Sunday, August 7, 2016
It's no secret that one of my passions is hiking on the Appalachian Trail. Each year, I look forward to that particular week when we load up our packs and head out for our section hike. We usually can only go for a week at a time, which includes 5 or 6 days of hiking and a couple days of travel time and it's become my "event of the year," so to speak. But, as we all know, sometimes life steps in and things just don't work out according to plan. This has been one of those years. Many things have come to pass since we came back from the A.T. last October but we made tentative plans to return for a hike with a wonderful man we'd met a couple years ago who doesn't live far from us here in Tampa. I'd planned our route. We'd picked the dates. All that was left to do was work out those last-minute details before heading up to Hot Springs, NC next month. In spite of our best efforts, however, our plans have fallen through and we now have to set our sights ahead to next summer when we'll hopefully take on the Smoky Mountains.
Ordinarily, having the rug pulled out from under our plans so close to our departure date would have filled me with a sense of disappointment that's hard to describe. What I'm feeling is something totally different. Yes, I'm a bit disappointed because I do love our time on the trail. I'd even been given the green light to go ahead and go on the hike as planned, minus my hiking partner, my sister. I didn't even have to think about it really. What having to put things on hold till next year has taught me is that going out on the trail without my usual hiking partners isn't what I want to do. It just doesn't seem right to me. The section hikes are something I share with my sister and my brother, whenever he can work it out to go. Until the day comes where they tell me flat out that they no longer wish to take those hikes with me, I'll wait for them. Perhaps that's because what I love about the A.T. isn't just what I get out of it personally, but more importantly, the memories I make with my family members. So, as we head skate towards the end of 2016, the year will come and go without me stepping a foot on the A.T. We'll get there next year. I know we will. Here's to us and taking on the Smokies in 2017!
Thursday, April 7, 2016
As we all know, water is key to our survival. When out on a trail such as the A.T., you'll have to gather this valuable resource from small creeks or even piped sources along the way. The water may look clear and clean but please...don't drink it straight from the source. I know there are those out there that do/have, but it's always best to either boil or filter your water before drinking it. In the long run, this can save you from some really horrible stomach issues down the line.
There are many filter system choices available these days, but the one I'm partial to (and that has never let me down yet) is the Katadyn Hiker series. Yes, these add about 11 ounces to your total pack weight (and probably about a pound when the filter is wet inside) but it's weight I'm not willing to sacrifice. I thought it might be useful if I listed a few tips here for those first-time users to (hopefully) make the process easier. Some of these tips might seem like common sense, but I'll mention them anyway.
1. Before the first use, the filter must be primed. This is done by unscrewing the body compartment of the filter, removing the filter cartridge, putting some water inside, putting it back together, and then pumping it through the unit. I always do this the night before at the hotel. It doesn't take much water to get the system working properly. (Note: It can be difficult sometimes to remove the outside compartment so don't give up!)
2. Before using your unit, secure the weight on the tubing to help keep the tube from floating to the top of the water.
3. Always (and I learned this the hard way because I didn't read the directions before using my filter the first time) secure the filter basket in the end of the tubing. This is essential to keep fine debris from clogging up your filter cartridge.
4. After use, try your best to keep the piece of tubing that was directly in the water source away from the tubing that you put down in your water bladder, ect. I don't go out of my way to do this, but I do remove the inflow tubing from the filter and try to keep it separated from the rest of the unit just to try to minimize cross contamination. Again, don't stress over this too much.
5. In the even that your filter clogs and you're unable to clear it, you can always boil your water before drinking. This is a bit time consuming but better than the alternative of big belly issues.
Hopefully those tips will be helpful to anyone using the system for the first time. Also...just know that your arm might get a bit tired while pumping but you'll be super strong when you get home! Overall, I've been very pleased with the effectiveness and quickness of this filter system and plan to continue to carry it with me on future hikes!
Friday, December 18, 2015
DAY 6: CABLE GAP SHELTER TO SOUTHERN BOUNDARY OF THE GREAT SMOKIE
MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK (7.9 MILES)
We woke on the last morning of our section hike to the sound of rain. This presented us with a whole list of new challenges. Don't get me wrong. We've hiked in the rain before. In fact, we have yet to hit the trail and not get rained on at least once. This hike we were about to end was actually delayed by a day thanks to Mother Nature. What we hadn't had to do yet was break down camp in the rain. After deliberating for a few minutes, we decided to just throw everything into our packs and make a run for the shelter where we could lay it all out and pack it correctly. I'll give credit now to my sister because she has an innate ability to get things done faster than anyone else I know. By the time I was done fumbling around inside the tent, trying to get my sleeping bag rolled up and stuff, she had practically shoved all of the gear we had left out by the fire pit into her bag. We took the tent down and shoved into one of the empty odor-proof bags. The clouds and rain made it much darker out than we were use to. Still, Debbie worked with a purpose and we were soon donning our Crocs and ready to make a run for it. Now...our camp was downhill so the trail was wet and a bit steep (what isn't steep on the A.T). We had water running down our legs and into our camp shoes, which served to make it next to impossible to keep them on our feet, let alone get traction on the slick ground. After what seemed like forever, we made it to the shelter where we made short work out of spreading our wet gear out. We sat there in the quiet of the early morning, having our last cup of instant coffee before making our final meal for breakfast. I say final because before we left the NOC, we counted out exactly what we thought we would consume over the next few days and then stuck in one extra coffee and meal just in case. Well...our "just in case" breakfast consisted of re-hydrated chicken and rice. For dinner, that was tasty. For that last breakfast...we had to force it down, knowing we couldn't hike on an empty stomach and we didn't really want to stop for a hot lunch later...so there we sat, water-logged and exhausted, literally gagging as we forced that chicken and rice into our empty bellies. All that was left was to pack up those last items, put on our hiking boots and head on out. While my sister made one last trip to the privy, I stood in the silence, taking in my surroundings. This is where the mixed emotions came in. I won't lie....I was MORE than ready to stop hiking, get a shower, real food and an ice-cold Diet Coke. But on that morning, as I stood in the woods, it all had a sense of finality about it....like when I left the woods this time, I wouldn't return. I can't say why it felt that way. It just did. After a few more moments of reflection, we hit the trail and began our final day.
The rain still threatened as we walked amid the clouds. It was humid. It was eerie. It was also beautiful...
|The colorful leaves carpeted the trail...|
|The Benton MacKaye Trail meets the A.T.|
|Yes...those are stairs....more downhill!|
Without warning, we came out of the woods and into a huge parking lot. To our left was a boat ramp for Fontana Lake...and this building, our first actually bathroom since leaving the NOC! Better yet, there was a vending machine filled with ice-cold soda. I didn't even notice the restroom. I went straight for the vending machine! We both chugged a Diet Coke faster than ever before. Damn, did that taste good! The last thing I wanted to drink that day was more water! We didn't spend much time at our pit stop...the end of our hike was in sight at last...
The 1.8 mile trek around Fontana Lake was beautiful! Every now and then, we'd get a break in the trees and got to see the lake. The water level was incredibly low and what shocked me was the amount of trash that lay along the shoreline. I mean big stuff....plastic chairs, coolers, and all kinds of stuff that truly shouldn't have been there. It was sad to see such a beautiful place in that condition. It made me wonder what our world is coming to....what made the ones who thought it was okay to dispose of their trash in this manner...dumping it into the lake. It was also along this 1.8 miles that my sister made the observation that a "mountain mile" and a "road or sidewalk mile" must not be the same distance. It seemed to take forever to traverse that lone mile. We finally happened upon the shelter lovingly known as the Fontana Hilton:
The Fontana Hilton is one of the nicest shelters we've been to yet. There are picnic tables, grills, and the visitor's center is just down the road so showers and restrooms are available. The views are stunning! I wish we'd had the time to spend a night at this one. Maybe next time....
The walk down to the Fontana Dam Visitor's Center is an easy one and when we rounded the corner and the dam came into view, I felt a new spring come into my step. Our journey was almost over. We still had to cross the dam and set foot in the Smokies before our hike was considered complete. They're doing work on the road that crosses the dam so we had to go down through the center and up some stairs in order to cross the dam. Our walk was a slow one. We were completely exhausted and hungry and just wanted to sit down. It was impossible to ignore the view from the dam...
|View from the middle of Fontana Dam|
|Looking back towards the Visitor's Center|
I felt almost giddy as we approached our landmark...the sign marking the southern boundary of the Great Smokie Mountains National Park. We walked up to the sign and stuck our foot into the Smokies, but not too far in....that's to be saved for another time...
|I made it!|
Looking back, almost three months later, I still have fond memories and laugh often when I see a certain picture. As for that feeling of finality...well....I don't know if we'll make it back next summer to do the Smokies but I'm glad for the chance to do what I've done...and for the memories I've made with my siblings. Here's to hoping there'll be more where those came from!
|HAPPY HIKING EVERYONE!|
Sunday, November 22, 2015
Whenever the holiday season rolls around, I often find myself filled with an overload of nostalgia. I think of all the years gone by....those Christmases when I was little, filled with elaborate "Christmas Plans" designed to catch Santa in action as well as the customary trip to my grandparent's house in West Virginia...a trip that often took days to travel from whatever duty station we were at. I think of how excited we were and how we didn't sleep at all on Christmas Eve. My thoughts also venture back to those holidays when my own three children were little and I wonder if they felt that same excitement...if I made Christmas as special for them as my parents did for me? I can only hope so. Now there are some grandchildren in the family and the holiday story continues.
I also find myself dwelling on those things that I'm most grateful for. At the top of that list is my family, of course. I can't help but realize just how blessed we are: no major illnesses to deal with, everyone has a job that provides a roof over their heads and food on the table. While some of us aren't rolling in money, we have all that we need and I think that's more than good enough. This will be our second holiday season without Mom and she is surely missed. But we gather together and share the special times, just as we all know she would want us to do. We truly are a family blessed and for that, I am grateful.
It wouldn't be a post from me if I didn't mention my A.T. hiking in some way, so here it goes. Since I started section hiking back in 2012, each trip has come to mean more and more to me. Life gets loud and crazy sometimes and hitting the trail is my refuge from all that noise. Being out there where the only thing I have to think about is waking up with the sun, trekking through the woods to my next destination, and climbing into that tent as the sun goes down is a welcomed retreat from "reality," if you will. It is also a time when I challenge myself and find out just what I can do. I typically doubt my abilities on a day to day basis so each time I complete a section hike, I feel as if I've truly accomplished something. Not much else that I do gives me that same feeling. My love of the A.T. has introduced me to some amazing people both online and face-to-face. I love to talk to fellow hikers about their trips! I learn a lot from these determined people and hope that every now and then, they learn something from me. Most of all, my time on the trail is usually spent with my siblings and that makes the time priceless.
|Accomplished my goal! Time to set a new one!|
As the years since we started our section hikes have passed, things have started to change. New interests have developed. Jobs have become more demanding. Life has gotten busier. Time to hike together has gotten harder and harder to come by. Nothing out of the ordinary really. That's how life is for most of us. I've had to accept that not everyone shares my love and excitement for doing these section hikes. That's okay too. We're all individuals with different demands and obligations of us that we must meet. My point is that all of this makes me extremely grateful for the times we've been lucky enough to share.
I've share this quote often, but I think it bears repeating at this particular place in this post:
"The A.T. changes you and it fixes you...."
It certainly does those things for me and the memories I've made there will stay with me forever. I consider myself lucky to be able to get out there whenever I can and do the things I do.
So, as this holiday season begins, I think it's the perfect time for each of us take a look around us and take stock of our many blessings...of all the things we are grateful for. Being grateful is an art and it can definitely take some work because a lot of times, life just seems to be knocking us down but it can be done. I know because it's something I try to make myself do often. I make myself take time to notice the little things I have in my life...and sometimes those "little things" add up to be pretty big! May you all have a happy and blessed holiday season!
(photo taken atop Blood Mountain, 2011)
Saturday, November 21, 2015
DAY 5: BROWN FORK GAP SHELTER TO CABLE GAP SHELTER - 6.1 MILES
We took our time breaking down camp on that 5th morning, knowing that our day ahead was relatively short...only 6.1 miles. We planned it that way so that we'd arrive at Cable Gap Shelter area fairly early in the afternoon, giving us time to simply relax before making the final push to Fontana Dam the next day...the end of our journey. Our trek on this day would mostly be downhill, something that is so much harder for me than going up can be. Yeah...I know...that doesn't make sense...unless you do it day after day. Then it becomes crystal clear. Traversing an extended downhill section plays havoc on the knees and feet, as well as all your large leg muscles. Taking "baby steps" hour after hour gets old quick! But onward we went...northbound.
We were blessed with some pretty amazing views...
And, in my opinion anyway, cursed with more (and more and more) nasty rocks that were the trail...
Not only were we crossing huge rocks, there was a tree blown down across the trail with no way around it. We had no choice but to go through it. It wasn't easy. Me, in all my grace, had to pretty much straddle it sideways to go over, catching my pack in the branches and over-stretching an already tender groin muscle. Just as I brought my left leg over and attempted to stand upright, our beloved bottle of Advil slipped from the pocket of my pack and fell down between some rocks. (Insert the dead quiet with crickets chirping as we both stood, looking down at it. I knew we couldn't leave it so I began the longest, deepest squat I've ever done in my life and snatched it with my fingertips. Success was ours! I don't know how, but I managed to save the Advil...we leave no one behind!
About 3 miles into our day, we reached Cody Gap and stopped for a short break...
There's a camping spot or two at the Gap and a water source which we didn't take time to find but if one really had to, you could stop here for the night. What we seem to find at these gaps is a sense of almost eeriness...something that would only be multiplied by darkness once it fell. We don't typically get much sleep during our nights in the woods but that would be a given if we pitched our tent in one of these gaps. Not really my style but always good to know about in the event that you truly needed to stop for whatever reason.
We continued on down the trail and I couldn't help but notice how beautiful the woods were. I love the smell of the trees and such. It just feels like you're breathing in clean, fresh air.
If memory serves, we arrived at the Cable Gap Shelter area around 3:30 or so...
|Everyone needs to take notice of this sign!|
We chose to head downhill from the shelter to what appeared to be the perfect camping spot. The water source was right there and the privy and shelter weren't too far away. Upon closer inspection, we found it a bit tricky to find the right spot to put the tent. There were lots of tree roots crisscrossing the area and the slant of the ground was much more noticeable than we thought. We finally decided on what looked like a level spot...
|The stream was just to the right of our tent area...|
Turns out, we had the shelter area to ourselves that night. Honestly, we were pretty beaten up, tired and sore...ready for a quiet afternoon that would allow us to just concentrate on the little things, like making what is affectionately known as our "little stick fire." As luck would have it, there was no shortage of little sticks in the area so we were able to keep our fire going for a couple of hours or so. We kind of just sat around, enjoying the woods and a cup of coffee (the one thing I will not hike without).
The sun finally began to set so we made our final preparations for the night. This typically includes putting any valuables inside the tent and stowing away all food, trash, or items with any smell in our Op Sac odor-proof bags. We are completely happy with and confident in the reliability of these bags. Not once have we awakened to find them having been disturbed. I should add that the one thing we are both pretty much anal about it food and trash storage. We leave NOTHING out that would attract the nighttime critters. If there's any doubt, it goes in the Op Sac. As an extra layer of protection, we usually double the sacs. I know food storage methods are a matter of personal preference but that's what we're currently using. We've also carried the Bear Vault a time or two. They're large but can double as storage in your pack if need be. Anyway....we climbed into our tent for our last night out in the woods...
It didn't take long for us to discover that our tent site was not level. My sister slid down and to her left and I had to make an effort to hang on to my sleeping pad so I wouldn't roll with her. Because we wanted to cut down on the humidity inside the tent....it seems like even though we put on dry clothes once our camp chores are done and try to go to bed dry, I tend to be consumed by these giants shivers that start down in your toes and wrack your entire body...and it's not because I'm cold...we left the rain fly open up at the front of our tent. One thing we learned a long time ago is to never go to bed without the rain fly on your tent. Even if it doesn't rain, moisture will collect inside your tent. Oh...and just because you don't think it's going to rain, doesn't mean it won't. During the wee hours of the morning, we were both awakened by what sounded like either wind or rain. "Let's give it a minute and see what it does," we said. It didn't take but a minute for us to realize it was actually raining so Debbie did her best to climb up and close the rain fly. We were on a slant and downhill from the shelter so we were hoping it wasn't going to be a deluge. Our Big Agnes tent proved yet again that it is, in fact, waterproof, something we were immensely thankful for that night. Much to our dismay, it was still raining when we woke up the next morning, which added a whole new level of trail experiences for us...breaking camp in the rain. But that's a story for another day...tomorrow...day 6...our final day on the A.T. In spite of the rain, we woke excited and with renewed energy. Day 6 was the day we would be reunited with our beloved Diet Coke!