A couple days into this stretch, I kind of wandered off trail—no ubiquitous white blazes to be seen showing me the AT—following footprints in the mud. I looked at my maps and sure enough this abandoned forest road connected to others and reconnected back to the trail in about the same mileage. So I didn’t sweat it. The roads were massively potholed, filled with water, mud, 4WD and ATV gouges and decorated with fenders and other car parts. Actually, it was a rather fun adventure. I saw nobody else, even when I went by a couple of cabins. After awhile I got back to the official AT and made it to the shelter camp for the night. I knew a couple hikers were shuttling into and back from a brewery but I was never going to make the pickup time so I hung out at the shelter. All kinds of hikers rolled in and Crossword brought me a beer and Bug Net brought Sofia a beer. Score!
A few days later, Paul Kelly, another USASA colleague picked me up and hosted me at his house a mile from the AT. His family has been in the Manchester Center, Vermont for a long time and he knows everybody. I got a tour and learned some history. Walking through endless trees and stone wall remnants, I had no inkling that Vermont was clear cut and the stone walls were sheep fences. And there’s marble mining, every single headstone at Arlington National Cemetery is from a still operating marble quarry near here, Danby Quarry, currently excavated 3 miles into a mountain. I met wife, Lisa, 2 (of 3) kids—Katie and Connor, and Baxter the silly, sweet doodle dog who licked the salt off me before settling in for a cuddle. Paul and I talked about our snowboarding world, catching up a bit since USASA Nationals in April at Copper Mountain. Colorado.
Walking up Bromley wasn’t horrible when he dropped me off at the trailhead st 6:30 am, except for the cold, relentless wind that nearly froze me to death. For the second time only, I set up my sleeping bag inside a regular, 3-sided shelter. I needed to get warm and avoid soaking my tent with the all night rain event.
I think because I’d used up so much energy being cold the day before, I had my first truly crabby day afterwords. I barely remember what I saw. It was still windy but not quite as cold. I’ll say it again—I hate wind! But Crossword had walked from a road crossing to a deli and brought me back a turkey dinner sandwich, chips and Vitaminwater. That made the last 1.6 miles to the shelter/campsite not too bad.
And then the last day of this stretch was, of course, perfect! A lot of up to a lot of down. There’s a new piece of AT supposedly, but the old AT is just fine, there was some kind of property lease issue, not the trail itself, that caused the reroute. So I took the old route right down to the Inn at Long Trail at Route 4, which also incorporates McGrath’s Irish Pub, which has some historic snowboards. Sounds like a zero to me, with more rain in the forecast for today.
This almost instant blog post is thanks to a text I got from my hiking pal Papa Raven. “The last blog you posted ended 16 days ago, so I’m not sure where you are.” My bad. Here ya go, Ravens! Thanks to the spreadsheet from your 2019 thru hike (and Triple Crown finish for Mama, Papa, Bling and Whisper) notes and conversation about the AT, it’s not that bad.
Sometimes zero days are just boring, probably when you don’t need them but have to wait for your box with replacement shoes. I walked around town, went to an outdoor store that sold fashion wear and lucked out getting a pair of lightweight plastic Birkenstock Arizonas for camp shoes. Deluxe. Walked the other way and got groceries. Walked back downtown for dinner.
I got my box when the post office opened Monday, went back to the motel, packed up and got a ride by Joe so was hiking by 10:30. I pitched my tent at the furthest spot from the Tom Leonard shelter with a beautiful view. Unfortunately a loud NOBO hiker “Tramily” of 9 trickled in, the Peacocks they call themselves. I only met 3 who were nice but man they sat up late yell talking at each other like they had to be heard over music and noise at a bar.
Just for the quiet I stealth camped (a no-no) after seeing a turkey and a porcupine. No cell service and my camp site was quiet in a gentle rain. Ahh.
Crossword turned up after being off trail and behind for a few weeks. Because it was going to rain again, all night, we stayed at the Berkshire Lake Lodge motel and got pizza delivered. While hanging around outside watching my tent dry on the picnic table, I met a hiker whose blog I followed in 2014 in anticipation of doing the PCT the next year. SloBro!! One of the other bloggers I followed that year, I met on the PNT—Not A Chance. So cool these encounters.
I lucked into a family reunion of sorts. Crossword’s 2 sisters, Patty and Jean, are spending a few nights with him. I got transported up to Greylock Lodge, along with Slingshot who is a bit further along the trail. We had a wonderful dinner and I managed to get a room in this beautiful historic building.
The next day I walked the wrong way, south, to cover the miles I’d missed. USASA friend Noah Cermak picked me up from Dalton, MA and I got to spend 2 nights with his family—Lindsay, Ella (7), Otis (3), and cuddly dog Tucker. It made me so happy to spend time with his family and get treated like royalty.
Then back to the trail at the top of Mt. Greylock and good weather.
Think I’ll try a new format for these updates. I actually keep a paper journal, Moleskine notebook, a habit dating back forever in my travels. I have a stack of them in a box somewhere, with all kinds of perplexing problems and dilemmas, observations, diatribes, and unscientific, unscrupulous and unspoken observations about characters I’ve met. Stuff written for myself and not for publication.
Anyway, I write at the end of every day in the notebook, then decide later what to put out here. I know other hikers who draft their blogs directly on their phones, then upload an uncensored account of their hike. So readers get a nitty gritty account of what this life is really like. I’ve read lots of those and appreciate the information and details but the repetitiveness, while an authentic account of what hiking is like, tends to bore the snot out of me.
So a couple of highlights I omitted from my last update. The first night out of DWG, I asked if Slingshot and Crossword, 2 calm and friendly OGs, minded if I camped next to them. Nobody ever says no, but I usually ask anyway. Of course they said sure, then I joined them as we cooked our dinners and chatted about the usual hiker topics—weather, the last food opportunity on trail, the next food opportunity up trail, mileage plan for the next day. Anubis came by, hesitated and decided to hike on. We all smiled and chatted but nobody invited him to stay.
The next day we 3 stopped at Mountain House tavern, mid day, for food and a beverage, just off trail at Culver’s Gap. Fun! Later I saw deer, a turkey and a dead coyote(?). We all camped at a shelter. Other hikers were there and more came in, all normal.
Anubis turned up later. He’d got a meal and beer out of some hikers new to me by claiming it was his birthday. Hmm. I’m sick of this guy’s lies. (I announced the next day my new trail name for him, Birthday Boy.) I kind of went off on him about some ignorant crap he was talking about a bear situation. The next morning, a hiker friend mentioned within Anubis’s hearing that he planned on going to a hostel in about 12 miles. When Anubis said that sounded like a good idea, my friend changed his mind. Later he canceled his reservation and mentioned to the hostel owner that Anubis made other hikers uncomfortable. She in turn contacted the pastor nearby who also hosted hikers at his church. When Anubis turned up, we heard through the hiker grapevine that this amazing man, the pastor, convinced Anubis to go home to Georgia. I haven’t seen or heard about him since. Good job!
5/26 I got an Uber back to trail, hiked out and stealth camped totally alone for the first time on the AT. Of course, Fort Montgomery being next to West Point, I listened to practice gunfire in the distance till just before 5pm.
5/27 Made it to RBH shelter, supposed to rain like crazy. I pitched my tent while all 6 bunks and all the floor space filled up with hikers including Slingshot, Butt Shot, Dash, Wayne, Halfmile and Keystone. I felt low energy all day. Kinda rainy but not cold, just humid and energy draining.
5/28 I slept great in my Nemo as the rain pounded down all night and hiked with good energy. Camping is restricted to official places so I’m at a shelter again with plans to get into Pawling tomorrow to dry out and resupply. It’s supposed to be sunny. Slingshot has other plans but I’ll probably catch up day after tomorrow.
5/29 Easy day, beautiful, lots of day trippers enjoying a walk on a boardwalk through a beautiful marsh. I couldn’t check in to my room till 3 pm after walking the 2.5 off trail to Pawling, so I dumped my pack on the porch and got fish and chips at a local bar. It’s Memorial Day weekend so businesses are mostly closed. I checked in, hauled my stuff to the laundromat, and hung all my wet gear—sleeping bag, tent, rain gear, in the room to dry.
5/30 Got an Uber back to trail. It was hot and humid but good trail and I felt great. Slingshot and I are the only ones at an official campsite with a bear box. And I passed from NY to Connecticut!
5/31 The AT is so different than the PCT and CDT. There are so many towns with real beds and food! I told Slingshot my plan to get a room at the Hitching Post motel in Cornwall Bridge, with a pickup included and he decided to do the same. It was a hard day for few miles. I climbed Caleb Peak for a lovely territorial view and a steep rockfall/stream bed butt scooting down to a flat, easy walk along a river. Then we spent a frustrating hour waiting for the motel to come get us, they had never picked up from our spot where the trail crossed a paved road? But I eventually got to wash off 2 days of heat rash and Gypsy moth yellow goo. I walked to the beer store (a free beer for a hiker!) and Sam Waterston just happened in to buy beer. He was a totally normal nice guy, no celebrity edge at all. After he left, the beer store guy told me dozens of celebrities had second homes nearby, just a couple hours from NYC.
6/1 A slow day again, lots of ups. I found a shelter with a couple other hikers as a thunderstorm broke and pelted rain for awhile. When it let up, a couple of us hiked another 3.5 easy miles to a designated campsite with a bear box. Slingshot was already camped there, yay! Rained gently most of the night. I looked ahead and saw some, to me, horrendous climbs before my next goal and resupply box (new shoes!) at Great Barrington. Think it will take 1 more night than I planned on.
6/2 I called Vanessa in Salisbury who rents bunks and has dogs! and a cat! She had room so I did a short 12 mile day plus the mile into town. What a great person she is, enjoyed our conversation and interaction! I got an early dinner at nearby Neo (Mahi Mahi!) then drank a little white wine with Vanessa and hikers new to me—Boogie On, All Good, Pop Tart. Great dogs and a sweet kitty, Squeaky who purred up a storm for my head scritches. It’s supposed to rain through 9 am.
6/3 The morning was not raining but I didn’t know what to do. Talking my uncertainty out loud, Vanessa said she could slackpack me up the trail a bit and I could stay another night. Done! Boogie On was thinking about doing the same but decided to hike out. On my hike back in to Salisbury I saw her and she was doing good. It was still raining caterpillars all day although there was no other rain. New hikers at Vanessa’s!
6/4 I made it to Great Barrington Saturday afternoon. I misread the post office hours and Ubered in to get my box Saturday afternoon before 4:30 only to discover they closed at 12:30. Bummer, I’ll have to zero in a comfy motel with restaurants nearby, till Monday.
So there was going to be a long water haul because mining in the next stretch poisoned the ground water and from what I read it could be more extensive than officially acknowledged. The rocks and uphill are slowing me down. Pozzi and Palladin planned on making it to the next shelter. I saw a place closer in that had tap water, and camping on the property or in the garage. New experience opportunity!
After a longish day, I got to the trailhead, texted, and John the hostel owner got me in minutes. He whisked me to his place, picked up a hiker new to me, Big Zoo, and dropped us at a delightful local pub for a burger and free Yuengling Lager. A guy played acoustic guitar and since he heard I was from Alaska, played a song that mentioned Inuit. John picked us up again and I pitched my tent on his garage floor and arranged all my stuff as usual around me. I slept great between creeping up the stairs to use the house bathroom. He does talk a lot but is so kind.
5/14 12.9 miles
Big Zoo and I got dropped off back at the trailhead a little later than we wanted but oh well. It wasn’t a bad day. Crossed some highways. Saw Eco Warrior again. His friend picked him up after 8 miles, due to the imminent, predicted storm. I debated with myself about getting an Uber to a motel, but kept going. Big Zoo and I picked up water and pitched our tents just as it started to rain, about 5 pm, for hours. We were kind of exultant that we managed to avoid walking in it.
5/15 10.3 miles
Big Zoo and I hiked into town and ran into hikers of course on the way to the hotel. The weird guy from before, whose name I edited out of the original post, trail name Anubis, was walking up the street with Ness. There is no way he hiked past me out of Palmerton, especially since he was the last one at the hostel and claimed to have an appointment with the VA later that day. He is “yellow blazing,” getting rides on roads (get it? Roads have yellow stripes) which is fine but lying about it irks me. It was nice I wasn’t solo this time but he did try the mom thing, saying it was his birthday and l should buy him beer later. Big Zoo said 3 of us already planned dinner together, so no.
I met Sprouts, we 3 did eat together. They’d hiked together quite a bit before foot infection made him stay in town to heal. Not many women on trail, so it’s really great to meet another. She’s from AZ, retired ER PA, and is super likeable. She’s nursing foot sores so is doing less miles than I want to do however. So I have to enjoy her while we’re in this town right now.
Big Zoo and I Ubered to Stroudsburg and each scored new shoes at the running store. Mine are shredded way ahead of schedule because of the f*ing rocks. We got our ride back to the Clarion just before a heavy, pounding rain mid afternoon. I’m not hiking in it, woohoo!
I waited for the rain to break and got some resupply, did some regular world paperwork and then had dinner with Big Zoo and Sprouts. Nobody celebrated Anubis’ birthday with him, poor guy.
I’m just going to let the pictures tell the story this stretch, pretty much.
5/17 16.7 miles
5/18 15 miles
5/19 18.2 miles
5/20 13.6 miles
5/21 5.1 miles 90+F
5/22 10 miles
5/23 16.6 miles
5/24 11.7 miles
Besides my EAR foundation (Eradicate All Roosters, we can fertilize hens with modern scientific methods), from too much experience in tropical locales where the stupid things crow obnoxiously early, I’m starting a new effort, Whippoorwills Must Die (WMD). Yeah, I know that acronym is taken, so suggestions for this initiative will be welcomed.
Last night I settled into my side of a stone shelter, head out so mice wouldn’t run over my face, as per Crossword’s suggestion. It wasn’t dark yet so I accepted the extremely loud and obnoxious call of this bird, unknown in the West and Alaska. But it kept yelling every hour, hour and a half all night long. Crossword’s breathing pattern across the shelter from me never lost a beat. I’d just fall asleep, and then the stupid bird would wake me up again. At 4:30, still dark, I contemplated the arsenal of shot guns my husband Sliderule has locked up at home, thinking, why not? People ask me if I’m packing, why not? Instead I cursed under my breath.
I stayed awake since Crossword is a very early riser (also go-to-sleeper) and listened to him pack up and exit the shelter. Arrggh, I got up, retrieved my food bag from the bear cable and began the routine. So sleep deprived.
Down the trail, I saw a bunch of feathers. Not knowing what a Whippoorwill looks like, I wondered. First, was this the mate? Was the bird distressed and calling all night for their mate? Sad. Better yet, was this the bird itself, so noisy that some raptor, my proxy perhaps, initiated WMD?
I will make Fort Montgomery, NY today one way or another. Have a motel reservation so I can use their computer and do a little work.
I got a ride 18.3 miles north of Duncannon, and slack packed back to the Doyle Hotel. Slack packing is day hiking. It was quite weird hiking against traffic. I counted 23 hikers and a dog in the first wave, then after an hour 3 guys I knew, including Silva and Splash, yay! I did see wildlife, including my first tortoise, ever, on a trail. It was so nice to carry no weight through the stinking rocks. I made it back to the Doyle in time for another delicious meal, breakfast was great this morning too. The renovations are going great, but I like the creaky wooden floors and transoms over the room doors.
5/5 14.9 miles
A beautiful day, I got another shuttle ride from Marlene back out the 18 trail miles I’d slack packed the day before and headed NOBO. I only saw 2 hikers, including the guy with the dog I’d seen yesterday who was camped early near the Raush Shelter. There were 2 ear splitting hours of flight training overhead, separated by an hour of no flying. Around and around and around, intensely loud, while I’m walking through green forest. I found a lovely tent site about 5 pm and nobody passed me. I could hear the usual target shooting practice within a mile and the hum of not so distant highway noise. Ah, the AT. It’s going to starting raining in early morning and continue for 2 solid days, at least it’s warm.
5/6 11.8 miles
Started out in my rain gear over shorts, not cold. Then I climbed up to the ridge after a bunch of road crossings, an historic bridge and non-stop road noise where a breeze, cool, chilled me. My rain gear soaked through and I could feel imminent hypothermia. Finally made it to the William Penn Shelter, about 10 miles in, at noon. It was empty so I crawled upstairs out of the rain, stripped down, blew up my Thermarest and crawled into my sleeping bag to get warm. 2 hours later I could think. I checked my Far Out app (formerly GutHook App), found a shuttle driver, Dave. I texted and asked if he could get me from the next road access in 2 miles, either in the morning or this afternoon. Yup. So I reserved a motel room in Pine Grove for 2 nights, which is how long the relentless rain is supposed to last. I quickly walked the 2 miles to the road where Dave got me! It feels so good to be out of the rain, warm. I ate my Packit Gourmet Texas State Fair Chili dinner in my room!
I ventured out in full rain gear to go to the Dollar Store and later to the Diner. That’s it. Rain.
5/8 Mother’s Day 16.9 miles
Got a shuttle back out to the trail. It was a hard day, rocks, but gloriously sunny.
5/9 13.2 miles
F*ing rocks. But because of the unscheduled zero, I had to make a new plan. I have a box in Hamburg at the motel and they couldn’t change my reservation to Monday from Sunday so I can’t get there till Tuesday. So why did it take me 8 hours to go just 13.2 miles? Steep, slippery downs, brutal piles of rocks, constant pointy rocks killing my feet, is why. I camped just a mile from the road to Hamburg.
5/10 1.2 miles Hamburg, PA
I got my ride, thanks Barb! I dropped my pack at the motel, too early for check in with the surly crew. Then Barb took me to Cabelas —wow! Dead animals from all over the world—lions, elephants, polar bears—as well as the local dead animals. And live fish in fake streams and an aquarium. I wandered for quite awhile, picking up some dehydrated dinners to add to the boxes I’m going to ship ahead. I walked to Walmart, bought more resupply, then back to the Microtel, and checked in. I Ubered to the post office a couple miles away and packed a couple large flat rate boxes and sent them up the trail. Then walked back to the motel for a delicious burger and local brew, 1787, APA. So I guess I actually walked quite a few more miles than noted, but they don’t count because they’re not trail miles.
Back to the trail and not a terrible day. Many more rock challenges but along the way I met a truly nice high school group from Philly out for an overnight. I talked with the teacher a bit, he’s been taking a group of students out this same stretch for 11 years. of course that made me think back to Anne, teacher at my kids amazing Polaris K-12 public school in Anchorage, AK and the backpack trips I got to help chaperone with her middle and high school students. Thanks Anne!
Nonetheless, after I got water at the shelter they were going to camp at, I pushed on less than a mile and found a quiet, long unused but established campsite all to myself.
5/12 20+miles to Palmerton, PA
Well I wasn’t planning on even going into Palmerton, but when I got to my destination water source at the last shelter before a road, it kinda sucked. Yes I found a tent site by myself after picking up water, but it was extremely road noisy and only 2.4 easy miles from a hostel. I called, they had several bunks available so I got there by 6:30. I talked 3 hikers there into going to dinner with me. Fun! With Ness (aka Necessary Evil), 64, Dead Eye, 18, and Anubis, 32. Then we walked back, I showered and shared a garage with beds in it and fellow hikers Palladin, retired orthopedic surgeon (and who Hot Rod and I camped next to Day 1) and Pozzi (solar energy guy).
Arrived DCA via Alaska Air 10 pm ET. Airline shuttle to hotel, next day Uber to Union Station for the 4:05 pm Amtrak to Harper’s Ferry, which was delayed to 6 pm. But the backpack with hiking sticks is a dead giveaway to other hikers and soon enough there were 4 women, then a middle aged couple, then a fortyish guy, so military, gathered. Just what I wanted—hikers! After an hour train ride, Patrick’s friend Shane gave 3 of us women a ride to the Quality Inn in Harper’s, less than a mile away. So it begins!
Flip Flop Festival classes 4/23, more connections made. Emmalee “Hot Rod” for the 2 rods in her scoliosis spine, is also doing the flip flop, heading home to her military family current post in Georgia after doing the north bound AT (NOBO) to Maine. Later I went to the Barn to hear Bangles (Seattle) talk about her Flip Flop in 2017. As I was leaving, Crocs recognized me—took awhile but he was PCT 2015 and knew Fish Out of Water and Apache (stinky guy) who I knew for a few days in Washington!
4/24 11.4 miles
Hot Rod, Dewayne and I hit the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) hiker send off breakfast and headed out together. We camped in the Crampton Shelter area with a bunch of other people. So far, so good.
4/25 14.2 miles
This ain’t easy. I need to plan my food better. Harper’s was short on grocery stores and I’m in shitty shape, an overuse injury kept me from my usual winter running miles. Rerun (Paul) and Irish (Bridget) from Pinedale, WY, went on 2 more miles—they’ve already hiked the Shenandoahs so are in better shape. I camped at Annapolis Rocks, a campground under restoration mostly. It was just odd—windy with road noise, then clouds came in when the wind died late. The Washington Monument was kinda cool.
4/26 16.4 miles
As usual, started out good. I woke to a wet tent but hiked in shorts cause it was warm. “F*ng rocks” as Tinman would say, to OK trail to more FR. Then rain. I made it to Pen Mar shelter where Roger, the shuttle driver, picked up me, Irish and Rerun, to go into Waynesboro. I needed food, stayed at the Cobblestone conveniently located next to Applebees and Walmart. I was freezing from the rain, cold and wait, so I hopped into the shower then went to eat. Ah, laundry and a comfy bed.
4/27 8.2 miles
So I made a deal with myself. Short miles instead of another night in a motel. Easy trail, now camped next to a shelter (at 1:30!!). Cold all day, now some sun. Sightseer is here too, another OG, just back on trail after a few days off for a pulled groin muscle. I now have ample food—bagels, cheese, peach rings, chocolate, instant coffee and breakfast bars.
4/28 15.5 miles
Cold AF last night (not spelling out what AF stands for. Don’t say it out loud kids) and morning. I wore my puffy in my sleeping bag and still woke from the cold at 5 am. Cold wind, hiked in my wool longies, trek tights and rain pants, fleece, puffy and rain jacket. Finally warm at noon. I kept going. Heard from Hot Rod, she’s off trail in Waynesboro for a couple days, not Covid, a cold, but her mom got her. Bummer, I really connected with her. Hope, hope, hope, we connect further north. It was better tread yesterday and today north of the Mason-Dixon line.
4/29 13.9 miles
Met a few “true NOBOs” as they call themselves, compared to us lowly Flip Floppers. Camped last night with (loud, of course) Aussie hiker Pioneer and buddy Poppins. Met a weird, not true thru hiker PTSD motormouth, seems harmless, I hope. Cold again last night. Is it my bag wearing out? My wonderful Western Mountaineering? Or me? Not cold enough to freeze my water bottle, but cold in my bag by 4 am. Tonight I’m in Ironmasters Hostel, a private room in a building built in 1839 by slave owners when making iron was the local industry. A few years later, and a change of ownership, it became a stop on the Underground Railroad. I love this place! Right next to a general store where the Half Gallon challenge is famous—eat a 1/2 gallon of ice cream at once at the 1/2 way point on the AT and get it for free. Remember the hiker on the PNT in 2020, One Gallon? Yup, he did that. But the store was closed today.
4/30 15.3 miles
I was so comfortable last night! Creaky floors, high ceilings, caretaker Missy, heat, awesome. I decided not to try for 20 to get to Boiling Springs. Slower, lower miles, why not?
5/1 4.1 miles
Lisa’s hostel in Boiling Springs, was cold. It’s a storage shed, unheated, with their stuff stored in it, and 4 bunks. But it was out of the rain, yay! Met Silva and Splash, OGs, then Rain Catcher came in a bit later. I bought dinners and snacks on the way in so I’m OK for the 1 trail night to Doyle’s Inn in Duncannon. And it’s supposed to stop raining. Late in the afternoon Lisa upgraded me to a room in a heated single wide, so comfy!
5/2 14.2 miles
A beautiful flat 12 miles through lush, green farmland followed by a mere 2 miles uphill to a shelter. I tried to sleep in a bunk in the shelter with just 3 other hikers but got up and pitched my tent at 12:45 am due to someone snoring. Then I slept. PacMan, a short hiker dude from Jersey I think, gave me a supplementary trail name when we were hanging food bags in the shelter out of reach of rodents. “Hey, Too Tall, can you hang my bag too?”
5/3 10.4 miles
Hard, but short day—rocks! I’m going to slack pack 18 miles back tomorrow and spend a second night here in the Doyle Inn, an historic, under renovation hotel. A family has bought it, a son is a fabulous cook, another is a fabulous server, Dad is sincere, and I feel welcome in this creaky, noisy, shared bathroom building. Marlene will shuttle me out 18 miles tomorrow so I can walk back to town and dinner, then out the next day.
Had a great time at the 2022 USASA National Championships! Team Big Alaska killed it. And I was so glad to be back working with the best team in the business on the Boardercross/Ski Cross venue. The last Nationals we held was in 2019 so this was the first big get together for the 30+ separate USASA Series from across the US. Fantastic reunion.
I’m flying to Washington DC in a few days, then taking Amtrak to Harper’s Ferry, WV to start the Appalachian Trail (AT). I plan to hike northbound (NOBO) 1000 miles to Mt Katahdin in Maine, then get myself back to Harper’s Ferry and hike southbound (SOBO) to Springer Mountain in Georgia, another 1000 miles.
Why a Flip Flop hike rather than start at one end and go to the other? Maybe I’m being silly, but the bottom line is I don’t want to be hiking with crowds, worrying about finding a tent site or a bed in a hostel. I do want to have other hikers around me though. I like people. I had the same fear of being crowded out when I started the PCT NOBO in 2015, but it didn’t take all that long for me to find myself in a spread out pack of copacetic hikers going more or less my pace. Over the course of 5 months, people I knew kept turning up after vanishing for a few days or weeks. Even if I hadn’t seen someone I knew in days on the trail, I’d get to a town and just by hanging out in one place for a day or so, people would appear. It was great!
The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) is putting on a Flip Flop Festival in Harper’s Ferry with speakers and helpful hints and pack shake downs. I’m hoping to meet other hikers heading out after the hiker breakfast, not to formally join forces with immediately but to get to know. I had a good experience last spring on the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), rehiking the first few hundred miles with the Warrior Expedition guys, Kids Out Wild, and other hikers doing our approximate miles and pace.
The AT is going to be challenging for me on many levels. I’m going to have to face my fears. Yes, I have a ton of experience hiking. Things I’m not afraid of include camping solo, bears, hitching to towns, and going hungry. I’ve been warned by friends who’ve hiked the AT, friends I’ve spent the most time on trail with, and who know me well, Puff Puff and the Ravens, that I’m going to hate the rain and the pointless up and downs (PUDs) amongst other challenges. Forewarned, right? Stay tuned….
I took the Olympic Hiking Shuttle to the Oil City trailhead. I highly recommend this shuttle company! A father and son hiking duo had just been picked up from Third Beach and were riding back to their car at Oil City. They asked if I knew Natasha (Poppy) and said they’d camped with her last night. Must have been quite a conversation because they knew everything about her and her hike on the PNT. Fun!
I started out at 9:30 nervous about the tides and footing, there are so many dire warnings out there. The first bit was slow and slippery on rocks but then it was a long, wide sand beach which wasn’t an issue when the tide peaked at 3 pm. Also the ropes are no big deal so far. The ropes are hanging along steep little scrambles up or down from the beach or just where the trail runs inland. They’re kind of handy, and I didn’t really need them, it’s not like using the cables to get up the Half Dome granite in Yosemite NP.
Today was perfect, clear and warm. Gorgeous! I’m camped by myself at a little campsite marked on the map, not a site that requires a specific permit, about a mile from Third Beach. There are tons of people and tents camped on the beaches, yuck, not my thing to be near so many people if I can avoid it.
8/25 11.4 miles
Why do I worry about stuff like getting a skiff ride across the river mouth? Well because if I couldn’t it’s a 9 mile road walk around. But I got to the harbor and Gene, the Harbor Master, took me across no problem. I asked what the standard donation for gas money was and I paid a bit forward for the hikers who paid nothing. And it turns out Gene and his wife have done cultural resource work in Wyoming for energy projects, like I do in Alaska, so we had that in common too.
I had a mishap today. I slipped on a piece of seaweed on wet rock and came down hard on my right hip and hand. Split open a gash on my hip and burst some capillaries. My hand is worse, think I hyperextended my pinkie and ring fingers, both the inside and outside of my hand is bruised and I can’t really use it. Hurt so bad I had to put my head between my knees a couple of times so I wouldn’t pass out. I don’t think any bones are broken though. Time will tell.
I kept going as the tide was coming back in, and found a solo campsite on a small beach that looked like high tide would not reach it. I waited out the afternoon, thinking if I really wanted to, I could start hiking again at dinner time as the tide went out to make it a bit farther. Nobody else came down my beach from either direction and I loved it there, so after the tide started out I pitched my tent. This spot is now on my list of most spiritual places to camp in the world, along with Evolution Valley at Muir Pass in the Sierra and Dzongri, Sikkim, India in the Himalayas. I’m at peace watching the sun set to the gentle sound of tiny waves lapping the sand.
8/26 9.8 miles
Met a couple of park rangers and their group hiking towards me down the beach. He asked where my next permitted campsite was and I told him about the “stealth” sites I’d seen marked by beach debris buoys. He said they were fine and but that he’s trying to get those markers removed. Cool guy, I blathered on about how hard it would be for Search and Rescue (SAR) to get an injured hiker off this coast. I was thinking about my injured hand, hidden but puffed up and bruised all the way down my forearm now too. He laughed and said the SAR people here were US Coast Guard rescue swimmers who would rappel down from a hovering helicopter and load the hiker into a sling basket and hoist them up. To myself I thought that actually sounded like a fun way to be rescued. Dang, too late for me, I’m ambulatory.
It was hard hiking the “beach” tide again. It’s mostly rock scrambling, slower now since I can’t afford another fall on my hand which is a mess but a bit better today. Advil rules.
Anyway I found another stealth site at Yellow Banks beach, up on a bluff—3 for 3!
8/27 9 miles
Hiked the 6 miles remaining on the coast to Cape Alava, the end of the PNT, and joined the 3 mile trail inland to the Ozette Campground.
I saw the same rangers at the campground and they congratulated me on my hike as Dan walked up. We drove to the Winston-Edmonds Washington State Ferry and made our way to Bothell where I get to cat sit Arya, Sarah and Sam’s cat, for a few days while recovering from one hike and resetting for the next—5 or 6 days in the Sierra with Sunset, Lonesome Duck and Disco, some of the guys I did the Rae Lakes Loop in Sequoia King’s Canyon with last year.
On the way back to the trailhead, Sarah and I stopped at the Olympic NP Visitor Center. I talked to a ranger and got the tide charts. I finally feel like I’m organized and doing my own thing. I intend to camp at all the permitted campsites that Poppy got, except for the 2 Quota controlled, just a day later than her. The park service says that should be fine, just be careful of the tides when I hit the coast!
The walk back up the bypass trail was quick, then it was road walk (closed to traffic though), easy, a long ways to trail. I camped near the hot springs in an established camp area with tons of tent sites but only maybe 6 other hikers scattered out of earshot. Perfect.
8/20 17.6 miles
I slept in till 6:30! Then hiked about 11 hours. Lots of uphill today. Lots of people too! Weird. As I was going up early afternoon I couldn’t tell if I was walking into a cloud? Fog? I put on my rain pants and got out my rain jacket but it’s not wet. Beautiful trail but no views because of the cloud. Once I accepted the waterless mist, and that it wasn’t cooling off, I enjoyed the close-in details—cedars and birds and ridge walking. I chatted with assorted campers and hikers and felt quite cheerful. I was going to camp a mile before Deer Lake but as the side trail came into view I saw 2 separate groups heading to the small campsite. I got a little concerned as it was dinner time almost but kept on and found the last site in the Deer Lake complex and nobody came into the campground after me so I was good. Most people who are doing shorter hikes (I call them “short haulers” which is meant as a description not an insult) tend to make camp earlier in the afternoon that long haulers.
8/21 17.7 miles
A lot of boring green tunnel (stretch of trail within vegetation and trees with no open views) until I headed downhill and started to spot fresh horse manure, a good omen!
Suddenly, Pacific Northwest Trail Association (PNTA) trail crew! It is so awesome to be able to directly and personally thank the individuals who actually work out here on the trail—the work they accomplish includes clearing blowdowns and overgrowth, constructing mini rock walls (“water bars” or “check dams”) across the trail to redirect water runoff, building rock steps and filling in eroded stretches with gravel.
They even laughed at my paraphrase of a famous line in the Apocalypse Now movie: “I love the smell of horseshit in the morning, it smells like….trail crew.”
After trail crew I met a retired couple who said this section was impassable until it became part of the PNT route a few years ago. They said it was so wet and swampy and overgrown they had turned back and didn’t try it again for years. I gave them the good news that crew was just ahead making even more improvements!
Then Sterling came hiking towards me! Remember Sterling was the man Poppy and I met at the PNTA office in Sedro-Woolley, the guy who gave us a ride to our motel, the Western Washington Coordinator who brokered agreements with the USFS snd the NPS to deploy trail crews out here and in the Mt Baker area. He recognized me and told me he’d seen Poppy earlier that morning and Beans a few hours later. This is how hikers get trail news—I now know that Poppy and Beans are not hiking or camping together, not that it matters. Anyhow I walked on after a wonderful uplifting conversation with this amazing man and camped alone, contentedly, at Flapjack campsite.
8/22 19 miles
I hate to say it but it was kind of boring today, the rainforest is soft and lush and green but hour after hour of it gets old. Lots of day hikers as most of my day was spent getting to a drive-in trailhead. I talked to everybody, I think the more people out here, the better stewardship we’re going to have for our public lands and wilderness, plus, don’t tell my dearly departed Dad, but unlike him, I actually like people.
The highlight of my morning happened as I was walking along, on soft, peaty tread overhung with ferns. Suddenly an animal I’d never seen before came scurrying up the trail at me. It was about the size snd shape of a shoebox, short gray fur, so low to the ground I could see neither feet, nor face, nor tail. I exclaimed, “Whoa, dude!” but it continued over my left foot and vanished out of site up the trail.
When I got to town I searched the internet and I think it was an Olympic Marmot, something I didn’t know existed, and definitely in an environment unlike any other marmot I’ve seen. A rainforest marmot, how cool! I love rodents and marmots are the bomb.
It was trail to road to bigger road. I wasn’t sure how I’d get into Forks and my motel, there’s a bus from the campground where the trail route takes a hairpin turn south to the coast. I think the issue in this area is private land, including swathes owned by timber companies, and getting permission for foot traveling on private roads, hence the extensive road walking indirectly down to the ocean. But with just a few miles left, the first car going my way stopped and offered me a lift. I gratefully accepted, it was a couple from Colorado, who I’d seen day hiking earlier. Thank you! And when I got into my motel room, sure enough the uphill road walking had irritated my left shin again, it’s swollen and sore, so no guilt about skipping.
Forks is an old lumber town, there’s some very cool interpretive displays and a museum. But seemingly the big attraction is that parts of the five movies in the Twilight Saga vampire romance series were filmed here. I never saw any of the movies but of course I recognize the actors on the movie posters all over town.
Since I’d arrived on Sunday, I couldn’t pick up my box from the post office. That’s the main reason hikers look to send their resupply boxes to a business or motel or trail angel that is open 7 days a week. Not a big deal for me to have it sent back if I didn’t want to wait for Monday post office hours, then take the bus back to trail, then do a 23 mile road walk to the first legal place to camp. I could buy what I needed for the last stretch to the end of the trail. But. You can see where I’m going with this.
At the motel last night after a shower and laundry and a great meal of pizza and beer nearby, I started investigating the logistics of getting out of Forks. Looked up bus times, called them and left a message, googled shuttle services and found Olympic Hiking Shuttle, emailed them. All on a Sunday night so I didn’t expect to hear anything until this morning, Monday, when I did!
Since deciding I needed to be on my own recognizance the far side of Port Angeles, I’ve had to go back to making my own decisions, not a problem. The bus would run me a ways back to trail and maybe a bit further if the bus driver had a place to pull over, today. Olympic Hiking Shuttle could get me to the coast, skipping the 23 mile road walk, for cheap, since they were picking up and dropping off some other hikers back at their car. Tomorrow. I booked another night in Forks and paid online for the shuttle.
And even better, got a text from Ravensong who I knew was going to be back hiking somewhere in this area. She and Judith are doing a week “up the Hoh” to a glacier, and she wondered where Poppy and I were. Well Poppy couldn’t answer I think because she’s up the trail and out of cell service. But I answered and we three ate dinner together in Forks, so happy to meet Judith and see Ravensong again, they’re great!