Friday, May 22, 2015

10 states down, 4 to go

We've made it out of Pennsylvania, through New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and into Massachusetts these past couple weeks. Now that the weather has been consistently nice and warm it has been much easier to stay out on the trail.

New problem: hot temperatures mean a lot more sweating and therefore stinky and stiff clothes and since it hadn't rained since Virginia, until the other day, our bodies are getting coated in layers of dirt. Solution: getting creative...showers and laundry by way of garden hoses and streams. Some of the shelters we've stayed at lately have had showers and some of the towns have allowed free camping in the town parks. Since they are free that usually means no hot water or if we're really lucky, solar hot water or access to a garden hose. But since we're coming through so early in the season most of these places don't have the hot water set up yet...luckily it's been in the 80's lately so a little cold water is actually very refreshing.

We've received some amazing trail magic recently! For those unfamiliar with the term, there are trail angels and trail magic. Trail magic is where someone leaves food, water, etc or does hikers a big favor such as a ride. Trail angels are people who in some way provide trail magic to hikers. We would like to give a huge thank you to Kathleen and Brian in Pawling, NY. The Lions Club in Pawling allows hikers to camp for free at the town park which is where we met Kathleen and Brian. After chatting with them for a while and accepting some water and a couple snacks they left the park. About 30 minutes later they drove back with a cooler full of ice cold gatorade, water, and more snacks. This completely made our day and their generosity was amazing. Thank you so much!

We also received some great trail magic today. We stayed at Jess' Treat hostel in Sheffield, MA last night which is run by a lady who opens up her home for hikers to stay. This morning she offered to drive us in to town for free, a drive she usually charges people for. We were expecting to have to make a 4+ mile road walk this morning (walking on pavement with heavy packs is not ideal) so the drive in was very appreciated!

A few pictures to finish out Pennsylvania:

Duncan sleeping at the laundromat in Wind Gap.

Trying to stay warm after all the sleeping bags and clothes had already been packed away.

An awesome boardwalk that was almost 1 mile long made for some very easy and enjoyable walking! We saw a bunch of turtles all sitting on a log.

I think this picture speaks for itself.

Hiking through New Jersey and New York it was very easy to become lazy. There were so many towns and deli's and bars right next to the trail. While it was great to be able to hop off the trail and grab a sandwich or a beer and hop back on, it made it very difficult to stay focused on the trail.

Duncan gets a free ride in to town.

While hiking through New York we mistakenly chose a very challenging section to try to do a huge day. The majority of the trail so far is up along ridges since this isn't good for farming or developing in any significant way, it was the cheapest place put the trail when park services started moving it off roads and private property. But in New York the trail doesn't travel along the tops of the ridges. It goes straight up and straight down the other side, and most of these ridges are made of solid rock so it feels like you are doing more rock climbing than hiking. Climbing straight up the rocks was a very slow and exhausting process. One section even required the use of a ladder.


The real roller coaster of the AT is not in Virginia but in New York. So after that exhausting day we decided we had earned ourselves a day of relaxing by the lake. Lesson learned: New York state parks are very serious about their no swimming without a lifeguard rule. While talking with the park rangers about how we had not followed stated rules we decided it best to not mention that we are both certified lifeguards and high-tailed it out of there and back to the trail.

The view from the shelter we stayed at that night. In the distance, past the Hudson River is the New York  City skyline. Just barely though, you can't see it in any of our photos.

Near the end of New York we passed by a volunteer trail crew doing some serious renovations. By using a pulley system they are able to move rocks as big as one ton. Currently the trail goes straight up the hill and is getting wider and wider as people try to find an easier way up/down. When their renovations are complete it will include some very nice switch backs and steps which will make this section so much easier to use.

The trail goes right through the middle of a zoo! Its not the nicest zoo around. fortunately they have a philosophy of not keeping any animals that can survive in the wild. All of their animals are rescued.

There are a couple different challenges that hikers can do along the AT, the four state challenge and the Connecticut challenge. The four state challenge involves hiking from Virginia through West Virginia, Maryland, and into Pennsylvania. Ian was very excited to try this but by the time we got to the end of Virginia we were not ready and then Ian had to fly back to Seattle for a funeral. So when we got close to Connecticut Ian was very excited for the challenge of hiking through all of Connecticut in one day. I was quite a bit more apprehensive about the idea. For a long time I had been pretty scared of the idea of hiking for so long, I didn't think I could do it. Ian pointed out though that after hiking all day, every day for the last three months we are in the best shape we will ever be in. So we have the muscles to do it, the question was did we have the mental stamina to.  After a lot of thought and planning we decided to go for it.

We gave ourselves 36 hours and planned to hike through the night. We took a break for a couple hours to avoid being stuck in one of the biggest thunderstorms I have seen in a long time and later took a short nap. The stars throughout the night were amazing and the trail cooperated by mellowing down on the rocks and crazy hills. By the end of 36 hours we had hiked 54.7 miles. We did it! When we finally reached the Massachusetts border we were hopping up and down in excitement. 

So now it's on to Vermont!

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Late Update

It's been quite some time since we last posted. We made it through Shenandoah National Park without seeing a single bear. We had a few days of nice beautiful weather before the temperature just got too hot to handle. As we walked down out of Shenandoah, as Ian so nicely put it, we walked right into spring. It was as if we were in a whole new world, suddenly everything was green and lush and colorful. 

Right before Harper's Ferry Ian's grandmother got very sick. Luckily we were so close to Washington DC so he was able to get a flight back to Seattle, but unfortunately she passed away before he made it back. At least he was able to be with his family for the funeral. During this time I hung out in Camp Hill, PA with a friend from college. I am very grateful for her flexibility and hospitality. 

We got back on the trail just after Boiling  Springs, PA so we have passed the halfway mark! The beginning of Pennsylvania was nice and flat, a lot of fields, very easy going. The last couple days of Pennsylvania though have been pretty miserable. There are more rocks in the last 100 miles of PA than anywhere else I've ever been and most of them are turned with the sharp end up. 

We did get to hike through a superfund site yesterday where they used to smelt was pretty interesting, with some great views of the surrounding towns due to the hillside not having many trees from the soil acidity, but the boulder field leading up to it was so insane. 

Friday, April 10, 2015

Bad Knees and Big Miles

It felt great being back on the trail after hanging out in Daleville for so long. We hiked for a few days parallel to the Blue Ridge Parkway which meant plentiful trash cans and the serene sounds of passing trucks.

Unfortunately the trail was extra rocky with multiple steep ups and downs. Hannah's knee began to wear out so we decided it would be best if we hitch hiked ahead to Glasgow, VA to rest up her knee. Glasgow has a free shelter for hikers in the center of town across the street from a dinosaur. It was nothing fancy but it did have a few bunks, running water, and outlets. Unfortunately the hot water was broken but a nice guy working at the water treatment plant next door offered us free use of their shower...yay for hot water!

While in Glasgow we met a couple of other hikers. Hot Rock, a guy in his early 50's going from Virginia to Massachusetts and Scruffs and Woodstock, a couple traveling with a bitter little dachshund. We spent a few lazy days hanging out at the library and playing cards before getting back out on the trail.

We started this section going relatively slow, taking it easy in case Hannah's knee still hurt. One day we ran into a hiker who had started February 28th. He seemed to be destroying himself. He made us feel grateful we decided to slow down but also like it was time to pick up the pace again. The next day we pushed ourselves to go further. We had a big uphill and then the trail mellowed out. By the end of the day we had gone 21 miles and decided to find a flat spot to set up the tent rather than push another four miles to the next shelter.

The next day we woke up feeling pretty good and went for another big day. It's a good thing we did because all of the shelters we passed after noon were packed with families, boy scout troops, and lots of teenagers. Apparently it's spring break around here.

We pushed on and ran into a steep downhill that seemed to go on for hours. At the bottom we took a look at a map posted on a kiosk and saw a shortcut we could take that would go past some water falls. we considered it for awhile and ended up going for it. It was shorter but had some incredibly steep ups and downs. The stream was beautiful though. It was one constant cascade.

Unfortunately when we got to camp it was already dark, was starting to rain, and the shelter was full. The area was so crowded that it took us a little while to find a place to set up our tent. We have spent most of the trip alone, so it was definitely a shock and a bit overwhelming to suddenly be sharing not only the trail but also the shelters with so many people. 

The trail from then on was pretty rocky and that slowed us down quite a bit. We are starting to run into more and more people on the trail now that spring is finally here.

We got to Waynesboro, VA and have been hanging out with Scruffs and Woodstock since then. We will likely be hiking parallel with them for awhile. It'll be nice to have a little more company. Their dog may bark constantly but it's not a biter and trusts you more when you have food in your hand.

Monday, March 30, 2015

McAfee Knob

How do you know you spend too much time hiking?

Trekking pole tan lines!!!

We made it to Daleville, VA today after some slight delays due to thunder storms and more freezing temperatures. 

We're finally starting to see a few more people on the trail, a few groups of section hikers, a couple of south bounder's who had started their hike in Harper's Ferry, WV, and another north bounder. It's been really nice having people to chat and hang out with.

Trail Dog (playing pool with Ian) has section hiked the southern end of the AT for the last twelve years and now that he is retired he's finally able to take the time to head north. Saturday morning while Ian and I were debating about whether or not to head out onto the trail in the icy temperatures, Trail Dog gave us some good advice about hiking your own hike and figuring out what it is that will make us happy and satisfied along the trail. Something that is said a lot by people on the trail is to "hike your own hike". It's interesting how that has started to take on different meanings as we progress along and as we talk to different people. 

After a couple days hanging out at Four Pines Hostel in Catawba, VA staying out of the cold wind and icy temperatures, we set out again. The temperature was still pretty low but the sun was shining and the wind was calmer. We planned a shorter hike (16 miles) so we could have time for hanging out at the viewpoints. 

We definitely got some classic McAfee Knob photos. There was a great view of the whole valley. 

Once we were able to tear ourselves away from the amazing view, we continued on to Tinker Cliffs where the trail goes along the edge of a cliff for half a mile and the view points back towards McAfee Knob. 

After we passed the cliffs we headed to the shelter where we hung out with a few of the section hikers we met at the hostel and laughed at their hound dog who whined just like Chewbacca. 

In about two weeks we'll be in Waynesboro, VA.

Ian Wilkie and Hannah Parker
General delivery 
Waynesboro, VA 22980

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Freezing Rain and Friendly Ducks

Somehow last weeks blog post didn't get  published so that was fixed yesterday. So here is this weeks post. 

We left Atkins, VA with blue skies and a dry trail. The trail has slowly been getting flatter and flatter as we've come into Virginia. We have really been enjoying some slightly easier walking compared to the tough and intense straight up and down non-stop of Georgia and North Carolina.

Leaving Atkins we were planning several really big days in a row. We made it up to the top of Chestnut Knob to find this: 

Snow and freezing rain! Again!!

We were very thankful to have arrived at this awesome shelter about 45 minutes after the awful weather started and that very quickly turned a 20 mile day into a 10 mile day. 

Most of the shelters are lean-to's with one side completely open. So to have four walls, a door, and windows to block the ferocious wind and rain was great.  

We put a water bottle with boiling water inside the sock to try to dry it out. So much steam coming off of that wet sock! 

When we woke up the next morning to more of the same weather we decided it was time to leave the trail again. Our options were either hike 10 miles to the next shelter, arrive mid day soaking wet and freezing with no good way to warm up and dry out, or hike 25 miles to the next shelter after that and most likely arrive soaked and frozen with painful feet and again, no way to dry out. Plus, last time we hiked 20 miles in the rain we got the beginning stages of trench foot, which we would really like to avoid. That could easily be the end of this adventure if we're not careful. 

Instead, we decided to go one mile to Walker Gap and get a ride to Woods Hole Hostel where we were planning to stay a few days later.

Ian made some friends! 

After some confusion, all of the packages that had been sent were finally located and we discovered we had at least 20 extra pounds of food. We learned two valuable lessons this weekend. Lesson 1: don't have both parents send packages at the same time...we are grateful for all the food but we couldn't actually fit it all in our packs. Lesson 2: if you don't open a priority mail package the postal service will forward it for you for free! So in Daleville we'll probably just send one of those extra boxes on to the next town and we'll be good to go for a couple weeks. 

A couple working at the Woods Hole Hostel was incredibly generous and let us borrow their car to drive our extra 20 pounds of food in to town to the Post Office. While in town we dropped Ian's pack and most of our gear off at a hostel, drove the car back and "slackpacked" eleven miles to town. It was very refreshing being able to hike quicker and without the weight of our gear.

Especially when it's warm!

Early this morning after packing up and another long planning session with the guide book, we both sat down and decided we weren't happy with the way our trip was going so far. Because of our deadline we have been so focused on miles and timing and planning. We realized we hadn't given ourselves time to enjoy the views and the places we are hiking through. After talking this morning we both agreed that while we are on track to finish in time, we would rather slow down and enjoy ourselves even if that means we don't finish. We realized that while pushing ourselves as hard as we have been has allowed us to get in great shape, it has also forced us to miss out on a lot of what makes this hike such a unique and amazing experience. 

Learning to let go of the need to plan out every day and crunch all the numbers might take us both some time, but gaining that flexibility will allow for a much calmer and enjoyable experience.

Plus, breaking this trip into sections just gives us an excuse to get back out on the trail, whether it be next summer or later on. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Wild Ponies

While in Damascus, VA we enjoyed the wonderful hospitality of Crazy Larry. Easily one of the best hostel experiences yet. I don't think our dirty clothes have ever smelled so good after being cleaned and a 50¢ thrift store puzzle occupied our time for most of the afternoon. 

Turned out a hiker we had been following for weeks was still in town due to an ankle injury so it was great getting to hang out and swap stories with another hiker. 

We left Damascus in more rain. After taking a detour around a broken bridge that put us right on the Virginia Creeper Trail (a super flat and easy biking trail), we realized the AT and Creeper Trail would cross again just a couple miles south of the shelter we were intending to stay at. Due to the rain the trail had become much more slippery than usual and our knees were aching after just a few miles. So we decided we'd give our knees a break for the day and stayed on the Vieginia Creeper Trail for most of the afternoon. Whether the Creeper Trail was actually a lot shorter or just that much easier, I don't know, but it shaved at least 2 hours off our time for the day. 

The next day the plan was to hike more than 20 miles. About mid day we took a snack break and realized we had been going much slower than we thought. All the streams in the area going over the trail were clogged with leaves and due to all the rain the day before they were overflowing and making a mess of the trail. So we decided instead of pushing hard to make the 20 miles we'd much rather spend the time fixing the streams (playing in them) and enjoying the beautiful weather. 

When we reached the top of Mt. Rogers and went around the corner to the shelter we were surprised by these guys.

Turns out there are a couple of herds of wild ponies hanging out in the Grayson Highlands National Park. 

That night while trying to cook dinner these curious ponies decided to join us for a while.

The one with the white mane went so far as to try to eat our tortillas right off the picnic table. So that night was more of a pony hang than a bear hang. 

The next two days the weather was beautiful, with no more than a sprinkling of rain a couple times. Monday we were thrilled that the temperature actually got warm enough to wear just shorts and t-shirts for the second time on the trip! 

We arrived in Atkins, VA last night after a 21 mile day. Our feet continue to rebel at the long days and boy were we ready for a hot shower. Not much else going on in this town so we'll do a quick resupply and get back out on the trail today.