earthtrekblog

Adventures of Life


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No Shame reveals all about the AT!

After talking with fellow hikers it became apparent that I’m not getting the whole story of what trail life is like. 
Here is the link to one of my hiking partners blogs:
www.spinthecompass.com

I also spent an afternoon speaking with a special guest about her experiences on the trail.  No Shame (AKA Star) was more than happy to fill me in.
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B: “No Shame, what made you decide to hike the AT?”

NS: “I had no choice in the matter.  My mother loaded me into a car, drove me to GA, put a 5 pound pack on me and told me we were hiking 2,189 miles home.  But had it been my choice, I’d still be here.”

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B: “what’s your favorite part of the trail so far?”

NS: “That’s hard to say there’s the food, bush wacking, chipmunks, leftovers, running, chipmunks, food, naps, chipmunks, belly rubs, food, and then there are chipmunks.”

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B: “What’s your least favorite part?”

NS: “I don’t do slow, I want to be going fast,  getting stuck behind the other hikers is extremely boring.  Can you believe they sometimes tie me up!? Something about not listening when the chipmunks are yelling at me.  I only have two ears and they are focused on the little furry buggers!”

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B: “That sounds challenging to say the least.  Are there any other tough situations you’ve been in?”

NS: “Being on trail isn’t easy and I work hard to look good.  The other day I was FORCED to walk through the rain and even do some SERIOUS river crossings!!!  Can you believe it?!  I’d just had my nails done too!”
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B: “After such long periods of time in the woods are you excited to get to town?”

NS: “It depends on the day.  Some town days are awesome, I get hooked up with a hotel room while mom and the crew go shopping and often times they bring me special meals like raw chicken or beef! These are the best days because they take my pack off and just let me chill out! Other times I have to hang out side of stores while they dash around getting a couple items and then we head back to the trail.  These days aren’t as much fun, my feet get hot, my pack weighs more and I only got a brief break from it.”
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B: “Speaking of your pack, what can you tell me about it? ”

NS: “I’m spoiled.  My mom tried a number of different packs on me but the big thing she focused on was that my pack wasn’t to big allowing me to carry too much weight and that my pack didn’t create any raw spots.  Mom decided to buy me a custom fit pack from Ground Bird Gear (www.groundbirdgear.com).  It was a little embarrassing getting my measurements done, but it was worth it.  I love my pack and harness system.  And don’t tell my mom this but sometimes I fake being tired or sore so she’ll carry the saddle bags.
The worst part of the pack is it inhibits my chipmunk chasing! Just the other day I was in hot pursuit of a chippy when suddenly I was launched backwards by the rhododendron bush I was trying to squeeze through.”
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B: “If you had caught the chipmunk what would you have done with it?”

NS: “Eat it!  Mom says if I catch it I can eat it.  The chippy ‘s down here are much plumper and slower than up north.  Not that I’m lacking in the food department.   Me being me, I flashed my puppy smile and got sponsored some awesome food from The Honest Kitchen. Mom gets worried because I’m the only dog on trail gaining weight!”
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B: “If you’re carrying your own food on trail that means you’re a working dog.  Are there other jobs which are expected of you?”

NS: “I have plenty of jobs on trail.  I herd my hiking group which includes “tracking” down any group members I believe to be lost, I distribute kisses to worthy people, I guard against bears – have asked a couple to leave camp at this point, and my most important job is be on sentry duty while my mom is going to the bathroom – a slightly embarrassing job but at least I don’t have to clean up after her!”
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B: “With so much work do be done do you ever find time to enjoy yourself?”

NS: “The trail offers lots of opportunities for fun. I love chasing things that move, rabbits, chipmunks, birds, grasshoppers, and more! I’ve discovered snakes do not fall in the category of moving, but turtles are fun to cuddle with. I enjoy playing in mud and shallow streams, and when the ‘adults’ get boring I find a stick, I’m surrounded by them, and spend some time chewing.”
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A woman’s world on the AT

Coming out here, to the AT, I was nervous.   I was alone with my dog headed into the great unknown.
The trail is your teacher.  No matter how much you know or what plan to gain from it, it is the trail which guides and provides for you.

I came onto the trail with a decent amount of trail knowledge already tucked into my back pocket.   I understood how to make camp, hang a bear bag, cook food and respect leave no trace (LNT).
What I didn’t bring with me was a bottle of mace, a big knife, or an ego. 

The first week was a learning curve as I rediscovered what legs can do (lots and lots of walking) and that it is possible to meet people and in the course of a day know you’ll be friends for a long time to come.  In the same respect I’ve also met people and realized it was fine if they kept on walking.

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As a person on the trail I feel no less equipped than any other person.   There is a common phrase,  hike your own hike (HYOH), which is repeated over and over again as a mantra.  People can provide ideas, information, and experiences but it is up to you to accept them, or leave them, and move forward.  Here are a few things which apply to me as a hiker, and a woman.  MEN there may be more info than you are interested in knowing, than again it may provide you with a good conversation piece.

When it comes to hiking alone.  Go. Do it.  You will meet amazing individuals who will fill the space and you will no longer be “alone”.  These remarkable people will become your “trail family” or contacts throughout your time on the trail.  When predefined groups enter the trail they often interact amongst themselves and don’t reach far to make new connections

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Trail buddies for life!

When you meet these wonderful folks on the trail do yourself and them a favor, don’t shake hands.  During the first week on trail I offended more people by opting out of handshakes and here is why I opted out; having just left a privy I was headed for my tent to snag my hand sanitizer when someone asked for direction to the water source.  I rattled them off quickly and was going to continue on when he introduced himself and offered a hand.  I started to extend mine when I suddenly realized I hadn’t sanitized yet and withdrew my hand rapidly while explaining, “sorry, I just hit up the privy and haven’t cleaned up yet.”
The response was all I needed to know never shake a hikers hand. “That’s ok!”

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There's a reason some privys are not to be used...

I don’t touch hands with other hikers, I don’t reach into offered food bags, and I don’t accept food unless I’ve seen them pouring food from it.  An elbow is the closest thing you’ll get to a fist bump from me.

The “trail diet” is a fascinating thing.  You eat what you see, and anything else which crosses your path, bugs, dirt, etc.  You will be counting calories but in a whole new way.  When I pick an item up and the calories for a single serving are below 150 I tend to reconsider eating it.  I want items where the calories are over 200 and I can make a hearty meal with over 1,200 calories.  Despite this style of dieting I have dropped 30 pounds in the past 6 weeks.  Town days are a thing of gluttony, double servings of pretty much any meal I order and ice cream is a must.

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Thanks for the birthday snack fest!

Now onto the good stuff!

Peeing in the woods isn’t all bad.  I won’t lie,  men have a distinct advantage when it comes to peeing in the woods UNLESS you are willing to step outside your comfort zone and give the Pstyle a go.   I swear by this female urinary device. 

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Pstyle storage. Easily accessible. And cleaned after every use.

There are numerous ones out there but I have heard this one has advantages, the urine doesn’t back up so it’s not a guessing game whether it is empty. BUT don’t think it’s all peaches and cream.  This thing takes practice, some say best done at home, than again necessity pushes you to be more accurate.   I have days which I label my 85% accuracy days.  Yup,  we all have a learning curve. These are laundry days.  Days where I was in a rush or didn’t focus on the task at hand and ended up “leaking”.  It’s ok, in my mind those days are few and far between. 
The convience to be able to stand on the side of a mountain and take a moment to enjoy a “vista piss” and not worry about exposing myself to a crew above makes every learning curve worth it.  Or the day I’d reached a mountain top before the rest of my group and sidled up behind a tree.  Having just rinsed off the Pstyle I hear a cry “did I catch you pissing?! Because if I did you just made my day!” Glad his day was made…

Women, I know you are all thinking about the frustrations or concerns regarding menstruation while on the trail.   Really it’s nothing.  Yes it may require a little extra time to clean up but truth be told it’s simple.  Options have changed and we are better informed.  It is up to you how you want to manage while hiking, using either, pads, tampons, or the ever increasing in popularity, menstrual cup. 
I hear concerns from women about how to pack out used items.  Ziploc bags.  Everyone has their own way, cover the bag in duct tape to strengthen it and keep items out of sight.  Some use a coffee bag to store their ziplocs in, and toss a coffee bean in the bottom to cover perceived odors. Personally I don’t want to carry anything out and find the menstrual cup to be highly effective. 
The concern about cleanliness and this are no different than any other situation, if your hands are in that area, you want them clean to start.  Take time to plan your day accordingly, give yourself extra time at lunch to take care of business.  Personally I opt out of using privys as I find the woods to be more sanitary. 

If you want to go out and enjoy the trail go and do it.  Become one with nature! You will define your adventures!

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After a day of "slacking" it was important to see if I could convict people I'd built up lots of glute muscle!


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Lessons learned on the trail

The first week on the trail seems so surreal.  I have done so much and yet, already, each day is blending into the next.

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The names of mountains bounce around in my head, Big Cedar, Hawk, Blood Mountain, Springer, Powell, Kelly Knob. They’re are already too many for me to count.

I have gained my trail name, Bookie!

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The people are amazing; Ghost, Moonlight, Rhythm, Rikki Tikki, Ambush, Arrow, Possum, Twig, and so many more!

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There is something to be said for what you will eat on the trail.  I have developed a trail appetite and creativity gains you points. Most common breakfast is oatmeal with carnation instant breakfast mixed in, this one thing has so much potential for adaptation!

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Gluten free wrap with peanut butter and Hershey bar!

Blisters,  I know blisters,  at least that is what I thought.  But on day two, when between my toes was burning, I was perplexed.  I had heard nothing of blisters between toes.  I settled into my tent and looked at the situation, they seemed just little bubbles of annoyance,  things that should go away. Go away they did.   With needle and thread I punctured my blisters, leaving the thread in overnight allowing them to drain and settle.

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Blister threading

This worked for one of them, the other two were more of a chronic issue,  one where alternative options were needed.  Toe socks it was! 

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When you’re too cold to function take care of your own basic needs.  After a long day of hiking through rain and mist our arrival at the shelter was bleak as every other hiker on the trail in the surrounding 5 miles was there.  I struggled to get fine motor function going,  after trying to warm myself with hot food and good company I retreated to my tent to shiver through the beginning stages of hyperthermia where I dried off and regained the wonders of normal body functions.

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First week in photos

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Natural rain shelter

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Blue Mountain Shelter sunrise

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Trail magic


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Help us gain sponsorship!

Hey everyone!
I submitted an entry to Kurgo to get $5,000 to assist Star and I in our AT thru hike, what I didn’t know and just found out, is there is outsider voting!
PLEASE HELP US OUT BY VOTING FOR US!  Click HERE

My VERY FIRST OFFICIAL HIKE SINCE KNEE SURGERY!!!

My VERY FIRST OFFICIAL HIKE SINCE KNEE SURGERY!!!

This is my girl keeping me real after my last knee surgery! She sat on me and pinned me down <3

This is my girl keeping me real after my last knee surgery! She sat on me and pinned me down ❤

 

 


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Dehydrated food pretrail

In five weeks my meals will consist of food eaten out of pouches and Ziploc baggies where all you do is add water and voila! you have a meal.  I have been blessed with the support of a small time local company, Good to Go.  As they are less than a year old and working hard to meet the demands of their clientele I am extremely grateful for the discount they have offered me (every little bit helps!).  Before I went off spending hard earned money on a bunch of food I had never tasted, and which I would be committing to eating for the next 6 months, I went out and purchased each of their flavors.  All of their meals are GLUTEN FREE  and VEGETARIAN.  I started with the safest bet first, Classic Marinara with Penne, how can you go wrong?  It was delicious, the simple marinara they used had great flavor and tasted fresh.  Now don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like sitting in my Italian grandmother’s kitchen  or anything but it is by far the closest I’ll get while in the middle of the woods (my grandmothers’ are Russian and English, so I doubt you’ll find me at my Italian grandmothers kitchen any how).  Make sure you allow the food to sit for 20-25min and I recommend giving it a stir half way through to make sure the water gets to all the pieces.

Not bad for "just add water"

Not bad for “just add water”

Second on my list was the Herbed Mushroom Risotto.  This one was good but it wasn’t great.  I struggled with rehydrating it, I believe it was operator error.  I don’t know if I didn’t have my water at a full boil before I put it in or what but the rice just didn’t absorb the way it should have.  I finished cooking this pouch meal on the stove.  Once I had it all together things were better.

Third was the Smoked Three Bean Chili, this one also falls under the good but not great category.  I don’t know, there was something missing and I again had operator error with the rehydration process.  Problem with rehydrating food when you are hungry is you get impatient and don’t let it sit for the full rehydration period.  I spent the next half hour picking half rehydrated beans out of my molars.  Bonus this meal will last longer than any of the others!

Last but far from least was the Thai Curry.  I was so nervous about this one I kept putting it off and putting it off but the time had come.  I was in the midst of dehydrating some of my own spaghetti when I realized I didn’t have food planned out for my dinner.  Thai Curry it was!  I carefully opened the pouch and removed the oxygen absorber.  I then took the pouch of powdered coconut milk and added it into the main meal.  Poured the boiling water in, stirred it up and set it aside.  I forgot about it as I spread portion sized quantities of sauce and spaghetti across my dehydrator trays.  When I suddenly realized I hadn’t eaten I was trilled to see the package sitting there looking at me.  As I opened it up the aroma of Thai spices filled the air, the sweet smell of coconut milk inviting me in.   I looked into the pouch to see green veggies scattered across the top.  The first bite was heaven!  The flavors indescribable.  I was excited to be sitting in my living room eating this meal out of a pouch! I was disappointed that I couldn’t scrape every piece out of the nooks and crannies of the pouch.

Can't get enough!!!

Can’t get enough!!!

I have been slowly preparing meals to take on the trail with me but only in the past weeks have I come to truly understand the best way to put these meals together.  I started with the concept of cooking up items individually and then mixing them in a bag to create a meal.  The downfall to this is the individual parts of the meal don’t get cooked in the richness of the spices.
I enjoyed sautéing up veggies and mixing them into the store bought pasta sauce, adding egg to increase the protein and cooking the Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP) right into it so it would fill with the flavor of the sauce.

This was only the first batch...

This was only the first batch…

When it was all said and done each tray held one portion, for the trail.  The calorie count isn’t bad either.  The sauce held about 140 calories, the pasta 420 calories and the TVP an additional 70 calories.  With my second batch I sprinkled ground parmesan across the top adding an additional 20 calories.   Each meal will provide me with @650 calories.  This meal will be a “freezer bag meal” where all I need to do is open the freezer bag it is stored in pour hot (not boiling) water over it, tuck it into my freezer bag cozy and wait!  Presto!  meal should be done and ready to eat in 20 minutes.

My supplies are slowly making there way into my home.  I am so excited to put together all of these awesome meals and start preparing my package drops.  I just got my Goji berries and Figs so I can make my own protein bars!  This is truly an experience of a life time!

Got milk?

Got milk?

And don’t worry in the midst of all of this food sampling and dehydrating I found time to take Star out to the woods where she could run about with a 4 pound pack on.

If you would like to support our adventure please consider looking at our Amazon Wish List (click here) or consider supporting us financially through PayPal (click here) and send to erin.tuveson@gmail.com

Every little bit matters!!!  Star knew this when she was only 5 months old!

Every little bit matters!!! Star knew this when she was only 5 months old!


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If you build it they will come

I am in the midst of a journey.   But I didn’t get here by myself.  I have been surrounded by some of the most wonderful people, provided opportunities I never expected, along with guidance and support.  This journey is about to take a new direction, I am thrilled for the change and absolutely terrified at the same time.  I will be leaving the safety of my home, my work, and the community of people I have been surrounded by, to drive 2000 miles and walk into the wilderness.
Tonight I was reminded of just how far I have come on my journey.  During my workout at Crossfit Bona Fide (CFBF) my trainer pointed out that I was almost at my “goal.”  Now this may not mean anything to you or even seem like a big deal, it’s just a goal.  But when I realized just WHAT he meant by that I lost ALL focus on the squat I was doing and almost fell over.  My journey at CFBF began in January, I have been attending classes 3-4 times a week.  When I started I could barely manage a squat while using a “stool” to spot my butt so I didn’t fall over backwards (I should have been a pro at these – it’s what they make you do in PT after ACL surgery).  Now, six weeks later, I have lowered my “stool” by 3 inches and cranked out over 90 squats, not yet achieving my goal but getting there.  My “GOAL”, in six weeks when I leave for the trail, is to be doing squats without any form of assistance (the stool) and to be able to bring my butt below the height of my knees in what is referred to as “below parallel”.  The strength and stability to achieve this will take me a long way on the trail.IMG_9337
There is something so remarkable about CFBF and the community of people it hosts.  I had this preconceived notion of what it would be like doing crossfit.  I was so WRONG!  It is not all about the next big lift or chest thumping and sweat dripping.  It is a space to come in and meet people who have an interest in themselves and their health.  I am always excited for the Work Out of the Day (WOD as we kindly refer to it), I walk away from it feeling as though I have overcome a perceived limitation.  It is true, “if you build it they will come”.  When they designed CFBF they did so with the right mentality, creating the environment they wanted as they went.  I know when I walk through those doors I will not be judged or intimidated.  I will have the support of every member and person in the gym.  As I finished my final rep tonight I had seven people standing there cheering me on and counting down for me, a testament to just how committed this group is to the success of every person.  I continuously tell the staff just how great they are, that I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for them, Kevin, one of the trainers, shrugs it off saying “you put in the work” and it is a true statement, but without them this place would cease to be what it is.
When my feet hit the trail in Georgia it will be with confidence.  I can only hope the trail community is close to what I have found here at my gym.  CFBF

What would I do without Star to rescue me?!

What would I do without Star to rescue me?!

SHOUT OUT TO THOSE PEOPLE WHO HAVE SUPPORTED ME THROUGH DONATIONS!!!  THANK YOU!  I AM SO EXCITED TO BE ABLE TO PUT THESE ITEMS TO USE!

AGAIN IF YOU WANT TO HELP SUPPORT MY JOURNEY YOU CAN FIND MY “WISH LIST”  HERE

 

 

 


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Proper way to open a package

It is a mix of excitement and fear which keeps me going! I don’t really know what I am getting myself into, all I know is that no matter what happens I will be different for it.

First thing I bought that made it real!

First thing I bought which made the idea real!

As anyone who has received a much sought after package or letter knows it is important how you open it. I was thrilled when I got to the mail box and saw the large padded envelope filling the space within. I pulled everything out, sorting the junk quickly into the recycling box, as though having it touch my precious package would taint it. I then rushed inside to the safety of my apartment and carefully read the label, twice. My name was printed clearly but in my excitement I didn’t process it. Once I was certain this was the one I took myself upstairs to my room where I could enjoy this moment in the comfort of my own room. I settled onto my bed, cozying up with my pillow and calling the pup up along side me, this was going to be her adventure as well. I didn’t bother with carefully opening the package. I tore into it! And as padded envelopes do, it resisted. But there was no way I was going to be denied viewing the book within.

As I slid the narrow book from the confines of the envelope I was disappointed by it’s small size, for the wealth of info it promised I was concerned it wouldn’t be held between those covers. I started reading immediately. I have not made it further than the first couple of pages but already I am satisfied with my purchase. I will be provided with dehydrated meal recipes, first hand knowledge of package drops, and how best to assist the people sending them.

Look out AT I am getting ready for you and it’s gonna be one hell of an adventure!

This is a very serious endeavor!!!

This is a very serious endeavor!!!


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Hiking in the Whites – Cliffs and Falls

I was tired and a little crispy from a long day in the sun and water, standing in lines, and managing a social outing. It was 3am and I was just getting settled into bed when I realized I had the day off. Much too late to start calling up folks and seeing who wanted to do some crazy adventure thing in 5 or 6 hours so I made the only rational decision. I had a car, a dog, and myself.  I logged onto http://www.hikenewengland.com and started checking out local hikes. I wanted something new. I plugged in criteria, between 3-8 miles, easy/moderate difficulty, in NH. By 3:30 I found one I thought looked good. It fell just short of 5 miles. I’d never heard of it, didn’t even know how long it would take to drive there, just that it was in the Whites. Set the alarm 5 hours out and called it a night.

Mornings are rarely a quick endeavor for me, even in the best circumstances. I’ve managed to take half an hour just to put on clothes, brush my teeth and walk out the door. With no one waiting on me this morning and no deadline other than the sun I slowly pulled together a couple travel bags. Yes, multiple. When I head out for a day hike or simple car camping I do indulge myself. I packed a bag with comfy clothes for after the hike, PJ bottoms, flip flops, a clean top, and sweatshirt. I also put together a day pack. My pack always has two emergency bags, one with a mini first aid kit and one for if I get stuck or lost in the woods (whistle, headlamp, water purifying caps, extra batteries, lighter). The weather report said 70’s with possible showers throughout the afternoon. Lightweight warm layer and a rain jacket, my camera with a couple dry bags just in case the rain came down and a small bag of snacks. Filled my camel pack and my dogs two platypus’s, tossed her treats into her pack and we were ready! Took me less than an hour to prep our gear.

"Today is your day. You're off to Great Places! You're off and away!" ~Dr Seuss

“Today is your day. You’re off to Great Places! You’re off and away!”
~Dr Seuss

We were on the road and headed north by 11:30am. My GPS said we’d be at trail head by 1:30pm and the hike was estimated at about 4 hours. I’d be home by 8pm! It’s never how you plan. The drive north felt like it took forever. I spent the first hour trying to tell Star about our big adventure, all she wanted to do was put her head out the window and listen to the wind. Next I blasted the radio and sang along with it at the top of my lungs. I got some odd looks, I think many of the people understood why Star had her head out the window. And then it happened! I whipped into a scenic overlook and realized the truth behind what I was doing. I was about to spend a beautiful day in the woods, hiking a trail I’d never seen, with no one but my dog, and I couldn’t have been happier! I launched myself out of my car, looking the part of total tourist, ran over to the guardrail, pulled out my iPhone (didn’t bother with my very nice camera) and snapped just one picture. This was the image that concreted what a great decision I’d made at 3am!

In that moment I knew!

In that moment I knew!

Not 5 minutes down the road I drove past a hitchhiker. I hauled over and did a frantic clean of the front seat so he’d have a place to sit. My day was going from “small adventure” to “holy shit it’s taking off”. I don’t often pick up hitchhikers. As I’m sure you can imagine: woman alone in car + unknown person = uncertainty
Sometimes you just have to trust your gut. This poor guy was trying to get back to his car, he’d just left his buddy at the hospital after a kayak trip gone wrong. The least I could do was get him up the road and drop him at the next intersection. We enjoyed a quick discussion about my upcoming hike. He spoke highly of the trail with beautiful views and winter ice climbing. My destination was only twenty minutes away!

The Arethusa Falls trail and parking area are so clearly marked that if you manage to miss the sign don’t even bother with the hike, blazes are small. The parking lot was packed. I’d been told to expect this and wasn’t bothered by it. This would be my first solo hike, EVER. I wanted this hike specifically for the fact it was well traveled and if anything went wrong there was a good possibility I would meet other hikers.
Geared up and ready to go, I spoke with another hiker who suggested enjoying the falls at the end of the hike as a way to cool off, if so desired. Off to the cliffs I was headed. I don’t like to admit to my lack of map skills but it is a fact that I don’t do well reading maps. And because the guy suggested it, I stood in front of the map at the trail head and tried to get an understanding of where I was, where I was going, and what to expect. Eventually I moved on. About all I knew was I wanted to walk up the trail in front of me. I figured the map images I’d uploaded on my phone would serve me well when I needed them.

My compass rose assists me in finding my way when lost.  At least that's the plan. Haven't gotten lost since I got it.

My compass rose assists me in finding my way when lost. At least that’s the plan.
Haven’t gotten lost since I got it.


I don’t have much nice to say… the first half mile of trail was boring. Just as I started my way towards the slope of the mountain I met my first hikers coming down the trail. They didn’t have much to say either, said there was some steep section, but the view was beautiful. Yes I’m about to rant.
I don’t know who decided to rate the trail as “Moderate!” When you’re scrambling up the side of a mountain, leaning far enough forward that you are wondering when you’ll kiss the hillside, then maybe, just maybe this should have been under “moderate/difficult”. The footing was scree, loose rock, sand, and leaves, crushed and mixed together to create a great base for sliding down a mountainside. I know I speak unkindly of this footing but this is my third hike since having my ACL replaced and for some reason the idea of tearing it out again just doesn’t appeal to me. And maybe I exaggerate a little so as to not seem weak. See, Star had no trouble on this section, and as you know she’s recently recovered from Lyme. She plowed through all 0.7 miles of scree scrambling, climbing over rocks and roots, and along a cliff edge. I wasted more air than I should have cursing myself over this foolish notion of going on a hike, not just a hike but a solo hike. As I pushed myself up the last section of rock, my fingers finding holds on a boulder I paused, I looked ahead, I took a deep breath, and I listened, there was no sound of my dog, her bell had fallen silent. I let my breath out in a shaky whistle. I power up over the last little ridge and scramble up some wet rock and Star bounces over to me, all wiggles. She doesn’t understand what I am so worried about she just settles down to watch me. We hiked the last 50 feet, Star bounding ahead, impatient to see through the trees where the sky was visible.

Star is content to lay still  for just a moment.

Star is content to lay still for just a moment.

Every step up the mountain. Every curse out of my mouth. Every drop of sweat shed. Was worth standing on the top of those cliffs. The view was beautiful and serene. I plopped down and enjoyed some much deserved jerky, and a peanut butter and Nutella sandwich. I was relaxing physically but mentally I was on high alert, Star couldn’t understand the idea of a break. I’ve always believed she was part mountain goat and as I watched her creep closer and closer to the cliff edge I prayed she was. I kept calling her back but all she wanted was to know what was just over the edge. During my 30 minute break there wasn’t a single point in time where she stopped moving.

When I got back to the parking lot I looked up and realized just what the cliff edge was like where Star wanted to be a mountain goat...

When I got back to the parking lot I looked up and realized just what the cliff edge was like where Star wanted to be a mountain goat…

I met some truly wonderful people on those cliffs. An older woman who has been section hiking the AT. We sat and talked about the fun and the challenges of the trail. We discussed having a dog as a companion and what it meant, that I would be sleeping in a tent. I talked photography with a couple who lives 20 minutes from me, on the seacoast. And last, the high spirits and antics of a group of friends, who had traveled from all over to meet up and enjoy the outdoors. Then it was time and we all parted ways. I’m a better person for the thirty minutes spent talking to these folks.

As I moved forward up the trail I again questioned this idea of a solo hike. But this time it was with excitement and a sense of understanding. I was out here to be with myself. To take time to let my mind quiet down, to put fears, concerns, and doubts on the back burner and to trust in my ability. I had just hiked one of the steepest sections of trail I’d seen in a long time, I’d done it with my own two legs and at my own pace. I had met people, learned from them and provided knowledge in return. I didn’t know where I was or where I was going. I was moving through the woods, just me and Star, and I was completely at peace.

I'm content with just the two of us

I’m content with just the two of us

We continued our climb up. My legs were screaming for the ascent to end, my calves were burning, my knee was giving little creaks and groans, and we still hadn’t found the summit. We came to an intersection where I stood staring at the signs trying to make sense of what I knew in my head and what the signs said. I finally pulled out my phone and looked at the map. Remember earlier when I mentioned maps don’t always help me, this was a prime example. The trail “merged” with another. Everything in my mind said stay left but the arrow to the right spoke of the falls and the road I’d come in on. Next I pulled up written word, the directions for each trail intersection etc. Thankfully it clearly stated the two trails met and to stay left. I must argue my point just a little here. When looking at the map the trail to the left and right were clearly labeled “Arethusa-Ripley Falls Trail”, the sign pointed to the right to follow “Arethusa-Ripley FT” and to the left to follow “Arethusa Falls Trail”. I knew I wanted “Arethusa Falls Trail” it just wasn’t where it said it was and it didn’t make sense… not when I was standing there all alone getting slightly panicky as I had to make a decision on my own. I made the right decision and onward and upward we went. I don’t even know when we summited, there was no bald peak, or stellar views, I just know we did. Then suddenly the trail sloped downward just enough ease the burning in my legs.

I had made a decision. It wasn’t about if I wanted raisins or craisins in my GORP. It wasn’t about whether or not I should pack my rain pants. It was all about where I was going. I had used the resources I had, trusted my instincts, and moved ahead. This was what the day was about. It was this combination of things which really got me thinking. In about 9 months, I would be on a trail making these decisions constantly. In the beginning I’d been excited about planning for the AT and then the excitement petered out, my research declined, my experimental dehydrating of foods decreased, even discussing it was overrated. But here walking through the woods it all started coming back. The desire to be on my own, to not be limited by others or distracted by technology, where time means nothing (although this isn’t always true). Where every chipmunk rustling through the leaves held the possibility of being a bear. Yes my wild and crazy imagination was running on full tilt.  This was where I was and this is where I wanted to be.

Arethusa Falls, second highest falls in NH at 140'

Arethusa Falls, second highest falls in NH at 140′

As the trail became smoother and I had to focus less on my footing the hike became more and more enjoyable. I spent time working on new, hiking specific, commands with Star. I enjoyed the peace and quiet of the woods, minus all the chipmunks taunting Star. I saw very few hikers along this trail, apparently the well traveled part of the trail is the Arethusa Falls section, not the cliffs. Star and I enjoyed the hike down to the falls. We had the view all to ourselves, 140′ of falling water! I sat back and immediately became a buffet for all the starving black flies. With little blood to give I wrapped up my sight seeing of the falls and headed back to the main trail.

Star and I had a mission for the final leg of the hike. It was to find the next steepest part of the mountain. We were successful. The map I was following showed this great little loop option which would have us hiking an additional 0.2 miles and place us next to Bemis Brook. I couldn’t see any reason not to do it, in fact a family I met on their hike up also suggested it with much enthusiasm but did warn it was a “little steep.”

Bemis Brook Trail It's just a little steep

Bemis Brook Trail
It’s just a little steep

It was like walking down, really steep, natural stairs and if your foot caught than you would be plastered to the bottom of the brook when you landed. My fear of heights actually made the hike down more difficult than it needed to be. But we made it and the family was right. Bemis Brook was beautiful. Waterfalls littered the length of it. Star and I hiked along stopping briefly at each one, feeding the fly hordes.

Bemis Brook Falls

Bemis Brook Falls

The final 50 feet of trail was covered in the company of a couple from Finland. Star was at the top of her game, having been allowed to roam with little direction from me, and was on a serious chipmunk hunt. The gentleman joked about how happy Star would be if she had “a belly full of little chipmunks.” A very astute and accurate observation. While Star continued her frenzied hunting I spoke with the couple and we shared stories of hikes and life. It was the perfect way to end my hike. To meet people from so far away and yet create a bond over the shared experience of this trail.
Thank you to all the wonderful people I met this day!!!

Star was not so sure about this footing. "It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end." ~Ernest Hemingway

Star was not so sure about this footing.
“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” ~Ernest Hemingway