AT day 39 or 40 – lessons from the green tunnel

I’m 1.3 miles from the NH-VT border, waiting for the rain to let off a bit, eating pastries and yogurt at the Co-op in Hanover. 

The trail across the end of NH was nothing but a series of delights – Squishy paths of soft needles, no rocks, no roots. Then a mile or two through private fields under the sun, followed by a tunnels of black berries and grapes (the grapes aren’t ready yet) and a boardwalk above a small forests of cat tails, then back into the forest. The miles dissappeared under my torn up Cascadias like they were nothing at all.  

Last night I slept at the edge of an open field to watch the meteor shower.  But I only saw a few deer and one firefly. I was asleep before the shooting stars show began.  

I was dreading the green tunnel, but so far, it’s a wide airy tunnel – a very different kind of forest then up north. I can actually see between the trees and the sun can find me here and there on the path. Also,  the trees here love being hugged, they’re not grumpy and jaded like up north. We’ve had some good conversations. It’s nice to be alone. Trees are shy,  they tend to not speak to hikers in group.  Or maybe they do,  but no one listens. 

I made it to Hanover in 2 days,  again faster than I expected.  So this morning I purposely slowed down to enjoy the forest for the last few miles before town. There were fun messages everywhere.  

First I met a leaf that wouldn’t fall.  It stood on its edge,  oscillating back and forth but never fully laying down. “How do you do that? ” I asked it, out loud.  “Why aren’t you falling? ” I suspected a magician’s thread so I wrapped my pole above it and sure enough, the leaf flew up. I laughed triumphantly and we danced in circle for a few minutes.  Nobody saw me. I left the leaf suspended on a branch a few feet of trail so it can have a better view.  

Then,  this tree happened. 

Way to stand out,  Tree! Grow your own growth. You don’t need to fall in line. 

A mile later,  this cat tail greeted me by the side of the trail. 

Just like that.  That cat tail doesn’t care that there’s no swamp around. It’s just gonna grow in the middle of the forest and stand tall and proud, certain of its right to be exactky what it is, where it is.

I want to be like that leaf,  and that tree,  and that cat tail. 

And now that I think about it,  I’m not even sure it’s called “cat tail”. But in the spirit of this post, I’ll call it whatever I want.  

The rain stopped.  It’s time to go to Vermont!

AT day 35 – the Whites – Attitude adjustment.

​AT Trail journal. Day 35. New hampshire. 

I know I haven’t written in a while, but, after Maine, I had nothing nice to say and a lot to process. Maine temporarily broke me, mentally and physically. I needed a serious attitude adjustment. In fact, I needed a complete overall. Who was this Bobcat who was forcing, enduring, complaining and dreading the trail? Thru-hiking was never before a task to accomplish, nor a checkbox on a list of adventures or a bucket  list, it was, and is, an honor and a privilege. 

Something had to shift. 

Many miles and moons ago, before the PCT, a loved one once told me “If you ever feel like you want to quit the trail, take three town zeros,  then get back on the trail for three more days. If you still want to quit then, call me, I’ll talk you out of it.” The last resort option is no longer available to me,  so I made the most out of the first two. 

I took three zeros in North Conway, surrounded by a tribe of loving friends and mountains I know and trust. I slept in my own bed in the back of the truck and gorged on fresh, organic, local vegetables and grass-fed meat. I snuck in free yoga classes and didn’t even look at my gear. My mind was completely off trail. I allowed myself the space to imagine I might just stay in North Conway, accept I might not walk the AT after all, then finally admit I actually didn’t have choice. 

Some dreams hold us captive like a tiger’s jaw. Even if they hurt, there’s no getting out, and struggling only makes them clamp  tighter. In North Conway, I relaxed in the jaw. I made myself limp and maleable. And I listened.  On or off trail,  I believe no experience pointless, so I sat with my trail malaise, right where the fangs contact the skin, and asked my body what ailed it. 

“Entrapment”, it said. I felt trapped on the AT. While in Maine, I blamed my claustrophobia on the opaque canopy – the “green roof”. But when I scratched a little deeper, I realized the trail weighed on me like a job – get up at dawn, study the map to determine the miles to the next shelter, keep head down and put in the time to get there, eat lunch and dinner with “coworkers” – people working on the same goal, then go “home” to the tent, and repeat, every day. 

Scratch still deeper. Right before the PCT, I quit a PhD, committed to six weeks of discipline to become a yoga instructor and navigated an all-consuming, difficult love relationship. Right before the AT, what was I doing? That’s right –  whatever the hell I wanted! Single and free in the wide open Sedona desert. So the first trail gave me more freedom than my pre-trail life, while the second took some away. I think the shelter-miles-driven mentality is a good segue way to trail life for people coming from a mainstream structured existence. Nothing wrong with it. It just isnt where I come from. So, I stopped all accounting. I hiked the Whites alone, with no concept of time or miles.  I got up when I had slept enough,  ate when I was hungry,  lingered where it was pretty,  stopped walking when my legs asked and a good camp (i.e. with a view and away from people) appeared. With the added solitude,  I talked to the trees and observed the forest with a friendly mind again and slipped into a natural state of flow I recognized as my own. I felt happy again.  

With my natural flow restored, the next ailment surfaced.  I hiked the PCT like all the other thru-hikers,  on a steady diet of Ramen, Pasta Sides, Pop tarts and M&ms. Common trail wisdom claims “you can’t walk a long trail unless you like junk food.” I lost twenty pounds of upper body muscle on the PCT and slept for eleven days after Canada. “That’s just what the trail does.” 

Well, apparently, my body doesnt care about trail wisdom. As early as my first night in the Whites, on top of North Carter, it refused to digest the Pasta Sides dinner I fed it. It gagged on M&ms and frowned at the sight of cheap summer sausage. I climbed up and over the Wild Cats on a growling stomach and up Mt. Washington fueled only by nuts and seeds. Luckily, my friend Moss met me at the summit with a ham and cheese croissant and a giant oatmeal raisin cookie. That’s some good magic right there! I got it then: I must eat real food. I don’t know how the whole “trail diet” started or if it became the norm because of low cost and weight, but at this point, I’d rather be unable to finish the trail because I ran out of funds then because I am depressively malnourished. A few texts from the summit later, my trail angel Sally had arranged to pick me up at Crawford Notch and bring me back to my truck for yet another zero in North Conway, a day of food bag adjustment. 

The next afternoon, after a leisure breakfast and yoga morning, and in the temporary company of the lovely Laura,  I returned to the trail loaded with five days worth of whole food. My pack was bulging with bean thread noodles, miso paste,  deli meat, fresh green beans, dark chocolate, homemade cookies, dense bakery bread, coconut oil, banana chips, bee pollen, indian spices, etc. My pack was heavier with five days of real food than it had been with eight days of “hiker food”. I had accepted I’d be slower.

But, a strange thing happened then. Not only was I suddenly excited for every upcoming trail meal (a new experience), I also flew over Franconia ridge,  the Kinsmans and Moosilauke. I really didn’t mean to. I meant to savor every exposed ridge,  360 view, every step on my beloved Whites. But my legs felt so strong that pushing up vertical rocky paths was fun.  And I did linger plenty,  and stealth camped on exposed ridges under the stars. But still, I landed in Glencliff effortlessly and the Whites, reputed to be some of the hardest terrain on the AT, were over in a blink – three days, three sets of mountains. I arrived in Gencliff with no soreness and still two days of food (which I didn’t need because Legion and Sweets, the Hiker’s Welcome caretakers and friends of mine, have been spoiling me with fancy grilled sandwiches and cooked breakfasts). Whole food hiking – I’m a believer!

So, that’s where I’m at now.  I took two zeros to soak in the Legion-Sweets hospitality, for a total of eight zeros on the AT so far, more than I took on the entire PCT. No miles, no schedule, no worries. Georgia isn’t going anywhere.  

I’ve said it before,  I’ll say it one more time now that I’m getting a glimpse of how deep that statement runs: this is a different trail, and I’m a different person. Officially, all bets are off. I get back in the green tunnel tomorrow with a heavy bag of good food and a commitment to solo,  unstructured roaming. 

Haha. I think I’ve got it all figured it out. Do you hear the Universe laughing?  Yep. Me too, me too.

AT day 27. Please don’t step on the fish.

​[glossary at bottom]

Maine is over. Alleluia! 

I read somewhere that 50% of sobos quit before the end of Maine. I am not surprised. I don’t usually quit adventures,  but I am right now sitting on the option – the option to put an end to the misery. There were a few days after the “Maine. Pain. Rain” post when I discovered new levels of internal bitchiness I didnt even suspect I possessed. I called it “PMS – Painful Mountain Syndrome”. On the physical level, my calves were so tight that each up-hill step was crippled by cramps. I also cramped at night,  keeping me from repair and salvation.  On the mental level, I went a little insane in the trees.  Claustrophobic, trapped under the canopy, with no access to the sky,  the moon,  the stars,  the sun. I learned about myself that I need open spaces to function.  Without the room to be, I get angry. “Fuck this, why don’t I just use my AT budget and fly to India instead,  and practice yoga,  which would be good instead of destructive to my body,  and hike the Himalayas, far above tree line.” It wasn’t pretty. *I* wasn’t pretty. I didn’t see myself but was convinced I was ugly. Unhappiness feels very unattractive from the inside. 

I’m sure I’ll eventually get some perspective on Maine. For now, I’d rather not feed an indulgent unproductive rant any further.  So, I’ll tell you my top three favorite Maine moments. 

1. Coming out of the 100-mile Wilderness,  I was the last of my trail family to get to the road – a daily phenomena that always left me wondering if I was “late”. Thorny and Waking Bare were still by the side of the road when I reached it, unsuccessful in catching a hitch to Monson.  As the token female of the group,  I stepped up to the road. A few minutes later, an old rusty Jeep pulled over. “Please, don’t step on the fish.” The driver said to Thorny and Walking Bare. “I caught them yesterday and forgot to take them out.” I don’t know why, this still cracks me up every time I think about it. I loved Monson. It was quirky and rural like the fish man, and there were green smoothie at Pete’s. Favorite trail town so far. 

2. A few miles short of Avery Mountain, in the Bigelows, I met Brightside. Brightside was one of those nobos I just wished would turn around so I’d get a chance to know them. We crammed a five hour conversation in five minutes, skipping most of the standard questions, like “Where are you from?”, “Is there water up ahead?”, etc. We dove straight down to the bottom lines, “How is this hike changing you?”, “What does it all mean?” He spoke of necessary life changes ahead and of his dream of a different, off-the-grid, unconventional life. I told him I was “waking my talk” – I wrote a book that advocates following your heart blindly in all cases, and here I was hiking a trail with, technically, not enough funds. Without a moment of hesitation, he pulled out $80 and said “Your budget won’t be tight today. You were a bright side in my day. This is just a thank you.” We hugged and hiked on, me to the windy top of Avery, him to Monson, his childhood town. The trail provides!

3. The AWOL AT guide describes Mahoosuc Notch as either the hardest or most fun mile of the AT. For me,  it was a haven of redemption. After hating Maine on and off for days, here was a mile long jungle gym of pure play.  A mile long of giant boulders strewn about, with cold little caves, technical moves,  and the opportunity to use every muscle in the body.  I loved it so much that I considered doing it again. Thorny was with me. He said he’d wait.  But I hiked on, because that’s what we do, we go in one direction,  and one direction only. 

Xox.  

[Note: I wrote this post about a week ago and am fascinated by the potency of my hindsight rose-colored goggles. I don’t remember hating Maine at all. In fact, my mind is filled with nice memories of friendship, magic and beautiful little lakes. And I definitely have zero desire to get off trail. That mood is long gone. But, I wrote it, so I’ll post it. Even if that’s not how I remember it now. Sorry, Maine, if I didn’t appreciate you as you deserved]


Glossary 

Nobo – a thru-hiker walking from Georgia to Maine.

Sobo – a thru-hiker walking from Maine to Georgia. 

Flip-flopper – a thru-hiker walking the trail in sections in one calendar year (ex. North from VA to Maine, then south from VA to Georgia)

Trail family – the people you end up hiking with day after day, then keep as lifelong friends when the trail is over.


AT day 13. Mile 177. Maine. Pain. Rain. 

Appalachian Trail journal. Day 13. Maine.

I am not enamored with the AT, yet. The PCT could do no wrong by me, I loved it so. But the AT, oh, the AT, ggrrrrr …

Since I left Monson, my days have had a predictable pattern.  I wake up tired, unsure whether it’s raining or just dripping fog from the trees.  I triple dry-bag my gear,  put my achy feet in wet socks and wet shoes, and wobble down the trail.  It’s usually sunny by then.  But I don’t see the sun because it’s shielded by the green roof,  the shelter of infinite leaves all vying for the light. 

It’s alright,  it’s not like I can look up anyway. A cloud of gnats hovers in front of my eyeballs, matching my speed exactly. If I stop, they stick to the sweat on my face. If I accelerate, they dive-bomb my eyeballs. By gnat consensus, whoever dies in eyeballs is granted immediate, uncontested entry into bug Valhalla.  I am certain of it.

I also can’t look up because of all the damn roots and rocks.  No two steps are the same. I have no rhythm. Walking without rhythm is exhausting, and I imagine that the roots only await their chance to take me down. Best would be my face on a sharp rock, but they’ll settle for a twisted ankle. 

I turn inward to escape my bleak circumstances, but it’s just as dark in there. That’s one of the gifts of the trail. So much space is created in the mind that any unresolved issue, grudge or resentment bubbles up to be released into the wild.  But this release requires a clear heart, not a heart already seething with discontent. The terrain and my dark thoughts create the perfect volatile mind cocktail. Suddenly, I am pissed. Anger knots my stomach and clench my teeth. I walk faster. My feet hurt,  and I don’t care. I stab my toes, and I don’t care. I slip, and my poles catch me.

My poles always catch me, sometimes with my face only a few inches from injury – out here, this could be really bad – but they catch me.  That’s usually the turning point. Gratitude replaces anger. Gratitude for my poles, so tough, so light and reliable. Gratitude for my pack, so effortless and compact on my back … gratitude!

Gratitude is an integral part of my gear system. I don’t filter the water I drink. Instead, I love it. I take the time to deeply appreciate it, its beauty, its life giving energy.  I thank it and the stream where I collect it, and know for a fact that I am safe drinking it.  I don’t carry insect repellent. Mosquitoes don’t bite me. I have a long history of appreciating these misunderstood little creatures. I don’t carry bear spray. I am grateful for these powerful animals.  I love them, and I believe they know it. I don’t carry Crocs to protect my feet at camp. I am grateful for the opportunity to ground myself barefoot and boost my immune system.  All in all,  gratitude probably saves me a couple of pounds on my back. And it weighs nothing. And it works. 

I met Firefly and Loon (the man formerly known as John) on day 2. Loon was across the river when I came upon them. Firefly was still on the bank on my side. She seemed anxious.“I hate these!” she pointed to the precarious rock path across the river. “You should change your mind about it.” I told her. “Try this instead, ‘River,  I love you. Please grant me safe passage. Thank you'” And I walked across the river without a pause. Firefly thanked the river and crossed right behind me, confident and safe. Loon asked “What did you tell her? I’ve never seen her cross a river so fast!” It really works. 

So, if I know it works,  it seems all these things that pissess me off are simply indicators of where my relations aren’t clean.  I don’t like mice.  Mice chew through my tent and eat my food. I don’t like gnats. They fly in my eyeballs. I also have adversarial relationships with wet socks, slanted or uneven ground under my tent, steep uphill, slick roots, rocky downhills and sun-blocking canopy … so pretty much the whole of the AT in Maine. 

I have been trying to work on my attitude problem about it. I mean, I can see that the forest is gorgeous, but I don’t always love it, yet. And, honestly, I think it doesn’t care much for me either. On day 3, I hugged a tree by the side of the trail. I have hugged trees all over the world.  I always get a happy feeling when I do – a love returned kinda warm glow. But when I hugged this one,  I felt annoyance.  I wasn’t annoyed,  the tree was.  Two other tree huggers have since shared similar experiences. Loon says this forest feels like Fanghorn. It has neither patience nor care for the affairs of men. I imaging we are nothing but nuisance, like gnats, to the trees.  The AT is old. These trees have seen too much. Maybe, too many have taken knife to bark to carve initials,  or painted blazes,  or cut roots to clear the path, or, like the very nice and well-intentioned trail crew man today, with his deadly sharp tool, wacked off leaves within the corridor of the trail “for the hikers”. No permission is asked from the trees. No apologies are offered. 

Those were the thoughts running through my head today,  while dripping sweat up the Little Bigelow Mountain in the thick, sticky, buggy air. I stopped and placed my hand on a tree in apology. Five gnats immediately landed on my eyelashes, and I let them – an opportunity to maybe mend another relation. The sky grumbled. As though in answer to my handshake, the top of the canopy began to shake, and a breath of cool air funneled down through the narrow trail, sweeping all the insects away. I grabbed a quick snack before the noontime dawn. Oh yeah,  I knew what was coming. I’ve felt that cold breeze before. I know this pattern:  

It begins when the insects leave. The breeze clears the way, the trees shake, the sky grumbles and darkens. “Noontime dawn”, I call it – almost dark enough to use a headlamp. Anticipation mounts. Creatures scurry to their holes,  hikers speed to shelters. I stay out, in eager excitement, with rain gear on standby. Then, suddenly, the sky unleashes. Within minutes, the whole world is drenched, starting with my shoes. The trail becomes a chocolate river and every leaf owns a waterfall. I love it! I love the rain in Maine. It is one of my best relations on the trail. 

When the rain falls, and I known that my gear is safe and dry, I get giddy with joy,  I jump in puddles, I hoot to the sky.  I fall in love with this trail, this difficult trail I sometimes hate.  In the rain,  all anger and sweat get washed away. The forest speaks and I hear it. And for one brief moment,  I am at peace with ALL my relations. 

P.S. mike 188 – I have another blog post/story titled “Please don’t step on the fish” in the works. I don’t know if I’ll have it done by tomorrow. Resupply in Stratton is going to be a touch and go. So it might have to wait for the next zero.  

AT day 7. Mile 99 – 24 hrs in the life of the Bobcat

​Appalachian Trail journal. Day 7. Maine. 

Whenever I am sad or out of sorts,  my friend Weathercarrot always reminds me: “24 hours in the life of the Bobcat is like an eternity in someone else’s life.” By that he means that my life changes so fast that usually by the next day a whole new story is underway,  canceling out any qualms I had the day prior. So far, it has always proven true. 

And this might apply on the trail even more.  On day 5, after I wrote the “amateur hour” post and slept a little more, I transformed the Hefty trash bag I had used as bivy bag into a rain jacket, tucked my down sleeping bag as far into the pack as I could it and left for the day’s miles in a torrential rain. By the time I reached the next shelter, only 8 miles later,  there was not an once of my gear or self still dry. 

“You should stay here. Stay. Stay.” Firefly insisted.  “But I’ve only walked 8 miles.” 8 miles is nothing when you have hundreds to thousands to go. 

“But tomorrow the sun will shine,  and you’ll be able to dry all your gear and make up all the miles.” She sounded so sure and cheerful about it – she is Firefly for a reason, bringing light in dark places. I didn’t believe her one bit – it seemed then that the sun would never return – but I loved how intent she was on keeping me there. It’s nice to feel wanted. So I stayed,  and I was glad I did.  By 1 pm,  7 of us were wrapped in our sleeping bags, tucked in for the rest of the day. There were, in order in the shelter, John and Firefly, me, the well-named and  only nobo thru-hiker Giggles, Walking Bare from Germany, Thorny, and Purple Crayon. It was a fun crew, and we laughed all afternoon. Purple Crayon had a space blanket I could wrap around my soggy lumpy down bag and myself. I was wet,  but at least I was warm. Actually, he was still Ian at the time.  He didn’t get the name Purple Crayon until later that evening when he told us of his childhood habit to taste everything. 

“What was your favorite strange thing you ate?” John asked.  “The purple crayon.  It wasn’t chalky like the other ones.” That’s how he got his name.  

I didn’t believe Firefly,  but 24 hrs later in the life of the Bobcat,  the sky was impossibly blue and the sun was shining through the canopy, illuminating each drop of rain from the previous days like myriad little diamonds in the forest. I started very slowly that day. The forest was so beautiful in the sunlight.  I needed to look at everything everywhere. Luckily for my daily miles, I soon fell in step with Thorny. We talked for hours. He told me tales of his adventures in South America,  crossing rivers in hand-pulled baskets of death and finding ancient ruins off the beaten path, of waking the Camino in Spain, of building log cabins by hand,  and dozens other fascinating stories. The miles flew by, even though they were hard miles of sharp rocks and roots straight up White Cap mountain.

Around lunch (according to my stomach,  I don’t have a watch),  just like Firefly said, I yardsaled all my gear in a clearing. A nap later, all my gear was dry for the first time since Katahdin. 

After lunch, Thorny and I caught up to Purple Crayon. PC and I fell into step while Thorny (Thorn  Knee) slowed down to walk his own hike. For the next few hours I got a full seminar  on how the jedis and sith lords came to be, how light sabers are powered by crystals , how dissension in the sith lords ranks created the party of two rule, and the full lineage of Anakin Skywalker. Seriously. Who need podcasts? PC was in a lot of pain though. Maine is hard on the body. He caught a ride out at a road intersection. That’s it. One day, he’s rescuing me from hyperthermia. 24 hrs later,  I’ll never see him again. Such are friendships on the trail. 

Today was yet a completely different kind of day.  After so much social time yesterday, I got a full solo day today. I only shared lunch with a group of 3 vivacious flip-floppers who taught me how to set a trap with 3 sticks and a rock to catch prey. They caught and roasted a squirrel for breakfast just this morning. I had so many questions. I don’t kill bugs or anything senselessly, but I would kill a squirrel and eat it, with respect and gratitude. They promised they’d show me how, if we ever camp together. But they are already to the next shelter. I think Thorny knows how to as well. He can also track,  and start fires with sticks. So much to learn in the woods. Teachers everywhere.

I really enjoyed hiking solo today. The trail was almost vertical in places,  just a jumble of large sharp boulders to the summit of a mountain,  then back down to a bog, then back up another mountain,  and so forth. The air was hot, thick and sticky, like in the south, but the sun was shining and most mountains had a view. It was a 17 mile day that felt like a hard 35 but I loved every step of it.   

Everybody is asleep now, knocked out by the miles of the day. Each in their little repair chamber,  side by side in the shelter.  It’s 8 pm. I’m the only one still up,  writing this. 

Tomorrow will be our last day in the 100-mile wilderness.  It is too soon to expect any sort of cohesion,  but our little budding trail family decided we’d sick together at least to Monson. So tomorrow Thorny, John, Firefly, Walking Bare and I are stopping 3 miles short of town. Some of us will be out of food (I already am),  some have packed too much. It’ll all equilibrate and everyone will be fed.  

Eventuality, I speculate that Thorny will need more town zeros than I can afford.  John and Firefly will be much faster than I am once they get their trail legs (they already are). Waking Bare will fall back or lose me when I get off trail in North Conway. We’ll dismantle, or not,  or flow back together down the trail. What a treat it has been to share some hard and wet miles with these amazing people. And who knows who I’ll meet tomorrow.  24 hrs from now.  A whole universe away.  

I need repair too now. Good night. Xox. 

AT day 5. Mile 60. 4 am – amateur hour 

​Appalachian Trail journal. Day 5. Maine.

It’s 3:33 am, and it’s raining inside my tent. This 100-mile wilderness shakedown is shaking me down alright.  

Before I left, I set up the tent on my friend’s lawn to seal the seams. I had the sealant, the time to seal,  and everything,  but in the sun the tent looked so nice and tight, I thought “it doesn’t look like it’d leak. It’ll be fine.” … Now it’s day 5, and I haven’t seen my shadow since Katahdin. 

On day 2 most of the afternoon was composed of a downpour.  I hiked the 11 miles to the next shelter as fast as I could and stayed there for the rest of the day. Before the hike I said,  “I won’t be staying in shelters. All these people crammed side by side,  no thank you. I need my privacy.” I take it back.  Shelters are dark, smelly, rodent-infested,  overcrowded wonderful little haven of dryness and friendships. Who knows how long I would have shivered without my new friends’ body heat around me. When I got there I was drenched, and the foot of my down sleeping bag was wet.  

Before I left,  my being so crafty and all,  I decided to turn an old tarp I had found in a hiker box back in 2012 into a poncho to cover both me and the pack and double as a footprint under the tent. It’s actually pretty nice – The seams are neat. The hood is stylish and fits perfectly. The only problem is that whatever material that tarp is made of is not waterproof. I had tested it in my friend’s living room by pouring a glass of water on it, but Maine rain is apparently wetter than NH tap water. This wet poncho is the only rain garment I brought. At the last minute before heading up Katahdin, I took my hat and gloves out of the pack and gave them to Sally. You’d think I’ve never lived or hiked in the Pacific Northwest.  At the time, it made sense.  It was sunny, my pack was heavy and I had a massive mountain to climb ahead.  

Not all is lost though. Under, the wet poncho, I also had a Cuben fiber pack cover Miles (Knight Shift) let me borrow. He’s hiked the AT before. He knew.  

So everything in the pack was dry, except for the foot of my sleeping bag, because my platypus water bladder leaks.  My previous platypus got me through the entire PCT, so I didn’t worry about that particular piece of gear. Now that I look at it, which I should have done before I left for the middle of nowhere, the plastic looks melted,  like that Tupperware in my front seat in Sedona just a few weeks ago.  I think Sedona melted my platypus, probably on that day when I was cooking eggs on the hood of the truck.   

And it’s not just the water dripping from the seams that’s keeping me awake. There are mice crawling all over the tent – only two have made it in so far, by chewing themselves doorways into the mesh. I’ve escorted them out swiftly and tried to fix the holes with Silnylon tape,  but the fabric is too wet,  it won’t stick. I don’t know what they want in for anyway. I’ve got no food in here.  It’s all hanging about 100 feet away, under the shelter. Now I wonder why I’m not in the shelter.  It wasn’t raining yet when I got here and I thought this spot by the river looked lovely. Well, I suppose it still is lovely, just a bit wet and micey.  

If I’m going to have mice in the tent anyway,  I wish I had kept my food bag with me. My stomach’s been growling for a few hours. I don’t have my trail legs yet,  but I sure have hiker hunger already. I see now that I made poor nutritional choices for this first carry – the longest of the whole AT. I tried to be both healthy and thrifty.  I packed nuts I’ve had in the truck for too long, some crackers and organic rice quinoa mix. I’m over them. My body is saying “Dude! Where are the m&ms, the cookies,  the chocolate,  the corn nuts, the sesame sticks, the beef jerky, the sausages?” It’s day 5. I’m 4 days to the next town. Half way. My food bag is looking meager and sadly devoid of anything I actually want to eat. Before the hike, I said I was going to limit my town stops and eating out to safeguard my tiny budget. Now my brain won’t stop fantasizing about whatever burger joint awaits me in Monson. I don’t even like burgers. It’s alright. I’ll learn and adapt. I’ll find silver linings.

And there are many silver linings: 

1. I’m small enough that I actually can curl up and fit entirely under Miles’s Cuben pack cover. It’s not particularly comfortable,  but I slept like that for a bit earlier,  until I got too hot.  Then I remembered that I had packed a Hefty plastic trash bag. It’s now half a bivy bag.  I’ve also hooked Chris’s bandana under the main leaking seam to catch the bulk of the water coming in, and have Deborah’s cap over my head to prevent the Chinese torture water drip on my head. It looks like everything’s holding. For now. With a little help from my friends.

2. I get to write a story in the middle of the night! That’s exciting!  I had imagined I’d write every day, like Carrot Quinn does.  I even bought a large smart phone and extra charger specifically for that purpose. But it turns out,  when I’m in the woods,  the last thing I want to do is turn on the electronics.  For the past 3 days, I have not needed my glasses to read the data book at all.  Guaranteed, I will after this post.  There is an immediate and direct correlation between the quality of my vision and the time I spend on this phone.  Also, I’ve been watching the battery percentage free fall with each sentence I write. Even with the extra charger. Writing every day would require me to go into town to recharge constantly.  If I’m going to be in town that often,  I’d rather go to the library and write with an actual keyboard. Besides, I promise you’ve not missed much. So far, it would read something like “I woke up. It rained. I walked for 12 hours.  It was gorgeous. Same thing tomorrow.”

3. It actually is gorgeous. The amount of green is surreal. I walk through an ocean of leaves only interrupted by lakes. Everything is pristine and quiet. I’ve been waking through fields of ferns, on narrow log boardwalks over swamps, across fresh streams and clear bubbling brooks, like through rain forest postcards. I’ve been dancing the AT dance to navigate the complex network of slick roots and sharp rocks they call a path.  I’ve gotten lost a few times,  because all my attention must be on my feet, then found the white blazes again. I’ve been getting ample space and solitude and have met good people. I envy their rain gear.  Firefly gave me some chocolate to comfort me. It’s all good. It sucks a little, but I’m still going.  

4. I’m still going.  In spite of Murphy’s grip on my gear,  my body still feels strong. I did 21 miles today,  20 the day before.  No blisters after walking in wet shoes for 4 days. No rashes, not even where the pack’s straps is cutting through my shoulders.  Legs are sore,  but they still go. I’m being shaken down, but still feel lucky to be here,  on this trail,  in the woods. 

Sounds like the rain is getting even harder. I’m gonna try and catch some zzzs. I have a mountain to climb tomorrow according to the data book.    

Bobcat out. Xox. 

AT day 1. Katahdin. Life is short. Eat dessert first.

​Appalachian trail journal. Miles for the day 10.7. AT miles 5.2. Maine.

This morning, a brand new triple-crowner I met on Baxter’s knife edge assured me that there is no terrain on the AT like the one I navigated today. Thank Goodness!

I vowed to not compare the AT and the PCT. I don’t want my mind to linger on another trail and miss the one right under foot. Plus it’d be rude. As, Ponte, my first new AT friend pointed out, trails are like boyfriends: the new one really doesn’t want to hear about the last one. But since it’s raining and I’m in my zipped up tent, I won’t miss much for the next few minutes. And I don’t think the AT can hear me with the river nearby and the waterfall just up the trail. So here it goes …

On the PCT, I was deposited right at the monument by car. A few photos, and I was on my way down a soft, gentle trail with open vistas and wild flowers along the sides. 

The AT is not here to cajole anyone. My trail angel Sally and I were climbing over roots and boulders by 5:30 am this morning. It got steep pretty fast. And then steeper. A few miles in, we turned onto the knife’s edge. Full pack, 8 days of food,  a body straight off the truck’s seat and suddenly I’m scambling class 3 and 4 rock with mad exposure on both sides. I was coated in sweat and pumping adrenaline well before noon. “I’m not entirely comfortable with this.” (very calm voice) is apparently what I sound like when I’m scared. And still, I loved it. I felt alive. I was the Bobcat again, flushed with mini waves of Trail High, like hot flashes. My ass was getting kicked, and I was home. 

We got to the top of Katahdin at noon. I’d love to hike nobo someday, just for the pleasure of that dramatic finish. The PCT start monument was lovely, and I walked away almost immediately.  But that AT wooden horse with its bold letters sign is so iconic that it held me spellbound. I could see all of you, my trail family, standing on it over the years. Onager in his tuxedo,  Kristo the Lion, triumphant and wet, LB, Pepper, Chili, Moss and so many others. Suddenly it was a real, physical object, with depressions in the wood in the back where all the feet of all the hikers have stood. It felt like legacy – like a sacred artifact to be revered. I didn’t feel I had earned climbing it yet, but I did anyway. I reasoned that life is short, and it’s okay to eat dessert first, or start at the grand finale. 

I experienced magic of ridiculous proportion on the PCT. But never before had a stranger purposely stopped me from a cadenced step to ask if I was a thru-hiker and wanted a Snickers bar. In fact,  since I left my truck yesterday – which was as difficult as you might imagine – I have been spoiled at every turn. Non-hikers know about thru-hikers in these parts. This is an old trail. We are not a novelty.  And everyone, it seems, is game to uphold the magic. At the grocery store in North Conway, one of my favorite yoga students from 2 years ago paid for most of my resupply for the week. The man at the post office sent me off with a “You’re awesome.  I love you.  Good luck.” Then there’s Sally, trail angel extraordinaire, who not only drove me 6 hours to Katahdin, but also navigated the scary rocks all the way to the summit with me. And Thorny, whose camp site I am currently occupying in exchange for a square of chocolate he didn’t even finish (I did). And the stranger lady, whose Snickers bar I refused. “It’s too soon in your hike I understand,” she said. 

On the PCT, I got lost within a few miles of the start. On the AT, I did as well. At least some things are consistent. I thought I was going down to cross the Abol River to get out of Baxter State Park before the night, but the white blazes went elsewhere,  so I followed them instead.  I had no reservation for anything in the park, but figured something would work out or I’d walk 20 miles today, up and over a moutain, and really start this trail with a bang.  But as soon as I came out of the woods, Thorny found me.  He couldn’t believe I climbed up the knife edge and down the boulder field with a full pack. Apparently, hikers don’t climb Katahdin with full packs. Everybody slackpacks. It was my claim to fame for a bit.  Thorny would introduce me as: “The Bobcat,  she did the knife edge and the Hunts trail with a full pack” And this coming from a man who once build a raft out of wood logs and raced it down the Amazon River. I take it as a compliment, even if I feel I was walking a fine line between bad ass and dumb ass on this one.

Overall, I did feel baddassly strong today. Very grateful for my body. In the past I might have disliked this or that about it,  but I have nothing but gratitude for it today. It never complains, it just keeps going. It’s perfectly suited to my lifestyle,  down to the eyelashes that keep black flies out of my eyes. I mean, it’s sore. My legs feel pumped and my arms and shoulders too from climbing over boulders and pushing on This and That to propel me uphill. But sore just means that I was alive today, that I had a worthwhile adventure. My body will repair in my sleep, and tomorrow will be easier. And we’ll keep going that way,  being alive during the day and repairing at night, for months.  

A few days ago I was freaking out about this hike. That was another lifetime ago. Now I’M ON THE FRIGGING AT!

Glossary:

Nobo – northbound, Georgia to Maine

Sobo – southbound,  Maine to Georgia

Slack-packing – hiking with a day pack while someone shuttles the heavy pack to a rendezvous point.

Magic – a direct experience of the kindness of strangers and friends. Magic is many other things too. 

This and That – the names of my hiking poles.

AT D-01. Pre-partum

Last minute inventory. Gear is packed. Check. Truck has a home for 5 months. Check. Bobcat is ready … question mark.

I don’t actually have a choice. The thought of not walking the trail makes me much too sad to even consider. But, this is definitively a different trail, and I am definitively a different person.

When I say I’m a “different person”, I don’t mean the gentle meme version with the inspirational quote about embracing change and one’s natural evolution. No, this past week I went through a complete alien takeover. The alien who occupied my body was a freaked out basket case. Suddenly, I was afraid of encountering bears, of getting Giardia from unfiltered water, of running out of money, of being lonely out in the woods, of sleeping on hard, cold ground, and of feeling trapped in the green tunnel for months. My foot started to hurt, the tip of my pole bent, my headlamp disappeared, I couldn’t get a ride to Katahdin. I cried a few times and hid in my truck in the woods. Total dismantling of the Bobcat I know. Where was the superhero cape wearing fearless woman of the PCT, the one who talks to bear and filters water by loving it?

The new moon has come and gone. I survived the wave of doubts. Not sure what that was all about. Maybe it was the moon. Maybe I was PMSing. Maybe the sudden contrast between the desert southwest and all this New England green threw me off. Or maybe the AT was sizing me up. It sent its thought-form ambassadors ahead to run through my mind every possible horror scenario to see if I’d shrivel away. Meet the guardian at the gate, the first selective round before being granted the privilege of walking the trail.

I’m glad I freaked out. I needed to be certain. Decisions made in the desert need not always be upheld in the forest, and I am committed to following my heart even when it changes its mind. If I had discovered that I no longer wanted to walk, I would have postponed or canceled without qualms. But through the fears, doubts and obstacles, my AT dream remains. I passed the first test and was rewarded with my first bundle of trail magic, all delivered within a 24 hour period. The moment I said “Yes, I’m walking this trail, no matter what. Even if I have to beg, hitchhike, fast, hunt and limp.”the sky opened up and fireflies filled it. I have a ride to Katahdin, an unexpected rise in book sales royalties, new tips for my poles, a gift of a new headlamp and some Arnica for my foot. All will be well after all.

I start the AT where others finish. My first carry will be my heaviest and longest of the whole trail. 8 days through the hardest and most remote section – the 100 mile Wilderness. I feel like I’m stepping in complete unknown once again. Man oh man. Excited, scared, psyched, nervous, rapidly cycling on repeat.

I suppose it wouldn’t be as fun if it wasn’t scary. Right?

Next post will be from the trail …

 

 

 

 

My first and likely only political post

[Originally written as a Facebook post]

I don’t engage in political debates, and for that I’ve been misjudged uncaring.  I don’t listen to the news. That doesn’t make me ignorant.

A madman walked into a gay bar in Orlando and killed innocent people, igniting a spark in a barrel of dynamite-loaded opinions. Whichever fears one already subscribed to were suddenly further justified by the senselessness of the act. The madman had a gun, let’s ban guns. The madman had Afghani parents, let’s exile all Muslims, and while we’re at it, all foreign-born immigrants.  The victims were gay, let’s point the finger to homophobia. Let’s point, let’s point … to something, to someone outside of ourselves. Let’s reduce our tribe, our family to that which was hurt, so that we can exclude that which did the hurting. We do this to feel safer. If we were to admit that a random madman walked into a bar and killed innocent people, then we’d have to accept that this could happen again, anywhere, anytime, placing us and our loved one in constant potential danger. But if there’s a greater cause, purpose or scheme, then the likelihood of it hitting home is perceived as less. A conspiracy theory is much more reassuring than an isolated insane act to the human brain.

Einstein said that a problem cannot be solved from the level at which it was created. Fear-based dividing and hierarchical categorization of the human tribe doesn’t foster peace, it starts wars. Review your history books, if you don’t believe me.

So, we must rise above and look from a greater perspective. Let’s say the whole world is our tribe, then the madman is our brother. Now it’s an inside job. It’s a family problem, a whole world problem. And I don’t claim to know anything, but from my perspective, it seems that fear is not born because there’s a problem, there’s a problem because we live in fear. It’s not healthy. It’s bound to crack.

“They” say I’m ignorant of the “facts” because I don’t watch the news, that I live a selfish life in Lalaland with my head in the clouds or in an opaque paper bag, that I’m heartless for posting happy posts in the face of tragedy, that I’m blindly delusional for going on long walks when America is on the brink of war. And I ask, how does my spending hours feeding my mind with the horrors of the world help anyone? Who benefits from my fear? (And yes, I could follow this question straight up the conspiracy ladder, but again that’d only redirect the fear-based finger pointing). Shouldn’t *somebody* hold this space here – where it is remembered that the world is a magical, beautiful place – for balance? And what if more of us turned off their TV and concentrated instead on finding and sharing beauty and love in the Right Here and the Right Now? What if our madman brother had grown-up in a world where the majority chose to keep their eyes open in the sunlight instead of staring at the darkness? Even if our brother was Muslim and had a gun, don’t you think the story would have had a different ending?

I value your diverse opinions. I welcome the whole spectrum on my FB feed and in my life. But do not measure my actions by the yardstick of your assumptions.

Not all bliss is born of ignorance.

My 32 square foot home – the bedroom

Some day, in a distant future, I might again live indoors, with a ceiling, running water and indoor plumbing. I imagine at that point I’ll look back on my current life and wonder “how the hell did I fit my entire life in 32 sq fit for all these years?” So, in case you are curious too, and since I am cleaning the truck anyway … here is how:

Bed of truck (bedroom)- 6X4 = 24 sq ft
Behind the seats in the cab – 2X4 – 8 sq ft

Part 1 – the bedroom.
20160610_155059Blank canvas. Almost … 6X4 truck bed outfitted with Vision high ceiling cap, 6 climbing bolts (3 on each sides), metal wire shelves and Tibetan prayer flags.

20160610_155238Side shelves, design of my own – plywood sheet cut and joined with piano hinges, rest on the wheel base, held in the bed liner grooves.

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Waterproof barrier. The shell has been leaking for a few years in spite of having the seals redone. This keeps my mattress dry.

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Ikea firm mattress, with zippered cover. Makes it easy to wash.

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1.5″ memory foam – the secret ingredient in the camping->home alchemy.

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Jersey cotton sheet stretch to fit. Regular sheet are almost impossible to get smooth in this setup. The secret ingredient in the home->palace alchemy.

20160610_175359_Richtone(HDR)Lower shelves. On the right, trash bags, winter hiking boots, stove and fuel box (alcohol stove, windscreen, lighter, funnel for fuel and spare straps), zero degree sleeping bag and winter camping pad. On the left, hiking poles, hiking shoes and sun shade for the side windows, bag of climbing gear and mountaineering bivy bag. Bedding goes underneath the shelves when not in use.

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Middle shelves. On the right, bedside basket (toothbrush, toothpaste, earplugs, pencils, headlamp, solar lantern, solar lamp, pocket knife, assorted crystals, bio-tune tuning fork, Ganesha statue found in the sea on Nantucket island), medicine box (lotion, vitamins, tiger balm). On the left, book shelf (books in progress, coloring books and pencils, local hiking maps, journal). On the shelf-above-the-feet, denatured alcohol (fuel), water ninja (1 gallon, in a tee shirt for protection), kitchen box (pots, pans, etc), food box (including a full spice rack and nice selection of oils and vinegars), nuts and seeds box, small suitcase of clothes. Welcoming mat for the tailgate.

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Top shelves. To the right, tea box (great assortment of green and herbal teas) and wolf-friend, utility box (scissors, batteries, lighters, candles, tampons, sage bundle, pins, compass, pens and pencils, spare reading glasses), towel, bathroom bag. To the left, hats and gloves box, socks box (I’m packed to be gone all winter, possibly for a couple of years), underwear and truck window curtains. Back shelf, jackets (rain and puffies), pants (yoga, work pants and 1 pair of jeans). Protective sheet of plywood slides under the mattress for sleeping.

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Driving mode – the boxes come down from the shelf-above-the-feet for a clear view out the back. Toys come in (2 fire staffs on the right, a hula hoop on the left) and cooler in the back for easy access.

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Final touch for New Hampshire departure. This time I’m also packing a bin of climbing gear (ice climbing tools, ropes, crampons, ice climbing boots, mountaineering boots, harness, helmet, etc …) and a pair of AT skis.

All that is left is to decorate.

“Courage cannot be tested cautiously” (with the sea horse).
“Follow your heart and know you are loved.” (note from Margaret)
The green bungee cord holds the recorder I use to create the audible version of Crazy Free. It hooks to the other side of the truck when in use, rests on the same side when not in use.

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This one is indispensable for extended stays in the desert. It has been on the wall of several brick and mortar bedrooms before gracing the side of the truck.

That’s the bedroom. Next, the living room (cab)).