A Touch of Home

“You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere.”—Miriam Adeney

As I have said before, I thrive on adventure, on the next big “epic” in life. It truly is exciting to go new places, meet new people, and try new things. No matter how much I love these new experiences, reality soon sets in. I begin to miss home: friends and family, pets, and “normal” routines. My heart is pulled in many directions at the same time!

As we started our epic adventure of a long-distance backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail, we happily said goodbye to friends and family at home. It was harder to say goodbye to husband/daddy when we reached the trail. We wouldn’t see him again for a few months… saying goodbyeAlong the way we discovered that many fellow hikers were surprised that we were fully supported and encouraged by hubby/dad to pursue this dream. When we paid attention, we realized most females on the trail were either hiking with their fellow or were single. Wow! What a gift we had been given!

For the first few weeks, we had strong cell phone reception and internet access. We could talk to family back home and could keep up with friends online. The encouragement and support we received was significant in helping us persevere, especially on difficult days. At one resupply stop, there was an unexpected note waiting for us. Yay! That little card kept me from calling it quits when I questioned the wisdom of continuing to hike with a painful, broken toe. notes from homeWe always enjoyed the new places and new people we encountered. We soaked up the natural beauty surrounding us each day. But…we missed hubby/dad more and more each week. One afternoon, we were sitting on a bench at a shelter, feet propped up, watching the access trail for other hikers to stop for the night. Here came a fellow…but wait! He had no pack…and he looked familiar… Hurrah! Daddy/Husband surprised us, found us by our itinerary, and joined us on the trail for a few days! Unbelievable! surprise visitor(We discovered later that stories of this visit were passed up and down the trail along the thru-hiker grapevine. It really was considered an unusual, very big deal!)

Eventually, we reached a long section of trail where we had only limited opportunity to connect with family and friends. It felt like we were miles away and unreachable. Oh how that made us miss home! Eventually we reached another TOWN DAY. As I explained in a previous post, it’s not the same as “home” but each visit to a town includes delights such as a soft bed, yummy food, and good internet/phone connections. On this particular stop, we were greeted by a special package at the post office. One filled with things to make us smile: silly toys, little treats, tiny luxuries, sweet chocolate, survival gear for the trail, and more. But best of all, it was filled with LOVE from friends across the country. trail mailAhhh…the best way to enjoy adventures is to regularly receive a touch of home!

(Note: We finished our hiking on October 21st. We will continue to share photos and posts about our adventures in the upcoming weeks.)

“Little School in the Big Woods”

For the past 23 years we have homeschooled our kids. Over the years that often included extended travel. This is the first time, however, that we have tried “Little School in the Big Woods.” Outdoor education

While our primary focus for the past six weeks has been life skills in the context of daily backpacking, we have included relevant academics as well. Sometimes this was in formal settings such as visiting museums, earning a Jr Ranger badge at a National Park, or attending a historical reenactment event. Museum

Jr Ranger

Civil War Reenactment

Natural Science is obviously easy to cover.  (See blog post HERE about critters we have seen in the trip.) We also made time for drawing, journal writing, storytelling, and singing. Journaling

Drawing of Backpack

Schoolwork

Finally, we carried my kindle so we had access to literature about the great outdoors. Most evenings we read out loud: poetry by Robert Frost, Walt Whitman, Robert Service, and from Psalms; and historical fiction about early exploration and settlement of the Ohio Valley in “The Frontiersmen” by Allan Eckhart. (We would love to hear YOUR favorite literature or poetry about the great outdoors! We want to continue exploring this theme throughout the rest of the schoolyear.) Traveling library

Daughter was so enthralled by “The Spell of the Yukon,” a poem by Yukon gold miner Robert Service, that she now has it memorized. She gives dramatic recitations to all who are interested (and even to those who are just being polite!) If you don’t have the chance to hear her in person, you can read the poem HERE.

When we get home, we will continue to explore what we have learned in our outdoor education. Possibilities include making posters and brochures, writing stories or even a children’s book, building a model of an AT shelter, designing quilt squares, and more. We will keep you posted…

(Note: we finished this year’s epic adventure on Oct. 21 but still have plenty of photos and posts to share with you!)

Music Therapy

Home-grown music is a significant part of our hiking adventure. Here’s a taste of what we can be heard singing as we walk along…

On misty, foggy mornings, daughter often starts with this song from Lord of the Rings: Edge of Night Misty trees

We sing this song back and forth when we are having fun and hiking with lots of energy: Hallelu, Hallelu Happy hikers

We sing this one when we are intimidated–facing shifting rocks and clambering over boulders on a trail that is not clearly marked: Psalms 56:3-4, When I Am Afraid Rock jumble

Sometimes I am just DONE and it feels like I can’t possibly take another step. This is when I ask daughter to sing for me. Somehow this song keeps me going: Overcomer It's a long trail

When the footing is hard or we are getting tired, daughter likes to sing this song, and sometimes she changes the lyrics to fit our adventure: Brother Stream crossing

One hostel we stayed in had a piano available for hikers to play. Daughter played a few songs she knows. Then I sat down and played through a book of folk songs. Ahhhh, a wonderful way to relax after a long day of hiking! Playing piano

In addition to making our own music, there have been a few times that our spirits have been lightened by music by others. One morning I was having a “gray day”–feeling like I was in a fog, with no energy to hike, but having to keep putting one foot in front of the other. We got to the shelter early and found “Hillbilly” settled in for the night. He hesitantly asked if it was okay to play guitar for awhile. He had written wonderful folk songs about growing up in Appalachia. As he sang, I got teary…and eventually the gray lifted and all was right with the world again. Thanks for the music therapy, Hillbilly! Hillbilly

What is your favorite music to get you through tough times or to give you energy?  We would love suggestions in the comments for us to check out!

(Note: we finished our adventure on Oct 21, but still have plenty of photos and blog posts to share with you about our epic adventure!)

It’s a ZOO Out Here!

Spiders and snakes and bears, oh my! We have seen these critters and a whole lot more…

We frequently make too much noise to see many critters while backpacking: boots tramp, fallen leaves crunch, poles skitter on rocks. In addition, we often talk or sing while we are hiking. Most forest-dwellers are shy and prefer to avoid contact with humans. Even when we notice them, critters often move too quickly or are too well camouflaged to capture in a photo.

Spiderwebs are the most common sight along the trail. The variety of architecture is surprising. Walking into invisible threads across the trail is irritating; but large webs lit up by the sun are beautiful. Usually the spiders are tiny but some are quite magnificent! Spiders

Other insects (which tend to ignore humans) are also common sights. There are plenty of beetles and stinkbugs. Our favorites were a fantasy-land of caterpillars. When we get home we hope to figure out what kinds of butterflies or moths these colorful creatures will become. Caterpillars

Yes, we have seen snakes (all harmless, thankfully). This slender green one fell out of a tree, landed near daughter’s feet, and paused long enough for a photo before sliding away. A number of large black snakes slithered across the trail in front of us, most as eager to stay away from us as we were eager to avoid them.  (True confessions: each time we saw a fast moving black snake, the person in front jumped and squealed. We felt silly but just couldn’t help it!) Snakes

We saw a number of deer along the trail. They are especially tame in Shenandoah National Park where they have learned that even the dogs (which must be leashed) are harmless. Although many hikers encountered black bear on the trail itself, we only saw this one young bear near a shelter. Mammals

And the ones who got away? We saw tiny lizards and a reddish orange salamander. We watched chipmunks skitter away, even climbing a foot or two up tree trunks before disappearing into underbrush. We were scolded by squirrels and croaked at by crows. One evening, I watched a grey fox trot past, pausing only long enough to stare at me for a long moment before continuing on his way.

These woods are certainly not empty. I wonder what the silent watchers think when they see and hear us blunder by?!

 

Redefine “Winning” and “Losing”

SUCCESS: the accomplishment of one’s goals; the attainment of position, honors, or the like

WIN: to finish first in a contest; to succeed by striving or effort

LOSE: to be without or fail to retain something so that it cannot be recovered

Mountain beautyIn our original plans for a big epic adventure,  daughter and I were going to hike 340 miles of the Appalachian Trail in two months. We will not accomplish that goal on this trip…we won’t even come close. Compared to thru-hikers we are slow-moving wimps. And in failing to meet this specific goal, it cannot be recovered at a later time. Hmmm, by these definitions it sure looks like we have not met success, that we are losers rather than winners…

NOT TRUE! True success is reaching for a goal, learning and growing in the process.

After pondering for a number of days, we have decided that we are finished with this fall’s big adventure. We are headed home today, having hiked over 150 trail miles in six weeks. (AT miles do not include the distance to and from the trail to shelters, water sources, and resupply sites.) This decision was based on a number of factors including:

  • Daughter is getting weary
  • Multiple cold days and below-freezing nights are draining
  • A good night’s sleep is no longer enough to start each day ache-free for me
  • We miss family, friends, and pets back home
  • We have lost the JOY of living and walking in beautiful surroundings, focused more on slogging through to the next shelter
  • There is something poetic about starting near Waynesboro (PA) and finishing in Waynesboro (VA)

Looking back at our original goals (which you can read HERE), we have actually met most of them. This adventure has stretched us out of our comfort zones and, in the process, shown us how much we are capable of doing. We have loved living outdoors, enjoying the beauties of nature. We have met fascinating people and been encouraged by their stories. We can truly celebrate what we have accomplished. This adventure has definitely been a success! Celebrating SUCCESS

Don’t worry…we still have many stories to share with you from our backpacking adventure. There will be more blog posts and photos in the coming weeks. And we will definitely return for further trail adventures next year!

We left a piece of our heart on the Appalachian Trail...

We left a piece of our heart on the Appalachian Trail…it calls us back for more adventures!

The Zen of Cold Water

Why, yes, we DO have running water while hiking in the woods. It pours out of natural springs (sometimes with a pipe installed) and ripples down streams. Oh, that’s not what you meant? You’re right, we only find faucets in “civilization.” Piped spring

Stream

So how do we get clean water that’s safe to drink? We carry a filter with us that turns any water we find into yummy, drinkable water. The biggest challenge is walking to the spring at the end of a tiring day of hiking. Here is the process:

  • Carry empty water containers to water source (ideally a level walk near shelter…but sometimes a steep, long walk away) Water pipe in spring
  • Fill collection bags with “dirty” water "Dirty" water bags
  • Screw on filter and squeeze clean water into containers for use Filtering water
  • Carry water back to camp (reservoirs for drinking while hiking, bottles to pour into pot for cooking, extra in collection bags to filter for later use) Remember, water is HEAVY so only carry what is really needed! Water containers

Because we use a small, lightweight “squeeze” filter, it takes awhile to fill all of our water containers. At first this frustrated me. But eventually I decided to consider this time as “zen time” to relax and simply enjoy the moments. Usually the water locations are scenic, with colorful leaves, rustling trees, and gurgling water. Water zen

Next time you turn on your faucet at home, take a moment to be grateful for instant, clean, safe water…uncommon in much of the world! 

“Oh the People You Meet…” — Hiker version

Both daughter and I are strong extroverts. We enjoy meeting new people and gain energy from talking with others. Let me introduce you to some of the delightful, quirky folks we have met in our first month of hiking the Appalachian Trail.

“By the time [thru-hikers] have been on the trail a month or two…they’ve had their faith in the essential goodness of mankind restored. They’ve learned that every time they see a new hiker coming down the trail, it’s a new friend. They’ve learned that the barriers of age, occupation, and geography mean nothing here.” –Warren Doyle(who has completed the AT 16 times!

Each hiker we meet has a story. When passing another person on the trail it is common to stop long enough to exchange basic info: length of time on trail, goal (thru-hiker or section hiker), and “trail name.” (This is the nickname one is known by while hiking and which one uses when signing the logbook at each shelter. Our names are Story Seeker and Andowen.) When ending the day at the same shelter or campsite, more stories are exchanged…from life stories to hiking info to anecdotes of life on the trail. The “hiker grapevine” is alive and well!

Our first night on the trail we camped beside a couple who had walked in for the night. She is a professional chef, taking a break between positions, wanting to get back to the joy of cooking for others rather than overseeing an entire kitchen. He is a mineral hunter, traveling the world to search for gems and ore to sell to collectors. Fascinating!

Like many long distance hikers, Aaron is in transition in life. He is putting life back together by spending time in nature, playing music, and exchanging stories with others. His metaphorical goal? “finding David’s secret chord that pleased the Lord.”Aaron and guitar

Magoo retired last year. He and his wife planned to thru-hike, but after just a few days she headed back home, realizing this wasn’t her idea of fun. Magoo switched to doing long distance section hikes to complete the trail over the next few years. We were both amused to find out we are not just from the same city in Ohio, but that he lives only a few blocks from where I grew up!

TomTom is another retired fellow, this time from northern Ohio. He was on the trail for a week to figure out what he needs before attempting a thru-hike next year. Biggest lesson he learned was lighter gear is mandatory! (Note: this is not a typical shelter but is one of the fanciest on the trail! )TomTom

Most of the hikers we meet in this area and at this time of year are southbound thru-hikers: couples and individuals who, by now, are a bit weary of the journey. They have their routines down to a science and are usually covering long miles every day.

We have also met a number of section hikers, spending a week or so away from work to complete another piece of the Appalachian Trail. We shared stories, encouraged each other, and giggled late into the night with K&K, two lacrosse-moms on their first backpacking adventure. We only spent one night together at a shelter since we were heading different directions…but we were thrilled to hear from them a week later to learn they successfully met their goal.

Daughter and I have been pleased to keep running into Blaze on our trip. He hikes longer days so each time we say goodbye we expect we will never see him again. But he has taken more zero days than us so we keep catching him. The first time we met, he patiently taught daughter how to make a good campfire (which he does morning and evening for cooking. ) He talks Lord of the Rings and fantasy with daughter and life challenges with me. He is a Brooklynite who is hiking south to Georgia from NYC, then plans to turn around and hike the entire trail back to Maine, then walk back south to home in Brooklyn.  (He estimates this will take a year or so. ) Like many hikers, this is a transition time to figure out the “what’s-next” of life for him. Blaze

Finally, I want to introduce you to Beetle. We spent a zero-day together at a hiker hostel on a rainy day…followed by evacuating off the trail together due to severe weather. She and I have enjoyed learning the similarities in our life stories. She and daughter take delight in teasing each other…and trying to stump each other with riddles. She started as a “flip-flop” thru-hiker (start in middle headed north to Maine, return to middle and complete hike south to Georgia). Unfortunately she ended up off-trail because of an injury. She won’t complete the thru-hike, but is back on the trail,  hiking to complete another long section before winter. Hopefully, we will keep in contact back in real-life! Beetle

Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep…

There are “shelters” along the Appalachian Trail, set aside for any hiker to stay for free. These are usually three-sided structures, open on the fourth side. A simple shelter

Older shelters (from the 1930s onward) are quite simple with no light other than what comes in under the overhang on the front opening. (Notice that even in daylight one needs a headlamp to read.) Shelter lounging

Newer shelters are often more elaborate, with decks, picnic pavilions, lofts, skylights, and more.  Like the trail itself, all are maintained by volunteers. Shelter deck

Shelters range in size, offering space for 4-10 hikers to sleep. Air mattresses and sleeping bags are spread on the platform (always at least one step above the ground, sometimes at seat height, sometimes with bunk platforms). Backpacks, coats and wet gear hang from pegs. Walking sticks and boots are usually jumbled in the corners. Sleeping bags in shelter

Shelters have nearby tent sites, some type of privy, a picnic table and a fire ring. Newer shelters have a picnic pavilion which can double as extra sleeping space on stormy nights when the shelter itself is full! Picnic pavilion

Shelters are spaced 5-13 miles apart. Whenever possible, we enjoy staying at a shelter because of the extra conveniences and because of the social interactions with other hikers. Since we hike short daily distances, however, we sometimes have to find a flat area to pitch our tent for a night between shelters. That has its own charms, including a sense of accomplishment that we can, indeed, be self-reliant. Tent

No matter where we end up for the night, we always sleep well. A day of hard exercise certainly helps!

“Owies”

When on a long distance hike, it becomes critically important to take care of your feet. After all, they ARE your only mode of transportation!

Today’s boots don’t need long periods of breaking them in. Even so, any time along the way hot spots may occur. The first moment you notice discomfort, stop immediately and remove your boots. Sometimes the fix is as simple as readjusting a wrinkled sock or retying boots a different way. If a red or white spot is developing, it’s time to cover the irritated area with…duct tape! Yes, you read that right. Lowly duct tape is a great way to prevent blisters and it stays on far longer than bandaids or moleskin! (Note: the more colorful it is, the more it makes me smile. No boring gray for me.) Duct tape feet

Other typical “owies” on the trail are scratches (which need cleaning and anti-bacterial ointment), twisted ankles or knees (just hope it isn’t severe), and achy, swollen knees (don’t forget your “vitimin I” … ibuprofen).

Some injuries are more severe and may require getting off the trail for healing and recovery time. I met one southbound thru-hiker who had to go home because of severe shin splints. Another hiker aborted her thru-hike attempt because of an injured Achilles tendon but is back on the trail this week to get in more miles before winter.

Many of you know I most likely broke my toe on our sixth day out. (I was foolishly walking barefoot on the smooth deck at a shelter…there were no splinters but I jammed the toe on a support beam under a bench.) With a couple of zero days to rest and elevate the foot, alternating ibuprofen and Tylenol for swelling and pain, lots of prayer,  and concentrating on not limping (to avoid injuring that knee,  in addition to the toe), I’m still hiking. It aches when we walk longer days, but the bruising is gone and it is less swollen. Broken toe

I suspect most long-distance hikers have to be stubborn enough to push past the “owies” to stay on the trail…and all of us joke about the “hiker hobble” (walking strong while hiking but looking crippled up in the morning or after a long sitting break).

“Trail Magic”

Wreaths and brownies and apples. You never know what magic will be found in the woods!

Trail Magic is any unexpected good thing that happens while you are hiking the Appalachian Trail. Anytime they occur, these gifts add a bit of happy to the day. On difficult, never-ending days, however, these seemingly tiny things can be a HUGE encouragement!

So far, daughter’s favorite gift was from a southbound thru-hiker who thought she “needed” a fern crown as an elf-in-the-woods. A close runner up was a southbound thru-hiker who shared some of the feathers he had found along the way–an excellent start for a new collection on daughter’s hiking staff. MAGIC! Elven queen

Our first day on the trail, daughter’s water reservoir leaked, making us short of water. Unfortunately, the shelter we were camping beside had no nearby water. (It was .3 steep miles down a rocky side trail, then back up lugging heavy water.) We were exhausted and dreaded the thought of having to haul water to fix dinner. But…a local couple who were camping overnight shared extra water plus invited us to their campfire. MAGIC!

We stayed one night at a bunkhouse along the trail. A number of thru-hikers were camping on the grounds as well. Shared dinner conversation is always energizing. But then the caretakers brought out a pan of brownies, still hot from the oven. MAGIC! Hot brownies

We hiked a longer than expected day to get to a hostel and town-day in Harpers Ferry. It was a grueling day of unrelenting inclines. When we reached the ATC headquarters, one of the workers asked how we were doing. I replied, “I’m dead!” She laughed, and said, “Of course you aren’t dead, you are still on your feet and still managing to joke!” Then when we got to the hostel, there was a note from a friend waiting for us. I decided I wasn’t going to quit this crazy adventure after all. MAGIC!

On a hot day with steep climbs and treacherous descents, we were passed by a zillion day hikers. Oh how we envied their light day-packs (or no packs)! We chatted with a few, telling our story, hearing theirs. One dad and sons gave us a variety of yummy snacks. Another couple gave each of us an apple–a luxury we can’t usually afford weight-wise. MAGIC! Fresh fruit

In your day today–look for someone who could use a bit of encouragement and give them a smile or a wee-small giftie. You never know when such little things might be received as MAGIC!