Through it all, her way

Without a doubt, there is a mystique about the Appalachian Trail, a romance that calls disciples from all walks of life. It whispers a song of misty valleys, delicate wildflowers, rushing streams, and coal-black bear – and a narrow, winding footpath across 14 states.

Taylor on Bethel hike 2012
My son, Taylor, on a short AT hike near Bethel, Maine years ago

 

About the thru-hiker, too, there is a mystique. Why would a person pare life down to the essentials of bare bed, utilitarian calories, unchanging garments, and set out to walk-like-a-job for many months? Thru-journeys, be they on land or water, thrill the soul – during the planning months. Later, they test the depths of commitment, tenacity, self-content, and resourcefulness. Not everyone is cut out to finish.

McAfee Knob, the most photographed spot on the AT, is still special when your friend stands there, so close to the finish

Most of you know Katina Daanen well from the integral role that she played in my Northern Forest Canoe Trail thru-paddle. Caring friend, author of The Northern Forest Canoe Trail Through-Paddler’s Companion, and insightful reader of Upwards from the start, Katina has always been there for me.

Last summer, Katina gave me a taste of thru-hiker life for a few days near the Vermont-New Hanpshire border.

 

Today my good friend will become one of a handful of people who have completed both the Northern Forest Canoe Trail and the Appalachian Trail. Hers has been a flip-flop hike, completed over two years. Avoiding the crowds, tempering the weather extremes, more and more thru-hikers are choosing to start in the middle of the trail, as she did in Shenandoah National Park.

Very special to me is the fact that I happened to be visiting Virginia when “Arachne” (her trail name) started in April 2016 and I’m here now, too! Tomorrow, Megan and I will breakfast with Katina and her husband Sam at their inn, and celebrate her accomplishment. We’ll also get to talk book details, as Katina is designing the book’s trail map. Tomorrow is sure to be a highlight of my week here in Virginia!

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Thank goodness it wasn’t the Whites

en-dur-ance (noun) the power to withstand pain or hardships; the ability or strength to continue despite fatigue, stress, or other adverse conditions

I have survived. Had I ended up on the Appalachian Trail in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, our story might have ended differently. Yes, there were many ups and downs in my 29 miles, but the EKG line (as Katina calls it) of elevation changes looked like nothing compared to what she and my new thru-hiking friends will be facing very soon.

In such a short time, I sampled a lot of trail life – a hostel, shelter camping, lovely trail towns, fields and forests. Elm St. in Norwich, VT is well-known for its generous trail angels, who put coolers out along the road. This kind family offered cold sliced watermelon and homemade banana bread with a special flair.

Katina and I traveled well together, sometimes chatting away and sometimes (on the uphills?) lost in our own thoughts and the beauty of the trail. She kindly slowed down a bit and was always patiently cheerful about another water or photo break. A surprising amount of our second day’s hiking was on roads in the baking mid-afternoon sun.

I never knew sitting under a shady tree in the breeze, with the weight off my feet, could be so incredibly blissful. Dark oak leaves dancing against the blue and white above and the promise of a free cruller and icy cold iced tea ahead at Lou’s Restaurant in Hanover, NH.

Shortly after I hauled myself up from under that tree, we crossed the Connecticut River and Arachne entered her tenth AT state, New Hampshire. Sharing this milestone with her was especially fun because the Connecticut River farther north is part of the Northern Forest Canoe Trail (NFCT), which we have both thru-paddled.


As we walked, a popular topic of conversation was comparing the two trails. There is far less company along the NFCT and only a handful of thru-paddlers on it at any given time. In fact, less than 100 people have been recognized by the NFCT as having completed the 740 miles of rivers, lakes, and portages in its 16 years of existence. That will change, we both agree, when we see the excitement in the eyes of all the people with whom we have been sharing the story of the NFCT. Katina, in fact, just wrote an article comparing the two trails for the online publication Appalachian Trials that is generating a lot of interest. And while I am having fun inserting links, here is the first entry from our trip on Arachne’s online trail journal.

So as I say farewell to Soft G and Just Janelle, Snail and Walking Mink, Oompah and Tuna Roll, they will linger in my thoughts as I wake to a warm shower every morning. I think being dirty was the hardest part for me. That and the fact that every morning seemed to start with an uphill struggle that left me literally dripping with sweat and pulling out my inhaler. To Katina, grateful thanks for including me in your journey, sharing your Desitin, and helping me lose a pound that I can gain back on the cruise!

 

Walk well, Katina…and next time, let’s PADDLE together!

 

 

 

Surprising myself…13 miles on the Appalachian Trail

 

Arachne (Katina Daanen) and I ready for the adventures of the trail

The warm afternoon had occasionally been enlivened by cooling breezes and the AT had already taken us up and over several ridges by 2 pm. I stood beneath a newly crafted wooden sign, which spelled out our options. We could stop here at a shelter for the night, after a fairly respectable 7.9 miles for my first day with a full backpack. Or we could go on, 4.7 miles further, in search of a blue barn with a large, welcoming AT symbol to mark it.

 

We saw two red efts on the trail today

As we hiked, the barn’s purported amenities had drawn us on. A cooler of sodas on the porch, beside a river with a bridge for jumping in. And, of course, the barn would mean no damp dewy tent to pack up in the morning. I could go on. And on.

My slow trudge got a little slower as we crossed an interesting mix of terrain – meadows, fields, and mostly soft leafy paths under open forest. The beautiful surroundings and occasional mountain vistas inspired my weary body. For a time we had hiked by a long and ancient mossy stone wall. It was the Old King’s Highway, once the main route from Boston to Canada. I thought it surprising that there hadn’t been a flatter way to go.

 

We found it! The Hart family’s thoughtful hospitality even included omelets and toast this morning with lots of coffee and a warm kitchen visit. Thanks for the trail magic!

 

All powered up for another day, after Linda’s delicious breakfast.