Sunday, July 29, 2012

Trails and Tribulations

Hello our faithful blog readers, from New York! We have spent the last week wrapping up New Jersey and kicking off the Empire state, and it has been the best of times, and the worst of times.

Unfortunately, rain has been in the forecast almost everyday. We've gotten lucky a few times and watched hail storms from the safety of a shelter, and we've also gotten caught in some pretty torrential downpours. When it rains, we just hope that we get a chance to dry out our things, either while we wear them (if it clears up) or hanging off our packs the next day. Moldy hiking clothes/gear is.....well, it's the worst, and our standards aren't that great to begin with.

Our final day in New Jersey was one of our most eventful days on the trail.....we experienced our two scariest moments of the entire trip in one day of hiking. About 5 minutes into our day, we heard rustling and looked up to see a bear cub shimmying down a tree (he tumbled the last ten feet which made it even cuter). We watched from a safe distance and listened to his rustling as he left, presumably to find mama. Then we hung around hitting our trekking poles together and calling out to give the pair plenty of time to get away, and finally resumed hiking. About 30 yards up the trail, we turned a corner and I was face to face with momma, about 15 feet in front of me. She was the biggest AND closest bear we've seen yet, and her cub was nowhere in sight.

Instinctively, I hit my trekking poles together, which usually sends bears running. She looked at me and pretty much told me with her expression, "I don't care what kinds of noises you can make.....where's my cub?". And then she started walking toward us. At this point, I panicked and Guyline immediately knew what I was going to do (obviously, I was about to run). He very calmly said, "Don't run. Just get behind me.". So I got behind him and we slowly backed away, avoiding eye contact with mama bear and talking in soft voices to show her we mean no harm. Although I must admit, my "slow backing up" was more like sideways speed-walking.

Once we were at a safe distance, we waited and listened to the sounds of mama and cub finding each other and leaving the area before starting again, making plenty of noise to avoid a surprise. When we turned the corner again, they were about 50 feet away and didn't even look up at us.

Later, about 15 miles into our day, we passed by a road with a creamery and enjoyed some ice cream and a lovely view. The weather forecast had said severe thunderstorms all day, but it had been clear so far. As we finished up our ice cream, we saw dark clouds on the horizon and decided to get going; we had just two miles left to the shelter which should have been enough time to beat the rain.

About one mile in, we started hearing thunder in the distance, and figured we definitely had enough time to get in and set up camp before the rain hit. This part of the hike, like a lot of NJ and NY so far, was on an exposed ridge line with huge boulders you either walk along or climb over, and the storm hit within minutes of us first hearing the thunder. We heard the creaks, groans, and snaps of strong wind against the trees, and before we knew it, both of us were nearly knocked off the of Guyline's trekking poles blew off when he fell and flew off the side of the mountain, never to be seen again. Then came the pelting rain, lightening, and the loudest thunder I've ever heard in my life; within minutes we were soaking wet and freezing. We could literally see parts of trees flying off the mountain, the winds were so strong.

We quickly decided we needed to get off the ridge, and scrambled down to safer ground. We remembered there was a bypass trail for hikers who wanted to skip the boulder climbing, and quickly found it and made our way to the shelter. I wish I had gotten a video of the storm, but it was no time to go fishing for a phone wrapped 4 layers deep in waterproofing.

So, we've made it safely through some pretty hairy situations lately, but we've got our sights set on Mt. Katahdin now more than ever. With less than 800 miles left, we finally feel like we are counting down and not up. From here North, the terrain gets tougher, so we are girding our loins for the mountains to come. Bring it, AT!


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Sometimes...I Love The AT

Since my last post, we've been through a lot - 104 degree heat, multiple thunderstorms, the boot-destroying, foot-bruising rocks of Pennsylvania, and the most difficult climb of the hike so far. Not to mention the shame of the infamous Pizza Hut tick incident of 2012. Nevertheless, we're still here and stronger than ever. It's encouraging that we got through it all and made it out of PA and into Snooki country. I'm hoping that our next couple hundred miles will be a bit less trying if I throw some good karma out there. So without further ado, here are a few of the things that I love about the AT.

Mornings - Waking up to the sounds of birds chirping, the cool morning breeze, and the angle at which the sunbeams peak through the trees make it hard not to love mornings on the AT. The first few hours of hiking are always my favorite.

Simplicity - When all of your possessions fit into one bag and your only job is to walk, life is just less complicated. With less material clutter comes less mental clutter, and we are able to think and reflect more clearly than ever out here. 

Sense of Accomplishment - A beautiful view, a hot meal, or a hot shower is even more amazing when you know you worked your butt off for it. Crossing a state line or knocking off another hundred miles feels pretty darn good too.

No Dietary Restrictions - Whenever we go to town, we go to a restaurant. Wait, reverse that. Boom. That's right. We can eat whatever we want and however much of it we want without sacrificing our girlish figures. I'm talking multiple pounds of M&M's a week here, people. Speaking of people...

People - Not only were we not expecting the overwhelming kindness of everyone involved in the trail community (hostel owners, shuttle drivers, trail angels, etc.), but we weren't expecting to make so many friends on the trail. We've met many people that I hope we can stay close with even after the trail is over.

QT - (That stands for quality time. I'm down with most of the hip abbreviations. Laugh out loudly.) If you'll allow me to get all sentimental up in here, my favorite part of the whole AT is unlimited quality time with Bearcub. Certain days when I seem to be overly focused on the hard parts of the trip, she always puts a smile on my face. Alright, alright...I'll stop now before I trigger your gag reflex. Just be glad I didn't make a QT with my QT pun. Oops.

Okay, trail gods. Take that good karma and use it to flatten a mountain or two.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"Ticks Dig Me"

This just in...Guyline discovered and was forced to remove and destroy not one but two deer ticks in a Pizza Hut in Hamburg, PA. To Pizza Hut and all of the other lunch buffet patrons, we sincerely apologize.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


Hold your horses Anne and Tony.....we're getting to you!

Over the past few weeks, we've had the pleasure of having plenty of company in Shenandoah National Park, as well as crossing some major trail milestones.  All of this has helped lift our spirits and shed the "Virginia Blues" we'd started feeling as reflected in Guyline's last post. 

My friends Anne and Sarika joined us in Waynesboro, Virginia for a wonderful weekend.  We took a zero the day they arrived and went shopping at Target, had dinner at Outback, and saw a movie.  These may seem like pretty routine activities but it was very, very different for us.  The movie theater was packed (Friday night), and I almost had a meltdown waiting in a crowded line for has been three months since I've been so close to so many people.  Luckily, Anne has volunteered to create "Transition Plans" for Guyline and I to help us assimilate back into society after the trail.  After witnessing Guyline's new beard length and habit for using a bandana hanky, she concluded that his plan may require a significantly longer time period than mine.

After our day of relaxing, we hit the trail where Anne and Sarika got the full AT experience and shared our first two days in Shenandoah National Park.  They received the trail names "Eclipse" (for Anne's giant backpack that blocked the view of anyone behind her) and "Lockstep" (for the two giant, metal padlocks hanging off of Sarika's pack that we somehow missed in her shakedown).  They saw a black bear and a barred owl, spent the night at a shelter, tasted how cold and delicious mountain spring water is, ate wild blueberries, and enjoyed a few vistas.  We were so excited to share our trail life with friends. 
Lockstep picking wild blueberries....yum!

Check out the size of that pack on Eclipse!  These ladies mean business.
A few days later, my uncle Andrew called with news that he and my aunt Deb were vacationing in Virginia.  They drove to the park the next day and picked us up, shuttled us around down, and treated us to a giant diner breakfast.  Wow.....we could really get used to this company thing!  It was great to see some family after three months without it. 

Beautiful sunset over the Shenandoah Valley

After the visit from Andrew and Deb, we started seeing what looked like smoke in the distance.  It turns out that the Shennies were following suit with the rest of the country, and lightning had started a forest fire in the park.  The next day, the trail was re-routed around the fire and we had to walk 5 miles on Skyline Drive instead.

View of the Shenandoah forest fires from a safe distance

The trail was diverted for 5 miles around the fires

Guyline's family met us shortly after we finished "the Shennies".......despite the huge storms, power outages, and a gas shortage, Terry, Tony, Amy and Jeff made their way to Front Royal, Virgina where we spent a few days visiting.  The highlight of the trip was a quaint Italian restaurant with delicious food and wine. 

Enjoying some Italian with the Italians

Since all of our visits, we've hit some huge milestones.  We've finished Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland, and we're now about a quarter of the way through Pennsylvania.  We've crossed the 1,000 mile mark and now the halfway point (YES!!!!!), and are feeling like we're now counting down the miles.  We had a personal heat record of hiking in 104 degree heat, and are glad that the heatwave finally broke.  We are so thankful for the 85 degree days we have now. 

West Virgina and 1,000 miles....all in the same day!

Halfway!  Thank goodness.

That's all for now......if you take one thing away from this post, take this:  we love company and you should all come visit us!


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Sometimes...I Hate the AT

So far up to this point, our blog posts have been pretty upbeat and positive even though we've had our fair share of challenges. However, in order to paint a clear and honest picture of our experience, I feel the need to vent a little bit. What I'm saying is...I'm gonna get real negative up in this blog. I feel that after hiking 1,017 miles in 5 states I've earned a bit of complaining. So if I haven't already alienated you with the body odor post, maybe this will be the straw that breaks the camel's back. Without further ado, below is a brief summary of everything that I hate about the AT. 
  • Bugs - In a way, we've become one with the fact that there are bugs everywhere. Bearcub no longer hesitates to pick up a giant spider in her boots and toss it into the woods. But sometimes it honestly just gets so ridiculous that a Zen master would flip out and scream obscenities in the middle of the trail. Gnats fly into our eyes, mouth, nose, and ears regularly during the day. Flies bite our arms and legs (even through our socks). It's not unusual to have an entire swarm of gnats or flies follow us on the trail for at least half a mile. If we get out of camp early and we're the first people to hike a section of the trail that day, we walk through at least 10 spider webs in the first half hour of hiking. And let me tell you, spider webs are not easy to remove from a 3 month beard. Apparently, spiders haven't realized that if they toil away all night on a luxurious web right across the trail, it will just be destroyed the next morning. It's like building a sandcastle too close to the tide. Yet I have to admire their persistence. The other night, as I sat down to dinner, I had the sensation that there were spider webs on multiple different parts of my legs. I figured I was just losing my mind, until I realized that there was a spider making a web between my legs at that exact moment. The sad part is, if you're a spider, anywhere in my general vicinity is actually a pretty efficient place to catch your dinner.
  • Stench - I know we've been over this before, and it's true that I improved my hygiene habits, but there is just no way around it. Everything I own smells. My pack, sleeping pad, sleeping bag, and every one of my few possessions has a funk that ranges from musty to foul. In an unexpected victory, the hand straps on my hiking poles win the grand prize for stinkiest gear.
  • Hiking - I know, I know...I came out here because I love hiking. But we all know that too much of a good thing can be bad. It's not that I hate hiking, it's that I hate that I have to do it all day every day. One great thing about hiking is that it completely clears your mind, and you get all sorts of great ideas. You think of goals you'd like to accomplish, hobbies you'd like to take up, places you'd like to visit, etc. The catch is that you can't act on any of these ideas until you get back to the real world. It's a unique brand of torture that I felt was worth noting in this post.
  • Town Stays - I look forward to town stays for days, and it's sometimes all that gets me through a rough stretch of terrain. However, often times we get into town all excited to finally have some time to relax only to find that our chores consume all of our free time. Every time we hit a town, showers and laundry are our first priorities. Unfortunately, it's not unusual to have to carry our dirty laundry half way across town to a non-air-conditioned laundromat in the middle of a 90 degree day. If a laundromat ever opens near my house, I'm going to open one with air-conditioning right across the street. I'll make a fortune. People rarely look more miserable than some of the sweaty locals I've seen fanning themselves with a gossip magazine while waiting for their laundry. Once the laundry is done, then it's time to buy groceries, check email, pay bills, do other miscellaneous real world chores, try to write a blog (even these blog posts can be a groan inducing task on our to-do list), and hopefully squeeze in a hot meal at a decent restaurant. By the time all of that is done, we've got to go to bed so we can get back on the trail at a decent hour the next day.
Wow. Okay, I guess I had some stuff pent up in there that I needed to get out. For that, I apologize. I would like to wrap up by saying that this is still an amazing trip. For the most part, I still really enjoy hiking: the scenery is beautiful, seeing all of the different trail towns is a truly unique experience, and our time in the woods makes things like taking a shower and watching TV more enjoyable than they've ever been. Any hardships I experience on this trip are just helping me to appreciate all of the bright spots even more. I promise I'll make it up to you with a post outlining everything that I love about the AT. 

So...are we still cool? You gonna come back and read more blog posts? I'll let Bearcub and her positive little self write the next one.

- Guyline