Pre-Hike

Don’t Tell Mom

The cat sits on the sofa and stares out the window at me.  She has a look of confusion on her face, as if she is thinking:  “What is Acorn doing on the balcony in the middle of the night??”

 
It is 26 degrees outside tonight with a slight breeze.  Normal people crank up the heat and huddle under blankets to stay warm.   Nope.  Not for a girl planning to thru-hike in a hammock.  This is perfect weather to test out gear!  Except wait… I live in a high-rise in Chicago.  I have no trees in the backyard to rope up.
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….. not a problem.  I have ear plugs and a clever hammock setup on my balcony.
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Yep, this really happened.
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Can I technically call my place a “2 bedroom” now that I’ve slept on the balcony?
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The verdict??  The sub-freezing hang experiment worked great.  No butt-frostbite acquired and it was mostly quite cozy. I’m hoping for warmer weather, but it’s good to know that I’ll survive on those sub-freezing nights too.
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I’ll probably go back to sleeping in bed for these last few nights.  Ya know… for the cat’s sake.   😉
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PS:    5 DAYS!!  *faints*
Categories: Pre-Hike | 7 Comments

10 Days Left!

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Holy poop! In just 10 days, I will begin my domination of the Appalachian Trail… or get a blister, hike in the rain, and cry.

Sometimes, I look at this comfy life and wonder: “What the heck? What am I doing?!?”

Sorting through my storage closet last weekend, I stumbled upon my Glacier National Park map. I unfolded it and my finger traced over the elevation waves of the mountains and curves of the lakes.  As my finger lingered over the map, the memories come rushing back – Granite Park Chalet, the toads on the trail during a night-hike, snow-packed Ahern Drift (sucks), the chilly waters of Stony Indian Lake, the long incline to the Ptarmingan Tunnel and that amazingly good pizza waiting at the end.  I remember my smells, bruises, and aches. I crave it again.  Every cell in my body craves it…

I’m doing this because nothing makes me feel more alive than climbing mountains. Heart pounding, feet sore, lungs begging for mercy.  Yes, please.  More.

10 days until my boots taste the Georgia dirt. I’m still in Chicago, but my heart left for Georgia a long time ago.

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PS: Everything is falling into place so well. I even met a few other solo females who are starting their hikes on the same day!  Yea!!  I still plan to hike the AT “solo”, but it’s a huge relief to be around fellow crazy mountain girls for the first few days.  I can’t wait to meet you ladies and compare blisters!    ❤

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Bittersweet Goodbye

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I’m at work in the lab, and trying to identify a Strep.  As I rotate the card to watch for positive agglutination, my mind wanders.  I think about the last 6 years of my life.  I met Luke when I was still in college and just 21 years old.  We were young, in love, and the world was ours to conquer.  It’s been an incredible 6 years:  vacations to Hawaii, camping adventures in Yellowstone, and completely normal winter days in Minnesota.  I cherish the normal days, coming home from work, cooking dinner, and curling up with Luke and Doodle to watch our favorite TV shows.  My mind wanders to the bad days, the good days, and everything in between.

He will be embarking on his own adventure this summer — he has accepted a position as a doctor in the Peace Corps in Africa.  I wish him all the luck in the world.  Despite this huge knot in my stomach, I couldn’t be more excited for him and his bright future.

I thought this would be easy, but now that it’s finally March, reality is hitting me like a ton of bricks.  I will be leaving to hike the trail, and we will soon be saying “goodbye”.   My eyes start to get watery, until I realize I’m still at work, and strong girls don’t cry at work.

I look back at my card- one of the wells is starting to get chunky.  Positive for Group A Strep.  At least,  I’ve solved one problem for today.  I wish that life could be as easy and well-defined as a lab test.  Positive.  Negative.  Simple.

Four more weeks until the next adventure of my life begins.  It’s tremendously hard to let go of my past, but I’ve fallen in love with someone else- and her name is the Appalachian Trail.  I think of her wild mountains, pony-filled pastures, and the sweet promised land of Maine… and somehow, I know that everything is going to be okay in the end.

Four more weeks, my love.  Four more weeks.

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Acorn testing out a trail recipe:
Luke:  What’s that taste like?
Acorn:  Tastes like slop!
Luke:  Just remember this when you’re out there eating slop.  I’m in Africa and probably eating worse slop.

Categories: Pre-Hike | Tags: , , | 18 Comments

The Florida Trail is a Jerk

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Greetings!!  I’m back from camping and hiking in Florida!  Bliss!  It was just what this weary soul needed.  Most of my time was spent exploring Florida’s National Parks:  Everglades, Biscayne, and Dry Tortugas.  (Total gator count? ~40)

At the end of my vacation, I had an unexpected bonus day and decided to day-hike a section of the Florida Trail.  So… the Florida Trail is a huge jerk and here’s why:

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I’m on mile 10 and have just unlocked hiker mode: the miles are coming, my mind is in lala land, and my eyes are glued to the trail.

I don’t see the alligator until it’s too late and his teeth are mere inches from my leg. I close my eyes and wait for the pain of his razor sharp teeth ripping into my soft flesh.  Shoot, I really liked that leg.

Nothing happens.

Heart pounding, I sneak a peak at the alligator. He doesn’t move. His jaw is locked open and he looks at me with plastic eyes… WAIT!! PLASTIC??!! I wait several more seconds to make sure. Then I kick him in the face and finish my last 4 miles with poopy pants.

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Very funny, Florida Trail…. grrrrr!!!!

Categories: Pre-Hike | Tags: | 7 Comments

My First White Blaze

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As a child, I would frequently flip to the last 3 pages of a book to catch a preview of the ending. I have always been impatient.

Nothing has changed.

On Saturday, I woke up on a train destined for an 8 hour Washington DC layover en route to sunny Florida.  I called my brother, who lives near DC, with my impulsive plan:

“Hey.. I want to visit the AT today.  It crosses Harper’s Ferry… Pick me up there and drive me to DC  tonight, so I can catch my next train to Florida? Pleeease?”

He agrees, and I have the urge to do cartwheels down the train aisle.  I will be on the Appalachian Trail in a few hours!!!  I can’t believe it!

I rush off the train at Harper’s Ferry, mere seconds from missing my stop (typical Acorn).  From here, it is only several blocks to reach the Appalachian Trail.  I easily find my way to the white-blazed path which haunts my dreams.  It’s a chilly, emotional moment as I spot my first white blaze— a lamp-post near the fork of the Potomac and Shenandoah River.  My body is shaking, and I’m not sure if it’s caused by the excitement or the bitter cold.

It’s absolutely beautiful.   How funny….  Never thought a white rectangle on a post would mean the world to me.

I’ll cry the next time that I’m here. Just hoping that in June, my tears won’t freeze.

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ATC Staff:  Thank You for being so sweet and happy to see me!  Can’t wait to be back here in June!!

Categories: Pre-Hike | Tags: , , | 5 Comments

Put Down the Calculator

There are moments, lately, when I feel an enormous burden of guilt over my decision to hike the trail. I feel like I’m hurting the people I love (boyfriend, cat, parents). Hopefully, they will be proud of me when I finish, and not worry –too much– during my trip. Heck, hopefully, they’ll come hike the last 5 miles with me and carry a bottle of champagne up Big K.

There’s also the issue of money. Hiking the trail isn’t really that expensive after you purchase all your gear. I just need money for meals in town, ramen noodles, peanut butter, weekly $15 hostel stays, occasional shoe replacements.. should be like $3000-4000. Not too bad for a 5 month adventure. The biggest hit from hiking the Appalachian Trail, financially, is all the money I “lose” from not working my normal job. Thinking about it makes my stomach hurt. Ok Acorn, it’s time to put down the calculator and breathe. Life isn’t all about money.

There are things that money can’t buy. I want them.

I need to stop thinking and just get out there. I know it will all make sense when I lace up my boots, and start following the white blazes.

 il_570xN.371048576_3d08-2(my acorn stamp for shelter books)

Categories: Pre-Hike | Tags: , , | 7 Comments

The Secret to Mouse-Free Shelters

Several of my hiking friends are bringing their dogs on their Appalachian Trail thru-hikes. Dogs are allowed everywhere on the trail except for sections in Baxter State Park, Bear Mountain State Park and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  I am *so jealous* and wish that my cat would reconsider hiking with me.

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I don’t think this is going to work…

Remarkably, there are a few folks who have hiked large sections of the trail with cats.   I am not the only crazy one!  But, unless you have a really smart cat, there are too many risks.  Between us, my cat is a sissy.  She is afraid of spiders and flies that manage to get into our high-rise apartment.  She is not a trail cat at all and would hide from a mouse.  Doodle is staying here, in Chicago.

Don’t be surprised if you see me chasing stray trail cats with catnip yelling:  “Come back! Wanna hike to Maine?”

Here is a story about a far more adventurous cat:

Sir, The AT Cat

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“When 23-year-old former Marine “Magic Mix” began hiking the trail in Georgia, the only thing on his mind was to complete hiking the entire trail. But after a few days by himself, he got lonely, so he got off the trail and went on Craigslist, where he found a silky black kitten he named Sir.  He stayed in town an extra day to get Sir checked out by a veterinarian.

By the time Sir and Magic Mix reached the end of the trail in New Hampshire, they had developed a strong bond. Sir spent most of his time sitting on his backpack cushion; when he wanted to get down, he nudged Magic Mix with his nose or a paw. They carried some dry food for Sir, but mostly he caught his own — mice and beetles at campsites.”

Read Magic Mix and Sir’s full story here: http://greatkids.outdoors.org/2011/09/sir-at-cat.html

Categories: Pre-Hike | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

Please Tell My Mom I’ll Be Okay

Like many AT hikers, I have spent a considerable amount of time and money on acquiring light-weight gear.  Furthermore, I constantly think “Can I leave this item behind?  How can this be lighter?”..  But now, I am adding a new item of gear that weighs 5 oz.  Lightweight hikers everywhere gasp in horror.
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I am going to carry a Spot Satellite GPS.  Laugh it up, but I want my parents to be able to sleep at night knowing that their daughter has stopped hiking for the day and is alive.   I don’t want to turn my phone on after five days in the woods to a flood of texts from my mother: “Are you OK?  I’m worried.  Did a bear eat you for a snack??”
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 I press one button at camp and this gets delivered to my contact list:
Greetings from the AT!  
I have finished hiking for the day and I am still alive.
Send food. Send money.
Love,  Acorn
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My GPS coordinates are also transmitted, so my parents can watch exactly how slow I hike.  Also, I can use the SOS feature on the Spot to call for emergency help too.   Maybe the next device update will have a “send pizza and root beer via air-drop” button.
Of course, there are other ways of keeping in touch with loved ones while on the trail.  I briefly considered sending text message updates with my iPhone, but decided I didn’t want to turn my phone on everyday and try to text.   The Spot was the best way to update worried loved ones without distracting myself from the wilderness experience.  One button push for “alive” and that’s it.  If I’m dead, I’ll try to not push the button.  Simple.
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Yes, it feels like overkill to have Satellite GPS on the AT, but that’s the price I’m willing to pay for a happy Mommy  (Love You!).  Just don’t try to convince me to carry a gun, life-preserver, or ankle brace.  It’s not gonna happen.
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PS:  It’s a little scratched up because it survived a thru-hike of the Continental Divide Trail on my favorite hiker. Yes, this Spot is already completely bad-ass, and I’m hoping it enjoys thru-hike #2.
Categories: Pre-Hike | Tags: , , | 7 Comments

We’ll See

I have a secret.  I am scared.  As the countdown to Springer shrinks, I find the dream becoming reality.  With all the excitement also comes fear.  My longest backpacking trip was only 6 days.  What will I think about backpacking for 5 months?  What if my food is stolen by a bear?  What if I twist my ankle?  What if it rains for 5 days straight?

Previous thru-hikers have told me over and over again:   “The hardest part about the Appalachian Trail is not physical.. it’s mental”.   I have a 1-way ticket on a mental roller-coaster.   I hope that I’m ready.

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My mediation teacher shared this tale with me.  I will remember this grounded farmer when the trail gets rough.

A farmer and his son had a beloved stallion who helped the family earn a living. One day, the horse ran away and their neighbors exclaimed, “Your horse ran away, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

A few days later, the horse returned home, leading a few wild mares back to the farm as well. The neighbors shouted out, “Your horse has returned, and brought several horses home with him. What great luck!”  The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

Later that week, the farmer’s son was trying to tame one of the mares and she threw him to the ground, breaking his leg. The villagers cried, “Your son broke his leg, what terrible luck!” The farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.” 

A few weeks later, soldiers from the national army marched through town, recruiting all the able-bodied boys for the army. They did not take the farmer’s son, still recovering from his injury. Friends shouted, “Your boy is spared, what tremendous luck!” To which the farmer replied, “Maybe so, maybe not. We’ll see.”

No event, in and of itself, can truly be judged as good or bad, lucky or unlucky, fortunate or unfortunate.  Only time will tell the whole story.   Look hard for the silver lining in the storm.  Yes. Bad things will happen. I hope I have the willpower to wipe away tears, smile and say “We’ll See”.

Categories: Pre-Hike | 8 Comments

The Pull

On a recent call, my mom tried to tell me to go on an African safari instead of hiking the AT.  I understand her feelings.  It’s hard to imagine your only daughter lugging a pack over 2000+ miles of mountains.  But that’s precisely what drew me to the AT.  I want to hike this trail, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.  I want to hike it because so many people fail to reach Katahdin in a single year. Will I make it?? I crave a really epic, life-altering, butt-kicking kind of challenge. Life has gotten to be too easy..  college, the real world, jobs, love…  I feel like I’ve been handed most things in life and I’ve just been cruising on auto-pilot.  That worries me.

I crave something that will shake me to my core… something that will scare me. I know there will be rough days ahead on the trail.  In fact, I fully expect to find myself curled up in the fetal position on the trail crying at some point (hopefully not in Georgia!).  If humans never tried anything hard, we would still be cavemen. Instead, humans go to the tops of mountains.. to the depths of the sea.. to the moon.     It’s what makes us human: our thirst for adventure.

I feel the magnetic pull to Katahdin.. to this weather-beaten sign on an isolated mountaintop in Maine:

And mom? …. I still want that African safari, but maybe when I’m 50.  😉

[Photo used with permission from jsstylos.com.  Thank You!]

Categories: Pre-Hike | Tags: , , | 4 Comments

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