water was still moving fast and the current was strong. I was relieved there was a rope tied from one end to the other that I could hold on to. As I reached for the rope, I imagined myself slipping on the slimy rocks and being carried downstream- ending my thru-hike. I heard my Dad from the other end yell out "hold on to the rope and you'll be fine!" I quickly shook my nerves off and started  singing a song called "no fear" from a Disney movie me and Lexi used to watch. 

The water was so cold that it took your breath away. I moved as fast as I could while fighting against the swift current. By the time I was in the middle of the river the water was up to my chest. After I made it to the other end I felt a moment of victory. I was one more river crossing stronger, braver and more confident. 

I also took a minute to appreciate my loving husband who had to cross 2 extra times to bring my pack over. 

As we waited for Tucker and Luke to cross, Dad and I looked up the trail and noticed that it was gone. The trail was flooded from the previous 2 days of rain and was now a creek. He just laughed and with the most positive upbeat attitude remarked, "now, this is adventure." 

We hiked the next 13 miles in ankle deep water. We did our best not to roll our ankles on the rocks below, but it was inevitable. The whole day was spent trying to keep each other laughing at the situation. Tucker made jokes about how he liked to hike in wet socks and shoes because it felt like squishy memory foam. Luke sarcastically talked about how he needed a boat. These are the perks of hiking in a group- uplifting encouragement. 

We honored the 17.9 mile day of adventure with a big campfire. 

The Appalachian Trail is full of adventure, but can easily be under appreciated and taken for granted. I'm glad we have each other to remind ourselves of this once in a lifetime experiences. Life is what you make it. So next time you find yourself in a scary, uncomfortable or unenjoyable situation, live it and learn from it. 

We are returning to the trail today with rested bodies and full bellies thanks to the Stratton Diner. Our next few days look challenging but we are more than ready to get back to the woods! 

June 21, 2014

Free Spirit Saturday: Charmie Stryker

Happy Summer Solstice you sweet sun bathers!  We hope you are out enjoying the longest day of the year! Opal+Wonder is so happy to introduce this sun-chaser as our Free Spirit feature, Charmie Stryker

"Breathe properly, stay curious, and eat your beets." || Tom Robbins || 

Sometimes life has a funny way of introducing integral parts of your life without your knowing of it.  Back in 2007, I met Charmie and Aaron for the first time through a mutual group of friends, upon meeting them little did I know the importance of their presence in the future. We crossed paths various times throughout the remainder of their time in Tennessee before they moved to Austin,Texas in 2010.  Each meeting leaving a stronger impression on me; it was when they moved to Austin I started seeing the dynamic, inspirational, adventurous individuals they are.  Charmie's love for the unfamiliar inspires me to willingly walk outside of my comfort zone, to feel confident walking into the abyss, to be powerful in my own skin. Her graceful presence shows, women, in particular, the importance of self-reliance, individualism, but most importantly, not being afraid to see life in a different light, a light that is not attached to an electrical circuit, a light that is not provided falsely by dollars; but a light that shines effortlessly through her transcendental self.  Charmie's travels have taken her all over the United States (I'm pretty confident she has been to almost, if not all of them.) and during those travels, she and Aaron bring to life a beauty that is sometimes forgotten due to the high-paced, commercialism lives we live currently. They withhold the capability to display the rarest beauties and unfold the forgotten treasures of this world. 

Rajasthan, India

 On Earth Day in 2013, they both resigned from their positions in Austin, TX to embark on a journey that would take them across the United States, and to lands most of us dream of seeing: Laos, Thailand, India, Cambodia, Philippines, and Palau- just to name a few.  You can scroll through their travels on their  photo blog: Visual Journey. Charmie just recently received her yoga licensure in the Himalayans with fellow Free Spirit, Kaya Cait with The Barefoot Print. As Charmie and Aaron began their journey around the world, the two of them brought New Crop to life- a multi-cultural shop that inhabits the most delicate jewelry, exquisite patterns and materials of the cultures that have left their mark on the canvas of Charmie and Aaron's life; the site is also home to a blog that tells the most beautiful stories of some of the most primitive cultures and tribes in the world, and a visual blog that will make every hair on your body stand on end.  New Crop is our connection to lives that are beautifully detailed, respectfully self-reliant, and gracefully happy.  New Crop provides a look into cultures that live simply.  

This versatile Gemini's spirit is an infectious one, that breathes life into all she encounters, (She is, after all, the air element.) her spirit excites you, inspires you, and challenges you to step out in the void...Confidently. I am over the moon to present a feature on a young lady who originates from the Philippines, but found her home in Johnson City, TN who is currently residing in an Ashram in the Himalayans in Kullu Valley, India, Charmie Stryker. 

Charmie received her yoga certification in the Himalayans. 

Tell us a little bit about yourself: 

I was born in the Philippines with an amazing childhood surrounded by family and living with all my close cousins under one roof. I moved to Los Angeles when I was in 2nd grade which was a great city to "ease" in to a new country. LA was so vibrant with culture and diversity that I didn't have a hard time adjusting. Later, my father's job was moved to a small town in East TN where I spent the majority of my school years, where I have made my life long friends, and where I met Aaron =) Hindsight, I realize how serendipitous life is.  My family found their way back to Los Angeles and me and Aaron  found ourselves manifesting our dreams in Austin, TX. He pointed out a boutique design agency that he said he would love to work for, and I admitted my dreams of working for a creative magazine in which later we both landed as our dream jobs at the time.  We were so blessed to be surrounded by such a fun buzzing city that was growing with us filled with music festivals, sunny days and amazing friends. As happy as we were we found ourselves in search for something more. We would daydream out loud about "what if we could just up and leave, and do whatever we wanted?"  If money and security really wasn't an issue and you couldn't fail, then what would you do? The same way we planned and manifested our dream jobs in Austin, we planned to manifest our dream lives.
We daydreamed about travel, about discovering and RE-discovering our roots. Hugging family members and sharing stories in person. 

Charmie and Aaron celebrated their 8th anniversary in Ifuago, Philipines.  
We wanted to find our creativity in a place we never even thought of visiting, and finding inspiration in places we wouldn't think to look for. I will admit the thought excited me to the depths of my soul and scared me to tears at the same time. All of it makes you feel so alive. That was all we needed to feel to hit the road. The road has been our biggest teacher. I've learned not to tie myself to anyone or anything. I realized how temporary everything can be and to allow things to happen, to appreciate it and then to let it go.  The act of letting go has made me feel even more connected with everything and with myself. I have fallen in love with our nomadic lifestyle, where our only permanent address is our emails and when the only constant is change is when we feel most alive

How do you keep your mind stimulated? Books? Records? Journals?

I have gone deeper into my meditation during my stay here at the ashram. They require us us to meditate twice a day. There is such a mind stimulating life force within us internally that we lose awareness to during the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives. A lot of intrinsic changes, emotions and realizations arise from this and I find the best way of sorting out is with my journal. I also find travel to be exponentially mind stimulating. Everything seems to be a discovery, the food, the language, the people, their culture and their art.  I am always in awe of the creativity that is naturally within us. I always find that those who live simpler lives are happier, live with more mindfulness to the earth, and have kept their traditions and  art alive.

Why leave it all behind?

Hindsight, I realized that letting go and practicing non attachment has opened up a whole new mindset for me. When we first set out to leave, I spent a few nights overwhelmed with fear and anxiety wondering how we were going to make this crazy idea of just up and leaving to travel indefinitely actually work? The hardest part was convincing our friends and family we weren't crazy and that we were going to be ok, when we weren't even sure ourselves if we were crazy or not, or if we were going to be ok. The act of leaving was surprisingly easy, once we downsized everything we owned to fit in a car, we hit the road. We've been downsizing every since, our packs getting smaller and smaller with each step. I can't even explain how liberating the feeling is knowing that we were leaving and could come back whenever and wherever we wanted to.


How do you budget for a trip that long? Advice?

We sold everything, and saved up a couple month's salary and decided we would figure out the rest when we got there. Being on the road and meeting lots of other travelers I realized the one thing that long term travelers are rich with is courage. With our scenario we were both lucky enough to be able to do freelance and work from anywhere with wifi. So when we quit our jobs, we started working for ourselves and with amazing clients. Aaron handles mainly all the design web and print, and I handle the social media, and blog management. I've realized travel takes more courage than it does money. When most people think of travel they think of vacation, which normally is a lot of money. There are so many options with traveling long term such as: work abroad programs, freelancing, teaching English somewhere exotic for a year,  couchsurfing…etc. We found ourselves traveling a lot longer than planned, working a lot less, and saving a lot more. I keep asking ourselves why we didn't we do this sooner?!  =)

Was New Crop already an idea? Or was that an idea that manifested into your travels?

Yes, I look at our old logos, which says est. 2011, but we didn't actually launch it until a few months ago. We knew we wanted a creative outlet, and once we hit the road puzzle pieces started falling into place; it eventually evolved into what it is now. I have definitely found my passion in rediscovering my roots and preserving my culture and along the way I have felt a calling towards discovering and preserving others' cultures through New Crop. It is still definitely manifesting, and evolving with us and our journey.

Along with your growth, how did your experiences change you perspective on priorities?

 It took leaving everything behind to make me  realize the unknown is not so scary after all, it gives you that warrior spirit and makes you feel fearless. To not let uncomfortable situations and annoyances distract you from realizing that our circumstances of existence is pretty glorious.

Siem Reap, Cambodia 

What are some of the best experiences you have had overseas?

India by far has taken the cake for experiences. I have never pushed out my comfort this intently and this often. Sometimes its a love/hate relationship but one thing is for sure, it has definitely shaken and awakened me. Made me realized just how sheltered and comfortable I was before and how little I know and how much there is left unseen. India has made me hungrier for more.

How have you coped with uncomfortable situations? Have you had any?

All the time =) I think that is the gem with traveling. Funny thing is as I answer this question,  I am on a sleeper train in India, where someone is currently sleeping on my bed, so me and Aaron are sitting cross-legged on his bed while other Indian passengers across from us are resting their feet on his bed using it as a foot rest. The funny thing is you cant resist the uncomfortable situations, you just have to go with it and let it be =)

Any "aha" moments that humbled you?

Constantly, even now as I write this and wonder if I'll have my bed to sleep on tonight on this train, I realize that I am lucky enough to get off this train and have a comfortable bed in a guesthouse.  That it's not the end of the world if someone who needs my bed more than I do is currently in it. No matter his situation or others that I come across, I know how lucky I am and I am constantly reminded to be grateful for my situation and to be mindful of others.

Any advice for Wanderlust spirits?

Follow what sends a tingle down your spine, what makes your heart race and where your daydreams wander.  Make a list of what truly makes you happy, or what your dream life would consist of and find a way to connect the dots. Whatever your bliss may be, work really hard at it and surround yourself with those who inspire you and support you.

|| Keep up with Charmie and Aaron's adventures||

New Crop Blog

Congratulations to Aaron and Charmie on their engagement!  Aaron proposed to Charmie on June 13, 2014 in India!  O+W wishes you all many years of love, adventure, and happiness! :)  

All photos from New Crop