Make Memories

October 27-31, 2019

Waking to a sunrise happens often when backpacking, as the brightening dawn brings color straight through tent walls. First light on the Camino requires the conjunction of a window facing east and a view unblocked by other buildings. The morning we woke in Casa Perdigueida, Castromaior, we were rewarded with a truly extraordinary symphony of color!

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Walking the Camino brings many chances to eat locally produced food. From collard greens in a home garden to cheese from a local dairy, we enjoy eating our way across Spain! Here is a mosaic of pastoral scenery, often very close to cities, as well as two different harvest storage bins.

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The Casa Perdigueida, in Castromaior, displayed an unusual tool upon the wall in their restaurant. Curiosity overcoming shyness from my broken Spanish, I asked the cook/waitress, “¿Que hace?”

With very patient Spanish, repeating the most important nouns several times, the woman conveyed that this yoke was used to harness a horse with a cow (caballo y vaca).

Encouraged by my success in communicating with this considerate local, I asked her the name of the flower painted upon a weathered board. I had noticed the same flower earlier, growing by the doorway.

“¿Que nombre?” My mangled Spanish assisted my persistent curiosity.

“Marguerite,” the woman smiled. Then pointing to the painting, and, with a mixture of slowly pronounced Spanish and extravagant gestures, she managed to convey that she was the artist! How awesome!

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“Enter every church that has an open door.” Following this informal rule can bring adventure spanning a gamut of experiences from peace and beauty to confusion and simple bafflement.

As we entered the small village of San Xulian do Camino, the church’s open door beckoned. Jay and I stepped inside to see a small sanctuary with beautiful colors of wooden beams, whitewashed walls, and a rainbow of flowers. Soft music played over hidden speakers, adding to the contemplative atmosphere.

A volunteer stamped our pilgrim passports, then we slipped into a pew, happy to appreciate this meditative moment. Hysterical barking outside broke our reverie, followed by raised voices in various languages. We never learned the source of the muddle, but decided it was time to continue walking.

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A café, O Fogar do Camiñante (Home of the Wayfarer), in the town of Casanova, enticed us with a sign advertising crepes. As we dithered in the street, a smiling waitress handed us menus and, with a wave of her hand, indicated our choice of outdoor tables. Who could reject such an invitation?

The trailside table allowed us to watch as dozens of pilgrims passed by, all seemingly immune to this lovely oasis. We also saw three sheep being urged along by a shepherdess wearing dress slacks and a chic Halloween sweater.

Our lunch consisted of crepes with champiñones y queso (mushrooms and cheese), followed by crepes topped with mermelada de bayas del bosque (forest berry jam). Everything tasted so fresh!

Once again, curiosity overcame shyness. “La comida es muy deliciosa. ¿De donde son los champiñones?”

The owner’s face glowed with pride at my interest. “Una granja a cinco kilómetres de aquí. Tenemos muchos pimientos, tomates, verduras…” Once again, eating local products proved to be an incredibly delicious choice!

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Having time to stop and see the sights is part of the fun of walking slowly. In the town of Furelos, a sign invited us to visit the Casa Museo de Furelos.

Once again we stepped back in time, looking at relics of a not so distant past. The museum docent told us stories of his grandmother’s house, where the giant hearth always had a fire with a pot of soup simmering.

He pointed out the kitchen benches with nest boxes underneath. “Chickens roosted here,” he explained. “To get an egg, you just reached under the bench.”

Another display showed biscuit dough being mixed upon a board, instead of in a bowl. “Oh wow!” I exclaimed. “I can remember my grandmother mixing biscuits that way!”

I’ve got to admit, it’s rather amazing to find ones own experiences showcased in a museum!

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Walking from Melide to Ribadiso, water streamed from the sky, thoroughly soaking everything, including us! Though my body and pack were dripping, I couldn’t help enjoying the sensation of tiny drops massaging my head through the rain hood. This video shows the day.

Meson Ribadiso, the only restaurant in town, banished our day of rain with Galician lentil soup, roasted sweet peppers, salad, and grilled hake, then tarta de queso and pastel de chocolate for dessert.

With stuffed stomachs, we wobbled along the only street, stopping at the edge of town to watch retreating clouds give a hint of blue sky for tomorrow.

I thought of two pilgrims we had met, Angela and Debby. Eight years ago, they sold their house and began to travel. Angela told us, “When an opportunity presents itself, grab the moment! There are no guarantees in life.”

Debby’s advice built upon Angela’s thoughts. “In the end, things are not important. It is your memories that stay with you. Make memories instead of collecting things.”

Trying Terrain

October 6, 2017

For many sections of the Appalachian Trail, the path climbs to a ridge top, then stays high and follows that ridge for a good ways.  Not so in southern New York state.  Each day is a series of abrupt ups and downs, with brief moments on top sandwiched between steep ascents and descents.  “It’s kind of like walking across a Ruffles potato chip,” Jay remarked our second day.

That kind of rough terrain lends itself to many picturesque names.  Agony Grind, a vertical two tenths of a mile rock scramble, leads to The Lemon Squeezer, an ever narrowing cleft leading downwards.  We encountered the Eastern Pinnacles, a series of skinny ups and downs, and Wildcat Rocks, a set of huge boulders obtruding from a tree-covered mountainside.  As I labored over the landscape, I felt there should be more names to describe what hikers have to go through to get across this state.  The following names will not be found on any map, except in my own imagination.

Pointy Rock Minefield – a section of trail covered in football-sized pointy rocks, jumbled together, with scarcely any dirt between.  To walk upon this, one must choose footsteps carefully, balancing upon knife edges and points of rock.

Ankle Grabber – see description above.  Then add slightly larger rocks, which tend to let feet slip into cracks and grab ankles with ferocious glee.  Both Pointy Rock Minefield and Ankle Grabber were seen quite often during our hike across New York.

Knee Knocker Notch – Once achieving a ridge top, sometimes the trail would follow the ridge for maybe 25 yards before diving down through a notch.  Standing on top, looking down the perpendicular rocks, my knees would begin to knock together in fear.  It always looked higher from above!  And often, when descending the short rocky cliff, I would end up knocking my knee upon a protruding lump of stone.  Ouch!

The Cheese Grater – This was so named by Jay, after I tried to slow my precipitous slide down the side of a huge boulder, and scraped the inside of my elbow.  The ‘raw meat’ look of my skin and the blood spots left on the granite were enough to earn that place its own name.

Endless Stone Sidewalks – The spines of the ridge tops were often exposed as smooth paths of rock.  These went up, down, left, right, and I half expected to see a loop-de-loop sometimes.  Though the smooth paths were a welcome change from Pointy Rock Minefields, their steep angles still took their toll from our leg muscles.

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Toehold Teaser – Sometimes, when presented with a Pointy Rock Minefield, there would be a small cliff face running beside it.  One could choose to walk above the minefield, sticking toes into ever-narrowing cracks, hoping to stay balanced until the trail turned back to dirt below.

Stair Step Swing – Often trail builders put stone steps down the mountainside to help one get off a ridge.  This was wonderful, but sometimes the stones were made for giant legs.  Boulders on either side of the steps invited me to use them as banisters and just swing my aching legs through the air, skipping the stairs entirely!

Progress through the state of New York was slow, with times of extreme physical exertion.  But there were also times of fun and even playful times.  A state definitely worth hiking!

 

 

 

I May Only Walk This Way Once …

July 27-28, 2017

The small wooden sign nailed to the tree bore a single word.  Five simple letters, promising mystery, excitement, adventure.

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“Caves?” I turned hopefully to Jay.

“It’s not on our AT guide,” Jay looked thoughtful.  “Do you really have the energy to explore it now?  What if we come back tomorrow after breakfast.”

Jay was right.  We were just finishing a grueling 10 mile hike over the tops of three mountains.  Only minutes before I had been counting the steps between me and a horizontal position in our tent, soon to be set up at the nearby Piazza Rock Lean-to.

Our day began with a 700 foot ascent of Saddleback Junior Mountain, only considered a junior because it didn’t quite reach 4,000 feet altitude.  It’s slightly lower top kept us under the clouds, however, and gave us a great view of the surrounding countryside.

Then it was down 500 feet, and up another 1,000 feet to the top of The Horn, which did breach the 4,000 foot mark and put us in the clouds.  There wasn’t much of a view, but we weren’t in danger of sunburn either!

We then descended approximately 500 feet again, then climbed 600 feet to the top of Saddleback Mountain.  The view at the bottom of the ‘saddle’ was spectacular, with blobs of fog blowing across our faces, in turn obscuring, then revealing a world of green trees and sparkling lakes below us.  Up on the top of the mountain however, the cold wind blew fog mercilessly around us, shrinking our world to the next white blaze as we made our way across the wide bare granite summit.

 

Finally, the last four miles of our day included a 2,100 foot descent.  This, really, was the hardest part of the day, as we slid and scrambled down, down, down.  It seemed the shelter would never appear.

And now, caves beckoned!

“Promise we can come back after breakfast?” I asked Jay.

“You bet,” he replied, and continued down the trail, headed for the tent sites by the shelter.

The next morning, most of the hikers at the shelter were talking of going to the town of Rangeley.  Everyone was anticipating showers, clean clothes, delicious hamburgers and milkshakes.  When asked if we were headed to town, I replied, “Yes, but first we have to go explore those caves.”

The other hikers looked at us in shock.  Some had not even seen the sign yesterday when coming toward the shelter.  Others had seen the sign, were slightly intrigued, but not enough to delay a trip to town.

“It’s only two miles from here to the road to Rangeley,” I explained.  “I may never get a chance to be here again.  How can I pass up caves?  The town will still be there later.”

Breakfast over, most of the hikers headed south, while Jay and I took a blue-blazed trail a short distance west.  A jumble of huge boulders extended through the trees, up the mountainside, as far as the eye could see.  Blue painted blazes led me over, under, around, and between giant tilted slabs of granite.  Dark passageways beckoned, small ledges offered finger and toe-holds to climb to the next level, patches of gravel became spots to catch ones breath in shadowy comfort.  One large ledge gave room for me to sit and dangle my feet in mid-air, looking at the entrance to this vertical cave some 20 feet below me.  I kept climbing, lured by blue blazes promising more cave above.  Finally, as leg muscles protested, I came out on a large level rock, looking through the top of the forest canopy.  I realized I had climbed several hundred feet.  “Hmm,” I thought.  “I just climbed and descended this mountain yesterday.  Maybe I better stop here.”  Blue blazes continued up the mountainside, but my brain was full of cavernous images, my imagination on fire with the possibilities for stories here.  What a wondrous place we live in, Planet Earth!

 

Fifteen minutes later I had rejoined Jay at the bottom of the caves, and we continued south on the AT, headed for town.  Five minute later, our progress was once again derailed when we came to another blue-blazed trail, this one leading to Piazza Rock.  We had wondered at the unusual name of the shelter, now was our chance to find out.  The trail headed steeply uphill for one tenth of a mile, over rocks and more rocks.  Suddenly we came to a clearing, and there high above us, was the predecessor of Pride Rock from the movie, The Lion King!  HUGE!  AIRBORNE!  AMAZING!  Words fail to describe, and pictures don’t show it all, but wow, what a sight!  The delights of town, wonderful as they are, just can’t compete with the wonders of nature.

 

Each Day is Something New

July 18, 2017

On the way down from Moxie Bald Mountain, we passed some huge boulders, with slim, twisty passages between.  What fun!  A miniature catacombs waiting for exploration.

July 19, 2017

The sunrise from a ridge near the top of Pleasant Pond Mountain set the tone for the whole day.  What a glorious way to begin!

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View from our tent this morning.

July 20, 2017

Today we crossed the Kennebec River using a canoe ferry!  The Appalachian Trail Conference provides a free canoe ferry service for all hikers each spring, summer, and fall.  There were six of us waiting on the bank of the river as the canoe crossed toward us.  Craig, the ferryman, gave us a lecture on boat safety and highlights of the trail to come.  Then he took two people at a time to the far shore, each time crossing back alone.  When it was our turn, Jay kindly let me paddle, and he sat in the middle.  The sun was shining, a gentle breeze kissed our faces, and the ride was over all too soon.  “That was perhaps the best part of the trail,” I told Jay when we finished.

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Craig stands up in the canoe as he ferries towards us.

July 21, 2017

We entered the Bigelow Preserve today, named for a brigade commander in the Revolutionary War who climbed a peak “for military reasons”.  We camped at Little Bigelow Lean-to, site of “tubs” along the AT.  The tubs are natural, formed as a stream pools and drops down a deep cleft.  We climbed down and around a couple of big boulders, and had a fast, cold bath all to ourselves!  What a treat!

 

July 22, 2017

Today we climbed four mountain peaks in the space of 10 miles, Little Bigelow Mountain, Avery Peak and West Peak of the Bigelow Mountains, and South Horn.  The tops of Avery Peak, West Peak, and South Horn were above tree line, giving us lovely panoramic views while the wind whipped in a frenzy around us.  The terrain was the roughest I’ve seen since climbing Katahdin, and it took me 11.5 hours to hike 10 miles.  I was one tired hiker by the time we reached our campsite at Horns Pond Lean-to!

July 23, 2017

On our way down the mountain from our campsite, we met a northbound hiker named Soul Flower.  She is 70 years old, and really enjoying her hike!  I thought of how tired I had been after climbing those four peaks yesterday, and marveled at Soul Flower’s energy and athleticism!

We talked a few minutes, and Soul Flower told us that her husband of 48 years had died in 2014.  She hiked the PCT in 2015 as a way of grieving.  Then in 2016, she started a thru-hike of the AT.  However, she fell and broke her hand, and had to leave the trail at Harper’s Ferry, WV.  So this year she is finishing her AT hike, going from Harper’s Ferry to Katahdin.  She has made it through the toughest part of the hike, through New Hampshire and southern Maine.  I am entranced with her story, and inspired to continue with my own!

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P.S.  Take a look at our Trail Angel page on the menu!  Scroll to the bottom to see the latest trail angel help we have received.

Blackberry Winter

May 5, 2017

Spring, in all her glory, has been reigning supreme lately.  Flowers blooming, trees leafing out, and birds!  Every day we see birds, and hear even more!

This morning, a rufous-sided towhee sat on a branch and sang, lifting its beak in joyous abandon!  Then, a few miles and hours later, a rose-breasted grosbeak put on quite a display.  It flew from one tree to another, stopping to perform a melodious melody each time.  After about five repetitions of this, the grosbeak alighted on a dead branch, broke a twig off, then, looking around furtively, flew off into the far trees, presumably to add to its nest!

“Yes,” I thought, “Spring is here, with warm winds, sun-kissed plants, and beauty all around.”

May 6, 2017

We awoke to wind raging through the tree-tops, rain spattering on our tent, and fog wrapping cold, clammy arms around us, sending icy tendrils down our necks.  It was as if a sleeping Winter had opened one eye, yawned, and bit down upon us with its last snaggly icicle tooth.  “What happened to Spring?” I whimpered as I layered up with sweater, jacket, raincoat, and winter hat, and shouldered a pack nearly emptied of clothes.

We walked, shivering in the wind, as Winter laughed and shook the landscape.  “It’s okay,” I comforted myself.  “The weather forecast says sun tomorrow.  This cold won’t last long.”

May 7, 2017

The sun lit the morning treetops with bright promises.  Jay and I had been blessed with a fortuitous meeting with new friends, Alan and Mary Ashworth, who had offered us a warm bed in their home the night before.  Now, as we stepped outside to go to church with our new companions, cold Winter laughed and blew icicles under my coat.  The sun was shining, but losing the battle with temperature.

“Locals call this Blackberry Winter,” Mary remarked as we hurried into the warm car.

“Blackberry Winter?” I asked.  “I don’t think I’ve heard that term before.”

“Yes, there’s always a cold snap sometime during the first week of May,” Mary replied.  “Folks say it helps the blackberries grow.”

Well, if a few days of cold helped the blackberries grow, I was all for it.  After all, walking while wearing all my warm clothes just meant that my pack was lighter.  This week was going to be fun, as I hiked through a Blackberry Winter.

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Blackberry blossoms soak up the sun and cold temperatures of a Blackberry Winter!

Our First Storm, by Jay

We tried to outrun a storm to Nantahala and lost.  But we dodged a cold night that lurked behind it…tucked in warm and comfy at our friends’ house in Bryson City.

The low point for me occurred on the endless approach to Wayah Bald.  It was the end of an 18 mile day.  Pouring rain. Wind.  We just wanted to top the bald and find a camp site,  but the trail had other ideas.  We hit a slick stretch, an evil product of a recent fire, and Sarah fell.  My mind went into a tailspin: how much more of the trail would be like this? Would Sarah keep falling until she hurt herself?  How could I keep her warm during the hours it would take for search and rescue to reach us?  It was way too steep and rocky to pitch our tent.

We continued, trying to keep our feet under us, concentrating on the feel of the uneven, slippery muck. Finally, across the burn and climbing once again on leafy tread, a movement ahead startled me.  A black shape, size of a big dog but way too stocky.  Peering through the rain and mist, I saw a wild boar with two young.  They were busily rooting for acorns, snuffling snouts plowing the leaf litter.  Their nonchalance in the storm bolstered me.  Sarah hadn’t fallen again.  We would make it…eventually.  And we had been blessed.

Fond Farewell – from Helen

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The day had arrived. Jay and Sarah were ready to embark on their AT journey. We stopped at the Amicalola State Park Visitor Center, and they signed in as numbers 107 and 108.

The drive from Tennessee had been solid rain, but as we walked out to the arch for pictures, a quiet mist descended. Our climb began.

At the stairs, I noticed the braille-like texture on the edge of each metal grid step. As steps and breathing found their rhythm, I looked upward at the mist-shrouded falls. We continued climbing and saw that the wet stairs had bits of shining water dripping through the grids as if they were hung with wavering lights.

Mist, lights, rhythm and the roar of the waterfall gave a dramatic beginning for this new adventure!at-falls