Wednesday, December 28, 2011



“It just doesn’t get any better than this!”  (My sister’s words upon reaching the summit of Blood Mountain.)
      ….and so began my love affair with the Appalachian Trail! 

I’d never even heard of Dahlonega, Georgia until a little over a year and a half ago, when my youngest son decided his college of choice was North Georgia College and State University.  We arrived in town on the afternoon of November 9th, 2010 so that he could attend an ROTC event that weekend.  Since we had time to kill, we ended up at Amicalola Falls, which is where most Appalachian Trail adventures begin.  The AT approach trail leads to the summit of Springer Mountain, a mere 8.5 miles from the gift shop where all thru-hikers are asked to check in.  All I had to do was set foot on the start of that approach trail and the longing to walk from Georgia all the way to Maine took control of my heart and has become my obsession. 

Our next trip to Dahlonega included plans to complete several day hikes, starting with the summit of Springer Mountain, where a meager plaque marks the southern terminus of the AT and the beginning of the almost 2200 miles journey for most.  I turned my Toyota Highlander off the main road onto GA service road 28 and proceeded to make the harrowing ascent to the parking lot that marked the trailhead to Springer.  After what seemed like hours, I finally put my car in park, grabbed my daypack and headed out, thrilled and filled with the anticipation of finally actually standing on the spot I’d only seen in videos or read about in books.  It didn’t take long for me to realize just how out of shape I was, something I chose to blame on having lived in Florida where there aren’t even any hills, let alone steep ascents to mountain tops.  Needless to say, I made it to the summit of Springer and the overwhelming sense of joy and accomplishment filled my heart.  I felt a closeness with so many I’d never even met as I made my own small entry into the journal that was safely tucked away in that metal box.  I felt like kindred spirits with those who had been there before me.  I finally felt as if I was exactly where I was meant to be….like I’d finally come home.

It’s been said that time on the Appalachian Trail “changes you” and it “fixes you,” and I have to say that for me, no truer words have been spoken.  That first 7 or 8 mile hike was all it took for me to know that one day I will walk the entire length of the AT.  It’s hard to describe how it makes me feel to simply “be” out there on the trail.  In order to prevent certain stumbling, I walked on with my eyes on the ground…but doing so opened up a whole new world for me as I discovered all kinds of new things:  mushrooms in colors I never knew existed; bugs I’d never seen (and hope to never have on me); tiny flowering plants, animal tracks….the list goes on and on.  Then there’s the smell of the woods.  There’s something about that smell that takes me back in time.  I love to take deep breaths of the crystal clean air… seems to fill my lungs with a new vigor and I find energy I never knew I had.  Often times, I’d simply stand in the silence of the deep woods, listening to the wind rustling through the tops of trees so tall they seemed to touch the heavens.  I can honestly say that my soul has never known such peace.

I can agree with what’s been said about how time on the AT “changes you” and “fixes you,” but I’d have to add one more attribute to that list.  My time on the Appalachian Trail is what saves me.  I’ve been through some extremely emotional times and whenever I feel that pain becoming more than I can bear, my spirit returns my heart to the AT….because when I’m there, my heart doesn’t hurt. All my troubles seem to fade away. The woods seem to wrap its arms around me and take me in, welcoming me back with total acceptance and no questions asked.  It doesn’t matter if I can only walk a few steep steps before I have to stop and catch my breath.  There’s no one out there to tell me I can’t.  In fact, there’s always something waiting ahead of me to reward me for a job well done…for not quitting or giving up, even when my body feels like it’s at the edge of exhaustion and I am certain I can’t haul my rear end up one more rock.  I can…and I do….and when I finally reach the top, no greater reward exists than the view! 

To date, I’ve only been blessed to have hiked short sections of the AT, to include some of the approach trail, Springer Mountain and the Benton McKay Trail, and up to the summit of Blood Mountain (which was by far the most challenging thing I’ve ever done), but the passion to complete a thru-hike has overcome me and become my life’s goal.  I may only be able to do so in sections, but my personal challenge has become to one day have my picture taken behind that sign posted on the summit of Katahdin.  I’m often quoted as saying that one of these days, I’m simply going to disappear into those woods and emerge some 2100 miles later a changed woman.  I can think of no better way to end my story that’s just beginning than to quote a piece of a song lyric:  “I walk this walk for me.”

Lori Domingo, Trail name “Dreamer”

(the piece above is the article I submitted to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy's publication, 'AT Journeys' for consideration for their 'As I See It" column.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


I will start by apologizing for the fact that I'm unable to share pictures at this time.  I borrowed a laptop to bring on my trip that does not have my new Cannon DSLR software installed.  That having been said, I thought I'd still post a bit about my time on the Appalachian Trail.

I've spoken briefly about my experience on Springer Mountain and plan to go into more detail once my photos are available.  My second "meeting" with the Appalachian Trail included a hike to the summit of Blood Mountain.  Now, being the avid reader that I am, I'd already been warned that this hike was considered strenuous, something that didn't scare me off.  My son and I found getting to the trailhead much easier than the previous day.  We parked the car, looked around the almost empty lot, and just stood, taking it all in.  Our first order of business is to suit up with bug spray because the insects along the trail are persistent hiking companions.  Lo and behold....I'd taken the spray out the night before to adjust the contents of our bad and forgot to put it back in. no big deal.  We could deal with the ever-present buzzing sounds in our ears.  Surprisingly enough, though, neither of us suffered any bites.  Double checking our bag for water and other items, we were finally ready to head out.

The trail head led us almost immediately into a dense forest of low growing, flowering trees, giving the trail an almost spooky effect.  Pretty much from the beginning, the trail ascended steeply via a series of swithbacks as we seemed to zig-zag up the side of the mountain.  Approximately .7miles up the trail, we came into a clearing and met up with the Appalachian Trail.  Once again, my senior brain couldn't remember which way we were suppose to go.  My son's advice proved to be wise:  if we want to hike to the summit then we have to take the trail direction that goes up not we did just that...and boy, UP it went!  My son has the patience of a saint with me so my frequent requests to stop and catch my breath didn't phase him.  He seemed to have non-stop energy for our climb while there were moments when I seriously didn't think my leg muscles could lift my butt up on more rock or step.  My heart was pounding and sweat was pouring off of me and I'll even admit that there were a couple of times where I thought about quitting.  My son would just say "it's up to you."  I knew I couldn't quit.  For most AT hikers, this is just a small piece of their journey.  For me, it's the beginning of what I hope to continue some day in the future.  So, onward and upward we went.  After over 2 hours of hiking up, we finally broke the summit and the view was amazing!  We were so high at times that my son would ask me if we were actually in the clouds.  Yes, we were.  I have to digress for a moment to add that my son said several times that the forest that surrounded us was just what he would think a bear would come out of and he was forever planning his escape route should we encounter one.  I told him that the bear would just have to eat me because I was too exhausted for an escape attempt.  It wasn't until we began our descent that I could take the time to notice just how deep in the woods we really were.  Very few people ever get to see what we were seeing.  It's amazingly peaceful and real.  Getting down the mountain didn't take as long as going up did and before we knew it, we were once again in that clearing where the AT crossed a side trail that was our exit to the trail head.  It was then that we were joined by a solitary hiker who simply smiled and said hello as he passed us and headed up the same trail we'd just come down.  Hiking that area alone would really be amazing but I'm not quite ready for that one yet.  I have decided my next goal is to hike from Amicalola Falls to the southern terminus of the AT atop Springer Mountain.  There's a shelter there to spend the night before making the return trip the next day.  Again...a trip that would be a baby step for the experienced AT hiker but will be an achievement for me.

I am hoping to put all my feelings into better words that will be shown in the pictures I took along the way.  I was exhausted and sore from my "mountain climbing" adventures but would do it all over again if I could.  I want to stand on the summit of Springer Mountain again (just via a route other than that drive up FSR28 or 42).  I want to hike from one mountain to the next.  I want to be where my spirit feels free.  I want to hike the Appalachian Trail.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


There are those who cannot understand just what it is that draws me to these woods.  There terrain can be treacherous, there are active bear warning signs everywhere, and I often walk for miles without seeing another person.  We approached our destination yesterday, Springer Mountain, via an unpaved forest service road that was a hair-raising experience for me.  My son kept saying "cool, I'm looking DOWN at the treetops," to which I replied "I don't want to know that!"  It seemed to take us forever to traverse that 10 miles to the parking lot but we finally made it.  We hiked a narrow trail and when we reached the summit a feeling of accomplishment came over me...I was finally standing in a spot I'd only read about and longed to see....the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.  It's rather simple....modestly marked by a small plaque on the ground and a slightly larger one on a boulder not too far from the other one....but as I made my entry into the journal that's safely kept in a mailbox attached to the boulder, I felt a connection with hundreds who had been there before me.  I felt like I was a part of a group that shares common ground...a love for the outdoors and the splendor of the Appalachian Trail.  I will be heading back out today, this time to tackle the trail to the summit of Blood Mountain....a trail that gains 1000 feet in elevation in one mile.  My calf muscles are barking this morning but I am determined to make the climb.  It's more than just a hike to's a spiritual journey of sorts that I can't wait to share in more detail later....a journey that will stay with me forever in my heart...

More to come: Journey to the summit of Blood Mountain (and photos once I return home and get them uploaded)

Friday, July 8, 2011


I'm heading back to Dahloenga, GA with my son for his college orientation but while I'm there, I plan to scour the tiny town and surrounding areas as well as complete a handful of day hikes on the Appalachian Trail.  The beauty of the mountains in the fall goes without saying, and I am anxious to explore the area during a different time of year.  Stay tuned for my latest travel blog, which will be posted shortly after I return home (hopefully)!

Saturday, April 16, 2011


It's very difficult to look at this photo and think that there's any way anything could possibly be "alive" on this barren, dusty landscape.  The sky is hazy with dust and heat.

It tends to make you thirsty just looking at it.  I must add an amusing anecdote at this point.  Well, it's amusing now as I look back on it but was anything but funny at the time.  I've always loved hiking, but have to admit that the majority of my outdoor adventures included walks in the rainforests of the Hawaiian Islands or following the wooded, mountain trails of the Adirondacks and Blue Ridge Mountains.  In my mind, I was completely ready for my desert hike.  I'd carefully packed extra water in my tiny backpack.  I'd applied my sunscreen. So off I went.

As I approached my destination, my excitement was building at the prospect of exploring a place I'd never been before.  I slowly maneuvered my car along the winding road, gazing out at the rather ominous looking terrain that surrounded me.  It almost seemed to be taunting me to explore if I dared to.

After a long two mile drive, I reached the outpost/gift shop/restroom perched upon a plateau and parked my car.  Grabbing my "gear," I eagerly set off for my hike, the map I'd been given at the park entrance in hand.  Gauging the distance by eye rather than using the scale, I set off for what I thought was only suppose to be a two mile jaunt.  I walked in quiet amazement as I looked up in awe at the sheer size of the palm trees looming above me.  The canyon floor was cool and I easily understood why the Indians had chosen such a spot to call their home.

I continued to meander down the winding trail, taking in as much of what I was seeing as I possibly could.  It's important to note at this point that the terrain had been basically flat, interrupted only occasionally with the gentle slope or rocks to step over.  I came to what was suppose to be a stream crossing but was nothing more than a dry creek bed as the sun's blazing heat bore down on it.  Once across, I followed the trail which was progressively getting steeper.  It's important to note at this point that I'd lived in Florida for years prior to my adventure and rarely came in contact with a hill of any kind.  Not to be intimidated, I marched on.  Finally, I reached the sign I'd been looking for and turned onto Victor Trail.  I was immediately cast out into the wide open desert terrain, leaving all semblances of shade behind me in the disappearing canyon.  I slowly began my ascent of the mountainside, stopping often just to catch my breath and take in the amazing view from my cliff-side vantage point and take a sip of the water I'd so cleverly packed.  Well...I kept on walking and walking as the landscape on both sides of me began to look exactly the same.  There were rocks and sticks and cactus everywhere.  At one point, I stopped just to sit on a rock and regroup.  Looking out over the canyon, I could see my starting point way off in the distance but the trail I was following was becoming harder and harder to discern from the desert around me.

Gazing out at my far-a-way destination, it hit me....I was lost...lost in the desert the very first time I'd ventured out on a hike.  I was soaking wet with sweat and very grateful for the water.  I searched my backpack and found a package of Tic Tacs and began to put them in my mouth sparingly, in case they would have to last me for a while.  Being a novice desert hiker, I didn't have a whistle or even a snakebite kit...and cell phones?  Well, I'd have been better off to stand up on the highest rock I could find, shouting "Can you hear me now?"  I have to admit that I had all kinds of odd thoughts racing through my mind as I sat on that rock, out in the middle of the desert...where no one would find me, mainly because no one even knew I'd gone up there.  At one point, I caught myself laughing at how after all I'd been through, my life was going to end that way...alone in this God-forsaken desert.  Refusing to accept defeat, I stood up and forced myself to move on, talking out loud and reassuring myself that I would reach my final destination if I just kept pushing on.

 All's well that ends well....I did finally make it back to my car, feeling a bit stupid but also very triumphant.  I returned many times to hike the Victor trail.  In fact, it became my favorite place to go.  I chose a place perched on the highest part of the canyon wall and stopped there each time, often spending hours at a time just sitting there, being one with nature and for me, with God.  I wanted to share some of the beauty I was graced with on some of my other hikes.  I watched as the melting mountain snow turned the barren desert landscape into a brilliant, living place...if only for a few short weeks.  I hope you will appreciate the beauty of it all as seen through my eyes...

The desert truly is a living landscape that holds beauty hidden within, waiting only to be discovered by those who are not intimidated by her harsh, unfriendly greeting.  I go back to this special place time and time again through my pictures and hope to return one day to my "little piece of heaven here on earth."

Sunday, February 13, 2011


There are many faces of a mountain.  Some are tree-lined and keep their secrets hidden beneath their dense canopies.

 Some are barren and harsh, as if almost daring life to find it's place amongst their jagged peaks...

Some are a combination of the two, seeming to cover miles and miles before dropping off the horizon.

Some are lush and overflowing with an abundance of life, just waiting to be discovered.

Then there are those that burst forth with life and color for only a brief moment in time.

There are those mountains that help us transition from one season to another by putting on a colorful show that only Mother Nature could present...

Yes, there are many faces of a mountain....none more beautiful than the other....all beckoning us to discover what lies within....
               "The mountains are calling and I must go."
                                                                            ~John Muir