It’s been awhile since I’ve written here and this will be one of the last times. One year ago today on April 4th, 2012 Alison and I embarked on a journey which we knew little about. Of course we had done a bunch of research, but that is totally different than living it. The night before Alison had attempted to cut my hair. It got pretty short before mom came to the rescue and evened it out. Oh well, I’m going hiking, right? I won’t be looking in the mirror. As we waved goodbye to our parents at the approach trail we started climbing. Looking back it was really not that hard. We took lots of breaks and enjoyed the views. The 49 pounds that were in my pack gave me sore shoulders, but we only did 7.8 miles that day. We ate knepp with GU that night. I am not sure I’ll ever do that again!
But, you can read the rest of the blog to reminisce about my adventures. It was quite the adjustment coming back to the midwest with the flat land and home community. For a long time I didn’t feel like I fit in. I didn’t get the same excitement about being in choir or seeing people I knew. It was a really hard time. I cried nearly every day. That’s hard to admit. I felt like I was totally out of my element and all the people that had become family while I was on the trail were now farther than across the shelter or campsite. And I wondered how long I would feel this way.
I got a job at Target, and boy was it a shocker. I was used to living with everything I needed on my back and then going into this retail job where people are spending lots of money. It made me want to not spend anything. And I didn’t really have any money to spend anyway, so it worked out. Don’t get me wrong I have enjoyed my job at Target, but it was quite a difference from what I was living for 6 months.
Over time I have become re-accustomed to the way things are run here in the ‘real’ world. I keep in contact with some that I hiked with through Facebook, but it was hard to find some of them. I knew them only by trail names, so I had to do some searching. Of course if they had a summit picture as their profile picture it was a good possibility I knew them.
I have not been out hiking recently – well, there has been no place to hike really here – but I have been thinking about the trail and those that are hiking now. I have been following some on www.trailjournals.com and I wonder how many of them will make it. Every one of them is so excited to be fulfilling their lifelong dream. I hope they make it. When I run marathons there are many things that can happen that can make the race not turn out well. And that’s only for 4-5 hours. What about 6 months? I guess that’s a little pessimistic. I really do wish them all well and hope they find good friends along the way to be a support. I was so very blessed to have Alison with me for 200 miles and then supporting me the rest of the way.
I would love to bring trail magic to hikers this year and I may do so when I’m in Harrisonburg VA for EMU graduation. Our time will be short there, but I hope I can go out to the trail. I wonder what it will feel like to be back there. I probably won’t be in hiking garb. My gear is stored away, but I’ve been itching to get it out.
I have heard of someone that is starting today. He is hiking with some friends of mine that I met in the Smokies: Buzz, Grizz and Gypsy. Gypsy is the one that gave me the challenge coin. He is going as a trail chaplain, being available for anyone that may need spiritual guidance. His blog is here: http://hikingwithhardtack.wordpress.com/
Also I heard of a Mennonite gal: Sarah Kahle from MN that is going to head out on the 15th of April. I have been in contact with her and may actaully see her sometime next week. Her blog is here: http://www.trailjournals.com/entry.cfm?id=405412 I look forward to keeping track of these guys and also sending them care packages.
X, N, Castaway, Deadeye and Susan will all be completing the John Muir trail in July. I so wish I could go with them, but alas, I am unable. So, I hope to follow them as well as send them packages. So much fun!
Some may be wondering what my next adventure will be. I was actually nominated and won a regional award for Target as a wellness superstar. Everyone was really impressed with my trail and marathon stuff. I guess it just seems natural to me, but a lot of people I know also do these things. It’s like someone visiting Freeman SD during Schmeckfest and they are blown away. I have grown up with it so it is just that way. It takes outside people to remind you that it’s awesome.
In July I will be attending Service Adventure Leadership training. I have accepted a 2 year assignment in Anchorage Alaska as a SA unit leader. I will be in charge of 3-5 young adults as they work in placements like foodbanks etc. It’s gonna be crazy and quite the opportunity. I think the adventure bug has bit me. And, while I’m there I’ll run my AK marathon!
Well, that’s all for now. Thanks for still looking at my blog. I think it gets between 5-10 hits a day still. Mostly looking at the map. Some other search terms have been – ‘meet the troverts’, ‘fundraiser on at’, ‘aminals’, ‘kathy harder’ (not sure about that one!), ‘flurry at harper’s ferry’, ‘bearded woods’. Fun stuff!
Oh, and I am finally giving a presentation on the trail. April 6, Salem Mennonite Church of Freeman, SD at 7:30. Everyone’s invited!
Today the weather was superb for November in South Dakota. I also happened to have the day off and so I decided to go for a hike at Newton Hills. Newton Hills is where Alison and I went on our shake down hike before starting the AT. I anticipated getting outdoors again in a hiking setting and was almost getting giddy.
This hike of course looked different than the AT. First of all, it was relatively flat. I am in South Dakota after all. I was without my hiking poles and my knee bands. I felt a little naked. What did I do with my hands before I had poles? I also didn’t have my big pack, instead favoring my old school bag with a few clothes and some gatorade in it. I thought about carrying my laptop and other items so it would be heavier, but why do that?
There were some ups and downs (all puds), roots and dirt got in my shoes. Felt like home. I even encountered some horse droppings that reminded me of hiking in the Smokies. I was breathing hard at times and sweated, it felt good. My speed wasn’t as fast as I was used to, but that’s okay.
I went out hiking to see if I could capture the feeling of being at home on the trail again. However, I was a bit disappointed. My friends that I met on the trail weren’t there. I was just out for the day and didn’t need to find a place to sleep somewhere in the trees. There were no shelters to check to see if I knew anyone had been there recently. I didn’t have to pull out my dehydrated food and stove to make supper. I didn’t have to filter water. It was almost too easy. Where’s the fun in that?
I pondered all of this while walking. Why wasn’t I feeling alive again now that I was hiking? It isn’t a way of life anymore, that’s why. My life doesn’t revolve around hiking anymore. For so long getting from point A to point B was the priority and if I didn’t get there I would have to do more the next day. The whole hike today felt like a sham. It wasn’t really hiking if I didn’t go up and down several mountains, sleep in the woods and filter my water.
I decided that the AT will never compare to anything else I have done or will do. Only when I get back on the AT when I section hike with Alison will I be able to re-live the memories I made and experience the magic again.
So I need another goal. Is it hiking the PCT someday? Could it be signing up for another marathon? I am not sure yet. I know I work better with goals. We shall see.
This week I recieved my 2000 miler certificate in the mail. Pretty cool. I guess it’s official!
I have been done with the trail for a month now. Here are some things that I have noticed:
I still have a tendancy to to look at the toilet paper roll in the bathroom and wonder if it would be small enough to take in the wilderness.
My feet are still sore. I walk like I ran a marathon the day before right away in the morning. I can’t walk barefoot at all.
I ran on the treadmill and had to remind myself that it is not appropriate to do a snot rocket inside. Oops.
People still would like me to write a book, who knows…
I have over 1300 pictures and I need to weed them down so I can put them in an album.
I haven’t had the urge to sleep outside yet, but I do miss the fresh air.
I am going stir crazy at home, I miss my ‘job’ of hiking.
I still take longer showers than needed. It just feels so good!
Eating like I am still on the trail is a dangerous thing! We are still eating some trail food because we had leftovers when Alison got off the trail.
At first the thought of hiking again was the last thing I wanted to do, but as I get farther away I miss it more. It was such an amazing experience! But it is hard to sumaraize that experience.
I felt like I didn’t fit in anywhere at first. It was a very strange feeling. I know life moved on without me, but it was still weird to be back. I wasn’t expecting to be almost depressed with nothing to do. For nearly 6 months I had this goal in front of me and I was working toward it constantly. Then all of the sudden it was gone. I had accomplished this amazing feat and I didn’t have something else to jump into. People kept telling me to just relax and enjoy being home. If you know me well you understand that I have a hard time sitting still for long periods of time. I started looking for jobs (which for someone who can lack patience this is very difficult) and I hope to get something soon.
I miss the people that I met on the trail and I have been looking up information about the trail almost every day. This includes looking at other people’s journals, seeing how many people summited, or trying to find people on facebook. This is difficult as I don’t know any of their real names!
I am still finding ways that I have changed, and things I have learned about myself. That process will continue for a long time yet. I hope I never stop learning.
Thanks again for your support, even as I try to re-enter society!
Gear is really important on the trail. It can mean the difference between staying on the trail and getting off. Being comfortable is important to some extent. At least as comfortable as you can get on the trail.
Kelty Coyote Pack
I really enjoyed my pack. I picked this pack because I wanted lots of pockets for organization. The Kelty pack is heavier because of all the pockets and extra zippers, so my gear was heavier just because of the pack weight. The fabric held up suprisingly well even though I scraped the bottom while going down rocks. The straps started slipping a lot, so I was constantly ajusting them. I don’t know if that was because they were dirty or they were actually getting thinner. The mesh/netting on most of the pockets ripped. Most waited until ME to become unuseful though.
I only used the one pack. There were some hikers that had 2 or even 3 different packs. Kelty is made tough.
I started out with a Ledge 0 degree bag. I was very grateful for the warmth, but I was not pleased with the size. It basically took up half of my pack. And when I was using that and the two person tent by myself I had very little room for anything else. The reason I had this big bag was because I was too cheap to get a down bag which would have packed smaller. I guess that is the price you pay for being cheap. For the summer season I used 2 sleeping bag liners from Sea to Summit. This was enough most of the time. I used all my clothes and tarp if I needed more warmth. There was only once where I didn’t even get into my liner cause it was so hot. Then for fall I borrowed a 20 degree down bag. It worked very well and only wished for my 0 degreee a couple times.
The REI Quarterdome T2 Plus was our choice for tent. We really liked the tent for privacy, especially becases there were not very many women on the trail. When Alison left I went to a hammock and I only used it twice. I am a stomach sleeper and so it was difficult for me to get used to a hammock. I stayed in the shelter most of the time during that time. Eventually I borrowed a tent from Castaway’s brother and used that for the remainder of the trip. It is important to have a well sealed tent and I only got wet once.
The sleeping pad that I started out with was really thick and cushy and I loved it! When Alison left I needed to have less weight and bulk so I too her sleeping pad. It didn’t take long til that was comfortable as well. It is amazing that an inch of padding helps so much! This was a ‘must have’ item for me. Some people had the Neo-air and I found those to be squeaky and they got leaks much more easily. I just had a thermarest.
The Bugaboo backpacker cookset was our choice. It had 2 cups, 2 bowls, a nice big pot and frying pan. We left the bowls at home right away. We sent the frying pan home after discovering that it was not working to make pancakes. The cups went home when Alison left. So, I carried just the pot, pan scraper, and handle. The size of the pot was a bit excessive, but it worked. When we were buying supplies we bought a pack of 10 lighters. Well, I only used 1.5 over the course of the trip. My spork was was a favorite item.
I have no complaints about the pocket rocket. It worked like a charm and it was pretty easy to find fuel for it. I know of at least one person that switched from an alcohol stove to the pocket rocket. It was a good stove.
I was being cheap once again and took my leatherman knife. I knew it was heavy, but it didn’t really matter, right? Well, I found that I only used the scissors on the knife and decided to get a craft scissors. That did everything I needed it to from opening mail drops to opening vacuume sealed food bags.
Alison and I started out with the steri-pen, but when she left I didn’t want to carry the batteries, filter, charger and the pen. I swiched to the MSR Katahdin and it worked pretty well. It did take along time to pump, especially after the filter got dirty. I flirted with using bleach, but I didn’t like the taste. So, I went back to the pump.
We used our water tank when we were hiking together. I didn’t need it for myself. I used one nalgene and one gatorade bottle. The gatorade bottle is lighter, but I needed the nalgene for the water pump. Bear rope, carabiners, and many other items filled up my pack. I appreciated having a watch and a cell phone. I had a surprising amount of cell phone coverage with Verizon. AT&T had better service a couple of places up north. I used bug spray during the summer and the sunglasses came in handy against the gnats. Sunscreen wasn’t used much because we were under the trees most of the time. I did get burned a couple times when I was out in the open for extended time. I was glad that I had chargers for the camera and phone and my journal was important to me as well. The pack cover was essential for not getting water in your pack. It is important that it fits well too.
My favorite item was my down jacket. I used it as a pillow and it was essential when it got cold. It is a must have. I also used my Dri Ducks rain gear a lot. It doubled as town clothes and wind protection. They did rip easily and I had 2 sets. When it’s raining you’re not sure if you should put on the rain jacket because you’ll just sweat. My jacket ended up smelling worse than my shoes! I used my longjohns mostly in spring and fall. At times I wore them during the day while hiking, but tired to save them for sleeping. I had only one set of hiking clothes – a shirt and zip off pants. For a time I had town clothes so I had another set when doing laundry. When I had my boots I wore wool socks and liners, but switched to running socks with my low hikers. I had 3 pairs of shoes. Some had as many as 5. I thought I would go through more clothes, like that they would wear out. But, none of my clothes wore out. I wore 3 different shirts and 2 pairs of pants.
I used our mail drops for the whole trip. There were only a few times where it was a pain to get the food. There were definitely times where it was good I was getting a mail drop because there were no other options in town. I would maybe use about 1/3 less and buy more food on the trail. You can choose what you want to eat for the next leg of the journey.
I had the Thru-hiker companion. If I would do it over again I would get both the companion and awol’s guide. Awol has elevation changes and gives more info than the companion, but awol was wrong in at least one place. More information is better, right?
I’m not sure if I missed some things. Overall I was very pleased with my equipment. If would do another long trail I would save up for some lighter gear, but it made me stronger, right?
Alison and I took the long way home. I don’t know how many miles there are to get from Maine to South Dakota, but we definitely took the scenic route.
First up was visiting Ila Lynch in Hudson New Hampshire. Ila lives about 4 hours from Bangor where we had been hanging out. Ila was Alison and my babysitter for several years when we were little. Her two little boys were very excited to see us and told us about all the new things that they had. It was pretty cute.
Next stop was Patrick and Becky Welsh’s house in Hanover PA. Patrick (aka Reaper) and us hiked together for awhile before he got rocky mountain spotted fever and had to get off the trail near Erwin TN. Patrick is feeling much better, but is still not 100%. It has been pretty rough on him. It was good to see them again. They both showed us their re-enactment attire which was pretty cool. There is a lot that goes into doing that. We slept on this awesome couch/futon. It took a bit to figure out but it was an experience!
Harrisonburg VA and a stop to see Molly Boese for a quick lunch at Mr. J’s. I am Molly’s mentor from church. We have kept in contact and I really enjoy her. I have actually seen her in Harrisonburg every year that she has been at EMU. That is pretty incredible because I live in South Dakota! Of course we went to Kline’s ice cream before we left town!
Al and Ashley live in Greensboro NC. Alison and I met Al and Ashley in Georgia, less than a week into our hike. They were section hiking and are planning on doing the whole trail eventually. We met them when we were camping by a road when we all decided we didn’t want to walk 1.2 miles down a side trail to the Whitley Shelter. We so enjoy their sense of humor and we hit it off right away. We talked about the trail and it was really fun to see them again.
Comma-Kaze is from Clover South Carolina and she, Blue Sky, Castaway and I hiked together through some of Virginia. More reminiscing happened and Alison and I even played a little guitar. It had been a long time since I had touched a guitar. It didn’t take long for my fingers to hurt. Comma fed us a lovely chicken salad sandwich and banana bread. Yum. It was too bad that we couldn’t stay longer at places.
Sylva NC was our first home stay on the trail. Gail and Jay Gibson kept us for 2 nights and it was so wonderful! We wrote about them earlier in the blog. It was really fun to come back and remember how we had spread everything out all over their porch and dried it out. This time we were treated to grilled ribs and our own bed. Once again it was lovely to talk about Viborg and we just felt very much at home.
Buzz Trexler and his daughter Elizabeth joined us for lunch near Knoxville TN. Buzz and two of his friends hiked with Reaper and I in the Smokies. We really enjoyed Buzz’s love of Christ and devotions we had with the three of them. Gypsy was the one that gave me the challenge coin to carry to Katahdin. We talked about Buzz’s upcoming section hikes and enjoyed some BBQ.
Corinth MS is the home of X and N Trovert. We had supper with Susan Adams and her husband. Susan was our trail angel for part of NH and ME. We really appreciated her being there for us. The next morning Alison, myself, X and N all ran/walked a 5K race. It felt strange to race, but I ended up getting second in my age group! An 8 minute pace never felt so hard! X got third in her age group and N got first in his. N worked at Shiloh Battlefield and so we did some Civil War learning at the interpretive center and then went to the battlefield. There was some information overload, but it was vey interesting. We don’t have a lot of Civil War stuff in South Dakota.
Our last visit was to my college friend in Lewis KS. Amanda and her family hosted us, fed us and we caught up. Her sons Eli and Ethan entertained by flying around in their capes. It was very good to see them and tell them stories of the trail. Amanda’s parents are like my second parents and I thank Kenny and Nancy for their support and prayers over this trip.
Alison had an interview for a nursing position in Torrington WY so we headed there before going home. Seemed on the way? After 20 minutes we were on our way home finally. On our way through NE we saw Car Henge and a rest are that included a recliner and a toilet on bales. I had no idea western NE was so funny! I loved it. If we weren’t on our way home I would have stopped to take pictures, but as it was I was ready to get home.
We arrived at the Neufeld residence at 11:30pm central time. It was way past hiker midnight but it was worth it. Finally our own beds. I will be doing some more blogs about gear and some reflections about the trail.
I am sure you have been wondering what has happened since I summited. I will be doing several more posts, so don’t go away yet!
The day after summit day was a nice and relaxing one. I didn’t move from the bed for very long and we ate a lot. We met X and N for lunch and picked up Castaway from Abol Bridge for supper. It was good to see him again and wish him well on the summit. I hope we didn’t scare him.
Beth’s flight was on October 1st, so we had time to do some other fun stuff before she left. We spent some time in Acadia National Park and watched the sunrise from Cadillac Mountain. It was so gorgeous! It was also very cold, but we snuggled and used sleeping bags to stay warm. Its too bad when we came back to the hotel room that it was also cold. Guess we needed the heat after all.
Some other snippets:
One of the hotels had a very blue bathroom. Super 8 is awesome!
What is there to do on vacation? Well, normally when I would be on vacation I would try to do as much activity as I could. This vacation is different cause I needed a break from exercise. But, as we were in Acadia National Park we decided we needed to do something other than sit in a hotel room. So, what did we do…take a hike of course! I had my crocs on, cause I was thinking it wouldn’t be too strenuous. Well, there were some rocks and I was wishing for my poles. At least it didn’t last too long.
Beth and I have done some running in the past and she is training for a half marathon. She asked me the day after summiting if I would like to run with her. She was feeling pretty sore afterwards and I was ready for a couple days off. We actually went running 3 times and it was an eye opener. Evidently there are some muscles in my butt that are NOT worked while hiking. And here I thought that I was in the most amazing shape. Hmm. There were a couple other muscles that were not worked the same way. It will take a bit to get back into running shape and I hope to do a marathon this fall yet. We shall see what I can do. I would really like to keep as much of the fitness I have worked so hard to gain.
One of the most exciting things we saw in Bangor was the statue of Paul Bunyan. Paul is located in Bangor because they were the birthplace of the lumber industry. We had a difficult time finding it because we were looking for a park. Actually the statue was in a construction area. We were able to take some pictures with Mr. Bunyan while a guy watched us from the parking garage. I bet he thought we were nuts.
Here is the link to the summit song on You Tube. If you notice X is holding up the registration box and I am focused ahead because I was so tired I had to concentrate on singing. Beth Swartzendruber was the videographer.
As of now we have 245 hits. Share with all your friends!
N Trovert put AT words to the tune The Longest Day. These are the words we sang at the register after coming down from Katahdin September 25th. Beth videoed us doing it and we hope to become a you tube sensation. They may ask us to come sing it for Trail Days in Damascus VA and we will become stars. Maybe I won’t have to go back to work.
The Summit Song – to the tune of The Longest DayMany folks hiked out of Georgia One in five walked all the way Now the climb up Mount Katahdin Marks their final AT day Many gals are tired and weary Many guys slept cold and wet Now the view from Mount Katahdin Is a scene they won’t forget A six month hike, a six month hike What is there not to like? Through the rain and wind and hail On the Appalachian Trail Counting Steps there were 5 million 14 states along the way One more time pick up your backpack As we hike the final day
After a near sleepless night at Katahdin Stream Campground there was some nervous energy as we got ready to climb our last mountain on September 25th. I was cold in my sleeping bag for the first time, so I could have started up much earlier, but we got going around 6:15am. It was just getting light as we trundled on. The trail was kind to us for a little bit and then there were a few rocks. We got to a bridge over Katahdin Stream and then started climbing stairs. At this point Beth (who was awesome enough to summit with me) was already feeling the burn. The Katahdin falls marked 1.4 miles from the start. That part went fast…the last 4.1 miles took a long time! Soon we got into boulders and then into slabs of rock. The trail was well marked thankfully, but some of the places we looked up and thought: ARE YOU KIDDING ME?? There were a few places where we weren’t sure if we could make it up, but somehow we did. Thanks to the help of other hikers holding feet or offering hands to pull!
I had told Beth it would be a full body workout. Indeed! We weren’t
looking forward to coming back down those boulders. We reached the tablelands and had a snack. At this point we had heard that the hardest part was over. YEAH! The tablelands were much flatter and the rocks much smaller. There was even some easy walking in there. We passed by a spring and made our way up to the peak. It looked like we would have to go off to the right, but as we got closer we could tell there was a large gathering of people on the peak closest to us. Are we almost there?
As we got closer they yelled for me to come into the group picture. I sat next to N Trovert and got tears in my eyes. Wow. My journey is over. It was pretty overwhelming. We did it!! OH MY GOSH! There were a lot of people up at the top, many of which I didn’t know. I would say there were about 25-30 up there. I waited awhile to take my picture with the sign, and it was so cold and windy. I was eager to get somewhere not as cold. I took pictures with the Troverts and Beth and took pictures of the challenge coin I brought up for Gypsy and a yellow golf tee that Andi VanHove had given me before I started. Wow.
I thought about those that are not with me, that were unable to finish. Like Reaper and Alison and others that I know have gotten off the trail. Why was I special and was able to finish? It’s just crazy.
At one point I was taking pictures for a group and one of the guys asked me if I was good at taking pictures…this is important. I immediately got the hint. He proposed to his girlfriend and I was the photographer. I hope I got some good pictures. Pretty cool. That is the second engagement that has happened on the top that I am aware of this year. Tree trunk said that guys will have to be careful now if they are hiking with their girlfriend because there will be some expectations when they reach the peak.
We reached the top a little before 11am and we headed back down around 11:30. I was so ready to get out of the wind and when we reached the end of the tablelands we ate lunch. Then we started the boulders. We found that we could slide down most of them and that was easier than going up. I wasn’t sure my shorts were going to hold up much longer. At one point I asked if my shorts were still there! My knees were threatening to give out, but I coaxed a couple more hours out of them. I have found that my balance has improved a lot since the beginning. That’s pretty cool.
Beth and I were very much looking forward to the first privy that we saw as we were coming down. It was about 1 mile from the bottom. We still had to navigate some rocks but eventually the path smoothed out and we saw the registration box! X and N were waiting for us and we decided to sing our summit song. I will put the song in the next post.
We finished at 4:28pm. We took 4.5 hours up and 5 hours down. Nearly a 10 hour day. Crazy. We met Alison and the Troverts met their base camp manager Ashley and her husband Clint. It was nice to meet them after hearing so much about them.
We were not sure how much we would be able to move the next day, especially Beth cause she hasn’t been hiking for 6 months. I am so thankful that she came with me. She is a really good friend!
It was an amazing day – hard, beautiful and emotional. Wow.