Yes, it's that time to reflect on another year come and gone. Here are some personal highlights from '07, the Year of the Pig, according to the Chinese Calendar.

1. I have now been out of high school for ten years. I did not celebrate by going to the reunion because I don't think there was one.
2. M and I celebrated four years of marriage and 11 years of general togetherness.
3. Despite former proclamations that I would never work at Pitt again, I did. Twice. But on a temporary basis. I have decided that it is a place I will always go back to when I don't know what else to do. It's just so comfortably predictable.
4. Doing our taxes this year will be pretty easy since we weren't employed all that much.
5. I learned how to make vegan baked goods such as cupcakes and cookies, from my gifted baker friend, Sloan. Up until this point being vegan was a really good way to keep the post-college pounds off. Now that I have discovered Earth Balance, and the fact that eggs do very little in many baked goods, my sugar consumption is way up. Something to consider for '08.
6. I went to my first baby shower for a friend. Go Trisha and Jamie! We are very happy for you. I wonder if all my friends will start having babies now.
7. I spent way too much money trying to get the state of Pennsylvania to certify me to teach, considering I am not all that sure I want to continue to teach here.
8. And, oh yeah, I walked 2,174 miles from Georgia to Maine on the Appalachian Trail. That took up a lot of '07.

I have to say that as years go, this has been a pretty incredible one. I would do 2007 over again. Or maybe I should just try to do some equally awesome stuff in 2008.


Christmas Traditions

M and I have had a nice few days here in P-Burgh with our family. My sister came in from California, and I actually saw my brother several times(he lives here, but is very busy with school and work so we hardly ever see each other). It was a holiday filled with traditions, which I think is something sorely lacking for many Americans these days.

We kicked things off with my parents' annual Canadian wine tasting dinner on Friday. For the past few years, they have visited the Niagara region in the fall, and brought back a few bottles to share with us at Christmas time. My dad made his famous garlic paste, and we feasted on fajitas. I like this relatively new tradition, because it gives me a chance to visit with just my parents and siblings and their significant others.

Every year my youngest cousins come over to my parents' house on the 23rd (Christmas Eve Eve, as we like to call it), and we bake cookies, decorate, and generally entertain them. Originally, it gave my aunt and uncle a chance to get some last minute shopping done or just enjoy some time to themselves. Now it is a way for my sister and I to spend some time with them, since we don't see them all that often during the year. This year, when I went up to my parents' place I found that very little decorating had been done and no cookies had been baked. Instead, my dad, Cassie, Kelly and Danna were hunched over 500 puzzle pieces scattered across the kitchen table. Aunt Elaine soon arrived, although she provided mainly emotional support for the puzzlers, taking the very sane position that the pieces were too small, too numerous and too shiny. The glare from these glittering pieces was enough to drive one mad, which was very nearly the result by late afternoon on Christmas Eve.

As we put the puzzle together, the girls reminisced about other adventures from years past. My sister and I used to have an apartment in Shadyside when we were going to Pitt, and we brought the girls and their brother down several times for a sleep-over. We took them to the zoo, and to the top of the Cathedral of Learning to look out over the city. Neither of us had a car, so we went everywhere on the city bus, which turned out to be the most memorable experience for them.

During this conversation it occured to me that it is not enough to simply share experiences with your family...an important bonding occurs in the years that follow as you recount what you have done together, over and over again, adding to the family oral history. Children (and adults) love to hear stories that feature them as main characters, and they will soon begin retelling these tales if you give them the chance. Who cares if the stories change a little over time? (For instance, Kelly remembers nearly being hit by a bus, which I'm sure my sister and I would NEVER let happen.)

Now back to the puzzle....

Puzzles are certainly not a tradition in my family. My dad pulled it out of the attic with the other Christmas decorations, and no one is sure where it came from. It was a very complicated drawing of a Christmas tree, with lots of pictures and color schemes repeated, and there were no straight edges. Instead the puzzle followed the contour of the tree. And don't even get me started on the glitter.

When M and I returned to the house on Christmas Eve, my sister and father were still working on the puzzle. Much progress had been made, but it was nowhere near finished. Somehow, they had managed to bake several dozen cookies, but dinner was not ready. About 20 minutes before the rest of the extended family was supposed to show up, we realized how little had been done and we sprung into action. Miraculously (and also in large part because my uncle works at an Italian restaurant and had brought the non-vegan entrees) dinner was ready on time.

After eating, we began the tradition of the poppers. This is a tradition started by my Aunt Denise. I do not know where she gets these things, but they are sort of like those little firecrackers that you throw on the ground to pop instead of lighting them. But instead of throwing the poppers, DC graps one side and one of us grabs the other and we pull. It pops, everybody cheers and a prize falls to the ground. Usually the prize is some cheap little trinket like a mini flashlight or a magnifying glass, but this year a large pair of toenail clippers came flying out of Kelly's popper! The other things that fall out include a paper crown and a paper with some really bad jokes and/or fortunes on it. I am hoping that someone in my family will email me a picture of us with our crowns on, since I neglected to take one with my camara.

So Christmas has come and gone, once again. This is the 12th...yes 12th...Christmas for M & K.


Hiker Visits

One of the greatest things about hiking is that when you meet people on the trail, it is really easy to become friends. There are few experiences in life that you can truly share with other people, but walking 2,174 miles in someone else's shoes is certainly one of them. On the AT, people tend to gather around the shelter areas at night, so not only did we walk with other hikers, but we also cooked, bathed, sat around and slept right next to each other. Sometimes we would be with another hiker every day for a month or more. Other times, we would see them one night and then split up and not see them again for a while. The great thing is that we could always pick up right where we left off.

Last week, Caveman of Ohio came into town for our Christmas party, and this weekend, Golden Boy and Flick visited. While it is fun to tell stories to our friends and family members, there is something special about reminiscing with people who were actually there.



The party was a great time! Here are some of my relatives in front of the Christmas tree. My mother's side of the family is really starting to be dominated by women. Most of them tasted the wassail and liked it. I also heard a lot of "I can't believe those cookies are vegan!" The weather continues to be gray, bleak and cold here in the Burgh. I am feeling a bit under the weather, likely caught a cold from one of my students. Vitamin C and copious amounts of water are in order!


Caucasians, et. al

We are throwing a little Holiday bash tomorrow, the highlight of which will be the annual drinking of the wassail. I have high hopes that this year's wassail will be good enough to move our guests to spontaneous caroling. I love The Christmas Song. I even have some chestnuts from a nature hike we took a few months ago. Although finding any place to roast them in our tiny apartment will be a challenge.

Our featured cocktail at the party will be the White Russian, aka the Caucasian. Featured records to be spun include 5 free Christmas albums that I got from Jerry's Records. Food will be mostly vegan and definitely delicious.

Plus, we will be honored by a visit from Caveman of Ohio, an AT hiking buddy that we last saw in Millinocket, ME, after summiting Mt. Katahdin together.

It should be a fine affair. I am really getting in the holiday spirit.


"I Bike Pittsburgh"

This was the message on a tiny button I bought at the craft fair "I Made It" held yesterday at the Owl's Club in Homestead. And yesterday, it really applied to us!

We set off to do some errands on bike. The weather was cool and damp, but with no active precipitation. We headed down Penn Avenue towards the Strip District, for our first stop, Penzey's Spices. M got all the spices he will need for cooking up a batch of Wassail next week. Next we head downtown to the Point to check out the Christmas tree, but Point State Park seemed to be closed off due to construction. We headed up towards the jail to get on the Eliza Furnace Trail, which was covered with slush, making it slow going. We got off the bike trail at Bates Street, and peddled up the hill towards Carnegie Library, where we returned our library books. Next, it was off to Squirrel Hill, via Schenley Park. M sold more CDs, we warmed up with a cup of coffee at the Coffee Tree, and we stopped by Jerry's Records.

After that, we headed down Murray Avenue to Brown's Hill Road and across the busy Homestead Hi-Level Bridge, which is now apparently called the Homestead Grays Bridge. The I Made It Craft Fair was held right near the bridge. We attempted to do some Christmas shopping, but were not very successful.

We headed south on 837 with the intention of going out to McKeesport to see my school, but the weather was turning colder and it was getting dark, so we headed up the Rankin Bridge to Braddock Avenue and back to Penn Avenue. This was my first bike ridge of any substance and the Windsor Tourist seems to be in good shape. After my next ride, I will take it back over to Matt's place for a tune up.

My advice for those who are interested in biking around Pittsburgh:

1. Get really good, bright lights for the front and back and use them even when it is day time. This will help drivers to see you.
2. Dress warmly with wind-proof gear.
3. Ride on the street and follow all traffic laws as if you are in a car. Signal to drivers when you plan to turn using the appropriate arm signal.
4. Don't be afraid of the hills. Yes, it is true that I was in supremely good shape when I came back from hiking the AT. But that was THREE months ago, and I have done very little physical activity since then! I will be the first to admit that I am huffing and puffing a bit, but I know it will not kill me. Don't try to go to fast and just keep pedaling and you will get to the top.


The Holiday Spirit

Last night I had an interesting conversation about an upward trend in relish purchasing, while at Gene's Bar, where we went to recover from a rather awkward company Christmas party. One of the things that I have always loved about Gene's is that someone will always talk to you.

After we got home we stayed up all night listening to records and drinking White Russians and trying to figure out what the heck we are doing here. The other night I watched Fight Club for the first time in years, and while most people remember the quote, "The first thing about fight club is..." - I think a more notable moment is when Brad Pitt says, "The things you own end up owning you."

Suddenly, we have a lot of stuff. And once you get some stuff, it's hard to resist getting more. And more. And more.

I don't think that there's anything inherently wrong with owning property or nice curtains or a perfectly upholstered chair. But what if we decide that we want to move to Argentina and teach English for a year? We'll just have to get rid of all this stuff again.


My Awesome New Bike

Thanks to Matt, my bike is up and running. I will have to get some pictures posted, so that you can appreciate the full awesomeness of my Windsor Tourist. Compared to all other bikes I have owned, it is quite fast. I am still trying to get the hang of shifting on these outrageous Pittsburgh hills, and I'm a little touch and go on the toe clips. I have often said that my preferred method of transportation is a pied, however this works best if you have infinite time to get where you are going. Since we live in the city, biking is nearly as fast as errands in the car, and I am completely amazed and enthralled by this.

I have done only short rides so far, as the weather turned particularly nasty this weekend. Living indoors has caused me to be more discriminating about when I will go out. Freezing rain is not that appealing to me, especially since I am battling a cold.

Instead, Rosie the Cat and I are hanging out in the sitting room listening to records and reading. I did remarkably little reading during the past year on all our travels. Books just seemed heavy and bulky and hard to obtain, and I spent more time listening to the forest fall asleep than I did reading in the evenings. Now that I have reliable electric lighting, I have begun my weekly pilgrimage to the Carnegie Library once again. This week, I am reading Courage for the Earth: Writers, Scientists, and Activists Celebrate the Life and Writing of Rachel Carson. Of course, Rachel Carson is best known for her work exposing the dangers of DDT in Silent Spring. However, what struck me most about this collection of essays on her life and work was her interdisciplinary approach, and the impact it had on the contributors to this collection.

An avid reader and writer since childhood, Carson did not abandon her love of the written word when her work turned towards ecology. Instead, she was diligent about delivering her scientific observations in a carefully constructed prose, with obvious detail to word choice and voice.

To quote our favorite movie, my thinking about this subject has been very uptight.

I have looking at my writing as something that occurs in a vacuum. I can be a teacher. Or I can be a writer. Since starting my teaching job, I've definitely caught myself thinking...oh, I guess I'll just start writing next year. I need to turn that around.

It's not just a matter of making sure I take time every day to write. I can use all of my writing opportunities in my daily life to work on my style. I will use eloquent language in my lesson plans, incorporate deliciously descriptive words in my instructions to my students, and choose my phrasing carefully in emails!

In addition, I do need to take some time to work on my book. I did a few paragraphs today, writing about Mt. Moosilauke, the first of New Hampshire's 4,000 footers that we climbed. Unfortunately, I am deep in the throes of hiker withdrawal, and thinking about the AT makes me feel very sad that I am not ON the AT. Lots of people warned me about this, but I didn't take it very seriously as I was not one of those thru-hikers who wanted to be a thru-hiker forever. I spent a lot of time feeling rather terrified and unsure of myself. Now, all I want to do is another thru-hike.


Hot, hot, hot

While I was on bus duty today, some of the kids started passing out jalapeno peppers to some unsuspecting peers.

That's a new one.

I'm not sure who should be punished...is it the kids who passed them out, or the foolish kids who ate them? And if it's the eaters, then haven't they been punished enough?

It raises some interesting questions about the boundaries between Prank and Crime.

In other news, our curtains are mostly up. They do make the place look a bit more, err, well-groomed? It's funny that in five years of living together, this is our first attempt at cohesive decorating. Our humble abodes usually contain an assortment of collectables and cast-offs...color coordination only occurs accidently.

Our goal this time was to create a comfortable space to relax in. But I have to say, it might have been a bit more relaxing to just stay at home in the first place, instead of gallavanting all over town for curtains and hardware.


Thanksgiving: A Feast to Remember

So what did the vegans have for Thanksgiving? This year we traveled to Charlottesville, VA to visit my Aunt Mary. Vegans and non-vegans dined on roasted vegetables, millet and cauliflower mash with carmalized onion gravy, salad, mushroom loaf and pumpkin pie. I should have some pictures to put up, but I am blogging from school, where I am waiting for a parent conference to start. I hit a major wall of fatigue about 10 minutes ago. Without students, the day just drags on and on and on. Plus, I've been snacking on these iced oatmeal cookies I found in the teacher's lounge. Somehow these cookies happen to be vegan, which lends credibility to my theory that commercial bakeries add eggs and milk to most baked goods just for the heck of it.

Tonight I plan to go to M & S's house to take advantage of their many bike tools. I will do the final assembly work on my bike, and hopefully get to ride it to work soon. That is, if it doesn't rain like it did last night. Heinz field was completely flooded! I have to admit that I fell asleep before the end of the game, and therefore missed the exciting field goal.


Hittin' the Road for T-Giving

We are heading to Charlottesville for Thanksgiving this year, and will be cooking a vegetable feast. I am excited to see what kind of delicious produce my Aunt Mary has gathered for us.

This weekend, M and I will be toting our laptops, symbols of our newly acquired busy lives. There are a lot of things I swore I would never do again, and yet, here I am. For example, I swore I would never carry a travel mug again, since I never wanted to be too busy to eat a complete breakfast at home. But school starts awfully early for that principle to stand long. I also said I would never drive to work, which I am doing now. (Not for long, though, as I plan to make the 12 mile (each way) journey by bicycle starting next week.)

And then today I found myself sitting in traffic, after a very long day which involved many "time outs" and "sticks in the pockets" and even some tears (not my own), going to Ikea to get some curtains and the hardware to hang them up. I object to Ikea. I know that many of their products are made from recycled or renewable resources, such as bamboo. However, they turned furniture, once considered a craft, into a mass produced catalog of whatever-you-want-this-season.

Calm down...I am not judging you, lest I be judged. My visa card is not unknown in the land of Ikea. I have spent many a Saturday browsing, and I believe it might be impossible to leave that place empty handed.

But I freaked out this time. All of a sudden, I wanted to be out of that store, out of the vast confusion of Robinson Town Center, away from highways and detours and traffic. I was thoroughly disgusted for wanting curtains (we have mini-blinds, so it's purely for aesthetics). I was thoroughly disgusted for taking a job I was unsure about for the purpose of having enough money to afford interior decorating. I missed the woods and my hiker friends, and the pleasureable feeling of waking up ready to face the day. I missed life without email and cell phones and Google calendar. And I was sick and tired of listening to people, including myself, fret all day and into the evening about various things that are not fret-worthy.

Poor M. He thought I was mad about the curtain hanging hardware that he had picked out after painstakingly measuring every crooked and irregular window in the apartment.

It will be good to get out of town for a few days.

By the way, once I got home, I discovered that the curtain hanging hardware does NOT include the mounting screws, so we will have to go to Home Depot anyway.


Back in the Saddle Again

Well, I could not resist it. I am teaching again. Still special ed, this time it is a full inclusion program, which means I am in the regular classrooms all the time, working with my kiddos and anybody else that needs help. Stepping in mid-year has its benefits and drawbacks....a pretty good schedule was already set up, many of the IEPs have been written, but it's hard to replace a beloved teacher in the middle of the year. "Ms. So-and-so does it THIS way!"

It's just as hard as I remember, but just as fun.


Thank you for your persistence...

(the closing to an email I recently received at work)

This really means "stop bugging me". Some of my other favorites include "All the best" and "Respectfully". What happened to a simple "thank you". I'm closing in on a month of temping, and I have a few observations on the state of administrative work.

When you are low on the totem pole, you must get clarification for absolutely everything. If you do not ask, then you will probably do it wrong, because there is no possible way to guess which routine task has an exception to it This One Time. The beauty of asking questions lies in the response. The person you are asking will patiently sigh, usually tell you what you already know, and then shake their head slightly as you walk out the door. They are wondering how you get by in the world with your inability to figure out a simple thing like TPS reports.

Temping is a real exercise in humility.

Another thing I've noticed is the office gossip. The last time I temped it was for a very small department, and while there was plenty of chit-chat, it was truly gossip-worthy stories containing elements of mystery, impropriety, and lust. There is nothing that interesting going on in my current office. And there is nothing so lame as pretending that you aren't listening to your coworkers talk about each other's job performance or lack there of.

A very strange thing happened earlier this week when I was trying to place an order for hundreds of dollars worth of printer cartridges...lightening flashed and thunder boomed and my screen did a weird flashy thing and it deleted my order. I see it as a sign from God that we should stop using so much paper by printing every email we receive.

A lot of my job responsibilities are sort of silly and redundant, but I don't think that the work of this office is. There is one woman here who is consistently positive about her work, and vocal about it, in a very natural way. I think she embodies what I have come to feel about work...whatever your job, do it with passion. Accept the limitations that come with your role. Be engaged in your daily activities. Talk about your work in a positive way.

Anyway, people in this office have been very nice and friendly and I don't hate coming to work. It is coming to an early end, though...because I got a teaching job! I will be teaching K-2 inclusion special education, and I am really excited. Stay tuned for more details!


Nesting...or not

So M and I are taking the plunge and have signed a lease on an apartment. Apparently, though, our nesting instinct isn't that strong, because we got the keys yesterday, and instead of moving in, we drove to Cleveland to see a Jens Lekman show.

It was well worth it, even though we didn't get back home until almost 2:30 in the morning. Then we woke up early to load the car with boxes before work, so we could drop them off later. However, M's parents just had their driveway paved and we can't drive on it, so our cars are all parked in a field several hundred yards from the garage. It was freezing cold and pitch dark when we started to carry stuff out, and we did it without rhyme or reason, which I noticed when the car was loaded with a blender, two large glass panes, and Christmas decorations. All the things that you need right away when you move. We kept dropping things. At one point, I turned to M and said, "I don't think we are making very good decisions right now." He cheerfully agreed. We were both feeling a bit flu-ish, but unsure if it was a result of catching the bug that has M's sister laid up, or if it was because we are approaching the age when we really shouldn't be out all night at a concert and then try to go to work the next day.

All that being said, the show was fantastic. Jens, as usual, was surrounded by fashionable Swedish girls playing an endless assortment of instruments. He was also accompanied by Victor the DJ who added some great beats in all the right places. After the show, Victor stayed to spin some records for the dancing enjoyment of the crowd, but we wisely decided to hit the road. Jens Lekman is quite the showman, and his fans are devoted, which made for some great sing-alongs. We also loved the Paul Simon cover that he did for his encore.

I would say more, but M got a pretty good bootleg of the show last night, so if you want to hear it, come on over to our new apartment! I'll make you a smoothie in our blender.


Really, really long numbers

You know what I liked about the woods? There were no long and pointless numbers. The only numbers we had to deal with meant something real and concrete. Nineteen point seven miles to the next shelter. Two hundred calories in a bagel. Four days since my last shower. Six seconds between lightening and thunder. Two thousand one hundred and seventy-four miles between Springer Mountain and Katahdin.

I spent all day looking up numbers, searching through files for numbers, calling people to obtain new numbers, and typing numbers into an online database. Every file has at least twenty-seven numbers attached to it. They all mean something different, and everybody refers to them by an acronym, so that I, being new, have no idea what they're talking about. The number I need is called a Prime Contract Number by the reporting system, although it is not the same number as the number we call Prime Contract Number internally. When I called the agency that assigned the number, I learned that it might actually be called a PIID number. It might be a VIN number. They don't really know, even though they are the ones that invented it and assigned it. Also, they don't seem to write it on any of the forms they send to us, so that I spent all day getting paper cuts, while looking for elusive 20 (or possibly 21) digit numbers in fat, colored-coded files. Rather Orwellian, isn't it?

In happier number news, I paid off one of my student loans today. They had some issues with numbers that I was sick of dealing with. I feel slightly liberated.


Goings On

I just finished my first week at my latest temp assignment. There is a bizarre and complicated numbering system for the files that I have not yet truly grasped, but other than that, it seems to be going pretty well. S and I abandoned our plans to attend cake decorating class, but we made a very awesome cake last night and even put roses on it. The only thing different about vegan icing is that without the merringe powder, it doesn't get crusty. I don't like crusty cake anyway.

Last weekend M and I backpacked at Oil Creek State Park, which I highlly recommend, and we will try to put up a more detailed description of our hike, in case anybody else wants to do it. There is very little information in books or on the web about longer trails in western PA, so M and I were thinking we should create a little database of these hikes, as we complete them.

I feel so blissfully free of worry when I have been hiking for a few hours, especially when listening to that lovely sound of dry leaves crunching below your feet. After spending all week cringing under fluorescent lights, I am pretty excited to flee the city and get back in the woods, which we hope to do with my parents tomorrow.


Vegan Needs Help

S and I are taking a cake decorating class. We need a vegan version of the "stiff icing". The non-vegan version uses merringe, which is egg whites, which we will not eat. And what is the point of making a beautiful cake that you will not eat?

Anybody have any suggestions? I am going to experiment with agar.



I completely forgot some unforgettable people we saw at the Gathering, like Boo Boo, and of course, Wingheart, who sent us this photo. Wingheart has a true passion for the AT and just completed what he calls his "11 year anniversary thru-hike" (he did his first thru-hike in 1996). He summited a few days after us, but we saw him pretty frequently along the trail.

I want to point out that this is an unusually large crowd, which is a few miles north of Caledonia State Park in Pennsylvania. Most shelters were not this full, but I was often the only female hiker. These are all great guys, but I remember wondering if any women were ever going to show up. Anybody know the stats on completion rates of thru-hikes for women?

the Gathering

I've been mentioning this event for a long time and we finally traveled last weekened to the Appalachian Long Distance Hikers Association annual Gathering, held October 5-7 in Gettysburg, PA.

ALDHA is a self-described "laid-back" organization. It only costs $10 per family to join, it's run entirely through volunteer efforts, and their main function is holding this annual hiker reunion. However, I must say, that for a "laid-back" group, they put on a very professional conference.

The conference was held at Gettysburg College, a small, but modern facility. Camping was included as part of the $10 (per family) registration fee, and was located on a farmer's field, just outside of town. The campsites were drive-in, and they had port-a-potties as well as a tank of potable water.

The event began with opening ceremonies which included a few speeches, a few thank-yous, some singing and slides, and "roll call", where they announce each year and if you thru-hiked that year, you get to stand up. Everybody claps, and you also get a chance to see who else you might have hiked with in the past has shown up. Because we only ever knew the trail names of other hikers it would be difficult to track them down, although internet message boards are making this easier. However, for many years, this event would be the only way to get in touch with old friends. We saw Caveman of Ohio, April Showers, Early Bird, finally met Martini and Rossi in person (we chased them clear from Georgia), and of course the Umbrella Lady, Habitual Hiker and their faithful dog, Mac.

Saturday and Sunday were filled with over 50 different sessions, which ranged from presentations on how to pitch a tarp to screenings of films that hikers have made about their journeys. I attended sessions on the Pacific Crest Trail, biking from Washington State to Maine, and a screening of Lion King's movie "Walking with Freedom on the PCT". The sessions were informative and well-done by the presenters.

We ended up cutting out of the conference early on account of a phone call from Jamie, announcing his presence in Pittsburgh. We haven't seen Jamie and Trish in a long time, so we hurried back to watch the Steelers with them at Ryan's place.

We are definitely going to make the Gathering an annual tradition. Hikers in general are some of the most generous, friendly, chill people I have ever met, and being around that crowd helped to rekindle some of my serenity, which I've been losing a bit since coming back home.

This event is definitely geared towards hikers of all experience levels, including "dreamers" - so if you think you might want to hike the AT or another long-distance trail some day, definitely check out the ALDHA website. The event is held every year around Columbus Day weekend.


Fall Vegetable Casserole

Normally, M is the master of the kitchen. However, he is currently busy mastering the web at work, so I am stepping up. Since we are going out of town this weekend to the Gathering, I needed to come up with a recipe that would use up a few ingredients around the house, such as stale bread, crookneck squash, and a half of a container of silken tofu. I was inspired by a recipe that Kate found a few weeks ago, but the preparation was complicated slightly by the fact that I couldn't find the recipe and had to convert it to vegan. But it turned out so delicious, that I had to share it.

First make some stuffing. I did this by sauteing celery and onion in about a tablespoon of oil, the adding some dried thyme and sage, and salt and pepper to taste. I mixed this together with the stale bread (which I had ground into bread crumbs in the food processor) and set it aside. Ideally, I would have also added some broth to make it moist, but having none, I just used water, and it turned out ok.

Next I cut up some carrots and a crookneck squash, but any kind of firm squash or root vegetable would probably be good, except maybe beets. To facilitate the cooking time (as I had come up with this idea about 30 minutes before the workers were set to return home), I steamed the vegies for a couple of minutes until they were slightly softened.

To make the vegan bechemel sauce, I ground up some pine nuts (it called for cashews, but we didn't have any) into a fine powder, then blended it with the silken tofu, and added some water to thin it out. I sauted the other half of the onion, and once it was soft, I blended the tofu mixture in with it, added salt and pepper, cooked it for a couple of minutes, then poured it over the steamed vegies in a casserole dish. I topped it with the bread crumb stuffing mixture and stuck it in the oven for about 30 minutes. A hit with vegans and non-vegans alike.

I'm making a larger point by sharing this recipe. Yes, you can open a can of cream of chicken soup and pour it over some vegetables, then layer stove-top stuffing and bake. But that has a lot of fat and sodium. My version is cholesterol free, low in fat, and even has some protein (from the tofu and nuts).


What is YOUR spirit animal?

Not to be uncharacteristically New Age, but I've been thinking about this. See, right now we live near all these cow pastures, and I run or walk or drive by them at least once a day. I can sort of tell the cows apart now, at least some of them. Last fall, there was a calf, a really tiny one, that ran and jumped around the field like a dog. I had never seen a cow do that before, and it really fascinated me. I wanted to go over to that pasture all the time and watch him. M told me that the running calf was my spirit animal, but I hadn't before thought about what that means.

Now I'm in what you could call a Transitional Period. I'm not sure what I want to Do With My Life. In this day and age, what you "Do" usually refers to your job, or what you get paid for. From my perspective, it's a little more all-encompassing; it will be what I do for money, for volunteer work, and how I help my friends and family. And today, I suddenly realized why the running calf is my spirit animal.

That tiny calf grew up rather quickly, and as he grew, he stopped frolicking. I went back again and again to try to catch him running around, and he was always eating grass...just like all the other cows. He learned from those around him. Children can be the same way - they learn how to act based on the people in their environment. I think my vocation is to protect and foster their desire to frolic, play, sing, explore, learn, or whatever they are naturally doing to follow their instincts for as long as possible. I want to be the voice that reassures them that they don't have to eat grass, i.e. mimic grownups, just yet. They have time.

School is a place where we try to make little children act like grownups. The fluorescent lights, furniture, routines and schedules are uncannily similar between schools and large corporate offices. I am not saying that children shouldn't learn. On the contrary, I think they would learn much more about reading, writing, math, social studies, science, physical education, and music, if we didn't make them sit still for six hours a day. But do we really need to start preparing them for Initech when they're seven? Or twelve. Or sixteen, for that matter. From watching kids "play" I know they know how to learn. They just need some help from grownups to allow this to happen.

So that's the story of my spirit animal. What's yours?


Blue Skies

Whenever I am away from Pittsburgh, I remember it for its gray skies. When talking with Pittsburgh ex-pats out west, they invariably mention the weather, and how much better it is in San Diego, or Phoenix, or Sacramento or whatever. There are many great things about this city, but weather is generally not on that list.

However, we've been home about three weeks, and the weather has been absolutely gorgeous the entire time. Blue skies almost every day, and plenty of sunshine. I've been stretching my hiker legs by jogging on the neighborhood country roads that criss-cross cow pastures and dip into wooded ravines. The trees are just beginning to change, tipped with scarlet and gold. Even though it's October, and autumn is officially here, that deep-summer, buzzing of crickets fills the night, drifting in through our open windows. I'm enjoying the sounds of the country, because we just found an apartment in the city, and will be moving to Bloomfield in a couple of weeks.

"Settling in" has happened much more quickly than I expected. M is working already. Rosie the Cat has forgiven us for abandoning her, although she grew bold in our absence, and now freely prowls the entire house, instead of holing up in our room.

I miss the simultaneous passage of time and space, the way you can see your progress not just by another sunset, but by the view of a ridge line, stretching out behind you. The beat of the non-hiking world is terribly circular sometimes.


So what are yinz guys gonna do now?

Back in the 'Burgh, once again, M and I met with a reporter from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette today, so stay tuned for info on when that will come out.

San Diego was very pleasant. I spent a lot of time sitting in a diner where the waitresses called me 'mi hija' and so religiously refilled my coffee mug that I nearly went into convulsions. I walked the dog, and went to Balboa Park and flew my kite at the beach on Coronado, until I realized I was only inches from the Navy base, and took it down before they could have a shot at it. We ate at a fantastic Afghan restaurant. Danna had an endless supply of Tofutti Cuties, my favorite vegan ice cream snack.

Last night, M picked me up at the airport, and since I cannot live on Southwest In Flight Snacks alone, we decided to get some dinner at D's in Regent Square before heading home. We drove all the way over there to find the kitchen had shut down well before their advertised closing time (although it does say that the times "could fluctuate" on the website). So we headed to Oakland for some Indian food. When we got to the doors of the restaurant, we remembered that Oakland is the land of the ever-intoxicated college student, where every restaurant has a late-night special. If we could wait a mere 40 minutes, we could enjoy our channa masala at half price. Luckily, Gene's is right around the corner and Yuengling bottles were on special for $1. San Diego may be pleasant, but in Pittsburgh, the price is right. The Indian food was even better after a couple of cold ones, and I slept great last night, not rising until nearly 10 am.

Now it's time to get a job and a place to live. But don't worry...this won't turn into a blog where the answer to the question "what has become of m and k?" is "they moved to the 'burbs and now their only entertainment is paying HOA-violations for leaving the trash can out too long".

Upcoming adventures include:
*Pirates game with the M's family
*Going to the Aldha Gathering
*A camping/hiking trip with K's parents


Post-Trail Travel

Yesterday, I flew from Pittsburgh to San Diego to visit my sister. Two thousand miles. What took us six months to walk was effortlessly completed in six hours. During our AT hike, my trip to San Diego was often the carrot I chased. My sister and I are very close, and we haven't had a lot of opportunities to spend time together since she moved out West and I became a wandering traveler. I'm extremely grateful to be blessed with such wonderful siblings. Speaking of siblings...it's kind of funny that I am seeing my sister in California before the sibling and sibling's girlfriend and sibling-in-law in Pittsburgh! Pete, Meg and Mary...I know you guys are busy, but we have to get together soon!

M is in the woods. He, rather wisely, opted for the quiet, mountainous Laurel Ridge over the hustle and bustle of SoCal. I drove on the freeway yesterday, and boy, if I didn't already have enough reasons to get rid of my car, I-15 would be it. This is the first time, M and I have been separated for any significant amount of time in over six months. It was hard to say goodbye. But next week, we shall be reunited and figure out what to do next. For us, this involves getting some jobs, finding a place to live, working on our book, and planning our next adventure.

In addition to wonderful siblings, I also have several delightful great-aunts, one of whom I'm going to get to see this weekend. Danna and I are going to drive up to Orange County to see Aunt Jan and clan. Who knows what adventures will ensue?

Most of you readers came to this blog for the purpose of tracking our AT journey. As I publish this post, and those to come, the AT entries will be bumped down the page, until they are finally relegated to the archives...very metaphorical for how I am starting to feel about the trip. As the days go by, the memories of dipping my toes in an icy mountain spring or falling asleep to the calls of loons are fading.

Well, I have to go take care of the important business of letting the dog out to pee. She's looking a little desperate, but that could be a ploy to take her on a walk.


More information than you need (or want)

Well, the wrap-up is underway. We're back home and taking stock of our situation... and remembering a lot about the trail. Here's a pile of info for those who are so inclined:

We were on trail for 191 days, from March 3 through September 9.
We took 34 Zero days (no hiking).
Our average daily mileage for all days (including zeros) was 11.4.
Average miles excluding zeros was 13.9.
We slackpacked 10 times.

Here's a graph of our mileage by day. Note the randomness...

And a bar graph of days/miles. Kind of bell-curvey, except for the zeros.

Here's a link to our daily 'itinerary'. I would recommend strongly against using this to plan anything, as our trip was quite haphazard. I suspect it could be useful in determining possible mileages through different areas or whatever. But seriously, hike your own hike.

If there are any other questions answered or informational tidbits you're looking for, comment away.


The Hundred Mile Wilderness and Baxter State Park

We did not do justice to Maine, by neglecting to tell you about the amazing last few weeks of our journey. As we moved through the state, the mountain ranges grew somewhat smaller, and we started to see a lot more water - rivers, streams, and crystal clear lakes and ponds. So what's a hiker to do when there's water in the way? Luckily for us, it was a pretty dry year, and none of the fords were very challenging. If there are rocks to hop, we did that, but sometimes it was just easier to strip off boots and socks and wade across in our Crocs. Even a foot of flowing water exerts a tremendous force as it flows, and the bottom of the rivers were covered with slick, algae-covered stones, so we took our time and used our trek poles to stay balanced, which is what I'm doing here with Caveman of Ohio.

Many of the campsites we stayed at were near water. At Moxie Bald Lean-To, we awoke to an amazing sunrise over the pond, and fellow hiker, JEB, cooked his breakfast out on a rock, right at the water's edge. I never did see any leeches in these ponds, and the weather was warm enough on several occasions to take a mid-day dip. At the top of every mountain, the view included mountains in every direction and, literally, hundreds of ponds and lakes and streams in between them.

The guidebooks warn hikers that the Hundred Mile Wilderness is very remote, and to take 10 days worth of supplies. We found in to be neither more remote that many other sections of the AT, nor very difficult. Lots of logging roads cross the trail and a great deal of day hikers were in the area around Gulf Hagas. We also heard a lot of small airplanes flying and landing on the lakes. There were two major ranges to conquer - the Chairbacks and Whitecaps. As we left Monson, our enthusiasm was beginning to build and we did a pretty big day over moderately hilly terrain. That night, we slept near a waterfall. The next day, we started over the Chairbacks, which ended up being a somewhat demoralizing experience. Every time we thought we had gone over one of the peaks, it turned out we hadn't, and the day seemed to last forever. We were worried about doing the Whitecap range the next day, since they were taller and Whitecap is supposed to be very rocky on top, but we ended up flying over them. After that, the Wilderness is relatively flat, and we flew through a section of trail built over old logging road (no roots, soft pine duff, very flat tread - awesome!).

The excitement was building as we made fast progress through the last section. Maine, to that point, had been anything but easy, and it was fun to see the miles ticking away. As we approached the end of the trail, we began to catch glimpses of Mt. Katahdin, looming high above the landscape. The weater was outstanding over the last week, but the humidity was starting to build up and the temperatures rose into the low nineties on one of the last days. We ended up doing a couple of 20 mile days, rather by accident. At night, we drifted off to sleep listening to the sound of loons calling on the lake.

The Hundred Mile Wilderness ends at the boundary of Baxter State Park. We met a ridgerunner as soon as we got close and she told us that there was some rain in the forecast the next day, so we decided to stall and go up Katahdin the following day. Our last night outside the park was spent with Packrat, Lucky, Umbrella Lady, Habitual Hiker, Rio, Hemlock, Caveman of Ohio, and Bushwacker in a campground that sits on the West Branch River with outstanding views of Katahdin from our tent.

Then...Katahdin Eve! The day before summit! Because Katahdin has the single largest gain in altitude on the entire trail (4,000 feet in five miles), and the weather is extremely unpredictable and often kind of rotten, especially in the afternoon, the rangers recommend that you hike to the base on one day, spend the night, and then start up early in the morning. So we went up to the Birches campground, which is only for thru-hikers, cooked our last dehydrated meal for the trip, and had one last bonfire with our crew. The feel was very much like Christmas, and M and me and Caveman of Ohio woke up at 4:00 am, feeling giddy and nervous. We were up the mountain by 9:00 am and greeted to unbelievable, panoramic, clear views from the top with very little wind. This is highly unusual, but a very pleasureable way to experience your last moments on the AT. Check out the photos to see what the summit looked like.

It's hard to explain the emotions we felt as we descended. Katahdin had become an almost mythic presence in our lives for so long. I don't know if I ever really believed I was going to make it all the way, until I actually did. We had to say goodbye to people we had come to know and love, to rely on and laugh with. We were leaving a lifestyle that was blissfully simple, and incredibly challenging. We were finally thru-hikers, but we were done thru-hiking. We were very, very quiet on the first few miles down the mountain.

Then it sunk in that we were in the middle of rural Maine, 20 miles inside a State Park that has one dirt road leading into it, and we had no idea where we were going to sleep that night, much less how we were going to get back to Pittsburgh. The challenge reinvigorated us, and we started to happily chatter about our memories of the trail and what we were looking forward to at home.


Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

The weirdest part of the journey home was waking up in the Northern Peaks Motel in Gorham, NH, less than 48 hours after summiting Mt. Katahdin.

M and I planned to stay in Millinocket, ME (the town closest to Baxter State Park) for a few days, just to rest and make travel plans and let the whole experience soak in for a little while. However, by Monday morning, we were feeling kind of antsy, so we checked out of our motel and headed for the diner, hoping to find some other hikers and to get a ride. However, the day was dreary, with more rain on the way, and it didn't look like many people were going to be passing through Millinocket that day. We decided to try to hitchhike, just to see if we could get anywhere. Well, it was ridiculously easy, and with two rides, we found ourselves 100 miles south in the town of Bangor. We rented a car and hit the road. M and I have a general policy that we don't take interstates, unless absolutely necessary, so we followed several two lane country roads that roughly follow the course of the AT. That night, we ended up back in Gorham, NH. There were a few hikers in town, but it was weird to talk to them, since they still have 3-4 weeks left of their journey and we were done.

It rained pretty heavily the next day, but we continued on our way through New Hampshire, Vermont and New York. Around dinnertime, we ended up stopping for a couple of hours to go to the movies. That night we stayed near Wilkes-Barre, PA. By morning, the skies had cleared and the drive home through Pennsylvania was beautiful. We resisted the urge to stop and go for a hike in the Allegheny National Forest, since we had to return the car to the airport by 3 pm. After dropping the car off, we took the bus back into town, where we met M's mom for lunch. We had a couple of beers at Peter's Pub while we were waiting for her to finish work and class, and then drove back to Saxonburg with her.

I guess today is the official first full day back in town. Now, we're suddenly removed from our former routine that consisted of eating, hiking and sleeping (and playing cribbage, of course). I've taken more showers in the past couple of days than I did in the previous month. We've been giddy over picking out clothes to wear...after wearing the same clothes every day for months, it's pretty exciting to change your underwear every day.

We're happy to be home, but we're homesick for the trail. M even cooked oatmeal for breakfast this morning, which I thought for sure he would have sworn off that stuff for life.

So, what's next? Everybody's asking...all I can say is, stay tuned.


We Did It!

M and I are relaxing in Millinocket, ME, after climbing Mt. Katahdin yesterday, completing our 2,174 mile thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. The weather was clear and calm for the summit and we have terrific pictures. Thanks for all the support we've received in person and from afar!

A shout-out to Doug, who offered us a ride from Baxter State Park to town the minute we stepped off the trailhead. Have a great weekend hiking!

Now we are tackling our next challenge...how to get from rural Maine back to Pittsburgh.

More detailed information and photos will follow....stay tuned.


We're 2,000 milers!

Years ago, the Appalachian Trail was about 2,000 miles long. Due to property disputes and trail relocations and other politics we don't understand, the AT is now 2,174 miles long. Last year it was 2,175 miles long. Next year, it will be something else. But the important thing is that we've now crossed the 2,000 mile mark, another milestone on this journey. Yet another milestone was crossing the mighty Kennebec River, which we did with the assistance of the ferry, which is really a canoe that will take hikers and their packs across at no charge.

We've had really lovely weather over the past few days, and there have been many opportunities for swimming. The lakes and ponds in Maine are numerous and, surprisingly, many have sandy beaches. Today a cold front blew through, in a rather dramatic way, with lighting, thunder, hail, rain violent wind and a tree that almost fell on M. So now I can say that I've seen a tree fall in the forest, which, remarkably, I hadn't seen before today, despite having spent the better part of six months in the woods.

New Things in Maine...

Today we saw a Moose. Not the first one I've ever seen, but the first on this trip.

Also saw the first hail of the trip. bigger than peas, smaller than marbles. Doesn't hurt too bad with a good rainjacket.

Another first: Tree falling in the woods. Big tree. It makes a sound.


Camera Casualty

Well, it was bound to happen eventually. Some essential piece of gear would break or be lost or otherwise cease to function. In this case it was the camera... our trusty 4 year old Canon Powershot was claimed by the raging waters of the South Branch of the Carabasset River. Also harmed in the incident were M's MP3 player (this may still work, it's drying out now) and tragically, B. Hippo, who will now be appearing only in 'portrait' mode, as the 'landscape' photo has become quite inky.

Fortunately, neither M nor K were harmed, nor any other gear. Only the camera bag and it's contents fell in. Also fortunate is the fact that we were able to procure a NEW camera, lighter and smaller than it's predecessor, from the good folks at Amazon.com. The photos on the old card were rescued and posted today. There may not be any further photo posts 'til we're done, as I'm not sure how to upload from the new camera yet. Stay tuned!


Maine, wild and wonderful

We expected to be disconnected from the rest of the world while we are in Maine, but there are quite a few public libraries here! It's crazy, because when we get to the top of a mountain and catch a glimpse of the surrounding countryside, we hardly see any signs of civilization...just trees and ponds and endless mountains stretching in all directions. But there are quite a few small towns to stop in, Maine is, after all, "Vacationland." Today we are in Rangely, which was once rated the 50th best resort town in the US. I was extremely excited to find a Thai restaurant here, and just enjoyed a delicious yellow curry for lunch.

Yesterday, M and I surprised ourselves by doing a 17 mile day - our biggest day in a month. We stopped at the stunningly gorgeous Sabbath Day Pond Shelter, sitting near Long Pond, which had a sandy beach, and cool, clear water. We met a couple there who is completing the AT in sections, and had a lot of good advice for us. They maintain a section of the Cumberland Trail in Tennessee, a piece of which my sister and I helped to build a couple of years ago.

I saw a moose, briefly, on the trail this morning on the way into town, my first of the trip. I am glad he ran away though, because he was terrifyingly large.

Tomorrow we'll go up and over Saddleback Mountain, which is another 4,000+ footer, and goes above treeline for quite a ways. If the weather is clear, we may catch a glimpse of the Big One...our goal, Mt. Katahdin.



We've done it! We've walked from Georgia to Maine. However, there are several hundred miles of trail in Maine that we still need to cover. Katahdin is about 256 miles away. It will take us another couple of weeks to get there. Every day, when we would hit the trail, M and I would exchange a little banter about which direction we should go (north or south) and would always say, well, let's just go to Maine. Now we can't really say that anymore, because we are already there!

The hiking is challenging - lots of boulder hopping, and scrambling up rock faces, but the views from the top of every mountain are outstanding. We just made it through the Mahoosuc Notch, which is supposed to be the hardest mile on the AT. And the rumors were right....there WAS a decaying moose carcass in the Notch. Smelled delicious. Then, right after the Notch, we had to climb the Mahoosuc Arm, which is a really tall, really steep mountain. The weather was less moist than the previous day, when we were climbing Goose Mountain, as a cold front blew in. The clouds were whipping across the face of Goose; the winds gusted so hard I was knocked clear off my feet several times. It wasn't exactly raining, although everything was wet, because we were in a cloud. Anyway, Mahoosuc Arm had several sections of smooth flat rock face at such an angle that I often found myself crawling up on all fours. It was not exactly climbing, although we've had plenty of that recently, but it kind of crosses the line in terms of my definition of hiking, which is much more related to wandering through the woods on a smooth dirt path while birds chirp overhead and squirrels frolic in the trees.

Maine is also really, really cold. The locals say this weather is unusual, that August is normally a bit warmer, but there was a frost warning last night! The temperatures in the mountains are dipping into the 20s at night. It reminds us of our early days on the trail, when it was, quite literally, still winter. When we stopped hiking in the evening, it was a race to pitch the tent, change out of our wet clothes and prepare and eat dinner, before diving into our sleeping bags.

Tonight, we are staying at the Cabin, where we have already been fed and are getting ready to tuck into warm beds in the bunk house. We are truly back in rural America and the hospitality and generosity of the people is reminiscent of what we found in the South. M even found some fried pickles when we stopped at the General Store in Andover, ME this afternoon.


Ahh, the Whites

We finally made it to Gorham, NH, less than 20 miles from the Maine border. Maine! Our last state on this epic journey! I have to admit that we went into the White Mountains with a certain amount of trepidation, even hysteria, mainly due to the excessive warnings we heard from South-bounders, trail angels, hostel owners and the general public. Basically, we expected the terrain and/or weather to kill us.

Well, we made it out alive, and even had a great time hiking the White Mountains. The adventure began with Mt. Mousilauke, the first of the mountains above treeline. We started out tramping up wet, heavily forested trail, but the top of the mountain was relatively clear. The tricky part was the descent on the other side into Kinsman Notch, where the trail drops an abrupt 1,000 feet in under a mile. Wooden ladders and steel cables are placed in some, but not all, of the steepest areas. We took our time and enjoyed breathtaking views of the waterfall cascading beside the trail on the way down.

Having conquered Mousilauke, we gained some confidence, and set out the next day over Wolf Mountain. The terrain was rocky and wet, due to some scattered showers, but it didn't seem too bad. We hoped to hike somewhere around 12-15 miles that day, shorter than our previous average to account for difficulty. We hiked and hiked and hiked, and then had a heart-sinking moment when we passed the first sign. Three miles in almost as many hours! We consulted the map and discovered that we weren't even on Wolf Mountain yet! We struggled to pick up our pace, but I soon slipped on a rock, smashing my kneecap, in what I first thought would be a trip-ending injury. Luckily, I was able to bear weight and the pain subsided somewhat. We limped into the first shelter, a mere 7 miles from the road, by four o'clock, and declared an end to that day's hike. We played some cribbage to cheer ourselves up, but were both feeling pretty discouraged. It would take us weeks to get through the Whites at this rate. That night the wind howled through the trees, and the creek next to the shelter roared from the recent rains. The forest seemed very wild and inhospitable.

However, the next day proved to be easier, and we adjusted our expectations, aiming for a 10 mile a day average. We lucked out with some good weather over the next week, and really started to enjoy the challenges and rewards of these rugged mountains. We hit the Franconia Ridge on a day when the AMC was reporting 107 mile views - incredible for this area. We could see the clear outlines of the Adirondacks to the west and into the province of Quebec to the north. Mt. Washington was clearly visible, as was the smoke pouring from the cog rail as the trail inched its way up the mountain. By the time we actually summitted Mt. Washington it was, as usual covered in fog, and we hit several windy rainstorms above treeline, but this is to be expected, and it turned out to be kind of fun to hop from boulder to boulder through the mist.

M and I took advantage of the "work-for-stay" option at nearly all of the huts in the White Mountains. The huts are maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club and staffed by enthusiastic crews of college students who cook and clean for guests staying there. At $60-80 per night, they are far too expensive for us, but in exchange for 2 hours of work, the crews let us sleep in the dining hall and eat the leftovers from dinner and breakfast. This way, we carried very little food, which made for lighter packs and therefore easier hiking. Most of the people who stay in the huts go on short hikes in the mountains, and don't have to carry a full backpack. Unfortunately, this means that a LOT more people than usual are using the trails, and there were points when we were really slowed down, just from passing so many other people on the freeway, err trails. In general, though, I think it's a really positive thing to see people exercising in fresh air, so I can't complain too much about the AMC making this feasible.

As a special bonus, the last three miles out of the White Mountains are on smooth, flat trail at a very slight downhill grade. Pure bliss, after pulling ourselves hand-over-hand up ridges in blustery wind, and lowering ourselves carefully down trail that resembled waterfalls. We trotted happily and even met some dayhikers on the way out who gave us a ride into Gorham. So here we are, taking a "zero day" - ie, no hiking - and feeling really enthusiastic about the upcoming weeks.

This Body Climbed Mount Washington (and Mt. Madison, and Mt. Moosilauke, and Mt. Lafayette, etc...)

Well, we've done it. We've made it through New Hampshire's famed White Mountains and are now taking a relaxing zero day in Gorham. It certainly wasn't easy or fast, but the journey has been rewarding with every step.

Heading into the Whites, the difficulty of Mt. Moosilauke had been somewhat built up by other hikers (both this year's southbounders, and some northbounders from previous years). It's the first peak over 4000' in some time, and sports a ridiculously steep and potentially treacherous descent down the Beaver Brook trail on the Kinsman notch side. We completed the 10 mile hike in a little less than 6 hours on a cloudy, wettish day, and felt quite good about ourselves and the other mountain peaks looming to the northeast.

Then we got schooled.

The trail out of Kinsman Notch, though not particularly steep or long on the elevation profile, was some of the hardest we'd encountered since our out-of-shape days back in Georgia. It took us a whole day to get over the lowly (by comparison to other upcoming peaks) Mt. Wolf, and our usual pace of around 3mph was slowed to near 1 over slick rocks in our worn down trail runners. This would be the case throughout the Whites, our previous daily averages of 17 to 20+ miles were cut to around 10, and feet and knees were sore and tired at the end of each day.

Despite their unusual difficulty, the Whites afforded us some of the most spectacular views to date, and some of the most rewarding climbs. Even though the area is famed for it's notoriously poor and oft-changing weather, we walked in comfortable sunshine and enjoyed 100+ mile visibility for all but our first and last days, and our summit of Washington (which seems always to be covered in cloud, despite widespread sun throughout the rest of the region). And though the rocky, rooty, and often slick or muddy trails slowed us down quite a bit, they've prepared us well for southern Maine, which I understand is also no piece of cake.

I'll let K describe some of our adventures in more detail... as for me, it's only 17 miles to the Maine border, and only 300 miles to go!


M & K Update!

Hey everyone! I just wanted to update everyone on m & k's progress on the trail. Currently, they are in Glencliff, NH and are about to enter into the White Mountains. The trail is a little rough in this section, so the going is slower, but they are still having a blast. They want to thank all of the people who have sent them emails and messages... your words of encouragement mean a lot to them.
The updated finish date is going to be around Sept. 15th (5 weeks) or so, depending on the trail and weather. Unfortunately, you probably won't hear from them until they are finished because they are in a pretty rural area. In any case, they have really appreciated all of your support along the way. If I hear anything further, I will be sure to post!



Happy Anniversary!

As of today, Monkey and Cocoa (or Mark and Katy in the regular world) have been married for Four years. We'll probably celebrate by walking through the woods and camping. Perhaps we'll play some Cribbage on our new plastic board (many thanks to Advance Transit in Hanover, NH, gotta love the free bus) - we picked up the game on a lazy day in VT and are hooked!. At any rate, we hope all you other married folk out there are as happy as we are to be together after however many years.



Mass Redemption

As an addendum to our post about Great Barrington, it seems the rest of Massachusetts does not suffer from such indifference to hikers. As a matter of fact, we love New England now. So much we're moving quite slowly through it.

First Wife: you're absolutely right. New Englanders have been nothing but wonderful to us since the debacle in G.B.. Apparrently Tanglewood, the usual theatre stuff, and an arts fest were all going on that weekend, so we must've just hit town at the wrong time. It's really our own fault for banking on a shower without calling ahead. We really ought to get a phone.

Many thanks to Rob at the Bird Cage in Dalton, MA, with whom we spent several days and to whom we are especially grateful for the wonderful hospitality. To all hikers: If you're passing through Dalton, definitely check out the Bird Cage, which is Rob's house. Go to the Sunoco station in town and ask the attendant how to get there (Rob owns the gas station, and the folks there usually know how to get in touch with him). Thanks also to Mountan Squid for all the rides and the good company.

And thanks most recently to our friends Jack, Tim, and Irene - though not New Englanders, they are Englishes, so I suppose that's close enough. They came to visit us in VT with their RV, and we camped with them for several nights. In the daytime they hiked a bit with us, then slackpacked us so we could keep the miles up. In the evenings we ate, drank, and relaxed at a number of campgrounds between Manchester Center and Killington. Many thanks for your hospitality and an excellent time.

Where are our photos?

We've had no luck in locating a computer where we can upload our photos to the website. But we have some great shots! We think that the next hostel we stay at might have a computer that would work. So stay tuned for those. As it stands we are plugging our way through Vermont, with the help of Jack, Tim and Irene the Poodle. They just left us this morning, as they travel on towards Maine. As they are traveling in a camper, they will arrive much sooner than we will. However, we have reached the 500 mile mark - that is to say, we have less than 500 miles to go before Mt. Katahdin. We've been meeting lots more Southbounders, as well as those hiking Vermont's Long Trail. Our health and spirits are good, and we are looking forward to the White Mountains, where it snows in July!


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Shout out to those following this blog...

We'd like to say thank you to the staff of the Allison Park Post Office, who help my parents with the mail drops. We couldn't do it without you!

Also, get well soon to First Wife, we were so relieved to hear that you are on the mend!

To those who are reading, don't be shy about leaving comments, so we know who you are. It gives us motivation to continue! Click on "comments" which is at the bottom of the post. If you don't have an account and password you can click the button that says Other or Anonymous, and you don't have to enter one.


Vermont: Slippery When Wet

After climbing the final mountain in Massachusetts, Mt. Greylock, in fog and heavy rain, we crossed another state line and began our journey through the Green Mountains. Here, the AT joins the Long Trail, the grand-daddy of long distance trails. Vermont is lovely and green and lush...and very, very muddy. Several days of rain had not yet soaked into the ground the trail still had standing water, as well as vast, black mud pits that made a distinctive "sploosh" noise as our boots sank in. Last weekend was dry and warm, and in addition to enjoying a marvelous view from a fire tower, we also enjoyed the trail drying out a bit. By Monday, however, it began to rain again...a fine misty rain that seemed to fall from the sky and rise from the earth all at once. My glasses fogged enough to turn Vermont into a blurry, enchanted-looking forest; I half-expected an aged wizard or tiny gnome to appear through the mist.

We began to meet some southbounders this week - almost 600 miles into their journey from Katahdin to Springer. They have endured three solid weeks of rain. We treat each other with equal amounts of admiration - they admire us for the sheer duration of our journey (almost 1,600 miles), we admire them because they have traversed the most difficult terrain of the AT.

We're stripping down our packs again to reduce weight and prepare for the upcoming 4,000 foot climbs, so Mom and Dad, expect to get some more packages of random hiking gear we thought we needed. Some items already discarded include a 16 oz bottle of Mr. Bubbles, a James Brown CD, 200 feet of rope, and a 10 X 12 tarp.

We're about to link up with Jack and Tim (Jack's dad), who will hopefully help us to get moving through Vermont, a la slackpack.


Connecticut - Massachusetts

After we left Kent, we made it several miles up and over a mountain in rather high temperatures (naturally we left Kent at high noon, just in time for the worst heat). Luckily for us, there was a lengthy section of the trail along the Ten Mile River, which was very level and easy walking. When we stopped for dinner at the shelter, we discovered that we could easily make it into Cornwall Bridge, where we stayed at the Hitching Post Motel, and waited out some rain, which ended up being not that bad in that area, but flooded parts of Vermont. After resting in Cornwall Bridge, we really turned on our jets in the hopes of making some noticeable progress through New England. We did two 20+ mile days, including a day from the Plateau Campsite near Salisbury, CT up and over three rather steep and difficult climbs over Lions Head and Bear Mountain, Race Mountain and Mt. Everett, which offered beautiful views over the valleys and towards the Catskill Mountains. We walked past a race track that Paul Newman reportedly used at one point. It was strange to be walking through the forest and listening to the sounds of cars racing around in circles.

Once in Massachusetts, we intended to stop at Great Barrington, and I'll let M tell the story of why it is now known as Awful Barrington. Needless to stay, we did not get a shower there, as we wanted. It all worked out in the end, though, because we ended up taking two shorter days to get to Upper Goose Pond Cabin, where they actually cook you pancakes for breakfast! At the cabin, we were reunited with a hiker, Golden Boy, who started from Springer Mountain the very same day we did, but we haven't seen since Port Clinton, PA. He convinced us to do a 20 mile day into Dalton, MA, and I'm really glad this is the town we ended up stopping in. We are staying at the famous Bird Cage hostel - not published in any official ATC books, but well-known by trail folk, nonetheless. The owner of the hostel, Rob, is a great guy - very cheerful and funny and he knows exactly what hikers want. We got a fantastic shower, clean laundry, clothes to wear while our laundry was being done (because who wants to wear rain gear in 90 degree weather while you're waiting for your undies to dry?), and a comfortable bed. Rob has a very large lab/pit mix named Tinker, who is very friendly.

Our plan is to take a few days to get into Vermont, where we will meet up with our friend from Pittsburgh, Jack and his dad, Tim.

The AT is definitely getting harder, and I have to admit that the thought of coming home now crosses my mind more than once a day. After all, we've already walked 1,554 miles over amazing country, met wonderful people, and had the adventure of a lifetime. Do I really need to see Vermont and New Hampshire and Maine? Whenever I see thunderheads piling up on the horizon, and we are about to head over a ridge, I think, if I were at home I would not be so concerned about getting struck by lightning. When it has been five days since my last shower and my hiking clothes are stiff and white with salt streaks, I remember a time when I put on clean clothes...every day. During lunch breaks of hummus or peanut butter on tortillas - which we have been eating every day for almost five months - I dream of salad. And when I'm going up a mountain that seems to last forever, sweating so profusely that my eyes sting and my nose starts to bleed from the salt I am inhaling, I think that it is not possible for me to be doing this. However, it is really hard to quit hiking on the side of the mountain. No place to go...you may as well just go over the stupid thing and quit on the other side where there is a town or a road. Luckily, by the time I summit the mountain, my spirits are lifted and I no longer want to quit. I want to keep going. I want to get to Maine.

Not-So-Great Barrington (and points north)

"Sorry Hon, It's the Berkshires".

I never thought that sentence would pass my ears, let alone break my heart. As it were, we'd hightailed a couple of long, tough, high-mile days out of Connecticut in the summer heat, all in the hopes of obtaining inexpensive laundry, shower, bed, and maybe even some continental B in the heart of western Massachusetts as a lowly reward. Up and over Lion's Head, then Bear Mountain (CT), then Mount Everett and on through the mosquito clouded boggy mess below. Down treacherous slick rock descents and through ankle-deep mud. All we thought of was the rest and satiety that was to come from food and sleep. In town.

Alas, Great Barrington was NOT 1.8 miles from the trail crossing, as our trusted Thru-Hikers Companion instructed. Perhaps the very edge of town, but there wasn't much there until at least 3 miles or so. Perhaps it just seemed farther from the sun-induced fatigue, or the ample quantity of blood so lovingly donated to New England's burgeoning mosquito population. No affluent Berkshire-visiting New-Englanders so much as slowed down for the outstretched thumbs of what must have looked like a couple of smelly vagrants with really nice outdoors gear. Was it possible our beloved book could lead us so astray?

Upon reaching the 'town' part of town, we waited patiently for the man at the counter of the Days Inn to berate a customer on the telephone, and for two other cleanish parties to check in. We asked hopefully if there were any rooms left, to which the reply was, "I've got two rooms left, they're double-queens, and smoking. By which I mean SMOKING.". Clearly we were not welcome. Perhaps our rude appearance had been interpreted as an affront. "How much?"... "$185. Plus Tax.". My heart sank for the second time (first being the longer than anticipated road walk). The whole reason we'd made the non-inconsequential trip in was that the book quoted rates in town from $55 to $70. No mention of multi-hundred dollar Days Inn was made. We left to seek out better options.

Fortunately, our saving grace was within sight. A kiosk! For Visitors! We were certainly these. I went inside, waited for some overweight retired-looking men to finish discussing cigars, wine, and theater with each other, and approached the operator of the kiosk. Was the Days Inn an abberation? It seemed not. Was there anywhere else? The whole town was full, except maybe one motel, way on the other side of town. The Kiosk-operator kindly phoned the hotel's owner, explained the presence of two weary, light-pocketed hikers, and he asked how much we wanted to pay. Not knowing what to say, I stared blankly. Lowest he could go would be $125. Cab fare to and from the other end of town, plus paying for breakfast would certainly make up the difference between this and the other lodging we had already declined. And that's when the kiosk-er uttered the abhorrent and unexpected sentence.

So Great Barrington turned out to be not-so-great. Or perhaps Awful, as I shall heretofore refer to this pricey little slice of yuppie hell for all time to come. Awful Barrington. I blame the wealthy, for the sheer economics of being willing to pay $200 to hang out in a glorified air-conditioned truckstop motel in the Massachusetts hills. I blame the Thru-Hikers Companionfor it's misleading mileages and rate-quotes (how was I supposed to know that 'higher weekends' meant 'triple-to-quadruple price'?).

But mostly I blame myself, for putting so much stock in a town stay. Showers and laundry are overrated anyhow. You're dirty and sweat-drenched within 20 minutes of hitting the trail. And in the end, it all worked out well... The Corn Crib, Upper Goose Pond Cabin, and Dalton are fantastic. Many thanks to all. Except you, Awful Barrington.


Some Special Events

There are some special events going on at home that we celebrate from afar. First, a very Happy Birthday to both Jamie and Danna. It would be hard for us to be any farther from you physically and still be in the same country, but we are thinking about you!

Congratulations to my cousin, Ryan, who graduated from high school recently. Have a great senior summer and good luck in college!

Also, congratulations to M's sister Mary, who just got her first post-college job. We know you'll do well!


Shout Out...

Thanks to No Worries for the "trail gossip" phone message - we miss you and Blazer, and hope to run into you again sometime.

I Know We Said NYC Was the Last Diversion, But...

My long-lost cousin Logan lives in Connecticut now, and he drove to the far reaches of the state to bring us from the trail to civilization. When I think that we could be sitting on a rock somewhere in 95 degree heat, mosquitoes drowning in our sweat (after they bite us, of course), but instead are in an air-conditioned apartment in Hartford (after spending the afternoon in a swimming pool), I am even more grateful than usual for my wonderful family.

I think Logan takes the cake for making the longest drive to the trail to get us. This is sort of our fault, as we thought Connecticut was a rather small state. However, we did not realize that Hartford is pretty much as far as you can get from Kent, and still be in Connecticut. Upon arriving in Kent, CT, Logan exclaimed, "this is all Kent has to offer?!" This of course, in reference to the giant cow statues at the main crossroads of the town.

Despite the lengthy drive, we had a great time catching up on the way here, and it was wonderful to hear all the exciting new things that Logan is doing. We are about to go eat some Italian food with Logan and his girlfriend, Shannon. Stay tuned for more adventures.

Officially in New England

We made it across the border into Connecticut yesterday on a very long, very hot, 20 mile hike over every blessed mountain this region has to offer. The trail in Connecticut is pretty similar to that in New York. The mountains are not terribly tall, although we did make a 1,000 foot climb yesterday. We have not seen as much wildlife. The trail is rocky in places, but we have also enjoyed some flat and soft footpath as well. Yesterday we saw the Dover Oak, the biggest tree on the AT with a 2 foot diameter. The biggest difference is that we are walking through a lot of wetlands areas, and the trail clubs have sunk boulders to walk on or laid planks through these areas. Another interesting thing we saw yesterday was Bulls Bridge, a covered bridge that dates from the early 1800s. The trail followed the turbulent Housatonic River for a ways, and there were plenty of people out enjoying the water, since the temperatures soared into the upper 90s yesterday. The last 7 miles of our day were the most difficult, with extremely steep sections, but we made it into the Mt. Algo Shelter with enough time to enjoy a dinner while watching a group of young teenagers on their first backpacking adventure. We noticed this morning that their tent appeared to collapse overnight, but they were in such good spirits yesterday that I'm sure this will not faze them in the least.


One More Excursion

The trail passes pretty close to New York City, so we decided to spend the Fourth there with our friend, Thom. Highlights of the excursion included satisfying my craving for falafel at several Middle Eastern restaurants; a visit to the Strand, a well-known bookstore that advertises 18 miles of books; and a trip to the banks of the East River to watch fireworks. While in town, we also got to hang out with Alex, another friend from college. In this photo, M and Thom are enjoying a knish at Zabar's, a Jewish deli that was absolutely packed (like everything in this city).

We're headed back out to the trail to bang out some miles through the remainder of New York. The weather is a bit drizzly, but no severe storms are in the forecast.


Confront Your Fears, Before They Confront You

I don't consider myself a particularly nervous or skittish person, but there are a number of things in the natural world that I find absolutely terrifying. Some of those things I'm slowly starting to come to grips with. For instance, I was rather terrified of snakes, mainly because I pictured an agonizing death scene if I were unfortunate to be bitten by one. One way I confront my fears is to do some research to find out more about the real versus perceived dangers surrounding them. Unfortunately, the good old internet only turned up the useless warning to get to a hospital within 30 minutes of a snake bite. While the AT is not too far removed from civilization, this would be pretty darn near impossible. Luckily, I recently met thru-hiker, Green Hornet, a former reptile breeder, who was chock-full of information about venemous snakes. As it turns out, you have a good 12 to 18 hours to get to the hospital, and most bites are not even fatal. Painful yes, but not fatal. For some reason I find this incredibly reassuring. I still watch where I step.

Another one of my fears is lightening. I really hate being in storms, and I especially hate being outdoors in storms. Put me on a ridge in a storm, and I'm pretty much out of my mind. Unfortunately, this happened to us last week while we were in High Point State Park. The temperature was climbing into the 90s, as we climbed rocky ridge after rocky ridge. We finally came out to an outcropping that overlooked the lake where we were heading for an afternoon swim break. All of a sudden a giant lightning bolt struck the lake, splintering out across the surface, and accomplanied with a resounding boom that echoed through the valley. It was still sunny at that point and we had no idea that a massive storm system was moving across the country. Then the clouds started to roll in and the thunder got louder and more frequent. We kept moving, but the trail was taking us higher and higher. Our data book had some incorrect mileage information so we had no idea how long it would take us to get to the ranger station.

As the storm moved in, we made the decision, largely due to my own overwhelming terror, to stop and wait the storm out. We moved as low as possible, which wasn't very low and took off our packs and sat away from our metal trek poles. The storm moved right in over top of the mountain, basically the highest point in New Jersey. The lightening and thunder were continuous, and very close. The rain came down in sheets, soaking us through within seconds, and the air temperature dropped immediately. Another hiker soon joined us. My terror turned to numbness, as I realized we probably should have kept going...we were in at least as much danger sitting still up there. By then, the rocky trail had transformed into a stream and it would be a treacherous descent. After, what felt like an eternity, but was probably about 30 minutes, the rain and lightning let up somewhat, and we headed the rest of the way over the ridge. Shaken and shivering, we soon made it to the ranger station, only to find out similar storms were expected for the rest of the day. No swimming at the lake for us! We ended up checking into a motel, while I sat watching the weather channel for the rest of the evening. Every hiker we ran into over the next few days had a terrifying story about at least one of the storms from that cold front. M and I pay attention to the weather reports, and usually don't hike in severe weather, but sometimes it sneaks up on you. I haven't heard anything reassuring about lightning, though, so unlike the snakes, I still consider it one of my biggest fears.


Gear We Love

It's not the gear that will get you to Maine, but it sure does help to have stuff you like, when you have to live with it, day in and day out.

Darn Tough Socks - These socks are not cheap ($16-$20 a pair), but M and I each got a couple of pairs in Damascus, nearly 1,000 miles ago, and I have full confidence that they will get us to Maine and beyond. Unlike the REI hiking socks that we started out with, these show no wear in the heel area. They don't retain too much odor and they dry pretty quickly in the sun. For some reason, they never seem to get totally dry in the clothes dryer, though.

Alcohol Stove - M made a number of different alcohol stoves out of beer cans and JB Weld before we left, and we are still pleased with this set-up. We haven't had trouble finding fuel anywhere, and, at worst, the stove sometimes needs to be primed in very cool or humid weather. Boiling time for 2 cups of water is somewhere around 6-8 minutes. We don't even lust after the Jet Boil anymore. These stoves don't last indefinitely, but they are cheap and easy to make. We are on our second stove.

Thermarest Sleeping Pads - We each have a pad from the Fast and Light series. Yes, they're heavier than the foam ones, but they keep you dry from wet ground and are oh-so-comfortable. They also have a lifetime warranty, including punctures.

Leki Trek Poles - We didn't start out the trip with trek poles, but we are definitely going to end with them. I have a pair of Makalu Titanium poles that are incredibly light and very strong. When carrying a heavy load over rough terrain, I often feel a little unbalanced, and it's great to have the additional support. In addition, we use our trek poles to fight off aggressive dogs and to pitch our tarp. Why not just use a stick? Leki's are designed with ergonomic handles and straps so that you don't have to grip the actual pole all day long. They are adjustable, and telescope down small enough so that I can strap them onto my pack when we are in town. Using two poles helps you maintain a pace up steep hills. I wouldn't bother with trek poles if I didn't have a pack on - so for post-AT day hikes, I'll leave 'em at home.

The jury's out on most of the rest of my gear. Everything else I carry is either not exactly what I want, too heavy, or flawed in some way. It'll get me to Maine, but I wouldn't advise anybody to rush out and buy it.


New Jersey, You Shall Not Defeat Me!

So New Jersey has it out for us. First it was just pointy rocks and aggressive, non-afraid bears. Then the mosquitos and biting flies. Followed by timber rattlers, slippery rocks, and 95 degree days with 95 percent humidity, pushing us to the brink of heat exhaustion. And then the lightning. Couldn't have been more than a few hundred yards, all around us. I think I heard it rained three inches in less than an hour.

Nevertheless, we're still alive and Maineward bound. Sorry for the lack of posts and pictures, it's been difficult to find access. Perhaps we'll get more stuff up later today...


On the Move Again

I got new shoes and my feet feel much better, even though we are walking over a lot of rocks...this is sort of what Pennsylvania is "famous" for on the AT. Sometimes the rocks are very small, but cover the trail in a way that makes it impossible to get a flat step. Other times we are scrambling across large boulder fields, on the lookout for snakes. There is hardly any elevation change, since the mountains are very long here, and we follow them for miles and miles. They are flat on top, and curve in an northeast direction. The other day we were at a place called the Pinnacle, which offers excellent views of the valley, as well as a "preview" of what we were getting ready to walk. We could see the rocky, barren Lehigh Gap, and it looked just as intimidating from 25 miles away as it did today up close.

We had an excellent surprise the other day when we were stopped in Port Clinton at the hiker's pavilion and we heard somebody say our names. It was a fellow hiker, Beach Bum's wife, aka First Wife! She recognized us from our blog and was in the area to visit Beach Bum and help him slackpack. She gave us a much needed ride to the grocery store where we found the best peanut butter ever.

In other news....we've been wading through poison ivy, but miraculously are not suffering from any rashes. We've been on the lookout for ticks, but haven't found many on our bodies. We had a semi-disaster with our tarp last night in a rainstorm, which was a real gully-washer, as my dad would say. Basically, the storm came just as we got to a shelter, and we didn't set it up properly. We got wet. The people sitting in the dry shelter several yards away found this hilarious. They refused to move over to allow us sanctuary from the storm. But we've met thousands of awesome people so far on this trip, so I suppose we are due to meet a couple of jerks now and again.

We have tons of pictures but no way to load them, so be patient, we'll get them up one of these days!


Why Am I at a Computer?

We should be hiking. We promised ourselves that we would be getting serious about hiking after all of the visits and fun we've been having for the past month. However, I've been having some pain in my foot, and it got bad enough to stop for a few days to rest and ice it. Nothing serious! Don't worry! And don't spread any crazy rumors! We're going to hike out on Monday.


Unexpected Visit from the P's

When we were in Carlisle last weekend, Stan passed on a message from my parents, who I THOUGHT were going to North Carolina for vacation. Instead, they decided come to Eastern PA and camp with us and help us out with some slack-packing.* Unexpected, but cause for celebration. We had them meet us at the Doyle, a famous, historic bar and hotel in Duncannon, PA. The owners are what you would call "hiker-friendly," and it's a place that a lot of thru-hikers stop because of the good prices and the fact that it is literally right on the AT. The owner of the Doyle called my parents "the P's" - a term we found quite amusing.

The first night, we camped near the confluence of the Juniata and Susquehana Rivers. In the morning, we set out across the rivers to Peter's Mountain, while my parents packed up their gear and our packs and headed for Lickdale, PA in their car. The day started out sunny and warm. Peter's Mountain offered some nice views of the rivers, the eerie experience of acres of tree cover eaten by gypsy moth caterpillars, and a few unexpected run-ins with some trail friends. By mid-afternoon, however, the skies were beginning to darken and we heard the sound of thunder, echoing through the valleys. A brief thunderstorm drenched us, but we were nearly dry by the time we hit the much-feared rattle-snake den, which is in a large boulder field that the AT crosses. Hikers who had passed through before us left notes on the trail with ominous warnings. We proceeded cautiously, but didn't see anything, assuming they took cover during the storm.

Just when we were nearly at the edge of the ridge, about to head into the gap to end our hike for the day, the clouds swirled up again, and this time, I knew the storm would be worse. I took off at a trot, leaving M behind, as thunderstorms do not panic him as much as me. I was just beginning the switchbacks when the rain began to fall. It rained harder and harder all the way down the hill, until I couldn't see anything out of my glasses, my clothes soaked through and heavy. But who cared? My parents were waiting at the bottom in a warm car, waiting to whisk us back to a campground with hot showers!

The rains did not let up for the duration of the evening, but we strung up our tarp over the picnic table, back at the campground, and had an enjoyable dinner, nonetheless. We even had wine! My parents have a huge tent, complete with a screened porch, so we had a comfortable sleep.

The next day, we slackpacked again, with a similar storm brewing in the afternoon; however, it did not hit us so hard, although surrounding areas got a lot of rain. This hike was about half aggravating rocks and half soft and level footpath. During the first few hours, we could hear little else beside the fighter jets and weapons being fired at the nearby military reservation. It was quite a racket. During the afternoon, we passed through many areas that had been heavily mined, as well as the ruins of an abandoned mining village. We ended up drinking very little water that day, to avoid having to fill up at one of the bright orange streams that crossed the trail, not being certain about the cause of the orange water.

On Thursday, we said goodbye to my parents, since they wanted to head for the Delaware Water Gap. We'll be there next week sometime.

*Slack-packing, or hiking without a backpack, can happen when you have some nice friends or relatives who drop you off where the road crosses the AT, and then pick you up down the trail at another road crossing. Sometimes thru-hikers even pay outfitters or shuttle services for this pleasurable way to enjoy the outdoors. Often the idea is to "pick up miles" or hike farther than possible with a big pack. Without my Gregory Deva on my pack, I am overcome by the sensation of floating through the woods. I leap from boulder to boulder with nary a care. The word "trudge" disappears from my daily vocabulary.