THANK YOU!

Thank you!Life has been a wonderful, crazy whirlwind since we exited the woods on October 31, 2014 — completing our thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. We want to take a moment to say ‘thank you’ to everyone who supported our hike! Whether you made a donation to AFTD; offered us food and shelter; talked us through some tough spots on the phone; or kept up with the blog and cheered us on from a distance — Thank you!!

With your help, we were able to raise over $9,000 for AFTD — $4,000 over our original goal! So, again, we thank you!

As our dear thru-hiking companion, Roots, put it: No one completes a thru-hike on their own. Our friends and family were behind us every step of the way, and we are truly humbled by and grateful for your kindness and generosity.

Again, things have been a bit crazy on our end… but we will be adding more detailed posts about the last leg of our trip soon.

In the meantime, happy trails!

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By the Numbers

 

We crossed our 2,000 mile mark last Saturday! It's kind of surreal.

We crossed our 2,000 mile mark last Saturday! It’s surreal.

Total miles completed: 2,086.8

Miles remaining: 98.5 — that’s right! Under 100 miles to go!

Current location: Boiling Springs, PA

Marathons completed: 1! Yup, we walked 26 miles yesterday — a ‘marathon day’ as it’s called in Trail lingo. It’s something we wanted to do before we finished, and so we’re really excited that it worked out! We’re actually taking a rest day today, though, because 26 miles in one day put us ahead of schedule.

Number of fellow thru hikers with whom we’ve been hiking of late: 5, surprisingly! We thought our southbound leg of the flip-flop hike would be kind of lonely, but we’ve seen a bunch of other flip-floppers and some Southbounders (heading all the way to GA!). There are more ahead and behind us, but currently we’re enjoying the company of flip-floppers Canyon Man and Solo Amigo; and Southbounders Chief, Sweet Feet and Birthday Girl. We actually hiked with Canyon Man for a few weeks in TN/NC, and we love him. He’ll be finishing in Harpers Ferry the same day we are, and we’re excited to be able to come out of the woods with him 🙂

Longest valley-walk: 13 miles in the Cumberland Valley! Fantastically flat. Corn and soybeans galore. ‘Twas a relief from classic Pennsylvania rocky ridgelines,

Recent “wildlife” sightings: One 11-week old Australian Shepard puppy — like this one>> Okay, not exactly wild, but ridiculously cute. We also saw deer, hawks, and all those other woodsy creatures.

Best recent hiker meal: The Chuckwagon Buger (from the famous/infamous Doyle Hotel in Duncannon, PA. Stellar tour of the joint here>>). The Chuckwagon is a deep fried hamburger. With cheese fries. Done and done.

By the numbers

Brandon leads the way as we descend from the Palmerton superfund site.

Brandon leads the way as we descend from the Palmerton superfund site.

Current location: Between Palmerton, PA, and Port Clinton, PA
Total miles completed: 1,964.3 — that 2,000 mile-mark is just around the corner!
Miles to go: 221
States completed: 12 — GA, NC, TN, VA, WV, ME, NH, VT, MA, CT, NY & NJ
States remaining: 1.5! The rest of PA and the short bit through MD!
Hiking days remaining: 16 — but we’ll probably use one of those days as a final zero day to visit Brandon’s uncle and aunt in MD. Pushing back our finish date to Halloween has allowed us to slow down and really take in this last bit of our adventure. We’re absolutely loving it.
Awesome couples hiked with: 2. First there was T-Bone and Porkchop, who hiked south from Maine to Pennsylvania. Porkchop had to get off due to an injury, but T-Bone continued on solo for a bit because she’s a badass. She has since left the trail, but they both hope to finish the rest next year. We also hiked for a few days with another Southbounders Birthday Girl, Sweet Feet and their dog Gidgit. Turns out Sweet Feet knows one of our friends from Charlottesville through Peace Corps. Small world!
Donkeys met: 2 — at the expansive Murray property in New York. Jim Murray (a thru-hiker from the ’80s) kindly lets thru hikers stay at a rustic cabin on his property, which is a mere 0.2 miles from the Trail. There’s water, an outdoor shower, and his two roaming donkeys frequently stop by to see if they’ll get any handouts. No food = no donkey affection.
Recent wildlife sightings: a tiny/awesome screech owl; a beaver (we were so excited to finally see a beaver. We’ve only seen their handy work thus far — lots of dens and dams!); some bats; and lots of caterpillars (like these and these). Oh, and lots of deer. Kind of boring at this point…
Ridiculously horrible & hilarious motel experience: 1 — the unforgettable Cobmin Ridge Motel in Branchville, NJ. We’ll dedicate a whole post to this story later.
Number of rocks in Pennsylvania:  98374592837492839934661. At least. In northern PA, it’s less hiking and more fumbling across the trail — trying not twist an ankle or fall onto one of the several sharp stones strewn across the path.
Superfund sites hiked through: 1 — the Palmerton Superfund site, where zinc smelting took place for nearly a hundred years until 1980. It was actually a lovely hike on an old road overlooking the PA valley. We definitely carried in extra water through there, though, because we were warned of high metallic content in the area’s water — not our cup of tea.
Number of fugitives met in the PA woods: None… that we know of.
Weirdest thing seen in the woods recently: A drone! We were having lunch at a shelter on the Trail yesterday, and a drone (kind of like this one>>) flew right over us. Perhaps looking for the cop killer? We saw it again a little later on while hiking. Crazy!
Recent friend sitings: 1! Miss Kat Diplas herself. We’re so grateful for her and her parents who hosted us and allowed us to take a rest day at their home. Showers, clean laundry, great Greek food, and wonderful company? Yes, please and thank you!

By the Numbers

Fall is here! This is what happens to ferns in the fall. Beautiful.

Ferns in the fall = beautiful.

Current location: Greenwood Lake, NY — just short of the NY/NJ state line!
Total miles: 1,835.4
Miles to go: 348.9
States completed: As of tomorrow, 11! (GA, NC, TN, VA, WV, ME, NH, VT, MA, CT & NY)
States remaining: 3 — NJ, PA & MD!
Do we have an end date? We sure do — October 31st! At our current pace, we’re actually on track to get to Harpers Ferry earlier than that. But, we have some family who want to be there when we come out of the woods, and Halloween weekend works best for them. We can’t think of a better way to end this trip than seeing familiar faces and hugging loved ones! So, we’re going to take this last month a little bit slower — enjoy the fall colors and our final few weeks on this Trail.

We found a Marshall in the woods! No one to take our pic? Purposeful photo bomb time!

We found a Marshall in the woods! No one to take our pic? Purposeful photo bomb time!

Number of cousin sightings: 1! Katherine’s cousin, Marshall, drove up from the Big Apple to spend an afternoon/evening with us. It was so wonderful getting to see her — great company and way too much food = a day well spent. Thank you, Marshall, for making the trek to see some stinky hikers!

Zoos ‘hiked’ through: 1 — that’s right. The AT takes hikers through the small Trailside Museums & Zoo, which is close to Bear Mountain State Park in New York. The zoo is dedicated to native species of the Northeastern US, and takes in orphaned and/or injured animals that cannot survive in the wild. It is small, but their mission seems to be a good one — educate the public about the natural wonders in their own backyard. It was a little strange for us, though, seeing some of these animals in exhibits.

NYC skyline sightings: 1! It was so cool. We’d been told we would see NYC from Bear mountain, but it was too cloudy the day we hiked over it. The next day, however, we climbed up Black Mountain and BAM. There it was! NYC in all of its glory off in the distance. It was so crazy to stand on that mountain — in the silence of the woods — and look at that skyline and just know that SO much is going on over there. So many noises, smells, sites… so many people! The cell phone photo below doesn’t do it justice. It was really clearly silhouetted and awesome:

image

Number of water sources in NY that were dry: Basically all of them? Ok, that’s a bit of an exaggeration… but it’s been crazy! While we’re grateful for 2+ weeks of gorgeous weather, it’s taking its toll. We’ve passed over a number of brooks, creeks, even large ponds that are dry as a bone. It’s raining today, though, so hopefully we’ll have a little more water when we hit the Trail again tomorrow.
Favorite recent trail magic: Water. We came to a road crossing yesterday to find five or six gallon jugs of water from “The Trail Angels of Tuxedo, NY.” Much needed and much appreciated!

imageNumber of snakes wrangled by Katherine: 2! A rat snake (pictured left. He was about 5 to 6 feet long!) and a garter snake — both non-poisonous (she says, “I’m not THAT crazy, y’all.”). Katherine loves animals of all sorts and was taught by her dad years ago how to identify and safely catch snakes — she’s still got it!

Monastery picnic shelters slept in: 1 — there is a 40ish mile stretch in NY where there is a lack of shelters, approved camping sites, and (lately) water. So, the friars of Graymoor Spiritual Life Center fill that gap by allowing thru hikers to camp on their baseball field or in a nearby picnic shelter. There is water, a privy, outdoor shower and pizza delivery right to the shelter! Life’s good.

‘You’re almost there.’

Brandon strikes a pose as the tallest man in Connecticut on the states highest point, Bear Mtn.

Brandon strikes a pose as the tallest man in Connecticut on the state’s highest point, Bear Mtn.

We crossed into Connecticut yesterday and saw Mountain Laurel for the first time since Virginia– one more little sign that we’re getting closer and closer to the woods we know; closer to home.

We started noticing these signs in southern New Hampshire– the pines, birches, mossy floors studded with sharp rocks… They began to give way to hardwood forests and meadows. We were seeing familiar flowers again: Goldenrod, Queen Anne’s Lace, Thistle and Chickory; and, oh my goodness! Is that a Blue Jay? A grey squirrel?

Don’t get us wrong — we loved the enchanted, rugged landscapes of Maine and northern New Hampshire. When we flipped up from West Virginia and entered the lands of plush, green carpets of moss; of mushrooms in every color; of mysterious bogs and crystal clear alpine lakes; of moose and the crisp scent of pine — we fell in love. The sudden change of scenery was a jolt to our hiker-worn systems. We were suddenly and fully alive and aware of our surroundings.

But yesterday we welcomed the sight of Mountain Laurel with joy and excitement. This adventure has been all we wanted it to be, and so much more, but we’re ready to come home. As we walked through a dense tunnel of the familiar plant yesterday, it felt like we were approaching the end of a huge race, and the course was lined with the smiling faces and cheers of supporters.

In reality, the only sound we could hear was the swishing of branches brushing against our packs. But you could almost hear them whispering, “You’re almost there.”

The quietest of sports fans.

 

 

By the Numbers

 

Our last sunrise in Vermont

Our last sunrise in Vermont. When this is what you wake up to when you crawl out of your tent in the morning, there’s not much you can complain about.

Current AT location: Between Becket and Lee, Massachusetts
Current physical location: Coxsakie, NY — a little town not too far from Massachusetts. We’re taking a rest day here with Brandon’s Grandma and Aunt Linda. It’s been so great getting to spend time with them, and they’re helping us slack-pack part of Massachusetts! We love you and are so grateful for you both!
Total miles completed: 1,652.8
Miles to go: 532.5
Longest hike to date: 22.5 miles
States completed: 8 — Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, Maine, New Hampshire & Vermont
States to go: 6! the rest of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania & Maryland. Pennsylvania is our only long state left!
Donuts eaten this week: 10. Gotta love hiker snacks.
Has it gotten cold yet? Sure has! We dealt with a few cold nights in Maine and in the Whites in New Hampshire — but we’ve been seeing some pretty consistent cold weather since Vermont. Hello, Fall!
Number of grouse seen/heard recently: So many grouse ’round here. Just yesterday we scared up about 5 in a 2-3 minute period.
Porcupine sightings: 1 — it was hilarious and awesome. Got out the camera just in time>>
Parent sightings: 2! Katherine’s parents, Dan and Janet, just missed us too much to wait until we got back down to West Virginia. So, they flew up to meet us in Vermont! It was so wonderful seeing them! They helped us slack-pack over a long weekend, fed us great food, and put us up in a hotel. Hotel = a real bed, showers and a roof over our head. We = happy hikers! Thank you, Dan and Janet — we love you guys!
Number of recent intense rock-scrambling climbs: 0! Not to say the Trail hasn’t continued to be challenging (it’s always challenging in one way or another), but we’re certainly happy to be out of the land of boulder climbing/hopping. This allows us to do bigger miles each day and get on home 🙂

 

Playing Catch-Up: C-ville to Harpers Ferry, WV

Queen Ann's lace

So, you know the drill by now – we don’t post an update for awhile, keeping y’all biting your nails in anticipation…then we wait a little longer…then BAM! Massive updates all at once! Well, our blog-writing habits haven’t changed. Sorry for the delay. Let’s catch up, shall we?

As mentioned in a previous ‘By the Numbers’ post, we had a wonderful send-off from Charlottesville by our friends Edward, Erin, Rafe, and Zach. These guys made leaving C-Ville a little easier by camping with us our last night in the area — they walked us to our 900-mile mark 🙂 Thanks for the fried chicken and hot dogs; the punny jokes; and awesome night. Y’all are amazing friends!

We spent the majority of our remaining time in Virginia hiking through Shenandoah National Park (SNP). SNP was very green and lovely with relatively easy hiking and lots of blue berries, black berries and wine berries. We hiked along Skyline Drive quite a bit, which meant we also got to enjoy ice cream and sandwiches from their ‘Waysides’ (basically convenience stores).

We also had a bunch of fun wildlife sightings in Shenandoah:

Gotta love sweet Emma’s reenactment of that bear video (Katherine’s niece):

We saw a RIDICULOUS number of bears in Shenandoah. Seriously — we’d see as many as four in a day! They were all generally nonchalant about our presence, so instead of the bear butts we were used to seeing as they fled into the woods, there was a lot of “Oh, hey bear. Yep, you see me and I see you. I’m gonna hike on by and you just keep digging around looking for grub. Sound good? Great.” We did have one slightly nerve-wracking with a stubborn mama bear who was hanging out too close to the trail for our comfort, but all ended well.

We got to know a few thru-hikers in SNP who were new to us, and we particularly enjoyed hiking with Ghost and Tex for a few days. Ghost’s real name is David Startzell, and he is the former director of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy! We were flabbergasted – a genuine A.T. celebrity, out on the trail, just hanging out with us! Ghost spent 25 years as the longest-serving director in ATC history, and he said that he spent much of his time as director trying to convince members of Congress to appropriate funding for the ATC. It worked – when Ghost started at the ATC, it had six employees and a $300,000 annual budget. When he left, there were 50 employees and a $6.5 million budget. He also led the conservancy in buying more than 200,000 acres for trail expansion. Basically, he’s a big deal, and it was really great getting to spend time with him.

After exiting SNP, we were in northern Virginia and our lovely friend Emily picked us up for a fun weekend in DC! On Friday, we were treated to tasty tacos and several inappropriate rounds of Cards Against Humanity with a combination of college, high school, and Charlottesville friends. On Saturday, we hung out with Katherine’s high school friend Andy and his wife Val at their wonderful apartment. We were treated to crackers and cheese on their roof deck, sausage and burgers from the grill, and much laughter throughout. Andy and Val drove us back to the trail on Sunday with our hiker hunger satiated and much-needed R&R under our belt. Thanks to our DC friends for a fantastic weekend getaway!

We finished off our hiking in Virginia with the infamous Roller Coaster – 13.5 miles of 10 tightly packed 500 foot ascents and descents capable of wearing out the hardiest of hikers. We crushed it, and we crossed the much anticipated 1,000-mile mark!

Katherine’s feet had been acting OK since leaving Charlottesville — not great, but not horrible. So, we went forward with strategizing on how to get up to Maine from Harpers Ferry, WV, to start our flip-flop hike. We could rent a car, or take a train, or fly….each option sounded like a logistical mess. Then, out of the blue, Brandon received an email from his uncle Doug offering to drive us from West Virginia all the way up to Maine! Talk about a trail angel!

So, we arrived in Harpers Ferry, WV; got our picture taken at the ATC headquarters; met Uncle Doug and hit the road to Maine!

Several fast food stops, one hotel night, and 13 hours of driving later, we arrived at Baxter State Park — home of Mt. Katahdin and the northernmost point of the AT! Thank you, Uncle Doug, for the amazing amount of time, energy, and miles on the road you put in to get us up to Maine. You made what would have been a tumultuous journey a relative breeze, filled with great conversation and family bonding time.

And so, we made it to Maine and began our trek south back to Harpers Ferry! That seems like a good stopping point for now. Look forward to moss, mud, and moose in our next blog installment: ‘Maine Madness’!