2017 – Day 110: 1,000 mile edition


**This a continuation of the story of my 2017 hike**

I had to sleep in one of 2 positions last night, neither of which were very comfortable because of the bend in my arm and the stabbing pain I experienced whenever I tried to roll onto my right side. The splint seems to be making life more uncomfortable even though I know it’s for the best because it immobilizes my elbow. I woke up around 630 feeling poorly rested and achy. I heard one of the owners knock on the doors of other hikers and call out that breakfast would be ready in 15-20 minutes. We hadn’t signed up for breakfast, but I wanted to get a decent start on the day to leave time for slow hiking, so I rolled out of bed and began the process of changing clothes. By rolled, I mean literally rolled out of bed because it was the easiest way to sit up without putting any strain on my arm. Cotton remained in bed while I went downstairs to put together my breakfast.

As I mixed together my usual granola/muesli medley with a yogurt taken from the well stocked store in the back room of the hostel, I asked the owner if I could join the other hikers for breakfast with my own food. I received a polite but firm no, that would not be an acceptable practice because it might make the others uncomfortable. I had only asked the question to be polite, expecting an affirmative wave of the hand. His answer took me by surprise and amplified the growing feeling of losing my place in the hiker community. I directed my gaze at the highly important task of stirring my food while I pretended to be okay with the idea of eating alone in the kitchen. I felt silly for being so unhinged by the situation, but I couldn’t shake the feeling of rejection as the sound of idle conversation filtered in from the dining room. My breakfast went down in gluey lumps as Tucker, the resident terrier, rested his chin on my knee in the hopes of capitalizing on my loss of appetite.


I rinsed my bowl in the sink as the other hikers refilled their coffee mugs and loitered at the table. Then I went back upstairs to get ready for the day ahead. We’re “slackpacking” today, which means we are carrying only day hiking supplies in our regular packs, so I pulled out the items I didn’t need while Cotton ate a cliff bar and collected herself. I’m using today as a preview of what it might be like to hike with one working arm, and it became immediately apparent that my pack would be a source of struggle. Have you ever tried to use a zipper one-handed? Yeah, not so effective. Neither is closing a roll top, wide mouthed bag and then buckling it all together. I managed a lumpy version of the usually tightly rolled closure and slung my bag over my good arm to take it downstairs.

Cotton and I piled into the truck of the kilt-wearing hostel assistant whose name escapes me. We followed him 15 minutes up the road to deliver Cotton’s car to our exit point for the day and then he ferried us back to our starting point at the hostel. As we fussed with extending my hiking poles, the clasps of which had become vice-like and nearly impossible to open/close, I heard someone call out “Checklist!” I turned to find Hawaii, First Aid and Sunny resting on the porch of the hostel after their crossing of the Kennebec (this is part of the gaggle of hikers that I had spent a couple of days with around Mahoosuc Notch).  I explained the origins of my splint as they each dug into their collection of snacks. They expressed sympathy for my arm, which I was grateful to receive while also feeling the simmer of envy at their ability to finish what they started.

Cotton and I headed down Main Street towards the river. I clomped along with one pole and my left arm slung across my chest. We passed what appeared to be a thru hiker who had been met by a few family members at the river crossing. I made eye contact with everyone we crossed paths with expecting to get interrogated about my arm, but no one appeared to notice, which was both a surprise and a relief.


When we reached the water’s edge, we saw the canoe ferry operator picking up a load of passengers from the western bank. To give you some context, from approximately late May to mid-October, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy contracts Greg Caruso, a part-time ferry operator, to assist hikers in crossing the Kennebec River. This is done because the crossing is 400-feet wide and has a strong current under the best of conditions. To make matters more complicated, there is a hydroelectric facility upstream that releases water without warning, which causes a surge in both depth and current. Needless to say, I had absolutely no intention of fording the river even before breaking my arm. Cotton and I watched the operator and the passenger at the bow paddle across the swift river. We were so mesmerized by the process that we didn’t realize we were supposed to be filling out release forms that were set up underneath an ez-up tent. We rushed through the forms and met Greg down at the canoe. He seemed nonplussed by my splinted arm as he lowered my bag down into the center of the canoe and held the sides steady as I took my position in the center seat. Cotton and Greg paddled us across the river towards a small gaggle of northbound hikers waiting to cross. We mentioned our intention of returning after hiking four miles south, and Greg reminded us of the 2pm deadline for the last crossing of the day. Our timing would be on the tight side, but if necessary we could always just turn back sooner and catch the necessary mileage north of our original endpoint. In thru-hiking land, miles that you cover twice only “count” once, so our plan was to hike south for 4 miles, then double back and hike 6 “new” miles north of the Caratunk House to just south of Pleasant Pond, making a total of 10 AT miles and 14.6 actual miles. I’ll pause here for those of you compelled to roll your eyes at thru-hiking logic. I totally get it.


The sound of water lapping against the shore faded away as we wound our way up the hillside. The trail flattened for a short stretch before dipping into a hollow. Cotton peered back at me with wide eyes as the grade steepened. I assured her that I was okay, and she eventually stopped checking in with me at every change in footing.

The trail brought us within earshot of a raging stream, which I felt sure that we would have to cross in some perilous manner because: Maine. I felt relieved when it became clear that we were going to walk parallel to the stream for the time being. We picked our way through rocky sections with the occasional root-filled rise in elevation that felt like a warm embrace relative to the body slamming terrain I’d covered since entering Maine.

Then came the log crossing. One of the hikers from the Caratunk house stood warily eyeing the slick, narrow log that spanned the banks, hanging several feet in the air above the stream. He urged us to cross ahead of him, clearly steeling himself for the task ahead. Cotton went first, opting for the winged approach that resulted in a graceful navigation across the sodden, knotty log.



I balanced my pole in the fingers of my left hand and put one foot on the bridge. The surface was as slippery as I’d imagined, and I felt my pulse quicken while also wondering how Cotton had made it look so easy. The “railing” of the bridge (or should I say “bridge”) was placed at such a height that I had to bend at the waist to use it for support. I shuffled across the bridge without incident and stepped foot on solid ground with the dread of our return trip swirling in my stomach.


The weather was overcast and humid, and the darkened tree trunks, still wet from yesterday’s rain, amplified the greens around us. We crossed another log footbridge that had been cut with a mercifully flat walking surface and wasn’t as saturated as the previous log (Cotton maintained her winged strategy). The trail wound us through a sparse pine forest with brilliant moss and other ground cover with a raging waterfall off to our left. We stopped to take in the sound of water coursing over the boulders, but we didn’t give ourselves much time for gawking.


We eventually rounded a corner to see this large pond with a mist covered mountain staring at us from the distant shore. The trail skirted a beaver damn that made for pesky footing with jagged rocks and unevenly set boards.


I tried not to think about how close the water’s edge was as I picked my way past the dam. Our pace slowed even more as we entered an exceptionally rooty and muddy section. With the ferry deadline looming and sloppy tree roots as far as the eye could see, we decided to turn around and catch the remaining .2 miles on the north end of our goal for the day.


As we made our way back to the ferry, I became overwhelmed by a visceral sadness. I did my best to keep it together because, as mentioned many times over the course of this journey, it is difficult to hike with tear-filled eyes. But the gravity of the situation was too much for me, and I let myself cry for a few steps here and there as Cotton walked ahead of me. I had worked so hard to get here, and two days ago, I had felt so ready for the final northbound tasks ahead of me (e.g. the 100 mile wilderness and Mt. Katahdin). And in a matter of seconds, my intended version of a thru-hike had vanished. There would be no Katahdin this year. That scramble is difficult enough with all four limbs in working condition, so attempting it with one arm was completely out of the question. There’s also no way I could cover enough ground with one-ish arms to actually finish the southern half this year [2017]. I tried to pull myself back to my immediate surroundings, with little success until it came time to re-cross the dreaded slip ‘n slide. Cotton skittered over the bridge as easily as the first time, and put herself in position to take my picture as I made my way across.


I went with the same strategy as before: hiking pole in my left hand (having not yet been given any doctor’s orders not to hold anything in that hand), and my right hand shuffling along the railing to steady my balance. About 2/3 of the way across, my right foot slipped off the log and I came crashing onto my rear, catching myself against the railing with both of my armpits, thus preventing myself from completely falling off. Here’s the slightly blurry image that Cotton managed to capture:

IMG_7428 2

Pain shot through my left arm, and I had no idea what to do next. Standing up seemed both an impossible feat of physics and unwise given the slick footing. Cotton scrambled up the stream bank and back to the end of the bridge as I did the only thing I could think of: butt scooch along the wet log until I got close enough to grab Cotton’s hand. Not my proudest moment, butt scooching with a broken arm in the middle of Maine. Cotton helped me to my feet at the edge of the bridge and stared at me in wide-eyed silence. I felt humiliated for having fallen when Cotton had managed the crossing twice with no incident. Why was I such a klutz? [unrealistic expectations for hiking with a broken arm? who? me?] I felt like a failure as I stood there with my arm throbbing and my mind racing through scenarios in which the impact of smacking my arm against the log had just made my hopefully “simple” fracture into a misaligned mess.

There was nothing to do in that moment except keep moving, so I assured Cotton that I was okay, and we resumed our positions with her tromping ahead of me while I sunk into a desolate mood. I wanted to quit for the day, but I knew that part of my despair had to do with exhaustion and hunger, so I decided not to make any choices about distance until after we had eaten lunch.



We made it to the ferry with about 15 minutes to spare and had a breezy trip back over the Kennebec. Then we plopped down on the pebble covered riverbank and silently scarfed our respective lunches. As I ate, I knew that there was no way I could stop short of the 1,000 mile mark. My splinted arm was hot and achy, but that would likely be the case whether I hiked 6 more miles or went back to Caratunk and sat on the porch.


Onward we went, back across the road and into a hardwood forest that was basically a green tunnel with rolling hills and easy footing. The terrain reminded me of northern VA and southern PA, which caused my brain to ricochet through memories of the miles I had already covered. Back to the crying place I went, doing my best to blink away the tears so I could safely put on foot in front of the other. The trail eventually went down a gradual pine-needle covered hill and led us along several small streams.

With 2.7 miles to go, we stopped at one of the streams to filter water. I fumbled my way through the task with my working arm, eventually relenting and letting Cotton help. Neither of us were quite ready to move on, so we sat with our feet draped in the cool water. I don’t have a strong memory of what I said in those moments, but I do know that I cried a lot and Cotton continued to be a supportive presence with a helpful combination of validation and silence. We finally pulled our feet out of the water and did our best to dry off before donning our shoes to make our way north.

The trail got a bit messy, with bog boards and roots crossing the path with some frequency. We still had about an hour to go, so we took another short break to eat snacks. Cotton managed to drop a fair amount of her trail mix on the ground, so I dutifully sat in the middle of the trail and helped her eat it. Leave no trace!

The grassy parking area where Cotton’s car sat waiting for us appeared far too soon. We walked a little ways past the car to “officially” cover the necessary mileage. I dropped my pack and stooped over a flat rock to make a 1,000 mile marker out of Fritos on a rock. Then I ate the evidence, and we turned back to the car to call it a day. I have little memory of the ride back to the Caratunk House and most of the evening. I know we had macaroni and cheese with sausage for dinner out at the picnic table, and Cotton practiced her banjo for an upcoming wedding gig. I have a faint memory of the owners applauding our efforts with an air of incredulity. After dinner, we walked back out to the river to catch sunset, but there weren’t any colors in the sky to speak of. Both Cotton and I sat by the river stewing in our respective uncertainties. She wasn’t ready to go home, and I had no home to return to with no obvious next steps except “meet with orthopedic surgeon” and “don’t make arm worse.”


We sat by the river until twilight and then carefully made our way back to the house. I unwrapped my throbbing arm and fumbled through a shower, making sure to put neosporin on the scrape that the doctor warned me not to neglect. My wrist and fingers felt wonky, which made me worry about tendon and nerve damage, but there wasn’t much point in going too far down that road, so I told myself the weird feelings were to be expected. I iced my arm in the downstairs living room while rain pattered against the windows. Tomorrow I will start the process of actually resting and working on getting the swelling in my arm down. Today’s “1,000 mile mission” felt absolutely necessary and was likely a terrible idea based on the increased puffiness in my elbow. [2019 note: I would make the same decision if faced with that choice today, although I might say “fuck it” to the official versus unofficial mileage debate.]

Mile 2034.3 to mile 2044.3 (10)

(14.6 if you count the out and back across the river)

Total miles: 1000.1

Creature feature: a chattering king fisher, a heron at dusk at the river, and a few red squirrels.

Day 35: topsy turvy edition 

I woke up so many times last night. Pretty sure I got about 5 hours of sleep with all the tossing and turning and then waking up naturally at 5am. I heard noises in the kitchen even at that hour. I later found out that the rattling about was our host, georgio, cooking us breakfast. I finally gave up on sleeping around 545 because I could hear buzzcut fidgeting, and I was starting to get hungry. I hobbled downstairs and georgio said oh the little church mice are stirring. He insisted I go back to bed, but I told him it was too late. I went down into his basement and folded our laundry. Then I creaked back upstairs with my tight Achilles’ tendons. They’re super unhappy first and last thing in the day. I can’t wait to soak my feet/ankles in epsom salt and hot water. Why does that feel so good?? Halfway and I were wondering about that way back at the holly inn. 
By 630, everyone was downstairs, but Giorgio made no moves towards serving food. I have to eat pretty soon after waking, and by that point I’d been up for nearly 90 minutes. I came so close to asking him when we were going to eat, but it felt rude. Instead, I went upstairs and busied myself by putting my sleeping gear away. Then I couldn’t take it anymore, and I busted into my peanut butter and ate it with Fritos. It’s a combination I’ve seen buzzcut eat, and it’s surprisingly good. The snack sort of helped, but it also just made me want real food.

 I went back down stairs and pretended to be involved in the conversation while dying to say, can we eat NOW. Finally, JD slid forward on the edge of the couch and Giorgio took the cue. Then he made us all eggs to go with her bratwurst and wheatberries. The food was incredible, and he wouldn’t let us help with any of the dishes. Then we gathered ourselves and piled into the car with the dog frantically bouncing from one side of the backseat to the other between buzzcut and me.

Giorgio of course refused our offers to pay for his gas and the groceries that he bought expressly to make us breakfast. We said goodbye to him at Arden Valley Road, and he went off into the woods with his dog. I tried to walk quickly to warm up in the cold drizzle, but the rocks were slick, and I felt like my feet were cinderblocks. I had to slow down for fear of tripping or stepping in a way that would hurt my cranky ankle. The woods in that part of Harriman felt expansive. There were mammoth boulders amongst large, spread out trees with fern ground cover. I tried to look around me, but I was just too cold. I considered stopping to put on another layer, but I knew that within the half hour, I would probably be comfortable enough. I’d rather have a dry mid layer for later than start sweating in a little while and have to stop all over again for a wardrobe change. It feels funny to call my collection of clothes a “wardrobe.” I’ve worn the same 2 shirts for the last 35 days with the variety of either having my Rapha wool shirt or my rain coat as a top layer. When I get to camp and I’m done setting up whatever sleep system is going in place, things start to get crazy. That’s when I put on my puffy coat. Living at the crusty fringes of fashion. 
Somehow JD fell behind, which left buzzcut and me walking in silence for the first hour. As we passed through a boggy area with several little stream crossings that were tricky in the rain, buzzcut fell back because she needed to check on a toe situation. I decided not to wait because something about her energy seemed like she wanted to be alone, and I knew I would get cold if I just stood around. I spent the better part of the next hour walking around taking pictures of the misty woods and feeling happy that my body was not as sore as I expected. I, too, had a toe situation that I should have checked out, but I’m out of the proper tape, so I couldn’t do much about it anyway. The trail took us up towards more exposed rocks and low lying bushes. Rain fell steadily for the entire morning. 

Around 1130, I made it to William brien Shelter, which thankfully was directly on the trail. I decided to take the opportunity to have a roof while prepping my lunch wrap. I saw a man named clean sweep that I met the day before and treebeard. I have been wondering how Treebeard fared yesterday with the intense elevation changes and his achy knee. As it turns out, he stopped at fingerboard shelter, a.k.a. bearville, because he was too tired to move on. The pesky bear stole his food bag! Along with four others. Treebeard said that he salvaged some of the food the bear deemed uninteresting, and when he stood on the shelter porch he could see the bear watching him from about 20 yards away. 
As I sat there listening to treebeard’s crazy story, I made a peanut butter, frito and honey wrap that I decided to just eat right then instead of waiting until later down the trail. JD and buzzcut arrived looking soggy and haggard. Buzzcut stepped into the shelter and sat down on one of the bunks. I happened to look back at her and noticed that her eyes looked wet with something more than just rainfall. I asked her if she wanted to talk about it fully expecting to be brushed off. But she nodded yes, so I sat on the bunk with her, and she said, I’m gonna go home. She said she misses her kids, and listening to Georgio talk about being estranged from his family made her realize that the sacrifice of being on the trail might be too great. She couldn’t come up with convincing answers (for herself) as to why she should stay. I validated the idea of letting herself take a break and going home. At that point, other people were listening in and they echoed the opinion that if she wanted to go home it would be OK. Then we set about trying to figure out where she could get to the nearest road and actually have cell phone signal to call a cab (seven lakes road was closest but no signal). I pulled up the map that I already have on my phone for Harriman and realized that the point at which the trail crosses the Palisades Parkway is less than a quarter of a mile from the visitor center. I called to make sure they were open, and then told buzzcut that would be the best place for her to stay warm and find resources. In that moment, I felt cold and sad and so uninterested in camping in the rain alone, so I called stony point center to see if they had any open rooms for the night. I can handle rain and I can handle cold, but I can’t handle both of them at the same time on a day that also happens to be the day a good to trail friend leaves. I opened the invitation to share a room with JD and prepared, and told him to think about it over the next few miles. My new plan was to walk to the bear mountain bridge and get picked up by the center’s staff. This would involve another 9 miles of walking. JD seemed interested, but skeptical as to whether he could get that far. Treebeard expressed similar sentiments and said he needed to stop at the visitor center to use the facilities because he didn’t feel like pooping in the rainy woods. 
So we set off to get buzzcut to the road and ourselves north towards a warm, dry room. First things first, climbing up this pile of rocks. 
Then the trail leveled out into more of the same terrain with mild ups and downs. We had a short steep climb up to this point for a view of the neighboring ridges and swift mine lake. Then the trail headed back down into the woods and eventually popped us out onto the shoulder of the palisades parkway, which is a very busy highway. I felt like a turtle as I tried my best to run across the road between cars going 50-60 miles an hour. Okay it’s New York, they were probably creeping on 70mph. We made it across the northbound lanes and crossed the wooded median to the southbound side. I gave buzzcut a quick hug and watched her walk up the shoulder towards the visitor center. it was hard to see her go, but people have to make the choices that are right for them. I didn’t have a lot of time or space to really let her absence sink in because I needed to keep moving for warmth. Once we crossed the southbound lanes, JD and I spread out to our own paces. 

I caught up with him while he was chatting with the couple that are out hiking with their three month old baby. I get slow down by taking pictures, and JD gets slow down by talking to everyone he comes across.

After is a goodbye to the cutest little family ever, we made the long, lung burning climb up what I thought was bear mountain, but actually turns out to be the mountain before bear mountain (need to look that up). As we started to climb, I looked at the elevation chart and laughed. Here’s a screenshot of what it looked like (I’m the little blue dot).

It actually wasn’t as bad as I expected, and there were several view points once we got higher up the mountain. It started raining again as we enter a flat section, so I had to take out my raincoat, which I had taken off for the climb. so much adjusting at any given moment. Here are a few pictures from the walk along the ridge and back down to the road. 

Then came the climb up what was actually bear mountain, which involved a butt ton of stone steps. In some ways, stone steps are great because they cut down on the stabilizing required on uneven rocks and roots. However, they are incredibly hard on the balls of my feet and make my legs ache because there’s no give when you land. 

Around 3p Treebeard texted to say that he was waiting at the bear mountain inn for us. He decided to cut his day short and give himself a break. With that in mind, I texted our shuttle driver to move the pick up location from the bridge to the end, which cut a mile from our day. At that point, I had no qualms about cutting it a little short. The exposed rock and the steps were turning my feet into minced pancakes. 

I told everyone I knew to avoid bear mountain on a weekend, and had accidentally arrived there on a major holiday. But the weather saved me from having to elbow check people and feel like a smelly weirdo. When we finally got to the bear mountain overlook, it was absolutely deserted. I couldn’t believe it. The last time I was here, the place was crawling with tourists and weekenders. JD and I stopped at the Overlook to catch a wider view of the cloud covered mountains we had been seeing all morning, and then kept moving down the other side of the mountain. I hiked that section of the AT last October with a group of friends I know from banjo Camp and my former partner. I can remember how my friends got really excited about the idea of leaving something there for me to find on my hike. They didn’t do it for logistical reasons, but the memory made me feel like I had good company as I winced my way down the never ending set of stone steps that was only mildly broke up by flat stretches of crushed gravel. 

JD and I made it to our date with the shuttle driver right on time. We walked to the front of the inn as the van pulled up. A talkative man named Rick said, are you jay? To jd because he had thought he had spoke to a man earlier via text and in the 20 second phone call we had about timing. I knew that he thought he was speaking to a man when he spelled out the name Jay in a text, but I didn’t correct him because I enjoy the gender ambiguity and the surprise when people realize that they’ve been speaking to someone who is not a man. I felt a little bad for not telling him, but also kind of good about causing confusion and indirectly pointing out the assumptions that we all make about gender and the way it can inform our conversations. I’m sure there’s a more eloquent way to put that, but writing this at a late hour after another long day doesn’t really lend itself to articulation.

We made it to stony point center around six and went through a very confusing check-in process that was too tedious to describe. It’s apparently a multi faith activism retreat center, which i did not realize when I booked it standing in the rain st the top of a mountain. By the time we got our stuff into the room, I was nearing a food meltdown. Civility and patience were quickly going out the window, so I set up my pot to boil water and shoved Fritos in my face until I felt slightly more sane. After about 15 minutes my rice was ready. I sat in silence and ate it while staring at the wall. Eventually, I felt human enough to carry on a conversation and take a shower. A gentleman named. Chainsaw, whom I have mentioned in passing as a late arriving high energy character, agreed to pick up a few items for me when he got ferried to the grocery store. I have an awkward amount of food to get me through the next two days, but the idea of walking around a grocery store made me want to cry. The only downside to getting the favor is that he forgot to buy Fritos. I guess I will rummage through the bear mountain vending machines tomorrow before we set out. 

I’m writing this in a large common room with a pretty decent color scheme given the antiquated look of the exterior, a wood-burning fireplace,and a crucifix evoking tablecloth on the glass topped table to my right. Time to go crawl into my sleeping bag on the queenish (but actually more like a double) that I’m sharing with JD who is also using his sleeping bag. 
Mile 1389.4 to mile 1402.9 (13.5) 

Total miles: 399.7
Creature feature: saw several cute little frogs today and two giant turkeys across the road when we got dropped off at our starting point. Not much happening in the way of interesting birds. No snakes today, but a couple of lizards! one with a blue tail. 

Day 16: creekside edition 

Another cold morning, although not quite as frigid as yesterday. I woke up almost exactly the same time as yesterday (558 to be exact). Sadly, the sunrise was mostly yellow and gray, so I debated between going back to sleep or getting up to make breakfast. My stomach decided for me, so I walked across the trail and down the hill to take my first cat hole. As Zach described it, pooping in the woods IS rather peaceful. I little hard on the knees, but not bad.
After that experience, I untied our food bags and brought them over to the little firing. No sign of stirring from Zack or the street, but I felt eager to get moving because of the temperatures, so I started packing up the gear in my tent. As I mixed peanut butter into my muesli, Zack crawled out of his tent. He made himself coffee and ate a granola bar with peanut butter and honey on top. The straight, whose trail name is Wall Street, which I should probably use instead of calling him the straight, came out of his tent shortly thereafter. He stood there with his perfectly groomed beard and remarked about how it was nice that the cold mornings were behind us. Meanwhile, Zach is holding his gloved hands up to his little pocket rocket flame for warmth and I’m wearing 85% of the clothing I brought with me. Zach and I both grunted in his direction and went about our routines. 
I left camp while zach packed his bag, his tent still fully in place. The first mile was a bit rocky, but it quickly turned into a leisurely set of rolling ups and downs. I got water at a little stream directly on the trail (as in, I sat down in the middle of the trail and filtered water) because our camp site last night didn’t have a water source. I need to fashion a scoop cup because the sawyer filter water bag is the bane of my existence. I think it’s actually made of water repellant material. A scoop will make it much easier to fill the squeeze bag. 

I hit PA state game lands after a road crossing and also stumbled upon a wild eyed hiker pulling their pants up after some sort of function about 30 yards from a water source, which is a no no. I got a stiff, weird vibe, so I didn’t pause while I muttered hello and hiked on by. 

The woods over the next mile or so were filtered with morning light and birdsong. There were probably a dozen little stream crossings making for a nice walk. Also saw this little guy between two rocks. 

Then came a rocky hill that wasn’t steep, but it kept going after teasing little flat sections. I had a partial view of dehart reservoir for some of the hill. Around 9, I texted Chrissy to say that I was interested in catching up with them and she let me know that they hadn’t even eaten breakfast yet!

Zach caught me on the never ending hill and we had a laugh at the slowness of the other half of our group. When we got to the campsite, they were STILL packing up. As I laughed with Jimmy about their delayed start, Chrissy yelled from her tent, is that checklist?! Is she here already?? And then she gave a congratulatory whoop, because she’s a whooper. 

Apparently they had quite a night with a few porcupine visitors that scared everyone except halfway because he was snoring his face off all night. Zach and I left the nerds to their packing because we got cold just standing around, and I had water to filter at the stream a mile away. 

The little stream had a hearty patch of rhododendron alongside it and I felt like I was in the jungle while I sat on a rock and squeezed that infernal water bag over and over again. 

Much of the second half of today’s trail had rhododendron. I’m sad they aren’t blooming yet, and I hope I haven’t somehow timed my hike to be too early for all of my favorite forest flowers. I lost my phone signal right as I hit the stream and didn’t get it back until Chrissy and I stopped for lunch at the campground that used to be an old coal miner settlement. Or it has a trail that leads to the settlement? I’m not sure, but it has this mailbox with the trail register in it. 

After a lunch of tuna wrap with crushed Fritos and a dash of honey, my phone caught a signal. At that point, I should have had the wherewithal to warn people that I might not have a signal the rest of the day (sorry mom). Who knew a seemingly not remote section of the trail would be a complete dead zone? (turns out we were adjacent to a Fort Indiantown Gap military base, so that’s my guess) 

After lunch, I felt tired and my feet were getting sore. At that point, I’d covered about 10 miles. I also felt dejected by my inability to keep up with anyone in the group. I don’t necessarily want to talk and walk. In fact, I prefer to walk in silence, but something about getting passed all the time drives me nuts and makes me feel weak. That feeling opened the gateway for other sad feelings, and I spent a few minutes trying not to fall on my face while crying. I decided to listen to comfort music (my trusty running playlist and a sad playlist my steady made), which helped a little bit. I also saw a few new birds, which helped remind me about part of why I’m putting myself through this: to observe the natural world around me. 

About a mile from our intended stopping point, I ran into Chrissy plopped in the middle of the trail rewrapping the sad spots on her feet. That gave me a chance to be in front her for awhile. The trail eventually switched from rhododendron to mostly evergreens with a black shale like rock that flints when the light catches the surface just right. I heard a loud rushing sound off to my left, which eventually materialized into this fast moving creek. 

Rausch creek to be exact. It’s set well below the ground level with high eroded sides and trees perched with exposed root systems. We are camped at the tent site about a half mile from the shelter spur trail. The creek nearly drowns out the gunfire from military field exercises nearby. 

Anyway, we all decided we would rather camp at a tent site than near the shelter because of the inviting creek. We had another great fire around which we ate our respective starchy weird meals and laughed about nonsense. There were tiny white iris looking flowers by the creek bank where I filtered water. They were the size of my pink fingernail and had delicate purple stripes. 

 I soaked my feet in the frigid creek water for as long as I could stand to help soothe the throbbing after a longish day of rock dodging. 

I’m not sure what’s happening with the group after Thursday. Chrissy and halfway are contemplating a zero day. Zach is more in the mood to keep moving. Jimmy has a friend coming to meet him Thursday and will likely do short days until Chrissy and halfway catch up with him. I’m not sure what to do. It feels too soon for another zero, and I’m not sure that I want to be a third wheel with Jimmy and his friend. Zach is ready for higher miles than me. I’m torn between the recuperation of a zero and guaranteed company and the desire to stay a little bit ahead of my schedule. If I keep moving, I could end up alone for who knows how long. Or I could meet another fun group and settle in with other people for awhile. At some point, all of our schedules will shake things up anyway. I’m not doing this to be alone, and I’m not doing it to meet my next best friend. Okay, enough deliberating. 

For now, I’m going to go to sleep with the sound of creek to my right, the moon shining off to my left (I placed my doors so that I can get the eastern light in the morning), and a helicopter circling very close by. 

Mile 1163.2 to mile 1176.7 (13.5) 

Total miles: 173.5 

Creature feature: a little black and white zebra striped bird that hopped along a tree trunk and was really fun to watch, a bird with a greenish yellow cap and chest and a darker body color, and what I think was a navy colored bird with a bit of white flashing on the wing and in the tail feathers. No clue what any of them are. Oh and a chipmunk skittering along a log somewhere in the rhododendron tunnel after lunch. A frog (toad?) tucked between two giant rocks that I happened to notice as I was stepping over it. And a black and white beetle (lady bug size) with crazy painted shell. 

Day 9: the 100 mile revolt 

Another crazy rainstorm last night that woke me up around 145 in the morning. I closed the doors on the right side of my tent and kept one of the left doors open. I think I lucked out in terms of the wind because everything in my tent stayed dry while the rain battered it for at least an hour. I had trouble falling back asleep, but managed to get a few more hours before waking up around 530. I could hear other people stirring and I saw little headlamp below the edge of my tent doors, so I crawled out of my tent and had breakfast with Halfway, Chrissy and Frontpocket. Halfway has worked in park services for a long time and lives in southern Utah where there’s no cell service, so he doesn’t have a cell phone. Instead he uses his gadget, aka iPod. 

It was a brisk and breezy morning, which is lovely for hiking and a little less lovely for packing up a wet tent. But my hands seem to do OK and they warmed up pretty quickly after setting off. I’m going to have to buy some honey or cinnamon for my breakfast because for some reason it’s justkind of  bland.

About 20 minutes after leaving camp, I heard a loud squawking overhead and looked up to find a pair of pileated woodpeckers land in the trees towering over me. They’re so prehistoric looking and have very jaunty movements. I watched them for a minute until they flew out of sight.

The first few miles this morning took me through beautiful, lush section forest. The breeze was frequent and cool, and my favorite white flower stretched to lengths of nearly 3 feet along either side of the trail. This combined with the wet earth from last nights storm made for a very fragrant walk. *apparently that plant is an invasive mustard, which is sad, but I still love smelling it. I also crossed several happy little streams with morning light angling through the trees.

A few miles later, I hit Pinegrove furnace State Park, which is a beautiful little park with wide green fields, two different’s piped water sources, dozens of picnic tables, and a flat shady walk towards the eastern end of the park where I hit 100 miles. It was a long gradual climb leaving the state park boundary. Thankfully today involved a lot of shade until the last couple of miles. I accidentally took the wrong trail to get to the overlook at pole steeple, so Jimmy (“moving target”) and I bushwhacked our way towards the proper trail using the guthook satellite option. Moving Target is part of an existing trail family that I’ve been hanging out with the last couple of days. He has chickens! At home in southern Illinois. Anyway, we got to the overlook and were rewarded with jagged rocks and this view: 

After the overlook, we stopped for first lunch. The breeze was phenomenal today and there were fast moving clouds against a bright blue sky all day. Perfect hiking weather. And also the day my legs decided to revolt. I noticed a tiny twinge in my left shin, near the front of my ankle when jimmy and I were heading to our lunch spot. Shortly after that, the twinge turned into a knife and stayed sharp for the remainder of the walk, which was an unfortunate 4.5 more miles to the road crossing where we planned to get picked up for our town stay. I’ve had that pain during runs so I wasn’t worried at first, but it kept getting sharper. I stopped to massage my shin muscles and the muscle that lifts your foot. I stretched my calves. Eventually I got smart and put kinesiology tape on the muscle. That helped more than I expected, but not enough to walk at a regular pace and not enough to stave off the misery. So THIS is what happens when you don’t take a zero (aka a day of no hiking in trail lingo) and you walk 100 miles in 9 days. I tried really hard not to judge myselfand to let go of the failure thoughts with varying degrees of success. Breathing and engaging my core and imagining lifting my foot with other muscles in my leg also helped a lot. The magic of imagery. It also helped that Chrissy, another member of the trail family, slowed her pace because of her own foot issues, so I had her in sight for most of the last 3 miles. Here’s her stylin way of drying her tent during the day: 

After what felt like FOREVER, we reached the road crossing where one of the caretakers for the inn came to pick us up. 5 smelly hikers piled into her mercury grand marquis and somehow the tallest guy ended up in the middle front seat. When we got to the inn, we all set about exploding our packs in search of laundry and things that need organizing. There were showers (oh showers. how I love you) and I iced my shin and took aleve and started to reconcile with the idea of leaving this fun little band of misfits so I can actually rest, whatever that means. Then came the plate of nachos the size of a football. I didn’t drink any beer given the muscle revolt already in progress. The woman tending bar talked to us about how much she admires what we’re doing, and I said that she (and the inn) were part of what make our experiences better. I asked halfway what he thinks about while he’s hiking. He said he has a running soundtrack in his head and often thinks about all the people in his life who are making this possible while trying to pay attention to how he’s moving his body. He has issues with his Achilles’ tendons. 

Before the cheese coma fully set in, we took a rousing trip to family dollar where I bought a “boonie hat” (aka a dweeby wide brimmed hat) for $6 and important interim items until we get to a real grocery store (aka peanut butter and Fritos). Then we had dinner around the corner. I ordered a salad that was gigantic and cost a whopping $8 including the added avocado. There was a lot of silliness care of too much sun and the happy exhaustion of walking for hours. Now I’m laying in a bed the size of Oklahoma and trying to accept the message I’m getting to slow down. 
*real time update in case this post sounded too sad: the majority of the group also took a zero day, so I have gotten rest and will continue to enjoy their company for the foreseeable future.  

Mileage undisclosed for the moment 

Creature feature: the pileated woodpeckers mentioned above were really the highlight of the day. Oh! And what I believe was a pair of goldfinches in pine grove furnace park. They were sitting on a branch and it looked like the male was feeding the female something. I supposed they could also have been a type of warbler. I’m bad at this game.  

Day 7: mopey edition 

This morning was hard. I felt lonely and tired and frankly, bored. Had my first serious thoughts about wondering what the point of this is even though I know there are points. I’m learning things, feeling strong (even though my ear may fall off because of the sun) and meeting people every so often. I talked to myself as my support people would have responded to such thoughts and continued putting one foot in front of the other. Today was my first day without coffee. It was also my 7th day hiking. It was also a 16 mile day with a pack full of food. I know, not the best combination of choices. However, pushing the extra miles put me back in the company of frontpocket. I’ve also caught up with part of the flip flop bubble and met a few amusing people. AND A DOG. His name is disco and I’m in love (picture when I have a better signal). 

As for the actual hiking, the morning started off moderate. I ran into a troop of Boy Scouts and the kid in the lead asked “are you a thru hiker??” When I said yes, he made a motion to his followers and they stepped aside for me to pass. 3 large men in yellow shirts brought up the rear and they all asked me in unison if I needed food. This happened right after I had been daydreaming about trail magic. Sadly I had too much food in my pack, so I had to decline the offer. 

The climb out of tumble run shelter was brutal. Maybe they call it that because when you come down that hill you’re nearly falling on your face. The middle part of my day is a blur of dull but fragrant pine forests with the sound of revving car engines. Chimney rock was the only overlook of note. I stopped there and had a snack but I had to keep moving because the gnats were aggravating. There were also bogus trail markers that creeped me out. I’ve heard about trail vandalism, but hadn’t witnessed it before the day. 
I toploaded my morning and did 10 miles before lunch. I had planned to stop at rocky run shelter to get out of the sun and sit in the shade for a long lunch, but I got there and saw the mileage was .3 to get to the shelter. Three people were standing there deliberating the same choice. We all decided against the extra walking. Instead, we plopped down and ate lunch at a set of rocks down the trail. They showed up right at a time when I felt lonely and dejected. After lunch, we walked together in some form or another until we hit Caledonia state park where I found frontpocket! I told him I had a surprise for him and when I reached for my food bag, he said “it’s a bag of Fritos.” Aaaand he would be right. I sat at the picnic table and zombied out after having walked 13 miles thus far. I did, however, have the energy to step into the river for a little ice bath. 
The climb out of Caledonia was hot and rocky, but it was followed by a milder climb through a rhododendron tunnel that lead to the door of quarry gap shelter (top picture for the day). This place is fully equipped. There’s a swing, a fire pit, well kept shelters. I’m taking a second night in a shelter because the tent pads are wooden and I don’t have the patience to deal with figuring THAT out. There were smores and a random Mennonite couple approached the shelter barefoot, sat by the spring to  make out and then walked back into the rhododendron tunnel from whence they came. 
Frontpocket and the group of people I’m with are on the same basic schedule for the next few days, which feels like it will be good for my morale if I can keep from getting too far in my head. Now I’m going to hope for some decent sleep while I listen to a whiporwhil in the distance. 
Mile 1069.3 to mile 1085.1

Creature feature: a pileated woodpecker flew across the trail about 20 yards in front of me 

resistance is futile

appalachian trail blaze

Appalachian Trail blaze, a few miles south of Kent, CT (Canon Tlb, 50mm, Portra 160)

I thought I could ignore it. I figured a semi-regular day hike would be enough to satisfy the itch. Hell, I even took my partner on a three-week vacation to Australia and New Zealand based entirely around hiking (and coffee) hoping to relieve the burn. These strategies were akin to scratching a burgeoning case of poison ivy. I have now contracted full-blown thru hiker rash (not to be confused with hiker trash). So here we are. You’re picturing angry hives, and I’m counting down the days until I can start my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail in April of 2017. Yes, welcome to yet another hiking blog. If you were hoping for cats vs. cucumbers, go here.

I’m somewhat loathe to create this space because I am plagued by the idea that it’s all been said before, and there are some very opinionated folks out there who would like to say it all again, and again (and again). But it seems wrong to avoid the conversation given how much I have already learned from other people’s writing (shout out to the many writers of Appalachian Trials, Clarity, and members of the 2016 thru hiking class who somehow manage to hike endless hours a day and keep a trail journal). So I’m going to attempt to drown out the noise* and blog my own blog (BMOB) while I navigate this insane experience. Maybe some other thirty-something, mid-career, relatively-content-on-paper, queer individual will find this space and feel like they’re not batshit for making the same decision.

For now, I will leave you with my answers to the three lists recommended by Zach Davis (yes it’s worth it, go buy the book, and no, he didn’t ask me to say that)

I am thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail because…
I can’t stop thinking about it, so why wait?
– It will force me to be flexible in ways I find difficult.
– Experiencing it from the safety and comfort of a screen is no longer enough.
– I thrive on mental and physical challenges and problem solving gives me goosebumps.
– I need a break from running marathons.
– I want distance from my everyday life to remind myself what’s important.
– I want to hear people’s stories.
– I want to share people’s stories.
– I want to take an ass-ton of pictures/make art while sweating my face off.
– I can’t imagine life without having at least tried.

When I successfully thru-hike the Appalachian Trail I will…
Continue to post pictures and stories from the trail until my friends cry uncle.
– Feel more confident in my ability to adapt.
– Revel in the success longer than a day.
– Encourage other people to do it!
– Figure out ways to reduce post-trail depression so I don’t drive my partner bonkers.
– Feel like a total bad-ass (with gnarly feet).
– Have more clarity about how I want to structure my life.
– Be proud of myself for pushing the boundaries of social, emotional, and physical comfort.
– Have a giant set of new skills that I can apply to future adventures.
– Have a huge body of work that will remind me of the challenges I overcame and the people I shared them with.

If I give up on the Appalachian Trail, I will…
Nurse whatever physical injury caused me to give up because that is the only reason I am allowed to quit.
– Be disappointed and sad, but understand that I did the best I could with the resources I had.

I could list shame-inducing responses like public embarrassment or loss of confidence in myself, but I don’t respond to that type of motivation. As with all other physical challenges to date (namely 7 marathons and the many, many training runs involved), quitting isn’t on the table. Injury is the only reason I would give up on the trail. I can do my best to make wise choices to reduce the risks, but a lot of circumstances will be out of my control. Mental state, however, is something I can (and do) work on every day.

That’s all for now. Thanks for reading! Feel free to share your own motivation for whatever adventure you’re planning in the comments or something else of interest (e.g., what you had for breakfast). Or don’t. Be a lurker. I don’t mind. Lurker is my middle name.


*While I am going to attempt to ignore naysayers, I plan to keep an eye out for fellow internetters who are curious, compassionate, experienced or helpful in some other way (e.g., dad humor or Back to the Future quotes).