If I Can’t Hike, I Can At Least Write About It

Appalacian Trail

Last fall, I wrote an article for The Trek about hiking. I actually got paid for it. Since then, things have snowballed. I wrote another article for The Trek, and then another. I sent in a story to Dirtbag Diaries, my favourite podcast to listen to while I hike. Despite 200 people submitting stories, they chose mine to record. Hyperlite Mountain Gear picked up an article. I have more stories in the works.

After writing here for free for so long, it feels strange to get paid to write. Writing is competitive, and I know even the tiniest amount of success can dry up quickly. But I’m so excited about this. Even if I never sell another article, it’s kept me sane during lockdown after lockdown. It’s been really fun.

Shake ‘n Bake made me a beauiful professional writing website. It lists my published articles. He moved over my blog. I’m so proud of how hard he’s worked on it, and how good it looks.

In future, all of my updates will be on my gorgeous new website. You can subscribe to my new blog to keep track of all my future adventures. We have a lot of exciting things planned, including hiking the Great Divide Trail this summer. I hope you’ll join me over there.


Long Trail Part Two

Appalacian Trail

I get a room at the inn at the long trail. I shower and do laundry, which I haven’t done in two weeks, charge my almost dead electronics, and, most importantly, talk to Shake n Bake. Talking to him helps, but when I head out in the morning after breakfast, that hollow pool of missing him builds inside my heart again.

I take the Pico trail up to Killington, rather than the long trail. I had an almost perfect white blaze AT hike last year, so why not do some alternates? I get on the AT and within the first hour see more people than I would in a day on the Long trail. An hour later, a SoBo thru hiker passes me and notices the patches on my pack. He fist bumps me and congratulates me on my triple crown, but it feels weird. No one cared I was a triple crowner on the Long trail.

I summit Killington, which I skipped last time because it was an icy luge. It feels weird being up here and it not being snowy. There’s so many people here too, and I’m suddenly so glad I had a non traditional AT hike. The ghosts of La Copa and Footprint, who I hiked this section with, follow me down the trail- I miss my trail friends. It’s a hot day, so I drop down to the shelter I stayed at last year when Butt Tape and Tourist visited me and settle in to enjoy my hiker box book.

A million people slow up until the shelter feels like a festival site. This is so different from my hike last year, with shelters to myself and the quiet solitude of the woods. People are noisy and I sleep poorly, as does Chester.

A half mile down the trail in the morning I hear the rumble of thunder. It’s seven am… My earliest storm yet. I hike until it starts to rain, then throw up my tarp to wait it out. Three hours later, the rain is less, but just a mile down the trail, it starts again. I wait two hours this time, and then make another dash for it. It takes a few hours for the storms to come back and this time there is no where to stop, so I throw Chester on my backpack and open my umbrella. We climb up and up, not my favorite thing to do in a storm, until wet and grumpy, I finally find a flat spot that isn’t awful, even if it’s higher than I’d like.

Around dusk, a porcupine climbs a tree by my tarp. Chester is very interested, but I keep him restrained. In the morning, toads are everywhere and Chester keeps trying to catch them. He finally bumps his nose on one, sneezes a few times and then throws up. And people told me to watch out for owls and hawks with him…. Toads and porcupines are much more trouble!

It’s a mellow day as we climb and fall and follow gentle rivers through the trees. I get lost in the memories of my hike last year. It’s amazing how my memories don’t always line up with the trail, and how some things look so different when there are leaves on the trees.

The next day, we climb up and up, but it’s mellow and gradual, the way the long trail in the North never was. We reach a ski hut on Bromley after 14 miles- that’ll do for the night.

Hikers trickle in and we all head out to watch the sunset. In the morning, we do the same for sunrise. We run down the hill in the morning and hitch to Manchester for more food. It’s an easy hitch even with the mutt and we’re in and out in under an hour. The trail is mellow when we return to it. I make a group of AT thru hikers’ day when they spot Chester riding on my pack. The trail gets muddy after lunch, so Chester spends a lot of time on my shoulders. We reach Stratton pond in good time though, and stay at the impressive shelter there.

It’s an easy climb up Stratton in the morning. It’s foggy at the top, so I miss the view, yet again. At the bottom, I have an interesting interaction with a couple that can’t believe Chester climbed the mountain, much less had hiked nearly the entire long trail. Maybe I have a chip on my shoulder from people’s reaction to a small woman hiking, but I’m starting to get really tired of people doubting him, and it’s hard for me to stay polite. Still, the rest of the day is mellow, and we stay at a shelter with a view, which always soothes my soul.

We climb up and over Glastonbury in the morning. I bring Chester up the fire tower- he doesn’t love it, but after all the ladders earlier on the hike, he’s learned to trust me. It’s a long ridge walk down, which I remember being awful to come up as a NoBo but it’s fine as a SoBo. I carry Chester for much of the day, and people stop me to pet him and take our photo.

There’s four young female NoBo at thru hikers at the shelter when I roll in. One notices my patches, which leads to them asking about my other trails. Somehow meeting Shake n Bake comes up and they oooh and awww as I tell them about our trail romance.

It’s only ten miles to the border in the morning, but I have two more days until Shake n Bake can pick me up, so I decide to out and back to the same shelter. I’d been feeling a little bummed about not breaking a twenty mile day on this trip and this will give me a perfect twenty. The terrain is easy enough for me to carry Chester, so I throw him on my pack and away we go.

I reach the border at lunch. It’s anticlimactic, the way these finishes always are. The Little SoBo bubble (three other people…) that has built up over the past few days trickles in and there’s the required photos. Then I turn around to retrace my steps. Thunderstorms are forecast for the next afternoon, so I want to make sure I can do the five miles to town before they hit. We make it easily and then there’s nothing to do except get clean and wait for Shake n Bake to come get us.

I really loved the long trail in the end. Especially the northern section, with its amazing views. But missing Shake n Bake and hiking with Chester made it an incredibly difficult trail. It’s so hard to hike someone else’s hike, especially when that person can’t talk and tell you when they’re hungry or tired. I couldn’t have done a longer trail with Chester and I found that making sure he was healthy and well taken care of was very stressful. But I’m so glad I took him- him curled up in my sleeping bag at the end of the day and that adorable face trusting me when I was having a tough time made it all worth it.

The long trail.

Appalacian Trail

Shake n Bake drops me off at the trailhead for the long trail. It’s only 2 miles on a side trail to the start, but I stop at the shelter a mile in. So much has happened in the past few weeks that I want a night to process. Physically, I’m ready to hike, but I need to let my emotions settle first.

It’s a quick hike to the border in the morning. I snap a couple selfies, trying to make sure Chester is visible. And then I start to walk. The trail is rough, the way I knew it would be. I’m here to try and listen to my body this time, the way I totally failed to in the whites last year. If that fails, I know I’ll at least listen to Chester.

I expect Chester to struggle, but the little monkey has no problems. He develops an annoying habit of waiting for me at the top of scrambles, like he’s disapproving of how long it takes me to get up. On the rare occasion that he can’t jump down from a ledge, he stands at the top, waiting for me to lift him down.

I’m slow though, my trail legs gone from over a year of trail and my injuries, and my pack heavy with dog food. I’d like to blame Chester for our speed, but he is having the time of his life, jumping around, sniffing stuff and chasing birds. It takes us most of the day to reach the top of Jay peak, where a group of YMCA campers surround Chester, asking to pet him. I drop down to Jay camp. It’s only about a 12 mile day once you add in the side trail, one of my lowest ever. But I have 25 days that I have to be on trail and only 270 miles to hike. Plus, listening to my body and all that…

Chester is perky in the morning, but I struggle again. Everything seems to be straight up and down, and I’m slow as I try not to bother my knee. I meet some section hikers as I climb haystack peak, a fun jumble of boulders and slabs and chatting with them distracts me from my slow pace. Chester is the star of the show as always.

In the morning, the tables have turned. My hiker legs are starting to come back, but Chester is tired. He jumps on my lap when we stop, rather than tugging at the leash to keep going. I decide to do an on trail Nero- only eight miles, which we accomplish by 1, even with a break to swim in the lake.

I’m not sure how to feel about our milage. It’s hard to shake the mindset of having to make miles, and that we don’t have time to swim or check out side trails. But my heart isn’t in the long trail the way it was in my other trails. It’s still my happy place, but it’s somewhere to hang out for a month in the woods while shake n Bake is gone.

Chester is still tired in the morning, despite our short day, so I throw him on my backpack. I want to try and do 15 miles, to make our resupply easier, but that’s a big day with the way the trail has been going. Luckily, the trail gives us a break. There are still some big climbs, but the trail is much smoother, making it easier to carry the pup. I do 15 easily by three (Chester did about half that,)

It thunders all night and I barely sleep. I think it’s stopped in the morning, but a mile down the trail, the heavens open. Chester is already on my back and my umbrella mostly covers him. Still, it’s a wet two miles to town and we’re both soaked by the time we get there. We stop at a hiker friendly hardware store, where a nice employee Google’s Chester’s symptoms and we figure out he has harvest mites. I get some stuff to hopefully treat them along with dog food, then we hitch to town for people food for me. I check the weather and it doesn’t look good. Still, no where in town that will take Chester has space, so we head up four miles to the shelter. We have an hour or two of peace and then a kid camp group shows up before a thunderstorm rolls in.

I have service on my phone in the morning, and I message with shake n Bake for a little. It’s amazing what that does to lift my mood. I’ve been missing him so much- it’s been so nice to spend a full two months with him, and while I’ll always want to do solo adventures too, I really wish he was here.

It’s a long and slippery 7 miles between shelters, with everything wet from the storm the night before. Whiteface is supposed to be the first really tough peak for sobos, but we don’t have much of a problem with it. More rain is threatening by the time we reach Sterling pond though and we’re both soaked, so I’m more than happy to sit and dry off. We go down to the pond and spend a lot of time sitting on a bench with great views of Mount Mansfield. I feel like I’m getting three thru hikes worth of chilling on the Long Trail.

There’s a weekend hiker at the shelter who tells me bad weather is coming. I race it seven more miles to Taft lodge, high on Mount Mansfield. I make it just before noon, as the first showers are starting. The rain comes down hard and I’m glad I’ve stopped.

I’m up early as always. We scramble up towards the summit. I’m a bit worried about some of the scrambles, so I make Chester wear his harness. We reach the top before 8am and we’re completely alone up there, despite it being a Sunday. Somehow I always manage this on mountains that are supposed to be crowded and I am so, so greatful for it.

The wind buffets us as we ride along the ridge. We head down at the forehead, with its ladders and fun scrambles. Chester does great, letting me hold him and waiting until I’m ready to grab him. We pass through the needles eye, which was described as a tricky spot. I have to pivot on the scramble to grab Chester, place him on a safe ledge, then pivot back again each time I need to make a move, but it doesn’t give us any real trouble. We drop all the way down and then climb back up to spend the night at puffer shelter, which has one of the most amazing views of any shelter I’ve ever stayed at.

It’s a long, hot downhill, but there’s trail magic at the bottom. There’s a three mile roadwalk, so I grab a soda to chug as we walk and a beer for later. I put Chester on my shoulders and put up my umbrella for shade. We amble between the road and farmers fields, where curious turkeys come to the edge of their pen, probably wondering if Chester is something tasty to eat. I find a river half way and dunk Chester, worried about him overheating. Then we climb up to the shelter at the base of camels hump for a sixteen mile day. It’s amazing what you can do when there aren’t any ladders!

We climb camels hump in a cloud. There’s already a couple of dayhikers up there by the time we get up- making this my only new summit with no views and people on it. We drop down as the dayhikers start to ascend. Multiple people ask me how Chester is doing on the rough trail and when I say great, they say “oh, well he hasn’t done this next section yet.” This gives me pause, but each time the next section is easier than the one before. We pass through ladder ravine and up over burnt rocks. Chester wants to take breaks on the warm rock- a new development for a dog that so far has wanted to keep going over all of the terrain. It’s too rough to carry him safely, so I call it at the next shelter.

It’s five miles to the road, where I wait a while for a hitch. The man has dogs in the cab, so he makes Chester and I ride in the covered bed of the pick up, but he tells us if we can be done in town in 45 minutes, he’ll take us back to the trail. I kind of wanted to shower and charge my phone and talk to Shake n Bake, but I’m not going to turn down an easy hitch, so I hustle through my resupply and am waiting on the side of the road when he comes back through. We climb up out of App gap, up over a few ladders, to Starks nest, an enclosed ski warming hut. The views are amazing and there’s lots of reading material, so I spend a fun afternoon there while Chester naps on my sleeping bag.

The sunrise is beautiful, but it’s a little chilly as we head along the ridge in the morning. We’ve gone a few miles when we run into some women camping with an of leash dog. The dog runs up barking and growling and nips at Chester before I manage to pick him up. He’s unhurt, but I’m a little shaken. It’s our first negative dog encounter on the trail. Once we crest Mount Abe, there are tons of dayhikers, most with friendly dogs. I drop down to Lincoln gap. The trail is starting to get easier and I’m so ready for it. We head through brushy overgrown trail to the shelter. It’s all women there. For some reason, the long trail seems to have a higher percentage of female thru hikers- a fact that I love.

It rains overnight but I head out anyway. The thunderstorms start a mile down the trail. It’s 8am. Ugh, why?? I wait it out in a hollow where I feel safe but everything is wet. I put Chester in my rain coat and keep hiking, but he’s cold and shivering. I get to a shelter and towel him off as best I can, but he’s still not super happy. I decide to stop after ten miles since I don’t want to camp in the mud. A bunch of people taking a break at the shelter including one who follows me on Instagram! It’s nice to get some hiker culture, although they all move on before sunset and I find myself alone at the shelter.

Dusk is falling when I hear something crashing in the bushes, right where I left my food bag. “Hey!” I yell. The crashing gets closer. “Hey bear! Go away!” I yell louder. Chester is on high alert. I’m about to yell again when a moose pops out in the clearing. “Oh! I thought you were a bear!” I tell it. It’s hard to fall asleep after that adrenaline jolt though.

The trail is easier the next day. We do fourteen miles, and while Chester is still tired, I feel like the trail is getting easier for him too. Either that or he’s getting his little puppy trail legs. There are people at the shelter that night, which I’m greatful for when a massive thunderstorm rolls in and lightning strikes near the shelter.

The trail is even easier the next day. We crush 18 miles, a huge distance for Chester, so I can Nero into town the next day. We camp just 0.4 miles from Maine junction, where the long trail joins the at.

And then in the morning, I finish the long trail. There’s still a hundred miles to the Massachusetts border though and that sounds like a fun way to spend a week….

Our biggest whirlwind adventure yet.

Pacific Crest Trail, Travel

I’m not very good at talking about my personal life online- hence the radio silence here for almost a year. But a lot of stuff has happened, and I want to blog on the Long Trail. I feel like a lot of things will make more sense with an update.

I finish the AT, I go back to Alaska and I get a job, intending to put my head down and work for a few years until I have the money to go adventure again. Then Shake n Bake comes to visit and everything changes. I never learned how to listen to my body on the trail, but I did learn how to listen to my heart. It’s no secret that I fell in love on the PCT, not just with the wilderness and the mountains, but also with the man walking beside me. There’s so much red tape to keep us apart though, and I find wading through it as I try and get a visa slower and more frustrating than the hardest days on a thru hike.

Spring comes and I find myself quitting my job yet again, this time not for a trail. Quitting my job with the changing of the seasons has become as natural as watching the leaves bud and the flowers bloom. I can’t work in Canada, and can only be there for six months, but it doesn’t matter. It’s time to do something crazy yet again.

There’s an adventure right off the bat, of course, since Shake n Bake knows me better than anyone else. We drive two hours south of Ottawa to Kingston. We’ll spend a week paddling back home. We camp at the lock station at Kingston Mills as Shake n Bake’s friends trickle in. There’s a group of ten, although our numbers will fluctuate as people leave to go to work, or join our little flotilla.

We start our morning with our first portage. I throw my pack on my back, our food barrel on my front, grab the paddles and Chester the adorable dog. Shake n Bake takes his pack and balances the canoe on his shoulders. We make it in one easy trip, but our friends don’t have the thru hiking packing light mentality and it takes them an extra trip or two. Finally, we are on the water and I fall in love a little. I have plenty rafting experience, but this is my first real time paddling a canoe. I immediately love the easy way we glide forward, our constant forward progress and the way the lakes and rivers open up a whole new world. We’re not at the mercy of the current like in a raft and the lack of whitewater makes it easy to relax.

We spend a week paddling back to Ottawa, portaging locks and fighting waves on lakes. By the time we make it back to Ottawa, Ontario feels a little more like home.

The downtime between adventures is hard. I came to Canada without a visa, sick of waiting and long distance, and demoralized by all of the hoops I can’t jump through, so I am unable to work. I explore the city by bike, finding new favorite book stores and donut shops, but I’ve never been very good at downtime.

Then we go to the Yukon. It only took moving thousands of miles away for me to visit the territory right next to Alaska. Shake n Bake is supporting some friends who are doing a canoe race. Then finally the race is over and the fun begins. We hike in Tombstone Territorial park, then find a canoe for a three day trip down the Yukon.

After, it’s back to Ottawa and I feel like we’re running out of time together. Shake n Bake has had a trip to Europe planned for the better part of a year, but it’s expensive for my unemployed butt, and besides, I’d rather go hiking. I’ve been thinking about the Long Trail since I finished the AT, and my knee is finally doing well enough to attempt it.

With the deadline of leaving for different countries hanging over us, and visa red tape making it hard to be together, Shake n Bake and I make a decision that we hope will make it easier. We go to an officient’s house. He takes my hands in his. I slide a ring onto his finger and he slips one on mine. We both say a few words, and then we are married.

I thought the story I’ve been sharing here for the last few years was an adventure story, but really, it was just as much a love story. We still have a lot of steps to take until we can be together properly, without worrying that we’ll have to go back to long distance. But we’re used to hard journeys and there’s no one else I’d rather walk next to on this adventure.

So, Shake n Bake, I’ll always get the ursacks if you make the coffee. I’ll always help you punch raccoons in the face. And I will never, ever leave you on a windy ridge. You’ve made every step I’ve taken in the past three years so much better and I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life sharing adventures with you.

The end. (100 mile Wilderness and Katahdin)

Appalacian Trail

This sign is hilarious when you see it after slackpacking from 15 miles in.

I hug La Copa goodbye in the morning. He tells me to take care of myself: I tell him to crush Katahdin. Saying goodbye to people on the trail is never easy. You form such intense connections in such a short time. People I hike with for a day know me better than some friends I’ve had for years. And I hiked almost half the trail with La Copa.

I try and follow his instructions- I eat and nap and slather my blisters in ointment. I think they’re getting better, but then Poet’s dog jumps up at me and pops one and I have to try and not cry in the middle of the hostel. It’s going to be a long hundred miles.


Privy lunch

Poet suggests I slack pack the first 15 miles of the wilderness to make sure I’m not going to die of an infected leg (the fact that this is possible shows how much of a joke the 100 mile wilderness is). He drives me to a side trail so I can southbound back to the highway. I’m not really feeling it. I’ve resigned myself to hiking alone and doing low 20s to the end. There’s no one close behind me and I can’t catch La Copa. What’s the point?

I rejoin the AT after a mile of side trail. There’s a shelter there where Poet left a package for La Copa and Poet asked me to make sure it is gone. I get to the side trail and see a familiar pair of black and red Leki poles. One bottom section is bent. I just watched Poet replace the other bottom section- we joked about making a prosthetic out of it to replace my leg. But La Copa always hikes with his poles. How could he forget them?

Then it hits me. He’s at the shelter! But this would only give him 15 miles the day before, and it’s after nine. La Copa hasn’t slept past 5 since we started hiking together. He must be really hurt to still be in the shelter. Suddenly, I’m running. I see the footbox of his sleeping bag and before I know it I’m yelling. “What the hell are you doing here? What happened? Are you hurt?” La Copa sits up in his sleeping bag and looks at me like I’m the biggest idiot in the world. “I’m waiting for you.”

Oh. My eyes get big. If you haven’t hiked a long trail, you might not understand what a big deal this is. Plenty of people have waited an hour or two for me (especially La Copa while I’ve been hurt). But to wait an entire day in a shelter, eating down your limited food and with nothing to do? And to push back your finish date when you have flights booked and deadlines and family waiting for you? This is huge.

We quickly make a plan. La Copa had expected me to be coming north, so we could just head out together. Instead, I’ll run south, get shuttled back, then hike to the next shelter. La Copa will meet me there. It will be tight for me to make it before dark. I head out and start hiking as fast as I can, injuries forgotten, pain numbed by adrenaline. I know there’s three SoBos ahead and I make a game out of catching them.

I pass the father/daughter couple before the first river ford. I see Travis, the 3rd, on the other side of the next ford. I ignore the rope, placed as always in the worst fording spot, and plunge in. “Be careful! I fell in!” He yells at me, but almost before he’s finished speaking, I’m climbing up the bank. I exchange niceties and start to hike off, fast as I can. “Wow, you’re really moving! I’m going to try and keep up!” Travis falls in behind me, chattering about how impressed he is that I haven’t dropped him already. I don’t mention that I’m trying not to visibly limp, and that downhill and blowdowns are taking me 3 times as long as I try not to pop my blisters. He spent the night at the shelter with La Copa, so I explain what I’m doing. 3 miles from the road, he’s visibly tiring. I tell him if he can keep up, I’ll make sure he gets to the hostel.

We reach the road just as a volunteer is replacing the registration forms at the trailhead. I badger him into giving us a ride to town. Then I start the whirlwind of packing, saying goodbye to my new SoBo friends and getting back to the trail. Poet drops me at the trailhead with a hug, and then I’m rehiking the side trail and climbing up, up, up, to Cloud Pond shelter. Two SoBos are leaving the side trail as I get there. “Are you Fun Size? La Copa is going to be so excited to see you!” One of them chirps. It’s a long 0.4 side trail to the shelter, where La Copa is back in his sleeping bag, waiting for me.

We’re up early as normal. In fact, everything feels familiar and comfortable and I almost forget I was going to be alone on this section. La Copa sticks to me like glue, putting me in front so he won’t accidentally lose me. We climb the Chairbacks range in the drizzle, up to one peak, then down and back up to the next. Everything is slick from the rain. Coming down from Chairback, we lose the trail in a jumble of slippery slate boulders. La Copa yells at me to stay still while he figures out where the trail went, worried I’ll hurt myself. Instead, I see him go down hard on one of the rocks, bashing his knees, staying down for a full minute until he makes sure he’s unhurt enough to continue. I find the trail and he falls in behind. Now we’re both limping a little.

We drop down to a river ford, and then climb up to Whitecap. It’s our last real climb before Katahdin. We start to see more and more SoBos as we hit the first wave of the bubble. It’s a little overwhelming, as I see more people on the trail here than I did in Georgia. We crest Whitecap, debating if we should stop at the first shelter, or push on another 4 miles to the next. Its still early, but my ankle chafes, the way my leg did when it was blistering. When we reach the shelter, it’s full of SoBos, the lean-to orbited by a cluster of tents. Well. That solves that problem. The next shelter only has 3 SoBos in it. I take my socks off. My ankle has a ring of sores, but no blisters. At least those are easier to dress? Even after my zero, I’m still falling apart. I just need to be done.

I count SoBos in the morning. It’s a nice day for a change, but the bugs are awful. We’d been warned about this stretch, but I still can’t wear pants, and I can’t put deet on my blisters, so I am unprepared to deal with the swarm of mosquitoes. Every time we stop to cross a river, they descend. I can’t even swat at them properly. One by one, my blisters pop, from bug bites or me trying to discourage the bugs. Each pop is excruciating and I try very unsuccessfully not to cry. My ankle is getting worse too, and I try not to limp in front of La Copa, but there is no where to stop and fix it when the bugs are this bad.

Finally, we reach a shelter after 20 miles without a break. We run for the privy- a nice new one with bug screening. It’s big enough to fit both of us. La Copa sits on the seat and makes a backpacker pantry meal: I sit on a bale of wood shavings and eat bagels. It’s maybe the most disgusting place I’ve eaten lunch. It’s another ten miles after that to our shelter. 27 SoBos is my final tally, but we find Heatwave in the shelter too. We chat about the CDT while La Copa glares at me to go to sleep.

We wake up at 4. We have 33.2 miles today to the base of Katahdin and I’m worried I’ll need every second of daylight. We head out in the rain, but it soon stops. We pass a million SoBos as always, and then, descending from Rainbow Ledges, I get my first real view of Katahdin. It’s an intimidating looking mountain- rising steep and sheer, every thing around it the low level forest that we’ve been walking through. We do another 20 without a break, and then after lunch, bump into Gin Gin, the ridge runner I met at Shaws. She’s happy to see me on trail and tells me that my leg looks a little better.

And then we leave the 100 mile wilderness, with it’s sign warning to have 10 days of food. I’ve done it in under 4. There’s a little store at Abol bridge, where we get soda and donuts and then we’re running to the ranger station below Katahdin. It’s a fast final ten miles on beautiful trail. At the ranger station, the ranger pulls out the Nobo register. There’s one other name on it- Foot Print. La Copa takes hiker number 2. I am number 3. I will also be the first woman to finish this year.

I sign into the trail register at 5:20. La Copa stopped to get water, but he soon flies past, legs blurring. Adrenaline is fueling both of us- there’s no way I can keep up with a pumped La Copa on a steep uphill even when I’m healthy, but the initial climb doesn’t seem so bad. Stone stairs soon turn into scrambles. I’m less careful than normal- my knees only need to last one more day and then they can finally heal.

I break treeline and the scrambling gets real. Little rebar hooks are sometimes the only handhelds or footholds as I scale giant boulders. I put my poles away and focus on the problem of getting up the mountain. On a ridge, I hear La Copa yell my name, high above me. My shout back is pure joy.

Finally the scramble ends and I reach the summit plateau. It’s a long way, but easy going to the summit, where I can see the sign that marks the end of the AT silhouetted against the ridge. I see a tiny figure pick it’s way along to the summit and think I hear a shout of triumph on the wind. La Copa has made it. I crest the final climb and see La Copa sitting just below the sign. I make my way over.

It doesn’t feel how you’d expect to finish a long trail. There’s elation and joy and pride, but grief too. I didn’t want the PCT or the CDT to end, and I feel the same way about the AT, but I know it’s time. The PCT broke my heart, the CDT my mind and the AT my body, but the triple crown has put me back together in a way that is better. I’m stronger, more independent and a different person to who I was before. Besides, I know these trails aren’t really over. They will live in my soul while I heal and then I will come back to them. An adventure like this doesn’t really leave you. I can finish the triple crown, but I will never truly be done. And so I reach out. And I touch the sign.

How not to listen to your body (Gorham to Monson)

Appalacian Trail

We leave Gorham at 7:30, a late start for us. I have problems straight out of town. The bugs are out and I inhale one, coughing on the side of the trail. And then I can’t stop. We are of course climbing, and I wheeze my way up to trail, unable to breathe. It feels like I’m having as asthma attack: tight chest, wheezing. I stop to try and catch my breath and it gets a little better. I wonder if I should turn around, but slowly my breathing improves.

We’re up and down the way the trail always is. My knees ache til I want to cry. We enter blow down hell,  which is La Copa’s least favorite kind of trail. I squeeze under most of the trees, but he has to go over, stepping from trunk to trunk and trying not to impale himself. It’s a pretty day though, sunbeams filtering between the clouds. We hit the Maine border, and the trail gets wild. Suddenly there is rebar everywhere, and staircases constructed just so you can get up and down the mountains. My knee pops going down some rebar, and it hurts enough to make me scream. Still, it’s bearable once the trail levels out and I make the shelter just as it’s getting dark.

I take ibuprofen before I even leave in the morning. There’s a brutal descent down to Mahoosuc notch and I stop on the rebar to cry a little. I’m no stranger to pain while I’m hiking, but this is bad. I’ve hiked over a thousand miles with plantar fasciitis and 100 miles with a possibly broken toe, and nothing has made me cry like this before. I don’t think anything is torn or broken- I think it’s just an overuse injury. And those take a long time to heal, so there’s not much to do except struggle through it.

We enter Mahoosuc notch, famous as the hardest mile on the AT. It is a tangle of boulders the size of cars, that you have to scramble over and under. If you’re unlucky like us, it will be raining when you go through. If you’re extra unlucky, you’ll hit it when it’s still snowy. Ice fills the cracks between boulders, limiting footing even more and there are deep snow fields. I post hole to my waist a few times. Still, we somehow make it in around 2 hours, including a break to wait out the worst of the rain.

We climb the Mahoosuc arm, another scramble straight up. I’m soaked from the rain and the postholing and so sore. I catch my dress on a tree and almost rip the sleeve off. It’s falling apart and it feels like a metaphor for my body. I catch La Copa on the downhill, inching his way down wet slabs after falling. We are beat up and miserable. There’s a road in 5 miles, where we can hitch to town. So we do.

Bethel is far off trail, but our hitch drives us past a pie stand and drops us at a little B&B. I buy frozen corn and spend most of the evening with it on my knees. In the morning, I hit Rite Aid for some knee braces. A kind man goes out of his way to drive us back to the trail, and then its straight up to Bald Pate. My new knee braces don’t seem to do much for steeper sections, so I inch my way up hill. I crest the first summit, and then the second, where the wind almost knocks me over. Some weekenders are out, bundled up in hats and rain gear, and they stare at me, the crazy lady with giant knee braces, wind catching my torn dress and making it billow like a sail.

There’s a steep descent from the summit on slick slabs, and my knees scream at me, but then the terrain gives me a break. There’s fivish miles of gentle down and then sixish of gentle climbing. I average over two miles an hour, which hasn’t happened since before Moosilauke. And when I get to the shelter, I realize I haven’t cursed or yelled in pain since Bald Pate. It’s the best day of hiking I’ve had in a while.

It’s a steep drop down from the shelter and then a steep climb up again right away. We have 3 of these Vs to do today, and they hurt. We climb up over Old Blue Mountain, then down Beemus. I slip on a slab and bruise my tailbone yet again. I’ve also pulled a muscle behind my knee, but I’ve taken so much Ibuprofen that I can’t feel my knees themselves, so that is good. I get some decent views, in the gaps between trees and looking out across slabs. Maine is beautiful: lush and green and ruggged.

We have ten miles to Rangely in the morning. They are easy miles- relatively little elevation gain, but my pulled muscle makes me hobble and it takes forever. My tailbone screams at me, so I don’t even notice my knees. There’s a little hostel just off trail that I reach just after ten. They shuttle us in to town for food, and I buy a new shirt to replace my destroyed dress.

We leave bright and early. The sun is shining and everything is beautiful as I climb Sadleback mountain. I can see back as far as Mount Washington. The weather holds and I have a fairly easy day for once- no new injuries.

It’s hot in the morning, and I’m awake at 4am. I’m packed up and hiking just as it gets light. It takes La Copa a long time to catch me despite my slow pace: hot days are his weakness. We drop down, then climb up. The heat is unbearable and it’s not even 9am. We quickly downgrade our miles for the day. I drink so much water I almost run out, rushing past the 2000 mile mark. It barely registers that I’ve walked that far yet again. We stop at Horn Pond lean to, at the beginning of the Bigalows. 

Thunderstorms are forecast and we have two 4,000 ft mountains between us and the relative safety of the forest, so it’s another 4am start. I leave with my headlamp still on, climbing South Horn in the clouds. We drop down, then climb Bigelow and Avery. The clouds part enough for a view on Avery, and then it’s down, flat and down to the shelter where we stop for a break. Solo, one of the first SoBos, is there, pondering if he should go up with the forecast. We chat for a little, and then continue.

From here, the trail is flat, at least in comparison to what we’ve been doing. I fly and nothing hurts. Its a huge confidence boost after the pain I’ve been in that there’s nothing seriously wrong- it’s just the crazy elevation  change since New Hampshire. We reach the next shelter at 2pm and head out just as thunder starts to roll. A mile down the trail, it echoes all around. Two miles later, it mists down. Three and the rain is torrential. We skirt lakes as the trail slowly becomes a river. It rains hard all afternoon. I’d probably be dryer if I jumped in the lake. There’s a sports camp just past the shelter we’d planned to stop at- maybe we can dry out there? We make it before six, for a 28.5 mile day. I haven’t done those kind of miles since Massachusetts. At the camp, we get a little cabin, the owner stuffs us full of leftovers and puts my soaked sleeping bag in the dryer. In the morning, most of my stuff is still soaked, but there is coffee and pancakes.

We leave after breakfast. It’s 3 miles to the Kennebec, where we have to take a canoe across. Heatwave is already waiting. She is finishing up her hike from last year and it only takes five minutes of chatting for us to figure out we have a mutual friend- Glimmer! I stop in at the hostel on the other side of the river with her, buy a soda and some other things I need, and get ready to chase La Copa down the trail.

I have some chafing, probably from the heat the day before and hiking in wet clothes. It’s mostly around where my knee brace goes, although I’m not wearing it today. By lunch, it’s bad enough that I stop to slather it in antibacterial ointment. I stop again a few hours later, and then, as I’m climbing Moxie Bald, it is suddenly so painful I don’t want to walk another step. I check on my leg and discover blisters the size of quarters. I cut my pant leg so I can hopefully lessen the friction, and hobble to the shelter. 

It’s not much better in the morning. Luckily, it’s only 17 miles to town. It’s easy trail, but I’m slow, wincing my way down. At the highway, the first car I see picks me up and takes me to the hostel. La Copa has obviously spent some time convincing the SoBos and owner that I need a zero and they gang up on me until I relent. The hostel owner, Poet, is worried enough to call a nurse practitioner friend, who tells me he thinks it’s an allergic reaction, probably to my knee brace.

Taking a zero is almost as painful as my leg. It will mean losing La Copa, who I’ve walked almost a thousand miles with. It will likely mean walking the last 100 miles alone, and finishing the triple crown without anyone to celebrate with. But the thought of pushing it too far and needing rescued from the 100 mile wilderness makes me squirm in embarrassment. There’s only so much stubbornness can do when my body is unhappy. I’ve walked well over 7,000 miles in a little over 2 years, and I’m starting to feel it.

The Whites: Hanover to Gorum (or how I lost Mount Washington)

Appalacian Trail

We are treated like celebrities in Hanover. We stand outside of the post office, chatting with Foot Print, who is about to head out of town. La Copa and I are zeroing, so it is unlikely that we’ll bump into him again. A man comes up and says we are the first thru hikers he’s seen this year. La Copa tells him that’s because we are the first northbound thru hikers. He chats for a bit, wanders off, then comes back with cookies for us. As always, the generosity of strangers overwhelms me.

Our zero is filled with a busy schedule of eating, sleeping and shower laundry. With only 450 miles to Katahdin, it’s unlikely we’ll get another chance to relax, unless the snow or weather kicks us out of the mountains. I’m tired and need a rest anyway. La Copa checks the elevation gain for our “easy” first day out of town- we’ll be climbing over 7,000 feet over 22 miles. The AT is about to get a lot more challenging. I research snow levels in the Whites, and it looks like we will have plenty of excitement heading our way, although conditions are much better than I expected. Luckily, it’s not the Sierra or the San Juans we’re heading into.

I sleep poorly in town, despite my exhaustion. I stare at a ceiling blank of stars and miss the wind in the trees. Oh well. I can sleep in 450 miles, right? We get a later start, on trail by 7, and begin our day with it’s intimidating elevation change. It’s not so bad though- the climbs come easy, big enough that you can find a rhythm, but not big enough to tire me. The ticks are out in full force though- as we pass through low spots, I feel them jump from grass blades to my legs. I pull 8 off of me throughout the day. Enough of these swamps. We need to get high.

Smart mountain takes us up, in a climb filled with rebar and scrambles. We climb the firetower and see the Whites laid out before us- Moosilauke, just before, and Franconia ridge behind. There’s a cabin just below the summit where we’d intended to stop, but a shirtless man smelling strongly of beer comes out as we approach. His dogs bark at us. We stop to evaluate and filter water. He offers us beer and gets pushy when La Copa refuses. We don’t even have to talk to make a decision. The next shelter will give us a 29 mile day with almost 9,000 feet of elevation gain, but if we stay here, we might get murdered in our sleep. We show up at the next shelter just as twilight settles in.

I actually manage to sleep in after our late night, waking after 6 to La Copa sitting on the edge of the shelter, swinging his legs as he journals. I make coffee and we head out up Mount Cube. I hurt from the day before, chafe in uncomfortable places and tight muscles, but Cube is beautiful with it’s marble slabs and boulders, so it barely matters. We drop down again, yawning. At lunch, we decide we’re too tired for a big day: we’ll stop at the shelter at the base of Moosilauke for naps and get an early start. La Copa is a little in front, as normal, when we approach the shelter, and I see him walking back from it, shaking his head. There’s five guys there already, drinking beer and getting rowdy. There’s no way we’ll be able to sleep.

How is this happening for the second day in a row? It feels like the trail is forcing us to push on. All we can do is listen. The next place to camp is the next shelter: 7 miles and a 4,800 foot peak is all that stands between us. We start to climb and I find my second wind. Up and up, til the trees grow stunted and snow lingers in their gnarled roots. Then, we break treeline. Ahead, the Whites fill the horizon, ridges and peaks bare and rocky. Behind, the mountains of Vermont are lush and green. I feel something in my soul break free and soar. Nothing makes me feel more alive than standing on top of a mountain, feeling small and insignificant, the world laid out before me.

We snack on the summit, then push the last two miles to the shelter. We finally encounter the famous White Mountain monorail- a line of snow that fills the trail. We quickly learn to ride the ridge of packed snow in the center. Step off just a little and you posthole to your waist. I am not very good at riding the monorail and fall off frequently, to La Copa’s amusement. We finally show up to the shelter as it’s getting dark. The shelter is dirty with trash, but it is empty and has a fantastic view of the Kinsmen, our mountains for the next day.

The trail goes to hell in the morning. We’re up early, congratulating ourselves on a short 18 mile day today, when La Copa gets a message from Footprint. 16 of the 18 miles we are about to do took him 10 hours. Footprint is much faster than me. We are screwed. Our extra 2 miles aren’t easy either. The elevation profile looks like we fall off a cliff, and that is basically what we do, following a waterfall (not a river!) Down to the valley below. There are steps cut into the rock, rebar, ice and snow. It takes us two hours to reach the valley floor, where there’s a box of trail magic. I take a soda and worry: I only ever get trail magic when I really need it. What lies ahead that I need to be extra caffeinated for?

We soon find out. The trail climbs straight up and rides a ridge that doesn’t look bad on the elevation profile. The elevation profile lies. There isn’t an inch of flat ground and there’s some of the worst blow downs I’ve ever seen (and I hiked the CDT through beetle killed Colorado). Almost every up features a rock scramble, and most of the downhill do too. Sometimes the blow downs block the scramble. I contort myself in odd ways to get up- bracing off tree limbs behind me, leaning back and using counter pressure against rocks, and matching feet. Long legged La Copa doesn’t have to get as creative, but it’s still slow going. We don’t average our normal 2mph, and it’s frustrating. 

We start the climb up the Kinsmen, two twinned mountain peaks. Surprise, surprise, we scramble, up roots and rocks and wet slabs. Still, this feels like we are making progress. We summit as storm clouds race across the sky and the wind almost knocks me off my feet. We try and run down to the interstate, but we can’t. Everything is a scramble again, and we are frustratingly slow. The rain starts in ernest as we hit Lonesome Lake Lodge and we duck into their woodshed to don rain gear. It’s another long three miles to the interstate and a bonus mile to the parking lot, where we are picked up, soaked and exhausted, by our hostel.

There’s a hiker at the hostel who we know has been doing a good bit of blue and yellow blazing (hitchhiking and taking easier side trails and roads). I sit and fume about this for most of the night. He’s another almost triple crowners (most of the people this early are, a fact that makes “rookie” La Copa proud) and while his shortcuts don’t diminish my accomplishment any, it is so frustrating to watch him sit around drinking beer and boasting to the day hikers filling the hostel, while I limp around, exhausted and starving. Every time he mentions to someone new that he’s an almost triple crowners, La Copa chimes in that I am too, and that makes me feel a little better. 

We head out around noon, when the rain is supposed to stop. It’s still drizzling, but we climb up to Franconia ridge anyway. It’s steep and I’m much slower than La Copa, but he waits for me at the top. And then we enter blow down hell. We ride along the ridge, but there are fallen trees every 30 feet or so- frequently multiple trunks are piled on top of each other. It’s frustratingly slow and difficult to navigate. There are a few spots where I wonder if turning around would be smart. We long for the two miles above treeline that we know are coming up.

We hit treeline in a cloud. The wind is howling up here, blowing mist at us, soaking everything. I move as fast as I can, slipping on the wet rocks. We crest Mount Lafayette, and then we’re moving as fast as we can, running for treeline as the wind almost blows me off my feet. We’re almost there when we hit a slab of wet rock. I feel gravity take me and let it, sliding down feet first, unhurt. Behind me, I hear La Copa yell out, so loudly I think he’s broken a leg. He’s pretty beat up, but no broken bones at least. We stop at treeline and try and patch him up, but nothing will stick to his wet hand and I’m getting cold. We need to get to the shelter.

It’s a struggle. At least below treeline we are out of the wind a little more, but we are plagued by blowdowns and ice, covering the trail on the steepest downhill. It’s too steep for microspikes to grip, so we grip the trees along the side of the trail, trying to stick to the rocks. I slide and fall a few times but never far. We reach the shelter just before nightfall, battered, bruised and with holes in everything. We’ve done 11 miles in 7 hours. 

It’s not much faster in the morning. The trail follows a waterfall down- this time the trail is the waterfall. We climb back up the steep trail to South Twin, and lunch in the sunshine. Then, the ridge walk of my nightmares. We posthole for two miles, to my upper thigh at times. I fall over and flounder in the soft snow, unable to get back up. The snowy nightmare only ends when we duck above treeline for a second.

I stop for a break and cry a little on the way down. I’m tired, my knees ache and I’m so frustrated with our slow pace. I wonder about taking time off, but the snow isn’t even the main thing slowing us down. The Whites are kicking my butt. We stop at a fancy hut and clean the kitchen in exchange for a warm place to sleep for the night.

In the morning, the trail is easier. It’s the break I need. At the start, this would have been rough trail: roots and rocks and marsh. But I’m doing over 2mph, and after the last few days, this feels like flying. We drop down to a notch, then climb up to Mitzpah hut. We get there before 2, but we have to stop. The next hut is still closed for the winter, and it’s a long way to the shelter after that, over Mount Washington. La Copa is antsy and wants to push on, but I know we’ll be pushing darkness and hiking in poor conditions on a mountain famous for bad weather. 

It turns out they are having some sort of training at the hut, so we can’t sleep there. We pitch our tents in the rain. The cloud seeps under my tarp, and in the morning, everything I own is soaked. I head out before La Copa as the mist blows across the stunted pines.

I hike 5 miles in the clouds, buffeted by the wind. I’m wondering if it’s smart to climb Washington in this, when the weather starts to break. The sun comes out above, but the clouds stay below. I’m above the clouds! I yell out in sheer joy and take plenty of photos. Except, it turns out I should have been paying more attention to the trail and less to the views. I follow cairns around the side of Washington, waiting for the trail to go up. Except it doesn’t. I see the other side of the mountain, and I realize something is wrong. I get out Guthooks and see that I am far off trail. I’m maybe 500ft below the summit and a mile or so off course.

Now I have a problem. I can backtrack, but I’ll miss La Copa and never catch him. I can hit the AT and keep going, but then I’d miss Washington. I’m almost to where the trail meets the AT. I can hook around there, southbound to the summit, and then backtrack. I find the AT, climb to the summit and find La Copa there. We take our photos and get ready to tackle the rest of the Presidentials.

Everything else goes without incident. There are a few snowfield to cross, and dark storm clouds build overhead, but we get down below treeline safely and without getting lost.

Photos shamelessly stolen from La Copa

We slackpack in the morning, over the Wild Cats. We check the elevation change and it looks ferocious. 6000+ ft of gain and over 8,000 of loss. My knees ache just thinking about it, but it’s not so bad. There’s some steep scrambles up and down, but only a little snow and a few bothersome blown downs. The weather and the views are good. And at the end of the day, I’m officially done with the Whites, and less than 10 miles from Maine, my final state.

Great Barrington to Hanover (Massachusetts and Vermont)

Appalacian Trail

I’m not eloquent enough to explain how much the kindness of others has meant to me on the AT. This thru hike has been more about the people I have met than any other trail. Safety Pin and Leapfrog pick us up, feed us, and let us clean up. 

I’m getting to the point in my hike where fatigue is an issue. Thru hiking is rough enough, but three summers back to back is taking its toll. My feet have grown again, so I have heel blisters and foot pain. A muscle in my hip twitches and pops. I need a mental and physical boost and Safety Pin and Leapfrog provide it. 

Safety Pin packs us banana bread and lunch and drives us back to the trail in the morning. It’s raining a little and our friends the salamanders are out. We hop up hills and bound back down again. Towards the end of the day, we pass Upper Goose Pond Cabin. It’s closed for the season, but I’ve heard so much about it that I have to check it out. I leave my pack with La Copa and jog to the cabin and back. By the time I get back, Safety Pin and Aspen the dog are waiting too. We hike back to the car and round two of food, showers and comfy beds. 

The amazing Safety Pin

It’s the same story in the morning, except Safety Pin pushes us to do more miles. La Copa let slip that Footprint passed us, so we are no longer the first real Nobo thru hikers (I am still the first woman, now Anish is off trail, a thought that freaks me out) and Safety Pin wants us to reclaim the number 1 spot. We start out fast, but it’s roots and rocks. We make a brief visit to see Footprint, working on his blog in Dalton, but then we keep hiking. My feet ache and burn from the rough trail. We climb and drop and Safety Pin is waiting for us at the bottom.

Thank you Safety Pin!

We say goodbye to Safety Pin in the morning. We are leaving Massachusetts today and she’s been so kind to us while we are in her home state. She loads us down with baked goods until I can barely lift my pack. And then there’s nothing left to do but climb, up to Mount Greylock, Massachusetts highest point. We immediately pass Footprint, taking down a soggy tent, and share some of the wealth of muffins and cookies with him.

We climb up and up. Greylock is the first major climb since we crossed the Mason Dixon line, and before the summit, we get into sub alpine pine forest. Patches of snow linger in the twist of roots. We break for lunch at the summit (Pizza! Muffins! Thank you Safety Pin!) And then drop down, to climb back up to a ridge where we scramble along marble boulders. We show up to an empty shelter, but Jake shows up, and then Footprint and Scratch. Footprint has packed out beers for us, and we sit and drink them until after the sun has set.

Board walk, not bored walk

We head out early in the morning, as always. It’s slow going- blow downs cover the trail, and roots grab at my feet. La Copa is having a rough day, yawning and stumbling. We stop for a long lunch with Footprint, and then start the long climb up to Glastonbury Mountain. There’s patches of snow near the top, but nothing too major before the shelter. We say goodbye to Footprint, who is pushing on, and set up for the night.

It’s a short climb to the top of the mountain in the morning. There’s a fire tower and we run up it. The sun is just over the horizon and it warms the tops of the pines below. We drop down, postholing through soft snow for a mile or so, until it turns to patches and melts out.

In the afternoon, we climb Stratton mountain. While the climb up Glastonbury was long and soft, Stratton is sharp and short. It’s higher than Glastonbury, but there’s less snow up here, most of it hardened to ice. We slip and slide back down, legs skidding and arms flailing, til we get to our shelter.

I’m exhausted in the morning, despite my best night of sleep in a while. The miles are getting harder and it’s taking a toll. Still, we’re able to get moving, running the six miles to the road to Manchester, with our hitch depositing us at a cafe a little after 8. We have 2 hours to kill til the gear store where La Copa has a package opens, so we eat and drink and charge our stuff. The barista figures out what I’m doing and buys my pastries for me. Everyone in the cafe asks if we are hiking and I feel like a minor celebrity.

Back on the trail, we climb up and down, in and out of the snow. We climb one mountain with a ski lift at the top- luckily the snow is melted enough that we don’t see anyone out enjoying the slopes. It seems like we’re going to be postholing for the rest of the trail.

In the morning, a few miles from the shelter, I check my phone. There’s a message from Tourist, a PCT friend. He’s heading up to Vermont with his wife, Butt Tape and they’re coming to hike. Where am I? We quickly coordinate a meeting in a parking lot a few miles away. The trail is rough and it takes us a deceptively long time, but Butt Tape and Tourist are waiting with hot coffee, cantaloupe and Russian pastries. 

They shoulder their packs and head up the trail with us. It’s much easier going than the morning, and, as most former thru hikers can, Butt Tape and Tourist have no problems keeping up. We wander along, reminiscing about the PCT and swapping stories. 

Butt Tape and Tourist!

Not happy about that number.

In the morning, I’m exhausted from cumulative nights of bad sleep from a hiker who repeatedly shows up late at the shelter. We leave quickly and quietly to try and not wake up Butt Tape and Tourist, who are back tracking to their car. A mile up the trail, La Copa stops for breakfast and tells me I’m welcome to keep going if I want. Instead, I throw down my poles and curl up with my head on my pack. I am so tired.

The trail doesn’t give me much of a break though. We climb up Killington, and the snow starts 400 feet from the summit. There’s a long summit ridge and we posthole our way along, feet soaked from the streams underneath. The way down is a little better, the snow ending quickly. At the highway, we bump into Foot Print, on his way back from Rutland. We skip on a town trip, opting to hike with our friend for a little.

The elevation profile for the next day is misleading. It looks a little bumpy, but in reality, this is the mean older brother of Virginia’s rollercoaster. There is no flat land anywhere: we are either going straight up or straight down. The gradient is much sharper too. I limp into the shelter after 23 miles, exhausted.

I don’t get much of a break though. Thunderstorms are forecast for the morning, with a high enough percentage that even normally blasé La Copa suggests getting an early start. I wake up at 4:45 and hear La Copa stir too. It’s go time.

When in doubt, the AT goes up.

We run, up and down Vermont’s crumpled landscape. We climb up and drop down, the path a sharp, vertical zig zag. Somehow, we average 3mph, despite the tough terrain. We reach Hanover as dark clouds build overhead. It’s 10:30, and I already want to go back to bed. Exhaustion fogs my brain and builds in my body like lactic acid building in my legs. It’s time for a break. It’s time for my first zero since Delaware Water Gap.

Delaware Water Gap to Great Barrington (New Jersey, New York and Connecticut)

Appalacian Trail

I’m walking down the street in Delaware Water Gap, when I feel someone following me. I turn around. “Fun Size?” It’s La Copa, who I met when we bailed back to Damascus. He’s staying in town too, waiting out weather. We have a little hiker party with Sail, a hiker doing the International Appalachian Trail, and a rotating cast of characters including Scratch and Czech Mix. 

La Copa and I head out together in the morning. Somehow, we have talked each other into doing 31.5 miles today. I love big days and he is meeting family and trying to space shelters appropriately. We keep up a steady stream of chatter and the day flies past, just like the miles. It’s sunny and we are on the top of a ridge, but now we are in New Jersey and it is different from the Pennsylvania ridges before. Whereas Pennsylavia was flat, New Jersey has little climbs. The rocks slowly start getting better. There are views of forest, and I can’t see an interstate anywhere. It feels like we finally are getting back to the wilderness.

We catch Scratch just before the shelter, but he’s planning on going one shelter further. Someone has left Mountain House dinners at our shelter and I immediately claim them. 

In the morning, the sky threatens rain. It holds off til mid morning, but really starts to pour just as we reach the high point visitor center. We duck inside and eat lunch until it lessens. We drop down to farmland, then duck into Unionville for resupply and pizza. Czech Mix shows up as we’re leaving and let’s us know he’ll be at the same shelter. “Pack us out a beer!” I shout, joking, as we walk away.

We walk around a wildlife preserve, where geese honk at us and gophers scurry. Then we climb up to the shelter. Half an hour after La Copa and I are settled, Czech Mix shows up. “They only have good beer in bottles,” he tells me. “You’ll have to share.” He hands me a canned margaritas and La Copa and I pass it back and forth until I am a little tipsy. 

We catch Scratch a few miles after the shelter in the morning. He sets a blistering pace along boardwalks and up hills. We do 12 miles by 11am- a 3mph pace that is fast for the AT. We say goodbye to Scratch at lunch, and then La Copa and I walk along ridges, scrambling over rocks and up rebar. It’s hot and we flag as thunderclouds build overhead. There’s a creamery just 2 miles before the shelter, and we think we can make it before the storms kick off. 

One large cone later, and we are scrambling along exposed rocky ridges as the storms build up overhead. We make it to the shelter well before the rain starts. It patters down and lightning flashes in the distance, but the rain stays light and the storm far off.

We’re up early in the morning, La Copa, Walkie Talkie and I rolling out together. La Copa’s brother in law is meeting him to hike with us, so we try and hustle. Walkie Talkie stops for breakfast and we lose him. New York seems to be upping the scrambling- we have multiple short, steep climbs and sharp drops down. 

After lunch (avocado and cheese sandwiches, courtesy of La Copa’s brother in law) the terrain gets mostly easier. We pass through the lemon squeezer, a short section of close together rocks. There’s a 7 foot cliff just after. La Copa is over a foot taller than me, so he bounds up, but I have to find a crack and lean back, using my rusty climbing skills to make my way up.

We finish at a shelter. It’s 0.6 off trail, but worth it for a great view of New York City. La Copa’s brother in law cooks steak and shares it with us. I lie in my sleeping bag and look at the distant city. It looks like an alien planet. I think about the people there: clean, well fed, part of the rat race. I’d much rather be out here, cold and hungry.

I head out first in the morning in the snow flurries, hoping to get enough of a head start to poop off trail. I step off and immediately see everyone pass me. Oh well. Guess I’m playing catch up today. I run down West Mountain, then up adjacent Bear Mountain. It’s very developed for a mountain I’ve heard so much about. There are even vending machines at the top, though I’m so preoccupied with catching my friends that I don’t check them out. I run down, along the lake and then bypass the zoo, since it is still too early for it to be open. Then across the Hudson, on a terrifying bridge. There’s still no sign of either La Copa or Walkie Talkie. Where are these guys? There’s a deli we’d planned on eating lunch at where I’ll see them, but this is hurting my pride.

I climb a hill where I see a day hiker. He tells me there are two hikers five minutes in front. I run and run, and as I start going downhill, I see two unfamiliar backpacks. Then I hear a noise behind me: it’s La Copa. He got off to poop too and has been behind me the entire time. We cruise into the deli together, well ahead of schedule. 

We hang out a little more in the afternoon. It rains and rains, despite being forecast to be nice. We make it to the closed state park where we are allowed to camp. The field we are supposed to be in is sodden, with no protection from the sheets of rain blowing across. But up the hill is the lodge (closed, of course) with a large overhanging porch. We bump into Walkie Talkie walking up to it and decide to set up camp on the porch. It’s dryish and mostly out of the wind and has great cell service.

I take my phone off of airplane mode and see a message from Overhill. He’s been 200ish miles in front of me for a while, but now he tells me he’s done with the trail. He’s been having lots of problems, but there is too much snow in Vermont for him to continue. This is obviously concerning. 

We all head out together, Walkie Talkie running out ahead and taking breaks in the way he does. La Copa and I duck into a shelter right by the road to sign the register. There are pizza boxes and a trash can. La Copa goes to toss his trash and jumps back with a yelp. A possum sleeping in the bottom of the can lifts its head to hiss at him.

 I struggle a little to keep up some times, but both of these guys are over 6 feet and their long legs eat up the miles. It’s hot today, and we have miles to kill. La Copa has friends in Pawling, in a boarding school he used to work at. 

We sit by the side of the road until one of La Copa’s friends shows up. We pile into her car, drop Walkie Talkie at the train station, and head to the school. It’s possibly the fanciest place I’ve ever been. Emily and Keith take us in, wash our stinking clothes and feed us. In the morning, they drive us back to the trail.

We’re hiking by 7:30 and it’s already so hot. We climb up and I flag behind. We stop at a shelter at 10:30 and I’m soaked in sweat. But there’s another 4 miles ahead where we can siesta. I nap fitfully, drinking all the water I can. It doesn’t seem to be enough. 

By 2, it’s cooled enough to head out. A snake lies across the trail. It looks like a baby copperhead. La Copa does not like snakes, so I nudge it with my trekking pole until it slithers  off. We make it to a shelter 20 miles from our start point, despite our late start and long breaks. We throw ourselves down on top of our sleeping bags, exhausted.

La Copa sets an alarm for 5am. It’s already so hot I don’t want to move. We climb up a hill, sweating. The sun isn’t even really up yet. We wander along the top of a ridge, then scramble down steep boulders to the river. There’s a shelter and we stop, exhausted by 9am. I make coffee. It’s 10 miles to the next shelter. 17 miles is nothing, but this heat is destroying us.

We climb back up again, and throw down our packs in a patch of shade. Footprint comes up behind us and joins us. He camped after our shelter, but somehow we talk him into staying at our shelter tonigjt, despite the fact that he normally does 30s. La Copa checks the weather: 10am and 83 degrees. We cross a river, splash water on ourselves and climb way back. We make it to the shelter by 3, a while before the thunderstorms are supposed to start. Evan, a flip flopper, shows up too, and the four of us hang out, sweating in the shelter. The heat builds and builds, humidity pressing down like a fist, until it breaks into torrential rain.

In the morning, little orange salamanders dot the path, scurrying from our clumsy feet. It’s hot again, and so humid that my dress is as wet as if I’d jumped in the river. We do 8 miles before 9 and detour to a little cafe for breakfast. We hike out as the humidity is dropping and the clouds are building. We reach the shelter by 3 again. It’s not so hot today that we can’t hike, but thunderstorms are forecast to start by 5 and we can’t make the next shelter. I am antsy, eating dinner far too early and grumbling at La Copa, but when thunder rolls far off at 5pm on the dot, I’m glad we’ve stayed.

It’s not easy going in the morning. We climb up yet another Bear Mountain and scramble down the other side, slick rock worn smooth by too many footsteps. We drop into a ravine and immediately have to climb back up. And then again. By the time we stop for lunch, we’ve only done 11 miles, despite starting at 5am.

We make up a little time in the afternoon, but not too much. I have a meeting planned, so we all but run the last five miles. I feel a tick crawling on my thigh, and barely even stop to flick it off. But at a river a half mile from a road, we see Safety Pin, Leapfrog and Aspen the dog, and our fast pace is worth it. They load us into their car and ply us with food. I met Safety Pin and Leapfrog in  Shenandoah and it turns out La Copa met them in the Smokies.

Pennsylvania is not my favorite: Duncannon to Delaware Water Gap.

Appalacian Trail

It pours in Duncannon. I’m happy to be inside, warm and dry in the Doyle hotel. The Doyle is a historic building, a little on the run down side. I’m the only guest. It kind of feels like I’m squatting in an abandoned mansion.

It stops enough after lunch for me to head out. I’m feeling slow and sleepy and my appetite is dead. The trail is a river, so I stop at the first shelter, happy to get out of the weather. Someone has left a book there and I devour it.

The weather continues to be bad. It spits snow as I’m leaving in the morning. I step on two rocks funny, with each foot in quick succession. Pain shoots through my feet. It’s a dull, pain filled day as I hike to the shelter. I make it just before it starts to snow in earnest.

I fall asleep easily, but wake an hour later to waves of nausea. I lie still, trying not to puke. Uh oh. In the morning, I can’t eat breakfast, but I head out anyway. I pass under an interstate and climb a ridge. At the top, I lose what little I’ve eaten into a pile of leaves. Ugh. By the time I make the shelter, I’ve managed to keep down some water and a candy bar. The shelter is right by a road and has a caretaker. He comes to check on me and says I don’t look great. He gives me a few oranges, then leaves me to sleep it off.

It’s 15 to the next shelter and it’s a struggle. It snows and hails on and off. I’m so tired and I can’t eat. I sit down and take breaks every mile, only hiking when I start to shiver. I’m pretty miserable. I actually even think briefly about quitting, before realizing that’s crazy talk after everything I went through last summer. I make it to the shelter, where Broken Arrow is already starting to set up. At 71, she’s the oldest woman I’ve met on trail. She started last year and hiked as far north as she could and now she’s back to finish the job. I immediately stop feeling sorry for myself.
It’s amazing the difference attitude can make on the trail, and the difficulty with solo hiking is that there is no one to blame but yourself if you are in a funk. In the morning, I resolve to be more cheerful. The sun is peeking out between the clouds. It’s going to be a great day!

My resolve is almost instantly tested when I realize a mile down the trail that I’ve left my umbrella behind and have to back track to get it. No matter though. I drop down to Port Clinton, stop for a coke, and then climb back up to the ridge above. The trail winds along the ridge top and I rockhop my way along.

I’m dropping down towards my shelter for the night when I turn my phone off of airplane mode. Thatch had texted me a few days ago asking where I’d be, but I hadn’t heard anything back. Now a flurry of texts comes through, obviously backed up from several days ago. Thatch is 12 miles north when I get a hold of him, planning on hiking south and trying to find me, despite the fact he hadn’t heard from me. I’d been ready to stop, but now I’m ready to run and find my friend.

I do mile math in my head as I walk. Rather than normal addition and subtraction, this is college level stuff. If Fun Size is 12 miles south of Thatch and walks north at 2.5 miles an hour, while Thatch walks south at 2.8 miles an hour, but Fun Size is pushing 30 miles today and Thatch has drunk two beers, who will give up and stop for the night first?

In the end, I bump into Thatch as I’m trying to negotiate my way down a pile of boulders the size of fridges. He looks exactly the same as he did on the CDT, right down to the green fleece. I finally get down from the boulders and give him a huge hug. We find a little campspot clear of rocks and he gives me the banana and taco bell he packed in. Trail magic! Of course, the best magic is seeing my friend.

We’re not in a rush in the morning- we can’t hike too far from Thatch’s van anyway. Thatch makes me coffee, then we meander to the shelter where I sign the register. It’s only a few miles from there to the van, where Thatch has sandwich fixings! I make myself a bagel sandwich and reminisce about our sandwich van adventure after the CDT, where we drove the ice fields parkway. Thatch drives us to town for second lunch, and then back to the trail. We only do a few more miles: up along a ridge called the knife edge, where stacked boulders give us a fun scramble. We find a nice campsite overlooking the valley and sit and chat while we drink the beer we packed out.

We part ways in the morning. Thatch needs to drive home and Katahdin is calling to me again, now Thatch has restored my motivation. It’s hot today and there’s not a lot of water. I fill up at a shelter, where three older men compete to give me the best food out of their packs after learning what I’m doing. A man, the clear winner, gives me home cured ham. The loser gives me a slim jim that expired two years ago. Oh well. You win some, you lose some.

After lunch, I climb up exposed Lehigh gap. There’s no trees and my pack is heavy with water. I chug, and at the top, a man gives me half a litre, still cold from his fridge. The trail is nice, then worse and worse, rocks and boulders making me step strangely, which in turn causes all sorts of aches and pains. Early this section, my feet hurt like I’d been pounding them with a hammer. Then my inner thigh muscles burned and ached. Now I’ve strained a muscle in my right calf. These aches are like the rocks themselves: nothing big, nothing serious, but a major annoyance. 

I have another day of rocks, but the beautiful weather keeps my mood balenced. I make it to Delaware Water Gap and the end of Pennsylvania just before the rain is predicted to start.