My Journey At the Beginning

My journey started out difficultly. My car was broken into and my keys stolen the day before I was set to leave, just before that my travel plans changed and I had to do a last minute scramble to figure out how to even get to Maine to start my hike. Once I was finally on my way delays and layovers caused me to miss my bus from Bangor into Medway. I had my very first experience with trail angels before I even made it out to the trail when my cab driver from the Bangor airport took pity on me and gave me a place to stay. Medway is a good 1 1/2 hrs from Bangor yet the next day he also gave me a ride there. He said he was heading into Lincoln (the town before Medway) anyway and that it wasn’t an issue. He ended up saving me at least $200 by doing that. I also got to spend some time in a pretty cool little town, found my trekking poles, went to an open mic night, and drove by Stephen Kings house, none of which would have happened had my plans worked the way they were supposed to. If he isn’t what one would consider a trail angel, then I don’t know what one would.

I ended up having to change my reservations at both the lodge in Millinocket that I was staying at and the camp ground in Baxter State Park where I would spend my first night, but fortunately everyone was really great about it. I even got upgraded from a tent site to a lean to simply because they didn’t have any available for the next night. Staying at the Appalachian Trail Lodge was pretty amazing and everyone that worked there was awesome. I wish that I hadn’t needed to learn the lesson of listening to people when they give me advice still because I was given a lot that would have made the first part of my trip a lot more enjoyable and bearable than it was had I taken it. But that is another story.

The day that we summited Katahdin (Friday June 13) there were 7 other people that went with me from AT Lodge. We dropped our packs at the Ranger station, grabbed day packs for the climb, then set off. When we reached the base of the trail I realized that I had forgotten a couple of things and went back to get them and so started later than everyone else. It wasn’t a great day to be hiking, but there aren’t always going to be great days on the AT and it’s all part of the journey, right? It was about 55 and raining so I didn’t have high hopes for when we reached the top about being able to see anything. I didn’t really appreciate what a 4,000′ elevation change in 5 miles was but I can tell you that it is steep. I think that climbing Katahdin, and it was a climb, was one of the hardest things that I have ever done in my life to that point. I was completely unprepared for it. Aside from the rain at least half of the hike was up a stream. Literally. The path took you up the center of a stream.  Now I don’t know if it was really supposed to be a stream or if it was overflow from Katahdin stream because of the rain, but our feet were not dry. The path was also more vertical than horizontal in most parts with rocks that you had to climb over.  I ended up running into Holly and Beau at one point still below tree line and I got my original trail name from that meeting when I relived her of a cramping foot by massaging her calf. I was henceforth known as Magic Hands. We decided to stick together and finish the climb together. It was a good thing that we did because I do not believe that any of us would have finished the climb had we not been with other people. As bad as the hiking up a vertical stream was, the climbing once we were out of the tree line was worse.

After you leave the tree line on the Hunt Trail (what that part of the AT is called) you have to climb over boulders. Some of it is pretty scary because you are now 3,000′ in the air and are climbing vertically over boulders with no support. Once you get past the boulders you still have another 2 miles and 1,500′ (approximately) that you have to climb. The next part after the boulders is rock face. That was even scarier. At least for me it was. As we were ascending I could only think about how horrible the decent was going to be. At least going up our backs were to the open air behind us so we had no real concept of our height. Going down however we would not be so lucky. At least it had stopped raining. When you get to the top of the rock face there is a sign and a false summit (there are always false summits on the mountains I have learned). You are not at the top you are at the Katahdin Table. That wasn’t so bad, though we again had to hike up a stream (this time entirely intentional) so as to not damage the fragile ecology of the Katahdin Table. At one point 3 paths intersect and there is a sign the denotes the stream as Thoreau Stream and that Baxter Peak (the summit of Katahdin) is 1 mile ahead. Woohoo 1 mile! We’re almost there. The wind is blowing at about 35 mph and we are completely surrounded by clouds with maybe 200′ of visibility but we don’t care. We are pressing on to Baxter Peak! As we are nearing the end of our ascent we are passed by the others of our group who are now starting their decent. “Don’t worry”, they say. “you’re almost there!” We press on and finally, finally, after 5 hours of hiking we have reached the top. We are at Baxter Peak, the summit of Mount Katahdin, and right there in front of us large as life is the sign we all came to see. The sign that for us south bounders marks the beginning of our hike. The sign that says, “this is it, you have truly begun.” We always thought that when we saw the pictures of people at the top of Baxter Peak all happy next to the sign that it was because they were finished the trail. We realized as we stood there and took our pictures that they were just happy to finally be at the top of the mountain. The mountain we now had to climb down. We don’t stay long on top of Baxter Peak because the wind is gusting at 60 mph and the temp is now somewhere in the high 40’s. So we take our pictures, I play “On Top of the World” by Imagine Dragons (I’ve been imagining doing that since I started planning my hike) and we start down.

It has been a grueling hike, a long day (we were up around 5 am), it’s been cold, and though we have summited, a little disappointing because of the cloud cover and our inability to have the 360 degree view that always seems so spectacular. We are all ready to get off of the mountain though so we waste no time heading back. When we get down to the Katahdin table though the clouds around and below us clear out. Baxter Peak is still completely cloud covered but we have an almost 360 degree view of clear blue skies. It is the most amazing thing I have ever seen. I remember driving to the top of Pikes Peak with my dad when I was a kid and that was pretty cool, but nothing could have prepared me for the absolute beauty of being 5,000′ in the air and being able to see all of Baxter State Park and the 100 mile wilderness. The colors of the sky and the clouds were almost unrealistic. It was like looking at a painting. Never have I seen such definition and color in real life. This is what I came out here for. This is what makes that 5 hour 5 mile climb worth it. I learn that views like this one are what make all of it worth it. The air is so clean, and crisp, and pure, that you can see from New Hampshire to Canada. Ok maybe that is stretching it a little but that’s the way it seems.

The climb down is every bit as hard, and scary as I imagined it would be but every once in a while I pause to look out over the landscape, at the world below me and smile. This is going to be amazing. Hard. But amazing. We take it slow getting off of the mountain, at least until we are below tree line again, and it takes us another 5 hrs to get back to the Ranger Station. It’s getting dark and has started to rain again by the time we get there so I offer to share my lean to with Beau and Holly so that they don’t have to set up their tent in the rain. I’m so tired that I don’t even bother with dinner and elect to go straight to bed.

This trip is going to be hard.  But man will it be worth it.

Mt Katahdin

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The Beginning

As I sit here in the train station on the morning of my departure I can’t help but feel the enormity of what I’m about to undertake. For the last six months I have planned for this moment. I’ve researched and mapped out. I’ve packed and repacked. I’ve spent lots of money on tons of gear and I’m finally here. Though today is a travel day this is the first day of my adventure.  I don’t know where it’s going to take me, who I’m going to meet, what I’m going to see, or how I’m going to do it all, but it’s here.  Finally it’s here. 

I’m looking out of the train station window at an amazing sunrise and I realize this will be the last one I see in Richmond for a while.  There are clouds in the sky and it looks like there may be a storm to the north and east but it is a glorious morning.  The conductors are boarding the train and it’s almost time to leave but the closer it comes to departure the larger my smile becomes because this is real.  I’m actually about to start the adventure of a lifetime. Maine here I come!

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Words

I am very blessed to have in my life people that love and support me.  People that, even if they don’t understand why or what I do, still offer words of encouragement and help keep me on the right path to fulfill my dreams. I haven’t always had these people in my life and I think because of it I value them that much more. There are many people in the world that do not have positive forces in their lives that encourage them to reach for their dreams. There are many people who watch their dreams wither and die because of a careless word thrown around by someone they love. If I didn’t have the support group that I have surrounding me I would not be able to live my dream of hiking the AT this summer. 

I am a glass half full kind of person. I am always looking at the bright side of things and I am almost always in a cheerful, happy go lucky, kind of mood. Occasionally I have bad days, just like everyone does, when I’m not quite as happy. On one such day I was reminded of how lucky I am to have the support system that I do, and how it is so easy to let dreams slip away when we don’t have the right people in our lives. When I am in a good mood other peoples opinions, thoughts, and feelings about me or my trip don’t affect me. I am excited, happy, exhilarated, energetic enough, to not let the negative in.

I was recently having a discussion with someone that mocked my decision to hike the AT, made jokes about the likelihood of me dying while hiking, informed me that a million books have been written about the AT, and that my fundraiser would fail. Since it was a not so good day I started doubting myself and questioning my decision. I quickly realized what was happening and ended the conversation, but I started thinking about what had transpired and other instances in my life when something similar had happened. It made me think about all of the people that do not have positive reinforcement in their lives. Through just a few words we have the power to make or destroy someones dreams. The power to lift them up and help them soar, or dash them upon the rocks of disappointment. The conversation I was having was with someone, while not in my inner circle of friends, is still someone very important in my life. Someone who, in the past, had the power to change my mind about following my dreams.

I am reminded of how blessed I am and how wonderful my life is. How amazing the people I surround myself with are. You never know the state of mind of the people around you and what affect the things you say and do will have on them. Two years ago the things said to me would have caused me to delay my trip by making excuses about one thing or another until eventually I had stopped pretending that I was going to do it. I know now that most of what was said was that persons fears speaking for them and that the words only have to power over me that I allow them to. But what words have I said or you said, to someone that doesn’t have the same strength or support, that shows our fear and insecurity? How often do the things we say and do hurt the ones we care about without us even realizing it? I ask this of you; the next time someone comes to you with a thought, an idea, a dream, and it sounds ridiculous or unrealistic, or stupid, take deep breath before responding. Give yourself a minute to think before just blurting out the first thing that comes to mind. Be supportive, voice your concerns if you have any in a way that doesn’t make the person you are talking to feel like they are stupid, or unrealistic, or ridiculous. Stand by the people in your life and offer what support you can. You never know when a careless word will be enough to dash someones hopes, or dreams. You never know when a careless word will be the last one that someone needs before they decide they can’t take life anymore. You never know when your nice word will be enough for someone to get through the day. You never know when your encouragement will be what builds airplanes, or cures cancer. 

Thank you to everyone that has been there for me and supported me. Thank you to everyone that thinks hiking the AT is ridiculous, and unrealistic, and stupid, but still tells me that if that’s what I want to do then they are there to help me however they can. I have too many names to mention but you know who you are. I love you and you are more appreciated then you will ever know. Without your love and support I wouldn’t be half the person that I am and I never would have had the courage to reach for the sky and live my dreams. Thank you for teaching me what a difference a word, good or bad, can make. 

Excited!

I am so excited today! I am full of energy and happiness and motivation. The sun is shinning, and it is supposed to be above 60 for the next five days. The best part? Tuesday it’s supposed to be 72 and I’m off from work!  I feel as though I am making progress with my planning and that everything is moving forward smoothly. I know what gear I’m going to be taking with me and all that is left now is to acquire it. I still don’t know what clothes I’m going to wear but that’s ok because I’ll get it figured out soon enough. I am going to be making my Kickstarter campaign video tomorrow and will have the campaign launched by the 12th. 90 days. Thats all I have left before I leave. 90 days and then I am starting the hike of a lifetime. I’m starting a journey into the unknown. A journey that will take me places that I can only imagine. A journey that will change my life forever and I CAN’T WAIT!!!!!! I am so excited!  Tuesday I plan on driving out to Crabtree Falls and going for a hike. It’s this beautiful waterfall with an easy climb to the top that has breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains. I’ve been there a few times, but a couple of miles before the falls the AT crosses the road. There is a little parking area for anyone that wants to do a short hike of the trail, and a map of the trails and shelters in the area. I’ve stopped and looked at the map but I have never set foot on the AT. Tuesday I’m going to. I’m filled with such joy and gratefulness at the good weather and the fact that I can finally spend some time outdoors without freezing to death. This year is so amazing and I’m so excited about all that is happening to me. I am truly blessed that I have the love and support that I do. My friends are all amazing people and I cherish 😉 the time that I have with them. My family, both biological and selected, is incredible and the support they give me makes everything I do possible. Without key people in my life I wouldn’t be able to do this hike, I wouldn’t be the woman I am, and I am so grateful, and so happy to have them in my life. I love you all so very much, you know who you are. Thank you for being you. How can I not be excited with the life and love that I have?!  

Planning

ImageTrue story, I’m not a planner. I don’t plan things months and years in advance. If I want to go on vacation in the summer the most I might do is make reservations at my hotel now to ensure to I have a place to stay, and request off from work just so I know I can leave. I might find out a band I want to see is coming to town in a few months so I go ahead and buy the tickets right then. However that is more because I am likely forget they are going to be here than me planning to go.

I’m spontaneous. I see something I want to do and I do it, or if I don’t I forget I want to do it until the next time it comes up and I do it then instead. I like living life as it happens, of having adventures and being, well, spontaneous. Logistics has never been a strong suit of mine. I have a hard time saving money, not because I can’t, but because there is always something to do and see and experience. I can’t say I’ve gone on all of these great adventures around the world and seen these incredible places (mostly because you have to plan and save for them), but I’ve had fun with my life so far. I’ve seen the Cirque du Soleil four times.  I’ve driven across the country as a child five times and as an adult twice. I’ve vacationed all over the southern east coast. I’ve been to concerts, seen shows and been to races as a VIP. I’ve been to a gazillion professional sports games. I’ve camped on the beach in four different states, and I’ve camped in the woods in at least five different states. I’ve never planned any of it outside of deciding where I was going and when. I can’t do that with this trip.

The most spontaneous I feel like I can be, with having never done a trip of this magnitude before, is deciding in January that I am starting my hike the end of May. I have been speaking with the people at my local REI and at my Blue Ridge Mountain Sports stores (though the BRMS is no longer local and that is really annoying) to find out what they have available and what they recommend. I have been doing research online. I am reading books (a constant state for me, though usually it’s a different subject). I am going slowly insane. I hope that once I have done something like this, the next time I plan an adventure of this sort it will just be a matter of checking that I have what I need and then taking off. That’s what I’m good at. Trying to figure out what towns will be best as resupply points, what gear has the best trail rating yet least amount of weight, how many miles my boots can handle, what kind of food is best, what my average per day should be, do I want/need a SPOT tracker or would my phone be sufficient, how many pairs of pants will I need, what kind of pants will I need, should I go synthetic or wool, do I want a down sleeping bag or should I go synthetic. On and on and on and on and…..you get the point.

It’s annoying, it goes against my nature, it should be made illegal to have to do this kind of planning. And yet I know it is all vital to my trip. I know that torturing myself with this now will help ensure the success of my hike. I also don’t know what I’m missing. There are so many things that I need to be sure I have that I feel as though there is something vital to my survival and success that I am leaving out. Water system. Check. Sleep system. Check. Food/cooking. Check. Safety and security. Check, sorta. Camera. Check. Pack. Check. Clothes. Kinda Check. I know I need them, but damnit which ones do I want. Fire. Check. Where I’m starting. Check. There’s more but I still feel as though I’m missing something key. This is why I don’t plan things. I drive myself crazy. I feel like because I have decided to do this I need to hurry up and get everything together and figured out right this minute because thats what I usually have to do. But then I remember I still have 4 months until I leave and I have time. But then that isn’t that much time so I need to make sure everything is together. It’s 4 months but, I mean, its really only 14 1/2 weeks. That’s only 100 days. Do I have time to get everything done?

Here I am still talking about the trip itself. What about stuff here at home? Ok I have to get my car registered, but really I only need it for a couple of months because I’m not going to be driving it for six months after that. Maybe I can borrow dads truck for the next couple of months and just garage my car. But then he’ll probably need it for wood and it will cost more in gas, so does that really make sense in the long run? How much school do I have left, can I get it all done before I leave or should I work on as much as I can now and leave the rest for when I get back. What debts am I paying off? What can I get paid off by the time I leave and what will continue to be paid while I’m gone. OK so how much will that be and what do I need to ensure is in the bank so that my bills are taken care of while I’m gone. What do I pay for that I won’t need when I’m on the A.T.? Well Netflix can go, obviously. Do I want to keep audible? Will I download books to listen to while I’m hiking? Shit! I knew I was forgetting something. Solar charger for my electronics. Add that to the list. But which one do I want, and really is it that important? Would carrying spare batteries that I recharge at resupply points be more efficient/lighter/smarter?

Wait a minute. Back up. Did the words “in the long run” really come out of my mouth? I don’t understand how deciding to leave everything behind for six months and hike in the woods is turning me into a more responsible adult then college, corporate jobs, and marriage was able to. My head hurts. Sigh. Back to planning. I only have 90 days after all.

A Beginning

Four years ago my husband and I watched a documentary on the Appalachian Trail and fell in love. Both of us loved the outdoors and were fairly adventurous at heart, if not in action. We started planning. We said “We’re going to do this, lets hike the Appalachian Trail.” He was in the Army Reserves with three years left on his contract and was going to be starting school in just a few months.  We talked about how amazing it would be to hike the A.T. with our lab Maggie, who absolutely loved the outdoors and hiking in particular. We talked about our future and how we didn’t know where it was leading but that it would most likely not be in Richmond, which is where we were living. We discussed the possibility of him going active duty, and discussed how I wanted to move around to different cities and live in different places around the United States, and the World. After a couple of months of research we had a plan. In 2 1/2 years his contract would be up, he would be graduating and we would be free to do what we pleased.  We would start our hike in March and hike north to Maine (though I really wanted to start in Maine and hike south), when we were finished we would pick a city and move there to start the next chapter in our lives. Then he decided to change his major and with this change, we found out later, he would no longer be able to graduate in December due to the structure of the classes. Then we found out, through more research, that Maggie wouldn’t be able to do the whole hike with us. Due to restrictions on some parts of the trail we would have to kennel her, or have someone meet us and foster her for the time it would take for us to get through those parts of the trail. Also during this time my husband decided that he was going to stay in the Army as a Reservist for another contract. The rumor at the time was that they would be deploying in late 2014/early 2015 and with that plans of doing a thru-hike were cancelled. Later we would realize that we wanted different things out of life, wanted to go in different directions, and after much discussion decided to go our separate ways. I have spent the last 9 months since our separation working on myself, and have come a long way. Through all of the work I have done thoughts of hiking the A.T. were nowhere around, I was working on getting my life together, gaining my financial freedom, having a relationship with myself so that I could be the best me I could be for all of the people in my life. Earlier this month I was doing something (who knows what it was, I certainly can’t remember) when out of nowhere the thought hit me “this is the year you planned to hike the A.T.” “Holy shit,” I thought, “this is it. This is the year, I can actually do it.” So started my enthusiastic planning of my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. I have a lot to do, a lot to gather, a lot to settle, but I’m determined to start my hike this year. Since this is on my terms I am going to be hiking South, the way I originally wanted. The passes through Mt Katahdin, my starting point, are typically impassable until mid May, early June, so my hike is scheduled to start the last week of May. This may change due to weather conditions but for now my start date is scheduled for May 28th, the day of the New Moon. This is going to be an extraordinary journey, one that will forever change me, and I can’t wait to get started. It’s going to be long, amazing, grueling, beautiful, horrible, peaceful, scary, lonely, and the most incredible experience of my life. I plan on chronicling the whole thing through pictures, and after thinking about it I realized that I need to chronicle the whole journey, not just the hike. So here it is, the journey to the journey of a lifetime. Hopefully the first of many journeys of a lifetime. I will post ramblings and rantings and progress. I will post pictures and ask advice. I will talk about nothing and everything. And in five months time I will post my send off. Welcome to Southbound to Georgia!

 

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