Monday, July 25, 2016

Day 94 (July 19th)

This post is a bit delayed as I've been taking off time and have been procrastinating doing anything mildly productive.

After 94 days on (and off) the trail, I hiked up to the summit of Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail! I had been hiking with a few trail friends and we did the final day together. Although the weather was extremely windy and a bit cold, the views going up the mountain were spectacular and the emotional energy was overwhelming. The 1100+ miles leading up to this final northern section definitely did a good job preparing me for the hike up Mount Katahdin. There was some boulder scrambling and more technical work, but after the other technical sections so far it wasn't too challenging. I could see it being a difficult way to start the AT hike, which many SOBO (southbound from Maine to Georgia) hikers do.

Leading up to the final mountain we went through the 100-mile wilderness, a stretch with very limited road access (mostly logging roads). For many people, carrying enough food for 100 miles (anywhere from 4 to 10 days, depending on your speed), is overwhelming and more than they normally carry. As someone who often carried that much food, the distance and remoteness seemed far from intimidating or challenging. Plus the terrain in this section was quite flat and easy going. The bugs and heat made it a bit uncomfortable, but it felt good to be putting in more miles again. There were some great swimming spots and I finally saw some moose!

Professor Ghostbuster, Uber Scout, Lost Giggles and I at the top

Heading up the mountain (photo courtesy of Uber Scout)

Avoiding the bugs in the evening in the 100-mile wilderness (photo courtesy of Uber Scout)
Scrambling down Mount Katahdin (photo courtesy of Uber Scout)

Across the table on Mount Katahdin (photo courtesy of Uber Scout)

View of Mount Katahdin

We were early for most of the berries in the north, but we finally got some wild blueberries on a ridge. So tasty! 

Evening swimming spot 
Windy mountain summit in the 100-mile wilderness

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Day 80

After some rough terrain, I'm finally giving myself a day off! Southern Maine was challenging and I did a few shorter days due to some slow miles and some nasty weather, but I am out of the mountains for a good handful of days and am celebrating some flat hiking. Following some cold and rainy days, Maine finally got the memo that it is summer with a beautiful day yesterday. I ended yesterday on a rocky beach of East Flagstaff Lake in the sun, listening to the loons croon. Happy 4th of July!

Leaving New Hampshire (and a few days before), I was hiking with two other twenty-somethings on a regular basis, Sunshine and Professor Ghostbuster. As a solo hiker I had spent some nights at the same camp location with other hikers, but I hadn't actually hiked with others during the day. I didn't spend all day with these two, but we would hike together for many hours during the day and end at the same location. It was rather refreshing to have good company and I noticed the miles going by much quicker. We did the hardest section together (the Mahoosic Notch and Arm, Google it), with music and it made it so much more enjoyable. It was a bit weird working around someone else's schedule, but the company made up for it. I left them behind a handful of days ago when they spent the night in town and I kept going, but I'm hoping they catch me today as I take a day off. We've got the same date to summit Katadhin (the northern terminus of the trail), so I suspect we could hike together until then.

Speaking of the northern terminus of the trail, I'm definitely getting close! I've got 167.1 miles left in the northern section and have already hiked 995.7 miles total! I'm feeling very close to finishing this top half (which will put me at slightly over halfway), and heading south to do the southern section. The southern section is much easier and should take slightly less time, which will be refreshing! Cheers to progress!

Meanwhile, I'm off to hike through bogs and the upcoming 100-mile wilderness, which is probably the most remote section of the trail.

Sunset on July 4th! (Can't believe I stayed awake until 8:30!)

Beautiful alpine pond in the Bigelow Mountains

Windy summit on a 4000-footer here in Maine

Typical Maine view

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Day 68

I am through the White Mountains (not sure of its technical designation)! There is plenty of hard stuff still to come in the coming weeks, but mentally it is a huge relief to have gone through this section. Everyone talks about this section and starts off stories with, "Well in the Whites..." Although I didn't find one given moment in the Whites to be monumentally challenging, they were relentless. If you had a rock face to go up, you had 20 rock faces to go up. If there was a 2-mile descent, it was all comprised of serious boulder hopping. The obstacles felt never ending! But, sunny weather = happy Skylark. And I hit potentially the best 7 straight days of weather possible going through the Whites. It was sunny and warm, with no clouds and minimal wind. Absolutely spectacular.

They say your daily mileage goes down in the Whites, and that is definitely true. I'd been doing 17-18 miles per day on average prior to hitting this section and over the 7 days in the Whites I averaged 14.4 miles per day. I had two 17-mile days though and was overall proud of keeping up the miles in the rough terrain. The days were longer in order to get in more miles and I had sections where I was only hiking one mile per hour, my slowest speed yet. I often got to where I was sleeping between 5:30 and 7:00 pm, much later than I like or was used to. And I left around my typical 6/6:30 am start time. I only fell once, giving me a bloody knee, but I was more affected by the intense descents. My knees hurt most of the day everyday and I was consuming ibuprofen with a greater frequency. I'm a bit worried that this hike well cause permanent knee damage, but I'm taking off two days right now to recover before heading into another hard section. I'm icing and using arnica and taking baths while I'm in town to help give my knees some more bounce. Fingers crossed it'll be enough!  So the Whites lived up to its reputation of being a hard section! 

View from the top of Mount Washington, the highest peak in the northeast. Behind me are some of the other peaks of the Presidential Range that the AT goes around/over/down. 

View of an evening double rainbow at Zealand Falls.

It was a bit windy at the top of Mount Moosilauke, my first peak in the range. 

Looking back at the Presidentials, heading out of the Whites (only clouds for the whole week). There were dozens of views like this over the past week! 
Here's what some of the terrain looked like. Definitely not just a walk in the woods. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Day 59

Well it has been a whirlwind since I last posted. I was off the trail for 4 days, 3 of which were at home for a wedding. It was refreshing to be off the trail and my joints were glad to have a break. It was wonderful to be with Evan and see my parents. However, getting back on the trail was really challenging. Not only did I feel like I had lost some stamina (I felt like I finally got my trail legs back about six days being out again), it was really hard emotionally. It was hard being out again without loved ones knowing I won't see them again for a while. Plus, as soon as I got back out, the warm weather I'd had before leaving was gone and replaced by more cold rain. Bleh.

So I am splurging on a hiker hostel in New Hampshire for two nights so I can shower, warm up, and dry off. It's not as ritzy as I was hoping for, but it'll do. And the sun finally came out today so I'm enjoying a bit of Vitamin D. Plus I start in on the arguably hardest section of the AT tomorrow, another justification for a relaxing day.

There have been some highlights of the last week, namely visits from Sabrina, a really good friend from Skidmore, and my East Coast parents from Vermont, also throwbacks from Skidmore days. Sabrina hiked with me for a day and helped me celebrate crossing into my NINTH state (West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and now New Hampshire)! It was wonderful to see all three of them and catch up and it was so great to receive such amazing support out here.

I have had a request for details on what food is like out here. Here's the typical diet of hikers I meet: Breakfast includes Pop Tarts or oatmeal. Lunch is flour tortillas with peanut butter or tuna and some form of gorp/trail mix. Dinner is often Ramen and/or mac 'n' cheese followed by Snickers for dessert. If you know me at all, you realize that I would not only never choose to eat that diet, but that my stomach would also never let me. My typical breakfast is a few bites of granola and a fruit/nut/energy bar. Lunch is a smattering of nuts, dried fruit, and likely Fritos. (Don't normally eat in the real world, but great treat out here!) Dinner consists of food that I've prepared and sent to myself - lots of lentils and rice, rice and stir fry, other bean and veggie dishes, chili, soups, pasta, etc. It isn't fancy and I sometimes tire of the same rehydrated texture, but so far the flavors have been good and I'm not sick of anything. I do carry a little bit of chocolate and dehydrated pumpkin for dessert with tea.

Wish me luck as I head into the Presidential range of the White Mountains in New Hampshire! I've got 398.9 miles to the northern terminus (Mount Katadhin), which means I've hiked 767.3 miles so far.

Sign for 500 to go (though less epic for me since that's only 500 to the halfway mark)

Slowly crossing a creek

Snack break in the only sunny spot for the day

View from a lookout in Vermont

This is how I feel about the current weather in New Hampshire...

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Day 46

I haven't written in a while due to lack of signal and too much hiking! I left the trail this afternoon to fly to California this weekend for a wedding. Since I'll be off the trail for 4 days, I hiked through last weekend instead of taking a day off. Unfortunately, I forgot it was Memorial Day weekend and the crowds were a bit hellish. Don't get me wrong, I love that people (families, scouts, pets, etc.) are outside and backpacking, it's just hard to have the trail abnormally crowded and to have your routine disturbed (i.e. boy scouts yelling across the site at 9:00 when you are trying to sleep).

I am now in Vermont and so far it hasn't been more difficult than other sections (after Killington the difficulty increases). The weather is abnormally warm and the black flies are already out and swarming - I've probably got 40 or so bites. But Vermont is absolutely gorgeous. If I could do snow I would live here in a heartbeat. It is the end of mud season in Vermont, but since it was a mild winter things aren't too muddy. The other wonderful thing about the warmer weather is that the balsam fir sap (?) or bark (?) is emitting the most amazing smell I have ever smelled in my life. Seriously. I'm obsessed with it. Every time I get above a certain elevation I can smell it and it is absolutely intoxicating. 

The heat, bugs, and boy scouts have shifted my schedule a bit and I've been starting my hiking around 6 am lately. It's been nice to get into a campsite earlier and also have time for longer breaks or lake swimming. There were about 5 of us thru-hikers that took a dip in Stratton Pond after going up and over the peak. It was quite refreshing. 

I'm not sure what else to update on. If you have any questions about what I'm doing, text me and I'll respond here. Overall I've got a good attitude (though I think about quitting about once a day), and overall I'm in good health (though some joints are achy and a few of my toes have some constant numbness). When I'm home I'll be switching out to a new pair of shoes already (see below for current state of shoes), and am looking forward to getting some wider shoes. I've met some interesting people out here and feel like I'm getting some me time as well. Happy trails! 

River in Vermont

Hot and sweaty Massachusetts morning

View from fire tower in Vermont

On top of a fire tower at 6 am
Tread coming off the bottom and holes in the top. They are still in decent condition,  but they've seen better days and I need something wider and more breathable. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Day 35

This week was the week of trail magic/angels! My week started out last Sunday with gorgeous, clear views of New York City. And then I met up with my sister's in-laws, who are amazing and generous people. It was so wonderful to catch up with them, get hugs, and relax off-trail for a few hours.  My pack was heavily weighed down after our visit with essentially a full snack resupply. I ate well for several days after! THANK YOU! Then I also had the chance to catch up with my best friend from high school. Considering I hadn't seen her in 4 years and she's always traveling/living between here and Europe I was amazed we managed to get together. But what a treat! And then finally I've treated myself this weekend to a day off in Salisbury, CT where a wonderful woman hosts hikers in her home. First bed in 25+ days and first shower in 2 weeks. My tummy and joints are glad for the day off.

I have officially hiked over 1/5th of the trail having hiked 476.1 miles (440 is 1/5th). I am feeling accomplished, though I realize I have completed the easiest sections. Although a few of the Connecticut downhills have been surprisingly challenging, overall the NJ/NY/CT sections have been mild. I think Massachusetts will be similar and then things will start getting hard in Vermont. New Hampshire and southern Maine are the hardest sections. 

Some people have asked about my daily life, so I'll answer a few things here. I generally am up early and try to be on the trail bto 7:00, 7:30 at the very latest. Sometimes I'll start as early as 6:20. I try to average 17 miles a day currently (will go down in VT and NH), and hiking around 2 miles an hour before accounting for breaks I end up hiking 9-11 hours a day. Much longer than a normal work day! I spend the mornings with only my thoughts and then will often listen to either podcasts or music in the afternoon. I use music to pump me up in the last few hours of the day. Overall my body is doing well, but my shoulders and feet normally hurt by the end of the day. I don't hike during the day with anyone, but I occasionally meet up with repeat people in the evenings at shelters or camping areas. I've definitely met some interesting people that I probably wouldn't have met in my daily interactions...More answers in coming weeks. 

Surprisingly chipper expression considering that was around 5:00 and I was exhausted! Beautiful tributary of the Housatonic River, CT.

View of NYC, though I don't think you can see it with my phone camera. 

Beautiful sunrise in Connecticut, though the colors were far more brilliant in person. 

River setting in Connecticut

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Day 28

(Written yesterday, signal today.)

It's official. I've got the hiker appetite. Around Day 25 I finally started feeling hungry. Always. For the first few weeks I ate knowing I needed to, but I wasn't ever hungry and the thought of eating wasn't very appealing. But now I spend a lot of time thinking about food and what I could eat at home or off trail. I fantasize about Pad Thai, gluten-free vegan pizza, brownies, and tea leaf salad. I see day hikers and hope they'll offer me whatever food they aren't planning on eating (it's happened before). It's pretty weird and feels ridiculous. But hikers are always net negative calories (often burning 3500-4000 daily), so I'm not worried about eating too much. I'll just have to watch it when I get off the trail.

I've already finished New Jersey and am into New York. New Jersey was beautiful and such a great relief after Pennsylvania - easier terrain, rolling hills, sunny weather, and far easier rocks. Plus I saw two young black bears! (Don't worry mom, they weren't that close.) New York has been a bit more challenging, but I'll just be here a few more days.

Otherwise things are going pretty well. My feet are in good shape, though my shoes have seen better days. My pack feels better after I've eaten a few days out of my resupply. There have been some rains, but mixed with sun and warmth. So overall I'm in decent shape and just trekking. Plus I'm getting some awesome tan lines.