Is It Time?

Is it time to go home?  That is the question regarding our Appalachian Trail adventure.

We each may have thought about going home one or two hundred times but never actually spoke the words aloud. To be transparent, Chief and I have recently had the conversation around this very question.

Our bodies are beaten down and in pain.  We have lost a total of 65 pounds (Chief 40, Toad 25) and struggle to carry enough food to fuel our bodies.  We now hike 11-12 hours per day and only cover about one mile per hour.  We are working harder but are less productive.

Looking ahead, the terrain and rocky climb of the White Mountains in New Hampshire is reportedly harder than what we may be able to achieve.  Add in the mountain elevations over 6,000′ and it is more than we can fathom.  The fundraising efforts for the Gurney Family is very important and we want John to benefit abundantly in his treatments against cancer.  Having already hiked over 1,500 miles on the A.T. is no small feat.  Praise God for giving us His strength to accomplish that much.

But is it time?  We are praying for God’s guidance and our next step – whether back to Ohio or boots on the trail …

A Time for Everything, Chief and Toad

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Dad Used To Give Advice…

…”Whatever doesn’t kill you will only make you stronger.”

Although Dad has been gone for over twenty years, that advice keeps coming to my mind as Chief and I hike the Appalachian Trail.  The challenges we have faced are more difficult than we ever imagined. We are at Day 133 on this arduous journey and by the grace of God have completed 1,494 miles in eight states (Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Maine).  As we enter New Hampshire and hike SOBO (southbound) back to PA, there are 695 miles yet to complete.

We are passing more NOBOs who are close to finishing their hike. On Day 127, we passed Briar and Nettle, two sisters who needed to finish by the end of August due to work schedules.  We first met the girls in Virginia, noticing that one hiked barefoot, and then they arrived at the halfway point in Harpers Ferry the same day we were there (June 30).  Both girls are now wearing shoes. Then on Day 131, we passed Old School and Blue Pants and had a short reunion with photos. Old School provided some advice about the upcoming New Hampshire trail before each of us continued in our own direction.

The A.T. in Maine was the most difficult section we have encountered so far.  One hiker we passed gave to us this helpful advice about hiking Maine.  He said, “Wake up each morning and tell yourself, ‘the trail will kick my butt today’, and that way you’ll know what to expect.”

In one day we completed two particularly dangerous sections – Mahoosuc Notch and Mahoosuc Arm. The Notch is a one-mile section of scrambling over, under, around and between large boulders. Another hiker shared her advice about the Mahoosuc Notch, “Just think of it like a rock playground.”  They say hikers either love the rock scramble or hate it.  We would fit into the latter category after three hours of exhausting, frustrating navigation.

The Arm for a SOBO was a steep, slippery mile descent from the mountain. Chief offered his own advice about going down a steep descent, “Let your momentum carry you down the hill.  If there are large rocks at the bottom, momentum may not be a good idea.”  That section took us nearly two hours to complete.

Interestingly, a group of incoming freshman from Harvard University were hiking behind us as part of an orientation program.  I overheard an upperclassmen tell one of the freshman that college is the last opportunity to try new things.  I thought that was terrible advice but what can you expect from his 20-year old worldview.  I would advise that we can try new things at any point in life– but maybe something a little less crazy than hiking 2,189 miles.

Another hiker shared that when we returned to civilization to remember that we just can’t pee wherever we want.  Good advice to keep in mind!

Maybe the best advice we failed to take came on Day 1 as we began our hike. A former thru-hiker who operated a hostel at the start of the Appalachian Trail simply said, “Don’t do it.”  Well, it hasn’t killed us (yet…). I guess if we had heeded that advice we wouldn’t have obtained our newfound strength.

If you have some advice to share, feel free to share in a comment.  We’d love to hear from you!

Getting Stronger Every Day, Chief and Toad

Heading Out, Beaten Up

Just a quick note to let you know that we are heading out into the south of Maine on our Appalachian Trail hike.  After spending the night at the Farmhouse Inn in Rangeley Maine, we will be out in the woods for at least the next seven days.

This next stretch of 70 miles is reported to be extremely challenging and includes the toughest mile on the A.T. – a boulder field that will take a couple of hours to traverse. Mahoosuc Arm and Mahoosuc Notch are the areas that we aren’t looking forward to as we “scramble” over, under, and around large rocks.

Unfortunately this hike is taking a negative toll on our bodies.  After 1,416 miles, Chief is still struggling with a sore left shoulder after his mountain fall plus an open sore on his back where the heavy backpack rubs.  My knees are becoming more sore and stiff with every day and my feet are often numb but painful.  Our weight continues to drop and we struggle to carry enough high protein food to fuel our bodies.  We try not to complain because another hiker here in Rangeley just blew out a knee.  His hike is over for this year and he is headed home to Florida.

After this next stretch of trail, our challenge is the White Mountains in New Hampshire.  Please pray for us for health and safety.  If we can get through these mountains we may have a less challenging trek back to Pennsylvania.  We may be hobbling, but we are committed, or should be committed, as the case may be!  😜

Regards, Chief and Toad

SOBO vs. NOBO

Chief and I are continuing our Appalachian Trail hike in Maine, heading SOBO (southbound) back to Pennsylvania.  The first three months of the hike, we walked NOBO from Georgia to central Pennsylvania, and then flipped up to Maine. So far we have completed 1,385 miles and have 804 miles yet to hike. God willing we should complete this adventure by mid-October, a total of six months.

The splendor of Maine’s landscape has helped to alleviate the intense misery of the trail in this state.  Often described as the toughest portion of the Appalachian Trail, we have scaled large boulders, slid down wet rocks, forded rocky rivers, sunk in muddy bogs, and battled gusty mountain-top winds and cool temperatures.  Last night we got caught in a rain storm on top of Bigelow Mountain. As the wind and rain ripped through the trees we cleared a spot to pitch the tent and escape the chilly elements. Flipping was the best decision we have made, in lieu of continuing NOBO and getting to Maine in October to deal with frigid temps, ice, and possibly snow.  We can’t wait to get Maine under our belts and move on.

Another advantage to flipping our hike and now heading SOBO has been the opportunity to meet NOBOs as they get close to finishing their hike. The first NOBO we met was a hiker named Slammer.  He had just reached the summit of Mount Katahdin, successfully completing a 2,189 mile thru-hike.  Not far into the 100-Mile Wilderness, we met Werewolf and (yes, another) Toad. These gentlemen only had ten miles to complete their thru-hike.  On average we pass about five or six thru-hikers per day and speak briefly to each. These hikers began their trek in Georgia in February or March (way before our April 13th start).  The men are usually heavily bearded and the women are thin yet muscular.  Many say their bodies are beaten down, but all are extremely excited about finishing!

We have also met many section hikers. These are folks who hike sections of the A.T. over a period of years. One of the most interesting was a 77-year old woman who has been hiking the trail for over 20 years. I will call her Granny because she reminds me of the Granny in the Bugs Bunny cartoons. Granny is a tiny soft-spoken lady with a thick southern accent. Her husband passed away a couple of years ago and encouraged her to finish the trail.  Granny is hiking portions of Maine and has a couple of sections left to complete this fall.  We also met a trio of ladies from Pennsylvania – Linda, 8-mile Ma and Trail Dancer – who have section-hiked together for ten years.   We received helpful hiking advice from 11-year old Baby Blue, a precocious young lady who was hiking with her father.  The most interesting trail names came from a middle-aged couple from Massachusetts. Her name was Frito and his name was Beyoncé.  He was tall but there were no similarities to the pop singer beyond that.

Tomorrow marks Day 123 and we head out re-supplied from the tiny town of Stratton, Maine to climb Crocker Mountain, and continue this trek…

SOBO, Chief and Toad

The Beast of the East

In the far northeast, amid pristine water falls and tranquil lakes lies a Beast.  Dense pine forests create a wilderness that hides the Beast and no hiker knows just how awful it is until it is too late.  The Beast appears without warning and escaping its grasp is nearly impossible.

On a lovely sunny day, Chief and I hiked south from Mount Katahdin into the 100 Mile Wilderness of Maine.  The sun glistening off the lakes and the sound of rushing water from the streams that fed them kept stealing my attention from the trail.  The scent of fresh pine and the song of the birds enveloped us.  How lovely it all was.  But the incredible beauty of the landscape overshadowed a gnawing feeling in my gut that something wasn’t quite right.

The deeper into the wilderness we trekked the darker the woods became.    Suddenly beast-like tentacles of tree roots rose up from the ground and wrapped themselves around our legs tripping our every step.  We were too far into the wilderness to turn back and too far from the other end to yet escape.  The Beast began to show its ugly razor-sharp rock teeth as we walked over them. The teeth became larger and sharper as we tried to run away, chomping at our boots and legs leaving massive gashes.  Higher and higher the teeth grew as we ran and climbed to escape.

The Beast then hurled drone-like mosquitos and terrifying insects at us that bit and stung our bodies leaving large painful welts.  It next turned once tranquil streams into raging rivers with fierce currents.  As we attempted to cross the waterways, the currents knocked us down onto slippery rocks, nearly swallowing our bodies into a watery grave.  Gasping for air and clinging to a support rope, we made it to the other side.  If only it were over, but no…

The Beast then threw thunder and lightning at us atop Barren Mountain as we attempted to hide in the pines.  The sound was deafening as tympani drums and giant cymbals crashed above our heads.  Golf ball sized hail then pelted us, stinging our bodies with every contact.  Suddenly a bear soldier jumped from the bushes and sprinted toward Chief.  They fought tooth and nail before Chief prevailed in a thumb-war.

Catching him off-guard, Chief stepped in a trap that the Beast had set.  That one wrong move hurled Chief high into the air and down on his shoulder.  He fought with his hiking sticks but the Beast broke them both, leaving a bloody gash on Chief’s hand.  I quickly got him on his feet to run away but then fell into one of the Beast’s mud bogs.  At first the black goo sucked in only my arm.  Then, like quicksand, the goo started to take me totally under.  I screamed for Chief to help and he pulled me to safety just before I was totally submerged.

For seven days we battled the Beast as we hiked to escape the wilderness.  We could see a clearing in the distance but in one last attempt the Beast caught my foot and pulled me facedown onto the ground.  Chief asked if I wanted to rest as he gently cleaned the blood and mud from my face.  “NO!” I cried, “Get me out of here!”  So we ran with our last ounce of strength toward the clearing.  Exhausted, bruised and beaten down, we are finally…

Safely Harbored, Chief and Toad

P.S.  While all of these events actually occurred, some of the details may have been embellished for the reader’s enjoyment. 😊

Don’t forget to read yesterday’s post “Katahdin, Can Do!”

Katahdin, Can Do!

This post comes to you from Maine and we are happy to have internet access on this day.  We welcome our new friends to this website, those of you we have met since we landed in Bangor to continue hiking the Appalachian Trail.

From Bangor, Chief and I took a bus north to Medway and then were picked up and shuttled to the town of Millinocket.  We were happy to learn that Walkie Talkie Nightingale, a young lady we had met and with whom we had hiked in Virginia, was also flipping to Maine to hike the remainder of the A.T. SOBO (southbound).  Walkie arrived in Millinocket a day later and the three of us were scheduled to climb Mount Katahdin on July 28th.

Katahdin is the highest elevation in Maine at 5,270′ and is the northern terminus of the A.T.  We were dropped at the ranger station at Baxter State Park at 8:00 a.m. to register (just in case we didn’t return they would have our correct names for the obituary).  The hike to the summit was just over five miles and I foolishly thought, “This can’t take long, right?”

What started as a pleasant hike along peaceful streams and through the beautiful pine woods, quickly became more labored with climbing large granite boulders hand over hand.  Higher and higher we climbed, eventually over the treeline with other mountains coming into view. Many of the rocks were so high or far apart that metal rungs had been inserted to assist.  It was evident that this climb would be the most challenging portion of the A.T. that we had experienced so far. Walkie Talkie had some wilderness training so she and Chief were helpful in suggesting climbing positions and techniques.  Sometimes they had to give me a boost to get over the large sharp rocks.  The climb was incredibly arduous and time-consuming, taking nearly five and a half hours just to reach the summit.

At the top of the formidable mountain is an infamous sign by which hikers want a photo.  We took the symbolic photos and then Chief and I placed rocks on a large mountain top cairn. We witnessed a reunion of four men who had thru-hiked the A.T. twenty years earlier.  We also met other folks who had come up a side trail that is  just over two miles and less strenuous access to the summit.  Of course I am thinking we should just go down that way, but noooo, Chief said we had to go back the official Appalachian Trail.  Already exhausted, our descent took another five hours.

With Mount Katahdin under our belts, Walkie Talkie, Chief and I camped at the Stream Campground, dropping into our sleeping bags, too tired to think about the next day’s hike into Maine’s 100 Mile Wilderness and totally unaware of what was yet to come…

Stay Tuned, Chief and Toad