Monday, March 20, 2017

Happy Spring?

Just when I think I'm starting to get back into the regular hiking (and blogging) swing of things, Mother Nature decides to get a little witchy and throws 12+ inches of snow our way.  Last week starting Monday night, we had some snow.  It was quite a shock to the system after experiencing 60-70 degree days.  I mean, I even had the heat off and the windows open several days.  Then WHAM! (not the band) a crap ton of snow (yes, crap ton is an official measurement).
So yesterday when my mom suggested a short hike, I went.  It was sunny and in the 40's, so we headed to nearby Gettysburg National Military Park to "hike".  We actually ended up walking along a seldom used road near historic Sach's Covered Bridge that crosses another historic bridge to another seldom used road that winds through some farmland.  We had our hiking poles put neither of us took our packs.  It was more about being outside and moving those muscles.
Our next big adventure is the end of next month, so getting prepared is a necessity.  We'll only be doing an overnight, so I'm hoping that means less weight and no issues for me.  I'm planning to really get my workouts started at home on the treadmill, and I'd like to hike each weekend with my pack to prepare.
In my spare time, I've been fostering rescue dogs for a local dog rescue.  I've successfully fostered 2 and had both adopted.  I get my third one in the near future. I'm secretly hoping I find one that makes an excellent hiking companion.  I have a good vibe about the one I'll be getting, so I plan to take him out for some test hikes. 
In the meantime, I'm working out the packing list for my trip and trying to decide what to take and what to leave.  I'm also wondering what the heck to purchase with this year's REI dividend.  Between the dividend and the snow, it's almost like Christmas!

Friday, March 3, 2017


I'm not sure what it is- the super mild February weather, the hundreds starting their thru hikes or just my frustration from feeling like I'm stuck in a rut- but I'm dying for an adventure. 
My cousin and I are known for our road trips not so much because of where we go, but more for what happens along the way.  Though, when I think about it, it's also because of where we go.  Several years ago we packed up our camping gear and flew across the country to stay at the UFO Ranch in Trout Lake, WA.  And even though we met a Santa Claus look-a-like wearing overalls, an alien T-shirt and a straw hat and holding conversations with an alien head he kept in a dog bed, it probably wasn't the craziest trip we've been on.  Really.
On a trip to the Mothman Festival in Point Pleasant, WV, we drove through 4 tornadoes, torrential rain that had us searching for a motel (we never found one), fog so think we couldn't see more than a few feet in front of the car, Biblical flooding of the Ohio river and mudslides.  Oh, and we spotted vultures sitting in a dead tree above a rusting hearse while "Dueling Banjos" played on the radio.  And we got shot at while checking out an abandoned asylum. 
Then there was the time we spent the night at the closed West Virginia State Penitentiary in Moundsville.  It was so creepy inside that we took our cat naps outside on the concrete wall in the exercise yard in shifts.  This after being taken on a private tour by some caretaker in a section that was off limits, smelled of burning flesh (from Old Smokey the electric chair's chamber) and ended up being locked in a cell in said off limits area with the aforementioned caretaker we didn't know.  Scarier was the room at the hotel we stayed in that sported a giant bloodstain on the mattress (they kindly flipped the mattress over so I wasn't laying on the stain, but it was still visible), strange leering men in the parking lot and a tub I didn't want to think about using.
So, I'm ready for adventure.  Ready to hit the trail or hit the road.  Or hit the road to head to a section of the trail that is more than an hour away.  I'm ready to go check out some of the spooky places I've researched for the Haunted Appalachian Trail book I'm still writing.  I just need to go.
I guess it's happening to me the way it happened to John Muir: "The mountains are calling, and I must go."

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Prepping and Planning

January 29th we all got together (my mom, husband, cousin, son and myself) at Catoctin Mountain Park to some hiking to prepare for the spring.  It was quite the blustery day and the temps were forecasted to be in the low 40's, but the windchill factor had it feeling much colder.  We had planned on hiking a large loop we had done before heading to Cunningham Falls then looping to a couple of the vistas then back to the visitor's center.  Unfortunately, the high winds closed the falls trail due to some potentially dangerous dead trees.  So we changed our route and headed up to the Thurmont Vista.  And it is up.
My son was trying out his new hydration bladder and had some weight in his pack.  Overall, I think he'll do just fine when we head out for our overnight at the end of April.  He seems to manage the pack and weight without problem.  He did complain about his knee hurting, but after some ibuprofen and keeping him talking about video games, he forgot about his knee.
We made it to the Thurmont Vista which boasts a gorgeous view of the town of Thurmont.  There we met up with a couple of hikers out for the day.  One was a guy who was what one might call a gear junkie.  He talked on and on about his gear he had, the gear he'd read about, the gear he had at home but didn't bring, the gear he just HAD to buy.... you get the idea.  The other hiker was an older man who seemed content to just sit and enjoy the view.  Like many older hikers I've met (all 2 counting this guy) he had an adventurous soul.  He was talking about his trip to Egypt with his wife.  This, of course, renewed my interest and my cousin's interest in traveling to Egypt (she even checked out prices when she got home).  I would have loved to have stayed and chatted with this man.  I too crave adventure though life and responsibilities prevents me from having too many, so I live vicariously through others.  I have found that older adventurers have the greatest stories.  I encountered the other older hiker at my local McDonald's one morning before heading out for a hike.  Looking at him, I would never have guessed he was an avid hiker having hiked the whole AT.  He was headed out later that week to hike sections of Tennessee and Virginia.  Anyway, I digress.
After admiring the views of the vista and chatting with the hikers, we headed on down the trail to Wolf and Chimney Rock.  The temps got colder as the wind was hitting that side of the mountain.  It took me some time to dig out my hat.  I'm not one for wearing winter hats, but having one with you (that also covers your ears) is important when you're hiking in seasons where the temps can drop.  Once I had that hat on, I was feeling quite comfortable.
We eventually got back to the Visitor's Center after hiking 5.27 miles then we all headed off to dinner.  It's amazing to me how fast food becomes an important obsession when you're hiking.  About an hour into our trip, my cousin and I were dreaming about mashed potatoes.  Luckily the restaurant we went to had a buffet complete with steaming mashed potatoes, and yes, I ate about 6 pounds worth.  After dinner, we all planned out some weekend backpacking trips for the coming year.  It's great that we all seem to have the same "Top 10" list of places we want to hike.  This year we'll be finishing Maryland (end of April) and doing section in PA with my son's Boy Scout Troop, going to hunt the elusive WooWoo/ Bighoot in the Delaware Water Gap and heading to Shenandoah National Park towards Fall.
In the meantime, I'm working on building muscles in my injured butt/hip and gaining stamina/losing weight.  I'm also still working on that book of paranormal stories from along the AT.  All in all, it's going to be a busy spring/summer/fall!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Quick Hike at Hashawha

I'm really lucky to live in an area that offers so many hiking options within an hour;s drive time.  Locally, we have a place called the Hashawha Environmental Center.  It has a Nature Center and several different trails for hiking, biking and horse back riding.  Most of the trails are relatively easy.  I've taken my 3 year old grandson out on them and he managed fine in his sneakers.  There are some loops that offer a little more strenuous hiking (though nothing like the AT or the trails at Catoctin Mountain).  On January 21st, my mom, husband and myself headed to Hashawha to get some hiking in.  Usually I take along a weighted pack, but this time I opted to leave the pack at home.  Without a pack, my injury doesn't really bother me too much, so it was great to be out and just enjoying the woods.
We took one of the extra loops that does have some inclines on it and offers some gorgeous views.  I learned I am very out of shape from sitting around this winter because even without carrying a loaded pack, I was tired and out of breath often.  A large section of the trail travels through some pine groves.  I think pine groves are my favorite place to be, or at least one of the top places (a secluded beach is up there too, it's a toss up between the two).  Pine groves are just so silent and have a certain reverence about them.  Like they're the cathedral of the forest.  I would be content to sit under the pines for hours. However, sitting under pine trees doesn't build muscle or help anyone get back into shape.  So we hiked on.  We managed to hike 3.10 miles.  Looking forward to some more training hikes and the upcoming back packing season.

Monday, February 27, 2017

First Day Hike

Me: I think we go this way Mom: How do you know? 
For the past few years, my mom and I have made sure to go out for a hike on New Year's Day.  There's a New Year's superstition that says whatever you're doing on New Year's Day, you will do the whole year through.  I want to hike the year through, so that's what we do.  We opted for a hike on the Appalachian Trail heading south from Pine Grove Furnace.
The trail on this stretch isn't too bad.  The start has a gentle incline that works your muscles pretty good without causing too much pain.  I am of course basing that on my own personal injury and issues.  Inclines kill me, or rather, they have me begging to be put out of my misery, especially when I have some weight in my pack.  But this section of the AT wasn't too bad and gave me a work out without needing too many breaks.

Right near Tom's Run, we came across a blue blazed trail called Sunset Rocks.  We decided to take a detour and check out the trail.  It was nearly sunset, and we thought perhaps we might manage to see a spectacular one.  As we headed up the trail, we passed a group of young men, perhaps in their early 20's, coming back down the trail.  They warned us to be careful because the trail gets steep.  We thanked them and we all went on our way.  I mentioned to my mom that my idea of steep and their idea of steep probably aren't the same since they had on skateboarding shoes.  We just figured they saw two women and thought we might be delicate.  Then we came to the steep part.
The photo doesn't do the incline justice.
Steep doesn't even do it justice.  It's around 1,000 feet of elevation gain in about a quarter of a mile.  Parts of the trail require the use of your hands.  I had to stop a lot on the way up, and I considered turning back more than once.  But I was determined to get up the hill.  Especially when I spied two guys below me on the trail (not carrying any packs or extra weight I might add).  They were also stopping often along the way, and not because we were in their way.  We stopped and moved to the side to let them pass, but they were resting (Ha!).  So we continued up and eventually made it to the top of the ridge.  The view was gorgeous, but I was too tired to take a photo, plus there were a lot of trees in the way.  After making taking some time to catch our breath, we started making our way back down.  I was concerned about the descent because the trail still had some snow and ice on it, but we managed to get down quickly without too many problems.  My "Badass" was acting up a little, and my knees were screaming.  By the end I was exhausted, but very pleased with myself.  Prior to getting my injury treated, I would not have been able to make that hike up that incline.  There's no way.  It was worse than anything we had encountered on the Appalachian Trail so far, and the inclines I have done previously sent me off the trail early.  It was a complete victory for me: I made it up a huge elevation gain without too much pain, and at the end when I stopped, so did the pain.  On our overnight trip, the pain never let up and only intensified which is why I had to end my hike.  If the pain lets up when I stop and allows me to sleep at night and rest, I think I can manage.
I wouldn't mind doing this blue blazed trail again.  The trail actually takes you through the former WWII POW camp in Michaux.  I knew the POW camp was there, but didn't realize this was the trail that went by it.  I checked out info on the camp for possible inclusion in my book about paranormal happenings on the AT, but this POW camp wasn't a bad one.  The prisoners were treated well, and they were often plied with liquor to get them to reveal enemy secrets.
All in all, it was a great hike and one I'd recommend checking out.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

On the Mend

It just occurred to me that I hadn't blogged about the hike we took back on October 9th.  We were supposed to do an overnight hike from Dahlgren Campground to the Ed Garvey Shelter and down into Harper's Ferry.  As luck would have it, the weather was rainy, and we opted not to go.  It would have been my son's first overnight, and I didn't want crappy weather to sour him to backpacking.
Luckily, Sunday was a gorgeous day.  We parked in the parking area on Weverton Rd and hiked up to Weverton Cliffs.  It was all uphill and full of switchbacks.  My injury typically flares up on inclines, so I was concerned how I was going to handle it.  I made it to the cliffs with minimal rest stops.  We enjoyed the view for a bit, took a bunch of photos and chatted with the other hikers out enjoying the day.  Then we headed back down to head to Harper's Ferry. 
The hike into Harper's Ferry is an easy one once you're past the parking area.  Here the Appalachian Trail travels along part of the C&O Canal Towpath which is a level hike.  While I was getting tired, my injury was holding up pretty well.  I learned that if I take smaller strides, there was less strain on my hip muscles.
Along the way to Harper's Ferry, we were passed by two trains, and watched a Great Blue Heron fishing in the Potomac.  The only drawback in my opinion was the bicyclists.  While some are polite when sharing the trail, some are rather rude and indignant, as if hikers shouldn't be hiking along their bike path.

We finally made it to the footbridge heading into Harper's Ferry.  The sun was starting to set, and we were all getting a little tired.  We stopped for some ice cream before my cousin went to get her car to take us back to the starting point.  It was a great hike, especially for me as I was mostly pain free.  It was a sure sign that I'm on the mend.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Hikes and Haunts

This weekend, we headed out to enjoy the unseasonably warm temperatures and gorgeous weather.  Since Halloween was just around the corner, the decision was made to try to check out one of the haunted areas of the trail.  So, checking some options and factoring the amount of time we had before the sun set, we ended up choosing an area known as Dead Womans Hollow.

The Appalachian Trail crosses Dead Womans Hollow Rd as it heads south into Michaux State Forest.  The name of the road is a strange one.  Many years ago, Native Americans encountered the body of a woman who had been bitten by a poisonous snake.  Her ghost is said to haunt the area.

Because the parking was limited for a point-to-point hike, we ended up finding another trail to check  out.  Near the parking area we were planning to use was a trail called the Rocky Knob Trail.  This trail crosses the Appalachian Trail just south of Dead Woman Hollow, and it has its own sinister story.  Back in 1988, two women were enjoying some time hiking and camping on the Appalachian Trail.  The women were camping near a shelter one morning when they encountered a man who asked them for cigarettes.  The man seemed a little odd, so the two women decided to pack up and hike south to find a more secluded campsite.  As they hiked, the man appeared again asking if they were lost and this time he also had a .22 rifle slung over his shoulder.  The women eventually took an off shoot trail called Rocky Knob Trail.  They hiked until they found a good campsite beside a stream and set up camp.  Unbeknownst to them, the man had followed.  He also sometimes lived in the woods around there  and knew the area well.  He was aware that the side trail the women had taken was a loop trail, and he could easily catch up with them.  That evening, the man fired 8 shots at the women.  One woman was hit twice in her head and back.  She died from her wounds.  The other woman was shot five times in her head, neck, arm and face and survived.  She managed to hike out of the woods and back to the main road, approximately 4 miles.  The man was eventually caught after an extensive man hunt and is serving a life sentence. 
This trail seems to have a very heavy feeling.  Perhaps it just comes from knowing what transpired here, or maybe it's from the history itself.  Environments can hold on to energy, whether it's joy or pain or terror, and it seems like this place is definitely holding on to its past.  On a positive note, you can't deny the heroic efforts of the woman who survived.  We hiked out the way she would have gone to reach first the gravel state forest road and then drove the road down to the area where she received help.  It's taxing when you're perfectly healthy, let alone suffering from 5 gunshots. 
My son kept asking about spooky stories from the trail during our hike and wanted to know what was my favorite that I've come across so far.  My answer is that the scariest stories in my opinion are the ones that deal with murder like the story above.  The AT is a relatively safe place to hike.  In fact, walking around a city might be a lot more dangerous that being out in the wilds of the Appalachian Trail.  But the murders that have happened along the length of the trail seem to carry either some mystery as to who committed the crime, or the perpetrator was an odd, creepy person.  Throw in the idea that you're completely isolated in some areas, and it makes for one seriously scary tale. 

Switching gears a bit, Michaux State Forest is also one of the leading areas for Bigfoot sightings in the state.  While we didn't see any  Bigfoot creatures, we were catching a whiff of an odd odor that we described as pungent and musky.  This is a description that often occurs in Bigfoot sighting stories along the trail.  Throw in a couple of trees with scratched areas and you start worrying about bears Bigfoot.  And then there's the Hidebehind which has been talked about since Native American times.  The Hidebehind is a creature similar to a Bigfoot that tends to follow people and peek at them from behind trees.  It's not a good idea to be last in line in Hidebehind territory, and if you are last, don't ever look over your shoulder because you might just end up disappearing. 
We didn't see any Hidebehinds or Bigfoot, but we did do a little investigating along the trail.

All in all it was the perfect pre-Halloween hike and one I'd recommend and plan on doing again in the future.  And I want to stress that while ghosts and Bigfoot and Halloween are all in good fun, never did we consider the loss of life in this area a joke.  We all have nothing but the utmost respect for both women involved: one for her selfless command telling her friend to run and hide while she herself lay dying, and one for having the courage and bravery to persevere and seek help.