The Low Lands

Before I started the hike, I heard from many different people that the hardest thing about hiking the AT in one continuous shot is mental stamina. At some point the mind overtakes the body. It doesn’t really matter what you put your body through/what kind of uncomfortable situations you find yourself in: at some point if you can’t convince yourself it’s worth it, then you’ll have a hard time carrying on. Well, I listened but had a hard time believing I would go through something like that. I grew up camping with my parents. We went to some magical places: Monhegan Island in Maine, the Smoky Mountains in NC, the Blue Ridge Mountains of VA. Growing up, my passion for living outside was so great that I would long and dream of the 2 weeks I’d be at summer camp on the James River in VA, or on “out trips” caving and hiking while attending Camp Chanco. I would have my bag packed at least two weeks before camp started! Since being a working lady, I’ve cherished the three-day weekend trips to the Three Ridges and the Priest Mountains on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Just two nights out in the woods were something to savoir. My best friends and I would split up who was in charge of what meal. We’d drive some crazy miles just to get to the really good stuff, far away from the city. Yeah, I’d surely have no problem loving everything about a long distance hike.

Look at this tree! The Dover Oak is supposedly the largest oak on the east coast.

And then I hit the Low Lands! The topographical lowest point on the AT is in NY. There is a “Trailside Museum” that Southbounders walk through after crossing the Hudson on the Bear Mountain vehicle/pedestrian bridge. The lowest point is in the “museum,” which is actually a zoo, by the bear cage. The place is a true physical low point, and a figurative one as well: It’s a bit sad to see a bear in a cage after seeing them roam around wild in the woods! But, as it turns out, I got to the zoo one hour too late and had to walk around it’s perimeter to meet back up with the AT on the other side, in Bear Mountain Park. The park was very nice. Lots of people were everywhere, playing soccer, picnicking, hanging out by the pond. I marched right through. I was on a mission to climb the mountain before dark. This spot has received lots of special attention. I’m not sure I’ll see trail work like that anywhere else on the AT. People have labored there for 11 years, perfecting the trail with massive hand-cut stone steps. I had a nice summit. The sun was sinking and lit up the sky with pink.

Looking up the Hudson River from the Bear Mountain Bridge. West Point Military Academy is visible on the point on the left, and Forts Montgomery and Clinton are just out of view on the left, which together were constructed to prevent the British from advancing ships up the Hudson River.

The Bear Mountain bridge. The Hudson River is a significant milestone!

Check out the trail work. T-Mellow does trail work in regular life and helped with this project.

Even though I passed through some areas in NY where there were lots of people everywhere, my loneliness for the first time really struck me. It was my low lands and only got worse when I entered NJ. NJ was mostly swamps. An incredible amount of rain dumped over this region and caused a tremendous spike in the mosquito population. A local woman told me the mosquito plague was in their news, they talked about it on TV!

Timber Rattlesnakes are one of two poisonous snakes on the AT. Rattlesnakes are by far preferable to Copperheads, which are very aggressive and give no warning.

I was wearing 100% deet, applied twice a day, and those evil suckers still drove me mad. They would go for my eyelids and behind my ears. It would get so bad that I would start running, but the cloud would follow right behind!!! Wow! It was so miserable. I hadn’t seen my friends in many days. My phone rang and it was Coach. Turns out Tag got dehydrated and was very sick. They were taking some days off and I was able to catch up with them. Things got much better. (And Tag got better too.) Coach and I decided to hitch out of mosquito swamp hell and go to High Point State Park, the last leg of NJ. The bugs were still really bad up there but the following night was our first cold snap: it got down in the 40s and most of the demons died!

The "Lemon Squeezer" is another place where the trail checks to see if you're skinny enough to continue. Of course, there is an alternate route around.

Poison Ivy hell!

Even in all of that, I wasn’t ready to give up. I was feeling really sorry for myself during the week I was alone. My biggest mental hang up was feeling like I just couldn’t do the miles and keep up with the guys. Also, I started stressing over the rest of the hike: can I finish before Christmas? What does my daily average have to be then? It’s amazing how these thoughts so engrossed my mind, I couldn’t even see the beautiful woods of Harriman State Park. Powder told me it was one of his favorite spots when he hiked, but I couldn’t appreciate it. In my misery, he sent me a text that he was praying for me and he knew God would lift my spirits and the “trail would provide.”

It was so cold. The tent helps with the warmth, and the shelter keeps everything dry.

I know God uses this depression stuff for His glory. Over the next several days, many people were sending me texts of encouragement. I kept thinking my emotions were somewhere posted on the internet and people were reading my heart and wanted to help. But that wasn’t so: folks sent those nice words without even knowing anything of the low lands. And then I met Slowtar and Baby Steps. Baby Steps was hiking North from PA and wanted to finish the thru-hike she began the previous year from GA. She was having a heck of a time.  She could barely do 10mi a day and kept being down on herself and saying she was the “last Northbounder.” She and I were sitting there on a rock, and her friend Slowtar started encouraging us. He spoke words from Heaven. I’ll recount it for you:

“You are hiking your own hike. Who cares if you only hike 5 miles a day? Whoever you have in your mind that you are comparing yourself to, get them out! They do not belong in your house. These guys who hike 25mi a day come in rock-headed and leave the trail that way. They don’t learn anything. It was just a goal to accomplish, a race to run, and then they’re asking themselves: what is the next thing? The biggest thing the trail offers is to humble you and teach you about your own shortcomings and what you can handle. This trail reveals what kind of person you are: are you a person who is always down on herself, or are you a person who celebrates herself? Do you finish your day and smile, glad for what you accomplished, or do you sit in a funk, thinking of what more you could have done? Hike your own hike and who cares what other people think!”

Yep, words from Heaven. One of the best sermons I’ve ever received. I am happily still Georgia-bound and looking forward to hiking in the Fall through the South!

Amazing rock formations at Sunfish Pond

Two Months Down, 1/3 of the Trail Complete: BYE NEW ENGLAND!

Wow! I’m glad to be out of New England. It was beautiful, and I have many highlights, but it so nice to now be in New York! I’m getting so much closer to the South and my favorite stopping ground, the Blue Ridge Mountains! New York promises to have many short, steep climbs and rougher terrain than what I’ve hiked in Vermont, Mass, and Connecticut. All the Northbounders warned us for weeks about the PA rocks. Supposedly, Pennsylvania is very rocky: not steep at all, but basically a lot of boulder hopping. Hopefully that will be a good break for my knees, but a work out for my ankles: might have to switch from my light-weight trail runners to my ol’ concrete shop work boots.


Atop the White Mountain's Presidential Range

As you can see, I’m already looking into the future. I’d say the new stage of thru-hikerdom has kicked in. The first couple of weeks I was just getting used to the idea of committing months to this trail. I refined my pack contents a bit and got used to telling people my name is Bobwhite and I plan to hike to Georgia. That first month and a half, I was focused on trying to get through those killer mountains: long days of brutal up and down. Now I’m two months in. I know fully I’m a thru-hiker. I could care less how dirty I get while on the trail. I can break down camp with my eyes closed. I stuff my face with four solid meals a day. When I go to a grocery store for re-supply, I know exactly what I’m after. Everything is very streamlined and many of the details are now a non-issue or trivial. In some ways, sadly, I’m coming to terms with one of the most important aspects of this hike: it is a LONG-distance hike. I have come a long way, but I still have a long way to go.  To be precise, from this point, I still have 1437mi to go. Whew! Yeah buddy. I’m still determined to do it in one shot, this year. So, now I’m running numbers to get my daily mileage average to finish mid-Dec. It’s kinda disgusting, except for the fact that the trail is easier than the Northern section!

Powder River continues to be my greatest support. He has hiked probably half of all this with me, over 3 visits. He is a constant encouragement and reminds me that the hike is fluid, and it doesn’t do me a lot of good to stress over mileage. We’ve realized that pretty much everyone doing the Trail Southbound this year is male, 25, with long legs, a running or wilderness background, and few distractions. These boys are FAST. The few women I’ve met Sobo are also really fast, or ok with yellow-blazing (skipping trail via hitches).  So, Powder keeps telling me not to compare myself too much to these guys, b/c compared to the average thru-hiker (me) they are way above average: they are crazy and hiking crazy miles every day. 25mi a day is standard for them. I’m at about a 15-17mi avg. Some of them have paced a bit with me. Hiking near me has meant guaranteed trail magic for them in the way of food. The latest from my folks and family best friends the Walkers. They came up to CT and put on a massive hiker feed. It was two nights of awesome homemade food and slack-packing one of those days.  My best buddies, Coach, Tag, Effect and T-mello are still somewhere in the vicinity so I’m sure I’ll run into them again. And so the harder work begins of staying positive and motivated.  Cold weather is looming in my mind. But thoughts of the glories of VA in the Fall keep me going for now!