Day 3: stubbornness edition 

Thankfully there were no heavy duty snorers at the tea horse hostel last night. Today started off with me waking up around 530 and not being able to go back to sleep. I had visions of making it 16 miles to rocky run shelter today, so I think I was preoccupied with getting an early start. I gave up around 545 and made my breakfast amongst the other early birds. Someone at Blackburn the other night said “enjoy stuffing big things in the little things” because that’s basically all hikers do when they’re not hiking or eating everything in sight. There was a constant rustle of cuben fiber and sil-nylon as I ate my bowl of granola. Another hiker built like a German rugby player ate burrito the size of my forearm and Steve aka frontpocket was talking to his wife on the phone. The hulking man hadn’t said a single word since it came in last night. I couldn’t take the salad, so I finally asked him what his name was. He replied, “Jerry Springer,” which is laughable considering how silent he was. As it turns out, his name has nothing to do with the talkshow host. He just decided to combine Jerry Garcia and Springer Mountain.

Getting back to the trail involved and mildly annoying road walk made better by an explosion of spring with dogwood, lilacs, and all other usual suspects in full bloom. The trail from the Shenandoah side of harpers ferry over to the railroad towpath involved hugging the edge of an overgrown hill and picking my way across slick rocks. Most people probably don’t think twice about them, but I’m paranoid about falling and reinjuring my tailbone. I met this little guy while I was still waking up and feeling whiny about the wet rocks.

The walk across the river bridge and alongside the Shenandoah River was peaceful and beautiful. 

The river moved swiftly on my right and a stagnant stream covered in duckweed sat to my left. 

I had this view for about two hours, and I amused myself by taking dozens of flower pictures and watching birds flit across the path. There was a pretty steady racket from crows with the occasional streaking cardinal and what I imagine were migrating warblers. Also caught a glimpse of a couple of woodpeckers. Wish I knew more bird names. I relished the flat surface adter all of the rocks from yesterday, but flat is hard on my body in a different way because of the pounding. When I wasn’t taking pictures of flowers, I pretended that my hiking poles were oars pulling me forward along the flat path.

After what seemed like forever, I crossed the railroad tracks and began the climb up to weverton cliffs. It was slow going and humid, but manageable. About halfway up, I passed an older gentleman who looked haggard. I gave the usual “how are you?” greeting and he said, “miserable.” Not so often you get an honest answer to that question. I said I hoped that it would get better for him, and he muttered to himself as he continued in the opposite direction. When I got to the cliffs, the sun started to come out, so I put on sunscreen for the first time this week and took another map picture. 


I also found out that Fritos go really well in trail mix. 

The next couple of hours for were somewhat unremarkable. There was an annoying rocky steady climb from Weverton. Things finally leveled off into a softer path saturated from two days of rain. My pack felt heavy today and my legs, while not sore, were tired. I set a goal to eat lunch around the 8 mile mark, but I caved around mile seven because it didn’t make sense to hike hungry when I could just stop and eat. So I pulled off at a little rock outcropping and took off my shoes to soothe them on a cold rock. They were getting that mid-marathon hamburger feeling, which was disappointing because I had plans for so many more miles today. I also noticed that the pinching I’d been feeling on my big toe of my left foot was the beginning of a blister. This is a trouble spot when I run as well, but I’ve never gotten a blister there. So I pulled out my knife and popped it and put some duct tape on it. I also massage my arches. My feet felt a little bit better after the break, but I knew that going 16 would be a questionable idea. Could I do it? Yes. Would it make tomorrow miserable? Yes. After lunch, I put on music and tried to focus on landing softly without hunching, which I tend to do when I get tired. I ran into Jerry Springer and we leapfrogged each other for a couple of hours. I felt my feet getting hot and thought about dealing with them later, but one of the things I’m learning is that waiting just makes things worse. So I sat on a rock and took off my socks, reapplied body glide, stretched my calves, and massaged my arches again.

I reached gathland state park around two. In theory I had another 5 miles to go, but I knew from the feeling in my feet that it would be a bad idea. I couldn’t bring myself to make the choice, so I texted Charrow, and she gave me permission to stop. Well, she actually ordered me to stop. So I filled up on water, used the bathroom and laid on a park bench for about 20 minutes until a fellow named Malink came by asking me how to find the northbound trail. 

I finally collected myself and trudged up a rocky hill, which leveled off to a nice walk through these sweet smelling flowers covering the forest floor. 


I hung a right down to Crampton Shelter. The shelter is tucked far down a rocky path with a little stream right before you get to it. Thankfully there’s a bear pole, so I still haven’t had to throw a bear bag. I decided to camp at one of the tent sites up the hill instead of in the shelter alone. Somehow my tent felt safer. So I hung my food bag and set up my tent. Then, since it was the late hour at 5 PM, I decided to make myself dinner. I walked down to the shelter with what I thought were the things I needed to do so. As it turns out, I had forgotten my stove fuel. So I walked back up the hill and as I was grabbing it, I heard frontpocket ask me where the shelter was. We walked down together, and I went about making my dinner. Or I would have, if I had not also forgotten my stove. So I walked back up the hill to get it. When I got back, Steve asked incredulously why I hadn’t just asked to borrow his. It would never have occurred to me to ask that question. 

A woman in her 20s showed up little while later, and we all had a relatively silent dinner together. front bucket and I talked about his kids and books. Then I gathered my dinner items and headed back up the hill to get my water filter so I could get that out of the way and not have to fuss with it in the morning. As I was going back down the hill for I don’t even know how many times, Steve’s was climbing up to make camp and asked what I had forgotten. I told him I was just going to filter water and he said, why didn’t you just ask to borrow my water filter? Again, I responded with a befuddled I don’t know. He said, “just ask. It gets easier the more you do it.” 

So there you have it. Two of my important lessons in the same day. We will see how long it takes me to really learn them. Now I’m tucked away in my trusty duplex tent Should be another beautiful day tomorrow.

Mile 1023.1 to mile 1034.1

Creature feature: birds! And wizened Maryland hikers  

intermission 

Now that I’ve started camping at shelters, I’m going to insert a bit of lag time between my actual location and these posts. So for today, I bring you a handful of the flowers I saw this morning. Don’t worry, I somehow managed to cover a few miles even though I stopped like every 30 yards during one stretch alongside the Potomac River. 

Day 2: mud pie edition 


Managed to cover a very soggy twelve miles today. My morning started by waking up around 520 and not being able to go back to sleep because of a bunk mate’s snoring. I finally gave up around 6 and went outside with my coffee gear to start my current breakfast routine. Decided to eat my own of food instead of the center’s breakfast because I want to lighten my load (not eating quite as much as I expected just yet). The caretakers were kind enough to let me pack out some of the mini frittatas they made for breakfast, which I combined them with babybel cheese for a pretty great lunch sandwich. 

As I packed my stuff to head out of Blackburn, snoring dude struck up a conversation about polyamory. I bristled initially, wondering where he was headed, but we had a decent conversation about monogamy and the scarcity mindset/jealousy. Did he ask me because I’m queer? because he found out last night that I’m a therapist? Because it was on his mind and he had a warm body in the room? Who knows. 

The climb out of Blackburn wasn’t as bad as I expected. A light rain fell over the next 5-6 miles, and I spent a lot of time ogling flowers and birds. Saw what I believe is a blue bird. Who knew they were so blue?? Saw a few stripe capped woodpeckers whose actual name I need to look up. There was moss everywhere, and the rain made the colors pop, which was a fringe benefit to being soggy. 


I was going to do another tattoo “I am here” picture at the Welcome to West Virginia road sign that I saw as I crossed keys gap, but there was a gentleman dressed in street clothes drinking a 40 hanging out by the trailhead parking lot, so I kept moving. Decided to treat myself to some music to deal with the dampness and the incessant rocks sticking straight out of the ground like the plates on a stegasouras back. Wherever the rocks eased up there were giant puddles and mud bogs. My feet held up surprisingly well despite the terrain and never really felt that wet. It was an easy day in terms of elevation, but the descent into harpers ferry was long and steep in places, which made my quads protest for the first time all day. 

Crossed into harpers ferry via a highly trafficked bridge over the shendoah river. Great view, but so damn loud. Then there was a calf straining ascent into town and a blue blazed street walk over to the AT conservancy headquarters where I got my picture taken. I’m flip flop hiker number 106. 

Dr. John (the fire maker from yesterday) convinced me that I should stay at the Tea Horse hostel, so I made my way there after my close-up with “dot com” (the wonderful woman at the ATC who told me all about her recent trip to New York after she found out I live in Brooklyn). Decided to save restaurant meals for towns in which I’m actually starving, so I made myself a black beans and rice packaged meal for dinner. Then Dr. John and I walked to 7-11 so I could stock up on chips (I might have purchased a bag of Fritos as well). As we approached the store, I was talking about something and flapping my hands around so much that the employee taking a smoke break out front asked me if I was using sign language.

She then barreled into a drawn story about how a family member is “death” (aka deaf). When we finally peeled away from her and made it inside, I nearly yelped with joy when I saw their banana selection (bought 2). Now I’m trying to write this while tuning out 3 middle aged white men one upping each other and debating the end of the world (thankfully all liberal leaning arguments). One of them just picked up the guitar hanging around the hostel. SEND HELP. 

Mile 1011.1 to mile 1023.1

Creature feature: not much in the way of four legged friends today. woodpeckers, a blue bird, possibly a nut hatch?, and deer prints.

day 1: peanut butter pie edition 


Started out in a light drizzle at Bear’s Den Hostel this morning. I’ve hiked this section of the AT many times with college friends. The familiarity and the memories of goofing off with friends staved off some of the what-the-f-have-I-done feeling. This starting point also made it possible to see my parents who are my HQ. I’m grateful for the support and also for them putting up with me pulling my hair out over ounces as I did a final gear run through.

On Sunday night, my mom drove me to the Elzer farm where my friend’s mother, Anne, made “tick stew” (lentils and rice) and my favorite dessert ever: peanut butter mousse tart with a fudge top layer. She called it JJ’s dessert because many years ago she made it for one of my birthday weekends where we all gathered at the farm. Then I spent about two hours packing and repacking my bag like the obsessive nut job that I am. Finally crashed around 1 AM feeling uncertain about the weather forecast for the next day and considering acquiescing to the prodding of Anne and Peter for me to wait for the rain to pass.

When I woke up it was misting, but not as bad as I expected. Had my final favorite breakfast while Peter looked on, amused (and skeptical) about my coffee gear. Then Peter drove me to Bear’s Den where I taught him how to take a picture on my phone and then set off for my first day on the trail. It took a lot of willpower not to stop every 20 yards take pictures of the wild flowers along side the trail. I had peanut butter pie as a mid morning snack.

To prevent myself from my overdoing it and to stay out of the impending cold rain, I stopped at the hikers cabin at Blackburn AT Center for the night. There’s a beautiful screened in wraparound porch with picnic tables and a small cabin with four bunks for hikers. Now I’m listening to the rain while a handful of thrus discuss the finer points of grain alcohol. 

mile 1003.2 to 1011.1

creature feature: 3 deer bounded away as I crested a hill with moss covered rocks and little white wildflowers everywhere 

recalculating

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Maybe I should just play “Let Go” by Frou Frou on repeat because that is clearly the primary lesson at hand the last few weeks (and likely to be the main lesson moving forward). For example: many months ago, when I was in full on obsessive mode, I had visions of cooking and dehydrating all of my own dinners for my thru-hike. I went down the intertubes, found backpackingchef.com, bought a dehydrator and dehydrated exactly 1 pear before going in to full-on relationship tailspin, thus abandoning all forms of preparation in favor of painful discussions, crying, dating, and general escapism.

Turns out you can’t really dehydrate over a hundred meals in about 3 weeks while also moving out of your apartment, finalizing gear, socializing, and wrapping up clients and mountains of paperwork. Who knew. The other day I had a conversation with a friend about how I love doing things in extreme ways, and I originally wanted to make all of my own food because it felt like the hardest thing to do (I also happen to LIKE my cooking and try to avoid a lot of the fillers in packaged foods, but if I’m honest, those are secondary reasons). I told my friend I felt like a failure because I was considering giving up on the dehydration projection. She looked at me and said, “I’m pretty sure hiking the Appalachian Trail is already an extreme thing to do, and you’re not failing if you don’t make all of your own food.” So simple, but I couldn’t get there on my own. I needed permission to let the dehydrating go. This, by the way is very different than saying I am “giving it up,” which feels rooted in a failure framework. Then I paid my friend for her clinical services with chips (she’s a fellow therapist and we were eating lunch).

What am I doing instead of listening to the drone of my dehydrator 24/7 while swimming in vats of black beans? Well, I can’t bring myself to throw ALL caution to the wind and just buy food as I go (madness), so I ordered a small supply of prepackaged dehydrated food from Mary Janes Farm and dehydrated spinach, sweet potato, butternut squash and cabbage from Harmony House. I’m going to divide the veggies into smaller batches and include them along with the prepackaged meals in whatever mail drops I end up doing (still TBD). This way I can add a bit of nutrition into whatever gourmet grocery store concoction I happen to be eating when I’m between mail drops. I forced myself to only order a small amount of supplies so that I can adjust strategies on trail if need be. If things are working well, I can ask my parents to order more of everything to keep this system going. Of course, this requires learning the next lesson I keep butting up against: asking for help. Ah yes, the dreaded H word…

Picture: Red pleading with our friend to share her chips during a lunch break at the Riga Shelter in CT, Canon Tlb (film), November 2015. Note the blurry wagging tail, which is his primary strategy for overloading you with cuteness so you won’t realize your hand is slowly moving towards his mouth with the bite you were about to put in your own mouth.

let’s try this again

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aaaand I’m back… Apparently, I’m going to have to pretend that you’re all close friends who give me the nose tingles in order to document this experience in a public manner because anxiety and scrutiny (mine, not yours) have gotten the best of me since my last post. I also took a nose dive into a suffocating, exhausting, and exciting puddle of life circumstances that shall remain mostly nameless. Long story short, the last several months have not been pretty (inside or out, because winter). I don’t really recommend imploding your life while concurrently planning to hike 2,190 miles. In terms of the hike, the primary change is that my mail drop support system has shifted from my partner (now former partner, heretofore known as “FP” because I hate using the phrase “ex”) to my parents. FP will continue to take care of the farmily, for which I am extremely grateful. She’s also patiently fielding a steady stream of tedious logistical questions that started about a month ago when I realized I had better put one foot back on the planning wagon or risk injury/failure due to operator error.

To my real-life friends who wandered here from my recent social media announcement: welcome to my attempt to not bore you to tears on those platforms! If you’re interested in my planning process (logistical and emotional), stick around and check out this post. If you just want pretty pictures with varying degrees of coherent commentary, come back sometime after April 24th, which is the day I’m starting my northbound flip-flop hike from Bear’s Den Hostel (VA).

Picture: Red, the chipmunk chasing maniac, overlooking the Hudson River in Harriman State Park, NY, Canon Tlb (film), 2015

try not to should yourself

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view to the left of Humpback Rock, near Rockfish Gap, VA (Leica M6, Ektar 100)

Is it too soon for a doubts post? Should I keep the gung-ho honeymoon narrative alive a little bit longer? Sadly, I am not that person and this is not that blog. I’m here to discuss the nitty gritty of thru-hiking and internal conflict is inevitable when making such a huge decision. How you relate to feelings is just as important as their existence. Sometimes I let mine do a jig on my chest while I try to sleep. Other times, I politely tell them to f* off and leave me alone while I take the risks necessary for personal growth and mold prevention. Here are a few of the feelings I’m contending with at the moment.

I have a partner who can’t join me on this particular thru-hike*. She has expressed mild interest in the concept, moderate fear about the realities, and a firm stance that she is not able to freeze her artistic career to tromp around the woods fleeing bears and getting Lyme (her ideas, not mine). Thus, she will remain in charge of two cats, one dog, a car (in Brooklyn, this means moving the car for street cleaning twice a week, minimum ), and all of the cooking/cleaning/life shit that we have shared for the last 10 years. You single people can pat yourselves on the back for adulting all by yourselves while I feel sorry for my partner because she has to do what you’re already doing. We’re used to having help! Her perspective: “I will make it work.” My perspective: “She’s going to curse my name, hate for me a loooong time, and/or ask me to come home.”

I worry about delaying certain life goals that we share as a couple. For example, we’ve been daydreaming about owning a small piece of land for about five years. I could use some of the time, energy, and money I’m dedicating to the hike in pursuit of land instead. Enter guilt for prioritizing my goals over our goals.

I also keep realizing that I won’t be around to share “next year” experiences. “Oh, we should go to California next summer to visit so-and-so”… Oh right, I will be pooping in the woods with all of my new smelly friends instead.

Then there’s the “responsible adult” guilt, which usually comes in the form of shoulds. I should be accumulating hours for my therapy license instead of walking ten hours a day and eating fritos by the fistful. I should be saving money for the aforementioned life goals instead of spending it on all you can eat pancake breakfasts (which I might not do because gluten and I are not really friends most of the time). I should be attending to family and friendships instead of debating whether to take a picture of that pretty view or that pretty view (who needs to choose? take both!). Excuse me, I seem to have shoulded all over myself and need to clean up this mess.

Will guilt stop me? No, but I do plan to pay attention to it for cues about what’s important to me (my relationships) and what I’m afraid of (being seen as irresponsible). Anyone else out there questioning their decision to thru-hike?

 

*note the implication of future thru-hikes