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How It All Began

2011 October 9
by Elizabeth

Appalachian Trail

We are frequently asked why we decided to hike the Appalachian Trail. We totally understand. I mean, who wants to leave the comforts of their home and live like a homeless person for 6 months? Well to answer that we’ll have to go back in time. Let me set the stage…

Circa 1994. Imagine Liz. Bad hair, flannel shirt and cargo pants. Nirvana playing loudly in the background….

Nirvana

At some point in high school, I heard about the Appalachian Trail. I don’t even remember where or from whom I heard about it, but I remember thinking, “Wow! A trail from Georgia to Maine? That’s pretty cool.” I really love trivia, so I tucked the information away in the back of my brain, where it apparently festered and grew. Every couple of years or so, I’d learn something else about the trail and eventually I couldn’t get it out of my head. I started thinking this is something I want to do. The funny thing is that while I really like the outdoors, I never spent that much time in it. My parents weren’t really into camping. My father hunted, so I spent some time roaming the woods with him, but overall, I really had very little outdoor experience until I was in my twenties.

While I was in graduate school I met a fellow student who had not only completed a thru-hike of the AT, but was gearing up to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), which runs along the west cost from Mexico to Canada. It was at this point that I realized that REGULAR people do this. I could do this. So I went home and told my husband John and he immediately jumped on the idea. I’m a pretty cautious person and I like to gather as much information as possible, examine my options, talk about it, then talk about it some more and then possibly act on it. And that’s what I did for the next seven years. We viewed this adventure as something exciting that would stretch us, and something that would require a great deal of preparation. Most thru-hikers fall into two age groups: just graduated (high school or college), or just retired. We were neither of those, which makes leaving for six months pretty complicated. While we thought it would be great (and probably easier) to do the hike while we were young, we figured it would be less complicated to just wait until we were older. We spent a couple years just thinking, planning and learning to backpack.

It was John, my risk-taking, adventure-seeking husband who finally said, “Let’s stop talking about it and actually do this thing!” So we started buying backpacking gear and taking weekend trips, paying off debt and saving money. It took us a little over four years to do all that, but we finally made it!

We left Springer Mountain, Georgia on March 6, 2011. It was raining and only about 35 degrees outside as we hugged my sister, Shannon and my brother-in-law, Jeff, good bye. The whole thing felt a little anti-climactic really. We had been preparing for this moment for so long that it felt surreal. Was it really happening? Where were the streamers and confetti?

Appalachian Trail

We walked the 1.8 miles to the top of Springer Mountain where we took pictures and in the excitement (or perhaps due to the finger-numbing cold) unfortunately, forgot to sign the log book. Then we turned right back around and walked back down Springer Mountain so we could continue northward. The woods were eerily quiet as a freezing fog moved in and we started wondering, “What have we done? Are we ready for this?”

And the rest, as you know, is history.

Post Thru-Hike Question Roundup

2011 October 4

Appalachian Trail

When people find out we have recently completed the Appalachian Trail, they immediately have a lot of questions. Some are familiar with the trail and/or backpacking and some are surprised to find out there’s a trail that stretches from Georgia to Maine. We have found that regardless of their experience, we tend to answer a lot of the same questions. We figured we could help everyone out a bit by getting them out there and answered as best we could. That way we can have more gratifying conversation about our experiences, having picked this low-hanging fruit.

 

1. Was it amazing?

If you, in fact, expect us to sum up quitting our jobs, living out of a tent for 5 months, walking 2000 miles, and having thousands of wonderful experiences in a single word, then…

Yes. It was amazing.

2. How does it feel to be done?

It feels both great and terrible. The hike was absolutely amazing (see above), and we loved living that way for so long. It was simple and freeing. The hiking itself got old after a while though, and we missed our family and friends. So the finishing and coming home part was something we looked forward to. However, “normal” life is busy, loud, and complicated. Hiking did provide a unique perspective on the busy-ness we experience in our daily lives though, and how to prevent life from owning us rather than vice-versa.

3. Describe your typical day on the AT.

Dinner at a typical shelter. L to R: Chopper, Iron Mike, Supa Chef, The Conversation, and Professor

The sarcastic and simple response: “We walked a lot.”

 

We would normally set our alarm for around 5:30 so we would hopefully be up and stuffing our sleeping bags by 6. Sometimes that turned into 6:30 or 7, but when you’re hiking that just means a few less miles that day. From there we’d pack stuff up and cook some breakfast. Even if we were having a cold breakfast like honey buns or pop-tarts we still had to have our coffee… or at least Muggle did. She got a double shot.

Once we got rolling, we were on the clock. We preventatively took rest and snack breaks every two hours. Normally it would be one break, then lunch, then two more breaks before dinner when we stopped for the night. But in general, we would walk a lot, with little breaks for eating. :) In Pennsylvania we took a lot more and longer breaks because of all the food available. We were hiking on average about two miles per hour up until New Hampshire, and we’d walk about 10 hours a day with around 2 hours of breaks and lunch.

We spent a good portion of our day hiking alone, crossing paths with thru-hikers or day hikers depending on where we were. Then we would meet up with larger groups in the evenings at campsites or three-sided shelters, cooking and talking until dark.

4. Did you carry a gun?

No. That would be silly. Have even met my wife? She would have accidentally shot herself. Or worse, me.

Muggle taking it all in. She made it!

5. What surprised you the most?

Honestly? That we finished. We started out assuming we’d finish, but it started getting tough. Then boring. Then tough AND boring. When Muggle started having serious foot issues in Massachusetts we started talking more and more about going home. But she certainly persevered and stuck with it even through the pain. She is no doubt a very strong woman.

6. What was your favorite section of the trail?

It’s really hard to narrow it down. There were a number of great towns along the way, each with its own flavor of activities and AT Hiker attractions: Hot Springs, Damascus, Narrows, Waynesboro, Kent, Great Barrington, Glencliff, Rangeley, Stratton and Monson are some that come immediately to mind. We enjoyed our time in those towns and so many others, it’s hard to pick. We also really loved the land we got to see. Virginia because we saw spring blossom to life. Connecticut and Massachusetts for the New England feel, New Hampshire for the incredible White Mountains, and Maine for it’s beautiful wilderness and serene lake-side camping and swimming.

I guess the cheater’s way to answer would be to say our favorite part was the walking. The very act of going slowly through this countryside through weather that comprised three of the four seasons, meeting great people along the way. If we had to choose a single place to visit again it would probably be the White Mountains, believe it or not. For all the trouble they caused us, they were stunning. Beyond that, it was actually because they were hard that we enjoyed them. It was a struggle, and it was just walking anymore. We also didn’t get a chance to see the crown jewel of the trail, Franconia Ridge, as it was shrouded in fog and strong wind the day we climbed it. The high huts region is where we already plan to return.

A very close second was the 100 mile wilderness in Maine. It was quiet, remote, full of water and beautiful! The trail was tough in there, but we picked up some speed and could take time to sit and enjoy the lakes and weather! We were lucky to be done before the rain started to hit hard, and far before Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene hit.

7. What was your favorite thing about the trail?

L to R: Iron Mike, Muggle, Tobasco, The Conversation

Easy. The community.

In contrast to the other two North/South long distance trails in the US (PCT and CDT), the AT is very social – especially if you’re heading North with the vast majority of other thru-hikers. The hikers care about each other, check for each other in the log books in the shelters and make sure, to the best of their abilities, that the other hikers are safe and taken care of. It’s beautiful to have taken a day or two off for injury, and when you hit the trail have people say things like, “Oh good, I wondered what happened to you guys! I knew your foot was hurting – I hoped you didn’t quit without saying goodbye!”

Since after a certain point most hikers are capable of walking roughly the same number of miles a day, you eventually work into a “bubble” of hikers traveling from camp to camp. While you may not be WALKING together, you end up the same place for the night. So you get to see a lot of the same people off and on through the hike, and you have a lot of time to sit and relax together, talking to them about all sorts of things. It turns out food and time are two great ways to build relationships.

In addition to the hiker community ON the trail, there is also a wonderful group of OFF trail people (we call them Trail Angels) who aren’t currently hiking the trail but love hikers and help them out. Sometimes they just drop off coolers of food and drinks by the road, sometimes they’re grilling burgers somewhere, and sometimes they want to stop and give you a ride into town or back to the trail. We call those sorts of things Trail Magic, and they are truly magical. Despite Muggle’s trail name, we got to experience a good bit of trail magic and some were phenomenal, simply put.

8. What was the best experience?

Kenny and Kathy Munsey

It’s really hard to narrow it down because we experienced so many amazing things, but one does keep coming to mind. Meeting our new friends the Munseys.

We met them at Dragon’s Tooth as we were passing through, and they were out on a (tough) day hike. We stopped to enjoy a little Trail Magic a past thru-hiker had hauled up there, and we struck up a conversation. On our way back down the other side, they stopped and offered us a personal card with their contact information on it. “In a few days you’ll get to Daleville. When you get there, give us a call. We’d be happy to put you up.”

Uh. What?

This was our first what we like to call “personal” trail magic. From someone specific, for just us. We said our goodbyes, and the remainder of our hike down we weighed the pros and cons of their offer.

Muggle: “What if they’re psycho killers?”

Survivorman: “But if they have a comfy bed and good food, is that so bad? Maybe I can defeat them with my hiking poles.”

Muggle: “I’m sure they’re not really, but it seems so… awkward, don’t you think?”

Survivorman: “Yeah, you’re right. We’ll call when we get there and just turn them down. We ought to at least let them know we came through the area safely.”

Muggle: “But then they’ll know exactly where we are out in the woods, all alone!”

Survivorman: “That’s a risk we’ll have to take for good manners.”

Yes, I think the conversation went roughly like that.

When we got to Daleville a few days later, that’s exactly how it started, too.

Muggle was really sick though, and needed to see a doctor. We went to find a place to stay and found out, of all weekends, this was the weekend of Virginia Tech’s graduation. Nearly 60,000 family and friends of the graduates had descended upon Daleville and basically any town with a hotel within a 60 mile radius. Not too bad in a car, but on foot that’s an impossible situation.

Oh yeah, and it was cold and rainy, and the forecast called for more of the same over the next two days.

Looks like we’ll have to cross our fingers and call the axe murderers.

Kenny and Kathy came straight out to pick us up where we sat just killing time at the local coffee shop. They took us back to their home in Buchanan (pronounced “buh-CAN-un”, you Yankee), fed us, and allowed us free use of their entire upstairs. Muggle slept like a dead woman on the mend, and the next day we decided to take them up on their offer to slack pack us for the day so we could sleep another night at their house.

About halfway through the day though, Survivorman had a fever and couldn’t hike any more… so back to the Munsey’s house early! He slept all afternoon, woke up for a fantastic dinner with our new friends, then went back to sleep for the night. Muggle stayed up a while longer to talk to Kenny and Kathy, and Kathy exclaimed: “You guys are just plain worn out. You need to stay through Monday!”

In short, I think we did stay through Monday. Even though we were sick and they had other things going on, they jumped right in and helped us out. They didn’t just help us out, they took care of us. They made us feel welcome, and they made us not want to leave!

9. What was your least favorite section of the trail?

We think every part of the trail had redeeming qualities. There was always something great about where we were, so finding a least favorite is almost as difficult as finding a favorite. It’s kind of like asking someone who is eating a king size candy bar which part was the worst. But if forced to choose, our first inclination is to say Pennsylvania.

The terrain in Pennsylvania was either flat and boring or flat and rocky, and the weather was pretty hot too. We just kind of blew through it at a pretty quick pace. But Pennsylvania had a LOT of town access for good food and regular resupply. So even though the walking wasn’t great, we still had a really good time there.

10. What was your least favorite thing about the trail?

McAffee Knob, shrouded in fog

For us, I think it was the fact that we had a schedule. When Muggle was struggling with injuries, every extended stop to heal or see a doctor stressed us out: “If we stay here another day, we’ll have to average X miles a day to get done in time!” With extra time, we would have been more likely to take a full rest while her foot healed, rather than pushing on and eventually fracturing it.

Aside from just the injuries, there were several places we would have enjoyed staying an extra day, or waiting a day to visit some of the more picturesque locations. A good portion of our pictures on those days were fog-filled or cloudy and people a day or so behind us had a completely different experience. In that regard, we were hurried by our schedule.

11. What was the worst experience?

Crossing Hump Mountain in North Carolina. To those who are familiar with the mountain – don’t laugh. We crossed Little Hump and Hump Mountain the same day there were hurricanes in southern North Carolina. We had between 5 and 10 foot visibility through the intense fog, and sustained 70MPH winds with gusts up to 100MPH. Hump Mountain is also the longest grassy bald walk on the Appalachian Trail. No trees, nothing to duck behind, just us and an 8 inch deep rut called the trail.

Due to the fog, we had no idea if it was better to go back or go forward. We didn’t know until after it was the longest bald on the trail, so we just pushed forward. There were times we were literally lifted out of the rut/trail and blown sideways. Muggle actually decided it was safer to walk beside the trail instead of risk breaking her leg falling sideways in the rut. Survivorman’s backpack had been blown sideways by the time we made it through and ducked behind a ledge.

For those of you who know Survivorman well you know his calm, mild temperament. On our way across the bald he actually threw a fit. A hissy fit. He started yelling at the wind and throwing his hiking poles, punching the sky. Then we walked 20 more feet and realized it was over. Muggle still talks about that day.

12. What was your biggest obstacle?

For us it was a combination of two things, really. Muggle had spring semester and then summer off from her duties at Taylor, but she had to be back in time for fall semester. That schedule, coupled with injuries complicated our hike quite a bit. In order to finish in time we had to do some big mile days, but too many of those would inflame or aggravate injuries. It was tough to balance our desire to go further with the knowledge that going too far too fast would actually end up slowing us down even more. By the time we got to Maine, Muggle had broken a bone in her foot but was determined to keep moving. She’s tougher than she looks.

 

In the end, we took a bit longer than we planned but we had a great time. Did I mention we finished?

13. Did you ever feel unsafe?

We were never really worried about our safety, nor did we carry any sort of weapon (see #4 above). There were some weather incidents that had us thinking more carefully about our schedule, but there was never a time we felt like someone could harm us or anything like that. For those considering a thru-hike, the best advice is to move on if anyone at your camp site gives you any sort of “vibe.” We never even had to do that.

14. Did you ever want to quit?

Yeah, lots of times. Some days were just awful. Some days we were just tired and cranky. Some days we weren’t sure we’d even finish, so why go on? We will be the first to admit that 2000 miles is a force to be reckoned with. But we had fallen in love with the lifestyle. It was so simple, relaxing, and community-oriented how could we not?

15. Did you learn any life lessons or gain any interesting insights out there?

Honestly, I was surprised to learn a couple things out there that we thought we already knew:

First, we (the universal we, not just Muggle and I) have a lot of stuff. We place importance on that stuff, and we try to protect that stuff. When we came home, there was so much stuff in our house it was overwhelming. It was everywhere! We’re definitely not pack rats, but everything felt packed in, all close together and full. While we do use that stuff in our daily lives, we definitely feel less connected to it, if that makes sense. We’ve been backpackers for a while now and as part of that, we’ve learned to figure out what we truly need, and how to prioritize. We learned that what we have is a luxury, not a necessity. I guess it was more of a re-enforcement of what we already knew: we just learned we can do without. While we didn’t come home and throw everything out, while on the trail we lived out that mentality, and have been trying to apply it here at home as well.

Second, we get stressed or concerned about WAY too much. We’ve learned to relax, do what needs to be done, and move on. I think Matthew 6:27 says it best: “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” We have made an effort to only concern ourselves with actual real life, and not what may or may not happen. That doesn’t mean we don’t plan for things, but it changes the way we plan, and we have learned to hold that plan loosely.

16. You were less than 100 yards away from each other 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 5 months. How did you handle it?

Hiking the Appalachian Trail was great for our marriage. For some couples it was more stressful for any number of reasons: timeline, money, physical abilities, proximity and conflicting attitudes, etc. But we really enjoyed spending time together before we left for the trail, we just couldn’t ever get enough time to. We were so relaxed on this trip we only ever argued about stupid things when we were tired. For the first couple weeks after we came back, it felt odd for us to not be able to turn around and talk to each other. Muggle actually started sliding over in bed so our elbows would touch like they did in the tent. We grew so much closer by sharing this experience!

17. Think you’ll ever do it again?

Well, when I first started writing this, I thought probably not. But Muggle just said yesterday she’s ready to go back out! Her broken foot hasn’t even healed yet for goodness sake! So in short, we’re getting White Blaze Fever already. After winter in Indiana I’m sure we’ll be itching to get out on ANY trail. I’m not sure we’ll do a complete thru-hike again, but we’ll be out there lurking, hiking a state or two at a time, living the life once more…

18. What’s next in life?

We’ve both gone back to work. Luckily, both at the places we worked prior to the hike. Our employers are both very flexible and understanding by allowing us to take time off to pursue this dream. So for now, we’re settled back in to what we call “real life” while we dream up a new dream, save for our next mini-retirement, and plan our next adventure. Who knows when that will be!

19. What’s your next adventure?

We’re not sure yet what it will be. To be honest this was such a huge dream for such a long time, being done has left a void that nothing has yet replaced. But while we were out hiking, these were the things that we talked about. If you have any suggestions or want to vote for one, feel free! We’d love new ideas!

  • A cultural hike/pilgrimage across France and Spain called the Camino Trail.
  • A driving/cycling/hiking tour out west to see all the sites the United States has to offer.
  • Day hiking Ireland. You can literally hike from bed and breakfast to bed and breakfast, carrying only emergency gear and lunch!
  • Purchasing a hostel on the Appalachian Trail.
  • Operating an International Hostel (like the one outside Harper’s Ferry) for a season or two.

There are so many things to do and see in the world, and we have a really hard time narrowing it down — we want to do it all! Obviously that won’t happen so we just live and talk and dream and see what bubbles to the surface.

Our hike definitely changed our perspective on a lot of things. While we wouldn’t categorize it as a life-changing event, it certainly caused us to change how we approach life at times.

 

Katahdin

We Made It!

2011 August 19

We made it!

We made it. We summitted Katahdin, a dream 5 and a half months in the making (and that was just the walking part!). It was a long road and we wouldn’t be here today without the support of our families, random trail angels along the way, and copious quantities of pain killers. We were ready for it to be over, but didn’t want it to end. However, all things must come to an end and now we are ready to start remembering our adventure — and planning the next one!

 

On Monday, August 15th we arrived at the Katahdin Stream Campground in Baxter State Park. We registered with the Ranger there and were originally planning to stay at the famous Birches Lean-to that night, but the weather was just crummy and the next day was supposed to be more of the same. So with 5.2 miles to go (basically just the mountain climb), we hitched out to Millinocket. We heard the weather was going to be absolutely BEAUTIFUL on Wednesday – what they call a Class 1 day – so that settled it. We would delay climbing Katahdin one day so we could summit in better weather. I mean, who wants to walk 2000 miles and not even have a view? Not these guys.

Wednesday dawned and it was indeed spectacular! Not a hint of rain or even a cloud as we got into the park and started our climb. We couldn’t believe we were making our final ascent. It seemed surreal as we hiked up the mountain toward this goal we’ve been pushing toward for so long. We started referring to Katahdin as Moby Dick” the closer we got… something always seemed to happen to keep us from just getting to the top! We could see it for miles, even days, looming in the distance. Sometimes shrouded in clouds or lost behind another mountain, but we knew it was there. Always making an appearance. Elusively slipping from view.

A view of Katahdin--our "Moby Dick"

Here we were at last. Hiking up THE mountain. Our hiking soon turned into scrambling, and the scrambling turned into climbing. About halfway up the mountain rebar hand- and foot-holds had been installed to help people climb up and over the rock walls. It was… an adventure. Sure, there are quite a few trails you can take to get up Katahdin from all angles, but this is THE way. The WHITE BLAZE way. The hard way.

 

Once you get past the nastiness, the rest of the hike wasn’t so bad. Eventually the trail levels off around Thoreau Spring about a mile from the top, and we were moving pretty well, ready to be there. Especially since we could see the top–the sign with people gathered around it. This was really happening. We were almost done.

The end of the journey.

Since it was such a gorgeous day, we were certainly not alone. While we were the only current year thru-hikers up there at the time, we were surrounded by people day-hiking the mountain. We spent probably an hour or more at the summit taking pictures of other people, having them take pictures of us, and enjoying “the big finish.” It was surprisingly emotional for me. I’m not really an emotional guy, so there wasn’t any weeping or anything like that but it felt great to be there at that sign. Sad that it was over, excited to be done, anxious about what’s next, tired from the climb, satisfied to have made it, happy about the great weather, ecstatic to be there with my wife. That pretty well sums the moment up in a sentence, if I had to.

 

The Knife's Edge . . . or is it the path to Mordor?

From there, we had only to choose our path down. Once you’re done the rest is gravy — finally free to choose our OWN path. :) A 2010 thru-hiker, Seven Dwarves,  talked us into doing the Knife’s Edge – which we had been talking about doing already on such a beautiful day – so we set out on a the narrow, rocky ledges that led to the bottom of the mountain, the parking lot, and back to town for the last time. The climb down the mountain was just as hard as the climb up, but we finally made it into town and ate a celebratory meal at the Appalachian Trail Cafe and added our names to the 2011 Thru-hiker register (which happens to be a ceiling tile!).

Yesterday we woke up pretty stiff. All the contortions we managed getting up the mountain and back down Knife’s Edge took their toll. But you know what? We don’t mind. We’re on a bus headed home.

Ceiling tile at the Appalachian Trail Cafe

SurvivorMan, Ga--> Me 2011

 

 

Muggle, Ga --> Me 2011

 

 

 

Almost done!

2011 August 15

The big mountain behind the cloud is Katahdin, shrouded in mystery. We are at Abol Bridge Campground, planning to climb that sucker tomorrow or Wednesday — whichever day is clearest!

20110815-084117.jpg

The Beautiful White Mountains of New Hampshire

2011 August 6

In mid July, we made it to New Hampshire and that’s when we started seeing a trickle of SoBos (That’s trail code for South bound thru-hikers. We’re called NoBos). As we hit the High Huts region of the Whites, we started to encounter them with much more frequency. It’s both a good and a bad thing at the same time. The bad part is that you are both competing for a relatively small number of tenting and shelter spots. Up until now we have only had to contend with other NoBos, which isn’t much of an issue since you generally know who is ahead of you and behind you and you can plan accordingly. SoBos throw a whole new dynamic into the mix, since you have no idea how many there are and when they will be at “your” planned tent site. If you get someplace that’s already full, then you should move on to the next designated camping area to reduce impact. But that could be miles, and we’ve already established that everyone is trying to hike fewer miles through this area.

However, it really was a lot of fun meeting up with SoBos; they are a completely different breed of hiker. Starting in Maine and heading south is “the hard way” to hike the trail, and it’s much more solitary. By comparison, only about 200 hikers begin at Katahdin while somewhere near 2000 start at Springer. Personally I think most of them have a screw loose, but hey I realize I’m a pot calling the kettle black. Anyway, it is also really fun to meet SoBos because they’re so…. energetic. We remember how that was–we used to take side trails to great views and interesting spots and love to talk gear with every hiker we met. Now that we are “seasoned,” we have a 0.3 mile rule–if it is any more than 0.3 mile off the trail, we aren’t visiting it. Unless it’s food-related, of course.  Also, since the SoBos are really just at the beginning of their hike, they are still honing their gear and routine and they have a ton of questions for us “veterans.” We typically have a lot of questions for them too–we usually grill them on trail conditions, water availability and resupply options further up the trail. We wish we’d run into southbounders earlier on. It sure would have been nice to swap stories and information throughout the trail.

One of our favorite things about New Hampshire is the high hut system. High huts are enclosed and manned cabins located in the White Mountains. The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) built them and employs people  to cook and serve food, clean the place (including stirring poo in the privies when necessary), and hike in fresh food from town and hike out the trash they cannot compost. It’s no wonder these places are expensive to stay in. In fact, we saw a slight 18-year old girl wearing a wooden slat backpack loaded down with the week’s trash, heading in to town. It had to have weighed almost as much as she did. Much respect.

The huts are pretty slick. For thru-hikers, they are like an oasis in the mountains. Most folks at the huts are on planned weekend or week-long hikes. Since we’re just passing through, we have no idea what day we’ll be there and therefore can’t make reservations for the busy huts. The White Mountains are tough and rocky, and that takes a toll on a thru-hiker’s mileage. Luckily, when you come across a hut you can stop in and buy a bottomless bowl of soup, some fresh bread and fill your water bottles. If it’s close to the end of the day you can also try to “work for stay”, which gets you a night’s sleep on the floor in the common room, leftover dinner and breakfast after the guests are fed in exchange for helping set the tables, wash dishes, or sweeping up in the morning.

We only stayed at two of the nine huts, Galehead Hut and Lakes of the Clouds Hut, but we visited all of the others so we could sample their soup. A tough job, but someone’s got to do it. At the Lakes of the Clouds hut, Muggle gave a talk on the Appalachian Trail to a hut full of eager ears as part of our work for stay and I helped move a gigantic generator. All-in-all, a pretty good deal for a warm place to sleep and two meals! Due to some crazy weather on Mount Washington which kept us from hiking, we ended up zeroing at Lakes of the Clouds hut and stayed two nights on a work for stay basis. The “croo” as the hut staff are called, was very helpful and welcoming… all in all it was a very good experience!

Lakes of the Clouds Hut in the White Mountains

During our time at the Lakes of the Clouds hut, we met a SoBo named Mace (so named because his hiking partner accidentally maced him with bear spray), who had just had a terrible day. His gear was giving out on him, and he had gotten lost on the wrong trail for several hours. That night, a lady who had two reservations in the hut (which include an actual bunk and all you can eat dinner and breakfast) let the staff know her son had cancelled at the last minute and she would like to donate one reservation to a thru-hiker. We all agreed Mace should get it, so he ate his fill and slept peacefully for a night. Trail magic is awesome even if you aren’t the recipient.

Because of our skip ahead, we have also left the bubble we had been hiking with and met up with a bunch of hikers that have been moving faster than us and we haven’t seen in a while. It was probably Pennsylvania or earlier when we last saw Cactus Jack and Bud Heavy–they have an end date close to ours so we’ll be pretty close to each other for the remainder of the hike–so it was good to catch up with them. We also caught some new NoBos we’ve never met before. They probably whisked past us during one of our town stays. Both Uli and Curmudgeon were hiking pretty strong until they caught the dreaded hiker malady: Lyme Disease. To top it all off, it got far enough along they also exhibited Bell’s Palsy, losing control of parts of their face until they got treatment! How crazy is that?

Once we finally boogied out of Lakes of the Clouds, we decided to hike the entire Presidential Range, skip over the Madison Springs hut, and hike into Pinkham Notch. That put the biggest part of the Whites behind us, AND got us into a hostel we kept hearing great things about in Gorham: The White Mountains Lodge and Hostel. Unfortunately that meant a climb over Mount Madison. We thought after Washington it would be smooth sailing, but Madison is just a jumbled pile of nasty rocks. The wind was blowing so hard we were immobilized at times for fear of getting blown over! But with great patience and care we successfully held our ground and slowly made headway over and down the mountain to calmer weather below treeline! It was a crazy day, but we ended up in a warm bed in Gorham. We both slept like dead people.

The White Mountains hostel was a really nice place to stay. The entire house was open to hikers, with the owners living next door and coming over to cook breakfast and dinner, and generally take care of the place. Had we not been absolutely worn out we would have enjoyed it immensely. It was very casual, and in a nice peaceful setting right on the AT. We would both highly recommend it, and we plan to stay here when we come back to hike the Whites in better weather.

Hiking out of Gorham we had hoped would be a bit easier. However, we were met with more crazy terrain. We had been so focused on the Whites we had neglected to even talk to any SoBos about what lie beyond! Up through the southern part of Maine we were climbing almost directly straight up, over, and then back down the sides of mountains on bald rock faces, grasping at roots, rocks or anything securely fastened to the earth. It was rough hiking!

Early on we met a past thru-hiker that said: “The AT passes through 14 states. The first 11 are training wheels for the last 3.” That pretty much sums up our experience with New Hampshire. It was terrible, but it was great at the same time. New Hampshire definitely left it’s mark on us–mostly in the form of cuts, bruises and serious foot pain–and we have already agreed to come back to see this state again. But for now. . . MAINE!

Until then, happy trails!

New Hampshire? Yes, thank you for the sucker punch(es).

2011 August 5

Warning: This post is part one of two about New Hampshire.

So, we skipped over Vermont. We have already hiked about 40 miles of the trail there, and taking four days off at the end of Massachusetts really messed with our timeline. We looked hard at our options and decided that in order to summit Katahdin in time, we needed to move ahead somewhere. Greyhound has a route from Pittsfield, MA (just outside of North Adams) right into White River Junction, VT (just outside of Hanover, NH) which is just past the state line on the AT. In addition, the AT goes right through Hanover. That makes it simple to skip just Vermont, and even simpler to get back and hike that part later. A simple solution presented itself and we took it. C’est la vie.

One unfortunate side effect of skipping Vermont is that Vermont is the state that kind of preps your body for hiking mountains again. It’s more mountainous than the Mid-Atlantic states, but less so than New Hampshire. Part of our reasoning for skipping directly to New Hampshire was the fact that we are in the best physical shape (barring injuries) we have ever been, so get those crazy White Mountains done now. But somewhere in those flat states we lost our edge. I blame Pennsylvania.

Hanover is trying hard to be a hiker friendly town. Unfortunately, they don’t have a hostel so we stayed at a hotel in White River Junction. Hanover is home to Dartmouth University and the Dartmouth Outdoor Club, and the AT goes right through the town and some of the campus as well. If you stop at any of the hiker-frequented locations (post office, resupply stores, gear shops, etc.) you can pick up a pamphlet listing all the hiker services available, prices, and even when and where you can find some free food! We passed through town and opted for a free slice of pizza and a couple of free Snickers bars (our kryptonite), then got rolling once again!

The stop in Hanover for pizza cost us some time, so we got out around 2 or 3pm, and it was H-O-T. We figured it was just the time of day and that we’d gone soft having been off the trail for so long, so we trudged on for a bit. We planned a  10 or 15 mile day but there was NO WAY. We stopped at around 8 miles and just decided to try again tomorrow. The next day we started early and by lunch time we were having the same problem! When we stopped for water–we couldn’t drink enough of it–Survivorman turned on his phone and saw that the nation was experiencing a heat wave! Local temperatures were in the mid to high nineties and the humidity was close to 100%. Shew, we’re not just pansies! Several times during those days we would stop, strip down in the middle of the trail and literally wring out our clothes. Each time we squeezed at least a liter each of sweat from them. Absolute insanity! Not to mention disgusting…

Mount Moosilauke

We were looking for a break from the heat as well as a break before starting our quest into the White Mountains. Around Glencliff, at the foot of the first big bump in our elevation profile, we stopped at the Hikers Welcome Hostel. It’s not much to speak of, just a house with a couple out buildings and some food. The house however, appears to be entirely made of Tyvek. We had a nice rest there out of the rain, which (gratefully) broke the heat wave before our ascent up the “big bump” — Moosilauke (MOO-si-lok). We planned our day to start early right at the base, to get that thing out of the way first thing. We could take a snack break on top, descend the northern side, and wrap up with a nice 17 mile day. As it turns out, the southern ascent is pretty nice! We climbed up a nice but somewhat  steep trail, noticing all along that the trees were slowly getting shorter and shorter. Eventually we were taller than all the trees around us, and then suddenly, there were no more trees! We had risen above treeline for the first time on the AT, marking the start of the White Mountains. It had begun.

And begin it had! That climb was the last “good” trail we saw in the state of New Hampshire. The descent was a very steep rock staircase of sorts that coincided with a waterfall, making the whole thing very wet. From there, we continued over rock scrambles with boulders the size of, well, me. Inevitably they were standing in a deep mud hole that required dropping off the rock onto a branch someone had put in to walk across. It was a harrowing day. Muggle fell. Survivorman slid into the mud. Both struggled on.

Turns out, we weren’t the only folks having trouble. Of the hikers who had left the hostel that morning aiming for the same shelter, I think all had taken about 13 hours to hike those 17 miles! We all decided to adjust our planned schedules going forward. :) We cut our expected mileage per day almost in half. It took us a bit longer than originally expected, but eventually we rolled into the Lincoln/North Woodstock area to pick up a mail drop.

We actually stayed at The Wilderness Inn B&B in North Woodstock, but all the good stuff (movies, food, resupply) ended up being in Lincoln, a mile down the highway. Kind of a bummer, but a light packless walk wasn’t too bad. :) As we walked down the road we always attempted to hitch, but the town was pretty full of tourists and weekenders who are afraid of picking up hitchikers, so we never caught a single hitch. Even so, we were never dissuaded from trying! On one occasion we even had a guy slow down and lean out the passenger side window and yell, “Get a job you lazy bums, and buy a car!” then motor off as quickly as his little jalopy would go. Ah, life on the trail.

And now for the exciting conclusion of the Massachusetts coincidence #3. While eating dinner at an outdoor cafe in town, a crazy thing happened: Jonah’s aunt and uncle (from that night on Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts) strolled by on the sidewalk! They had just decided to get away for the weekend and come to Lincoln, NH! She said she had found our blog and thought it was possible that we would be going through or had just recently gone through the area. It was fun to talk to them for a bit… as if we were old friends, really. Ah, life on the trail!

The Flume at Franconia Notch State Park

Before we left town and hit what most people consider to be the start of the White Mountains, we thought we’d see some of the local attractions. There is a gorge that contains a natural flume river that is a pretty cool 2-3 mile walk. The welcome center let us stash our packs behind their desk while we walked the loop and saw the sights. It was a pretty fun day, and gave us the opportunity to eat in town one last time before hiking out 3 miles to set up camp.

The next day, amid foggy skies and windy ridges, we began our trek through the High Huts region of the White Mountains. But that’s an exciting tale for another day. Stay tuned!

Until then, happy trails!

Massachusetts. Coincidence? I Think Not.

2011 August 1

View from Mount Greylock

 

Massachusetts was very similar to Connecticut in both terrain and the New England “feel,” but we were still surprised by how touristy the towns were, especially Great Barrington and Lee. Apparently, lots of New Yorkers and Bostoners have  summer homes in that area. While we were sitting at a trendy little cafe (which serves ah-MAY-zing pizza) called the Gypsy Joynt, we noticed a large number of people milling around town. The shops and restaurants were packed and so were the sidewalks–really, it rivaled the Miracle Mile in Chicago.  The “tragically hip” were out in droves; skinny jeans and absurdly large sunglasses abounded. Any hipster would have fit in nicely. Survivorman with his burly beard and me with my really awesome hiker tan definitely received more than a few second looks. Twice I was mistaken for a waitress in the cafe–not really sure what that was about. Maybe hiker attire gives off a gypsy vibe? We eventually struck up a conversation with a couple at the next table and they told us everyone was in town for the holiday weekend. I looked at him in confusion, “Holiday weekend?” I wasn’t even aware what day of the week it was, and certainly had no idea it was a holiday weekend.  It turns out it was 4th of July weekend and on top of that James Taylor was playing the next evening at Tanglewood. Ah-ha! That explains it!

East Mountain Retreat Center

After thoroughly enjoying our LARGE pizza and huge pieces of cake and ice cream, we examined our lodging options and decided that in light of this new information (it being a holiday weekend and all) we probably wouldn’t be able to get a room anywhere in town. So we decided to start walking the several miles to the nearest hostel. We were hoping to get a hitch, but the main road out of town was packed with tourists who didn’t know what to make of two smelly hikers with backpacks. So we had probably walked about a mile and a half before we passed a local guy working in his yard. He flagged us down and asked, “Can I give you guys a ride to the hostel?!” This was true trail magic. He even knew where we were going, wanted to take us there and stopped his home improvement project to do so. So off we went to the East Mountain Retreat Center [video review] which is run by Reverend Rose, a sweet and welcoming woman we both instantly liked.  This hostel is a little different than any other we had stayed at–mostly because it’s really a retreat center, specifically a place of meditation. Rev. Rose lets hikers stay there if there’s enough space. We happened to be at the retreat center during a week that she shuts it down, so we were the only guests. For only $23, we got a real bed with sheets, a shower, laundry and even a sitting area with a hot plate all to ourselves and in an incredible mountain setting.

Stephen, Kiddo and Tide Walker at the bunkhouse at Upper Goose Pond Cabin

After a fantastic night of sleep (I think we were in bed by 8pm), we headed out the next morning to the trail head– a 1/2 mile walk down the driveway to the road and then another 1 mile to the trail itself. Really an extra 1.5 miles isn’t generally a big deal, but we unfortunately had a BIG mile day planned. Thankfully the weather was great and the terrain was pretty reasonable. We walked about 22 miles that day and made it to Upper Goose Pond Cabin. This cabin used to be privately owned but was donated to the National Park Service. There is a volunteer caretaker there who looks after the place. It has a large bunkroom, several tent platforms, kitchen and privy (no running water though) and it is situated on a beautiful pond. They even have canoes available if you want to go out on the lake. The best part is the blueberry pancake breakfast you get in the morning! All this for the suggested donation of $3 per person. I’m thinking it was pretty much the best deal on the AT.

We hiked a couple miles out the next day and that’s when I began having awful pain in my right foot. I was reduced to hobbling and really couldn’t hike very quickly. So we decided to stay in Lee for a night or two so I could rest my foot and keep it iced. Unfortunately it was still the holiday weekend so very little was available and what was available was absurdly priced. If my foot wouldn’t have hurt so badly we would have walked back to Upper Goose Pond Cabin! We certainly could have eaten more pancakes. After a little rest the pain in my foot was almost completely gone so we hiked on.

 The trail continues for 42 miles through Dalton and Cheshire and then up and over Mount Greylock into North Adams. In Cheshire, the trail passes an ice cream shop/ deli called Diane’s Twist. Since we absolutely cannot pass up ice cream, we stopped in and were enjoying it under a shade tree when I looked over and saw a little gray-brown thing bee-lining it through the grass right towards me. Being a biologist I was curious and looked closely to see what it was–it was a STAR-NOSED MOLE! I know most of you are thinking, “So what? Big deal! I don’t even know what that is.”  Well to me it kinda is a big deal because that’s the little critter I studied while in grad school and they were infamously hard to find and trap and here’s one coming right at me! Crazy coincidence #1.

The monument on the summit of Mount Greylock

We kept on trucking northward and at the end of a long day, we made it up Mount Greylock, which is the highest point in Massachusetts. We had decided that we’d really live it up and stay at the Bascom Lodge which is located on the summit. We got there at 6:57pm which was just in time for dinner at 7:00pm. Since the restaurant looked a little swanky, I made a quick trip to the bathroom to try to comb my crazy tangled hiker hair. Just as we walked into the restaurant, I was stopped by a gentleman who had seen that Survivorman was wearing a Taylor University t-shirt. He wondered if it was the same Taylor located in Upland, Indiana. I told him, “Yes, we’re alumni and I teach there.” His response, was “Wow, I’m on the board of trustees there.”  At this point I was so glad I took the time to brush my hair. I couldn’t do anything about the smelly, sweat-soaked clothes, but at least my hair was presentable! Crazy coincidence #2.

Bascom Lodge

The BascomLodge offers a hiker bunkhouse. It’s a bit expensive–$35 per person, but they do offer a work-for-stay option. Since we decided to live large and get a room there, we didn’t even investigate the bunkhouse. The inn keeper was able to get us a deal on a nice room with two twin beds for about the same price of the bunkhouse, so we were totally stoked about our good fortune! The rooms are beautifully decorated and the food (while expensive) was REALLY REALLY good and completely worth the price.  While we were at the lodge, we met a really great family who was intrigued by our hike–especially the 13 year old daughter, Jonah. She grilled us for more than an hour about the trail. “Where do you get water? How much food do you carry? What kind of tent do you have?” We were more than happy to answer her questions and see her excitement as she discovered more and more about the trail. I remember the feeling. I was there too. The trail just gets under your skin, stuck in your brain, lodged in your subconscious. I could see this was happening to Jonah. She may very well find herself out on the trail one day!   **Tune in to our upcoming New Hampshire post for the conclusion of crazy coincidence #3.

The next morning we headed down the mountain towards North Adams– which is only a few miles from the Massachusetts/ Vermont border. The trail itself kind of skirts the town of North Adams, but again we couldn’t pass up town food.  So into town we went. By the time we got there, my foot was hurting so badly I could barely walk. I was hoping an ice cream sundae would magically help the swelling, but no dice. Only after lunch (first things first!) did we begin the process of finding a doctor. We called seven different podiatrists in the area and either they couldn’t see me for days/ weeks or no one answered. I eventually discovered there was a walk-in clinic in the neighboring town of Pittsfield. Thankfully this part of Massachusetts has a great transit system so we were able to get there easily.

I saw the doctor and he suspected a stress fracture and ordered an x-ray. He never once touched my foot–this is understandable because I’m a hiker and my feet are probably pretty raunchy, but still. How can he know what’s going on if he doesn’t actually examine it? Anyway, I got a call from the office nurse the next day and she told me “No fracture!” Great news, but since I still can’t walk I asked her what the next step was. The response, “take some tylenol.” Super helpful advice. Luckily it was less than an hour later when I got a call from one of the podiatrists I’d left a message for the day before. He could see me immediately if I could get over to his office. It turns out that Dr. Sann has done a bit of hiking and was sympathetic to my plight, so he fit me into his schedule. After an actual foot examination, he told me I had a Morton’s neuroma. I had the very same problem in my other foot way back in Gatlinburg around mile 300. I had been keeping it in check with regular doses of oral steroids and while it was painful, it had never been as intense as the one in my right foot. So the doc gave me a shot of cortisone right INTO MY FOOT–an experience I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. It took all my strength not to kick the doctor in the face.  But I made it through. Unfortunately, we had lost about 4 days while we dealt with this injury. We were both feeling pretty discouraged because we have to get back to Indiana by mid-August. My body was apparently trying to tell me in a not so subtle way that I’m either no longer capable (or never was) of  such intense physical activity. But we are sooooo close. So we made the decision to skip the 150 miles of Vermont and go straight to New Hampshire and on to Maine.

So with a plan in place we were leaving on a jet plane and don’t know when we’ll be back again. . . . actually it was a Greyhound bus and we’ll be back in August.

 

We walked thru Connecticut. I can’t think of a witty comment about Connecticut.

2011 July 30
by Elizabeth

I think this sign is technically in the wrong place on the trail, but hey, at least this one had a marker!

Almost immediately after crossing into Connecticut, we noticed a subtle difference in the trail and its surroundings. For one thing, it was quieter–no road noise! We felt like we were in the wilderness again. We also dropped down to the Housatonic River and spent a couple days walking along it–which I believe is the longest river walk on the trail.  It was nice to see something other than . . . you guessed it: rocks and trees, trees and rocks. Plus being near the river also meant nice flat terrain and breezes. It was a nice change from New York’s slippery rock scrambles.

See? Quaint!

The very first town we came to after crossing over into Connecticut is a vacation town named Kent. It’s a really quaint town–old houses, little boutique shops, and suburban chic restaurants. Everything was all “Ye Olde [insert shoppe type here] Shoppe” and southern barbecue served with cloth napkins, wine and asparagus. Oh, and it has its own website. Kent is also home to the Cooper Creek Bed and Breakfast, where we stayed for two nights as we slack packed the majority of Connecticut. The prices listed are their “regular visitor” rate, and we all know hikers are hardly regular (in any sense of the word), so if you hike in ask for their hiker rate.

This hot dog stand was in Cornwall (between Kent and Salisbury) and served us a messy (and tasty) lunch. It's outside a beer/wine shop--free drink if you sign their register!

The folks at Cooper Creek were incredibly helpful and super nice! As we mentioned, they helped us slack pack from just south of Kent north through Falls Village, which covers a good deal of the 52 miles of AT in the state. We stayed two nights and were the only guests at the time, so we enjoyed their company as we went out to dinner together and talked shoppe (Survivorman is dead set on owning a B&B or hostel near the trail one day).

North of Falls Village, we hiked on toward Salisbury, which we mentioned in an earlier post. Just north of Salisbury is Lion’s Head, which is a tough climb on a full stomach compared to what we have been doing, but it gave us a stunning view of the area once we got to the top.

Muggle hiking the edge of Lion's Head

Survivorman showing off. He's not afraid of heights.

All in all, Connecticut was a great segway into New England. It set our expectations for terrain, scenery, and town prices going forward. Fifty-two miles of the Appalachian Trail isn’t a lot, so we quickly cruised on into Massachusetts.

Until then, happy trails!

There’s more to New York than NYC

2011 July 29
by Elizabeth

The Lemon Squeezer! Luckily we were slack packing this day or we may not have fit through!

Leaving the Murray Property basically moved us into New York. No fanfare, no streamers, just rain. But hey, what can you do?

Well, you can hike in it, that’s what you can do! Then after a couple days of it, throw down your trekking poles and go to a hotel.

Once we got to Greenwood Lake, NY we were ready for a break. We stayed at a place called Anton’s on the Lake. It is surprisingly hiker friendly, considering it’s more of a boating community. From the conversations I heard the owner having with other hikers, he was willing to slack pack all the way across New York if you were staying at his place each night, which is substantial since New York holds 88 miles of the Appalachian Trail. We didn’t opt for any slack packing, but we did thoroughly enjoy his incredibly comfortable beds and whirlpool bath.

Derek and Brooke--our gracious and pregnant hosts while in the Bear Mountain area

We left Anton’s after the rain, but everything was still VERY wet and foggy. There was standing water in the trail, and the rock fields were quite slippery and, frankly, dangerous. We struggled through 13 miles and almost as many wipe outs before once again throwing in the towel and calling our friend Brooke to pick us up. “You can walk a little further if you want,” she said. “Nope, come get us” was Muggle’s quick reply.

And come get us she did! She took us back to her lovely home with running water, fancy bathrooms (read: flush toilets) and even dinner guests bringing Korean BBQ! We spent two nights with Brooke and Derek Steinhiser, and she even generously helped us slack pack about 20 miles, allowing us to summit Bear Mountain without full packs.

There are over 800 granite steps on the descent from Bear Mountain going northward.

We were able to spend some time on the top of Bear Mountain, and the observation tower there grants a view of the NYC skyline on clear days. We couldn’t quite see that far when we were there, but it was a great view regardless. Then we dropped down Bear Mountain on the recently opened trail of 800 granite steps which was , in the words of a fellow thru hiker, “probably the best stretch of trail on the AT!”

From there we passed through the Bear Mountain Recreation Area, navigating a THRONG of people. It was a beautiful Saturday and everyone seemed to be out enjoying it, which was actually pretty nice! The AT passes through a small zoo here, and the bear cages are the lowest point on the trail at 124 feet. Unfortunately, we arrived after closing time and had to take the bypass trail around the zoo. We quickly recovered from that loss though as we crossed the Hudson River on Bear Mountain Bridge.

Bear Mountain Bridge over the Hudson River

Crossing the Hudson River on Bear Mountain Bridge was very cool but also disconcerting, because of all the signs saying “Life is worth living. Emergency call boxes ahead.” I’m guessing thru-hikers aren’t the only ones on the bridge… or maybe the signs are for thru-hikers? There are still more than 700 miles to go after all.

The AT is beautiful in New York. The terrain has become a little more rugged, with short rock scrambles and mature forests and for the first time on the trail we’ve started seeing lots of natural lakes. However, even though we were surrounded by trees and rocks, we knew we weren’t really that far from civilization because we could always hear cars and other road noise.

A train station right on the AT. How convenient!

This portion of the AT also boasts a train station right on the trail which will take you directly into New York City! Unfortunately, We were on a bit of a schedule and decided not to go into the city. Besides, we’d rather go visit NYC when we have more than 24 hours to spare and more than one set of clothes to wear. But NYC isn’t going anywhere, so we’ll leave that for another trip.

I don’t think New York is technically considered part of New England, but it’s definitely starting to feel more New England-esque. We’re seeing more evergreens and the towns have more colonial-looking houses. We’re sure crossing into Connecticut will be even more so!

Until then, happy trails!

We are hiking machines. In every sense of the word.

2011 July 27

It’s been a while since we’ve had access to a computer (and time to sit and use it), and so much has happened!

First off, we are in the process of writing more extended blogs for the states we have completed, with mentions or reviews of the places we stayed. That will include New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. Wow, just looking at that list of states brings back so many memories! A lot HAS happened!

Back in the “early days” on the trail, somewhere in North Carolina, we were passed by a second-timer. As we talked and shared our struggles with food and mileage, he assured us eventually our bodies would become machines. At the time I just assumed he meant that over time we would be able to just tick off the miles, merrily tromping toward Katahdin. For the most part, that was correct.

Once we passed Harper’s Ferry, the terrain became much easier and we really started laying down the miles. I believe from there through Massachusetts we averaged around 20 miles a day. We took very few zero days, and essentially were merrily tromping toward Katahdin. We slack packed some, we had some pretty bad days, and we had some really, really good days too. Over time, however, we began to understand the deeper meaning behind that word “machine” — and eventually in Massachusetts it caught up with us.

While we waited for a foot treatment to kick in that Muggle got in North Adams, MA, we rested. It was a pretty luxurious 4 day stint in a hotel downtown, a short walk to food and entertainment. Because of the public transportation and Greyhound availability, skipping Vermont was a great way to gain 150 miles and make those four days off almost disappear from our schedule. So we left North Adams well rested, and headed to Hanover, NH–we will come back to get those 150 in the fall.

But have you ever seen a motor turning with a broken belt? Or maybe something stuck between a couple gears that the gears are bound and determined to grind through? The machine is working hard, turning uselessly and working tirelessly, attempting in vain to achieve it’s intended purpose. That’s how we feel entering Maine. Muggle is, for all intents and purposes, a broken machine. The miles have caught us, and both of her feet are in pain the majority of every day. This week her right knee started to swell just below the kneecap, and the pain as she goes down hills (and there are a lot of them in Maine) is excruciating. But, like those broken machines, we have tromped on, reduced by terrain and injury to roughly 10 miles a day.

But last night we stopped in Andover, and today we’re going to the doctor. We will also evaluate our “schedule” and see what we need to do in order to finish. Since we can’t finish doing 10 miles a day, we’re hoping the doctor can help patch us up enough to finish the last 270 miles before fall semester starts and Muggle has to be back to teach! Do you know how difficult it is to convince a doctor that you don’t want to do what’s “best” for your body (which is always to quit the hike), you just want to keep going? We just have 270 more miles–and that sounds insane even to us–we have 1900 behind us!

So wish us luck and better health. We’re still going northward, just not sure for how much longer–we’re taking it one day at a time, holding our plans loosely.