Greetings from the wilderness!

Greetings from the wilderness!

Happy 2019! Sorry about the random, late post! Don’t worry; it’s just a one-time thing (mostly to get the word out to friends whose email addresses I’ve managed to lose during various computer moves). 🙂

Fingers crossed, I’ll be back on the AT on March 19 for (hopefully) thru-hike no. 2. Redemption Tour, lol. I won’t be doing a full blog — just brief daily progress reports and a couple of pictures. Kind of like Instagram, but with less Insta. 🙂 That’s the plan, anyway. (I tried doing voice notes for the Sierra last year, and that just sucked. I never did finish that journal, come to think of it. Transposing was onerous. And I’d just gotten to a juicy bit, too. Live and learn! Maybe I’ll finish it someday. Or maybe I’ll go back and start from the beginning again, in Campo, to get all fresh juicy bits.)

If you’re inclined to come along, I’ll be posting here: (Assuming it doesn’t all fall through at the last minute, which would be so very, very, very sad.)

Just wanted to get the word out. And this journal can now go back to sleep for another 5 years. 🙂

Be well, hobbits!

Categories: Appalachian Trail | 12 Comments


Well… I inadvertently just cross-posted something from my fiction blog to my trail blog. What the hell. I’ll let it stand. It’s true, after all; and the fiction blog is an embryonic little thing. 🙂

But in hiking news, odds are looking good that I’ll be visiting the Greyson Highlands in June to see… PONIES! Unless they all hide, in which case I’ll know it’s some psychic smell I’m exuding.

I’m slowly getting my front-country life in order and trying to figure out how I can possibly get to the PCT in less than a decade. I still haven’t managed to get through my pictures or my journal. I’ve gained about half my weight back, so I’m currently somewhere between skeletal and pudgy.

I’ve also been enjoying my gear post mortem. I destroyed much of my gear by beating it to death over months, so there are big-ticket items that need replacing before I can get out there again. (And the leaking roof, the car, the taxes, the other miscellany of a year of neglect have sucked away my resources, but hopefully I’ve got that lassoed now.)

With my REI dividend I bought a Gossamer Gear Mariposa pack, and I’m loving it. It fits my body much better than my ULA Circuit (although it’s hard to know whether the issue with the Circuit was a result of 8 months of destruction; I can’t remember how the Circuit felt when it was new).

I think I fixed the zipper on my tent, so I’ll stick with that for this year.

I’m saving for new shoes. Better shoes! Also, I’m trying to whittle my base pack weight down to 10 pounds. I don’t think I can manage it until I can switch out the tent and the sleeping bag for lighter versions, but I think I can get down to 11 and change.

And so it goes. Onward! I’m enjoying following the 14ers — and particularly, I’m reading PCT journals at the moment. Carrot Quinn is my new hero.

Happy hiking!

Categories: Appalachian Trail | 21 Comments

The big… it breaks my brain

I’m working hard, but I feel like I’m working wrong. The thing gets ahead of me, expands well beyond my capacity to understand it all. It crushes me with the vastness of it, the pressure, like a black hole or the deep deep sea. I think I’ve quit at this point before. This time, though, I’ll keep slogging and see where it goes. (Thank you, Appalachian Trail.)

The only way past it is through it.

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Happy New Year!

I was out on the trail today.

Not the Appalachian Trail, mind you, but just good old French Creek State Park. I did ten miles in snow ranging from a coating to an inch. This was where I did the lion’s share of my AT training, so it was interesting to get back there for the first time since last winter.

Let’s just say I noticed a few differences.

First, I finished the ten miles well before noon—something I’d never managed to do before I started the thru-hike, and I certainly never managed to do on the thru-hike. Upshot: I still have my trail legs, more or less, and I was carrying just a daypack. Pack weight is key, as if I needed any more evidence of that. I’m planning to downgrade my base pack weight significantly in the next year, either by buying new (improved!) stuff or by dirtbagging and making my own. Frankengear!

Second, now that I know which insoles work for me, I’ve been going back through some of the shoes I eliminated in 2012 (they’re all new shoes, after all). I’m having much better luck with the Brooks runners than I did last year. If I were starting another thru tomorrow, I’d go with those. Apparently Brooks Cascadias are the most-used shoe on the PCT.

Third… well, there isn’t really a third. I was so happy to steal that time and go back out, even for just a morning! I’m going to try to get up there twice a week, or at least once, if I can jam my workload into the other five days. Because I need to work. Because I need to save money so I can do the PCT!

There, I said it. It’ll be seven or ten years, and the first step is to pay off my AT trail debt, but I’ve got some plans in the works. I’ve always been a ten-year planner anyway. I play the long game.

I’d like to do another AT hike at some point, too, I think. I know it’s about the journey, but I want to do one that’s also about the miles. You know–not a flip-flop. An April start with an October finish.

As far as reentry goes, I think I’m readjusted in all the ways that readjustment is possible. However, I’ve changed so utterly that in a lot of ways I’ll never go back to the way I was. The shell’s cracked open; the dragon can’t crawl back into her egg.

There are so many things that simply roll off my back now. It’s fantastic.

I can’t wait to hit the trail again this spring. It’ll just be overnights here and there, maybe a weekend or a week. But out there! Out in the woods!

Anyway, I wanted to stick my head in and say HAPPY NEW YEAR to everybody! It was the best year ever! 🙂

Oh, one addendum. The weight. I came home and lost five more pounds. I assume that was my hard-earned trail muscle turning back to its native state: flabby mcflabflab. Since then, I’ve gained about two or three of those back—a trend I don’t like at all, but it has been Thanksgiving and Christmas (and New Years and my birthday are next week), so I’m trying not to beat myself up too much about it. I’m currently at about one to two pounds lower than where I was when I finished (five weeks ago), but two to three pounds higher than that lowest base weight. Which means I’m on some sort of a diet starting Wednesday. Less weight upstairs means less work for the knees and the feet. Also, smaller clothes, a smaller sleeping bag, smaller gear in general, lower food requirements… all of which adds up to less weight in the pack.

Got any hot plans for New Years? Or 2014 for that matter? Do they involve hiking? Because mine do! 🙂 Wish you were here!

Categories: General | 43 Comments

The reentry issue

Well… it’s been a week and a day or two since I walked off the trail. I’ve needed at least that long to process what I’ve been feeling into anything approaching English. My brain has been wrapped in cotton—in warm, soft, ‘Cotton kills!’ cotton.

I’m calling people by the wrong names, even though I know perfectly well who they are. My brain has felt as though it’s sluggishly building new pathways to all the endpoints I used to know how to manage on autopilot.

Last Saturday my family took me out for breakfast to a local diner—nothing fancy, just five of us, all adults. Sure, I’ve been eating in diners since March. The number of diner eggs I’ve eaten could actually make an omelet big enough to feed a marching band. But this time it was weird. It was a diner I used to know so very well…. Or maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Maybe I should start with Friday night.

I took a shower on Friday night. The pipes actually screamed when the hot water ran through them for the first time in months. I couldn’t remember the order of things: soap, shampoo. Then later, toothpaste, floss. The full-size toothbrush felt like I was holding a broom. How the hell do you brush your teeth with a broom?

The house was full of alien smells.

The heat hadn’t been on for months. I flipped it on and immediately filled the place with the scent of burning dust. Which, you know, usually happens. Let me tell you, I wallowed in that warmth. After my hot hot hot shower, I got between the flannel sheets and I dragged pillows all around me, and I wore pajamas that were way too big… and I lay there. I couldn’t sleep.

I live on a bus route. Bus noises. Sirens. Moans and rattles from the heat. House noises. Motorcycles. Screeches. Shouting outside. Underneath me, a mattress that stayed put instead of slipping around on the tent floor. I couldn’t see my breath. When I rolled over, my quilt didn’t puddle on the ground and leave me exposed. When I reached out a hand, I didn’t touch mesh; I touched nothing. Void. Vacuum. It was unsettling. I felt unanchored.

Plus the emotional reaction. Or lack of reaction. This momentous day, this… event. And I had no sort of feeling about it at all. I felt zombified.

So guess what happened after all this! How did the un-trail smite me? At breakfast on Saturday I got a migraine headache.

Hello, migraine! I blame the heat, actually; sleeping indoors in the dust and mold and mites and whatever else creeps around an old damp house, when my sinuses had gotten used to nothing but net. It wasn’t a bad migraine (well, as varying values of ‘unbad’ migraines go), but it was enough to sideline me Saturday, more or less.

For the next few days I literally couldn’t sit still. I had gear to unpack. I had eight months of mail to read. I had finances to figure out. Problems to solve. Stacks and stacks of… things, of objects, of situations to manage. Car and house and phone calls and computers to update (172 Windows updates on two computers!). Lightbulbs to change. Leaks to manage. I couldn’t remember how to do things like use the washing machine; every minute of every day was spent figuring things out as though I were discovering them for the first time. I needed food in the house. I hadn’t driven in months. There was trash in my backyard. At some point, I’d had a massive flood in the basement and I had to futz with the dryer.

I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why I own this many pairs of pants. I don’t need more than one pair. Seriously, I only have two legs.

But cotton socks are soft, and my big giant padded coat is excessive and amazing. But when I saw the moose on my LL Bean flannel sheets, I started to cry, and I touched them with a fingertip. I was sad because they weren’t real moose. I cried a lot this week. Not raw crying, but I’d find my eyes welling up at odd moments. They’re welling up while I type. The hike has put me more in touch with my emotions, and I find I’m okay with that.

There was a hawk in my city backyard this week, up in a tree. That made me realize that my days of observing minute wildlife have come to an end for now. No more blind orb weaver spiders, no more grouse hiding in trees being stupid and still, no more bears jumping over downed trees to get away from me, no deer wading rivers. No more me wading rivers. (That last one’s actually not a bad thing.)

It’s been a very rough week. Very rough. But at this point I’ve done everything once, I think. Including Thanksgiving, wherein I ate until I was ready to puke. My cutoff switch for appetite had come back by Thursday. A week ago, I would have been able to eat a lot more. Continuously, in fact. In fact, let’s face it, I’d still be eating.

Oh! So yeah. I ran around and ran around and ran around and couldn’t seem to sit still, until I realized I was doing all that running around to avoid processing the facts that 1) I just did an enormous thing, a thing I’ve been obsessing over for four decades, and 2) it’s over.

It’s over.

Wednesday was the worst day. That day I finally forced myself to stay in my pajamas (my trail Thermasilks!) all day and relax. Breathe. And in the breathing and relaxing and stillness (or, more appropriately, while mindlessly streaming episodes of Breaking Bad, which I haven’t seen), I finally actually let the reality in a little. All the realities, but mostly the doneness of it all. It’s done. I still don’t know how to feel about that, but at least I took the first step toward… comprehension.

On Thursday morning (Thanksgiving!), I finally was able to start making lists. Lists of house jobs I have to tackle, room by room. Lists of life jobs. Lists of food I need to buy, healthier stuff so I can try to keep some of the weight off. Lists of scary things I have to do. Call the plumber. Lists of tiny things I have to do. Go through the gear. Finish unpacking. Throw out the shoes (which was so, so hard).

Friday I started poking at work. (I work for myself and I have two jobs starting on Monday, but the work is already here.) I sat at the computer for a while and just cruised around looking for backpacking destinations and shorter trips—backcountry places I can visit when the weather’s warmer. I made a long list of those.

Then, gods help me, yesterday I started looking into the PCT. I’ve been swearing up, down, and sideways that I’d never do another thru-hike. I probably won’t. But… I don’t know. I’d still like to be able to finish a thru without flipping. I’d still like to get better at this distance thing, even if I took two seasons to do one of the longer trails. There are new systems and better methods that I want to try. I’ve never really been interested in the PCT in general, but you know, there’s this sense of inevitability. Like, what else are you going to do? I wonder how many long-distance hikers drift inexorably to a second trail just because the first one got so deep in their blood that it became part of their hemoglobin? It chews at you, the trail. It chews at you even though it’s hard and miserable and unpleasant for chunks of every day.

Anyway, I even went so far as to work out the financials for a PCT hike, and I couldn’t possibly manage it for about seven to ten years (short of a another karmic miracle), so there’s no hurry. And in the meantime, there are whole skill sets I need to work on. Winter hiking—I mean, actual winter hiking with an ice axe and crampons. In snow and on icy mountains. High-elevation hiking. Better, stronger, lighter hiking; changing my mindset, picking away at the parts of it that still want to be camping instead of walking. I need to take an orienteering class; the PCT would require that I actually learn how to use a map. I’m blessed to live close enough to the Mohican Outdoor Center that I might be able to get some hands-on instruction instead of just muddling through on research or reinventing the wheel by trial and error.

There are gear things I want to play with. I never did experiment much with stoves, despite having four or five of them here. And I’m not sold on my sleep system (despite the fact that it got me through a lot of tough weather). And raingear. I need to accustom myself to a one-person shelter, which is a giant leap for me. When all’s said and done, my total number of backpacking trips is still one. And that one was enough to show me that the amount of learning I still have to do is vast. I’m still listening hard to hikers who’ve gone out again and again and again, for years. They know what they’re doing, and I want to eat their brains. That’s the good kind of zombie.

And in the meantime, there’s day hiking. Walking. Thinking. Working. Living. Reading. Writing.

As far as journaling goes, obviously, the hike is finished. I might keep the blog active, though, just to keep a record of whatever hiking I’m doing, whatever practice I’m getting, whatever skills I’m learning, whatever fun I’m having. I don’t know. My hiking life is a work in progress. So feel free to unsubscribe! 🙂 I won’t be writing a lot of entries, no matter how it goes. Certainly not more than one a week or one a month, unless I’m on a trip. Who knows? I guess it depends on how my AT lessons unpack over time. If there are late-blooming epiphanies, I imagine I’ll write a little about them.

And in the meantime, one step at a time.

Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 30 Comments

The day of reckoning

I woke up in my chill little tent for the last time, on a rainy Friday morning. Rainy, of course—because the trail doesn’t want you to end easy. Every day out there is hard. This one was hard and special, though. Special. I was up and out in no time at all, despite the rain. The last time.

The last time to fight with the zippers. The last time to check the water bottles for ice. The last time for everything. For everything. The enormity of it kept washing over me. Indescribable.

At least it was warm—warm enough, anyway, that I didn’t need gloves. I could have shoved my wet tent into my pack, but it seemed… disrespectful, after all that time. Poor Big Agnes. She went to the wall. I packed her up as though I’d need her again that night.

The sun was peeking over the distant mountain, just a horizontal slit of crimson under the gray clouds. It was gone quickly enough, leaving just the gray, and that was perfect, was perfect, because the day felt solemn. Seven miles to the finish line. I couldn’t even listen to music. I just wanted to be—to listen, to smell, to feel, to be present and alive for those seven miles. I felt like I was squeezing the whole hike into those three or so hours.

First the woods: the typical brown on brown, but the rain brought out that odd ammonia smell again. There were birds, more birds than lately. A bluejay clung to a tree and peeked around it at me. There were bugs. It warmed up as the trail descended, and eventually I had to take off the rain gear. It wasn’t actively raining anymore; just threatening.

Before I knew it I was out of the hills and down in the flats. A three-mile walk between the river and the canal, that green-slimed mudway that must have been hell, mosquito-wise, in the summer. I found a little green marble in the dirt, like a bird’s egg made of emerald.

Hot and cold. Hot and cold. I kept taking clothes off and putting them on. Seven miles. Three miles.

One mile.

The canal ended at a staircase that went up to a footbridge, and don’t you know, it was one of those metal staircases that you can see through—just like the firetowers that I don’t climb because they tweak my fear of heights. I had to practice Lamaze and denial to get up there, but I did. I did. And I crossed the river and into West Virginia, and boom! Harpers Ferry, familiar Harpers Ferry, exactly at the edge of it I’d touched in July, and I knew I was almost done.

I still stopped at a trash can to throw things out. A hiker can’t pass up a trash can, even for something momentous. In this case, I dumped my water bottles, my toothbrush, my lunch, everything that was disposable and not nailed down, and also my actual trash.

I followed the white blazes to the street and spotted my friend coming toward me, and that was fantastic. We chatted and caught up a little, but I’ve gotta tell you, at that point I was reluctant to finish. The thought was actually a little nauseating. You can only delay so long, though. And we walked.

That last little part was high on a cliff over the river. Rocks, and river, and gray skies, and psychedelically painted crack houses and weird sculptures and a dayhiker and the sound of the train and traffic across the river and and and and and. Telescoping reality. Telescoping surreality.

And then we were there. We were there and I took the last step, and my feet crossed the place they’d been before, and the world stopped. It was done. It was done, and I was done, I was done the WHOLE FREAKING TRAIL. I didn’t know whether to smile or cry or throw up or some odd combination. I felt so much that I felt nothing specific, just a general chaos of thought and emotion. And a vast desire to get to the ATC headquarters and do some fist bumping.

On the way through Harpers Ferry, we ran into Broken Candle again. He dropped twelve pounds of pack weight and looked great. Good luck, Broken Candle! The trail never stops. The circus just keeps moving. People finish, people start. Everything overlaps in this odd eternal, wacky present.

At the ATC, the volunteers have a little celebration with people who finish there. We drank grape juice and toasted and took pictures and laughed, and that’s when it really started to hit me, I think. This thing, 40 years in the making and two years in the planning, and forever in the execution.

But there it was: 2185.9 miles. All of it. Springer, Katahdin, all the points in between. Six pairs of shoes. Winter to winter. Two time changes. Three porcupines, one rattlesnake, and a kitten. And you.












Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 55 Comments


I realize I was a little… abrupt, yesterday. Let me tell you: Yesterday was so enormous that it stole all the words from my brain. So enormous.

I’ll probably do a couple of follow-up posts after I’ve had time to process a bit: yesterday in detail, reentry stuff, and maybe, maybe, some sort of gear post mortem.

But feel free not to read! The shouting, after all, is finished. 🙂

Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 40 Comments

Day 247: C’est fini




Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 49 Comments

Day 246: The last ramen

Ed Garvey Shelter [mile 2179.0]

Here we are. My last night on the Appalachian Trail, and what a long long long strange trip it’s been.

I was thinking about doing a ‘what I learned’ type of post, because what I’ve learned has been legion. But you know, if you come out here, the things you learn will be different. The trail teaches each of us the things we need to learn, and my things aren’t your things. That’s part of why the mantra of the hiking community is ‘Hike your own hike.’ In broader terms, Live and let live.

Am I different? No, not really. But the quiet has helped me pinpoint some things I’d like to work on.

And in six miles, give or take, I’ll have finished my bucket list! (Except maybe for those damned ponies.) At least the parts of it I have any say in. Winning the lottery is still on there. (At which point I’m jetting to new Zealand to do the Te Araroa, with a MUCH lighter pack.)

So. Last night was cold (naturally), but not as bad as Tuesday. My water didn’t freeze overnight. The day was gray November, though. It was raw and chill and never warmed up much. A weather change is coming. There’s a good chance I’ll be finishing in the rain (because the trail is never easy), and by Saturday it will be full-blown winter in Harpers Ferry. I’m getting out just in time.

Today… I walked! I know the trail is never easy, but today the terrain was. Superhighway and footpath. No obstacle course, no jungle gym. Just walking (with a side of rocks). I chatted with a dad and his two kids who are out for a few days. He asked one question I haven’t gotten from anybody who wasn’t thru-hiking NOBO, and certainly not this far south: “So how was the Mahoosuc Notch?” I love that I now have opinions about this stuff.

I passed what really might be my last memorial. It’s interesting being back in Civil War country. Makes me want to go home and watch the Ken Burns series again.

And it’s weird thinking about what I’ll do back home—car inspections and leaky faucets and chimney cleaning and house painting. Christmas shopping! That’s all become so alien. Luckily I don’t start work again for another week or so. I need a few days of transition time. And Thanksgiving’s in there, too.

Around noon tomorrow, the grand adventure finally ends. It’s been miraculous having you along for the ride.









Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 25 Comments

Day 245: Washington slept here

Rocky Run Shelter [mile 2169.9; SOBO 1151.5]

Is it just me, or does seeing ‘Rocky Run’ make you immediately start singing Rocky Raccoon?

I woke up to frozen water again, and one stake was frozen into the ground. But I tried a few new things. It’s astonishing, isn’t it? The tweaking and adapting never end, even with just a couple of days to go. I’ve started to pack my pack in a whole new way to try to alleviate my back and shoulder pain, and it’s been helpful… but truth be told, I think it’s carrying less food and water that have done it. The pack just doesn’t carry the way it used to, and my bones don’t sit correctly under it.

I’m now deflating my mat first instead of last so I can get it lower in the pack. I’m deflating my pillow last so I can sit on it while I’m packing. I’m keeping my down booties and pants on until the last minute. But the two big changes this morning: I packed up in my mittens, and I hiked the first four hours or so in my down jacket and hood.

That last is a big nono—right up there with “Cotton kills!” But you know what? I’m so far from sweating into my down in the morning that it’s not even funny. And even though last night was probably the coldest I’ll have to weather for the balance of the hike, this morning wasn’t as bad as it’s been.

Adapt, adapt, adapt! Even with 48 hours left.

So I hit the trail at around 8:00, decadently late. Yesterday when I was talking with Broken Candle, we both kept laughing at the thought of doing ten miles a day for three days. I feel like a ridiculous (but amused) slacker. If it were warm, I’d be having picnics and lighting campfires! But it’s been a blessing to be able to really stop and smell the roses, as they say, instead of pumping my little hamster legs for all they’re worth. I’ve been getting to take lunch breaks. Today I took a side trip to my last monument: the Washington Monument. (No, not that one.)

I finally got to the easy part of Maryland! The trail was varying degrees of dirtwalk and hiker superhighway all day. There were some climbs, but they were relatively brief and with wide trail.

The sky was blue again, instead of November gray, but at 11:00 AM my breath was still white in the air. My little sweet spot of warmth didn’t hit until noon, and it only lasted a couple of hours, tops. That’s when I finally was able to take off my puffy.

You know what I’m looking forward to? Wearing a scarf: a big, fluffy, winter scarf. And my coat with the hood!

There were a few hikers out today—day hikers, mostly, although there’s a backpacker of some flavor here at the shelter. I passed him earlier, and he said the words that always give me a jolt of surprise: “You’re Karma?” But it turns out that this guy was at the same shelter as Broken Candle last night. Hiker rule number one: All it takes is two hikers in the same location to set the Hiker Information Network buzzing.

The trail passed the Washington Monument, a tower that was used as a lookout point during the… was it the Civil War? I’m going crazy out here! I can’t remember a plaque I read four hours ago! Anyway, yeah. It was cool! My last monument, I imagine.

One more full day, then six miles on Friday. I’m nervous and excited. My emotions have really been on the surface for the last few days. I cry easily. This is all so hard to wrap my head around. I wonder how I’ll react on Friday? Will the emotion be drained out of me before then, so all that’s left is elation?

I kind of hope so. I’m down to my last pack of tissues.










Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 2 Comments

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