Done

After the Hike

I’m in Kansas drinking an iced coffee at one of my favorite local coffee shops. This is a luxury I could have only dreamed about a week ago. I’ve decided to quit hiking the trail. I’m sure I’ll be back but definitely not this season.

This month of hiking has been the most difficult physical and mental challenge of my life. The thought of staying on trail sparked different but equally-as-strong emotions as the thought of coming home. Staying on trail meant sadness and anxiety. Coming home meant disappointment and embarrassment. Staying on trail and being sad and anxious meant spending way too much money on comforts like hot meals and hotel rooms. Coming home meant being unemployed without a real goal. Staying on trail meant destroying my body and taking way too much Vitamin I (aka Ibuprofen). Coming home meant saying goodbye to my trail legs and improved cardiovascular fitness.

In the end, it came down to the fact that I wasn’t hiking the hike I wanted to hike. I wasn’t doing it how I wanted to do it. In the last week of being on trail, I slept in more beds than I had slept in during the entire rest of my hike.┬áMy body hurt too much and my mind was becoming too sensitive to appreciate the experience of constantly being grimy and damp with legs covered in mud and hair tangled with leaves. I was hiking to get to a bed and a shower. When I realized this, I understood that it was time to come home.

I’ll hike on the AT again, yes. By the time my life is over, I hope to have done the whole 2,179 miles, but right now I’m happy to be home. I hiked almost 400 miles in 28 days, and I can live with that.

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Day 28: Superfun(d) and, yep, magic!

Hike Days, Uncategorized

Trish picked me up around 9:30 and took me back to the trailhead. That woman really saved me. I don’t know what I would have done if she hadn’t picked me up the night before!

Day 28 started with a super fun climb out of the Palmerton Superfund Site. The city of Palmerton used to have a Zinc mine, which stripped the mountain of pretty much all its vegetation. There are vegetation restoration efforts happening now, but the climb up the mountain is basically a climb up a giant rock jungle gym. And, despite (or because of) the environmental detestation, it was the most beautiful climb and hike I’ve had since being out here. Because there is no canopy of trees, the views on the ridge stretch on forever. This, combined with sunny weather, made the first five miles of the day go by very quickly! 

There is verrrrryyyy little water on the ridge, so I was happy to find some trail magic water bottles about 5 miles in. I drank two, ate a snack, and carried on.

The next 8 miles were rouggghhhh. My body was tired and the rocks were frustrating. Every step I took had to be calculated so I wouldn’t fall over or roll an ankle, and that got annoying. 

I decided to stop for lunch after the rough stretch and was joined by a guy named Goldstar. He was going to a shelter just about 3 miles past where I was eating lunch, but I was hiking into Wind Gap, PA, which was about 8 miles further.

We hiked the three miles together, which was really helpful to get my mind off how tired I was. He is one of the most hilarious people I’ve met out here. He made me promise that if we saw a rattlesnake that I would take a picture of him holding it. Of course, I said yes. Then I asked him how he was going to do it. He had a plan that included a forked stick. I really hoped we wouldn’t see one. 

After we hiked to the shelter, I continued on the rest of the way to Wind Gap. I walked into town around 6:30 pm. Across the street as I came in was a sports bar. I saw a guy come out from the bar and run across the street toward me. He introduced himself and explained that he was on the committee that made Wind Gap into an official trail town. He told me that the committee was having a meeting that evening at the bar and asked if I would join them for dinner.

Of course, I said YES! The committee showed up, and it included 1) a woman that I had just seen on a billboard while walking into town, 2) a couple of business owners, 3) a former city mayor (the only female mayor in the town’s history, I might add), and 4) the newspaper owner. We all became fast friends, and I sat through their meeting and ate fish tacos. The main topic of the meeting was their annual holiday fundraising concert. 

They paid for my dinner and beer (AMAZING) and the newspaper owner took my picture to put in the paper. HA!! Then, one of the guys gave me a ride to a hotel. Magiccccc!!

Spencer had actually been driving from Kansas while I hiked, and we had planned to meet at the hotel in Wind Gap. He drove the 23 hours in order to surprise his mom who lives in Pennsylvania and to possibly take me home from the trail.

So we are at his mom’s house now resting and having fun. I’m about 95% sure that I am done hiking–my body and mind can’t take much more of it. It’s disappointing to think about quitting and right now, disappointing is really the only word I have to describe the thought. 

I’ll try to collect more of my thoughts over the next couple days and will blog again about the decision.

   Results of the zinc mine…even after growing back for 35 years

  View from the top of the rocks

  Super fun site!
  This is how to dry shoes 

Day 27: More rocks. More rain. MORE MAGIC!

Hike Days

I woke up super sore from climbing over all the rocks yesterday, but I was determined to do the 17.7 miles of trail plus a 2 mile blue blaze to Palmerton in order to stay at the FREE Jailhouse Hostel and do some food resupply.

It drizzled most of the morning so I was soaked by about 8 miles in. Fortunately, it didn’t get too wet until after most of the crazy rock climbing on Knife’s Edge and Bake Oven Knob. I completely understand the reason behind the naming of Knife’s Edge, but I don’t understand Bake Oven Knob. Oh well.

Lucky Strike caught me about 12 miles into my day and asked me how far I was going. I told him about the Jailhouse Hostel, and he said, “Somebody told me that place closed.” Apparently somebody vandalized it, and they shut it down. 

I still needed to do a small resupply on food to get me through the next few days, so I decided to go to Palmerton anyway.

I started walking on the BUSY highway into Palmerton not even trying to get a hitch because there were hardly any shoulders and the cars were moving too fast. Pretty soon, though, magic happened. A lady named Trish pulled over and told me to get in. I quickly ran up to the car and lugged my soaking wet pack on top of my lap in the passenger’s seat. Literally as soon as I got in the car, it started down pouring. After introducing ourselves, I told Trish about my lodging predicament and asked if there were any other places to stay in Palmerton. She lives in a town about 5 miles from Palmerton and didn’t know of any place in either Palmerton or the town where she lives. She suggested that I go by the place where the hostel used to be (it turned out to be city hall, not a jail) and ask them for info. But first, she first dropped me off at the grocery sore to resupply. She needed to go by the vet and told me she’d pick me up in a few minutes. I walked to city hall after I was done with the grocery store and found out that the closest place to stay was in a town about 10-15 miles away. 

I got back in the car and told Trish the news. She then offered to drop me off there tonight AND pick me up an take me back to the trail the next morning, which is about a 40 minute round trip for her. What a MIRACLE WOMAN!!

It’s still pouring outside five hours later. But I am warm and dry and happy. I plan to spend the night eating food and blow drying my shoes. 

More pictures, as promised! Still don’t have very good service so not a ton.

 Appalachian Creek after all the rain    

 TONS of old coal mining towns on the trail. You would never know there were towns here 100 years ago because of all the forest regrowth.

Sampling of the rocks on the trail 

   Nice overlook onto PA farmland

Days 25 and 26: Joke’s on me. I found all the rocks.

Hike Days

Yesterday, I hiked into Port Clinton where I got another hotel room. Hiking from hotel to hotel on the trail is known as platinum blazing. It’s amazing. It wasn’t an awesome day of hiking so I didn’t want to camp. A bed, shower, fish and chips and a DP at the hotel restaurant did me right, and I woke up in a good mood.

Today, I hiked 22.6 miles. My biggest day yet! I felt great for most of it, but I really had to work to finish the last 7 miles. The rocks started kicking my butt yesterday and today. I fell a couple times, but no real harm done–just a couple of scraped chins and a sore hand.

I’m still hanging with a couple of guys I met on my first day back in the trail. Jester, whom I mentioned in previous blogs, and Lucky Strike, because he has no filter, and I keep running into each other. It was a good group of folks at camp tonight, and someone even made a fire!

I met TnT, another German hiker today. Jester filmed him making dinner for his documentary because of his strange eating habits. For breakfast AND dinner every day, he makes a meal of six fudge poptarts, oatmeal, water, and crunchy peanut butter. Just mashes it all together and eats it for two meals everyday!!

I’ll hike into a town called Palmerton tomorrow. They have a free place for hikers to stay that has showers, so I’m sure there will be quite a few people there. It may or may not be in the basement of the jail. We shall see.

I couldn’t get any pics to upload. I’ll post more pics when I have better service!

 

Days 23 & 24: I thought Rocksylvania would have more rocks

Hike Days

On Day 23, I did 18 miles to a swanky shelter with a cocktail table built around a tree. I got there at 1:30 so I could have gone further, but again, I made the decision to not push my body after just getting back on trail. But I felt good the whole way. My knee brace has really been helping my knee. It probably also helps that we haven’t had many steep climbs and descents the last couple of days. Not many rocks yet either. I hope they never come! 

I brought a book from home and that has been helping to pass the time in the afternoons and evenings. There’s not much else to do except talk to the others in the shelter, try to dry out all my damp belongings and eat. So, I do my fair share of all these things. I’m almost done with my book, though, so I’ll need to pick another one up in the next day or so. Some people leave books they’ve completed at the shelters so maybe I’ll get lucky and find one that looks interesting. 

The talk of the day was the imminent thunderstorm that would last until Sunday. Because it sounded so bad, I decided not to tent and to instead sleep in the shelter. Of course, it didn’t start raining until about 5 am, and even then, it was mostly just some crummy drizzle. The rain, combined with a headache, definitely made it hard to get out of bed, though.

I finally got up around 7 and slowly started packing up my things. 

I met a guy named T Squared a couple days ago who said he had been back on the trail for a week or two after being off to visit his wife for a week. He told me that he was really struggling to get back into the groove of things. 

Then, last night, I camped with Jester (the documentary guy) who asked how my transition back to the trail was going. I told him so far, so good, and then he recounted how he took a week off earlier in the year and had a really hard time getting back into the swing of things.

When I struggled to get out of bed this morning, I knew that my time had come for my post-break slump. My headache made my stomach a little tender, so my trip to the extra-disgusting privy was gag-inducing. I tried just breathing through my mouth, but I swear I could still feel the ammonia burning my lungs. I ended up breathing tiny breaths trying not to vomit and using my shirt as a filter over my mouth. Somehow, the smell of my own disgusting body sort of helped.

I walked about 7 miles cursing the rain before I came to a sign that stated that a town was 2.4 miles away from the AT. Normally nothing could make me walk a round-trip of 5 miles off trail. I passed the sign and kept walking. And the rain seemed to get stronger. Finally, I stopped under an underpass and considered my options. I could walk to the town and stay in a hotel, or I could walk 11.5 more miles to a shelter where I still wouldn’t be dry. I chose hotel. I walked back to the sign and then made the 2.4 mile trek to town on an old rail line.

So, I’m laying in a hotel bed right now. I just did my laundry in the bathtub and my shoes are sitting on the heater, which makes the whole room smell putrid but makes my shoes dry. It’s a fair trade-off.

They’re calling for flash flooding tonight, and it’s still down pouring. However, it’s supposed to be a beautiful day tomorrow. I’ll continue my hike (with dry shoes!) then.

   The pretty trail yesterday 

  Flintstone furniture living room set up

  Sample of a trail journal entry. I found this one to be especially poignant.

  I wish I would have gotten a better picture, but you can see the cocktail tree table in front of the shelter!

   A really neat bridge

Day 22: Back at it

Hike Days

It was a good first day back. Just did an easy 10.9 miles out of Duncannon. My feet are the only things that hurt! That’s a wonderful feeling. 
I flew into Harrisburg yesterday and was picked up by a Trail Angel named Mary who took me to Duncannon. Mary has been helping out hikers since 2001 when she started staying in the Riverfront Campground (where I stayed last night) after becoming homeless in Harrisburg. When she first started staying at the Campground, she noticed hikers coming in and out, and so she started talking to them and getting to know the trail scene. She figured the hikers needed extra potassium so when she would go to the grocery store, she’d buy an extra bunch of bananas to give to hikers passing through. That then turned into providing shuttles to hikers for a little extra cash and giving trail magic a few times a week! She now lives in an apartment in Duncannon, and she’s the same lady I blogged about earlier who handed over her keys to some of my friends to go see a movie in Harrisburg. 
She also told me about Jester (and then I subsequently met him), a triple-crowner (which means he’s hiked the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail). This is his 15-year anniversary of hiking the AT, so he’s celebrating by doing it again. And this time, he’s filming in order to make a documentary about it. He’s already made movies about the CDT and the PCT named “Embrace the Brutality” and “Wizards of the PCT” respectively, but I haven’t seen either one. They’ll go on the list of post-hike movies to watch! 

The ridge runner of this section of trail gave us trail magic today! Soda pops and fruit. I drank one soda and took another one to drink at the shelter.
I’ve been at the shelter since 1 this afternoon. I debated about going further, but the next shelter isn’t for another 18 miles. I’ll leave that for tomorrow.
Just one photo today of another cat wanting to be my friend. Ugh.

 Cat at the campground last night. He freaked me out this morning when I saw his paw reach up under my rainfly. 

Time at home

Zero Days

I’m hopping back on an airplane tomorrow to get back to the trail. It’s been an absolutely incredible week of friends, family, music, food, and doing things like sleeping in a bed, doing laundry, wearing cotton and cooking things that aren’t dehydrated. In fact, at this very moment, I’m eating chips and salsa and drinking iced lemon verbena tea!

I also got to surprise Spencer while he was eating a salad at our kitchen table, celebrate Sophie’s 26th birthday, see great friends that I don’t get to see often, spend a weekend with my parents, hang out with some friends from Nova Scotia, perform at two music festivals, ride my bicycle, go swimming at a hotel, read books in a coffee shop and eat 1/2 price sushi.

But I’m also excited to get back to the trail: to slow down and take everything in at 3 mph. I’m excited for the joy that comes from an unexpected bag of chips or Dr. Pepper. I’m excited to have the space and time to go from loving to hating to loving the trail within a 30-minute time span just because I have nothing else to think about. I think that I may have developed Stockholm Syndrome for the trail.

This time, as I leave home, I know (sort of) what I’m getting myself into. I know that every day is going to be harder than I expect it to be, and I know how much I’m going to miss home. I know how much the trail takes. But I also know how much the trail gives. So far, it’s taught me so much about self-reliance and about the importance of letting others help. It’s taught me that I’m stronger than I think I am. It’s taught me that waterproof is a lie. It’s taught me that plans are important but that flexibility is more important. It’s taught me what 5 days of food weighs. It’s taught me that the simplest things really are the best. It’s taught me that I really can walk anywhere.

   Sophie’s birthday!

  Spencer and I 

 Playing Boulevardia

  The whole band

 Emily