Monday, July 18, 2016

The Butt Whacker

Last year, I posted about a medical issue I was dealing with called Piriformis Syndrome (you can read it HERE).  Basically, the piriformis muscle is located under your gluteus maximus and if injured, it can cause irritation of the sciatic nerve that runs under it. As far as pain, my butt aches all the time, non stop, all the time.  While most days it isn't excruciatingly painful, it is bothersome, but on hikes, the pain can become intense.  Any forward uphill movement makes the issue worse.  Adding a 30 pound pack nearly did me in.
I tried physical therapy a year ago and it helped, but only for short periods of time.  Then the aching would return.  After my backpacking trip I was completely convinced that I would never be able to go on trips longer than an overnight because I would be able to go the longer distance and more importantly, I wouldn't be able to carry what I needed for an extended trip because of added weight. Piriformis Syndrome is a very dreary thing.  There isn't much hope of it going away for good.  Your options for treatment include physical therapy, cortisone shots, botox or surgery.  And surgery isn't a guarantee fix.
So, at a recent doctor's appointment, I mentioned that I thought my hips seemed to be tilted- one side was higher that the other (and the higher side was the side with the muscle problem).  I asked if this could be part of my problem and he said yes.  He recommended I go to a chiropractor to get it looked at an see what they could do.  After asking around for a good chiropractor, I finally made an appointment.  During my first consultation, the Chiropractor told me he didn't think that I had piriformis syndrome, and I nearly wept with joy.  Turns out, I was right.  My hips were badly misaligned (from the fall 2 years ago) and this was pulling on my muscle.  In fact, it was so badly misaligned that my left left appeared short than my right.  This was throwing my whole gait off for 2 years. 
After my first adjustment, I felt better.  The pain was still there, but had moved.  Muscles in my hip were starting to work the way they were supposed to and were sore because of it.  I've had 3 visits, and I improve each time I'm there.  I actually had my first pain free day in 2 years this past Friday and it was glorious. And last night I went for a 1.5 mile walk, and there was no pain in my butt or hip (just my sprained ankle). I'm not back to 100% yet, but there is improvement.  I'm looking forward to starting to get back to hiking and backpacking
(once I get my repaired packs back from Osprey).
(In case you're wondering, the term "Butt Whacker" was my play on "Back Whacker" which is what my cousin refers to her chiropractor as)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Backpacking Trip: The Final Push

The 4th and final day of the hike turned out to be gorgeous.  My cousin and I got up and got ready to head out to meet up with my mom and husband.  My aunt decided to join us, so we made our way to Harper's Ferry.
In the meantime, my mom and husband prepared to make their way to Harper's Ferry.  Their breakfast that morning was just some oatmeal (my breakfast was waffles and eggs).  From the looks of their photos, this section of the height is gorgeous.  Both said they were pretty tired on this section.  My mom thinks a lot of their fatigue was because they didn't have a bigger breakfast and what they had didn't offer protein for their muscles.
The views from Weverton Cliffs were spectacular, but the trail down was killer.  After descending Weverton Cliffs, the trail goes under an overpass and follows the C&O Canal footpath.  My mom thought the area under the overpass was creepy, and the footpath seemed  never ending.  This was mostly because they were both tired and ready to be done.  My mom also said that they could see the church steeple in Harper's Ferry so they thought they were close, but in reality they still had miles left to hike.

My husband with my cousin and I photobombing in the background

My cousin, aunt and I were patiently waiting for their arrival.  We were watching the stairs that lead up to the footbridge over the river.  Finally I noticed a familiar form slowly pulling himself up the steps.  We made our way down the bridge to meet them.  They were so tired, they didn't even notice the shenanigans going on just past my husband's shoulder.  We all walked back across the bridge and met up with my dad and son who came to take us all home.  We weren't able to find any parking available, so we said our good byes to my aunt and cousin and headed out to find food. 
I don't think I've ever seen two people enjoy food more.  There's just something about eating a burger when you've been eating your meals out of a Ziploc bag after adding boiling water to them.  I'm hoping to get back and finish the parts of the Maryland section that I missed.  Luckily it's only a two day trip, so I won't miss any time from work plus I'm hoping my 10 year old goes as well.  He recently received his own Osprey backpack so he can start joining us for trips.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Backpacking Trip: Day 3

The next morning, my mom and husband headed out on the trail from Dahlgren.  Though designated as a backpacking campsite for backpackers, it is apparently the local camping site for young adults who want to party for free.  Luckily, my mom and husband were able to get a site and also were able to get hot showers there.  I woke up in a nice comfy bed, though I was still in some significant pain.  My cousin came to see how I was.  I was stretching and said "Oh, my bad ass is really bothering me!"  She laughed and said, "that's your trail name: Bad Ass, not because you are one but because you have one!"

Meanwhile on the trail, my mom and husband met a thru hiker headed north.  My husband really wanted to talk to some thru hikers, so this was a highlight for him.  The hiker was called "Scorched Heels" so named for some bad blisters he experienced early on in his journey.  He was hiking in a kilt, and my mom gave him her stash of Gummy Bears.

Back at base camp, my cousin and I decided that we were going to offer trail magic to the other two.  We estimated their travel time, and planned on meeting them at Gathland State Park.  So we headed out to get some Subway subs and drinks.  We opted to hike up the trail and find a spot to sit and wait for them.  Of course, the trail was uphill heading north.  And, of course, my cousin kept telling me we were "Almost There".  Finally I told her that should be her trail name, because she was always telling us we were "almost there" at every hill (and typically we weren't even close).  We threw around the idea that my mom should be "Lifesaver" because she kept feeding them to me.  This triggered a memory about when my brother was little.  He could be a real handful, and my mom got into the habit of having lifesavers on hand.

She used them to keep him quiet.  

My cousin and I continued to hike until we found a nice log to sit on.  We met several people out for day hikes and watched tons of butterflies floating around the trail.  One thing I noticed on this trip was that the Appalachian Trail seemed to be some kind of butterfly highway.  I saw tons of them flying up and down the trail.  We waited forever for my mom and husband to make it down the trail.  We asked one southbound group if they had seen them and they told us that they had passed them a while back.
Finally, we saw them headed our way.  We hiked down to Gathland State Park with them and got out their subs and drinks.  They inhaled the food.  We also had some water bottles so they could refill water without needing to filter it.  Gathland has a bathroom, so they made use of the facilities before checking the place out. 


Gathland State Park is home to the only War Correspondent's Memorial which was built by George Townsend in 1896.  Townsend was a Civil War correspondent. He wrote under the name "Gath" and made all his money writing.  Gathland State Park is one of the haunted spots along the Appalachian Trail.  My cousin and I have actually gone on paranormal investigations in the area.  Not only is Gathland said to be haunted by George Townsend, but the area was also the scene of the battle at Crampton's Gap during the Civil War.

Eventually it was time for them to head back on the trail to their next nightly stop: Ed Garvey Shelter.  My cousin and I pointed them in the right direction and said our goodbyes promising to meet them in Harper's Ferry the next afternoon.  While they headed south, my cousin and I headed into Sharpsburg, MD to get some excellent ice cream from Nutter's.  We ended up sitting on a bench in the cemetery to eat our ice cream.  This might seem like complete and utter lunacy something odd to do, but it's completely normal for her and I.

Later, my husband let us know that they had reached the shelter.  He sent me a photo of his sleeping accommodations for the night.

I returned the gesture by sending him my sleeping accommodations for the night.

My mom and husband had a nice campfire going that night and enjoyed time with some of the people they had met on the trail.  One couple named Roxanne and Joe was doing a flip flop together.  They had sold their home and headed out on the trail together.  We later learned that the wife had an injury and ended up stopping just past the MD/PA line, but as of this writing, the husband was still on the trail somewhere near New Hampshire.  They also spent some time with 2 girls we had all met at Gathland. The girls had a container of wine with them and they and my mom shared some.   My mom told them the story about my husband's potential trail name of "Maria" and as they went to bed later that night they yelled out, "Goodnight Maria!"

The Final Day coming up!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Backpacking Trip: Day 2

View from Annapolis Rocks
The second day of our trip dawned on an overcast morning.  The rain from the night was long gone, and the sky had a promise of sun.  Unfortunately, I can't say the same for my disposition.  I did not sleep during the night.  Between the privy runs in torrential downpours, the changing of wet clothes, the worry about getting my new down sleeping bag wet, the worry my tent would leak and the ever increasing pain in my butt, it's a wonder I didn't wake up mutated into a shorter version of Godzilla ready to destroy Tokyo grumpier than I was.  We ate breakfast and packed up camp and got ready to head down the trail.  I was personally trying hard not to cry and failing.  It really was not a good morning.  I didn't care about the view, all I wanted to do was get moving.  I knew that my aunt had planned to meet us at our stop for the night at Dahlgren Campground.  All morning, I struggled mentally about whether or not I should make the choice to end my hike.  The pain was pretty bad, especially on any inclines, and I knew I had some inclines coming in the next couple of days.  I kept thinking that if I ended my trip, I would be failing, and then I was fighting back the tears again, which made it difficult to breathe while carrying 30 pounds with a bad ass.  I tried to keep quiet and push on.  As we hiked south, we began meeting up with day hikers heading north to Annapolis Rocks.  Annapolis Rocks is a popular destination for the view, hiking and rock climbing.  These people carried nothing except small hydration packs or day packs and some were wearing nothing more than flip flops.  I hated each and every one of them on sight.  The happier they were, the more I plotted their demise resented them.
My cousin, myself and my husband

Finally, we made it to the Interstate 70 overpass.  This was my husband's thrill of the trip.  As a kid (and adult) he passed under that bridge on trips to visit his grandparents, and he always wanted to walk across it.  My cousin and I did our best to muster pleasant faces for the photos that we weren't thrilled about having to take.

Once we crossed over the bridge, we meandered around people's backyards before deciding to take a break and have a snack.  We met a few people out for a day hike who were headed the same direction we were.  One was a Hispanic man in a bright yellow shirt (he's important later).  After resting and eating some snacks, we got up and headed back on the trail.  Our plan was to hike the roughly 3 miles to the Washington Monument (the original one in Boonsboro, MD not the one in DC) and eat our lunch there.
It was a grueling 3 miles because 1. It was the longest 3 miles I've ever hiked and 2. There was a never ending mountain hill.  As we climbed the mountain hill, I had to stop every couple of feet to rest and stretch my butt.  It was about this time that my mom began feeding me lifesavers.  My cousin swore several times that we were "almost there" and several times she came near death when each time we were nowhere near almost there and more mountain hill lay in front of us. Then I spotted something bright yellow making its way down the hill.  It was the Hispanic man we had met earlier.  He took one look at me and said "Jew are berry close, berry close" in his accented English.  I think I said "God bless you" 4 or 5 times to him as I realized that I wasn't in the 4th level of hell  going to be hiking this mountain hill forever.  I now refer to that man as my "Little Ray of Mexican Sunshine".

We did finally make it to the top.  There we met 2 men headed north on a hike and we stopped to chat with them.  I asked how far it was to the Dahlgren campground.  One said less than a mile and his partner said, "No it isn't, remember you can't trust information from other hikers on the trail"  Turned out it was more like 2 miles.  I thought about all the horrific stories we heard about upcoming terrain from The Wannabes and Eeyore and realized the guy was right, you can't trust the information.  They assured us that the hike wasn't too bad and that we wouldn't have any trouble getting there after we ate. 
We got to the monument and sat on the bench for lunch.  The Monument was still closed for repairs.  Prior to our trip, the monument was struck by lightning and damaged.  There were 2 women in it at the time, and one was seriously hurt.  That afternoon it was a sunny, though windy, day.  There were 2 men there bird watching.  I assumed they were watching peregrine falcons, but I was too tired to bother to go ask them.
The vultures were there. Circling.
Normally I would be interested in walking around and looking at the view, but all I wanted to do was die not move.  My mom walked around and took pictures, thankfully.

After lunch and a rest, we headed out.  At this point, I had made the decision that I needed to end the hike.  My cousin had also come to this decision as she was dealing with some pain as well.  My husband is the one who really pushed that I needed to stop.  So the choice was made, my cousin and I would be heading to her house for the remainder of the trip while my mom and husband continued on.  As we made our way down the trail, we discovered that there was more to the Washington Monument State Park than we realized.  Down the hill from the monument, there are pavilions, picnic areas, a museum and bathrooms.  Had we known, we might have eaten our lunch comfortably at a picnic table. 
As we hiked on, we that we would all have dinner at the Olde South Mountain Inn which was where we were meeting my aunt.  The thought of a hot meal that didn't require me to boil water and a soft bed I didn't have to blow up gave me a little extra energy (not to mention all the extra sugar from the lifesaver candies my mom was handing me). We reached the parking lot of the restaurant and my cousin and I sat on the curb and waited while my mom and husband went to set up their camp at the Dahlgren Backpacking campsite.  When my aunt pulled in, my cousin and I were all smiles and waving.  My aunt commented that we made it past MD 77 which was further than she thought we would make it (like I said, she's hilarious).
When my mom and husband made it back, we all headed into the restaurant.  We weren't exactly dressed for the occasion, though luckily, none of us stunk too bad.  There was a wedding rehearsal dinner going on, and we were all a little self conscious about our clothes.  The staff at the Inn were very nice and treated us just like any other customer who might be in better attire.  Our meals were awesome as was the dessert.  Starting back on day 1 about an hour into the hike, we were all dreaming about food.  I guess when you're hiking through the woods with little to no signs of civilization carrying everything you need to survive on your back, food becomes an obsession.  My mom, cousin and husband started talking about Key Lime pie and continued talking about it right up until we were seated at the table in the Inn. And wouldn't you know it, the South Mountain Inn had Key Lime pie.  I had the chocolate Godiva cake and it was awesome.  This turned out to be a surprise gem in our trip.  We had a great time, ate great food and had a great waiter.  The only odd treatment we received was some hoity toity blonde woman who turned her nose up at us as we walked out (I swear we didn't stink).  For those planning hikes along the trail here, note that the menu is pricey (though so worth it).  After dinner, we said our goodbyes and my cousin and I headed to her place for showers and clean clothes.  It was up there in my top 5 showers (hard to beat the shower I had after living in a field for several days at the UFO Ranch in Washington or the one I had after a weekend of Scout Camporee and nothing but Port-a-Pottys)
Day 3 coming up!

Monday, July 11, 2016

Backpacking Trip: Day 1

 It's taken me some time to get into the frame of mind to blog about our trip.  It won't ruin anything to tell you that I did not make it the full 40 miles.  That was pretty upsetting for me.  My chronic injury caused me some serious pain and I had to stop.  Then I came home and my dog ate my pack and my husband's pack (you can read about it here).  But finally, I'm ready to tell you about our adventure.
l to r: My husband, Me, My Cousin and My Mother
Our story begins along the shoulder of MD Route 491. This is the spot where we ended our first attempt back in October 2015.  The started out a bit cloudy and chilly as we headed out.  There were comments from my dad and aunt (who dropped us off) about waiting for us at MD 77 to take us home.
They're hilarious, those two.
The beginning the the trip wasn't too bad.  My husband and I were carrying about 30 pounds, my mom around 34 pounds and my cousin somewhere around 20.  We were all booking along (and by booking I mean more like going slow and stopping to breathe every 15 minutes) and eventually met our first NOBO (northbound) hiker we referred to as "Duct Tape Boot Guy".  He was planning on hiking 200 miles to the Hamburg, PA area but he had a boot malfunction and used his duct tape to keep the sole of his boot attached. Further on, we came to a large rocky mountain incline.  As we made our way up like a bunch of crippled aging mountain goats, I kept altering my thoughts between "What the hell was I thinking?!" and "If Grandma Gatewood could do it, so can I!"  My cousin repeatedly told us that we were "Almost There!"  but really she was lying overly optimistic as every time we thought we were near the end, there would be more mountain hill in front of us.  Once we finally reached the top, we met an older couple headed NOBO.  They called themselves "The Wannabes" and they were on their Flip Flop thru hike (meaning they start in Harper's Ferry and go north to Maine then return to Harper's Ferry to hike south to Georgia).  We told them the downhill coming up would be a little tricky, and after learning we were headed to Annapolis Rocks, they informed us we were in for it.  I believe the gentleman said "You haven't seen the worst of it yet." I think we all had a moment of silence after that comment, each of us lost to our own thoughts of impending doom what lay ahead.  We wished The Wannabes luck and we continued down the trail.
Once out of earshot, we all started to question what kind of terrain we were in for.  My cousin and I were slightly puzzled by the insistence of the Wannabes that there was really bad terrain ahead.  We are knowledgeable about reading a map and understanding the terrain profile, and we were both under the assumption that once we summited Mount Killamanhiker the hill we had just climbed, we should be following the ridge line without any real troublesome elevation changes.  Confused, we continued on our way.
We were more or less following the ridge line at this point, and we could see some pretty spectacular views through the trees.  I also noticed a pair of black vultures riding the thermals just off the ridge.  I was relatively certain they were following me- sensing my impending death.
The ridge was pretty rocky at the point.  You can see the small boulders in the photo, and we were basically hiking on top of them.  It was pretty cool at first, but it got old pretty quick.  I was thankful for my Salomon boots as I surely would have ended up with sore ankles if not a badly sprained ankle had I not had the excellent ankle support. 

The trail was pretty typical after the boulder field.  It had some ups and downs, some rocks, but we hadn't yet come across any really bad terrain like what the Wannabes were describing.  We ended up taking a snack break for a bit and met another Flip Flopper who, like the Wannabes, cautioned us about the upcoming trail.  Behind him came another Flip Flopper.  We chatted about packs (she also sported the Osprey Aura AG) and she mentioned the man we had just met.  We talked about his someone gloomy demeanor and my mom mentioned he was a lot like Eeyore the Donkey from Winnie-the-Pooh.  This was a spot on description and possibly the start of the man's trail name as the woman was looking forward to telling him about it.
After our break, we continued our journey south.  We came to an area of open field after exiting the treeline, and my husband started twirling around and singing "The hills are alive, with the sound of music..."  We stopped for some lunch at the Ensign Cowell shelter and used the privy.  In case you're planning a trip, Ensign Cowell's privy isn't that great and neither is the shelter.  There are campsites there, and it was a good place to have lunch.  We discussed possible trail names for each other.  My cousin suggested I should be "Seymour Butts" since I was having trouble with my chronic injury that happened to involve muscles in my butt.  Someone suggested my husband should be "The Whistler", I suggested "Maria" after his epic singing and twirling in the clearing earlier.  At this point we were about 6- 7 miles into the trip and had about 3.5 miles to go until we reached our stopping point for the day: Annapolis Rocks.
On the way, we were looking for the Pogo Memorial Campsite as it had a good water source and it was an alternate camping option if we just didn't want to go any further that day.  Pogo was about 1.9 miles from where we had stopped for lunch.  As we hiked we kept wondering if we had missed it.  Finally, we caught sight of a man in the woods and I asked where Pogo was.  Turns out, we were at Pogo, and the man was the area Ridgerunner named Kyle.  A Ridgerunner is someone who's job it is to talk to hikers, pick up trash, clean the privies, clear out any fallen trees, check problems on the trail, etc.  Kyle pointed us in the direction of the spring and asked what our plans were.  We told him we were planning on going to Annapolis Rocks for the night.  He gave us an idea about terrain and the time it would take to hike there.  That's where he was headed himself. 
I took note of a sign saying that Pogo was the former site of the Black Rock Hotel.  Turns out, there was actually a hotel there back in the mid-19th century.
We hiked to the water source at Pogo and filled up our water containers.  On the way to the water, we passed a woman with her dog heading up to Pogo.  Turns out she's also a member of the Women's AT Facebook group, and she had recently fallen and cracked some ribs.  Kyle had come across her and carried her pack for her until they reached Pogo.  She was heading out to get medical attention in the morning.
We finished filling up the water and eating a snack and got ready to head out.  Kyle had mentioned that there was a fantastic view from Black Rock Cliffs just down the trail. The view did not disappoint.  We took some time taking some photos of the view and Kyle caught up with us.  He was picking up some trash from around the cliffs.  He assured us again that the campsite at Annapolis Rocks was just down the trail about 2 miles and we made our way to our final resting place destination.  By the way, the vultures were at the cliffs.  We had seen them off and on all day long.  They must have sensed I was close to death.
The hike to Annapolis Rocks was relatively mild, though we were tired and even the smallest incline seemed daunting.  It seemed as though it was taking forever to get there.  Finally we saw the sign and made our way down the trail to find a good spot.  We picked a large site near the water source which was a pipe coming out of the rock and spilling into a gorgeous pool that fed a stream.  We set up our tents (My husband and I had to move ours because we neglected to noticed the large dead limb hanging above the tent in the first spot we picked) and got our dinner ready.  Kyle came down to get some water from the spring and said hello.  He told us we had the nicest camping spot there; I'd have to agree.
We ate our dinner and prepared to go to bed.  There were storms forecasted for the night, so we all got ourselves cozy.  The rain eventually started and at one point, it was raining so hard, the rain was bouncing up from the ground.  About that time, I had to pee.  I started checking the weather radar to see if there was a break in the storm where I could run to the privy and back, but there was no break in sight.  I waited as long as possible and eventually donned my Frogg Toggs rain jacket and headed out.  I thought the rain jacket would be significant enough on its own without needing the pants.  I learned how wrong I was in about 30 seconds when my shorts became soaked through to the skin.  I trudged to the privy and back, my Crocs filling with mud with every step.  I got myself into the tent and peeled off my clothes trying to keep the water from getting on my new down sleeping bag.  I changed my clothes and got under my bag and laid there.  I got up a few more times that night to pee, but luckily the rain had subsided.  At one point, I got up and could see all the lights down in the valley, and it was breathtaking.  It made having a nearly sleepless night bearable, almost.
Stay tuned for Day 2!