Days 110-116: Welcome to the Whites

On Wednesday morning (June 14) Nameless’s aunt drove us back to Hanover. We started hiking around 9am and it was already pretty warm out. I was a little bummed that my shoulder was still feeling quite sore, despite the visit to the chiropractor. Guess I’ll just have to deal with it for the next few weeks. With about 9 miles left in the day, we got to a road crossing and there was an older couple there with trail magic! They had fruit and sodas, and they were even grilling hot dogs! We stopped and sat for a while, enjoying the luxury of sitting in a real chair. I usually feel like I’ve struck gold when I find the perfect rock on the trail to take a rest on, so getting to sit in a chair while I drank an Orange soda (my go to soda while hiking) and ate a hot dog was a real treat! The last section of the day was a climb up Smarts Mountain. Mid way up there was an overlook and it was around 8pm so the sky was lit with the setting sun. We decided we didn’t have the energy to make it another two miles straight uphill at that point in the day so we found a spot to stealth camp for the night.
We continued up Smarts Mountain in the morning, and I could feel myself starting to sweat within a few minutes. There was a fire tower on the summit with stunning views all around us. Once we were down that mountain, we got to climb up Mt Cube. The terrain on the trail has definitely started to get a little harder again, and it’s taking some getting used to after going so long with only flats and very short climbs. We stopped for lunch at the top, but were getting swarmed with giant flies so we quickly packed up and headed down. Those two big climbs were draining, and our feet were dragging as we hiked on. With about 8 miles to go, we crossed a road, re-entered the trail in the woods, and then were surprised when we saw a man with trail magic. This man is known as “The Omelette Man.” He has a somewhat permanent setup right next to the trail, with a grill that he uses to make omelettes for hikers. He comes out every day during hiker season! He had chairs, bananas, and tons of juice. Since we got there around 4:30 he was already cleaning up for the day so we didn’t get omelettes, but we had delicious homemade no-bake cookies. After sitting there chatting for an hour, we were feeling really unmotivated to hike another 8 miles, but we really wanted to get to the Hikers Welcome Hostel so we could sleep inside and see a few of our trail friends who we knew were going to be there. The Omelette Man said that he could drive us to the hostel for the night. We took him up on that offer, happy to be able to call it a day. At the hostel, we met up with Bear, Penguin, and Magellan. This hostel had a brand new bunk house that probably had room for almost 30 people. The couple running it is amazing, and they are responsible for the Hiker Yearbook, which has been been in existence since 2014. Hikers can send pictures in and they put together an awesome yearbook that is available to buy after thru-hiker season. After we ate some dinner, we found out that we could slack pack the next day over Mt Moosilauke, which is considered the first big climb in the White Mountains. Going down the mountain northbound is one steepest descents on the trail, and if we slack packed, we would be going south so we would get to go up that instead of down. The Omelette Guy also said that he could bring us back to the hostel if we walked back to the spot he was doing trail magic going south. The decision to slack pack was easy. 
Breakfast at the hostel was eggs, bacon, and unlimited pancakes. Once we ate, those of us slack packing piled into the hostel’s short school bus. It was probably about 20 minutes to Kinsman Notch, where we hopped out of the bus and hit the trail going south. Bear took the lead, and I wanted to hike with all of the guys for the day so I made it my mission to keep up. The trail proceeded very steeply uphill alongside a waterfall. During some parts where the trail went alongside slippery steep rocks, there were wooden steps drilled into the rocks. It was in the mid 50s and misty out, but I had to take off my rain gear after a few minutes because I was getting so warm from working so hard to continue uphill at the very quick pace the group was going. About halfway up the mountain, the grade leveled off and the climb wasn’t as bad. The higher up we got, the harder the wind blew and the more it rained. I put my rain gear back on and continued upwards. Just before the summit, the trail goes above tree line, and we became even more exposed to the elements. The rain was pelting my face so hard I had to cover my eyes, and the wind was gusting to the point where I could hardly walk in a straight line. When I made it to the summit sign, I snapped a quick picture and then ran down the other side to get below tree line. I continued hiking quickly downhill to warm up and get to a lower elevation. The rain did lighten up, and I made it to the road where the hostel was around 1pm. At this point, Nameless and I were hiking with Penguin so we said bye to him and we set off to hike the 8 miles we had skipped out on the day before. We made great time and got to the Omelette Man before 4pm, and then he drove us back to the hostel. When we got to the hostel, another trail angel had just dropped off trays of sausage and veggies for dinner! There were a lot of people at the hostel and it was a fun group, so I enjoyed talking to lots of different people until I went to bed. 
I had another hot breakfast on Saturday at the hostel before we loaded a huge group onto the little bus to go to Kinsman Notch, this time hiking north again. The morning started out foggy but very humid, so I was sweating buckets as soon as we started climbing uphill. I hiked with Nameless and Penguin again and enjoyed having company on the brutal climbs. The sun started to peak out and I got some views of the mountains around me. The climb up to South and North Kinsman mountains was a tough one, and there were a lot of places where I had to toss my poles ahead to use both my hands to pull my body up boulders. I was drenched in sweat when I finally made it to the top, but it was totally worth it for the views that I got. The skies were blue and there were clear views on every direction. I looked ahead and was able to see all of Franconia Ridge, which I then walked the next day. These were the views I dreamed about weeks ago when I was still down south. All I asked for was at least one clear view in the Whites, and I definitely got it on Saturday. We set off down the mountain trying to make good timing, but also being cautiously slow on the steep decent to avoid any accidents. The White Mountains have a hut system so hikers have the option to stay inside during a backpacking trip. However, the huts are pricey (over $120 for a bunk) and they require a reservation. To help accommodate thru hikers, the huts will allow thru hikers the opportunity to “work for stay.” This usually entails washing dishes or doing some other chore in exchange for getting a spot to sleep on the floor. The huts also make a full dinner and breakfast, and thru hikers are welcome to the leftovers. When we got to the Lonesome Lake Hut, we were disappointed to hear that there was no work for stay available since they typically only allow two thru hikers each night, and Bear and Magellan had beat us there and taken those two spots. I’m a little salty about the huts because it makes lodging difficult while hiking through the whites, and I’m convinced that there should be a better way to deal with the thru hikers, I’m just not sure what it is. Penguin decided to stealth camp near the hut (which technically isn’t allowed), but Nameless and I decided that if we had to camp we might as while walk for a little longer, so we headed another 2.5 miles down to Franconia Notch. We found a stealthy spot to put our tent and made sure to stake it out well since rain was in the forecast overnight.
There was some light rain coming down when we woke up, so we packed up our wet tent while trying to keep everything somewhat dry. The day started with a tough climb up to Franconia Ridge. You might think that after 1800 miles, hiking might have gotten “easy”, but it’s still hard, and the Whites are an entirely new type of hard. Once we were up on the ridge, we went above tree like and walked into the clouds. It was foggy in every direction, and I could barely see more than 30 feet in front of me. While it was not the beautiful day I had imagined, it was sort of cool to be up on this rocky exposed ridge up in the clouds. The last climb of the day was up Mt Garfield, and some of the clouds had broken so we were able to see some views. We continued down to Galehead Hut, crossing our fingers in hopes that we would be able to work for stay. When we got there, the hut croo was happy have us! We waited outside while they served dinner to the guests, and then we got to eat the leftovers. Each night the croo runs a short program after dinner before people head to sleep, and the “work” that they had us do was talk about the AT for the nighttime program. I could talk about the trail non stop, so it was fun to have a little audience and be able to answer all of their questions. After we were done with the Q&A, one guy approached me to ask if I was wearing mascara. I told him that no I was not (what kind of thru hiker carries make-up??) and I just have naturally long eyelashes, which have probably gotten longer since living a stress free life on the trail is great for your hair, nails and skin. Once people cleared out of the dining room, Nameless and I set up our beds on the floor, happy to be inside, and went to bed. 
My alarm went off around 6am yesterday morning to ensure I had time to pack up my bed before the guests came into the dining room for breakfast. We listened to the weather update from the hut croo at 7am to hear that severe thunderstorms were in the forecast for the mountains with winds gusting up to 75mph on Mt Washington, and there was a flash flood warning in the valley. While we heard this awful and potentially dangerous weather, it didn’t look terrible outside at that moment, so we decided we should just keep hiking on and have some bail out plans if the weather turned. Once the guests were gone, we ate leftover cinnamon rolls and chatted with the croo for a bit. They were all awesome and reminded me of the fun people who were camp counselors during high school. Around 9am we hit the trail, and started with a steep 1200 foot climb in less than a mile up south twin mountain. We were happy that our highest elevation of the day was first thing in the morning. There were some brief views as the clouds rolled by, but the sky was looking pretty ominous. The trail went downhill for a while to Zealand Falls Hut, where we stopped inside for some baked goods and lemonade. For 3.5 miles after the hut, the trail was surprisingly flat so we were able to make good timing. The last part of the day was a decent to Crawford Notch. We heard a few claps of thunder during the last hour of hiking, and the rain started with about 30 minutes until we hit the road, but overall the weather for the day was fine for hiking. We were planning to stay at the AMC Highland lodge, so we started walking that direction down the road even though it was a few miles away. It probably took about 15 minutes of walking with our thumbs out to get a hitch. A couple who was driving in the opposite direction actually turned around to give us a ride. We apologized for getting their car soaking wet, and they said not to worry about it because it was a rental. They were happy to help us, and the woman even got out of the car to give us a hug when they dropped us off! People have been a little surprised that we’re already this far along on the trail since it’s a bit early for thru hikers, so people have been very excited to meet us and talk to us. At the lodge we asked about lodging for the night, only to hear that they had no rooms available. Excuse me?! No rooms! I was not happy. I was soaking wet, tired, and I just wanted a hot shower and dry clothes. As Nameless and I were figuring out what to do, I kept getting weird looks from other guests like they had never seen a wet hiker before. What else would they expect on a rainy day? I was almost glad to be going somewhere else because I didn’t feel like that place was very thru hiker friendly. We ended up calling a taxi and got a ride to a motel in Twin Mountain about 10 miles away. I felt way more welcome at this motel. The owners were so nice, and when we checked in they even offered to order us pizza and go pick it up for us! As we were walking to our room, we met another couple who later brought us a bottle of wine! All of these little things feel like huge things for us, and they really help us get through the tough moments of this journey. With a shower, clean clothes, pizza, and wine, I was a happy hiker. 
The same taxi driver came and picked us up at the motel at 8:00am this morning to bring us back to the trail at Crawford Notch. We decided to do a short 11 mile day to Lakes of the Cloud Hut, figuring that after walking mostly uphill for 11 miles we would be ready to call it quits. With this in mind, we took our time enjoying views and talking to everyone we saw on the trail. The weather was mostly good, and we had some sunshine and views as we were climbing uphill. Mid day we got to Mizpah Spring Hut. We stopped in to fill our water bottles, and one of the croo members offered us leftovers. We enjoyed warm pasta and beef, and we were in no rush to leave because we had less than 5 miles to Lakes of the Clouds from there. The hike from Mizpah to Lakes was one of my favorite sections of the trail so far. We quickly climbed up above tree line and were walking on an exposed ridge. There were a lot of clouds in the sky, but we still had phenomenal views all around us. I kept finding myself standing still taking everything in until a gust of wind would remind me that I needed to keep hiking. The clouds blew away for a moment and I had a clear view of Mt Washington up ahead, but fog quickly rolled in and once again my views were obstructed by clouds. With about a mile to go it started raining, so I hustled to make it down to the hut. It was so foggy I couldn’t see the hut until it was about 20 feet in front of me. I am currently sitting in a corner of the hut staying out of the way while the paying guests eat dinner. Once they are done, I will get to eat some leftovers and sleep inside on the floor somewhere. It’s amazing how little it takes to make a hiker happy.
Tomorrow morning I will be climbing up Mt Washington, and then hiking over the rest of the presidential traverse before heading down to Pinkham Notch where I will be getting a ride to Gorham, NH. I have also decided I am going to aim to summit Katahdin on July 11, only 3 weeks and 335 miles away! Next time I update, I will be in Maine!
-KG/Brightside 

Days 100-109: 442 Miles to Katahdin

On Sunday morning (June 4th), Nameless’s grandfather drove us back to the trail near Bennington, VT. Nut Shoe’s mom, Mrs. B, had offered to host us for another night so we could slack pack, so we just had food and water for the day. We hiked just over 23 miles to Stratton-Arlington road where we met Mrs. B and hopped in the car. Vermont is also called “Vermud” because the trail is so muddy, and it was a lot easier to hop around the mud without my full pack on. When we were back inside for the night, we looked at the weather and saw that it was suppose to be rainy again on Monday, and there was 100% chance of heavy rain all day on Tuesday. Not what we like to see. With this on the radar, Mrs. B suggested that we slack pack again on Monday, and then zero on Tuesday. How could we pass up this offer? We’ve hiked in the rain enough at this point so we were totally on board with that plan.

Monday was another day of slack packing, and we hiked 17.5 miles to Manchester, VT. The trail went up and over Stratton Mt where there is a neat fire tower, but the sky was gray so there were no views. Once we were down the mountain, the next 11 miles to the road were very flat so we cruised as quickly as possible, although the mud did slow us down a bit. As we were getting in the car with Mrs. B, another thru-hiker popped out onto the road so we gave him a ride into town. His comments about his hike were that he was ready to be done, so he was hiking as fast as possible to get to Katahdin. He had hiked 34 miles that day. I understand the feeling of wanting to be done, but I do not want to rush through the last part of this journey. I am tired all the time, and waking up to hike everyday has lost some excitement, but I still love it out here and I am not ready for it to be over.

Waking up to the sound of rain when you’re out in a shelter or a tent is a horrible sound, but waking up to the sound of rain outside your widow while you are sleeping inside and have no plans to hike is totally different. Nut Shoe’s family has a house in Vermont, and they recently bought the house next door to use for guests, and this guest house is now one of my favorite places. It was an awesome place to hang out for the day. A little after lunch time we went into Brattleboro to go bowling. That same day, Bear was coming back to Vermont after being off the trail for a few days for a wedding in Michigan. Mrs. B went to pick him up at the bus stop in Bennington, so we got to be reunited with him for the night! We had a fun night with lots of food, drinks, and a game a Yahtzee.

After 8 nights of sleeping indoors, I suppose it was ready to get back to the life of tents and shelters. We got held up a bit leaving in the morning when Bear thought he lost his wallet, only to find out after he cancelled all his cards that it was hiding in one of the water bottle pockets in his pack. It was almost noon when we finally started hiking, and the trail went immediately uphill from the road to Bromley Mountain. The trail pops out of the woods near the top and walks along one of the ski trails up to the top where you can see the chair lift. It was a sunny day so the views were beautiful, but boy oh boy were the bugs out! It was so buggy we couldn’t stand up top for too long before we had to keep walking to avoid being bitten. We got to a shelter around 5pm and decided to call it quits early. I still have some trouble finding my rhythm the day after a zero, so I didn’t need to hike any further.

I love when I wake up and don’t feel rushed to jump out of my sleeping bag to hit the trail. The temperature was perfect as I was waking up, and I laid in my sleeping bag for a while as I looked outside to see that the weather was looking perfect. I made some coffee while Nameless got some extra sleep, and then we hit the trail. We did about 20 miles through A LOT of mud, and then got to a shelter where we were the only ones there! When I took my shoes off I had to put them as far away from where we were sleeping as possible because they smelled like something had died. I didn’t know shoes could smell that bad. It must be the combination of my sweaty feet and all the mud that smells like poop. The life of a thru-hiker is not glamorous. We ate our mac and cheese, and had a peaceful night of sleep without anyone else making noise and keeping us awake.

We were up early on Friday and the trail finally started to get a little less muddy. The highlight of the day was passing the “500 miles to Katahdin” sign! 500 miles is still a long ways to go, but at the same time if feels so short. Each 100 miles has gone by faster that the last, so I know the last 500 will fly by. From that sign, the trail went uphill for a few miles to Killington Mt. Mid way up the climb, it started to rain, but it was warm enough where the rain felt good. There is a shelter up top on the mountain, but it is filled with trash because it is so popular. From the shelter, there is a blue blazed trail 0.2 miles up to the summit of the mountain, so we left our packs at the shelter and ran up to the top. Luckily the rain had stopped and the cloud broke a bit so we had some views. We hiked down from Killington as fast as we could because we were eager to get to the Inn at Long Trail at the bottom. We got to a road and had the option of walking 1 mile on the road to the Inn (not the AT), or 2.5 miles on the trail to the Inn on the AT. I was tempted to take the shortcut, but felt too guilty, so we hiked on the trail. It was a 23 mile day with some good climbing, so we were happy to be done hiking for the day. When I went inside the Inn to get a room, I was greeted by very friendly staff who were all very excited to talk to a NOBO AT hiker since there aren’t too many of us up this far north at this point. They had a great hiker rate ($86 for a room instead of the typical $126), and this cost even included a full breakfast in the morning. After showers, we went down to the Irish pub inside in the Inn, where I got the most delicious “Guinness Stew” and we listed to live Irish music. It was a wonderful night.

The breakfast in the morning made me never want to leave that Inn. Nameless and I both both eggs, and we also split an order of apple cinnamon pancakes. I swear I could have eaten two full orders of those pancakes on my own. After we stuffed our mouths full, we made our way back to the trail. It was hot, and it was more buggy than ever before. I am using a natural Deet-free bug spray that does work to some extent, but with all the sweat coming off my body it doesn’t keep the bugs away completely, or for very long. It seemed like the trail kept going up and then down, but the ups had no views at the top so I was feeling frustrated. When I got to the side trail to the Look Out shelter, I ran up to the top and finally got a view! There was a ladder on the side of the shelter to a platform up top where I had a 360 degree view of the green mountains all around me. That is what I was waiting for all day. I had a burst of energy from all that beauty, and I felt like I was running the last 2.5 miles of the day. The Wiltturi shelter we were at for the night was a fun group, and we even met another guy wearing a kilt (Nameless hikes in a kilt)! There was a wonderful fire going, which was keeping the bugs away, so we could all enjoy being outside without getting eaten alive.

On Sunday the temperature were back up to high 80s, which us hikers do not like. We timed our start for the day so we could get down to the road right at 10am when a small market was opening up. We stopped in and bought a blueberry, raspberry, peach pie, which was still warm. Nameless and I each had half. I didnt feel great while walking uphill from the road with half a pie in my sromach, but it was worth it for the pie. Due to the heat and the long pie break, when we got to West Hartford, VA around 6pm, we were both ready to be done for the day. The trail crosses the white river so we went down to jump in the water since we were drenched in sweat and smelling worse than ever before. While we were in the water, we were chatting with a couple who were also enjoying the cool water. I asked them if they knew of somewhere in town we could camp. Their response was that we could camp in their yard, which was just around the corner! It turned out that they had recently bought this house and were renovating it so they hadn’t moved in yet, but we were welcome to put our sleeping bags in the empty house, use the hot water for showers, and lock up when we left in the morning. We were both so greatful and amazed by this act of kindness. So once again, we found ourselves sleeping inside. 

We woke up early with the sun and hit the trail at full speed. It was just 10 miles to Hanover, NH and we were eager to get there because we were getting picked up by Nameless’s aunt. It was another hot day and the bugs were swarming so I hiked as fast as I could to get out of the woods. Around 11am the trail came out to a road in Norwich, VT where we were greeted with a cooler full of cold sodas! We sipped on our sodas while we walked about 2 miles on the road to the Connecticut river, where we crossed into New Hampshire! I can’t believe I made it to my 13th of 14 states! When we got to Hanover, it was very busy with people. Irs a good thing we didn’t get there one day earlier because we wouls have walked right into the Dartmouth graduation. We went to Starbucks to get big frappachinos and then to a pizza place for lunch. Nameless’s aunt picked us up and drove us back to their house on Bellows Falls, VT. I’ve been having some shoulder pain which isn’t getting any better while wearing a heavy pack all day long, so I went to see a chiropractor for some adjusting. Hopefully it helps! Nameless’s uncle cooked us some delicious fried chicken, we watched a little TV then went to sleep.

Today was another super hot day so we decided it was best to zero and stay off the trail and out of the heat. We had a lazy morning and then went into Brattleboro for lunch. It was great to spend time with Nameless’s family and be in such a homey place. We did some planning for the upcoming days and are super excited for the White Mountains, although the weather looks questionable at the moment.

With just 442 miles left in this journey, I’m trying to savor every moment! Stay tuned for more updates from the final stretch!
-KG/Brightside 

 

 

Days 93-99: Living in Luxury 

Hello from Vermont! The past week I have been so busy enjoying the trail and people alongside of it that I didn’t write any notes in my blog. Including tonight, I’ve slept inside 6 of the last 7 nights, so no need to worry about me roughing it in the wilderness at the moment. I am near Brattleboro, VT right now with Nameless at his grandfather’s house. We took the day off from hiking, but somehow it’s after 9pm and I’m just getting around to writing something to update all you followers! Now where was I a week ago…
On Sunday (the 28th) I woke up in Connecticut with my good friend Lauren. I saw a whole bunch of old friends the night before for a BBQ and it was so nice to be back with everyone. We left in the afternoon on Sunday to drive to New Jersey for the wedding of two our good friends, Cait and Pat. It was fun to get dressed up and put on make up, but shoving my swollen feet into 4-inch wedges was not as fun (I quickly switched to flats). I had a great time celebrating, dancing, and of course eating all of the delicious food. A wedding may be as far from the trail as you can get, so it did feel a little strange for me to be in that setting for the night. Big thanks to Lauren for picking me up from the trail so I could make it to the wedding, and big congrats to the happy couple!
After a nice brunch at the hotel on Monday morning, we drove back to Fairfield. Nameless went home to PA for the weekend so we picked him up at a train station on our way back. My dad then met me us in CT and drove us back to the trail in Massachusetts. He dropped us off near Great Barrington around 5pm and we hiked a quick 7 miles to a shelter. When we got to the shelter, we noticed that a lot of the wood was very worn and scratched. There was a note pinned to one of the walls that nicely warned people of the porcupines that invade the shelter at night. This shelter had a second story loft, so we decided to sleep up there even though porcupines can climb. Another hiker was also sleeping up top with us, and in the middle of the night I was awoken to the sound of rocks falling to the shelter floor from the loft. The other guy had heard a porcupine in the shelter, and was dropping rocks down to scare it away. I was too tired to bother looking down.
When I checked my phone on Tuesday morning, I had a text from my dad. He had spent the night with a good friend in Williamstown, and said he would come meet us to pick up our packs so we could slack pack for the day. We hiked just 2 miles to the road to meet him, and then set off for another 21 miles with our tiny day packs. It was a gray day with some light rain, and we hiked quickly knowing that the sooner we finished the sooner we could take hot showers and eat warm food. My dad met us near Lee, MA and we went back to Williamstown for the night. 
We decided to take advantage of my dad being around and slack pack another day. Hiking without our full packs is such a treat! From the road near Lee, we hiked another 20 miles up to Dalton, MA. Once in Dalton, the trail went 1.5 miles along the road and through neighborhoods. My dad picked us up again, and within about 5 minutes of getting in the car, the skies opened up and it started thundering and pouring rain. Boy were we happy not to be out hiking in that! We enjoyed another night of showers, home cooked dinner, and real beds. 
My dad dropped us back off at the trial on Thursday morning, and we set off to hike up and over Mt Greylock to a shelter about 21 miles away. Around lunch time we hiked right through the small town of Cheshire and got lunch and milkshakes. Even though we had just had two nights of hot dinners, we still couldn’t turn down the opportunity to eat food that wasn’t trail food. The sun was finally out after what seemed like days of clouds. The climb up Mt Greylock was the longest climb we’ve had in a while, but it was fairly gradually. It was around 6pm when we got to the top, and after taking some photos, we wandered over to the Bascom Lodge. The sign outside said there was “sunset beverage hour” until 7pm, so naturally we went in for a drink. We still had about 3.5 miles to walk down to the shelter, but after a beer and realizing that we could stay in the lodge, our desire to keep walking plummeted. While working on beer number 2, a staff member told us that a bunch of people with reservations didn’t show up, so they had extra dinner if we wanted to eat at a discount. Of course we did! Two older ladies were eating dinner together and wanted some company so we joined them and talked their ears off about our thru hikes. Dinner consisted of bread and soup, crab cakes, potatoes and veggies, with homemade lemon sorbet for dessert. The wonderful women even paid for our meals! Did I mention how spoiled I feel lately? We retreated up to our room and went right to sleep, knowing we had to be up early to hike those extra 3.5 miles in the morning.
From Mt Greylock, we had just under 25 miles to hike to get to VT route 9 near Bennington where we were meeting Nut Shoe’s mom! His parents live in Vermont and graciously offered to host us for a night, and as I’m sure you can tell, we never pass up a night of sleeping indoors. The main highlight of the hiking for the day was crossing into Vermont! For the first 105 miles of Vermont, the AT and the Long Trail are one in the same. Then, the long trail continues north and the AT veers east to Hanover. The last 15 minutes of the day we made our way down a very steep section of the trail, our joints aching with each big step down what was essentially a rock stairway. I was happy to finally see the road and get off my feet. Nut Shoe’s parents have a great house up on top of a mountain, and they also own the house next door so they have a place for visitors. We had a great dinner with Nut Shoe’s parents and brothers before another night of sleeping indoors. 
It’s always a great feeling to wake up and know I don’t have to walk anywhere. I stayed in bed until after 9am, and then went downstairs for breakfast. After lots of coffee and bacon, we got a ride about 20 minutes to Nameless’s grandfathers house, which is also beautiful and situated on a mountain. After we got back from town to do our resupply, I took a nap before dinner. I also tried to do some research on apartments in Denver since I’ll be moving out there in just 2 months and I’d prefer not to continue living in my tent. Nut Shoe’s mom has offered to slack pack us 23 miles tomorrow, so I have yet another night indoors to look forward to! After that, we will continue hiking north through Vermont and we will break our long streak of sleeping indoors. I can’t believe we only have 580 miles to Katahdin!
-KG/Brightside 

Days 84-92: Feeling the Love

The past week I have been showered with love and support on the trail. Friends and family came out to be a part of my journey, and I loved being able to share some of the trail with others. Hiking the trail is hard work, and I wouldn’t be where I am without all the support I have coming from people off the trail. This update starts on May 18:

The motel owner gave us a ride back to the trail in the morning after our wonderful stay. When a hotel/motel offers a ride we are much more likely to stay there, so it’s worth it for them to give rides so they can get more business. There was a small farm next to the trail with a store so we stopped in and grabbed coffee and pastries. Once we were on the trail, right away we had a big steep climb up the “stairway to heaven.” As I was climbing up, a girl who was probably 12-14 asked me if I was a real Appalachian Trail hiker. I smiled and said I was hiking from Georgia so I guess I am! It wasn’t quite as hot as the last two days but I was working up a lot of sweat. Around 2pm we crossed into New York! I had pizza to celebrate that I had packed with me from the night before. The trail was pretty rocky and not always well marked so I had to pay close attention to white blazes. As we were crossing a road, a guy was finishing up a day of hiking and fishing and he filled up our water bottles! Even something small like that means a lot to us hikers! Namelsss and I hiked until about 8:15 then found a spot to camp just past a stream. It wasn’t an official tent site, but it was clear that others had tented there before. It got dark quickly so I hurried to make dinner and get ready for bed. The bugs were out in full force so I was careful not to get any in the tent.
I had set an alarm for Saturday morning but woke up a few minutes before it went off, around 5:45am. A group of friends from my old running club in Fairfield had planned to come hike with me for the day, so I needed to be up early to hike the 10ish miles to meet them at our arranged time and place. I’ve gotten pretty good and guessing how long it will take me to hike a certain distance, but occasionally the terrain catches you off guard. The first 5 miles of the day was filled with steep rocky ups and downs, and I felt like I was doing more rock climbing than hiking. Because of this, I let my friends know I was running late. After a dangerously steep downhill to a road, the trail crossed into Harriman State Park. As soon as I got into the state land, it was as if I was on a whole new trail. The climbs became gentler, the trail was wider, and it became way easier to keep a good pace. There were so many people out hiking for the day, and most of them seemed oblivious to the fact that they were on the Appalachian Trail. Shortly before the parking area where my friends had parked one car, I saw the four of them coming up around a corner! Big shout out to Lauren, Cait, Lauren, and Katie for coming to hike with me for 12 miles (I told them it was about 10 miles originally, whoops!). I was thrilled to hear that I didn’t smell that bad to them, although they all agreed that my pack has a pretty bad odor. They took turns carrying my pack so I got a break from carrying it for the day which was a nice treat. Lauren made sandwiches and brought snacks, so we stopped for lunch at a shelter so they could see an example of where I might sleep while on the trail. We finished our day up on Bear Mt, where they had parked a second car. We had some beers and more snacks as we sat in the sun and enjoyed the views of the Hudson River and the surrounding mountains. Then my cousin Peter and his wife Lisa came and picked up me and Nameless so we could spend the night with them in Westchester. The hotel prices have gone way up as we’ve gotten further north, so we’re trying not to stay in too many if possible. Peter grilled burgers and veggies, and I had a great time catching up with them. It was so fun to spend the day with friends and family and get to share some of my AT journey with them.
On Sunday morning, Peter and Lisa took us to the grocery store to resupply (big thanks again to them for buying my food!), and then we went to a diner for breakfast to meet up with my good friend and college roommate, Kendra, who also lives in Westchester. I felt a little out of place in my hiking clothes and shoes while everyone else was in their Sunday best, but I also didn’t really care because I hiked 1400 miles to get there! After we finished eating, Kendra drove us back to Bear Mt. As we got off the highway and went to turn onto the access road up to the mountain, we found that it was closed until mid afternoon for a bike race. It was after 11am and we didn’t really want to wait around for the road to open. We also didn’t love the idea of getting a late start, hiking into the night, and then setting our tents up in the rain that was coming. The answer to this problem was easy: take a zero! One of the hardest things about being on the trail for me has been being okay with not sticking to a schedule. I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that you can plan and plan and plan, but the AT will have something else in mind. So we turned the car around and went back to Kendra’s house. I think Nameless was especially happy about this new plan. Many of the guys on the trial, including him, have started to loose more weight than they had to loose in the first place, which makes it hard to have the energy to hike 20-25 miles a day. The woman, on the other hand, myself included, tend to get stronger as fat is turned into muscle, therefore not loosing much weight. Nonetheless, it was great to spend the day with Kendra and catch up with her. We went down to her yacht club and had a clam dinner by the river as we watched the sunset. A few times during the day I found myself feeling like I should have been hiking, but I reminded myself that the trail will still be there tomorrow.
Kendra had to be in New York City on Monday morning for work by 9am, so we had to leave the house at 6am to get to the trail. She brought as back to Bear Mt and we said our goodbyes, not knowing when we’ll see each other again. I was at Bear Mt State Park last summer for a day hike, and every inch of the park was filled with people having picnics. On this dreary cloudy May morning, there was not a single other person there. From the park, the trail actually crosses right through a zoo! However, since we got there so early and the zoo didn’t open until 10am, we had to take a blue blaze trail around the zoo. We then crossed over the Hudson River on the Bear Mt Bridge. A few miles into the day the trail passed right by a gas station and deli, so I got a breakfast sandwich and some coffee. The rain held out until about 2pm, and it was a consistent light drizzle until we got to the shelter around 7pm. The RPH shelter used to be a fully enclosed cabin that belonged to a hiking club, but one wall was removed to make it into a shelter for the AT. This shelter was so close to a road, so Nameless and I ordered a pizza for dinner.
When I woke up around 7am I noticed that there was someone sleeping on the ground who had not been there when I went to sleep. Three guys had come in late, which has gotten more common as people start doing longer days. They started down in Georgia about 2 weeks after me and were moving very fast. I was not envious of all their 30 mile days. I took my time in the morning and made coffee for the first time in a while while I ate a giant cinnamon roll I got the day before at the deli. We were only doing about 17 miles so I didn’t need to get an early start. Since we didn’t have to walk too far we took our time and took lots of breaks. It was fun to be able to mosey around again and not feel rushed to get anywhere. The terrain was pretty easy, we walked around a beautiful lake, and made it to the shelter before 6pm. I ate a box of Annie’s Mac and Cheese and was in my sleeping bag before 8pm.
There was one other man sleeping in the shelter with us that night. As we were going to bed, he was talking on the phone in the shelter, which is poor etiquette. Then in the morning, his phone alarm went off around 5:30am and he didn’t turn it off so it rang and rang and rang. Since I was up, I started getting ready and left the shelter pretty early. The terrain was pretty easy, and around mid morning I crossed into Connecticut! I had 14 miles to hike to Bulls Bridge where I was meeting a group of my old coworkers from GE! They brought pizzas and cooler of cold sodas for lunch. It was fun answering all of their questions about my life on the trail. They hiked a little bit with me, and my old manager John walked about 2 miles uphill with me to a lookout. From there, I only had 5 miles left in the day. There were a lot of people tenting around the shelter, but there was space inside for me and Nameless.
Thursday was a little rainy and a gloomy day overall. There were lots of small steep ups and downs, and once nice long 5 mile flat section. We saw a huge search and rescue crew carrying an older man down one of the mountains; we hope he’s okay! Around 8pm we got to a nice camp spot and decided to set up my tent. I had been snacking all day and wasn’t hungry for dinner. It was suppose to be a rainy night but we were hopeful that it would clear up in the morning.
For the first time in nearly 1500 miles, I woke up in my tent to the sound of rain outside. I quickly realized that the sides of my tent were a little wet, and there was a small puddle of water under my sleeping bag. I hadn’t staked out the front and back of the rain fly enough so that may have been part of the reason why the tent was wet. It also rained almost 2 inches and there reaches a point where ultralight tents can’t keep all the water out. I was pretty unhappy to have wet stuff, but we were planning to be at a shelter for the night, and I knew I was getting picked up for a day off on Saturday so I could put up with just about anything until then. About 3 miles into the day we passed Falls Village, CT and decided that we needed a warm breakfast to lift our spirits. We stopped at the Toymakers Cafe and I got a breakfast sandwich and French Toast. It’s amazing how much better a hiker can feel after eating a warm meal in a dry place. As we were finishing up, another hiker, Fax Machine, came into the cafe. He’s a fun guy to chat with so we ended up sitting with him for almost another hour. It was almost 12:30pm when we finally got back to the trail and I was nervous about making it another 20 miles. I hiked with Fax Machine for about an hour after we left the cafe and we cruised at almost 4 mph. The rain seemed to have stopped, but as I started climbing up Bear Mt it picked back up. The ascent up wasn’t too bad, but coming down the other side it was extremely steep and rocky, and the pouring rain made the trail pretty dangerous. Luckily I was with Nameless and we took our time trying not to slip and fall with each step. While we were down in a valley, we crossed a stream into Massachusetts! It’s been rewarding crossing state lines so quickly lately. There was another climb and decent up and down Mt Race, and then yet another climb up Mt Everett before the trail went down to the shelter. Before the final climb up

Mt Everett, a mountain described as “grueling from either side,” we were feeling especially nervous about the terrain since it was almost dark. Nameless is always the voice of reason and he made the smart decision to stop at the tent site in the valley. Better safe than sorry. While I knew it was the right call in the moment, I was very grumpy about setting up my soaking wet tent. While I moped about the situation, Nameless put up the tent (we’ve consolidated to one tent to cut down on weight since we don’t tent that often) and put his extra tarp inside the tent so the bottom wasn’t wet. The tent walls seemed to dry a little bit in the wind, but it was still not an ideal place to sleep. I got in my sleeping bag pretty unhappy, but I knew I only had about 14 hours before I would be in a car and rescued from all the elements of the trail.
I had plans to meet my friend Lauren at route 7 near Great Barrington at 11am, and since we stopped a little short on Friday night we had to get an earlier start this morning. The climb up and down Mt Everett wasn’t too bad, but it would have been much worse in the dark and on tired legs. We passed by Jug Head, a neat lookout, and then had another very steep mile of downhill. We saw a bunch of big groups out on the trail since it’s a holiday weekend. The last 4 miles were pretty flat and we walked quickly so we weren’t late to meet Lauren. I was so happy to get to the road and take off my shoes. My feet have been wet for the last 3 days and it was getting very uncomfortable.

I am currently in Fairfield, CT with Lauren and am exciting for some time off the trail. We’re going to get mani/pedis this afternoon, then we’re having a BBQ with a big group of friends. Tomorrow I’m heading to New Jersey for a wedding, and I’ll be back on the trail Monday afternoon.

Happy Memorial Day weekend!

-KG/Brightside

Days 76-83: Smiles Before Miles 

I learned a big lesson this week: a plan is only good if you can deviate from it. We kept making plans to hike lots of long days, only to realize that those long days were taking the fun out of hiking. Smiles before miles! In the end, we made new plans and everything worked out!
On Wednesday (May 11) I left the shelter first to head out for a 30.4 mile day, knowing that I could use the head start. Water sources were sparse throughout the day so I was carrying 2 liters of water, which is about 4.4 pounds. After a short downhill from the shelter, the trail crossed a road at Lehigh Gap, and then started back uphill. The uphill quickly became rocky, getting rockier with every step, and the rocks getting bigger the further up I went. I went from walking to climbing over giant boulders as the trail proceed to go steeply up the rocks. At one point I had to toss my trekking poles up ahead of me because I needed to use both hands to climb up the rocks. Sections like this one would be really fun for a day hike, but they’re a little less fun during a long day of hiking while carrying a 25 pound backpack. That first climb took me a while, but I found my rhythm again once I was up on the ridge and tried to keep a good pace. The rest of the day was very flat, but also very rocky. Generally the rocks were small but very pointy, and they covered about 70% of the trail. When I first encountered these rocks, I felt cautious and nervous about going too fast over them in fear of twisting an ankle. However, I reached a point on Thursday where I found it easier to hop/run through the rocks. Being lighter on my feet, I didn’t feel the pressure of the pointy rocks as much. About 20 miles into the day as the 4 of us sat for a few minutes to snack, we were not excited about another 10 miles of hiking and getting to the shelter in the dark. We were very close to Wind Gap, PA so decided to stop early and get a motel room in town. The Travel Inn did not have great reviews, but we figured it would be fine. This place was definitely the worst hotel/motel I’ve stayed in so far on the trail. It was also $90 for a room with 2 beds for the 4 of us, which seemed pricey considering how run down it was. It seemed like everyone else at the motel was a prime ant residence. If I hadn’t been with 3 guys, I probably would not have felt safe staying there. Nonetheless, the water was hot and there was a Wendy’s across the street, so I couldn’t complain.
The next morning we ended up hiking the 2 miles from town back to the trail, which wasn’t a big deal because we were only going 15.5 miles to Delaware Water Gap. It was another rocky day, but I sucked it up because it was our last full day in Pennsylvania. It was a beautiful day and I had adrenaline knowing I was so close to a new state. Delaware Water Gap, PA was a really cute, quaint town right next to the Delaware river. We got pizza and then went to a motel down the road. We’ve started calling our group “Team Comfort” because when we have the option to stay inside, we’ll take it. This motel was much better, and also had the best shower pressure I have ever experienced. We had to turn the TV volume up when the shower was on because the water was so loud.
Saturday was Nut Shoe’s last day on the trail. He has a summer job as a Summit Steward in the Adirondacks from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Once he’s done working, he will go back up to Maine and hike south back to where he finished hiking on Saturday. It was a bit of a bummer that his last day was pouring rain. However, we were only hiking 11 miles and then Nameless’s mom was picking us up and taking us back to his house in PA for two days off. Cold rain may be my least favorite hiking weather. There was one section of the trial that went around a pond that was extremely rocky and slippery. I imagine that part would have been beautiful on a nicer day. It seemed to get colder and colder as we hiked, and I was soaked to the bone under my rain gear. Around 2pm we got to the Mohican Outdoor Center where we changed into dry clothes before hopping in the car and heading to Nameless’s house.
Our two days off were fantastic and much needed. On Sunday I spent all day on the couch watching TV. It felt great not to be walking. On Monday we went to see Guardians of the Galaxy 2, did our resupply, and then had a nice steak dinner. After 80 days on the trail, I can feel that I’m getting tired, mentally and physically, so I was so happy I got to rest.

 

Nut Shoe drove us back to the trail on Tuesday so he could send us off. It felt weird our foursome would be breaking up. Also, Bear had decided to hike some big days to try and get ahead of Nameless and I because he has to get off the trail for a few days in June for a wedding and doesn’t want to end up too far behind us. Since we didn’t get started until almost 1pm, it seemed like 15 miles was far enough for the day. This was the first day where the bugs were really bad. There were also tons of dog dicks out, and I had to pull a few off of my legs. There were tons of people tented around the shelter when we got there, but there was still room in the shelter for Nameless and I. Going to sleep in the shelter, we were missing the rest of our group.
The forecast for Wednesday was hot, really hot. It was suppose to be up around 90 degrees, and we hoped to hike 25 miles. Both Nameless and I were feeling very drained from the heat, and I kept insisting that we stop and sit for a minute. There wasn’t a ton of water throughout the day, so we were feeling very dehydrated. Around 6pm, we decided to cut our day short at 20 miles. We ended up being the only ones at the shelter that night. Since the heat got the best of us and Thursday was suppose to be even hotter, we thought maybe we should start hiking around 5am to get some miles in before it got too hot.
When my alarm went off at 4am, Nameless and I looked at each other and it was a mural agreement that we wanted to keep sleeping. The sun drained us so much the day before that we needed the extra sleep. We didn’t end up leaving the shelter until 9am. About 8 miles into the day, we stopped at a deli right off the trail for lunch. I got a huge Gatorade, a sand which, and ice cream. I felt much better after having some good food and something cold to drink. The 12 miles after lunch went by quickly, and we got to walk on some beautiful boardwalks during the last two miles. When we got to the road by Vernon, NJ we called a motel just down the road and someone came to pick us up. We ordered pizza, took cold showers, and enjoyed the air conditioning.
The weather is suppose to start cooling down a little bit, and I will be hiking into New York today! I have some friends visiting me on the trail in the coming days and am looking forward to seeing all of them!
-KG/Brightside

Days 67-75: Pennsylvania Rocks 

After almost 200 miles of hiking in Pennsylvania, I’m still enjoying the state and I’m not sure why it has such a bad reputation….this state rocks! Before starting my hike I had heard rumors about various parts of the trail. The Smokeys are cold and snowy, Virginia is flat (this is NOT true), Pennsylvania is rocky and miserable, etc. While Pennsylvania has had more rocks than other states, they’ve hardly bothered me at all. In fact, I’ve found most of Pennsylvania to be relatively easy because it is so flat. The occasional rock hopping also breaks up the monotony of trekking down a smooth dirt trail. I’ve decided that people like to exaggerate, and that it is best to take what they say with a grain of salt. Since PA hasn’t been too hard, my daily mileage has increased, meaning my time for blogging has decreased. I like to be detailed with my updates, but it’s getting tough to find the time to write (my eyes are struggling to stay open as I write this in my tent), so I apologize if future posts are more brief. This update starts on May 2:
When my alarm went off at 7:30am in the hotel, I was awoken from one of the deepest sleeps I’ve had on the trail. That may have been the 4th night since I started hiking where I slept through the entire night. I finally got out of bed and packed up, then Jenna and I ate breakfast at the hotel. Jenna took me back to the cabin where the guys were, and I said goodbye to her so she could get on the road and head back to school. We had decided to slack pack 18 miles that day, which was a nice way to ease back into hiking after our long 45 mile day. I had ordered a pair of wool toe socks made for hiking that Jenna brought me, and my feet were so much happier in these socks. They prevented my toes from rubbing together so that irritation was eliminated. Since we didn’t have our full packs we cruised through the day quickly and we were back at the cabin around 5pm. Wade’s parents are from Vermont, and they brought an incredible selection of beer with them, including Sip of Sunshine and Heady Topper, two of my all time favorite IPAs. We had burgers, hot dogs, and pasta salad for dinner. My appetite had gotten a little smaller for a few days, but I knew I needed to keep eating a lot to have energy for all the hiking. We stayed up a little later than I wanted, but we were having too much fun for me to go to bed. 
On Wednesday morning we had a delicious breakfast of bacon, eggs, pancakes, and donuts. All those nights indoors and real meals really spoiled us! We hit the trail a little before 10am, planning to do a bit over 26 miles to a shelter. I hiked with Nameless all day, and for once in a long time we really took our time, stopping at shelters, chatting with other hikers, and enjoying the beautiful day. The shelters we passed were beautiful, one of them even had landscaping and potted plants! A highlight of the day was passing the official halfway point! It’s a bittersweet feeling to know that I’m over halfway through this journey. I’m so proud of how far I’ve come, and I can’t believe that I’m now closer to Katahdin than to Springer. Just a few miles after the halfway point, the trail passed by the Pine Grove Furnace General Store, home of the famous half gallon challenge. It is tradition for thru hikers to try to eat a half gallon of ice cream at this point. Unfortunately, we are a little early in the season and the store is only open on weekends until mid May, so it was closed and we were unable to get any ice cream. I don’t think I could have eaten that much ice cream anyways so I wasn’t too upset, but the guys were pretty bummed. The terrain was very flat all day, so my body didn’t feel that tired at the end of 26 miles. The four of us were the only ones at the shelter that night, and I loved having the space to ourselves. We’ve met some great people in other shelters, but it was nice to be able to spread out and be as loud as we wanted without worrying about other people. I got to the shelter sort of late so cooked dinner in the dark, then went straight to sleep.
Waking up to the sun rising has been a great part of the trail. I peaked out of my sleeping bag from the shelter on Thursday morning and could tell it was going to be a beautiful day. We took our time getting ready because we were only hiking 12 miles to get to Boiling Springs, PA. There were a couple rocky sections, but nothing too tricky. The last few miles into town were flat and went though some big grassy fields and pastures, and those views assured us we were in Pennsylvania. When we got to Boiling Springs we went to a tavern in town for lunch and beers. I called a hotel just a few miles away and someone came and picked us up so we could spend the night. We got to the hotel before 5pm and after I showered I immediately laid down and dozed off for a while. I was way more tired than I was hungry and could have easily stayed in bed until the morning, but I knew I would regret not having dinner. Lucky there was a restaurant attached to the hotel so we wandered over there for some food. They had a wing special going on so I got wings and a soft pretzel. I ate as much as I could but felt like I still had half the food on my plate. All I wanted to do was lay back down. I suppose after 1100 miles it’s okay to feel that tired. 
I didn’t sleep very well overnight, so I was unhappy when my alarm went off at 7am. I hopped in the shower quickly to see if that would wake me up, but then found my way back into bed. Usually I’m the one in the group making the plan and deciding when to leave, but on that morning I was waiting for someone else to tell me when it was time to get ready. Just before 9am Nut Shoe said he was almost ready, so I pulled myself together and packed up in about 15 minutes. There was coffee and muffins for breakfast, and then the hotel owner, a delightful older woman, drove us back to the trail in Boiling Springs. It was pouring rain as we started walking, and the wind was gusting. Luckily it wasn’t too cold, and the terrain for 90% of the day was flat. The only bad part about the flat trail was that rain water was pooling and there were times where I was walking through water ankle deep. The rain let up after an hour or two, and the four of us walked together for most of the day. About 2.5 miles from the shelter, my guide book had warned me that the trail got very rocky. However, I didn’t seem to think that warning was necessary and the rocks really weren’t bad at all. I was at the shelter around 6pm after 21.6 miles, and was happy to be at camp earlier than many previous nights. I made mac and cheese for dinner but Bear had to help me finish it because my appetite still seemed to be down. I was happy to be in my sleeping bag just after 8pm since I’ve been going to bed way too late over the last week. With all this walking, getting enough sleep is important!
Looking ahead in our guide books, we were noticing that the shelter spacing was becoming a bit far. On Saturday we had the option of hiking to shelters either 8 miles, 15 miles, or 33 miles away. 33 is a little further than I like to walk in a day, but 15 at this point feels pretty short. The guys wanted to shoot for 33, so that was the plan for the day. The trail went right through Duncannon, PA just 3.5 miles into the day, and we grabbed some snacks at a gas station in town for the next 3 days. There’s a well known bar in town called the Doyle that I had heard stories about before I started my hike, but at 9am I was not really in the mood for a beer. The guys needed to pick up packages at the post office, and then we were on our way. Leaving town the trail was on the road through some neighborhoods for about 2 miles, and then we crossed a bridge over the Susquehanna River. It was cool and cloudy in the morning which is great for hiking, but when it started raining I got chilly. Noticing the time and the distance remaining I was doubtful about making it all 33 miles. We stopped at the shelter 15 miles away and decided to call it quits for the day, even though it was just after 2pm. I was thrilled to spend the afternoon in the shelter instead of walking another 18 miles in the cold rain over slippery rocks. I got in my sleeping bag and napped for a while in the afternoon, soaking up the time off my feet. I got out of of my sleeping bag for a bit to make dinner but was back in it by 7:30 ready for bed. 
Since we stopped short on Saturday, we needed to push for a 30 mile day on Sunday. I’m very aware of the speed at which I walk and I know it takes me all day to walk over 30 miles. I hit the trail at 7am to get a head start while the guys were packing up. It was another gloomy rainy day, and I was trying to think about anything besides the 30 miles ahead of me. Most of the terrain was very flat in the morning, and none of the rocks were too bad. Nameless caught up to me, and we stopped at a shelter 18 miles into the day for a quick lunch. When it’s chilly out, I don’t like to stop for more like 20-30 minutes otherwise I get too cold. We made a plan to do another 13.5 miles for the day. There were some section hikers in the shelter where we were having lunch, and they thought we were crazy for hiking over 30 miles. While it is a lot, people need to keep in mind that we’ve been doing this for nearly 1200 miles, so we can handle a lot more walking than people out for a week or weekend. With a few miles to go, my toes on one foot were starting to bother me. I realized that my feet were swelling from all the walking and that I needed to go up half a shoe size. I got to the shelter just before dark, made ramen noodles, and called it a night. 
When I slid my feet into my shoes in the morning, I could immediately tell that my feet were going to be unhappy. We planned a 28 mile day into town, and I knew I was going to need to do something about my shoes ASAP. It was another flat day with the occasionally rocky section, but nothing that bothered me too much. The last mile or two into town was very steep, and I was trying as hard as I could to keep my already achy feet from running into the front of my already too small shoes. When we got to the road, we got a ride into Hamburg, PA from one of Nut Shoe’s friends. The hotel in town didn’t have any non-smoking rooms available, so we had to get a smoking room which I was pretty annoyed with since as a non smoker the smell really bothers me. However, after about 2 minutes of the four of us being in the room, all I could smell was our hiker stink. I ordered a pizza, ate as much as I could, and fell asleep before all the guys while the lights and TV were still on.
I needed to resupply and buy new shoes before hitting the trail again on Tuesday morning, so we decided to do a short 15 mile day in order to have time to get our errands done in town. After doing my food shopping at Walmart, I went across the street to Cabelas. I wanted to stick with the same shoe but get a half size bigger. When I didn’t see them in the women’s section, I looked over in the men’s footwear and found the men’s version, and they were on sale! I went from a women’s 9 to a men’s 8.5, and I knew my feet were going to be much happier. We didn’t have a ride back to the trail, and walking the 3 miles back to the trailhead did not sound appealing. Nameless had come to Cabelas with me, and once we were done shopping it was time to find our way to the trail. He joked that we should take an Uber, so I opened the app and gave it a try. To my surprise, it worked and we had a driver on his way! It took him almost 20 minutes to get there, which made us feel sort of bad because our ride was only about 5 minutes, so we tipped him $6 on a $7 ride. It was a perfect cool sunny day for hiking, and my spirits were high. There were two cool vistas during the day, pulpit rocks and the pinnacle. We all hiked together for the last 4 miles of the day, and I set the pace as we cruised down a nice wide section of the trail that looked like an old roadbed. Eckville shelter just off the trail and down a road, and it is actually more of a shed behind a house associated with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. A caretaker lives in the house and tends to the grounds, and he gave us a bowl of potatoes and a bag of chocolate as we were cooking dinner. There was a big group of flip flop hikers already set up in the shelter (they stared hiking north in Harpers Ferry) so we all tented in the yard. Running water and a flushing toilet were available, so I was pleased. It’s amazing how little it takes to make me happy out here.

The soft grass made for a great tenting spot, and my tent felt warm and cozy when I woke up, making it hard to get up. I got a later start and was feeling tired as I hiked uphill from the shelter. Not far into the day I decided to stop at a spring and drink a bunch of water, hoping it would help me feel better. There has been less water than usual on the trial in northern PA so we’ve had to pay extra close attention to the water sources in our guide books to make sure we don’t get stuck without water. This was probably the rockiest day in PA, but it was also very flat. We crossed over knifes edge, an extra rocky section that was pretty cool, and bear rocks, another impressive rock formation with nice views from the top. I was feeling very hungry when I got to the shelter after 24 miles, so I cooked dinner immediately. Still feeling hungry after my freeze dried beef and potatoes, I ate a king size Milky Way (460 calories). 
If things go accordingly I should be out of PA and into New Jersey on Friday morning. We have close to 90 miles planned for the next 3 days, so it is time for some sleep before a big push!
-KG/Brightside 

Days 59-66: Cold Rain and Tired Feet

The breakfast at the Skyland Resort was one of the best breakfasts I have had on the trail. I decided to get two entrees: a stack of blackberry pancakes, and an order of eggs with bacon, toast, and potatoes. We sat by the window in the restaurant enjoying multiple cups of coffee as we looked outside and saw nothing but fog and rain. Around 11am we decided it was probably time to hit the trail. It was about 40 degrees and raining pretty steady. I had accepted the fact that I was going to be cold and wet, and it was my own fault that I didn’t have my rain pants. I was not thrilled about the situation but there was nothing I could do about it, so instead I looked on the bright side and enjoyed the fact that I had less than 11 miles to hike. The first few miles weren’t too bad, but it was really windy at times and although it wasn’t raining too hard, it wasn’t stopping. As I got more and more wet my legs and feet got soaked and I started getting cold. I had to go to the bathroom but did not want to stop considering the weather. As I was thinking about how badly I didn’t want to pop a squat in the rain I came across a parking lot with a bathroom! The only time it’s acceptable to hang out in a bathroom is when you’re hiking in the rain. Halfway through the day I passed a shelter that had a fire going but I didn’t let myself stop because I knew it would be hard to leave once I was somewhere warm and dry. Bear, Nameless, Nut Shoe and myself were the first 4 people in the shelter. We were all soaked so we hung a clothes line in the shelter, although nothing dries out here. Each of us took turns saying “don’t look I’m changing” as we took off our wet clothes and put on dry ones. Over the next few hours a couple more people came and the shelter filled up. We made room for everyone because the conditions were less than ideal for tenting. Since we got in so early I was ready for bed by 7pm and enjoyed laying in my sleeping bag while trying to be optimistic about the weather for the next day.

Monday morning was one of the worst mornings on the trail. I knew as soon as I opened my eyes I was going to have to face another cold wet day. I also knew that sitting in my sleeping bag thinking about how much I didn’t want to get up and hike 23 miles in the rain wasn’t going to make doing it any easier. I grabbed my clothes from the clothesline we had hung in the shelter to find that they felt wetter than they had been when I took them off the night before. Pulling my soaking wet cold muddy leggings up my cold legs was miserable. I cringed as I put my wet socks back on, knowing that there was no point in using a dry pair if they were going to be soaked within a few minutes of walking. The guys usually hike a little faster than me but when the rain comes out I find the energy to hike very fast. I kept up with the guys all morning and we stopped at a wayside after about 7 miles. There was food inside but nowhere to sit. One of the employees was giving me nasty looks as I tried not to drip water on the ground or get mud everywhere, but it was hard to contain the mess that I was in that moment. I did not feel welcome in that wayside, but it was warm and dry inside. We worked up the courage to go back out in the rain, which wasn’t slowing down at all, and we all hiked together for the rest of the day. Our day ended at the Front Royal Hostel, which was just a half mile off the trail. We had heard the hostel wasn’t anything special, but when you’re wet and cold, any place with 4 walls and a shower is a treat. I felt like a whole new person once I was showered and wearing dry clothes. Since we didn’t get to the hostel until after 5pm, we decided to deal with the post office and the grocery store in the morning.

I was so thankful to wake up indoors, dry, and with blue skies outside. The hostel owner had some other people to shuttle, so we agreed to get our shuttle to town afterwards, meaning we didn’t get to the grocery store until about 10:30am. I hit the trail around noon and enjoyed a nice slow pace since the guys were all behind me. As I walked through the Northern boundary of the Shenandoah National Park, I was a little bummed that I didn’t get a single good view while in the park because of weather. However, the fact that the sun was finally out was something that I appreciated so much more after two days of cold rain. It’s strange how different the weather can be from one day to the next. I stopped at a shelter about 10 miles in and had some lunch while I waited for the guys to catch me. We decided to cut the day a little short and just do another 5.5 miles since we got started so late. As we were walking down the side trail to the shelter,we saw tons of people tenting so we were sure that the shelter would be packed. But to our surprise there was no one in it! We were the only NOBO thru-hikers there, but there were a ton of people who had just started SOBO hikes from Harpers Ferry (they all must have wanted to test out their shiny new tents). We chatted with the other hikers and roasted marshmallows around a fire. There was a 5 foot-long black rat snake who was curled up in the wall of the shelter, and while I don’t typically like to sleep with snakes, I was glad to know there would be no mice running around.

I was up just before 6am so decided to get an early start to my 23 mile day. It was really foggy in the morning with some light sprinkles of rain which felt great because it was so humid. We had lunch at a shelter about 13 miles in, and then we began a section of the trail called the “roller coaster.” This is a 13 mile section of the trail that is constantly going straight up and then straight down. During the roller coaster, we hit the 1000 mile sign! It’s hard to believe I’ve walked 1000 miles, and I feel like I just left from Georgia. The day ended at Bears Den Trail Center and Hostel. For $30 I got a bunk in the hostel, a frozen pizza, and a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.

Some days my body feels great, and other days it makes it quite clear that it is tired. Friday was one of those days where my body did not want to walk, but I had about 14 miles that needed to be hiked. It was a hot day and there wasn’t a lot of water, so I was definitely dehydrated. For the last hour of hiking my stomach was cramping up, probably due to lack of water and proper nutrition. When we got to Keys Gap at mile 1014, we walked a minute down the road to a gas station. I grabbed a Gatorade, a Vitamin Water, and an ice cream bar, and after finishing all of that I was feeling better. Nameless has family in Winchester, VA, and they were coming to pick us up for the night. I was started to feel spoiled with all the nights spent indoors! When we got to the house there was a buffet of food ready for us. Once again I went to sleep full, freshly showered, and with a roof over my head.

We were taking a NERO (nearly zero) day on Saturday to rest up for the 4-state challenge (more about this below). After lounging around in the morning and eating a breakfast casserole with a side of donuts it was time to hit the town. I was surprised at how cute downtown Winchester was, especially the walking mall, which is a street closed off to cars filled with shops and restaurants. Since it was a weekend there were a ton of people walking around, and I found myself feeling like my life in this moment is probably so different from all these people out and about enjoying their Saturday. We grabbed some lunch at a Thai restaurant, and then went back to the house to pack up. Nameless’s Uncle then drove us to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) Headquarters in Harpers Ferry, WV. This used to be the actual halfway point, but as the trail has lengthened due to reroutes, the real halfway point is actually further north. However, this place is now considered the “psychological” halfway point, and it is a place you must visit as a thru hiker. When you arrive, you get your picture taken and you get a number so they can keep track of how many people are hiking. I was the 81st NOBO thru hiker to pass through this year (I was number 190 to sign in at the start of the trail for reference). After we were done taking pictures and looking through older photos, we hopped back in the car and went back to Keys Gap. It was close to 6pm when we started hiking, but we only walked about 2 miles to a campsite. This campsite was less than 2 miles from the VA/WV border, so it was the perfect place to “sleep” before the 4-state challenge. The 4-state challenge involves walking through West Virginia, back into Virginia, through all of Maryland, and into Pennsylvania, which is about 45 miles, in 24 hours or less. Nut Shoe and Nameless had been planning to attempt this since they decided to thru hike, and I’m always up for a challenge, so our group of 4 was committed to doing this somewhat crazy challenge. I got in my tent around 8pm and tried to get some sleep, although I was feeling anxious about the day ahead of me so I didn’t get much sleep.

When my alarm went off at 12:01am, I was both sleepy and excited. I packed up in the dark, and just before 1am our group was ready to hit the trail. Bear and Nut Shoe were quickly out of sight, somehow still hiking just as fast as always despite the dark. Nameless and I had our headlamps and made our way down the trail in the dark. Somehow we missed the sign at the WV/VA boarder, but since it was dark out and we were focused mostly on not tripping on the rocks below our feet I’m not too surprised. We crossed the Potomac River, and then ended up on a lovely canal path. While on the canal path, we saw a few people with headlamps running/walking towards us. This seemed a little strange since it was 3am. A few minutes later we came across a tent near a parking lot that was set up as an aid station for a 100 mile race that was going on, which explains the people we saw. Knowing that those people we saw were around mile 93 of their 100 mile race made our 45 mile day of hiking seem a little less intense. The trail went through Harpers Ferry, but since it was the middle of the night there wasn’t much to see. Near Harpers Ferry there is a 0.2 mile side trail to the ATC Headquarters, but since we had gone the day before knowing that it would not be open when we crossed by in the middle of the night we continued on. Around 5am I was feeling very sleepy and was having trouble keeping my eyes open. I needed it to get light out so my body would know that it was time to be awake. After 14 miles we got to a park with bathrooms and water. I stopped and made a cup of coffee and had some snacks, knowing that food and hydration would be key to making it through the very long day. The next 16 miles were mostly flat and easy going. I was loving Maryland so far! My next major stop was 30 miles into the day, and I was still feeling good but my feet were starting to feel the effects of walking for about 12 hours. My toes were feeling swollen and they were rubbing together, causing tiny blisters to form. I drank a 5-hour energy shot and ate a bunch of food, although my appetite was surprisingly low for how much activity I was doing. Around 2pm, Nameless and I set off to start the last 15 miles of the day (Bear and Nut Shoe were about 20 minutes ahead of us). At about mile 37, I started to hit a wall. Every inch of my body was feeling sore, and my feet were aching worse than ever before. I had a moment around mile 38 were all I wanted to do was sit down and cry, but I knew that wasn’t going to help the last 7 miles go by any faster. With 5 miles to go, I was in the most physical and mental pain I had been in on the trail. I think because I have run a few marathons, I have experience with situations like this where I wonder why in the world I am voluntarily putting my body through extreme pain. I knew how I was feeling was only temporary, and once I was finished I would be happy that I pushed through the discomfort and the feelings of accomplishment would take over. So I sucked it up and kept moving, taking it one step at a time. All of a sudden I felt a blister pop on my toe, and with every step I felt a sharp sting as the freshly popped blister drained. I had to stop and tape my toe (I started the day with 3 toes taped and ended with 6 toes taped), but it hardly felt any better because my feet were in a general state of absolute misery. There were some horrible boulder fields during the last hour or two of the day, and I was cursing under my breath at whoever decided to route the trail through all these rocks. Just as it was starting to get dark, the rocks dwindled and the trail became soft dirt again. When we hit Pen Mar Park around 8pm, I knew we were within minutes of the Mason Dixon line, which is also the MD/PA state line and the finish line to the 4-state challenge (mile 1064). I could hear Bear and Nut Shoe as I came around the corner and saw the sign for the Mason Dixon line. I had done it. 4 states and 45 miles later, I could finally stop walking. Nut Shoe’s parents, who live in Vermont, had driven down to meet us at the end of this epic adventure, so their car was waiting for us at a road just 0.1 miles from the state line. They have friends who have cabin nearby, so we went there for the night. I was so tired I hardly had an appetite, but I got some food in me and enjoyed a cold beer before taking a shower to wash 45 miles of sweat and dirt off of me. It was approaching midnight and I had been up for almost 24 hours, so I got in bed and was asleep in seconds.

Sunday night was one of probably 3 nights since starting the trail where I did not wake up in the middle of the night. I stayed in bed until 9am, and then got up for breakfast. My sister Jenna goes to school in PA, about 2 hours from where I was on the trail, and she was driving down to meet me for the day. She picked me up at the cabin and we drove to a hotel in Chambersburg, PA. It was so great to see her and have her shuttle me around all day to run errands. I’ve been dying to see the new Beauty and the Beast movie since it came out in March, so we went to see it before going to dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings. Back at the hotel I took a bubble bath, deep conditioned my hair, shaved my legs, put lotion on my entire body, and then got into bed wearing the clean PJs that Jenna brought me. I needed this day of rest!

Out on the trail, Pennsylvania is often referred to as “Rocksylvania” due to the extremely rocky terrain. Many people consider this their least favorite state due to the rocks, so wish me good luck as I traverse these 250 miles of the trail!

-KG/Brightside