I am a wanderer—sometimes physically, sometimes in imagination. Somedays I wonder where this nomadic, gypsy gene came from. And then I realize my mom has always enjoyed travel—with her family, with her husband, or alone. I guess it is no surprise that the wandering hasn’t stopped with me. My daughters have been well trained and continue the tradition: exploring the world near and far, physically and in imagination.
My oldest daughter recently sent me this poem. It describes our family well…
Among Women By Marie Ponsot
What women wander? Not many. All. A few. Most would, now & then, & no wonder. Some, and I’m one, Wander sitting still.
My small grandmother Bought from every peddler Less for the ribbons and lace Than for their scent Of sleep where you will, Walk out when you want, choose Your bread and your company.
She warned me, “Have nothing to lose.”
She looked fragile but had High blood, runner’s ankles, Could endure, endure. She loved her rooted garden, her Grand children, her once Wild once young man. Women wander…As best they can.
It is a happy serendipity when two hobbies can be combined. I relax by being outdoors or by making time for creating vibrant art. Gradually, I’m figuring out ways to combine these two hobbies. (Sometimes I work at the dining room table. More often I head to a coffee shop or to my favorite fireside seat at the local library.)
Taking hundreds of photos on our backpacking adventure on the Appalachian Trail this past fall felt reasonable at the time. However, every time I looked at those files on my computer, I was overwhelmed with how to best organize and use this many photos. For the first time ever, I used a scrapbooking “recipe” to streamline the process. (This means I used one basic layout, with different papers and colors and occasional variation in the orientation of the design.) Here are the pages I made to summarize our trip:
These first two spreads highlight the beauty found along the Appalachian Trail:
Title: “Walk in Beauty: for the one who has eyes to see…LET her SEE!” Journaling: We both enjoyed being surrounded by beauty and pointing out new discoveries to each other. Whether it was miles of mountain views, jumbled boulders, a dancing stream or tiny wonders, it all became scope for imagination. When we quit noticing nature’s beauty, it was time to get off the trail!
Title: “all of nature is AFLAME: Be fearless in the pursuit of what Sets Your Soul on Fire!” Journaling: We loved the peace and tranquility of hiking in the cool, green woods. But the surprising “pop” of bright oranges, reds and yellows made our hearts sing with joy at the brilliant, flaming colors. Quote: “Give me a spark o’ Nature’s fire, That’s a’ the learning I desire.” (Robert Burns)
Whenever possible, daughter and I chose to stay in shelters. That was less work, we met more people, and it kept us dry in bad weather. However, we also enjoyed the times we camped in solitude at official camping places or in the woods between shelters too far apart for us to reach in one day of hiking.
Title: “SHELTER: [shel’ ter] something below, behind, or within which a person is protected from adverse conditions” Journaling: There are more than 250 Backcountry Shelters along the A.T. for use by hikers. Most have only 3 walls, come in a variety of sizes & styles, have a privy, and are near a water source. Accent: “Haven, Hideaway, Protection, Refuge, Sanctuary: No matter what you call it, it’s a WELCOME SIGHT at the end of the day!”
Title: “Happy Campers on the Appalachian Trail: “inTENTS” adventure in the WOODS” Journaling: We enjoyed the social aspects of staying in shelters. Chatting around a dancing campfire was a bonus…but there was something special about being alone in our little tent, all cozy and comfy, away from everyone!”
The next pair of spreads celebrates the partnership between my daughter and I on our hiking adventure. As I have commented in other posts, I wasn’t sure how well this would work. However, we learned to use our strengths to balance the other’s weaknesses. I was frustrated that when we took selfies, I couldn’t figure out how to turn off “beauty face” so edges were all blurry. But I like how it became illustrations for a dreamin’ page!
Title: “Hiking Partners: my mini me” Journaling: We are well matched. We both love to be outdoors. We find beauty—and whimsy—around us. We enjoy meeting other hikers at the shelters. Daughter has more physical strength & agility. I have more mental determination. She sang songs to life me up. I made her smile when she was grumpy. good partners Accent: “Storyseeker (53) and Andowen (13): 1st AT adventure 9-7 to 10-21-16”
Title: “dreaming of the Trail: Nothing stops the Dreamers: fairytale fun” Journaling: Obstacles or Opportunities 1-meandering trail, 2-beware the “roller coaster,” 3-singing in the rain, 4-fern “fairy crowns,” 5-mountaintop exhilaration Accent: “wandering in the woods: fall 2015”
The final two spreads focus on my experience and my daughter’s experience of this adventure. For me, this trip was a way of expressing that I am moving from a focus on family to making time for me and my dreams. For my daughter, our adventure became her favorite imagination-land come to life! (She is a huge fan of Lord of the Rings and other fantasy books and movies.)
Title: “it’s time for ME! the middle passage: …if you can’t leave ‘em behind…BRING ‘em with YOU!…” Journaling: Time for DREAMS to Come True I’m tired of waiting. I’m ready to reach for dreams—long backpacking trips, making art, writing stories. With just one child still at home, she can join my epic adventures! Accents: “finally finding my own way,” “go into the world, explore, LIVE,” and “free yourself”
Title: “nature girl—wild child—forest fairy: andowen” Journaling: Anna has always loved being outdoors. 6 weeks of backpacking on the Appalachian Trail took this to a whole new level! As an equal to everyone out there, she gained confidence & had FUN! Accent: “Explore”
What are YOUR favorite hobbies? And how can you combine those interests with adventures you pursue?
It is midwinter in the Heartland—gray, dismal, cold, and rainy. It is definitely time to ESCAPE! A warm, sunny beach sounds lovely, but we are longing to return to the woods. In consideration of Daughter’s recent birthday, we have decided to make a brief trip to Middle Earth. What? You didn’t think that was a real place? I assure you, if you listened in on conversations around our house, you might change your mind. Daughter certainly talks as if it were true.
Daughter’s trail name while backpacking the Appalachian Trail last fall was “Andowen,” based on an elven name from Middle Earth. When hearing the explanation of her name, fellow hikers told her about a “Hobbit House” for rent at a nearby campground. Andowen was immediately certain that we haaaaaaadddd to go stay overnight. She was very disappointed that I wasn’t interested in checking out the rumors. My arguments that we already had non-refundable reservations in nearby Harpers Ferry didn’t sway her. Neither did the fact that there was full resupply available in Harpers Ferry but only convenience stores near the campground. I’ll spare you the details of the whining, the begging, and the tears which failed to change my mind.
Fast forward to our upcoming trip to visit friends on the East Coast for a few days. A quick phone call to the campground and a look at the bank balance confirmed that an overnight stay at the Hobbit House is feasible. The forecast says it will be cold and cloudy. But we won’t notice. We will be surrounded by woods and will be basking in legend.
Don’t worry if we disappear for a while—
Middle Earth is calling and we must go!
(Photos of Hobbit House from website for Treehouse Camp–check it out HERE)
Just like the main character in Judith Viorst’s classic children’s book, we had a day where everything was frustrating and we just wanted to quit. On this particular day, we were attempting a longer than usual distance for us which made it even more challenging to continue putting one foot in front of the other. In talking with other hikers, these are common feelings during the first few weeks of a long distance hike until one’s mind and body both strengthen…
I went to sleep in the Ed Garvey Shelter but the owls were so noisy I didn’t sleep all night. When I got out of my sleeping bag this morning it was really cold and by mistake I slipped on the fancy stairs and hurt my broken toe and I could tell it was going to be a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
At breakfast my daughter had her favorite breakfast drink and another hiker fixed an omelet rehydrated meal that smelled yummy but my breakfast bars had been crushed to crumbs so small they couldn’t hold the peanut butter. I think I’m gonna quit hiking and go on vacation in Tahiti.
When it was time to leave, one hiker was already packed up and saying good byes and my daughter was still slowly sipping her hot chocolate. I said, “I could use some help.” I said, “this stuff won’t possibly all fit back in my pack.” I said, “we are always the last to leave.” No one even answered. I could tell it was going to be a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
When we finally got on the trail, my daughter hurried ahead and took the lead. When I wanted a break, she said I walked too slow. When I looked at the map, she said I was ignoring the side trail to an interesting overlook. Who needs overlooks? I could tell it was going to be a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
I could tell because when we finally took a break and got our snacks out of our packs, I dropped my bag and the M&Ms fell on the ground and my daughter said I was obviously not a long-distance hiker because I didn’t choose to eat dirt-covered M&Ms. I said, “I hope the next time you open your pack your Snickers bar falls out and lands on the beach in Tahiti.”
She still had dried mandarins in her fruit mix and pop tarts in her snack bag and a day hiker gave her a bottle of flavored water. I had only peanuts and crumbly granola bars left for snacks and plain spring water that wasn’t even cold anymore. It was a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
That’s what it was because I was already exhausted and we weren’t even halfway through the downhill climb. My daughter was still full of energy and we met a trail-maintainer going the other way who climbed up the rocks like a mountain goat. “The ‘Roller-Coaster’ is a few days from here and it’s even harder than this,” he said. “Next week,” I said, “I’m going to Tahiti.”
On the way down the steep mountainside, I was afraid I was going to slide off the edge of the trail and there were so many rocks that even the tree roots had to wrap around them and the path kept going down and down forever. My knees started aching and my broken toe hurt so bad even ibuprofen didn’t help. I started crying and then that squirrel up in the tree laughed at me so hard he dropped the nut he was carrying and it almost hit me on the head.
I am having a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day I announced. No one even answered.
When we finally got to where the Appalachian Trail follows the flat C&O Canal towpath, it was boring. The trees all looked the same and my pack was so heavy I couldn’t skip and I was tired of walking. My daughter thought the turtles sunning themselves on logs were cute but all I noticed was how disgusting the scummy water smelled. She said the whitewater rapids of the Potomac River were beautiful but the glinting sun hurt my eyes. I tried calling my husband when we took a break but the reception was bad. I think I called Tahiti by mistake. When I finally got through, it was so static-y that my husband suggested I try again later when there was better coverage in town.
When we finally got to Harper’s Ferry, the outfitter didn’t have the small fuel canister I wanted and the meal my daughter ordered at the café tasted better than mine. I thought I knew the way to the hostel but we missed the trail and had to turn around. (Who puts the white blazes used to mark the way on lampposts and walls?!) I was so tired I thought I was dead. But someone said I couldn’t be dead because I was still walking.
It was a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.
Nobody told me the hiker hostel was a zillion miles up the hill from the historic town. When we got there I was excited that there was frozen food available to purchase for supper (no further walking needed). But there were no pepperoni pizzas left and I hate plain cheese pizza. There was a choice between vanilla or cookies-n-cream ice cream and I hate both of them. The shower at the hostel was too hot, I got soap in my eyes, I slipped on the wet bathroom floor and all the other hikers had used the thick towels. I hate thin, scritchy towels.
When I went to bed, the mattress was too soft for me to get comfortable and my headlamp batteries had run down so I couldn’t read and somebody was already snoring so loud I couldn’t get to sleep. It has been a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. My daughter says some days are like that. Even in Tahiti.
If you want to read the original book by Judith Viorst, you can find it at your local library or you can buy it HERE.
(Note: We finished this year’s epic hike–filled with good days and a few terrible ones–on October 21. We will continue to post photos and stories for a few more weeks.)
Backpacking the Appalachian Trail in the fall means beautiful views and bright colored leaves. No one warns you it also means NUTS: walnuts, hickory nuts, chestnuts, and acorns. The leaves are certainly lovely…but the nuts are maddening!
At first the nuts are fascinating. “Oh look, there’s a walnut!” “Awww, that acorn is so tiny it’s cute!” “Oh look, I’ve never seen an acorn that huuuuuge!” Then irritation mounts, as individual nuts cause problems. “Yuck!”—walnut husks leave big black stains on whatever they touch. Stepping on a nut startles the hiker with a loud “crack!” or could leave a bruise, even through heavy boots. Eventually, those innocent looking nuts become dangerous. When the trail is filled with fallen acorns, walking over them becomes an exercise in keeping ones balance on a slippery, rolling, sliding surface. This is similar to trying to keep a 2 liter bottle of soda upright on the metal rollers at a grocery store checkout lane—easier said than done.
Staying in shelters in wooded areas along the trail has its own challenges in the fall. When a nut falls off an overhanging tree onto the metal roof, it lands with a crack like a rifle shot. At first, the hiker sits up in terror each time, heart pounding with a rush of adrenaline. A windy night sends many nuts onto the roof at the same time, sounding more like machine-gun fire. Yikes! The good news is that after a few nights of interrupted sleep, the exhausted hiker eventually learns to ignore the explosions.
In one area of the trail in Virginia, daughter and I kept seeing spiny green balls. We couldn’t figure out what they were. (We knew our initial impression of lime green baby hedgehogs was unlikely to be correct. HA!) Eventually, we found out these were chestnuts. Yes, nuts from genuine American Chestnut trees which were wiped out by blight more than 100 years ago. Apparently some sturdy roots continue to put out new shoots that grow to as much as 20 feet tall and drop nuts before eventually succumbing once again to the blight.
The combination of critters and nuts is another challenge in the fall. One night daughter and I were woken up by weird noises. It was not the usual able-to-be-ignored “BAM!” followed by “shhhhhhhhh…plop!” as the fallen nut hit the roof then slid down and fell to the ground. This time we heard a “clicking, clacking, skritch, scratch” sound. Suddenly there was an unexpected explosion immediately above our heads! Daughter jumped up and turned on her headlamp. There was an acorn on the top wooden bunk platform. A mouse popped through a hole in the roof, scurried down from the ceiling, grabbed the nut, and climbed back up. It then tried to shove the nut back out through a hole. That didn’t work well as the acorn fell out of its mouth, “BAM!” back onto the platform. Daughter grabbed the nut and threw it outdoors. Whew! We were able to sleep in peace for the rest of the night.
(drawing by Andowen)
The next morning, we hustled through our usual morning routine, in a hurry to get back on the trail. Everything was finally packed. I slid off my camp shoes and tied them to my pack. I put on my first boot and tied it tightly. I shoved my foot into the second boot…oops! Someone left me a gift during the night! (Or else that critter somehow thought my smelly boots made a good pantry for his winter food supply…) That hickory nut soon followed the night-time acorn into the woods.
It’s a nutty world in the fall on the Appalachian Trail. However, as my parents discovered when they left a car parked for a number of weeks in their suburban driveway, it can be just as nutty in the city…
(photo by Bob Fischer)
(Note: we finished this year’s hike on October 21. We continue to post photos and stories from our adventure…)
Many folks assume that spending weeks backpacking the Appalachian Trail will be a solitary experience. That might be true on the Pacific Crest Trail or the Continental Divide Trail. However, during our six weeks on the AT, we were passed by multiple hikers every day. In addition, the only way to experience a solitary night is to camp away from shelters. There was only one night that daughter and I had a shelter completely to ourselves.
As extroverts, we delighted in this level of social interaction. Time alone while hiking balanced nicely with social time. I introduced you to some of our favorite hikers HERE. In today’s post, I want to introduce you to some of the non-hikers we met along the way.
Some folks who help hikers have been thru-hikers themselves. After completing his epic hike (along with his college age son) a few years ago, Scott began searching for a property that he and his wife could turn into a hostel for hikers. They bought a historic home with outbuildings near Front Royal, Virginia. The property had been abandoned for more than a decade. Many would have ignored it as a ruin. Scott and his wife saw the possibilities and are pouring energy and money into restoring the home to its former glory. The hostel is already up and running—a cozy brick cottage which sleeps up to 8 hikers. The big house will eventually hold living quarters for Scott and his wife plus 3 fancy bed & breakfast rooms. Scott is passionate about history and has uncovered many fascinating stories about the lives of those who lived here over the years. (If you are a hiker, definitely stay at the hostel. If you are looking for a B&B, keep an eye for when those rooms open sometime next year! Facebook link HERE )
Some folks have little or no hiking experience but enjoy meeting and helping AT hikers. In two different towns, we paid for someone to shuttle us to another part of the trail. (Phone numbers for these folks are found in trail guides or on lists at visitor centers in towns along the trail.) Debbie saved our trip by letting me avoid a very steep 6 miles of hiking with a broken toe. Sharon drove us to a Walmart on the far side of town to resupply fuel and buy some warm gloves. On a gray rainy day, Shellie took us to a parking area that was a hop, skip, and jump away from a shelter for the night. This also meant we could carry a fellow hiker’s gear so she could “slackpack” a long day of hiking. And then Shellie rescued us the next day and came back to evacuate us to town to more easily meet my sister for a few days off trail during bad storms. (See post HERE)
Other folks are “Trail Angels.” (I explained about “Trail Magic” HERE) In the Shenandoah National Park, we discovered that the campground where we were hoping to spend a zero day was full for the second night. We decided to try to catch a ride and get there a day earlier. Lori talked with us at a picnic area and agreed to give us a lift to the campgrounds. She is from Victoria Island, British Columbia and is traveling with her little trailer for 4 months of exploring the US. She asked a zillion questions which we happily answered. She took our photo to add to her memories of interesting people she meets along the way. We took her photo to remember some of the Trail Angels who helped our trip be easier.
Many folks are easily forgotten—the ones who move to the other side of the street when we are walking in town, the ones who ignore us in park campgrounds, the ones who are unfriendly or unhelpful. The folks who are Hiker Helpers will be remembered for a very long time!
(Note: We finished our hiking for this year on Oct. 21. We continue to share photos and posts from our adventure for the next few weeks.)
While hiking the Appalachian Trail in Shenandoah National Park, we spent days shuffling our way through a thick carpet of leaves covering the trail—shhish, shoosh, crinkle, crackle. It was not a quiet hike! Most of the blanket was made up of brown oak leaves or a variety of golden leaves. We joked about someday being important enough to walk a red carpet…
And then we found a section of trail surrounded by maple trees. Woohoo! Does walking this red carpet prove that we are VIPs?
We are certainly Very Important People to our friends and family. And it could be argued that we are Very Interesting (back)Packers. Just for curiosity I did an internet search for alternate meanings of VIP. Some of these definitions also apply to us:
Value in Partnership – we are in agreement that it was much better to hike with two of us rather than alone.
Ventures in Peace – we both found a new level of peace and contentment while spending our days and nights outside in nature.
Versatile Individual Program – this is the only way to succeed at a long-distance backpacking trip. A common saying along the AT is “Hike your own hike!”
Very Into Pizza – true confession time: after days of trail food, hikers crave a big hot pizza loaded with meat and dripping cheese. A burger and fries runs a close second.
Very Important Princess – haha! We joke that I’m the Queen and daughter is the Princess.
Under any of these definitions, we certainly deserved to walk the red carpet. And yes, we did feel extra special while doing so!
(Note: we finished this year’s hiking adventure on Oct 21. We continue to have posts and photos to share with you for a few more weeks.)
Home-grown music is a significant part of our hiking adventure. Here’s a taste of what we can be heard singing as we walk along…
On misty, foggy mornings, daughter often starts with this song from Lord of the Rings: Edge of Night
We sing this song back and forth when we are having fun and hiking with lots of energy: Hallelu, Hallelu
We sing this one when we are intimidated–facing shifting rocks and clambering over boulders on a trail that is not clearly marked: Psalms 56:3-4, When I Am Afraid
Sometimes I am just DONE and it feels like I can’t possibly take another step. This is when I ask daughter to sing for me. Somehow this song keeps me going: Overcomer
When the footing is hard or we are getting tired, daughter likes to sing this song, and sometimes she changes the lyrics to fit our adventure: Brother
One hostel we stayed in had a piano available for hikers to play. Daughter played a few songs she knows. Then I sat down and played through a book of folk songs. Ahhhh, a wonderful way to relax after a long day of hiking!
In addition to making our own music, there have been a few times that our spirits have been lightened by music by others. One morning I was having a “gray day”–feeling like I was in a fog, with no energy to hike, but having to keep putting one foot in front of the other. We got to the shelter early and found “Hillbilly” settled in for the night. He hesitantly asked if it was okay to play guitar for awhile. He had written wonderful folk songs about growing up in Appalachia. As he sang, I got teary…and eventually the gray lifted and all was right with the world again. Thanks for the music therapy, Hillbilly!
What is your favorite music to get you through tough times or to give you energy? We would love suggestions in the comments for us to check out!
(Note: we finished our adventure on Oct 21, but still have plenty of photos and blog posts to share with you about our epic adventure!)
Both daughter and I are strong extroverts. We enjoy meeting new people and gain energy from talking with others. Let me introduce you to some of the delightful, quirky folks we have met in our first month of hiking the Appalachian Trail.
“By the time [thru-hikers] have been on the trail a month or two…they’ve had their faith in the essential goodness of mankind restored. They’ve learned that every time they see a new hiker coming down the trail, it’s a new friend. They’ve learned that the barriers of age, occupation, and geography mean nothing here.” –Warren Doyle(who has completed the AT 16 times!
Each hiker we meet has a story. When passing another person on the trail it is common to stop long enough to exchange basic info: length of time on trail, goal (thru-hiker or section hiker), and “trail name.” (This is the nickname one is known by while hiking and which one uses when signing the logbook at each shelter. Our names are Story Seeker and Andowen.) When ending the day at the same shelter or campsite, more stories are exchanged…from life stories to hiking info to anecdotes of life on the trail. The “hiker grapevine” is alive and well!
Our first night on the trail we camped beside a couple who had walked in for the night. She is a professional chef, taking a break between positions, wanting to get back to the joy of cooking for others rather than overseeing an entire kitchen. He is a mineral hunter, traveling the world to search for gems and ore to sell to collectors. Fascinating!
Like many long distance hikers, Aaron is in transition in life. He is putting life back together by spending time in nature, playing music, and exchanging stories with others. His metaphorical goal? “finding David’s secret chord that pleased the Lord.”
Magoo retired last year. He and his wife planned to thru-hike, but after just a few days she headed back home, realizing this wasn’t her idea of fun. Magoo switched to doing long distance section hikes to complete the trail over the next few years. We were both amused to find out we are not just from the same city in Ohio, but that he lives only a few blocks from where I grew up!
TomTom is another retired fellow, this time from northern Ohio. He was on the trail for a week to figure out what he needs before attempting a thru-hike next year. Biggest lesson he learned was lighter gear is mandatory! (Note: this is not a typical shelter but is one of the fanciest on the trail! )
Most of the hikers we meet in this area and at this time of year are southbound thru-hikers: couples and individuals who, by now, are a bit weary of the journey. They have their routines down to a science and are usually covering long miles every day.
We have also met a number of section hikers, spending a week or so away from work to complete another piece of the Appalachian Trail. We shared stories, encouraged each other, and giggled late into the night with K&K, two lacrosse-moms on their first backpacking adventure. We only spent one night together at a shelter since we were heading different directions…but we were thrilled to hear from them a week later to learn they successfully met their goal.
Daughter and I have been pleased to keep running into Blaze on our trip. He hikes longer days so each time we say goodbye we expect we will never see him again. But he has taken more zero days than us so we keep catching him. The first time we met, he patiently taught daughter how to make a good campfire (which he does morning and evening for cooking. ) He talks Lord of the Rings and fantasy with daughter and life challenges with me. He is a Brooklynite who is hiking south to Georgia from NYC, then plans to turn around and hike the entire trail back to Maine, then walk back south to home in Brooklyn. (He estimates this will take a year or so. ) Like many hikers, this is a transition time to figure out the “what’s-next” of life for him.
Finally, I want to introduce you to Beetle. We spent a zero-day together at a hiker hostel on a rainy day…followed by evacuating off the trail together due to severe weather. She and I have enjoyed learning the similarities in our life stories. She and daughter take delight in teasing each other…and trying to stump each other with riddles. She started as a “flip-flop” thru-hiker (start in middle headed north to Maine, return to middle and complete hike south to Georgia). Unfortunately she ended up off-trail because of an injury. She won’t complete the thru-hike, but is back on the trail, hiking to complete another long section before winter. Hopefully, we will keep in contact back in real-life!