FIRE!

I wish I could tell you that I never set the woods on fire, but that just isn’t the case. When I was around 8-9 years old, I was pretending to camp with my younger brother Vern and 2 younger cousins. We were in the small woods behind our house. I couldn’t tell you if I was taught how to make a campfire by my dad or not. We had gone camping in the BWCA quite often and so I know I had observed how to make a campfire.

Anyway, I had snuck matches from the house. The 4 of us were playing camping and so I guess I figured we needed a campfire. It was a dry spring with lots of dry grass. I lit the first fire and we stomped it out and thought that was fun. I lit 3 more spots and that is when the real trouble started. The fires grew and we were no longer able to put them out. We had an empty Skippy Peanut Butter glass jar and so we were running to fill the jar with water down a dirt road behind the fire and the house. The fire was gaining in size and at this point, I sent my brother home to tell dad. I guess you could say we were lucky it was Sunday afternoon as 2 more Uncles had shown up. After that, all I remember was a lot of yelling, crying and Uncles with shovels trying to put the fire out.

Once extinguished, we were all covered in soot. I was sent to my bedroom for the rest of the afternoon. I remember watching my cousins laughing and playing outside while a was shut away. I’m not sure what my punishment was after everyone went home, but I’m sure it wasn’t pleasant.

I learned how dangerous fire can be and how fast it can get out of hand. My dad taught me the proper way to have a campfire after that.

Two September’s ago I hiked out on the KEK Trail alone for 3 days. There had been terrible blow-downs with the most recent in 2016. It was raining the day I went in but sunny and windy when I headed out. The amount of deadfall along the trail was scary. All I could do was imagine the conflagration if a wildfire broke out or a careless hiker or camper left a smoldering campfire.

Crews have worked hard the last few years to clear the trail. This trail is now a segment of the NCT in Minnesota. It will take a tremendous effort to minimize the fire danger in this area where no mechanized equipment can be used.

You may wonder why am I talking about fire? Well, I received my California Campfire Permit yesterday so that I can use my camp stove while on the PCT. We all know the fire danger that exists in the state of California. I don’t plan on having a campfire even though I will have cold temps with an early March start date. A hot breakfast and supper will be something to look forward to on cold days.Hiker midnight for me is 7 pm and with the sunset at 6pm I know I will be snuggled up in my 15 degree Thermarest sleeping bag and X-therm mattress so no campfire will be necessary.

Who knows though, I might just learn how to go stoveless.

Remember what Smokey says, “Only You Can Prevent Wildfires”.

The Call of the Trail

I’m in the zone. Some of you will know what I am talking about. Others, well… I walk to where my backpacking gear is in the house. The whole time I’m thinking about how long I will be out, what basic supplies I need in my pack in case I get hurt, lost or just want to stay longer in the woods. Toilet paper, shovel, matches, tarp, compass, marking tape, water filter, stove, fuel, cup and the list goes on. Before I know it my pack is full.

My hiking shoes fit like a well oiled baseball glove. The pack, well balanced from years of practice, sits securely on my hip. I’m ready to go and as I walk out of the house, into the fresh air of the outdoors, nothing could be more perfect.

It’s these memories, that start my yearning for the trail. Whether here in Minnesota or beyond. The winter is spent wondering, planning and preparing equipment and food.

So, for me to have been contemplating stepping on the PCT, really isn’t a surprise. It was just a matter of time. My plan? 702 miles from Campo to Kennedy Meadows. One thing the Appalachian Trail taught me, I no longer wanted to be away from my family for 6 months at a time. There are also, important trails in my state, that have officially become part of the National North Country Trail. There is a call out, to help maintain these trails, with organized trail crews and I would like to be a part of that.

So, as October ticked away and the 29th fast approached, the hype of getting online to register for a PCT permit became more than I could bare. I told my husband Tom, “I’m getting ready to get in line online for the PCT.” Him, “I thought you had decided not to go?” Me, “I’ve changed my mind.” Chuckle.

I had to be in my car on the 29th. I got in line in the queue, I was #4054. I hade 2 1/2 hours to wait in line. Plenty of time to finish my errands.

You know how there are certain moments in life you will never forget where you were when they happen? This no doubt, will be added to the list. Anyone, who really knows me, knows how I don’t like to shop. Well, here I was outside of Aldi’s, of all places, when queue entered me into the registration process.

Man, this is it! Blood pumping, I entered dates, name, age etc. as fast as I could. I had 4 minutes to complete the form. Fingers tapping as fast as they could go! Double check email is correct and send. “Oh my god, what did I just do?” I just smile, chuckle and shake my head.

I check my email to see if my registration went through. There is a confirmation, with a username and password. I follow the link to a page that lets me know my permit is pending and it could be up to 3 weeks before I know if I get approval to hike my dates. There is also, required reading, on Leave No Trace principles, fire, plus two other items.

I had joined the PCT Class of 2020 on Facebook back in August. So, now I wait, watch and read. Just yesterday, hiker permits started to be confirmed. I saw #’s as high as 3600. It’s the weekend now and I might have to wait until next week. Ugh!

I think about going out for a hike this am, but it is MN deer opener. Only crazy people go out and hike this season. I respect the hunters right to our woods and it is such a short season.

I guess I will just have to research new food recipes as I impatiently wait for news.

Embrace the Gap

Like all children, I lost baby teeth and grew adult ones. I thought that my two front top teeth would continue to grow until the gap between them would just fill in. It didn’t happen. I also noticed, that my Dad’s teeth were the same as mine. I tried everything I could to try to get rid of that gap. I tried braces, an operation to remove the gum between the teeth and ultimately but unsuccessfully, I had the dentist drill a hole in the side of each tooth and put a filling that matched the color of my teeth and connected them together. That last attempt would break every time I used a spoon and accidentally hit one tooth. Snap! Separation, ugh!

Eventually, I gave up. I could accept my teeth the way they are or let the comments I hear, even now, become an upward climb.Recently, a little girl smiled at me and I smiled at her. Then, she asked me how I lost my tooth. I was about to answer her when her father said, “Shhhh, that’s not nice.” The girl looked confused at her father and then concerned at me. I shrugged and went on my way smiling. Then my dad asked me 3 weeks ago, “Why don’t you get a tooth put in your mouth?” I just answered him, “Well, I inherited your teeth.”

I suppose you are all wondering why I am talking about teeth, when this blog is about the Appalachian Trail?Well, it’s the gaps. Without those gaps in the mountains, we wouldn’t know about high points or low points. And, if we filled in all those gaps, we would just be hiking on very flat monotonous land and what would be the fun in that?

So, as I hike past Deep Gap, Low Gap and Unnamed Gap, I have the biggest smile and the hiker going past smiles back because we are both embracing the gap. What a glorious day!

SOBO, NOBO or Flip Flop: Who Care’s, I Just Want Some Cookies!

Some hikers are south bound (SOBO). Some hikers are north bound (NOBO). Some hikers start in one location and hike either south or north and then shuttle back to their starting point and hike the opposite direction. It really doesn’t matter. It’s all about personal preference. In the grand scheme, it’s all about the cookies.

Food, it’s on every hikers mind. How much to carry? How many calories? Can I count on trail magic or stores along the way so that I can carry less food?

Every hiker in the beginning, always carries more food than they will eat. I carried more food than I needed all of 2016.

My last night on the trail, I finally got it right. I had 1 breakfast left. Trouble with that, a mouse the last night just couldn’t leave my food bag alone. I guess he wanted my oatmeal more than I did. I tried to get him off my bag twice during the night, but exhaustion took me. I woke in the morning to the telltale hole in my food bag. Oatmeal gone, but at least I had my coffee.

I would have to wait till Abol Bridge to get my husband Tom’s homemade chocolate chip cookies.

Reminiscing from Grayson Highlands 2019

End of the First Day Blues

The excitement of the trail, quickly turned in to, damn I’m getting old. Which computes to out of shape.

I haven’t really expressed how hard the beginning of any hike on the Appalachian Trail is.

Being from Northern Minnesota, a body kind of gets used to cool weather. So, going from 30 degrees to 70, well it feels hot. Then add a 25 lb backpack. It started at 21, but there is always last minute “stuff” and water. I find out within minutes of the climb, in the sun, with no breeze that I wish I was still close enough to a garbage can or hiker box so I could get rid of the last minute stuff and even a few more items.

About 10 minutes later, if that, that pack is weighing on my shoulders and hips in a way that leaves bruises behind. Then the knees start to ache and the big toe nails start to throb.

Damn that sun, I think I’m going to puke that 12 ounces of water I just guzzled. I’d like to stop on this incline, but if I do, oh the strain on the back of the legs.

When I finally get to stumble into camp at 4 pm. Every part of my body is on fire and throbbing.

I start chanting, “Vitamin I, Vitamin I, a healthy supply of Vitamin I!”

On the trail Vitamin I refers to ibuprofen. Don’t leave home without it.

Hiker midnight is, well for me it is 7:30 pm. That just means that when I finally get to lay down in my tent after supper, it’s way past my bedtime.

Within a short time I fall asleep. I wake up to the sound of Spirit’s air mattress having the air let out and I know I over slept.

Time to get up and repeat yesterday. Hikers say after repeating this routine for 5 weeks you will get your stride. Hmm, this time I’m here for 4. Looks like I’m up a creek without a paddle.

Vitamin I…

Did I Say It Was Windy

dsc08749The climb today from Saco River to Webster Cliffs was hair raising. If I haven’t told you yet, I am afraid of heights.  Well today was one of those days I tried hard not to look back. Mostly because I would have only seen wide open space. It was only if I looked down, that the full implication of what could happen to me if I got vertigo came into realization. That thought alone was all I needed to spur me onward and further upward.dsc08750

When 10 Bear and I stood at Webster Cliffs with gale force winds I was more than happy to quickly move on after taking a few pictures of her near the edge.  The rest of the day was spent trying to stay upright in exposed areas and when the wind would gust. By the time we arrived at Mt Franklin the clouds had moved in. It was to cold and windy that I rolled my pant legs down and put on my rain jacket so any warmth I generated wouldn’t just get blown away. dsc08692

It is an eerie feeling to hike in and out of clouds as they are blown by you. You can see the landscape ahead of you and then you can’t. All you see is white. No trail. No markers. No hiking buddies. By 4 pm it was starting to get dark because of the cloud cover and as we hiked out of the gloom appeared the Lake of the Clouds Hut. We were never so glad to see shelter. Ok, that is a lie. There were a few other times I had thought the same thing prior than today.

We grabbed the door handle and got ourselves blown into the interior with a gust. At the front desk was a worker and immediately we asked for “work for stay.” This is when you can do some work in the huts to help out the staff with the paying guests. Since the weather was such as it was, there were a lot of hikers seeking shelter. We were told yes and so we went to relax, charge phones and wait for the assigning of the tasks once the guests had eaten.

We ended up being able to eat and then it was cleaning time. 10 Bear and 5 Star swept the floor and I went in the kitchen and got a tray to scrub.  This would be the first time that I meet Zuko. We had our sleeves rolled up and we each had a baking sheet that we were assigned to scrub all the charred food off of.  When it was 9:30 pm it was lights out for the guests and we were able to finally set up our mats and bags on the dining hall floor for the night. It wasn’t a very restive sleep as many guests and hikers were up during the night making their nightly hike to the bathroom. The squeaking and banging of the door was ridiculous. At 6 am all the hikers were woken up and asked to quickly pack. We could stay and help with breakfast or we could head out. We had had enough and headed out the door.

dsc08893We only had 1.7 miles to the summit. It was a beautiful, sunny day and we could see the summit from the Hut.  I was half way up to the top when I turned around and looked back. I’m not sure what about this day, this moment struck me, but something did. I just stood there feeling humble, small and grateful. I didn’t want to move from this spot. I knew in this moment, that this was the reason I had hiked the AT. This was the moment. It brought tears to my eyes. I could go home now, if I wanted to and be satisfied with my hike. (At the writing of this, I wish now I would have just sat down and enjoyed the moment more). As I turned to continue up towards Mt. Washington, I knew I would never feel this way again. It is like that with all firsts, isn’t it?

dsc08870We got to the top of Mt. Washington to discover that yesterday’s winds were clocked at 91 mph. That hikers that were to…were told they couldn’t hike beyond the summit and were taken back down the mountain by the workers at Mt. Washington. I believe it cost them $35.00 down and $35.00 back. Sometimes, it is best to just hunker down below the summit for better weather.dsc08932

Tomorrow we have a 1000 ft. elevation drop and then a 2500 ft. elevation gain. In 2 more days we hope to be out of the White Mountains. Then hello 100 Mile Wilderness and hello September.

The Toll of the White Mountains

image
Why I forced my eyelids open

Aug 25  It was slow going this morning as my knees were in such a bad state of stiffness and pain. I have begun to get worried about my end date to summit Mount Kahatadin. I have know since June that my son Kevin is running his first marathon on September 23 in Ely, MN. I had picked a summit date originally as September 15th, but with the Cape Cod adventure and low miles through the White Mountains I now have a September 21st deadline. When I have talked to various hikers about this some have told me he will understand if I don’t get home. This is unacceptable to me and I know that somehow, I now have to find it within me once I am through the Whites to do 20 miles a day.

image
The trial ahead

It feels overwhelming as the terrain is anything but friendly. At one point in time I thought I had seen the worst that this trail has to offer and as every day goes by and the trail is harder and harder it only brings me fear.

image
One step at a time

So, for today I must only look at the next step I need to take and not look at the larger picture of the next 4 1/2 weeks. I also got back all my winter gear and my pack is so much heavier. I don’t think that this would have been an issue a month ago, but I can sense that my body isn’t as strong as it used to be. At night when I lay down in my tent and my hand rests on my thigh, I can actually feel how skinny my legs are becoming. I have begun to dread going up hill when at one time it was actually fun to feel my muscles working. Now they are just straining and feeling exhausted. When I finally reach the summits now and look back it is with awe that I think a short time ago I was back there. It looks like an impossibility that I was there an hour ago.

image
I hiked from there?

I fell yesterday going down a large rock. I ended up scratching my arm on a pine tree that had broken branches. It is red and a little swollen today. I also have 2 blisters on my right foot on the toes. I am so glad that I am catching a break with the meals at the huts that hikers can take advantage of in the Whites. I had free pancakes and lemonade, coconut cake and tea at the Zealand Falls Hut.

image
Scratch from a fall

Aug 26-28  Being on the trail I have forgotten things back home. Like the fact my husband Tom turned 60. I was able to call him the day before to wish him a happy birthday. Two days later I had  cell service and called home to find out he had a surprise birthday party with the family and he thought I was in on the planning with my daughter, Andrea. I had to confess that I had no idea as 10 Bear laughed at me in the background. I’m sure this was no surprise to him as I have often forgotten our anniversary.

image
Injury on leg from a face plant

Tonight I discovered some sore red spots on my feet. I think I may have stepped on a poisonous plant the last two nights. I went out of my tent in the middle of the night without putting on my boots. That will teach me. I’m too close to the end to screw up my feet. I better be more careful.

image
Bare feet not an option, but did it anyway

Aug 29  I am having such a hard time opening my eyelids. It is like they are weighted down with lead. It is very hard to even describe. All I know is that I am awake, but my eyelids aren’t. It is like they are refusing to open just so they can stay in bed longer.

image
Yuri getting buffeted by the wind

I have seen the forecast for today and it is going to be very windy. 10 Bear and I are on our way to Mt. Washington. It is the place on the trail that has the most extreme weather in the world. I’m not looking forward to today.

image
Sookie contemplating the next few weeks

Let the Climbing Begin

image

I think when Paul, a fellow thru hiker, announced at camp the night before entering the White mountains, that we had only done half of our climbs to Everest, my heart sank. Documentation of the Appalachian Trail states, “Hiking this trail is like summiting Mount Everest 16 times.” It means the elevation changes are equal to that of summiting Everest 16 times. I had 2 states left,  New Hampshire and Maine. That meant that I had to summit Everest 8 more times in 4 weeks.

image

I crawled into my tent that night thinking, “How am I ever going to be able to do this? ” I didn’t loose any sleep over it. I have the uncanny ability to instantly fall asleep the minute my head hits the pillow. Well, in this case it would be when my head hit my sleeping bag stuff sack filled with my stinky clothes from the day’s hiking. I mean seriously people!  This isn’t a glorious life. I didn’t run off to Hollywood to become an actress.

image

When I entered the White’s,  it reminded me of a set off of the TV series MASH. A simple sign announced my location. There was a tarp under which sat an empty table and empty 5 gal. buckets. All the good trail magic was gone, but there was water. I filled up my water bottles and was packing up to leave when Puma and his crew rolled in and decided to have a “safety” (smoke pot) meeting.  I told them,  “See ya up the trail.” and I continued on.

image

10 Bear and I had made a plan to stay at The Notch Hostel. We were going to do a 17.3 mile slackpack the next day. We were still under the false pretense of thinking we could do our pre-White Mountain miles. Which means that we thought we could do at least 2 miles an hour. We were to find out the mountain had other ideas.

image

The day started out sunny and warm at 8:30 am we were headed down the trail. My pack was very light, lunch,  water, rain gear, headlamp and camera. 10 Bears pack was her same pack, minus tent, clothes, cooking supplies and food bag.

image

She still carried significant weight due to the fact she is making documentary film and needed to bring camera and gear for the camera.

image

We started the day together climbing up Kinsman Mountain. The distance between us eventually grew and when I got up to where the mountain leveled off I waited for 10 Bear and we had a snack and she did some filming.

image

Let me say here that descents are steep and often dangerous and this was no exception. We headed down. The views were wild. We got down to the bottom and I continued on. I eventually stopped at the  Eliza Brook and had lunch. After half an hour I looked up and read the sign post that started we head 7.5 miles to get to the road to end out day. It was now 2:00 pm.  I did the calculation of miles and time and realized we had to get moving or we would be hiking in the dark.

image

A few problems exsisted:  1.  I didn’t know how far back 10 Bear was. 2. The weather was changing to overcast, possibility of rain. 3. I had never hiked with my headlamp at night on the trail. 4. I dont have cell service most of the time. I decided to continue on. I knew that 10 Bear was filming and would eventually show up. As was the case many days before.

image

When I got to the Gordon Pond signpost, I sat down to wait for 10 Bear. I waited an hour. It got darker and darker. I got cold from my sweat. It was misting out. I debated waiting longer in the woods. The road was .7 miles away. I was now thinking what if something has happened to 10 Bear. I  know nothing of mountain rescue. I decided to head to the road. Better to get help from someone who knows the mountains, than having to recur the both of us.

image

I got to the road and waited 15 more minutes and then I borrowed another hiker’ phone to call the hostel. (Once again, AT&T had no service) I got the hostel’ answering machine and as I was hanging up, the hiker asked, “Is that your friend? ” I turned and looked and sure enough, it was 10 Bear, much to my relief. We had missed our shuttle, but we were able to get a ride from a man from Warren,  NH who was giving rides to hikers.

I later found out 10 Bear had a horrible day filled with injury and mayhem. But that is a story she must tell. I learned, always expect the unexpected where the White mountains concerned and just know,  you will do more climbing than hiking. We were on day 1 and it looked as if we were in for a wild time.

image

Down Under

image

Can you imagine walking every day under leafy foliage for the past four and a half months. Sunlight filters through the leaves. The wind gently rustling the leaves sounds so calming. Hikers fondly refer to this canopy as the green tunnel. It sounds lovely, doesn’t it.

image

When I started hiking on April 2, 2016,the foliage hadn’t arrived on the trees yet. The rhododendrons seem to always have leaves. I could see sunrise and sunsets. Now though, the foliage has been here for a few months. Hiking through Massachusetts was really like walking through a underground tunnel. Literally there were times during the day I thought, “Did I just wake up from a hikers trance and hours have gone by and now it’s evening and I’m still hiking? ” I would look at my watch only to discover it was only 9:00 in the morning.

image

Then came Vermont. Add mud to the equation and rain and you have the state of Vermont.

image

Okay, in all fairness to Vermontians, we did hike through a few nice fields.

image

I did see how maple sap was collected on a larger scale. I did see chunks of their famous marble. The woods though are covered in moss of every kind and variety. They don’t call this the “Green Mountain” state for no reason.

image

Ten Bear and I have been able to avoid some of the recent rain by staying in a shelter or some hostels.

image

All I can really say about that is I stayed dry. Ten Bear want so lucky in the Cooper Lodge Shelter.

image

image

The roof leaked. We ended up using all the florescent green duct tape I had wrapped around my hiking poles for just this type of thing or gear repair. That green tape had been an identifying marker on my poles. Three days later I forgot my poles outside a country market. Good thing I only had a tenth of a mile hike to go back and retrieve them.

image

Two days ago was my last full day in Vermont. I woke up at 5:17 a.m. to heavy dew under the rain fly off my tent. I got up before it managed to rain down on me inside my tent and all my gear. Oh, don’t get me wrong, thing have been damp for months now. I just didn’t want them soaking wet. Even though I tried to wipe off as much dew as possible, my pack still felt heavier than usual. Though it could have been because the day before I was able to slackpack 19 miles thanks to the help if Miss Janet.

image

image

I entered Vermont in the rain and I left Vermont in the rain.

image

I was never so hap put that one of my great grandfather’s lief this state when he emigrated from Finland!

image

I’m now in New Hampshire. My husband Tom has sent back my winter gear. Ugh! The extra weight is killer. I look forward to entering the White Mountains and getting above tree line. There is unpredictable weather there, but hey, I may finally see a sunrise. As for the canopy, all I can say is, see you again in Maine.

image

Dog Ass Tired

It’s 6:30 in the morning and I’m sitting in the laundry room in the Vermont town of Bennington.

image

My first thoughts upon waking are how many more weeks until I can go home. Most people would tell me I can go home any time. I miss my family, my family misses me. It’s almost as if now Mt. Kahatadin stands in my way. I try not to voice it on the trail because such thoughts can become a norovirus and spread like a disease on the trail. I can’t go home until I stand like hundreds of others at the hand made wooden sign to mark the completion of the journey.

Other hikers have begun to talk of jobs, where they will live, what is next in their lives. I don’t have much to say because I live in Northern Minnesota, in a house my husband Tom and I built. The next epic thing in my life is our son, Kevin’ wedding to his beautiful fiancee Leslie and her precious daughter Audrey. Our daughter Whatever Works, Andrea, who hiked 423  miles of the trail this spring is busy re-establishing her life. She had sold her car to hike the trail and where we live there isn’t mass transportation. As for my job part of this, I have a few ideas.

image
Wiley Shelter

Now back to the trail. In a very short time from now, I will be heading into the White Mountains of New Hampshire. The weather can be unpredictable. Winter gear is a must.

image
Cyclops my backpack

The weight of the pack is a concern. It feels heavy now. I have begun to struggle with the uphill climbs. I can handle the flat and I have learned how to jog downhill even when there are rocks and or roots. I have 5-6 weeks to hike less than 600 miles. The elevation changes a few thousand feet a day. My feet have healed from the 12 blisters from my old worn-out boots. I have the hiker hobble after every rest and especially in the morning. The hiker hobble is trying to walk on stiff, sore feet. My hiking poles become canes. Yes, we have aged our feet to the age of 90 years old.

image
Chair to rest my 90 year old feet

So, by now I’m sure you are asking yourselves, why do I continue? There is something magical about walking in the woods. The sound of leaves moving on a breeze, chirping frogs, singing birds. The smell of flowers and decay of leaves. Being able to see the sun dancing on the water or filtering through the leaves. Every day I encounter something I haven’t seen before.  Whether it’s a rock, plant, or critter.

image
Fern shadow

The trail isn’t very remote from civilization. I can hear the noise of cities or homes as the trail winds it’s way up the Appalachian mountains. So I  will leave you with this vision.

image
Heading into Dalton, Massachusetts

You are in your tent after a 20 mile day. It feels so good to crawl into your tent for the 128th night. Anything soft in your backpack is stuffed into the sack for your sleeping bag to make a pillow. Your socks feel damp and even though they smell real bad, you put them underneath you, in your sleeping bag so that they will be dry by morning. You then remember that you forgot to go to the privy and so you crawl back out of your tent.

image
Privy 128

When you get to the privy you try hard not to shine your light down the hole. The stench in the privy is so bad you try to hold your nose. You also hope that no spiders of the wolf family are present. You rush back out into the night for a gasp of fresh air and head back to your tent. You crawl back in and with a deep sigh your whole body relaxes. That’s when 3 fighter jets zoom right over your tent and you think your about to become wreckage in an aerial crash. Around 4 am you wake up to the smell of cucumbers and know a copperhead snake has just entered your airspace. You hope it isn’t close and you roll on it and get bitten. In 1 hour you wake up and start packing up everything that once was in your pack. Your day has begun. Now wasn’t that a restful night’s sleep.

image
Hiking through a swamp