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