Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Caledonia to Old Forge Road

This past Saturday, we went on an extended day hike from Caledonia south to Old Forge Road parking area which is just past the Tumbling Run Shelters.  We had originally planned an overnight trip from Caledonia to Pen Mar Park, but Sunday's weather was calling for heavy rains, high wind and temperatures dropping into the low 40's.  I don't know anyone who would willingly sleep and hike in that weather, so we changed our plans and opted to complete the first leg of the journey.  It fulfilled one of Chuckwagon's (my son) 10 mile hike requirements for his hiking merit badge, and got us out in nature away from stress.
We met up with a thru hiker at the bathroom off the parking lot in Caledonia.  He was headed south after reaching Katahdin and finding it closed for the season.  He was heading south to Georgia where he intended to turn around and hike back to Maine.  To each their own.
Our hike started out easy enough as it meandered through some laurel hedges.  I was feeling good.  the weather was great for hiking, and the terrain wasn't too difficult.  But that wouldn't last.  We hit our first gradual incline not long after crossing route 30.  As uphills go, this one wasn't too bad, but I'm discovering that the gradual inclines are the worst for me.  Like old joints can tell when rain is coming, my butt injury can detect even the slightest change in elevation.  I made it to the end of the hill without too much trouble.  I just take my time.  It isn't a race so I just go at a comfortable pace.


Eventually we came to a much bigger elevation change over a short distance.  These I find more fun than overwhelming.  Chuckwagon was the first one to head up.  So we all scrambled up to the top of the ridge.
This is one area that shows exactly why Pennsylvania's other name is Rocksylvania.  There were rocks and boulders strewn every where.  For the most part, the rocks weren't really a problem at all.  It made for some more interesting terrain.
There are rocks all along the ridge of South Mountain, something that must be a common occurrence in the area. These rocks contribute to one of the many paranormal stories I've been slowly collecting over the past few years for a book I hope to manage to one day write.  There was a highwayman known to roam the area of Central Pennsylvania, and he made the caves and crevices in the mountains his hideouts.  He was known to the locals as somewhat of a "robin Hood" character who sometimes used money from his heists to assist those who were less fortunate.  He was eventually captured.  There are two different stories associated with him.  One is that there is a cache of money. around $10,000 worth, still stashed somewhere in the Caledonia/Michaux area.  The highwayman apparently hid the money in one of the caves along the mountain ridge and was captured before being able to claim it.  I considered poking around in some of the crevices, but figured I was more likely to stumble upon a rhumba of rattlesnakes (really, that's the correct term for a grouping of rattlers).
The other story associated with our North American East Coast Robin Hood is that his ghost is known to still ride in the Central Pennsylvania areas where he was known to roam.  So perhaps one night while you're sleeping in your shelter, you might hear horses hooves approaching.  If you're quick enough you might catch a fleeting glimpse of the highwayman riding and protecting his lost fortune.
We never saw a thing, which was disappointing.
We continued our travels on the ridge.  At this point, Chuckwagon was starting to talk about lunch.  Honestly, he was talking about eating after about the first 20 minutes of the hike.  The granola bar he snacked on apparently wasn't enough to hold him over.  We planned on stopping at the Rocky Mountain shelter for lunch, but we ended up stopping at an area off the trail mostly because Chuckwagon was getting a little hangry.  We picked a spot where someone had set up a fire ring and had some log seats.  I don't know why peanut butter and jelly tastes so much better eaten on the trail, but it does.
Once lunch was done, we headed back onto the trail. It wasn't long before we hit more inclines.  Perhaps it was because my muscles had stiffened while sitting and eating lunch, but I was having a harder time during the second half of the hike.  The gradual changes in elevation were kicking my butt.  I was exhausted, and I was in pain.  I was thinking in my head that I was done with the whole hiking/backpacking thing.  We eventually made it to Chimney Rock, and the view was worth the the long hike.  We dropped our packs and climbed up Chimney Rock to see the view.  We took a few minutes to take some photos and rest.  We were nearly back to the car, but we had a steep hill to hike down.  The elevation change is about 900 feet change over about 1 mile.  It was rough going most of the way.  My mom and Chuckwagon went on ahead of my husband and I.  We were losing light, and we were in a bit of pain.  I've never been so happy to see a parking lot in my life.


In total, our hike was actually 12 miles instead of the 10 we thought it was.  We all agreed that the weather forecast that forced us to change our overnight plans was a Godsend.  There was no way my husband and I would have physically been able to hike 10 more miles the following day, especially with 20-25 pound packs.  While I usually struggle with my old injury, it was not the source of my pain- which was new and surprising.  It did bother me while I was going uphill, but it stopped when the incline did, and that's something different- and positive.  My pain stemmed from being incredibly out of shape, and that's something that can be fixed.  Sometimes your life is so busy you feel tired and exhausted like you're doing all this physical exertion, but you really aren't.  So the lifestyle change has commenced, and the treadmill is getting cleaned off.  Our goal is to plan a hike each week/weekend of about 5 miles. Once we master 5 miles without feeling like dying in the woods, we'll add miles.  Here's to many more hikes to come!




Friday, September 22, 2017

Quick Out and Back


This past Sunday, my mom and sister and I headed to Pen Mar Park to do a quick hike.  We headed north on the Appalachian Trail.  We didn't have any specific plan for the length of our hike.  I'm sadly out of shape, so we decided to just hike until we reached a good spot to turn around and head back. 
Before crossing the Mason Dixon Line into Pennsylvania, we had to cross over a set of railroad tracks.  There's just something about a set of railroad tracks in a rural area that stirs the wanderlust.  Perhaps I was a Hobo in a past life, because part of me was thinking it would be pretty cool to hop on a passing freight train and head out to who knows where.


Just past the tracks, we got to the Mason Dixon Line. Now I can really say that I've completed Maryland. Since my previous hikes started from Pen Mar headed south, I never actually hiked this short stretch of Maryland Trail.  Right at the Mason Dixon Line marker is a mailbox covered in stone holding a log book.  I love reading log books.  We looked for entries from the hikers we fed when we did Trail Magic, but none of them took the time to stop and fill out the log.  I imagine sitting and eating with us ate up too much of their time (pun intended).  The log was full, so we weren't able to add anything to it.
We continued on down a hill that I wasn't thrilled about having to go back up on the return, and came to a stream/creek and an area where it looks like people camp.  There was a footbridge crossing the stream and leading to another hill- this one we had to go up.  As some of you know, I'm not fond of going up.  It all has to do with the problem I have with my hip.  Inclines make it hurt more, and after breaking my foot and being in a boot and on crutches, it seems like I've gotten things all out of whack once again.  We kept on going up before finally reaching a point where I felt it was time to turn around.  Just before heading back down the trail, a large group of backpackers passed us one their way to the Tumbling Run Shelters. 


The one great thing about this hike was that I was finally able to have that bear encounter I've been hoping for.  I'm not sure if this is an albino Black Bear or a Polar Bear who traveled to far south.  Or perhaps I wandered into the world of Lost.  Either way we were quiet so as not to disturb his obvious hibernation.
It was a nice 3 miles hike, and now we're planning our own overnight Caledonia to Pen Mar southbound next month.  In the meantime, I have even more motivation to hit the treadmill and lose those extra pounds I've added.
On a side note, we went into Waynesboro to check out an antique store of sorts.  They don't have just antiques, some items are reproductions, but it was a great store.  All three of us picked up some stuff.  It's called James and Jess House of Goods.  If you're in the area for a hike, maybe check them out.  Also, there's a fabulous (though super expensive) chocolatier.  We didn't sample anything, but it was great just standing in there smelling the store.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Swallow Falls

Muddy Creek Falls
The last weekend in June, my husband and I went on a camping trip to Swallow Falls in western Maryland.  We arrived Friday night along with some serious torrential rain.  Luckily, we made the decision to use the truck bed (it has a cap) as our "tent" so we didn't need to worry about setting anything up in the rain.
The next day we went out to check out the falls. My broken foot had healed enough to be able to walk without the boot, but I was restricted with the amount of hiking I was supposed to go.  But, really, why listen now.  The first falls we came across on the hike was Maryland's highest waterfall Muddy Creek Falls.  It's a 53 foot
waterfall and thanks to the abundant amount of rain the day before, it was thundering.



Swallow Falls
We made our way along the trail following the Youghiogheny River until finally coming to the area of Swallow Falls.  The amount of water and the speed of the current from the rain was astounding.  We weren't able to swim or get wet thanks to the raging waters, but it was beautiful just to watch.  We eventually headed back to camp.  Later that evening we also went on an Owl Prowl hike.  We were able to hear a couple of barred owls, but even cooler was the old cemetery in the middle of the woods and the old house foundation.  There was even a ghost story associated with the area.


On the way home, we made a pit stop at Sideling Hill.  I was disappointed to find that the little museum that was once housed in the visitor's center is gone.  When a previous Governor closed the Maryland visitor Centers, the museum exhibits were donated to a place in Hancock.  When a new and better Governor was elected who
reopened the Visitor's Centers (because really, doesn't Maryland want to be friendly and hospitable?) they couldn't really ask for their exhibits back.  The former museum is now going to house offices.  Bummer.  It's still well worth the stop to check out the scenery!



Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Hunting the Woo Woo


In June, a group of us decided to head out on a cryptid expedition.  That is, we were looking for a creature known as the WooWoo (AKA the Bighoot). 
I know, some of you are probably scratching your head wondering what in the world this has to do with hiking or backpacking.  If you remember, I've been working on a book of paranormal stories along the Appalachian Trail for a couple of years 3 years long ass time.  The WooWoo is a creature that has been described as a giant owl that lives in the Delaware Water Gap area of the AT.  It's said you can hear it's cries at night, and naturalists have been unable to identify the type of bird making the sound.  So we booked a campsite at Worthington State Park in New Jersey as base camp and headed out into the woods. 
The Delaware Water Gap is actually an active paranormal spot for the most part.  There is the WooWoo, the Messing-W which is a Bigfoot type creature know to the Native tribes of the area (and also thought to possess supernatural powers), Old Red Eyes another Bigfoot type creature and the ghost of an old witch.  I was pretty excited about going on this trip to see what I could find for the book and get some photos.  Unfortunately, I was still wearing a boot because of my broken foot.  No one wanted to head out on the AT without me, so we didn't get to do much in the way of WooWoo hunting.
I did hike a short distance into the woods near our camp.  How did I do this on a broken foot you ask? Well the orthopedic said to "make sure you wear your boot".  So I did.  I wore my hiking boot. It is a boot and it is mine. I didn't make it far before I opted to head back. 


While we didn't spot any WooWoos or Bigfoot creatures or ghosts, we did spot about 30 Red Efts (newts) and a few small toads.  And there were a couple of waterfalls on the short hike.  And I will say, listening to my three year old grandson tell another little boy at camp about WooWoos and the ghost witch on the mountain that they have to stone to kill (I swear that's not what I told him) was pretty amusing. 
We did actually have one strange occurrence with an odd light on the very top of the mountain.  Was it a house, a hiker with a large light, the ghost witch?  Who knows.







Worthington State Park is on the list of places to definitely return to.  I want to be able to hike the AT in the area and spend more time checking out the other larger waterfalls in the area. 




Red light in the woods
























Kittatinny Ridge home of the Ghost Witch




















Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Trail Magic Year 2

Last year, my mom, husband and son decided to try out offering some Trail Magic to thru hikers at Pen Mar Park near the MD/PA line.  It was a success and extremely rewarding, so we made sure we planned it again this year.  
Our Trail Magic was planned for June 10th.  It coincided with my unfortunate circumstances.  I managed to fracture my foot by stubbing my toe, and I was on crutches.  It didn't stop me from "hiking" along the trail a bit and taking advantage of being able to get an awesome photo op.  Now my Trail Name "Badass" isn't just because I have one, 
in this photo I look like one hiking on crutches.

When we do Trail Magic, we go all out.
It isn't just a few sodas and snacks, 
we transport our gas grill to Pen Mar Park and grill up burgers and dogs.
There's cheese, sliced tomatoes, onions, 
potato salad, macaroni salad, chips,
fresh fruit, candy, sodas, water, lemonade,
and homemade cookies.
The one thing we were told over and over was that each hiker was afraid to get excited about the Trail Magic signs, because in their experience, the signs could actually be old ones.
They had run into that often.
So keep that in mind if you're doing your own magic,
make sure you take down the signs when the magic is gone!
We served over 20 hikers and 2 dogs.
Gino here was owned by thru hiker Cookie Monster,
who did, in fact, eat the rest of our cookies.
This little Chi-Weenie had a trail name- Drumstick- because of her
very meaty back legs.
Thru Hikers think about food a lot.
It was a great day, and we met a lot of great hikers.
I heard later that we had the most significant amount of Trail Magic.
We've made a few notes for next year
like being there an hour earlier to accommodate the early risers
and have coffee and donuts.
We'll also bring some dog treats and a bowl for water
just in case we get some more 4 legged hikers.
Trail Magic continues to be one of my favorite things to do.
Never have I done anything else that has been so greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Them's da Breaks

Literally.
A couple of Sundays ago (May 21st specifically), I was on my merry way to the loo at 1:30am when my little toe made a sudden and painful contact with a very thick heavy wooden step stool. While a little sore, there was no discoloration other than a small bruise on the tip of my little toe and minimal swelling if any.  I even walked on it.  But a voice kept telling me to get it checked out.  I managed an Orthopedic appointment the following Wednesday and surprise! It's fractured.  I have a non displaced fracture of the fifth metatarsal.  I'm now wearing a boot and I'm on crutches because I'm currently non weight bearing (most of the time anyway).  Needless to say, this has thrown a wrench into the works.  There will be no strenuous hiking for 6 weeks (4 left).  There is a camping trip coming up at the Delaware Water Gap area of the Appalachian Trail.  Not sure I'll actually get to step on the AT there, but hoping I am able to do something.  It's going to be a long 4 weeks.  The one positive is that not being able to use one foot has made the muscles in my bad butt work better and get into better shape so that injury is actually feeling better.


Friday, May 12, 2017

Finally Finished

The last weekend in April, we ladies set off to backpack a section of the Maryland Appalachian Trail.  For one of us it was a repeat section, for another it was a first time ever backpacking trip and for the other two (one being me) it was a trip to finish the Maryland section that was started the year before.  We started from the South Mountain Inn parking area which is where my cousin and I had to stop previously.  We were hiking south to the Ed Garvey shelter and from there to the Weverton Cliffs Parking lot.  I was a little apprehensive about this trip.  Since the previous year, I've been working on fixing an injury.  The short story is that 3 years ago I fell and began having pain in my hip/butt area.  That led to a potential diagnosis of piriformis syndrome which then led to the correct diagnosis of a tilted and rotated pelvis.  Since started treatment for that, the pain has been significantly reduced, however, on my last doctor visit I was told that there was little left to do for the remaining pain as I had arthritis in my lower back that was causing some issue.  So, I was going to learn on this hike just how much the pain and injury were going to screw up my backpacking plans.  I loaded up on ibuprofen and also took along Salonpas pain patches the doctor recommended.
So at the South Mountain Inn Parking Lot, we said our goodbyes to Casserole (my aunt- she has a trail name) who shuttled us from the Weverton Parking Lot, and we headed down the trail.  The weather was a little iffy that morning.  NOAA was forecasting some potentially severe storms with high winds and hail.  This isn't really shocking since every time my cousin and I go on an adventure, something squirrelly happens.  Because there were some rumbles of thunder and a little light rain, we covered our packs and put on our rain gear as a precaution.  We hiked down to the Dahlgren Backpacker's Campground and stopped to use the bathroom.  For those who don't know, Dahlgren not only has a normal flush toilet bathroom, it also has hot showers.  Also note that while it is supposed to be for backpacker's only, it usually fills up in the summer months with non-backpackers who take advantage of the close proximity to parking and the fact that it's free camping (I really wish this was monitored better!).
After our quick pitstop, we headed up out.  Uphills are my enemy.  Added weight and and going up put strain on my injury.  So I was hiking up a mountain with 20 pounds on my back.  Brilliant.  What ended up being surprising was how well I was managing the inclines.  It seemed more like my issues were from being sadly out of shape and not an issue stemming from my fall.  We took our time slowly picking our way over rocks.  I dislike rocks.  It was slow going every time we had an uphill.  I have learned that I need to go slow and stop and take a minute to catch my breath and sometimes stretch out the tightening muscles.  My daughter and cousin didn't mind the breaks.  It seemed we all needed to take a break at about the same time.  I began feeling much better about my ability to hike.  20 pounds seemed like a manageable weight, and taking my time was key to making it through the tougher terrain.
We eventually came to some power lines and a view of the valley. We took the opportunity to stop for a few minutes.  The storm seemed to have missed us, so we all put away our rain gear, and my mom shared her Twizzlers.  We took a few photos of the view before putting our packs back on and heading back along the trail.  I never realized just how loud large power lines are.  It's a constant buzzing, and it even felt like the hairs on my arms were standing on end.  I don't know how anyone could stand to live near power lines like that.
Anyway, we continued on our way.  It was a pleasant hike most of the way.
The weather was decent though a little hot and muggy.  We were lucky enough to have a steady breeze that kept things pretty comfortable for the most part.  As we made our way down the trail, we met up with quite a few hikers.  Several groups passed us, and we began to worry about whether or not there would be room in the shelter for us.  We had opted to leave our tents at home to save on pack weight, and because there was a chance of storms that night. There was an option to stop at the Crampton Gap shelter, and we voted to make the decision about staying there once we got to it. We eventually came to White Rocks overlook and took another snack break.  My mom is always saying that she thinks taking breaks for snacks and to take off your pack for a few minutes is important. I'd have to agree with her.  I broke into my beef jerky and ate some more Twizzlers.  We took several photos of each other up on the rock and of the view.  About that time, a Boy Scout Troop arrived.  We moved our stuff aside so they could all enjoy the view too.  I took a group photo for them so all their leaders could be in the shot.  We learned they too planned on staying at the Ed Garvey shelter.  I mentioned it seemed that was the go-to place for the night and they assured us they planned on tent camping.
We headed back onto the trail after that planning on stopping and having lunch at the pavilion at Gathland State Park. AS we headed off, we all sang Bohemian Rhapsody which sounded pretty darn good if you ask me.  Don't ask anyone else though.  We hiked past the Crampton Gap Shelter and decided to keep going for the day.  There were already some folks there, and we were all feeling pretty good physically.  We reached Gathland shortly after and stopped for lunch.  There we ran into one of the other hiking groups we had talked to earlier in the day.  It was 4 local guys hiking for the weekend.  They were just finishing up their lunch and said they'd see us at the Ed Garvey Shelter when we got there.  Lunch was good even if it was only Kind bars and beef jerky.  There were also Twizzlers.  Gathland State Park is a great place to have lunch.  It's also a great place for a day trip for anyone looking for suggestions for such things.  There's a huge history with the place and it has a little museum as well as actual flush toilets and a water spigot.  Once lunch was complete, we hit the bathroom and filled up our hydration bladders.  I was surprised to see I drank all but .5 liters from my 2 liter bladder.  I was also surprised when I put my pack back on after refilling the bladder with 2 liters of water.  Even though it wasn't any heavier than it was that morning, it felt like I had added about 10 more pounds to it.  After filling up our water supply, we set out for Ed Garvey.
The guidebook listed it as about 3 miles from Gathland State Park.  No problem, we could do that easy peasy.  On our hike to the shelter, we saw a snake, and my daughter nearly stepped on a box turtle.  My mom was quick to tell me to leave it there.  I've been known to bring turtles home that I've rescued on the road.  Not that I keep them- I just let my kids see them and learn about them before setting them free away from the road.  And taking a turtle on the trail would be a serious Leave No Trace no-no.  But I did make sure to take a photo.  We hiked on and on and on.  And we began to seriously worry about whether or not we would have a place to sleep.  We passed several hikers coming from the direction of the shelter who said how crazy crowded it was.  This part of the hike seemed like it would never end.  Then the breeze died.  The heat and the humidity increased, or at least seemed to increase without the breeze and my daughter and cousin started to feel the effects.  Just about the time I was ready to just lay down on the trail, we saw the blue blaze for the shelter.  My mom and I were ahead of the other two and she called me over.  "We are staying in that shelter" she said to me.  I assured her I had her back. 
As we walked up to the shelter, we saw a large group of men sitting around the fire pit.  The guys we had seen a few times that day waved us in and told us we had the whole bottom of the shelter.  It seems when they arrived they let everyone know there were 4 women headed there and needed space in the shelter.  We ended up being the only women there that night.  There were 4 Scout troops.  Two camped around the shelter and the other 2 stealth camped on the other side of the trail.  Plus there were quite a few section hikers.  Not long after we arrived, the guys decided to get a fire going.  Our guy friends from earlier in the day brought hot dogs and offered to share with a couple of military guys if they got the fire going. 
First one man tried to get the fire started with flint and steel.  He regaled us with tales of how he "always gets a fire started".  It was serious work, or so I assumed when he took off his shirt.  Several minutes later, no fire.  So the two military guys tried.  Someone got a lighter and they worked to get something started.  My mom suggested I help but I insisted I was enjoying watching them try to get something going.  Eventually, I just couldn't take it, so I quietly walked to my pack and pulled out my ziploc bag of lint and cotton balls with petroleum jelly (along with matches and a lighter) and I walked over to the men and asked "Which would you like to use?"  They opted for the cotton balls and a fire was started immediately.  One of our guy friends asked why I didn't help sooner and I simply told him I was enjoying the show.  The macho man said, "You sure are prepared." To which I responded, "I'm a Scout leader."  There were other conversations about how my cousin and I have a fire wherever we go since we're "pyros from way back".  All in all it was pretty hilarious.
The stay at the shelter was a lot of fun.  We had conversations with people from Delaware, New Jersey and Connecticut as well as some locals.  Meeting fellow hikers is my favorite thing.  We all eventually turned in for the night.  None of us really got much sleep though.  It was hot and muggy for a while and then the wind kicked up and it got chilly.  I only brought my sleeping bag liner so I was a bit chilled.  Several time my cousin and I had conversations about hiking out at first light.  At one point some coyotes started howling which was super creepy.  Luckily I had already been to the privy. 
In the morning we got up, ate a cold breakfast, packed up and headed down the trail.  We  ended up finishing a little after 9:00am.  We were all beat and really sore, but had a great time.  I was thrilled that while my muscles were screaming, my injury hadn't really caused much in the way of a problem.  Sure I have to go slow and take a lot of breaks, but I still got to the end. A few other thoughts: I highly recommend Darn Tough socks, which I used for the first time on this overnight.  My feet felt pretty good and the socks were comfy.  Gaiters are a good idea.  I don't have Gaiters, and I didn't think they were very important.  However, I ended up with a bunch of dirt and leaves in my boot and gaiters would have prevented that.  And if you're getting tired and you don't want to say you need a rest, take a photo!