The Journey

Getting into town last night was an experience. I exited the woods on a busy road with lots of cars passing by and thought it would be a cinch to get a ride. The people in the passing cars, however, looked at me like I was from outer space.

Near trail towns, the locals normally stop for hikers walking on the road toward town to ask if they would like a ride. This was not the case. Just when I decided I would call a cab, a young black man that had passed by with a car full of passengers earlier, passed by again. He slowed the car and asked me if I was OK. I admit I must have looked pretty bad—the day had been hot, muddy and difficult. I told him I was trying to get into town and was going to call a cab. He told me he would be glad to take me.

This young man, with his beat up car that rattled as it moved, was the only person who stopped for an obviously forlorn and exhausted female hiker. I thanked him and accepted his ride. His door would not open from the outside; he had to lean across the front seat to open it from the inside. He was dressed in shorts and soccer socks and the slip-on sports sandals that the athletes put on when not in cleats.

J.J. was an incredibly delightful young man. Having just graduated from college, he was now a recruiter at Berkshire Academy, a private boarding prep school that he had attended. He was coaching this summer at a private sports camp near where I had come off the trail. He told me that as he had driven by me earlier, one of the passengers in his car had asked him if I was a gypsy.

I had to smile. Six months ago, I would probably have hesitated before getting in his car. Appearances and stereotypes are so deceiving. I never thought I would be mistaken for a gypsy and how many people would look at this remarkable young man and see someone other than who he is? Please, oh, please, let me never forget this lesson.

I started out in March afraid and anxious. It took me months and months to overcome these emotions. Each day was an internal battle. A fight to be stronger than I believed I could be and to find the courage to keep going. I wrote on one of my first blogs that I had a list of personal reasons why I was going on this journey. I read them now and realize that I have learned so much.

Number eight on my list was that I needed to show myself that I was “OK alone. That I did not need anyone else.” That may sound like a very strange reason, but I guess it was one of my insecurities and something I needed to prove to myself. Well, I did prove something to myself, but it is not what I thought.

We ALL need help! We all need each other! We are meant to give help AND accept help. I would not have made it a day without those around me. Help from others on the trail, support from family and friends back home, encouragement from the comments on my blog and the kindness of strangers of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds. I have been humbled over and over again. So number eight on my list, well, another lesson I will not forget.

The Appalachian Trail is many things, but it is NOT about the destination. It is about the journey. I say this because I now realize that this journey is over for me.

I acknowledged the fact today that my body is not able to keep walking. I feel great when I start each morning but tire much to quickly and am struggling.

It’s funny that it took me months to reach the point of no fear and anxiety, to truly embrace each step. I had so many things happen that could have sent me home, but I knew I could not stop because, secretly, I wanted to be safe at home, so I would not let myself. Now, I love each day that I walk and see incredible beauty in the smallest of details. But now, my body is so tired, not bouncing back, and I am afraid only that I may be doing lasting damage.

I am saddened to think that I will not stand on Katahdin but remind myself that this is about the journey. The journey has been incredible, and I have made the decision to leave the trail and will allow myself no regrets. I have much more to say and will continue to blog as I tell you my stories and what I have learned. I hope that everyone that has been supporting me in this journey will understand this decision. I would never had made it to mile 1524 without all of you.

I did not reach my ultimate goal for Cerebral Palsy of Northwest Florida financially, but to date, we have raised almost $50,000 dollars. I still believe we will raise more, and if you would like to contribute, I know in my heart that every penny will make a difference. You can contribute by following the link.

One more comment for today’s blog. That icy day that my cousin Jeff had to leave me at Neal’s Gap—just before I stepped out on my own full of fear—I met three young men: Adam, Justin and Zach. It was they that changed my name to Mountain Mama. We met Big Gulp and Pretty Bird days later and together we all ventured out to conquer or be conquered on those first bitter cold and snowy days.

Last night, Adam texted me that they were in Great Barrington taking a zero. Amazingly, that is where I was also. This morning before I left the trail for good, the taxi driver drove me to their hotel to say goodbye. I gave the gang my food bag and received a bear hug from each one of them. My heart was breaking; it was full circle. Adam texted me the most wonderful message:

“Mountain Mama, You need to go home and chalk this up as a win. You have done an amazing job on this trail, and I consider myself a better person for having met you.”

But I know, I am the one that was blessed by them. These young men and women, with dreadlocks, gauges in their ears, and huge hearts have made me a better person. My life will never be the same!

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Weary

To Lake Buel Road
12 miles
Total miles: 1524.6

We decided it would best for me not to bush whack my way back to the trail. So Holly and Art dropped me off at the next major access point to the AT. The drive was nearly an hour and a half. I had my full pack and would not be slack packing today. They sent me off serenading me with Happy Trails.

Initially, I walked by pastures with grazing sheep and fields of golden topped corn stalks. For the first four miles, the terrain was flat and the sun bright.

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I was glad for an easy morning walk because it was the first time I had carried my entire pack since starting treatment for Lyme. I would enter heavily shaded woods and would suddenly go from solid dry ground to wet swampy ground.

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After walking for two hours, I stopped for lunch. I ate under the shade of a large oak tree. I was already tired and my day was only really beginning.

After lunch, I again entered a swampy area. The mosquitoes swarmed, and I reapplied bug spray frequently. I put on my bug net to keep the gnats from my eyes and ears.

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I soon began to ascend the mountain and the trail became dry again. The first climb increased elevation only six hundred feet, but it was over a very short distance. I found myself having to stop to rest frequently and about half way up wondered if I should turn around and stop for the day. But I met a hiker coming down, he told me that this climb was the steepest and from there it would get easier. He also said the shelter was only four miles away. I decided to press on but did continue to stop to frequently.

At one point, I suddenly realized I had lost the trail. I tried to back track to the last blaze I had seen. I just could not find a blaze anywhere and had no real idea which way to go. I had two options available to me: panic or stay calm. I decided the latter was probably the best option. I sat down, took a breath and called Stosh.

From his office in NYC, he was able to locate me on GPS and told me if I walk directly east I should reach the trail. I double checked my compass and for the second day in a row pretty much bushwhacked my way. I found the trail quickly, thanked Stosh and set off again.  The resources that are available are pretty amazing.

Losing the trail may have been my body subconsciously going into survivor mode to try to find the easier path. The real trail started going straight up. I thought I had finished my climbing for the day. I was sorely mistaken. There was only three and a half miles to the shelter. On a good day, I have hiked that in just over an hour, but today, three and a half hours later I was still walking. I was so tired I was barely moving, my body was aching and all I really wanted to do was curl up and go to sleep.

I may have considered it, but if I stopped, even for a second, the mosquitoes began landing. Finally, I reached the sign for the shelter. I knew from there it was nine tenths of a mile to the road. I made the decision to continue on and get a room for the night. It had been a difficult day hiking for me, and I needed a good night’s sleep.

Massachusetts!!!

Falls Village to YMCA
17.7 miles
Total miles: 1506

Holly and I realized last night that pick up points were a little tricky for today. Holly worked for hours trying to find possible places that would work. She was able to figure out three possible rendezvous points, two required me to find side trails that were not marked, the third would be a twenty mile day. Before leaving this morning, we reviewed all three scenarios and were as confident as possible with the plan.

I left from Falls Village Iron Bridge and had a great morning. My pace was good, and I made it to Salisbury by lunch. The big climb of the day was just ahead at Bear Mountain. On the climb up, I was deep in thought and missed a turn. I realized the path “disappeared” fairly quickly, but none the less, it delayed me by about 30 minutes.

Bear Mountain is the highest peak in Connecticut and the view from the top was absolutely gorgeous. I climbed the rock observation tower and paused just long enough for a picture, then began my descent down the North side. The descent was steep and rocky; I made my way down very slowly and carefully.

Then came Sage’s Ravine. This may actually be one of my favorite places on the trail. Water cascaded through the ravine in a series of waterfalls.

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I would take two or three steps forward and stop to soak in the view, round a bend and gasp in delight. I took picture after picture.

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The trail hugged the ravine for almost a half mile. Every step was better than the last.

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It was an incredible exit from Connecticut and welcome to Massachusetts.

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The afternoon was slipping away, and I wanted to try to make it to the last pickup point, but after looking at the time, I realized I would not make it to that location until after six. I decided that I should go the the “lake” pick up location. Now the tricky part is that the trail to the lake was not marked, so I would have to find it. Art was fairly confident that I would be able to see it. Holly had told me the landmarks near by, so I began searching.

I could not find the trail and did not see the lake. I turned on my iPhone, and I had a signal so I dropped a pin on my location and zoomed in. I could see where the lake should be so I set off in that direction. Honestly, I don’t know how Daniel Boone did it without an iPhone. After a bit of exploring, I did come out at the lake—the uninhabited side. I trekked around the bend and had to cross the lake dam. I was able to do so and reached the other side with only slightly soggy boots.

I came to a gravel road and soon realized I was at a summer camp. I was able to reach Holly and Art and sent them my location. As I waited for them to reach me, I met two young men from France who were attending the camp. Charles and Victor kept me entertained, and we had a delightful conversation until the dinner bell rang. After they left, I met two counselors, Jen and Sam. We chatted for a bit before they too rushed off to dinner. They promised to return to check on me after dinner.

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It turned into quite an adventure for all of us. The GPS had the wrong road as the entrance to the camp, so Art and Holly had turned onto a road no longer used or maintained, the “old” entrance. They were forced to stop as locked gate blocked the way and Art proceeded on foot. After succeeding to find each other, we were given a ride back toward their car by a passing member of the camp staff.

I have moved too far north for slack packing to make sense. So tomorrow, I will leave my trail angels and start hiking with my full pack again. It has been wonderful being able to recuperate here and as always it is hard to leave, but Katahdin is calling.

Keep Plugging Along

River Road to Falls Village
15.7 miles
Total miles: 1498.3

Another damp morning with the promise of sunshine by afternoon. I started walking just after 9 a.m. and had high hopes for a big day. I had not been on the trail 15 minutes when I reached a small stream. Rocks meant for stepping stones marked the path across the stream. The water was a little high because of the rain, so some of the rocks were covered. While I normally just spring quickly across without any difficulty, today I took my time to avoid getting wet. photo 1(29)

Boy was that a mistake! My foot slipped as I tried to balance on a rock and down my left foot went into the water—the perfect way to start the day, with a wet sock and boot making squishing sounds with each step.

That was virtually the only sound this morning. The woods were silent. Normally the forest is alive with noise—the birds singing, squirrels or chipmunks scampering across the leaf carpeted forest floor and crickets chirping loudly. Today, only the silence surrounded me.

The water sources have been plentiful in Connecticut—wonderful swift moving, clear brooks and streams. I have seen more streams in the last two days than in the last two states. I would hear the water tumbling long before I reached a stream. It was the only music this morning.

I reached an overlook where the AT and Pine Knob Loop shared the trail, where I met four hikers with sketch pads and brushes. The view was beautiful with the gray clouds and distant mountains.

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One of the young men had started a Japanese-style watercolor. I chatted with them for a bit before continuing on.

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One of the surprises of the day was a bee hive that had fallen from the tree. It had landed in the middle of the path and the bees were still entering and exiting the hive. I stopped for a quick picture, I think that may have been the first time that I have seen a wild hive. A few of the bees began circling and a few landed on me, so I moved on quickly.

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Route Step and I met each other late morning. I told him I had not seen another NOBO in the last three days. He assured me that he had seen eight this morning.

Early afternoon, I met a young man coming out of the woods with a basket full of mushrooms. He had three or four different kinds, which he identified. I learned from him that the black mushrooms I had taken a picture of yesterday is a Black Trumpet. He said it is delicious sautéed with a little butter. He assured me there were no poisonous mushrooms that remotely resembled them. I did a bit of research later and found that they are quite a delicacy with a rich, smokey flavor. They can be difficult to find, but I know where there are hundreds!

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Another treat today were wild raspberries. They were plump and begging to be picked. I did sample just a couple. They were delicious.

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I tired mid-afternoon and again stopped short of my intended goal. I am going to have to give it a bit more time, but I have always been short on patience. I suppose I will just keep plugging along.

The Living Forest

Bulls Bridge to River Road
16.8 miles
Total miles: 1472.6

It was a damp, cool morning. It had rained during the night and continued to threaten until early afternoon. The ground was wet and the terrain difficult. My progress was slow.

All morning I climbed in solitude, passing no one for hours. That is not to say I was alone; I shared the trail with hundreds of newts. I counted them for a while, when I passed fifty I stopped counting.

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I was mesmerized by all the different fungi and mushrooms I saw today. So many different shapes and colors.

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Yesterday I shared my “root art,” so today I will share my rock art. The fungus on this rock really was shaped like a heart. I could not resist.

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Toads, frogs and garter snakes were out in force also. I spent a lot of time on the ground snapping pictures. That may have contributed to why it took me three and a half hours to go seven miles!!

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I was concentrating on a steep and rocky climb when I saw movement ahead to my left. The absolute largest black bear I have ever seen was moving slowly on the rocks above. He was huge!!! He was standing on all fours with his back to me, but he was just where I needed to climb! He had not seen me yet, and I certainly did not want to surprise or threaten him. So I started banging my poles together and making loud vocal sounds so he would be aware of me and move on. Very nonchalantly he turned around and eyed me. He was definitely not in any hurry, but he did finally turn and sauntered off. Of course he walked in the same general direction the trail was headed, so I proceeded with caution and decided that lunch could wait until I was well away from this area. No need to tempt him.

I descended the mountain, and as I started up the next, I began meeting numerous day hikers. Solo hikers, couples and entire families were out enjoying the weekend. I also met “Route Step,” the NOBO that I had met yesterday. I think I will probably meet him each day now because he drives ahead and hikes back. He told me my last five miles today would be nice and flat terrain; but first I needed to crest one more peak and the descent was a bit rocky. A bit rocky is not how I would describe it. It really consisted of STEEP stone steps. It required slow and careful placement of both feet and hiking poles to make it down safely.

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I finally reached the promised terrain. The path paralleled the Housatonic River for miles!

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Holly, Art and Winnie (their sweet lab) were walking to meet me when I reached the gravel road. They were a welcome sight! I feel the miles today and once again am thankful for the opportunity to slack pack as I get my strength back.

Getting Spoiled

CR 20 to Bulls Bridge
13.4 miles
Total miles: 1455.8

Earlier start today—I left from the Dover Oak at 9:30 a.m. I quickly came to a boardwalk over a swampy area. It was surrounded by cattails and some type of tall reeds.

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The swamp sounded eerily alive as the wind blew through the reeds. There were adirondack chairs on the boardwalk. It was lovely.

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I then came to the Appalachian Trail Train Station. This is where I had originally planned to meet Stosh in NYC. You know…back when I believed I was in control of my hike! Ha!

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Trail magic greeted me in the form of fresh water. I took just a little because I wanted to make sure and left some for hikers behind me.

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I met a south bound hiker, who asked me if I was a SOBO. I said, “No. I am hiking north.” You should have seen the look on his face. I have been there. It is a terrible feeling. He had hiked all morning in the wrong direction. He said, “How sure are you?” He was disheartened when I told him 100% sure. He turned around.

Not long after that I met another SOBO. He also told me he was NOBO, but he knew it! He was interesting because he was hiking the trail with two vehicles—one a car, the other an RV. He would drive ahead with one and hike back to the other. I have never heard of anyone doing that. So virtually every day he was able to slack pack and then sleep in his RV. His name was Route March…or Route Man; I can’t remember which. He said Route March was the most casual of all military marches. Troops were allowed to talk and sing while marching. I learn every day on the trail.

Farmland followed, it was beautiful. I went over stiles and through fields of cows. I passed barns full of hay and incredible silos. Farmland to me seems like the heart of America. I waved to the farmer on his tractor, amazed that he allowed hikers to hike through his field. He had even cut a a path through the grass.

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Just beyond the Wiley Shelter I was charmed to see Little Free Library. Yes, right there on the AT.

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I left New York and officially entered Connecticut. My tenth state. Only four remain!

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There were not a lot of views today. But sometime the real beauty is in the little things—we are just too preoccupied to notice. Today it was underfoot. I loved how the tree roots spread across the trail, grasping to secure a hold. It was nature’s art.

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Another work of art was at the end of today’s walk. The Housatonic River had carved the rocks into smooth sculptures. This was near Bull’s Bridge, a delightful, old covered bridge. One of Holly’s ancestors, John Bull, built the original bridge. Holly told me that normally you can see many more of these rocks carved by water and time, but today, the river was raging and high and the rocks were covered. There is water in Connecticut! It was a beautiful sound.

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I had hoped to walk further today but stopped at 13 miles. I was again trying to ease into it slowly. Just before Art and Holly picked me up, the skies opened. I stayed dry beneath a trail head sign. It is so nice to hike all day and then to be able to shower and have a real dinner. I am getting spoiled!

Getting (back) My Sea Legs

NY55 to County Road 20
5.2 miles
Total miles: 1442.4

I had a good night’s sleep and felt pretty good about starting back today for a “trial run.” After lunch, Holly and Art drove me to the trailhead. I could walk five miles or seven miles. I hoped to make seven.

As soon as I got out of the car, I realized that I had left my hiking poles. Art found me a hiking stick. I took a picture of my trail angels, and off I went.

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It turned out to be the shorter of the two distances. I only walked five miles but what a beautiful five miles it was. The terrain was gentle—thank goodness! No really steep climbs. I walked past Nuclear Lake! Yikes! (Art and Holly told me they were expecting me to glow).

I wondered why in the world anybody would name a lake that. Turns out that in 1972, a chemical explosion blew out two windows in an experimental research lab that sat on the shore of the lake. And yes, unspecified amounts of bomb grade plutonium were blasted into the lake and surrounding woods. Lovely! Like I said, you never know what is around the next corner. Oh well, the lake was beautiful and the government assures us that it is safe. (Regardless, I will skip the water sources nearby!)

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I walked through deeply wooded areas with endless stone walls. Obviously once part of someone’s farms or homestead, but the only thing remaining is the stone. I always wonder who built the walls and what happened.

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From there, I hiked through swampy areas, up over West Mountain that had a beautiful view of the valley below.

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I ended my day at Dover Oak. I have been so excited to see this tree. It is the largest tree on the AT and more than 300 years old. The girth of the tree is over twenty feet. It is awe-inspiring, and it is amazing to think of the history it has lived through. It is one of my favorite spots on the trail thus far.

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I probably could have kept walking, but I know I need to start slow, so I stopped before my body begged me to.

Art and Holly drove home a different route. The beauty here is astounding. I love the countryside, the gorgeous homes and the weather. It feels like October in Pensacola. Tomorrow I will hike further, gain strength and soon I will catch the others!

Pity Party Over

I think hiking the Appalachian Trail is a good analogy of life. I never know what is in store around the next bend or over the next hill. Sometimes, the path ahead looks too steep or is difficult to follow. Sometimes, I wonder what am I thinking? What else can go wrong? Just like all of our lives, each day is filled with challenges.

The past few days have been difficult and challenging. More than once, the thought has entered my head that I should just go home. In fact, this morning, I sent Gus a text saying just that. I was at a very low point. Feeling very tired and having my own little pity party.

The pity party is over, and it’s time to move on. I have been so lucky to be with Stosh. I have been able to rest, sleep and try to recuperate. It was day three when I realized that my head ache was easing, and at times, it was completely gone.

Today was day four, and I did not have a great start. For the first few hours, I felt as if I was back at square one. But as the day progressed, I again began to feel better. I have the perfect way to ease back into the trail. Art and Holly, Kyle’s parents, live in Connecticut close to the trail. They have offered numerous times to slack pack me through Connecticut.

I spoke with Art yesterday and Holly this morning, and after falling apart earlier, I pulled myself back together, packed my belongings and headed to the train station. I will be jumping ahead but can come back to complete that 30 mile section later.

On the way to Grand Central Station, another amazing thing happened—I recognized one of my sister’s high school friends walking down the sidewalk. I stopped, unsure; it had been years since I have seen her. I am sure she felt someone’s eyes on her and looked my way. It was a very awkward five seconds, and then she screamed and hugged me. What are the chances in NYC? She said she had been speaking of me that very morning. She said it was the first time she had ever met anyone on the street in all the time she had lived here.

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The train ride was only an hour and a half. I was met at the station by Holly and Art, and by the time I made it to Bridgewater, I was pretty exhausted. We had a lovely dinner on the back deck, and I was ready for bed at 7:30 p.m.

This is my plan: I will start slow, hopefully tomorrow. I may just walk five miles; if I feel up to it, I will go ten. I do not know how I will do, but I can only try. Again, just like life, on the trail one must move forward and not dwell on the past or the set-backs. Tomorrow is a new beginning, another chance, and I am thankful to have it.

From Lemon to Lyme

What a difference a day makes. I left the trail with a slight head ache yesterday. That is not that unusual after a long day hiking. Sometimes no matter how much you think you are hydrating, it is just not enough. We went to sleep and I soon was awakened by a splitting head ache.

The head ache continued to worsen; my neck became sore and stiff; my joints began throbbing. I started shivering and began running a low grade fever. By morning, I was a wreck! The most severe symptom was my head ache, nearly unbearable, and no relief with medication.

Stosh and I decided to go to urgent care. I have, after all, removed three ticks that I know of and I would rather be safe than sorry. Two hours later, the doctor agreed that I most likely have Lyme Disease. They did rule out strep, but after extensive assessment, Lyme is the most logical conclusion. There is a blood test, but it would not show positive for three to four weeks, and by that point, damage can be done.

So I am taking a three week course of antibiotics and should start feeling better within 3 to 4 days. Not soon enough. Through the day, I have continued to feel worse. Stosh and I returned to the city, and I am curled up in his bed, acting fairly pathetic. Poor Stosh! I am trying not to stress out about yet-another set back. I am waiting until tomorrow to try to make decisions. Hopefully, the fog that my brain is in will have cleared, and I will be able to decide my best course of action.

Squeeze Me

NY 17 to Graymoor
Total miles: 1406.1

I have walked from Georgia to New York without getting lost, but the city, well, that is a different story. I certainly missed the white blazes directing me and would have been completely lost without Stosh. It was wonderful to spend time with him, and after a little R and R in the Big Apple, we made our way back to the trail.

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The morning hike was over beautiful terrain, past the Island Pond Lake and through an incredible rock formation named the “lemon squeezer.”

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Stosh had driven ahead and then hiked back to meet me. We ate lunch together and then hiked together the rest of the afternoon. Just after we started hiking, we were so deep in conversation that we missed a blaze. We were moving quickly and it was about twenty minutes later when we realized that it had been a long time since we had seen a blaze. That was a lot of backtracking, we payed much closer attention after that!!

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At one point on the trail, Stosh spotted a few turkeys. We moved up quietly to look and were amazed at what we saw. There were at least 20 wild turkeys, maybe more. They were all over the hillside, toms, hens and poults. They were everywhere!!

It was a wonderful afternoon, and we did meet a number of day hikers, especially near the areas where they had views of the Hudson River. The Bear Mountain Bridge was an incredible structure and the views of the river from the bridge were beautiful.

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It was a great day back on the trail!!

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