Contentment

May 2, 2017

This morning brought the delight of a hot shower, delicious breakfast, and Jay feeling much better after a sound night’s sleep. The Rock Inn had provided just the medicine needed!

It was with reluctance that we left this haven of warmth and friendliness to face the inhospitable wind once again as we walked two miles back to the PCT. Clouds still hugged the mountain tops, which was where the PCT quickly took us.

Near noon, the clouds lifted, revealing blue sky and sunshine! When we saw two hikers, Cheetoh and Ruby, eating lunch in the lee of a rock escarpment, we decided to join them. We enjoyed the conversation as much as the food, once again trading hiker stories. The end of lunch was marked by a western tanager, first sighted by Cheetoh. We all paused, captivated with its bright colors of yellow body, black wings, and red head. These birds have my all time approval, because not only are they beautiful, but during breeding season, they eat many insects, including wasps!

Lifting clouds reveal azure sky – at least for a few moments!

Soon after we began hiking again, the clouds returned, making our sunny lunch just a memory.

Water today came from a spring at Upper Shake Campground. Trail crews have put a great deal of work into this portion of the PCT, creating a lovely detour to fetch life-giving liquid! Live oaks and Coulter pines became more numerous, paving the trail with cushiony pine needles peppered with rolling acorns.

20180502_135713_resized1341895608.jpg
Pollen (male) cones on a Coulter pine

Near the end of the day, we came across this hiker-made sign. Seeing miles marked in kilometers reinforced the knowledge that we shared the PCT with many people from other countries.

img_20180502_180831293113387524.jpg
800 kilometers = 497 miles

We pitched our tent a half mile south of Sawmill Campground, once again choosing solitude over the companionship of other hikers. Temperatures had dropped precipitously since our sunny lunch, and I crawled into my sleeping bag wearing all the clothes from my pack. I admit to harboring a few longing memories of last night’s comfort at The Rock Inn. However, as I reflected upon western tanagers, pollen cones from Coulter pines, and acorn signposts, serene tranquility filled my heart. (My nose, on the other hand, remained cold!) 🙂

May 3, 2018

Early in our hike today we came across another hiker-made signpost. Five hundred miles seemed like a lot until I did the math and realized that we still had 2,150 miles to go!

500 miles! Worth celebrating!

A man offered us water and mints from his car as we crossed a dirt road. He was running support for another hiker, but had come prepared to help anyone he met. We ate the mints with gratitude and thanks. I’m now embarrassed to admit, I have forgotten this trail angel’s name.

An unexpected trail angel!

Live oaks and pines continued to line the trail, bathing us in beauty. The sunshine brought rising temperatures. With a mostly downhill slant to our path, miles flew by!

Blue skies and sunshine filter through the canopy of oaks and pines, with green ground cover delighting the eyes!

“Enjoy the trees,” Jay warned. “We’ll be hitting Antelope Valley this evening, and it will be a while before we see such lush vegetation again.”

Our first good look at Antelope Valley, notorious for wind and high temperatures.

As the afternoon progressed, the ubiquitous wind began to strengthen. Chamise chaparral and dry grasses became the major life forms around us. Though we had not planned to reach Antelope Valley today, our light packs and the easy trail kept urging us forward.

Nearing the valley floor, our oak and pine cover was left behind.

Just on the other side of Highway 138, a sizeable piece of property has been turned into a hiker hostel. The owner, Richard, and the caretaker, Bob, are happy to have hikers take shelter here for a donation of $10 per person. They provide a shuttle to Neenach Cafe and Market, which is owned by Richard, but we arrived just as the last shuttle was returning.

Hikers are welcome to pitch their tent on the bare dirt anywhere on the property. There are many small buildings with beds available on a first come, first served basis. One bathroom serves all hikers (about 30 that night). The wind, which was rapidly approaching gale force on the sweeping valley floor, convinced Jay and me to take shelter in a room. Not too clean, but it was private, with walls sturdy enough to block the wind, which was all I asked.

A sprawl of small rooms house either none-to-clean beds, or a jumble of junk.

20180504_080200_resized1256233311.jpg
Hikertown
img_20180503_190525750_hdr1704050103.jpg
Another view of this hiker hostel.

Stairway to Heaven

October 7, 2017

This morning we crossed from New York into New Jersey!  We have now completed 12 of the 14 states which host the Appalachian Trail.  Only two more states to go!

About lunch time, we arrived at the top of Wawayanda Mountain.  We had encountered no hikers all morning, hiking through quiet forest.  At the top of the mountain, a family was eating lunch.  Jay and I decided to take our noon meal a little further, to a viewpoint.  When we arrived at the turn-off to the view, through the trees we could hear a sizeable group of people laughing and talking.  We decided not to crowd in on the party, and went on.  Suddenly, the trail narrowed and dived over a rock ledge.  We looked over the edge to see a whole stream of people coming up the mountainside!  Unbeknownst to us, we had arrived at the Stairway to Heaven, an extremely popular day hike for New Jersey locals.  A quiet lunch was definitely out of the question.  We cheerfully opened our food bags on the rocky ledge, and prepared to enjoy the living torrent of humanity ascending the mountain.

IMG_20171007_125203202

We talked to many people as we ate lunch, then continued to talk as we descended the trail.  Most of the hikers we met did not notice our packs, and assumed that we were day hikers like themselves.  “How much further?” was a common question.  But since we had ascended the opposite side of the mountain, we had no idea of the length of this stone staircase!

“You’ve got a bit of a ways to go,” I told one questing hiker.  She laughed, and continued.  But I thought of my answer, and realized it was a typical southernism.  In the south, distance often is described in rather general terms.  “A right far piece” is much longer than “a good ways”, which in turn is farther than “a bit”, with “spitting distance” being quite close.

The trail was so narrow, we often had to take turns as we descended, stepping off the trail to let ascending hikers pass.  By the time we reached the bottom, we had probably seen over 200 people!

About halfway down, Jay mused, “If we’re descending the Stairway to Heaven, where do you think we will end up?”

Where did we end?  In Pochuck Swamp, with Pochuck Suspension Bridge crossing Pochuck River.    The bridge is an amazing bit of engineering, a huge suspension bridge set down in the middle of the swamp, just for crossing the river by foot!  A large trail crew had torn up much of the boardwalk before the bridge.  But it has been so dry lately, it was easy to walk beside that section of the boards.  It was a truly lovely three miles, with long walkways winding past fall flowers, cattails gone to seed, rushes above our heads.  I kind of hated for it to end!  It was a beautiful section of New Jersey, like nothing else on the whole Appalachian Trail.

 

Day Hikers – by Jay

September 27, 2017

Since Labor Day, we have only seen other hikers when the AT coincides with popular day hikes.  Interactions with day hikers can be confusing.  Many of these people, especially near big cities like New York, have never heard of the AT.  They assume we are doing the same hike that they are.  Misunderstandings result….

As we approached Fort Montgomery, New York, we stashed our packs behind a tree and took a short side trip (0.6 miles) up to Anthony’s Nose.  After a day of solitude, we were surprised to find several day hikers enjoying the spectacular view of the Hudson River Valley.

IMG_20170927_134215252
The view from Anthony’s Nose, a local landmark.

On our way back down to the AT, we caught up with two ladies who were stopped in the trail.  Their clean appearance and small packs indicated that they were day hikers.

One of them asked Sarah “Are you sure this is the way you came?”

Sarah, certain we were returning on the correct path, began enthusiastically pointing out trees and other features that she remembered from our ascent.

The day hikers were not convinced.  “I don’t remember any of this!” one exclaimed.

We all continued walking.  Sarah, warming to her new game, identified progressively more obscure land marks: “Oh look!  There’s that purple flower….and I remember that fallen branch!” but the day hikers were no longer listening.

Their steps became increasingly tentative.  I reminded Sarah that the way we had come might not be the way they had come.  Upon over-hearing this, the ladies stopped, turned around, and took their first good look at us.  Their expressions clouded as they took in our dirty socks, odd-looking bug pants, sweat stained shirts, and disheveled hair.  We had no back packs.  We were not credible looking.

One hiker asked “We came from our car, at the trail head. Where did you come from?”

I couldn’t resist.  “Maine” I quipped.

As I tried to explain that we were hiking the AT, one threw up her arms in exasperation.  “I think we’ll try the other way.”

I could only imagine what they were thinking as they made a wide arc around us and hurried back towards the view point.

Southbound Moments

IMG_20170915_180720

The trail snakes around like a game of Chutes and Ladders, so that sometimes I wonder if we’re going backwards or forwards!

September 1, 2017

Whimsical rock sculptures along the trail near White Rocks viewpoint causes us to pause in appreciation.  Someone had a lot of time on their hands!  It makes me think of building with blocks when our son was very young.  What fun!

September 4, 2017

Yesterday Jay and I hiked to the town of Manchester Center, and enjoyed sitting out a day of pouring rain in the comfort of an old-fashioned guest house called Sutton’s Place.  Today we had planned to take a day of rest, but the weather forecast called for sun today and more rain tomorrow.  So we decided to slack pack 17 miles, from the other side of Stratton Mountain back to Manchester Center.

We were picked up by a shuttle at 6:00 a.m., driven on small back roads for 45 minutes around Stratton Mountain, and let off at the AT trailhead.  The sun rose while we were in the car, a huge orange ball of golden fire, glowing through the trees!

 

The top of Stratton Mountain was still in the clouds when we reached it, three miles later.  Wind gusted above the tree tops, blowing foggy shreds past the lookout tower.  The view from that tower is famous for inspiring the creation of both the Long Trail and the Appalachian Trail.  But today, no inspiration was to be had from the view!  

There is also a caretaker’s cabin on top of Stratton Mountain.  Jay and I met the caretakers, Jeanne and Hugh, in 2011 when Jay first thru-hiked the AT.  We were delighted to meet them again.  Jay told Jeanne how she had educated him about the Bicknell Thrush.  I think she was charmed that he remembered so vividly, for she invited us into their tiny cabin, “just to see what it is like.”  It was a cozy space, an original “tiny house”.  I felt honored to get to see it!  Jeanne and Hugh have been caretakers on top of the mountain since the 1960s.  They feel that their job is to protect the mountain and educate hikers.  They do a great job!

September 6, 2017

After taking a zero day in the town of Manchester Center, VT, and watching the rain pour down, we begin hiking today in a ‘hard mist’, the kind of rain that soaks in sooner than one would think!  It is now that I truly appreciate the shelters along the Appalachian Trail.  We take an early lunch at Story Spring Shelter, then an early dinner at Kid Gore Shelter.  After feeling the rain hitting our hoods all day, it is a relief to sit inside a dry shelter, and watch the rain soak the ground outside!  Also, it’s nice to be able to eat without fat water drops splashing upon ones raisins or chocolate bar!

September 7, 2017

Tonight we chose a very scenic campsite, overlooking the town of Bennington, VT.  Evening-tinged blue sky arched directly over us, while out in the valley, we could see a thunderstorm raging over the town.  About the time we were settled inside our tent, the edge of the storm caught our airy perch.  Lightning flashed just a few miles away.  Wind battered our tent in a frenzy, tearing out one tent stake!  Tent fabric whipped around my head as the tent pole fell across my body.

I cowered beneath the pelting raindrops until Jay shouted in my ear, “I’ll hold the tent pole while you go outside and pound the stake back in.” 

I wasn’t sure how I got elected to plunge into the rain, except that the stake was on my side of the tent.  Too shell-shocked to argue, I obediently unzipped the tent, submitted the upper half of my body to a bombardment of dagger-like precipitation, and grabbed the tent stake as the wind tried to whip it into the bushes.  I used the panicked force of adrenaline to shove that stake deep into the grass and dirt, then wriggled backwards into the dry ‘safety’ of our abode.  Whew!

We lay and listened as the rain and wind slowly moved down the valley, and I finally fell asleep to the gentle patter of water drops as the storm subsided.

IMG_20170907_184431749_HDR

September 8, 2017

We’ve been hiking in mixed rain and sun for three days now.  Lots and lots of mud!

Great salamander and toad weather!

Three days of wet feet are beginning to cause problems.  Though our feet have many calluses, soggy socks rub the tops of our toes, causing oozing sores and blisters.  I think of the soldiers in the jungles of Vietnam, and wonder how they coped.  Perhaps wet feet were not a priority on their list of problems.  The sores on our feet, however, are getting to be too extensive to ignore.  Tonight we use antiseptic wipes to clean our feet, and tomorrow we’ll wrap our toes in duct tape and band-aids!  The true solution, however, will be some days of sunshine!

 

 September 9-10, 2017

The weather begins to dry out today, hooray! 

We climb to the top of Greylock Mtn, tallest mountain in Massachusetts.  The sky is dramatic, clouds playing hide and seek with the sun.  A war memorial, a beautiful tower with a spiral staircase, graces the top of Greylock.  I must admit, more than half the fun of the memorial is climbing the stairs, around and around and around!

We stay on top of Greylock, at the Bascom Lodge, for the night, enjoying a hot shower, fresh clean sheets, and a chance to dry the mud off our shoes!

Breakfast is fun, discussing hiking and diet with two other hikers, Mary and Jane.  When it is time to leave, Jay discovers that he is missing his hat.  We look everywhere, but with no result.  This is serious, as the wind is cold outside, and a hat is essential.  Thankfully, Mary and her son, Kevin, come to our rescue, giving Jay an extra hat they had packed.  Once again, trail angels work their magic on the AT!  (Please see our Trail Angels page in the menu for a little more on this part of the story.)

The climb down Greylock is beautiful, with blue sky and sunshine!  I can see the mud drying as we walk upon it!

We cross a corn field, then find wild apple trees littering the trail with ripe apples.  We can’t resist, and collect about a dozen.  Massachusetts wild apples taste much more delicious than Nevada wild apples!  With fresh fruit in the back of my pack, we climb Cheshire Cobbles, a lovely, gently graded, loop trail which shares the AT.  We stop and sit on the granite boulders, eating apples and enjoying a beautiful view!

September 11, 2016

The incredibly gorgeous weather continues with a beautiful sunrise through the trees.

IMG_20170911_065707136

It’s too cold to eat breakfast when we first get up.  We decide to walk for a while.  After about two miles, we are rewarded with the most beautiful breakfast spot, a quiet view on Gore Pond, still waters reflecting azure sky and fall trees.

IMG_20170911_081542140_HDR

September 12, 2017

Once again it is too cold to eat breakfast when we wake.  We hike about an hour, and come to a trail angel’s house, The Cookie Lady.  She sells boiled eggs from her farm, as well as sodas and candy bars to passing hikers.  She also gives away fresh-made cookies.  We eat boiled eggs and oatmeal-chocolate chip cookies for breakfast this morning.  But the best part of the meal is the beautiful setting – food for our soul!

September 14, 2017

Salamanders and frogs begin to be seen on the trail again.  We know this heralds a change from sunshine to wet weather ahead.  Fortunately, we’re a day away from the town of Great Barrington, MA.  Perhaps we’ll get lucky, and have our resupply and rest day as it rains!

SOBO Meets NOBO

August 27, 2017

Jay and I have felt uniquely blessed to see hiker beginnings at both ends of the Appalachian Trail.  In February, we were NOBOs (North Bound), with approximately 80 other eager hikers.  (3,112 NOBOs participated in the voluntary registration with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.  About 80 of them began hiking during the week that we started.)  Then in July, we became Flipflop SOBOs (South Bound), climbing Katahdin and heading south with roughly 55 hikers that week.  (A total of 387 registered with the ATC.)

Hiking south, the difficult terrain of Maine and New Hampshire presents south bound hikers with unique challenges, beginning with the arduous climb of Katahdin, then immediately slogging through bogs and rocks in the 100 Mile Wilderness, followed by vertical trails through mountains of granite!  It has been a pleasure to share these challenges with some engaging personalities and exceptional hikers.

We have also enjoyed re-meeting north bound hikers that we had last seen in southern Appalachia.  What a treat, to suddenly see a familiar face approaching through the woods!  Henry, a fast-hiking engineer, was the first NOBO re-acquaintance.  After almost 2,000 miles, he still reveled in every day of his hike.  In mid-July, we met two hikers who recognized us, though the last 1,000 miles had changed them beyond recognition.  Dakota had lost weight, slimming down to a trim hiker shape, while Cruise Control had gained muscle, bulking up from a slender weed to a sleek physique!  After that, it seemed we recognized hikers nearly every day until mid-August before the stream of familiar faces slowed to a trickle.

Today, at a trail angel’s house, we met Mowgli, last seen in Shenandoah National Park.  His companion back then, Dante, was no longer with him.  “Dante had things happen,” Mowgli informed us.  “Like, one time I told him the plant was poison nettles. He said it was just poison ivy, and he wasn’t allergic.  Then he grabbed a bunch and rubbed it all over his hands. … It was nettles all right.  Anyway, he finally had to get off trail when he got drunk one night and ate a rock.  That sent him to the hospital.”

(For more about this trail angel house, see our page of Trail Angels on our menu.)

IMG_20170827_090209163
Mowgli eats left over macaroni with meatballs on the porch of a trail angel’s house. The resident cat relaxes beside him.

Yesterday, entering the trees after resupplying in Norwich, VT, we were delighted to see Specs, a young man with whom we spent a zero day at Doe River Hostel, near Roan Mountain, TN.  We stopped to talk for a good while, catching up on each other’s lives.  Specs has lost 65 pounds while hiking, and is looking great!  We shared jokes and stories, including Specs telling us about getting bluff charged by a bear in Shenandoah National Park.  He has enjoyed support from his parents and sister while on the trail, feeling that his adventure has been part of a family affair.  What fun!

IMG_20170826_130525667
Specs and Jay trade jokes and stories.

Meeting all these NOBOs, while still hiking south with SOBOs, has reminded me that a large part of the AT experience revolves around each person’s unique hike.  One never knows what or who is around the next bend in the trail!

Whimsy in the White Mountains

August 11, 2017

This morning, Jay faced me as we packed up.  “What do you want to do?”  he asked.

I knew he was referring to yesterday’s panic on the mountain.  I knew I didn’t have to continue.  But if I stopped, I would give up the dream of this grand adventure.  Somehow, during the night, my decision had been made.  “I want to keep hiking.”  My voice sounded strong and sure.  “I might get scared again.”  My voice began to waver.  “But I think I can do this.  I really appreciate all your help yesterday.  If I keep hiking, maybe eventually I can conquer this fear!”

The trail led over Mt. Jefferson, past Mt. Clay, and up Mt. Washington, tallest mountain on the northern half of the Appalachian Trail.  I was delighted to see that for many portions of the trail today, someone had made an effort to change tumbled rocks into a path.  Numerous rocks had been moved, turned so the flat side was facing up, making steps and smooth tread.

Last night a thunderstorm had come through, and today the rocks were a bit wet, as well as the air around us.  Fog swirled, constantly playing peek-a-boo with sun and mountain peaks.  It cheered me, to see the playfulness of the weather!

IMG_20170811_170517990

*   *   *   *    *

As we hiked this morning, we met two hikers coming from the Madison Spring Hut.  “Were you outside during the storm last night?” one asked me.

‘Outside?’ I thought.  ‘Who would be silly enough to be outside in the night during a thunderstorm on a mountain?’

“Well, no, I was inside my tent,” I told the man.

The hiker waved impatiently.  “That’s what I meant.  Not in the Hut.  Outside.”

“Did the thunderstorm keep y’all up?” I asked.

“Yes, what a show!  We watched the lightning crackle over the mountain!  It was great … at least from the inside of a building.”  The man grinned with enthusiasm.

“I must admit, I watched the lightning from the inside of my eyelids,” I laughed.  “That was show enough for me!”

*   *    *    *    *

Later in the day, as we were climbing Mt. Washington, we met a group of young people shepherded by one adult.  Intrigued, I asked one of the teens, “What group is this?”

“Oh, we’re a Christian academy,” the boy answered cheerfully.

‘Wow!’ I thought.  ‘That is cool, a school that takes their students out hiking!  I wonder what academy it is?’

When the chaperone approached, I asked, “What religious affiliation are you all?”  The man looked confused.  I explained, “The student ahead said you were a Christian academy.”

The man laughed.  “Oh, he’s always joking.  We’re just a group of friends out hiking for the day.”

Just then the boy called back, “Come on ‘Father Paul’.  Don’t get too far behind us!”

“Shut up, you scalawag!” the man yelled.  “I told her the truth!”

I doubled over in laughter as the man passed me, still talking to the boy.  What fun!

August 13, 2017

This morning we saw Sasha and Dragonfly after several days of trailing behind them.  As we greeted them, Sasha informed us, “Dragonfly has been renamed to Firefly!”

“Oh?” I asked.  “How did that happen?”

“Well, when a hiker comes dragging into Lake of the Clouds Hut after climbing Mt Washington in the dark, we figure she’s really a firefly in disguise!”

*    *    *    *    *

Lunch time near Ethan Pond turns into a siesta.  It feels so good to just sit and rest, soaking in the warm sunshine!  As we finally marshal our forces to leave, I notice a spider spinning a web between my legs!  Jay laughs.  “You know you’ve had a long lunch when a spider manages to attach a web to your knees!”

*    *    *   *    *

There is actually a section of flat trail in the White Mountains!  Four miles of lovely trail lie between Ethan Pond and the approach to Zealand Falls Hut!  Even better, there are blueberries on part of it!  I’m in heaven as we stroll along the flat path, picking handfuls of blueberries!

August 14, 2017

We’ve met hordes of hikers today, and as the day comes to a close, more hikers appear!  We had been planning to camp at Garfield Pond, as we were sure the Garfield Ridge Shelter was full to bursting.  But approaching the pond, we could see a tent city springing up.  “Let’s keep looking,”  Jay suggested.  “There’s bound to be a flat spot somewhere before the next mountain.”

We hiked on, racing the coming dusk.  Jay pulled ahead, disappearing between the trees.  Suddenly he reappeared on the trail.  “I found a place,” he told me.  We followed a faint deer track a few yards until the trees opened in a perfect circle, flat and not too rocky.  ‘Oh thank goodness,’ I thought.  ‘But where shall we get water?’

“Do you think you could get enough water from the little puddle we passed a few minutes ago?” Jay asked.

I walked back through the deepening twilight and looked at the small pool.  Perhaps a gallon of water, with a sprinkling of frog eggs on one side, came from a slow seep on the side of the trail.  I dipped up a liter and looked at it.  Wow, clear, cold water!  We only needed three liters.  There would still be enough for the frog eggs until the seep replenished.  A perfect place for a quiet evening!

August 15, 2017

The trail undulates up and down between Mt. Lafayette, Mt. Lincoln, Little Haystack, and Liberty Mountain.  Franconia Ridge is so picturesque, it’s hard to know where to point a camera!  The ridge slopes steeply on each side, but the trail tread invites feet to walk safely, especially today, with bright sun shining!  “It reminds me of the Great Wall of China,” Jay remarks.  I look at the wall of the ridge, and find myself transported to China.  What a treat!

August 18, 2017

The fun thing about a day of rain is being able to decide, “Hey, we can quit walking anytime!”  At 3:00 p.m., as the rain continued falling, we stopped near Beaver Brook in the Kinsman Notch, and pitched our tent.  What a treat, to snuggle down into dry sleeping bag while the air outside is filled with water!

August 19, 2017

Mt. Moosilauke is considered the southern edge of the White Mountains.  We climbed from Kinsman Notch to the top of the mountain this morning.  The first 1.5 miles is notoriously steep.  It took us 2 hours!  But the climb was always in the trees, and wood blocks made easy steps up a few of the steep sections!  After that, the gradient gentled slightly, turning the trail to rocks, but not cliffs.

IMG_20170819_092854289

We marked the end of the White Mountains by staying at the Hiker Welcome Hostel.  They took us to a burger joint that served grass-fed beef, had live music, and a campfire!  What a way to celebrate some of the hardest miles I’ve ever hiked!

Shaking the Mile Monkey

June 28, 2017

We have a mile monkey riding Jay’s shoulder.  Dressed in jockey attire, this little guy constantly urges Jay forward, ready to ignore all distractions such as gorgeous views, side trips to ice cream, bird songs, beautiful flowers, or even intimidating thunderheads.  A mile monkey has tunnel vision, choosing the straight and narrow of the trail over all diversions.  At the end of the day, his only interest is the number of miles completed.

My job is to frustrate this mile monkey.  I’m pretty good at this duty!  I’ve had many tiny imaginary monkey expletives hurled at my head during the past four months, as we stopped to swing on a vine, climb a boulder, take in a view, or … go off trail to attend a family reunion!

From Pine Grove Furnace State Park, near the halfway point of the AT, Jay and I rented a car and drove to Tennessee for a yearly gathering of parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and cousins.  I’m afraid my motives for this trip were not purely based on family loyalty.  After hiking 1,102 miles, the thought of clean sheets and daily showers for a week were nearly as big an attraction to me as seeing loved kinfolk!

“No!” the mile monkey howled.  “How can you do this?  What kind of a thru-hiker are you?  Stop!  Go back!  Stay on the trail!”

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy defines a thru-hike as completion of the whole 2,190 miles of trail within one year.  Traditionally, hikers head either northbound from Georgia or southbound from Maine.  However, a hiker’s itinerary can begin anywhere along the trail.  Whether one “flip-flops”, “leapfrogs”, or does a “wrap-around”, the thru-hike challenge is to finish within a year.

“That’s not good enough!” the mile monkey chittered as it jumped up and down upon Jay’s shoulder.  “You started out northbound!  You’ve got to keep going!  You’ll never get to Mt. Katahdin at this rate!”

“Perhaps you’re right,” I addressed the mile monkey seriously.  “I began this hike as a bit of a pilgrimage, walking through spring like Earl Schaffer (first AT thru-hiker).  But with all our delays, most notably the month on and off trail, healing my broken collarbone, I’m not sure we can get to the end before Baxter State Park closes Mt. Katahdin on October 15.”

“Do you want to quit?” Jay entered the conversation.

“No way!”  My response was immediate, from my gut.  “We committed to a thru-hike!  I want to complete it!”

“What if we do a flip-flop?”  Jay mused.  “We could use the family reunion as a natural break.  Instead of getting back on the trail in Pennsylvania, we could drive to Maine, climb Katahdin, then hike south!”

“That’s it!”  I hugged Jay ecstatically.  “We hiked Georgia in winter, walked in awe through spring in North Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia, now we can have summer in the north woods!  There will be no time limit on our finish as we hike south through the fall!”  I eyed the monkey triumphantly.  “Oh boy, mile monkey, you’re gonna have a tough time, now!”

“Agh!”  the mile monkey stomped in frustration.  “You haven’t heard the last from me!  I’ll find some way to keep nagging you!”

IMG_20170617_194723171
This rock was found on a cairn near the Mason-Dixon Line on the Appalachian Trail.