Smith Property Loop
I live in southern Ontario, in fact not too far from the Niagara Escarpment so I do have hills that are a short drive away, but in truth most of my near by trails are like this. They are by definition of anyone who walks the AT - flat.
Since I am still working on injury recovery I will be fine with flat for while but I learned last time I need more inclines in my training be it for breaking in boots (before they break me) or just making it easier to make it up the hills that are in my future,
As I am back to local trails I have also hit the local library to see in the last year they had improved their hiking collection. The answer is 'no'. I have a rather good library of hiking journals and books at the moment ( a few which I have lent out to others). What are your favourite hiking books?
Four weeks ago my trail through the mists lead me here.
For those of you who aren't scadians that is the 'castle' at Pennsic. Pennsic is a gathering of 10,000 + folk some of who put on armour and fight on this battlefield, others attend classes and almost everyone parties and shops. It is somewhat like a rennfair where everyone is part of the background story and no one is just a visitor for the day, One of my passions (along with hiking) is volunteering to help create this magic for other people.
Now,how does this relate to the one year buzzer warning going off? Well, my promised attendance to work on setting the ground work for this temporary city we build is part of deciding the timeline for when I head south.
So one year from today I will either be heading south to get on the Appalachian Trail at Harper's Ferry and head south or I will be on the trail taking my first steps into the glorious state of Virginia.
Mentally and physically I am not where I want to be in a year. BUT time wise I have a year to change that. The injuries that took me off the trail south of Stratton last fall lasted 9 months and are still causing a few problems. BUT so much can happen in a year.
And I will try to catalogue it here. The progress and the backwards steps and the decisions about training/gear/food and the like. Might also include a few book reviews along the way since I think we all collect a library of stories and facts that keep us going.
If you have ideas of what you would like me to write about let me know. It is going to be an interesting roller coaster of a year to get me walking those roller coaster hills. Looking forward to that first white blaze.
Thirteen months ago today I was working on getting everything together for my departure on the Appalachian Trail from Harpers Ferry on April 29. Yesterday I spent a day feeling sorry for myself for making the right decision.
Today we start working on next steps.
Have an opportunity over the next thirteen months (likely actually seventeen months since hiking south in the summer makes no sense to my Canadian blood stream) to improve everything about my hike.
Now I am certain if you asked a few of my hiking companions, they would say I carry too much and I walk too slow. And you know that is worthy of looking at.
I hiked the speed I needed and I am not certain if an aim to go faster is really important for me. I got a chance to see and enjoy a number of small moments that might have been missed. But you know if I wanted to make it to Georgia in 2017 the weekend before American Thanksgiving covering more miles in days with less sunlight would be a good aim.
Other point is my gear. I have never carried more than 1/5 of my weight. Thing is I weigh over 230lbs and started my hike last year at 270lbs. So my pack has always seemed incredibly heavy to the folk who were half my weight who would pick it up on occasion. BUT heck I need to remember, when I started it seemed incredibly heavy to me as well. (I would choose not to take it off during rest stops since putting it back on took way more energy than I felt I had.) Doing training hikes with 25lbs had become second nature to me before I left, nearly doubling that weight to start likely wasn't the smartest move. So building up to training hikes with more approximate weight closer to departure date makes sense as does bringing down the weight. Working out an idea of what is essential, what would be nice and what could stay behind will also be part of this blog as I continue it.
'We' could dissect my gear. I don't have unlimited funds for different choices and I do rather like a number of them otherwise they would never have made it home from the Trail. But looking at them with a critical eye wouldn't be a bad choice. One of the points to keep in mind if you are going to make recommendations is that I am a plus sized hiker. There are more limited gear choices available for any plus sized hiker/sports minded folk and even less so when she is female.
So I have a few more adventures on the horizon, after the healing, which I am also planning on cataloguing here if you stick around.
This post has been a long time coming as I have mulled over coming to terms with the decision for the last ten days.
Wow, even sitting down to write is making me strangely sad.
A wise friend as we were driving off on an adventure wondered at the wisdom of sticking with the date of August 25th, 2016 to head back on the Trail. You see, the leg that I had injured back in August in Maine on the Trail is still not healed. It is now under much more active treatment after seven cycles of infections and antibiotics. I get to see a very kind community care nurse every three days or so at the hospital as she changes the bandage and rewraps it in a full lower leg bandage. I am allowed some walking but no real hiking and definitely no over night camping until I finally heal that wound. The hoped for date is sometime in May
I had been stressing about how I could heal and then crunch the six months of training I have missed into the remaining three. I had already worked out the imaginary schedule for the 1060 mile hike, where mail drops should be and had started wondering about putting together the boxes. I was in a tizzy as I was reaching a point of making commitments to others who wanted to join for sections and not knowing if my body would measure up.
So much of long distance hiking is mental. Once you figure out the “step, breathe, repeat” part of it and your body gains the strength needed it is the head that will keep you going day to day. And for once my head though certain that miles could be covered wasn’t certain of the sense of going ahead.
A decision has been made.
I want to be healthy for the rest of the Trail. I want to recover that strong capable body (even if I go at my slow steady pace). I know I can do it. So my family and friends get to deal with my rather nomadic lifestyle for another year as I put off completing the Trail until 2017.
I will heal.
I will do a few week long hikes this Fall hopefully with friends and look forward to completing a few miles on the Appalachian Trail.
I am hoping I haven’t disappointed anyone too much. Much like the hard decision last Fall to get off the Trail due to the growing infection, this is the right choice for me right now.
This is not the end. There are more blazes ahead. Finding them will just take a little longer.
Once upon a time there was a girl at a cross roads in her life. The paths were many. For some she could see the ends while others seemed to go on forever. One, she thought, might bring her back to the woods of her childhood, though her pine trees seemed very far away. She fondly remembered wandering those woods worry free. Thus she choose the path that had no end in sight.
She gathered her belongings taking only what she could fit on her back and set off to find adventure.
In the beginning the way was hard. By the end of the first day she wondered if she was on the right path to the shelter or by extension for her life. She pondered at her choice of paths. Suddenly the shelter appeared over the next rise and her heart, if not her load, lightened.
She walked down the mountain to find water, made her supper and around the fire met her fellow travellers as all settled down to their camping routines.
The amazing thing about new paths and roads untaken is that discoveries are around every corner. Sometimes the discoveries are harsh as the realization that broken-in boots can destroy your feet. After miles in pain she stopped and considered whether her desire for werifesteria (to wander longingly through the forest in search of mystery) was worth it.
Sitting on a rock she took off her boots, and considered her bloody toes. What was important? What did she really need to go forward? How could she decide what was a necessity in her pack? What was worth the weight on her feet and her soul?
She had planned for this trek for over a year. How could she not go forward? She had made promises to others but more importantly to herself. She examined her toes, taped up the blisters, and pulled out her sandals from her pack.
Step. Breathe. Repeat.
Each day she retaped her feet, and slipped on her sandals which would soon be replaced by new boots.
She hoisted her pack and set out.
Over the days and months that came she learned of trail magic, of the right people coming along at the perfect moment, of the joys of early morning light, and of the exhilaration of getting to the top or the bottom depending on the terrain.
She experienced a variety of forms of pain. She learned that one step is not hard to take, no matter the circumstances and after that, the next isn’t quite as difficult. For you see on the trek she gained treasures, none of which added weight to her pack only lightness to her heart.
With a myriad of other things that take priority including healing, it seems to be a practice in whimsical fantasy to be planning the next part of this hike - south to Georgia from Harpers Ferry.
Last year at this time I was undertaking planning in a very different manner. Between trying to hike as many miles as I could in the cold of Nova Scotia, dealing with ice and snow neither of which I expected to see on my Summer trek, I would plow through the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Guide Books and the updated AT Data Book (Yes, I own the whole set or I did until the PA one got caught in an unexpected thunderstorm and dissolved.) You would find me comparing the Books, to the maps and then I would rummage through the internet trying to find information on mail drop towns and what I could expect to find there.
At that time I had not multi day long distanced hiked at all.
(Decided that previous statement deserved more space since the audacity of my plans didn't strike me at the time.) Here I was planning a thru hike of the AT and I had no clue about so many things. Not knowing what you dont know is sometimes a happy space and it was where I was as I gleefully looked at terrain and elevations and calculated how far I imagined could go each day. (By the way I accomplished 960 miles - so go ahead, have the audacity to plan the seemingly impossible and do it.)
Now, this year as I look at the 1000 miles ahead of me I know much more and yet there are still mysteries. The landscape is still an unknown as no map, guide book or even photograph can truly tell you how it will be. Hikers I met last year did promise there is more of a trail and less of a rock scramble and according to some I have completed some of the most difficult sections. Bringing last year's knowledge and experience to this years planning session made a few things faster but I need to check back over the details and paw across the maps, data source and guide books. The largest change over last year's planning session is that this year has involved A.W.O.L's The A.T. Guide as my primary source. I have drafted out the daily plan, a few zeros, and casted about for appropriate mail drop locations. Along the way I figured out that I should be able to (easily?) cover the 1000 miles even with a few zero days in less than 3 months.
More details on that process later, but I am wondering how do you plan out your long distance hikes? What is important information to you to have in your back pocket as you plan?
Been sitting at the dining room table which I have taken over as my 'desk' for a bit working on THE plan for the "Heading to Georgia" or "Another 1000 miles Trek." But before I get too far into that thought I would post my own little 'State of the Calendar' report.
If you read the back of the calendar, I'll wait while you find yours.
(What calendar? The Walking to Maine one. If you didn't get one but meant to, do let me know and we will work out something so you can appreciate January's picture before moving on to February.)
But if you turn it over you will notice it states clearly A) it is a fundraising calendar and B) I am not good at fundraising just for me. 1/2 dollar from each calendar went to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the Green Mountain Club and the Barry Kelly Ruth Nichols Hope Scholarship. So from each one sold in 2015, $1.50 went else where. Money has been delivered to the ATC & GMC, I am still in conversation about how to best get funds to the Barry Kelly Ruth Nichols Hope Scholarship.
Hiking through PA I got advice from 'Bag of Tricks' a Trail Angel who believed in giving back. Among other gems was this one that stuck with me. "Give back, however you can after you finish give something back to keep the Trail going." His idea was rather than complaining about a section of the Trail that frustrated you, figure out what you could do to make it better for those you came after you. In one way this explains why sending funds to the ATC as the overarching conservation group makes sense. The mud of southern Vermont and the difficulties with the Trail south of highway 9 explains why I sent money to GMC which cares for the Long Trail. ( Don't worry I included a letter which clearly let them know my frustrations with the mud pit aka Trail.)
The Barry Kelly Ruth Nichols Hope Scholarship, a scholarship awarded each year, to an A.R.H.S. student who's life has been affected by cancer, might be more difficult to explain but you see Ruth was family. She was an amazing musician, music teacher, great mom, and inspiring. The last time I had saw Jonathan and Ruth, they were talking about their plans after retirement, the coming adventures. Her death as well as the deaths of two friends I considered mentors convinced me last year that not everyone gets to go on adventures when the time is right.
Sometimes you pick up the calendar and make it right for you.
A year ago today I announced publically on Facebook that I wouldn't be joining 10,000 other folks and heading to Pennsic (a large medieval event that takes place in PA in July) as I had for about 8 years. Instead:
"...I am thru hiking the Appalachian Trail starting at the end of April in Harper's Ferry (heading north to Maine and then coming back (by the way of a lift, bus, train or ??) to Harper's Ferry and hiking south to Georgia).
Originally I had thought of breaking the trail to come to Pennsic but the logistics (of going from a backpack to a Pennsic encampment and then back to the trail), the fact I can't come up with a good reason to do so (-beyond loving my friends) and in truth, basically the fact I want to devote myself to completing the 2200 miles with some sanity intact I am going to focus on it."
A year later I am back home in Nova Scotia, where I spend my Christmases, realizing that I did not accomplish that plan.
I did hike 960 miles of the Appalachian Trail. I did head north to Maine and make it there. As I told others I accomplished the majority of the 'flip' of my planned flip flop thru hike.
More importantly, I listened to me.
Maybe for the first time in my life I learned over the miles of the Trail how to listen to my body and live in and through my body rather than just my brain.
To understand this accomplishment you would have to know a bit more about me. I am 5 foot 6 inches tall and heavy set. By the time I was 14 I knew a number of local paths but generally I walked them to find a place to read undisturbed. I first read about the Appalachian Trail around that time - was amazed at the geography and history of it and the realization that it was the same mountain chain that ran through my home province. I had read the entire hardcover fiction collection of the children's library by that summer. I was not a sporty kid. I was the one in the back field daydreaming sometimes about the Trail.
But life happens - high school, university, grad school none of it changed the perspective that I did much better residing in my brain rather than my body. I occupied my body like a foreign invader, using it but not caring for it. I rode my bike everywhere (didn't actually learn to drive until I was 36), travelled around the world, broke my leg, moved across provinces, got married. Woke up one day and realized I was having problems walking up a set of stairs. I hated having to deliver the mail or faxes to folks at the office since it meant needing to climb stairs. I was over 325lbs and people around me were concerned I wasn't going to make it past the next few years.
That was 10 years ago.
September 1st, 2015 I came off the Trail at south of Stratton injured, weary, truthfully bone tired with a weird combination of sadness, resignation and happiness to be 'done.' I am going to take accomplishing almost half my original goal as 'not bad.'
I am still just 5 foot 6 inches but now I am about 100 lbs lighter than I once was. I have miles to go and you know, I am okay with that.
The Mountains will still be there next year and I will climb them.
The wiki article on the notch states:
The boulders on this mile-long section of trail present obstacles that must be climbed over and sometimes under, creating a unique hiking experience. There are occasional 10-foot (3.0 m) drops, and places where packs must be removed to squeeze beneath a boulder.
Many hikers call this stretch one of the slowest on the 2,179-mile (3,507 km) trail. This so-called "killer mile" or the "Toughest Mile" is a very tough section that can cause even the most experienced hikers to slow down. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mahoosuc_Notch)
The space it took up in my brain as we approached it was much greater than the length of mile. I had heard stories of boulder fields and chaos, of injuries and of accomplishments. I met hikers who loved it and in truth did it more than once just because they loved it and others who dreaded it and tried to figure out ways to slack pack it. I was warned to not even attempt it on a wet day and definitely not alone so when our morning dawned clear at the shelter I was glad. And we set off.
The is nothing like anticipation to make the approach trail from the shelter seem even longer. And green tunnels of rocks and trees do not let you get a glimpse of what is coming which is 'fine' because your brain is filling in details for you. In a way no matter what is said it became the "here be dragons" part of my virtual map of the trail.
Greyhound had hiked it 20 years ago but she just remembered climbing down and up and trying to figure out paths where there seemed no clear markers. We weren't putting much pressure on ourselves in one way, we had decided getting through was the only aim for the day and if that meant we just got to the stream at the other end before dark that would be fine. From Full Goose Shelter to the start of the Notch was only a mile and half so we waited a little longer than usual not heading out until about 8:30 in hopes that the rocks would be dry from yesterday's rain by the time we got there.
It took us under 4 hours to transverse this 1 1/4 mile. (And though how long it takes was never the point of my hike some how it made me happy to discover others had been slower as well as many who had been much faster. Few do that mile in under a mile unless they know the trek well since some of the time is spent not only climbing but wondering where the next blaze is.) We did find a mossy boulder to stop and have lunch and congratulate each other on not dying yet at about the midway point. And at the end of the Notch we thought we could keep going.
Well, that was until we took off our packs to climb down to the stream for water. We sat for a moment and then discovered our legs had hit 'enough' point for the day. We set up camp. (We were thinking we would avoid the Harvard kids (since there wasn't enough space in the stealth camping area for a group of 16 (and there wasn't until they knocked down trees and trampled areas) ) & the heavy snorers of the shelter the night before (instead they both arrived and set up camp right next door 4 hours later). Oh well, we had made it and we tried to sleep with the Notch safely behind us.
It didn't actually stay behind me. I had managed to scraped skin off patch of localized scleroderma on my right leg. If it hadn't been my other leg it would have bruised but that doesn't happen on my lower right leg. Over the last four months ( almost to the day since it happened) I have been on oral antibiotics, topical and numerous painkillers as somehow the nerves became inflamed in the healing process. Slowly the skin is healing and it will, if I can find the patience to wait. The only hard deadline for its healing is August 25th, 2016 when I plan to be back on the trail heading south.
It certainly isn't the only physical marker I have from the Trail but it is the first one I think about each morning as I change the bandage on it.
Are there any points on the Trail/Life that had/have "There be Dragons" concerns for you?