Monday, June 25, 2012

Hi Maryland bye Maryland

So naturally I got out of Harpers Ferry later than planned.  After grabbing my pack at the hostel I headed down to the trail which wove through the woods for about 1/2 mile before it shoved me out into historic downtown Harpers Ferry.  I was officially in Touristville.  Under normal circumstances I would love wandering around this historic town, but when you have a pack on and you are simply in the market for an outfitter and a grocery store, it can be a bit annoying.  As I wandered aimlessly among the old-timey buildings, Oak (fellow trailmate staying at the hostel I was) spotted me and directed me to the tiny outfitter.  I grabbed a few bandannas then joined him for some ice cream at ye old ice cream parlor.  Oak pointed out that there was a general store on his little map, so we headed in that direction to see if I could pick up some fruit to hike out with and to see if he could do a full resupply there.  We arrived at the "general store" and headed inside, realizing upon first step in the door that we were hugely mistaken. We had unknowingly wandered into 're-enactmentville' Harpers Ferry and there among a variety of fake goods available for purchase in 1883 stood a 17 year old in a civil war costume spewing a rehearsed tour. After our tour we inquired where one might purchase present day goods, only to be answered with a blank stare.  At this point I decided to screw the fruit and get the hell out of this town.  I had a few more quaint streets and bridges to pass by before the trail finally led me out of town.  Oak walked me to the trailhead and waved me goodbye as I crossed the river and he wandered back into town in search of a store with actual merchandise.

I exited West Virginia almost immediately after leaving Harpers Ferry and entered Maryland.  I hiked 15 miles that afternoon and it was a very quiet and pleasant hike.  The AT in Maryland weaves around the Civil War Trails, so my hike was dotted with monuments and battlefields with plaques informing visitors of what great general died there.  If you are a Civil War enthusiast, a visit to Harpers Ferry and the surrounding area is a must.  The spattering of history throughout my hike was a pleasant change, but I was anxious to get to the backcountry.  I realized this would not happen for me in Maryland.  I got to the shelter late that night due to an extended puppy chow break (thanks Amy!) and an invested interest in an episode of Ants vs. Caterpillar. Watching ants does not make me crazy.  I love that I have been afforded the time to simply sit and observe life, even at such a minute level.  Ant watching is also an excellent 'hiking avoidance tactic.' When your only options are to either climb up this mountain, or sit and watch some ants, sometimes, you're gonna go with the ants.

I had to set my tent up that night in the dark, and right after I crawled in, my tent was attacked by what turned out to be a cat, though I didn't realize that until after I had 17 heart attacks.  Only when I heard it meow did I conclude I was in no immediate danger, and my fear was replaced by confusion as I wondered what the fuck a cat was doing out here.  Apparently it lives at the shelter and makes a good living yoging food from hikers and catching mice.  The next morning Q-tip and Dances with Flies (fellow hikers I met that morning and may never see again, as it took them three days to do what I did in one) made me a breakfast burrito, which I gave half of to the cute forest cat, and then headed out to Dahlgren Campground.  There were so many of these 'campgrounds' with bathrooms and running water. It's convenient but I am getting a bit annoyed at the presence of civilization.  I walked another two miles and hit Washington Monument State Park.  The trail leads right by the visitors center and straight up to the original Washington Monument.  After I read through all the random George Washington facts scattered about and climbed the tower with Testament (section hiker I met the night before), it was was time to get moving.  Testament and I hiked to the next shelter to have lunch, where I learned how alarmingly unprepared he was to be out here.  A lot of hikers who are only doing half the AT launch from Harpers Ferry, so just when I was finally familiar with all the faces out here, a whole new batch of section hikers are getting thrown in the mix.  When he learned that I had already been out here for three months he dove right into a novel of questions for me which I answered happily.  I mean the kid had a garbage bag full of Chef Boyardee cans.  Now my three months out here by no means makes me a backcountry expert, but I realized talking to him how confident and comfortable I had become out here.  He told me how scared he would have been to hike after dark like I did.  It's not ideal and I usually only do it when I still need to find water, but there's nothing there in the dark that isn't there in the light.

After leaving Testament I probably had one of the most boring stretches of hiking.  I didn't run into another person all day, which most of the time is nice, but the trail was so flat and easy, I increasingly became less motivated to hike it.  At least the climbs and boulders and roots and crazy turns give your mind something to focus on.  When you are simply walking a flat tread with nothing to look at but the same tree on repeat and you have become exceedingly indifferent to your ipod and the numerous bird calls you have memorized, your mind has the freedom to wander wherever it chooses.  Sometimes I welcome the long stretches where I lose myself in thought, and sometimes I go insane.  I realized that even though I'll bitch about it later, what I like most about hiking and why I do it is the challenge.  Hiking is a form of meditation for me, it is the only thing that has ever successfully cleared my head.  When I'm going up a tough climb, my mind empties and I focus solely on getting to the top, probably similar to a runner's high.  I realize this is a bit masochistic of me (but everyone on the AT is a masochist) but the physical pain I am putting my body through provides a path to clarity for my mind.  Hiking is a very peaceful activity for me, despite it's difficulties, and that is why I do it.

I camped alone that night on top of Raven Cliff and woke the next morning ready to get out of Maryland and the Blair Witch woods (it's only 40 miles, 2 days of hiking) and excited to catch up with Daystar, Pants and Gribly.  While I was packing my tent the morning rush hour started filtering past.  The Ape Team (really fun couple from TN) informed me that Bullet was at their shelter last night and he had a message for me.  I didn't know Bullet, but he knew that my trekking pole replacement Black Diamond was suppose to send me arrived at the Bears Den Hostel the day after I had left.  Before my annoyance at Black Diamond could register I first was impressed by the effectiveness of trail telephone.  Bears Den had no way of getting ahold of me as these hostels rarely take down any info, the manager simply asked the hikers that were currently there to spread the message up the trail.  It only took 2 days after the pole arrived for the message to reach me via trial grapevine, even though I was already 60+ miles past Bears Den. 

I found some water (I had to hike .4 off the trail down a steep hill, was not happy) and started my 26 mile day to Quarry Gap Shelter. I booked it past Pen-Mar park, crossed the Mason-Dixon line (ya!) stepped into Pennsylvania and by the time I had reached Snowy Mountain Rd, I had found Daystar and her sister Be-Bop!  We all had the same goal for the day and headed on.  Gribley and Pants had decided to hitch into Gettysburg for the night and camp with a bunch of boy scouts, and would meet us on the trail tomorrow.  Quarry Gap Shelter was one of the nicest shelters thus far, in fact all of the shelters in PA have been top notch, TN should take notes.  At the end of my marathon day I was nothing short of starved.  This was the first time I really felt my hiker appetite take over my sanity.  All I could think about was food.  I devoured a pot of mashed potatoes intended for a family of 4 and felt like I had simply taken a deep breath, that's how little impact it had on my stomach.  I realized that if I was going continue doing these big mile days I would need to start carrying more food.  We all went to bed a little hungry that night, but it was ok, for the next day we would reach the official AT midpoint and be rewarded with a half gallon of ice cream....sweet dreams............

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Halfway! (Almost)

Hi all!  I've made it to Harper's Ferry, West VA!  This is considered the mental halfway point of the AT.  The ATC headquarters is located here, and it is the moment we finally get out of Virginia.  The actual AT midpoint is in another 75 milesish so I should be hitting that Saturday morning.  It is tradition to eat a half gallon of ice cream at the halfway point on the AT (there is a small store in the state park there, which I assume keeps the ice cream well stocked for this event).  As excited as I was to reach Harper's Ferry, I will be more excited to reach the half gallon challenge:) 

After an awesome two days off with my pops, I was dropped back off at the trailhead by myself in some lovely weather.  Threats of hail and tornadoes were in the distance as my dad looked at me one last time to check that I really wanted to go out hiking in this.....apparently I did as I hopped out of the car and waved goodbye.  One of the many things I love and appreciate about my dad is his ability to let me do what I want without questioning it. Very few parents would confidently deposit their child on top of a mountain in a storm by themselves without putting up some fight. About 10 minutes into my hike the storm I was intent on ignoring hit, and I started to quicken my pace down the mountain.  About 5 or 6 deer flew past me on the trail, sprinting away from the storm.  I wanted to yell at them to wait for me, as I also didn't want to be up there, but the stupid fast quadrupeds left me alone to deal with the storm by myself.  I only made it 9 miles to the first shelter just in time to watch a 20ft. tree fall down right on the trail.  Cathing up to my friends was going to take a bit longer than I thought.....

The next day was gorgeous and I hiked 25 miles straight into Shenendoah National Park.  The park is very crowded with tourists, there are lodges/campsites/restaurants everywhere, and the wildlife is abudant and very used to humans, so bear and deer sightings are quite common. I saw a total of 6 bears, including a mamma bear and her cub.  I got to watch the mamma teach her cub how to climb a tree, then I got to run away very fast when she realized I was watching.  The deer also have no fear and practically walk right up to you.  One of them tripped on my tent one night it was grazing so close.  I was excited to get in and out of the park and back to the normal quiet woods.  One thing I realized my first day in the Shennies is how much of a little family all the thru-hikers had become.  Since I was seperated from my group, I didn't think I would have hiking buddies for awhile, but on the first day in the park I ran into a ton of old familar faces I hadn't seen in awhile.  They had all caught up to me while I took those 2 days off.  I still got to Blackrock by 7:45pm even with my numerous chat breaks with Ranger Bill, Spirit, The Honeymoon Hikers, Peach, Overdrive and ta-da! - Watermelon and Pants were at the shelter when I got there!  I hadn't really seen Watermelon since the blizzard on Roan Mountain so it was awesome seeing him again.  Pants, Watermelon and I hiked together for the next few days.

Sadly Watermelon and I lost Pants when he left Bearfence shelter early one morning and Watermelon and I decided not to leave till 1:30 for no apparent reason.  The two of us had a slow couple of days with frequent town stops into Luray and Front Royal as Watermelon battled some unknown illness that kept him puking quite regularly:(  I tried to keep him company while also keeping my distance so I didn't get sick, so far so good:) We celebrated as we finally got out of the park and set our sights on West VA.  Virginia didn't let us out without a fight.  The last 25 miles of VA were rocky as hell, and included 13.5 miles of The Rollar Coaster, a series of tightly packed climbs that totally wore everyone out.  Unfortunately Watermelon ended up getting a ride from Bears Den Hostel to Harpers Ferry to catch a train home:(  I am bummed to see him go and hope that he can finish the trail soon! 

I hiked the last 20 miles into Harper's Ferry with Hot Shot, we got rained on the entire way so we booked it here and arrived around 3:30 yesterday. 20 miles by 3:30 might be one of my best times.  We went straight to the ATC headquarters to get our picture taken and sign in, I am the 447th thru-hiker to come through Harpers Ferry this year. I had a relaxing night eating obscene amounts of pizza and hanging out with new friends at the hostel.  I am excited to venture out into the woods on my own again, but hopefully this time get in some serious miles to catch up with the gang. 20's are pretty easy now, and I know we are all going to slow down once we hit The Whites up north so I'm going to try to get as many miles in now so I'm not hiking in snow up there.....probably will be anyway.

As I was hiking the other day I really realized how happy I am out here.  There are ups and downs (literally), but there is really no where else I would rather be.  I have nothing but love in my heart for these mountains and this trail and I am so excited to start the second half of my journey.  I will be leaving West VA shortly as there is only a total of six miles or something here, heading into Maryland for two days (it only has 40 miles of trail) and then it's on to Pennsylvania!  I gotta go eat the rest of my pizza and walk into the woods. Peace and love!!       

Friday, June 1, 2012

Privy Reading

For each of us eventually, whether we're ready for it or not, it will come to an end. There will be no more sunrises nor minutes, hours, or days. All collected, whether treasured or forgotten will pass to someone else. Your wealth, fame, and tempered power will shrivel to irrelevance. It will not matter what you owed or owned. Your grudges, resentments, frustrations, and jealousies will finally disappear. So to your hopes, ambitions, plans, and to do list will expire. The wins and losses that once seemed so important will fade away. It won't matter where you came from or on what side of the tracks you lived. At the end it won't matter if you're beautiful or brilliant. Even your gender and skin color will be irrelevant. So what will matter?

What matters is not what you've bought but what you've built. Not what you've got, but what you gave. What will matter is not your success but your significants. What will matter is not what you've learned, but what you've taught. What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion, courage, or sacrifice that enriched, empowered, or encouraged others to emulate your example. What will matter is not your competence, but your character. What will matter is not how many people you know, but how many will feel a lasting loss when you're gone. What will matter is not your memories, but the memories that live in those that you love.
A life lived that matters is not of circumstance, but a choice.

Still in VA....

Hello!  Sorry for the month long hiatus, had a hard time getting to a computer.  Last time I checked in I was in Damascus, VA, and I have since hiked some 375+ miles to my current location in Waynesboro, VA.  The last month has gone by crazy fast with some ups and downs, but mostly ups:)  Unfortunately, Pac-man, Hollywood and Flugelhorn have decided to get off the trail permanently.  They were offered awesome Wilderness Ranger jobs that were too good to pass up.  We are all really excited for them but also sad not to be hiking with them anymore.  Daystar, Gribley, Pants, Lighthouse and I have carried on.  I'm not really sure how to recap the last month, Virginia is a long state and I feel as though I've been in it forever.  Some hikers have definitely got the "Virginia Blues" and I think we did for a few days as well.  As we become stronger hikers (we are consistently doing 18-24 miles a day now), the challenges we face are more mental.  The honeymoon period is over for a lot of hikers and they are slowly get sick of being out here.  I have definitely had my days where I wake up and have no desire to strap all of my belongings to my back and hike over mountains all day.  But despite our 'blue period' I still love being out here and VA has been good to me.  Even on the totally shit days you just have to say to yourself, 'well, f*ck that day, there will be new days." Somehow sleep cures everything.  Days that my ankle hurts so bad and I'm tired and wet and eating another fricken Pasta Side and I go to bed thinking how long will I be able to do this - but you wake up and your body feels a bit better and birds are chirping and you get to enjoy your coffee while looking at an amazing view of the mountains, and you start to wonder about what you're going to see today or who you'll meet or where you'll end up and you start to get excited again.  I think if you lose that excitement, maybe it is time to get off.  I hope I never do. 

Despite the boring rainy beginning of VA, we have been having a good time - some of Gribley's friends came to hike with us for a few days and it was awesome introducing the trail to them.  Daystar's sister has joined us as well and will be hiking with us for another couple of weeks.  We stayed at an amazing farm called Woods Hole before heading back to Damascus for Trail Days.  The energy at this hostel was so healing, and it was one of my favorite places so far on the trail. It was a very relaxing place to chill before heading to the madness that was Trail Days.  Trail Days is a three day hiker festival that takes place in Damascus (we had to drive back to it as we were about 200 trail miles past).  I got some gear repaired, ate, drank and was merry:)  There was a 'hiker parade' in which all the current and previous years thru-hikers walk down the main street and have a water fight with the locals.  It was basically a 3,000 person water balloon fight and it was awesome.  There was also a hiker talent show - some of it was great, some was a great showcase as to why none of us have jobs and live in the woods. 

After Trail Days we got dropped back where we left off and climbed up to McAfee knob (that's the pic where I am dangling off the edge that everyone is freaking out about, it's ok I won't fall).  We watched the sunset up there and all seemed right with the world.  We have been exposed to some phenomenal views lately, and some stupidly hot weather.  It's amazing how something as simple as a gust of wind can change your life for just a second.  Virginia has also given me my first bears!  I've seen two now, and am no longer afraid of them as they seem to be more afraid of me. Virginia is also home to the Devil's Backbone Brewing Co., the most magical place on earth.  This brewery picked the 5 of us up at the trailhead for free and took us to their brewery where I ate the most ridiculous thing I've ever eaten: 1/2lb burger topped with a pile of pulled pork, bacon, cheese, an onion ring and of course BBQ sauce.  It started raining while we were there so the brewery guys let us sleep on their enclosed outdoor patio, started a fire in the pit for us, and gave us two free growlers of beer.  What generous (and trusting) people to just pick up strangers out of the woods, give them a bunch of beer and leave to let them sleep at their place of business.  The beer was good too:)

We made our way to Waynesboro, where I met up with my dad (he is a little over 100 miles ahead, he rented a car and drove back to hang for a few days).  Yesterday we went to Monticello and to the Luray Caverns.  It was so nice to see him and to take a break from the trail, but I am so ready to get back in the woods.  I'm not sure I like the outside world as much as I used to and I far prefer the woods for the time being.  I'm a day behind my friends, so I will hike faster to try and catch up, but I am looking forward to having a few days on my own.  I usually hike alone during the day and we meet up for breaks/camp so it will be nice to have a few nights to myself....I say this skeptically as I am about to enter Shenandoah National Park (Blue Ridge mountains, Shenandoah River, John Denver and all that), and it is notoriously crowded with tourists. I should be hitting Harpers Ferry, WV in 9ish days, known as the mental halfway point of the AT.  I couldn't be more excited!!!!!  I still have a long way to go......but I've got 842.3 miles under my boots.  Only 1341.9 to go!!