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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Our Hike By the Numbers

Greetings from Boston! One week ago, we reached the summit of Katahdin, and that already feels like a very distant place. Since then, we have traveled from Millinocket to Augusta, Maine, where we spent a wonderful weekend with Kelsey and other Colby friends. Then we hopped on a bus to Boston, where we've been crashing (thanks, Emily and Joel) for three days now. Our main activity has been eating any and all types of food that weren't available to us on the trail, and all this time with friends and food has helped us get happily reacclimated to civilization.

Looking back on our time on the Appalachian Trail, so many sights and stories come to mind. And so do some numbers. It's such a long journey, that it's hard not to quantify certain parts of it. Everyone hikes the trail in their own fashion. Here's how it went for us:

2,181 - Number of miles hiked on the A.T.
169 - Number of days on the trail
20 - Number of "zero" days (days off)
14.6 - Average daily mileage (not including "zero" days)
25 - Number of miles on our longest day (in Shenandoah National Park, VA)
1.8 - Number of miles on our shortest day (into Gorham, NH)

14 - Number of states we walked in (GA, NC, TN, VA, WV, MD, PA, NJ, NY, CT, MA, VT, NH, ME)
3 - Number of pairs of boots that we each wore through

515,000 - Total number of feet gained in elevation ("It's like climbing Everest 17 times.")

310 - Approximate number of thru-hikers or section hikers we met
7:1 - Gender ratio (Men: Women) among hikers we met

9 - Number of days in our longest stretches without showers
21 - Number of books read (combined)

12 - Number of bears seen
1 - Number of rattlesnakes seen
0 - Number of moose seen
Countless - Number of rabbits, snakes, frogs, grouse and deer seen

Another important aspect of our experience was the food we ate in trail towns along the way. We decided to put together a list of our favorites by category in what we will call...

The Hiker Food Awards!
Best Pizza - Anile's Restaurant in Boiling Springs, PA
Best Pancakes - Miss Adams Diner in Adams, MA
Best Ice Cream - Claude's Creamery in Palmerton, PA
Best Vegetarian Food - Sunnybank Inn in Hot Springs, NC
*
For the time being, we are glad to be done hiking, and our sore joints are thanking us for the rest. But we know that we've been bit by the "hiking bug," and it's only a matter of time before the trail calls us back again...who knows, maybe in a few years, we'll be blogging about our adventures on the Pacific Crest Trail...

Until then, happy trails to all!

Love,
Lara and Zack

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

We made it!



After 169 days of hiking (5 months and 15 days), we reached the end of the Appalachian Trail! At 10:00am on Wednesday, September 28, we climbed to the top of Baxter Peak on Mount Katahdin - screaming, giggling, and not believing our eyes.


After leaving Monson, Maine, we completed the "100-mile wilderness," which brought us many broken bog bridges and a few rainy days, but overall we had a wonderful time, and unseasonably warm weather. The nine-day stretch without civilization (or a shower!) was an appropriate and epic way to end our long trek. The wilderness plopped us into Baxter State Park, where the infamous Mt. Katahdin awaited us, looming in the distance.


Our summit day was gorgeous and clear - a "Class 1" day in Baxter-speak - and we made the ascent with old friends. It was a pure rush of joy and confusion, which we're still in the midst of processing...and probably will be for a while to come.


The climb up Katahdin is no picnic; it's commonly referred to as the hardest climb on the whole trail, and it's certainly the longest. But, the adrenaline rush that we felt going up made the rock-climbing and gymnastic aspects of it seem enjoyable. Coming down, on the other hand, was not quite as fun, but we were still grateful for good weather and incredible 360-degree views.


We're now resting up in Millinocket, Maine before traveling around the Northeast for a week or so. Lots and lots to think about and to be thankful for. We're thrilled to have finished, and are curious to see what happens next.


Thanks for following us and sending us encouragement along the way. Stay tuned for one final blog post, which we have decided to call "Our Hike, By the Numbers," an exciting statistical analysis of our trip. Ooo!


Love to all, and happy trails!


Lara and Zack

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Almost there...

From Zack:
"Howdy," from Monson, ME, the last trail town before the hundred-mile wilderness, Mt. Katahdin, and the end of our hike. We'll be heading into the next section, one of the wildest and most remote on the trail, with nearly seven days worth of food. Hoping to find the proper balance between enjoying the last week of this journey and remaining disciplined enough to achieve our goal atop the big mountain.

From Lara:
We entered Maine over a week ago now, and we're more than half-way done with the 281-mile state. We have had great weather over some gorgeous mountains (we've decided already that Maine is the "best" state on the trail), and some bad weather over some gorgeous mountains too (snow flurries - who needs 'em?). We're about to embark on an all-you-can-eat breakfast in Monson, then organize our food supply (more than we've ever carried) and hopefully put in a few miles today; it is, after all, the only day in the next week without a chance of rain. But, we'll handle it...as they've said from the start: "No rain, no pain, no Maine!"

Keep an eye out for an enormous and more informative post in the next two weeks, and as Zack says, "If you've got the time, please send us good vibes!"

Friday, September 16, 2011

Maine. Hard to believe we started walking 157 days ago. Tomorrow, if all goes according to plan, we'll complete our 2,000th mile. I'll save the really sappy stuff for our final blog entry post-Katahdin, but we're already feeling a mix of nostalgia, elation, weariness and appreciation as we scurry through our final two weeks here in the great North.

We last wrote from Gorham, NH. Since that time we've traversed some of the most strenuous miles on the trail. On one particularly rough day we made it only 12.5 miles in nearly 11 hours of walking. Tomorrow we'll cross over the Bigelow range, our last "big" mountains until the end of the trail. Doing our best to retain focus and good spirits in this last stretch, despite the first inklings of cold weather (flurries and ice this morning at 4,000 ft. before Stratton).

See you soon,
Zack (and Lara)

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

What a week it's been! I apologize for all of the drama and confusing goings-ons in the previous blog. Last you heard from us, we thought we were stranded in Glencliff, NH "until further notice," or whenever the USFS decided to open the White Mountain National Forest. Along with our fellow thru-hikers, we melodramatically hypothesized that this meant we would be stuck in Glencliff for many days, potentially jeopardizing our trek. But! We awoke the following morning to find that the forest had been opened that very day.

Glencliff to Gorham, NH
Thrilled, we got a late start after sleeping in, and headed up Mount Moosilauke - our first real White Mountain, and our first hike above treeline. The trail was flooded and swampy at parts, but it was a beautiful day, and we didn't seem to mind. It wasn't until we had to hike down the infamous backside of Mt. Moosilauke that we had a bit of a wake-up call as to how hard the upcoming sections would be. (We had been warned, but somehow it's hard to believe all of the hype until you're there.) Crawling down the mountain, alongside a waterfall, I took a tremendous spill - a sign of many more to come. We got into camp very late that night, and realizing how slow our pace had become on these strenuous miles, we reassessed our schedule for the upcoming section.

Thru-hikers often have a "love-hate" relationship with the White Mountains. First of all, the "love:" they are stunningly beautiful, and much of the hiking is above treeline and over 4,000 feet, which is unlike anything we've encountered on the trail thus far. On a clear day, you can see for miles, over mountains and into the valleys below. For the "not-so-much-love" part, the terrain becomes incredibly difficult (more climbing and crawling than hiking) and at times treacherous, your pace slows (from 2-3mph to 1-2), the weather can change at any minute and become dangerous (Mt. Washington notoriously has "the worst weather in the world"), and because of the mountains' popularity, the places to stay are limited to expensive huts and pay campsites (thru-hikers are a thrifty bunch, so this is a particularly rough adjustment). Overall, we'll lean towards the "love" side of things, but many bruises and rain storms later, we certainly can see both sides of the coin.

Our first days in the Whites, we had excellent weather. Our views as we hiked along Franconia Ridge and up Mt. Lafayette were spectacular. We were on an hiking high, until we went up Garfield Mountain, where dreams go to die. Somewhere up the steep climb and down its vertical waterfall descent, my quad began to hurt very badly, and we stopped for the night at Galehead Hut after a slow and painful afternoon. If you're lucky, the huts offer a few hikers the opportunity to work for stay and food each night. We were able to stay at three different huts, and ate lunch at most of the others, making it possible for us to make it through eight days of hiking while only carrying four days of food (also a good thing because the road where we had planned to get out to resupply had been washed out in the hurricane and was closed).

By day four in the Whites, we planned to get off the trail to rest my leg, which didn't seem to improve. Yet, when we got to the road where we planned to get off, we changed our minds, I took some Advil, and we pushed on. At first, that seemed like a crazy thing to do, but ultimately, it was the right decision - we were able to get two more days of amazing weather because of it, and my leg seemed to heal with time.

We made it to Lakes of the Clouds Hut on Saturday night; located at the base of Mt. Washington, the highest peak in the northeast, it is the biggest and most popular hut in the Whites, packed every night of the week. We slept on the kitchen floor and headed out early for a clear morning on the summit. At 6,288 feet, Mt. Washington is something to behold, and is perhaps most famous for its high wind speeds (highest ever recorded) and horrible weather. Thankfully, we experienced neither, though once we descended, the mountain was once again shrouded by clouds.

It's hard to describe the beauty that we witnessed. We will post pictures when we can, and hopefully that will better convey it. The last two days have been on-and-off raining, causing many spills and slow miles, but we've persevered, met up with some old friends (Chimp, Domino, Whiskey and Holler!), made it to Gorham, New Hampshire, and found a cozy place to take a "near-o" at the White Mountain Hostel.

We have less than 300 miles left on the trail, and less than 20 until we reach Maine. We estimate - and hope - that we will reach Katahdin in just over three weeks. There are many variables, and the next 150 miles are considered to be very difficult and rugged, so we're not out of the woods yet, so to speak. But we're savoring our time with our fellow thru-hikers and trying to make the most of our last month.

Wish us good weather and less bruises!

Love to all,
Lara (and Zack)

Sunday, August 28, 2011

When it rains, it pours! And...the trail is closed. When Zack wrote this blog early yesterday at a coffee shop in North Woodstock, we had no idea that a few minutes away, the cabin where we had stayed with Ry and Vanessa was flooding, due to the rains brought on by Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene and the overflowing nearby river. When we got back after a trip to the movies, we were shocked to see the cabin complex underwater. Ry ran into the cabin to rescue Fern, their dog, and as the water receded, we were able to go in and retrieve our possessions. As nomads these days, it was a strange feeling to not know whether our only belongings would be salvageable, but we are grateful to report that after a trudge through the water, we were able to gather it all - except my phone, which drowned when the waters rose - from the sopping cabin.

Ry and Vanessa dropped us back in Glencliff, NH, where our trail crossing is, but we had to take a roundabout way because so many roads had flooded. Now, we are at Hikers Welcome Hostel, and though it's a beautiful day today, the water levels everywhere are incredibly high, so there's no hiking today...or maybe even any time too soon. The USFS has closed the White Mountains - and all sections further north - until further notice. Apparently, that's never happened before. We're hoping that the USFS will be able to open the trail soon, and that our dream of finishing the trail this year will be a reality.

We're ready to get moving (feeling restless), but we don't have much of a choice. We also discovered that Zack's pack is broken, so he went on a journey back to Hanover, to get a new one. We're very grateful that things weren't worse, humbled by the news coverage of people, homes and towns (even ones we were in as recently as a few days ago) washed away. We're staying positive too, and as my Dad says: "You two just keep making memories!"

Here's what Zack wrote yesterday, pre-Irene:

We've completed twelve states now, and have two of the roughest, most rewarding left to go. New Hampshire has to be one of the most talked-about states. One section hiker, heading southbound, grimaced when we asked about the terrain to come, then cackled, "Enjoy NEW HAMPSHIRE! AHAHAHAHAHA." We've heard dozens of times now that the Whites are unlike anything else we've seen on the trail. Our plan? Take the challenges in stride like we have for the last 1700+ miles and enjoy every minute of it.

Manchester, VT to Mountain Meadows Lodge (near Killington, VT)
We left off in Manchester Center, VT at the Green Mountain House hostel. From there we caught an excellent view from a fire tower on top of Bromley, got our boots soaked in pond run-off and narrowly evaded a boisterous electrical storm. The northern section of Vermont is a flowing, needle-covered, primrose path, adorned with spruce and pine. We built a Cairn on White Rocks and made friends with some Czech students on a "genius," whirlwind trip around the U.S. Then--surprise!--we met up with the most lovable of fellows, Matt S., near Clarendon Gorge for a visit to Camp Sangamon ("oh Sangamon, oh Sangamon, oh Sangamon our home!!!"). He even took us to ice cream. What a guy.

We were able to dodge two thunderstorms in the same day, one on top of Mt. Killington, another on the northern face. Passed Maine Junction, where the Long Trail diverges, after 100 or so miles, from the AT, and turned due East towards a little slice of heaven. Situated on Kent Pond, the Mountain Meadows Lodge proved to be a glorious afternoon respite for two weary hikers. Bill and Co. took us in for the evening, even though they were shampooing the carpets. We loved it there, and can't wait to go back.

Mountain Meadows to Hanover, NH and Beyond
Happy and full, we left Mountain Meadows for our last Vermont section. The "flatish" terrain turned out to be a real roller coaster of ups and downs--some of our toughest days in the state. Our good friend Bruce, prescient with detailed elevation maps in hand, sent us off one morning with a shout of, "YOU'RE GONNA CLIMB TODAY, BOY!" Alas, even downhill segments felt uphill on our way to Hanover. Lucky for us, the home of old Dartmouth is chock-full of motivating temptations for thru-hikers: Free bagels at the Bagel Basement. Free Pizza at Romuntos. Free Coffee at the Dartmouth bookstore. Strangers upon strangers offering their apartments for nights on end. We found a nice balance between asceticism and indulgence, feasting at the Bagel Basement and food co-op, getting our chores done, and still making 17 miles that day. Hanover definitely makes our list of "must-go-back"s. (Our weather timing was not quite as good that day though; after nervously awaiting storms all day, we stayed dry through 17 miles, until we got poured on in the last five minutes of our hike.)

Hanover, NH to North Woodstock, NH
Two more big days over Smarts Mountain and Mt. Cube gave us a taste of what's to come: long, rocky, rooty, slick climbs with incredible views at the top. Can't wait to hit the trail again with Mt. Moosilauke (hopefully) on Monday. The weathermen say we've got some beautiful weather in store for the week, so we're hoping they aren't pulling our leg this time.

Less than 400 miles to go.
Zack (and Lara)

PS - Check out our pictures! Click on the thumbnails above.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

We made it to Vermont! Now, that seems really far away from where we started. Since our last post, we have had some of our best trail moments, and - thanks to the near-constant rain - a few of our not-so-best trail moments. But, we are now refreshed and "caloried-up," as they say in hiker-speak, in Manchester Center, VT at what might just be the best hiker hostel evah, Green Mountain House.

In lieu of keeping things interesting, and not having to write a novel every time we do a blog entry, we are ditching the day-by-day format and going for a more free-form style. So, here's what has happened to us since we left the comfort of the Berkshires back in Massachusetts...

Great Barrington to Dalton, MA
After stuffing ourselves silly with Cousin Eddie and Mickey, we got back on the sunny trail with heavy packs and full stomachs. Massachusetts continued to impress us with some amazing vistas and wonderful shelters. We had heard about the wonders of Upper Goose Pond Cabin, an Appalachian Mountain Club facility, operated by a volunteer caretaker, and had planned our mileage around getting there with enough time to spend a leisurely afternoon on the pond. The picture-perfect pond atop the mountain made for an amazing time, indeed. We took a canoe out and paddled the perimeter of the pond, and cooked our dinner on a real stove. And, in the morning (this is the stuff of legends among thru-hikers), the caretaker makes all-you-can-eat pancakes! And coffee! Needless to say, this was one of our favorite places on the entire trail.

The next day, we stopped for lunch at a blueberry farm along the trail and picked ourselves a pound of fresh berries. Our guidebook referred to this farm as the residence of the "cookie lady," which seemed curious since clearly it is a blueberry farm. But then...they brought us a basket of freshly baked cookies, and we happily understood the nickname. Energized, we hiked a long day into Dalton, where we stayed with Tom Levardi, who, for 31 years, has welcomed hikers into his home for laundry, a shower and a cushy floor to sleep on. And we thought the cookies were as good as life could get!


Dalton to Adams, MA
After stopping at the local diner on the way out of Dalton (for "grilled" coffee cake - which means, coffee cake + more butter), we hiked a short day to the next town over, Cheshire, MA. There, we met up with Emily Hishta Cohen, one of our most favorite people. She had driven all the way from Boston to spend the day with us, and we were thrilled to be with her. First order of business, of course, was finding some place to eat second breakfast, so we made our way to the little town of Adams, and stuffed ourselves on the biggest blueberry pancakes you've ever seen. (At the end of this trip, I think blueberry pancakes will rank #1 on our list of "Items most ordered along the A.T.") After running some errands and checking into Mount Greylock Inn, a charming bed and breakfast, we went to the Berkshire Mall, where destiny called...
"Let's finish this the way we started it...TOGETHER!"
(Harry and Voldemort - for no apparent reason, except that it looks awesomely cool, leap from the top of a tower at Hogwarts and engage in some free-falling, face-grabbing combat. Then, after some additional moments of light-saber-like light traveling between their wands, Harry is the victor! Brilliant.)
We finally saw the final Harry Potter movie! Our viewing was followed by a delicious dinner of pizza and ice cream in the mall food court, featuring in-depth discussions of the series. (What does it mean for our generation that the series is now over? Does evil cease to exist in Harry's world now that Voldemort is vanquished? And, more importantly, why didn't they film Ron and Hermione's kiss from a better angle? Etc...)

The next morning, we returned to Miss Adams Diner for more pancakes (I surprised Zack by sneakily ordering some for us while he had gone to the restroom), and then Emily dropped us back onto the trail and headed back to Boston.

Adams, MA to Manchester Center, VT
We hiked up Mount Greylock in a thick fog, and unfortunately, when we reached the top, we had no view at all. We've added the mountain to our list of sites to come back and see in better weather because we've heard it's a view not to be missed. We had only planned to do a 16-mile day to a campsite, but as we got closer, we ran into a friend who heard that big rain was on its way, and advised that we aim for the nearest shelter instead. That's how we ended up in Vermont a day early, and that's when the rain began...

Unfortunately, our first two days in Vermont featured a near-constant downpour and chilly temperatures. We were able to slog through it, and keep some of our clothes dry, but the infamous "Vermont mud" made hiking a bit slow and sloppy. The trail at times looked more like a river than a trail. By day three, the skies cleared and we got to see more of the Vermont we had been expecting - the Green Mountains finally emerged through the fog, and the bright sun began to dry out our drenched selves. We also crossed the 3/4-mark, and felt a sense of accomplishment in that.

This morning, we hiked a quick 2.8 miles into Manchester Center, where we spent the morning eating (more pancakes!) and running errands in the outlet-oriented town. Now, we're at Green Mountain House - a true home for hikers more than a hostel - with a computer, TV, beds, shower, laundry, kitchen and freezer (we get our own pint of Ben and Jerry's; this is Vermont, after all!).

It's hard to believe we've made it to our twelfth state. More than 500 miles remain, which feels simultaneously like a long way to go, and not much in comparison to what we've done. We're feeling grateful to still have our positive attitudes in tact (unfortunately, it's becoming rarer and rarer to see North-bounders with smiles on their faces) and looking forward to new boots on our feet!

Love to all,
Lara (and Z)

PS - Pictures are on our Flickr site; click on the thumbnails above to see them!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

In Massachuuuusetts. In Massachuu-hu-setts. Hey everyone. Sorry it's been forever since we last blogged. It's just...well...there really isn't a good excuse. What tends to happen is this: something exciting and/or time-consuming happens that causes us to put off writing. The the longer we put off writing the more exciting and/or time-consuming stuff happens, and the more daunting a blog post becomes. Forgive us?

We passed mile 1,500 this morning and crossed into Massachusetts, our eleventh state. You may be saying "Hey! What happened to New York and Connecticut?" Don't fret, they're still there in all their stately glory. We had a great time traversing the AT through those states, and while I'd like to give you our typical play-by-play, it's already hiker midnight (9:00PM) and too many days have passed. Our typical format put aside, I offer you the highlight reel of the last two weeks...

Act 1: New Jersey Finito
After the heatwave, hospital visit, and subsequent three days in Branchville, NJ, we took to the trail again on a gray (and noticeably cooler) morning. Being the purists that we are, we insisted on backtracking to the exact point on the trail where our heat exhaustion episode went down. Going back to that spot before continuing northward again gave us some closure and allowed us to maintain the integrity of our thru-hike: no chance of us making it to Maine with a haunting feeling that we didn't really thru-hike because we skipped a 6-mile stint. The rest of New Jersey was gorgeous and included a few swamp-tromps through wildlife sanctuaries via long, beautiful boardwalks. In fact, we probably saw the greatest diversity of landscape to date in that state. If you're looking for a nice week-long hike along the AT with lakes, mountains, swamps, ridges, and dense forests, go to New Jersey. Great bagels to boot. They say the secret's in the water.

Act 2: New York
I'm no geologist, but it's obvious there was some serious glacier action in southern New York. One hiker pithily described the terrain as "God taking a comb through the earth." While in Pennsylvania and New Jersey we spent a good deal of time walking along ridges, we spent most of New York crossing over ridges in a perpendicular fashion. Lucky for us this yo-yo-ing was broken up by a fabulous trip to NYC with mis padres, time spent in numerous state parks, spectacular views of the Hudson River (which we crossed on a big bridge near Bear Mountain), and more bagels. Our two worlds collided as we went from the trail to Times Square and back to the trail in a weekend. We were eating trail mix in the morning and five-star Korean vegetarian food in the evening. One moment we were seeing wildlife in the wild, the next in a "trailside zoo" (yeah, that really does exist). We loved every minute of it (except for the zoo).

Act 3: Connecticut
The 52 miles in Connecticut went by in a flash. After a night at Mt. Algo, we met the parents again for a second rendezvous at Connecticut 4 near Cornwall Bridge, CT. From there we drove to visit the cousins Pear in the adorable town of Lenox, Mass, passing, en route, the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston (lord, the Berkshires they seemed dreamlike on account of that frostin'--anyone?). It would be an understatement to say we were wined an dined. In less than 24 hours we at three excellent meals, saw the BSO perform at Tanglewood amphitheater, and resupplied at not one, but two grocery stores. Hit the trail the very next day and finished the state the next evening. Aside from the intensely muggy air--which we know is no one's fault--we really have very few notable memories from CT. A blur, really. Still, hats off to the AMC-Connecticut chapter who, we now know, maintain something like 27 privies in this short section. Keep up the good work, friends.

Act 4: Back in Mass
So here we are, back at the cousin's place again after only 2.5 days. Happy to be inside tonight as the rain falls, and thankful for our perfect--I mean perfect--weather for the ascent up the spectacular Race and Everett mountains today. Lots to look forward too in this state. Still keeping our fingers crossed for a Harry Potter 7.2 somewhere along the way--we'll keep you posted.

Again, we'll be better about this whole blog thing. Promise.
Zack (and Lara)

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Hey hey! Wanted to quickly check in with everyone. We've been all over the map in the last week+: NYC with mama and papa Ezor, back on the trail through the end of New York and into Connecticut, then north to Lenox, Mass for an evening with family at Tanglewood (fancy, I know). An extensive post should be coming soon, so hang tight.

Zack (and Lara)

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sometimes the heat just can’t be beat! Unfortunately, we learned that lesson the hard way last week when we both came down with heat exhaustion and ended up in the ER in Newton, NJ. But I’m getting ahead of myself! Rest assured - we are both doing fine now, but allow me to take you back in time, back to Bethel, PA, where we last left you…


Day 93
501 Shelter to Port Clinton, PA (22 miles)

After a great night at the 501 Shelter, where we hung out with many fellow hikers and a humongous watermelon, we headed out early. Having received a restaurant recommendation, we thought we would add a few extra miles to our day and get to Port Clinton for the evening. A long, hot day later, we arrived, but we weren’t able to find the restful evening we’d hoped for. The food was pretty awful, and we were treated in a way that made us feel uncomfortable (a.k.a. "hiker-unfriendly"). Eager to leave that establishment behind, and in order to get fuel for our stove, we had to walk 2+ miles on the highway to an enormous shopping center. This was a major culture shock for us – not to mention, once we got to the shopping center, the parking lots themselves added another half-mile or so of pavement-walking. At the end of a long and hard day, we were not in good spirits. By the time we made it back to the park where we set up camp, it was already time for bed. “Tomorrow is a new day,” we kept telling ourselves.

Day 94
Port Clinton, PA to Eckville Shelter (16 miles)

A new day indeed! A climb out of Port Clinton took us past some incredible views of Pennsylvania farmland from above - The Pinnacle and The Pulpit, to name two. Then onto Eckville Shelter, where we were glad to arrive early in the day to a cold shower and a relaxing afternoon. Like the 501 Shelter, Eckville is just off the trail, with a caretaker and running water – a welcome set-up for hot afternoons.

Day 95
Eckville Shelter to Bake Oven Knob Shelter (17 miles)

Today we hit some of those famous Pennsylvania rocks we had heard so much about. Boulder-hopping and balancing along the rocky "Knife's Edge" ridge-line made our hiking a bit slower, but more rewarding. As long as you watch your step (and if you're fortunate enough not to be on the exposed rock in the heat of the day), this kind of walking can actually be fun. We camped at a quiet campsite, a few yards away from Bake Oven Knob Shelter, where some guys had taken over and were setting off fireworks (less quiet).

Day 96
Bake Oven Knob Shelter to Palmerton, PA (7.7 miles)

A short morning of hiking led us to Palmerton, PA, a wonderful trail town, featuring the so-called "Jailhouse Hostel." It's not actually a jailhouse but the town's old municipal building, where they let hikers sleep in the basement bunk-room, free of charge! It was a hot day in town, but we were able to get some great food and enough ice cream to keep us cool on a 95-degree day (Claude's Creamery - you are well loved).

Day 97
Palmerton, PA to Leroy A. Smith Shelter (16 miles)

If you look at an elevation map of the Appalachian Trail, you might notice that north of Palmerton, PA the incline gets CRAZY for a good 2 miles. Commonly referred to as one of the hardest climbs on the AT, the trail leads you straight up a bald rock-face, where a zinc-smelting operation in the area left heavy metal residues, making it devoid of vegetation. The EPA closed the plant a few decades ago, and declared the mountain a Superfund site. Up we went over the "SuperFUN" site, as Zack likes to call it. And indeed, we actually did find it pretty fun, despite all the negative hype. We got out early, and were at the top of it by 6:15am, well before the heat of the day and in time for the sunrise over Palmerton. The rest of the day was flat and easy, and we made it to camp before 1:00pm, just in time for a nap!

Day 98
Leroy A. Smith Shelter to Delaware Water Gap, PA (21 miles)

Today was our 7-year anniversary! Yay! To celebrate, we decided to get to Delaware Water Gap earlier than expected by tacking a few extra miles onto our hiking day. It was a long, hot day at the end of the 230 miles in Pennsylvania, which we ultimately decided we had thoroughly enjoyed. (Despite the frequent complaints about the state's rocks and heat, we had generally mild weather and we thought the rocks weren't as bad as they were made out to be. I had originally planned to include here a poem about my feelings on Pennsylvania - perhaps entitled "Pennsylvania Rocks!"- but decided against it.) We pulled into DWG by 3:00 where we checked into the Presbyterian Church of the Mountain Hostel for another night of incredible hospitality (the church opens its doors daily to smelly hikers). Yummy treats in a mail drop from our parents and an enormous banana split at the old-fashioned ice cream emporium in town rounded out the day.

Day 99
Delaware Water Gap, PA (0 miles)

The heat was picking up, and we were grateful to be spending most of our day indoors and not on the trial. We had a great lunch at the Apple Bakery and a leisurely afternoon of eating and sitting in air conditioning (when possible). Topped the day off with another enormous sundae at the ice cream emporium.

Day 100
Delaware Water Gap, PA to Mohican Outdoor Center (10.5 miles)

One hundred days on the trail today! Or...one hundred days since we started our journey, which includes the days we have taken full "zero" days. We celebrated by crossing the Delaware River and entering New Jersey! In what would begin a series of unfortunate events, I was feeling a bit nauseous, but I chocked it up to all the dairy (see: ice cream emporium) that we'd had in DWG. We took it slow on our 10-mile day, which was increasingly hot, but incredibly beautiful. We walked by the glacially-formed Sunfish Pond and enjoyed the Jersey ridge-walking. We arrived at the Mohican Outdoor Center in time for lunch, where we were able to rest in the shade and wait out the heat of the day before heading back to our campsite. I still felt a bit funny at the end of the day, but was able to eat and drink normally, so I figured with a night of good sleep, I'd be as good as new...little did I know what awaited us on Day 101!

Day 101
Mohican Outdoor Center to Rattlesnake Mountain (10 miles)

Thinking we could outsmart the heat that was expected to reach its peak today, we woke up at 4:00am and left the Outdoor Center by 5:00. We had sweat all through the night, as the heat hadn't let up, and we were sweating within our first few steps on the trail. We caught an amazing sunrise from the top of a fire tower looking over the valleys below, and we pressed on, making good time, and thinking ourselves very wise for getting up early. Around 9:00, Zack asked if we could take a break because he wasn't feeling very well. We ate a small, salty snack, drank water and pushed on. At 10:00 we stopped again. This time, Z was spent. Recognizing the signs of heat exhaustion, we found a shady spot on the trail and tried to rest. I don't want to go into too much ugly detail, but I'll say that once the vomiting started, we knew it was time to call 911. Since we were in the woods, a good six miles from the nearest paved road, it took a few more hours of trying to keep Z cool, resting and hydrating before the first ranger showed up, followed by a very friendly EMT and his helpers. They surrounded Z with ice packs to bring his body temp down, and in time, he was able to gain enough strength to walk out the mile to where the ATV waited, ready to escort him to an ambulance. Once we boarded the ambulance, we were taken to Newton Hospital, where he was hooked up to an IV, and got some color back into his cheeks. It was then that I started to feel funny, and my feelings of nausea from the last 48 hours - which I must have suppressed in the adrenaline rush of making sure Zack was going to be OK - came back with a vengeance. I thought I'd ask the nurse about it, and in the middle of my questions, it was my turn to vomit...not a lovely story, I know, but looking back, the timing could not have been better. I was already in the ER, the safest place I could be, so I signed in, and then it was my turn to get an IV. My first time in an emergency room, and my first time in a hospital bed! What a day.

Since our misadventures on Day 101, we have been hanging out in Branchville, NJ resting and trying to get some food and water back into our systems. I had one more bout with the nausea after leaving the hospital, but Zack has been solid as a rock since. Three full "zero" days here (Days 102-104), where we have been joined by Zack's "Uncle Danny," who drove us around and helped us find unlikely sources of air conditioning (why not spend an afternoon at ShopRite?) and kept us great company. Now that the oppressive heat wave has broken, we are excited about getting back on the trail tomorrow and easing ourselves back into the swing of things.

We are so grateful to the wonderful people who have helped us out (including MaryAnn, who gave us a ride to the library today to keep us from going stir-crazy), and we're glad to have made it 1,300 miles without too many hitches. We were due for one, I guess!

Less drama next time, we promise.

Love and happy trails,
Lara (and Zack)

PS - Check out our new pictures on our Flickr photostream by clicking on the thumbnails above.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Pennsylvania! Ahoy there, blogosphere. First, let me apologize for the lack of pictures in this post. You can see all our recent photos by clicking on one of the thumbnails at the top of this page. It should direct you to our flickr stream, which has every photo we've taken. Also, I apologize for not posting this when it was originally written - last week! Yikes! Lara will have a new update written tomorrow to catch you up to where we are now...since this blog post is about the week before last. Oops!

I'm writing from Bethel, PA, which is less than 1000 miles from Mt. Katahdin in Maine. We've just resupplied at a Mennonite discount store thanks to a tip (and a ride) from Bob, the caretaker at the 501 shelter up closer to Pine Grove. The store was packed at 3:00 on a Wednesday! Guess that answers the question of when the entire town of Bethel does their grocery shopping. Since we last blogged from D.C. we've completed two more states: West Virginia (itty-bitty mileage there) and Maryland (not quite as bitty). Friend Colin joined us for most of his home state of MD, and even resupplied us by the side of the road a day after we parted ways. Never thought I'd be able to eat a piece of cheesecake in 90 degree weather and then continue hiking, but, with Colin's help, we made it happen. Still working on his trail name, though Tenderfoot the Tenderfooted and O'Sheanendoah are in the running.

We've probably heard more opinions about Pennsylvania than any other state (save maybe Virginia), most of them negative. Granted, most of the state is flat as a pancake and littered with rocks. A native commented to us, "yes, it's rocky, but at least we're nice!" Nice they are.

It's all about perspective and mental fortitude at this point in the game though, and, with only about 2 months of hiking left, we're doing our best to make the most of it. Our journey has taken us by old mining towns, behind hedgerows, through cornfields and into some brilliant little towns. PA, you're A-Ok!

On a side note, I've started pinning down birdsongs. There's one bird whose song is the first few notes of "On Broadway," and another who sings "I barely learned the tune" from Simon and Garfunkel's "So long, Frank Lloyd Wright"--ornithologists, please chime in.

Here's the lowdown:

Day 83
Town's Inn, Harpers Ferry to Rocky Run Shelter (15.4 miles)

Hiking out of Harpers Ferry on July 4th with Colin in tow. An easy day out of the gate after our relaxing visit to l'otel Boyd in D.C. Meandered along the C&O towpath, spotted nice views of the Potomac and the Shenandoah rivers and spent the night at a gorgeous new shelter.

Day 84
Rocky Run Shelter to Raven Rocks Shelter (20.6 miles)


Our first and only full day in Maryland. We climbed to the top of the original Washington Monument (circa 1827), but our view of the surrounding area was obscured by fog. Still, grabbed a great photo of Colin inside this bottle-shaped tower. Due to rocks, heat, and blistered feet, Colin called it a trip late in the day. We miss him!

Day 85
Raven Rocks Shelter to Rocky Mtn. Shelter (19.8 miles)

Craggy descent this morning as we sped toward the Mason-Dixon line and into PA. If you're looking for an introduction to the Appalachian Trail, give yourself 4 nights and take on Maryland: the terrain is gentle, water can be found at numerous state park spigots and history abounds.

Day 86
Rocky Mtn. Shelter to Toms Run Shelters (19.2 miles)

Made the mistake of sleeping in a small shelter at Rocky Mtn. Turns out the structures do a pretty good job of keeping heat in. We waddled sweatily to the next shelter just in time to beat the rain. Met several hikers pushing on to Pine Grove Furnace State Park to attempt the half-gallon challenge (more on this later) but decided to hold off until we were nearer to indoor plumbing.

Day 87
Toms Run Shelters to Allenberry Playhouse, Boiling Springs, PA (23 miles)

Passed the half-way point today! Met a few former thru-hikers--Blue and Evergreen--who made us sandwiches and let us huddle under their tarp while a downpour set in. Really looking forward to repaying all this trail magic someday. Since we were soaking wet and desperately in need of a shower we decided to push big miles into Boiling Springs. A fellow at the ATC regional office there let us in on a secret: the Allenberry Playhouse and Resort offers rooms to hikers for $40, well below their usual rate. We pounced on the deal and, while we had to skip the production of "Hello Dolly" (next time!), had a great time exploring the tiny town.

Day 88
Boiling Springs, PA to Cove Mt. Shelter (21.5)

Began the day with a 12-mile walk through backyards and farmland. I had had some anxiety about this walk for some time because of the level of exposure to sun it carried. Fortunately we were able to get an early start and beat the heat. Met a swell section hiker, Reid, and his scrumptious dog, Goose, at Cove Mtn. He's hiking southbound so we were able to offer him some useful advice. Nice to talk trail with someone who isn't as immersed as we are.

Day 89
Cove Mt. Shelter to Doyle Hotel, Duncannon, PA (4.1 miles)

Strolled down the mountain into Duncannon this morning, caught a ride to the grocery (thanks Timone!) and commenced the half-gallon challenge. An old AT tradition, the challenge--eating a half-gallon of ice cream, unassisted, in one sitting--commemorates the passing of the half-way point. My strategy? Neapolitan ice cream. Completed the challenge in 33 minutes and didn't lose any of it. In fact, I went about eating as usual for the rest of the day. That's a hiker appetite!

In other news: "Billville," a generous group of AT enthusiasts, had thrown a "hiker feed" here two days prior. Lots of folks we hadn't seen in a long while hitched forwards or backwards to attend, so we were overwhelmed by a spontaneous reunion of sorts. The Doyle Hotel, over 100 years old, has become a must for thru-hikers. Not the best accommodations we've ever had, but the food was good and the people were super.

Day 90
Duncannon, PA to Peters Mtn. Shelter (11.2 miles)

Easy day out of town. Started with a huge breakfast in town and then onto our longest highway walk yet, over the Susquehanna, was full of cobwebs. A train came along the tracks just as we were leaving town, and we got a pretty cool video of it. An early day into the shelter, and a hot afternoon.

Day 91
Peters Mtn. Shelter to Rausch Gap Shelter (18 miles)

Walked through an old mining community today, so we hear. Saw a bear, thinner than the ones we saw in SNP. Guess there are fewer pic-a-nic baskets in central PA. Camped in a gorgeous spot by Rausch creek that reminded us why we're out here.

Day 92
Rausch Gap Shelter to 501 Shelter (17.5 miles)

Battled gray skies and unchanging terrain this morning but persevered! Looking forward to our night at the famous 501 Shelter, an old potters studio complete with bunks, a solar shower, and a skylight. Really enjoying the opportunity to stop by so many towns in PA. These are definitely places we never would have made it to otherwise. Shout out to George, Kathy, Chip and Gillian Goodrich--we're right near your old home of Reading!

We're likely going to "zip" through a few states in the next few weeks. Meeting up with Mama and Papa Ezor in NYC in no time!

Love,
Zack (and Lara)

Sunday, July 3, 2011

We joined the 1,000-mile club! Whooooot! It's hard to believe, but we've made it to West Virginia, and have now completed almost half ofthe Appalachian Trail. A lot has happened since we left Charlottesville, and we've covered a lot of ground (averaging 20 miles a day for 10 days straight). We've evenupped our "bearcount" from zero to six.
Here's what our adventuring has brought us:

Day 71
Fish Hatchery Road to Harpers Creek Shelter (12.2 miles)

After cousin Lindsay dropped us off in Montebello, VA, we headed back up the steep trail with full hearts and stomachs (lots of good eating and family time in C'ville did us good). All afternoon, a storm seemed to loom over us as we conquered "The Priest" and descended its neverending downhill. The storm never really showed, though, and we made it safely and dryly to Harpers Creek Shelter.

Day 72
Harpers Creek Shelter to Paul C. Wolfe Shelter (22 miles)

A gray day with lots of stops and starts...to be honest, I'm not bringing to mind anything exciting from this day, but I'm sure it was great at the time!

Day 73
Paul C. Wolfe Shelter to Blackrock Hut (25 miles)

Our longest day yet! For real this time! We entered Shenandoah National Park around mile five of the day, only to realize that we had passed the station where we were supposed to register
and fill out a permit. Zack dropped his pack and ran back the one mile to the register,filled it out, and ran back. So, not to brag about him or anything, but he did a 27-mile day. Look out!

Day 74
Blackrock Hut to Hightop Hut (21.4 miles)

We resupplied early in the day at a camp store in the park. It's been really nice knowing that there are camp stores scattered around where we can get food, so we don't have to carry too many days-worth at a time. A warm day of hiking was topped off by some roadside trail magic (brownies and bananas). After dinner that night, we both still felt hungry, making us come to the frustrating realization that after multiple 20-mile days in a row, we weren't carrying enough food for our appetites. That all was to change...

Day 75
Hightop Hut to Big Meadows Campsite (20.4 miles)

We had our first bear sighting today! Well, there was a black furry flash across the trail (think: the Smoke Monster on "Lost"), and we're pretty sure it was a bear. We decided to experience the side of the park that most people experience, so we stayed at a paid campsite tonight. It was a bit strange to have a perfectly flat site on which to set up our tent, with an enormous bear-box included, and showers nearby. Most people
were camped next to their cars, but, still, we fit in nicely. A leisurely walk along a nature trail to theBig Meadows Wayside led to an enormous dinner. We ate the following desserts: chocolate sundae, blackberry milkshake (a Shenandoah National Park staple), blackberry cobbler and pecan pie (with ice cream on the side of both). We also ordered dinner.

Day 76
Big Meadows Campsite to Pass Mountain Hut (18.8 miles)

Today was the first day that we felt a little peopled-out in the park. So many friendly faces to talk to, but sometimes on the trail you want things to be quiet and peaceful. We remained in good spirits though, and had a mac and cheese dinner with a jolly
turtle.

Day 77
Pass Mountain Hut to Front Royal Terrapin Station Hostel (22.7 miles)

We knew we had a long day ahead of us, and it was going wonderfully until...a huge storm moved in when we were only one mile from the hostel where we planned to stay the night. We tried to get there by nearly running, but we couldn't
outrun the weather. We got drenched, and then - in a surprise twist on a 90-degree day - got hailed on as well! Ultimately, the storm passed quickly, and we arrived at Terrapin Station Hostel, the basement of a former thru-hiker converted into a bunk-house, and got dry and clean.A peaceful night under a roof was just what we needed.

Day 78
Front Royal Terrapin Station Hostel to Dick's Dome Shelter (19 miles)

With so many days doing over-20 miles, a 19-miler seems short! We got into camp by 3:00 and had a wonderful afternoon (naps included). Despite the 30+ youngsters camped nearby, we had a restful night. Though, I shall always remember the insane amount of mashed potatoes I had to eat tonight, when Mr. Z was not feeling well enough to eat his fair share. I mean, I like mashed potatoes and all, but nobody needs nine cups in one sitting...

Day 79
Dick's Dome Shelter to Bear's Den Hostel (18.7 miles)

The "roller coaster" is a 13-mile section with 10 significant climbs and descents, feared and revered by hikers past and present. We knew we had Bear's Den Hostel, a literal castle in the woods, to look forward to at the end of it, so we powered through it. (And, not to sound too cool, but we didn't find the "coaster" too taxing.) Pizza, Ben and Jerry's and a hiker room open 24/7 at Bear's Den made for another wonderful night.

Day 80
Bear's Den Hostel to Harpers Ferry, WV (19.7 miles)

Within the first few miles of the morning we crossed out of Virginia! After 500+ miles in that state, we finally made it to a new state. We also crossed the 1,000-mile mark! It was a joyful morning indeed. We made it to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters in Harpers Ferry, WV and had our official picture taken for the records. The real treat was when Colin and Esther braved the DC traffic to come and pick us up. A Thai take-out dinner back in the big city was just what we needed to adjust to city living for a few days.

Day 81
Washington, DC (0 miles)

Food and friends! Food and friends! It was a beautiful day in the capitol. I met up with Becca, Whittie extraordinaire, and had a great afternoon with her. Colin's parents also invited us over to their house for a delicious homemade dinner. Our errands were also successful...we showed up at the camera store with our supposedly broken camera, and - on cue - it started working again. Yay!

Day 82
Washington, DC to Harpers Ferry, WV (0 miles)

More errands to do today before we leave the spoils of the big city. Two zero days after long miles has made us happy hikers.

As we head back onto the trail tomorrow, we've got lots to look forward to. Many more state crossings (Maryland and Pennsylvania, here we come!), and new boots to break in. We're still loving the hiking life, and are grateful for all of the love and support that surrounds us.

Love to all,
Lara (and Zack)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Another brief hiatus to visit family plops us in Charlottesville, VA for two days this week. After another 5-day stint of big miles and big climbs, we find ourselves plucked off the trail and whisked to Blenheim Vineyards, home to Caroline and Andrew. Pretty sure we're the only thru-hikers in our bunch who've been treated to wine tastings, tours of UVA, and dinners at the outdoor mall. Feeling extremely lucky yet again.

The past few hiking days have been a recoup period for us: temps a little cooler, regaining our pre-beach stamina, etc. We managed to average around 19 miles a day for this outing thanks to a strategy of early rising and getting our big climbs over with in the morning. Overall, we're feeling good and are very much looking forward to hitting the Shenandoahs and (dare I say it) the end of Virginia within the next two weeks. 814.8 miles down!

Here's the day-by-day:

Day 64
Daleville to Bobblets Gap Shelter (18.5 miles)

Fairly normal day--cool and dry--but abnormal for the same reasons. Our hike was easy enough, following the Blue Ridge Parkway (BRP) for a large section, traversing it several times. Had a struggle getting our bear hang up, but it's all comical in retrospect. Met a new friend today named Bruce from Honolulu who told us all about shrimp farming, working for JPMorgan's International Division and lobbying for Common Cause. Everyone's got their story out here.

Day 65
Bobblet's Gap Shelter to Cornelius Creek Shelter (18.6 miles)

We were lucky enough to encounter not one but two instances of Trail Magic today. The first, a cooler left for us on the trail, contained sodas, candy and delicious, home-made zucchini bread. Happily munching our new-found snacks, we decided to postpone our usual morning snack until later in the day. Little did we know, just around the corner from our delayed food break sat Johnny Cash and Flatbread, two past thru-hikers who had brought a veritable cornucopia for all passing hikers into the woods near Jennings Creek. "We'd received so much trail magic during our hikes," said Johnny, "we just had to repay it." And repay it they did. These folks went above and beyond our expectations, making us pancakes on the spot, loading us up with fresh fruit, chocolate, and sodas, and even offering to replace our headlamp batteries. Admittedly, we walked away with upset stomachs. Still worth it.

Day 66
Cornelius Creek Shelter to Johns Hollow Shelter (21.6 miles)

Began the day with a scaling of Apple Orchard Mountain. The summit, at 4,225 ft. is the highest point we'll reach until New Hampshire. The bald-top is home to an airforce radar facility that gives off a serious Dharma Initiative vibe (and, I guess, the views are worth noting too). On the back side of the mountain near Thunder Ridge we braved the Guillotine, a large boulder suspended directly above the trail and, later, crossed the James River via footbridge (the longest foot-traffic only bridge on the AT).

Day 67
Johns Hollow Shelter to Brown Mountain Creek Shelter (18.3)

Steep climb this morning up Bluff Mountain and the Punchbowl, but we tackled it no sweat. It seems the heat wave might be making a comeback, so we're sticking to our early-rise mantra for the next few days. Got into camp around 2:30, so we enjoyed a lazy afternoon dipping in a nearby swimming hole and reading aloud. Evening rain doused the area, but we managed to stay dry thanks to the rain fly.

Day 68
Brown Mountain Creek Shelter to Spy Rock Rd./Charlottesville, VA (19.3)

A foggy morning, the likes of which we haven't seen since Tennessee. Started out the day with a 3,000 foot climb up to a few balds (Cold Mountain, Tar Jacket Ridge) but, alas, they were viewless. It's a strange feeling looking out into the void and knowing that, on a sunny day, you could see for miles and miles. On top of one of the balds, Lara gained cell phone reception for long enough to coordinate our pick-up with Caroline. Excited by the prospect of a family dinner that evening, we bounded over the ridge, making great time. Met cousin Caroline in Montebello, VA around 3:30 and made it to C'ville by 5:00.

Missing you all as we creep closer to the half-way point. Pray for good weather, and drop us a line sometime!

Love,
Zack (and Lara)


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

We're having a heat wave! And what a week it's been. It was not an easy task adjusting back to trail life after a week with family and joyful celebration at the beach (Days 49-53). It didn't help that the temperatures soared, and the mileage was not "easy Virginia," as we had been told. As a result, I have become one big heat rash, and we're both covered in bug bites - these are a few of our favorite things! In spite of some trying times and a minor case of the "Virginia Blues," we are still pushing onward, enjoying the company of our fellow hikers, and seeing some incredible sights.

Here's what's happened since we left the beach!

Day 54
US-52 to Helvey's Mill Shelter (2.3 miles)

The morning after Caroline and Andrew's wedding was a gray and rainy one. We all decided it made it easier to leave such a wonderful place and time with family after such a beautiful wedding. After a long drive to Bland, VA, we said a tearful goodbye to my parents and hiked a short two miles back into the woods. It was the first night since we started hiking that we were the only people at a shelter. This worried us a little bit - have all of our friends gotten so far ahead? Has the trail become a ghost-town? Where is everybody? A strange feeling, but we didn't have it for long.

Day 55
Helvey's Mill Shelter to Dismal Falls (18 miles)

My blister-free days are behind me. After not having developed a single one in 55 days, I took off my shoe tonight to find a doozie. The reason? I got a pedicure at the beach in preparation for the wedding, and it took off all my hard-earned callouses! The price of luxury! The blister didn't slow me down though, and our first day back we did a long, 18-miler to Dismal Falls, which were actual anything but dismal. The waterfalls were not listed as anything spectacular in our guidebook, but we were so glad we checked them out. We also ran into some old and some new trail friends - so happy to see familiar faces, and the peaceful sounds of the nearby waterfalls also helped to soothe us back into trail life.

Day 56
Dismal Falls to Woods Hole Hostel (13 miles)

Originally, we had thought, "If we just spent a week off the trail, we won't need another hostel or town stay for at least a week afterward." Well, that was until we read the description of Woods Hole Hostel in our guidebook as "a little slice of heaven." Sure enough, after a hot but short 12-mile hike, we arrived at the hostel to home-baked goods and friendly people. The hostel was built in the 1980s and has since become a family business, now run by the granddaughter of the original founders. The hostel has its own vegetable garden and bunkhouse; everyday fresh and local meals are made for guests. A communal dinner of delicious homemade bread, pasta and salad with 20 fellow hikers was just what we needed. (Topping it off with the locally made Butter Pecan ice cream didn't hurt either.)

Day 57
Woods Hole Hostel to Campsite (15 miles)

Breakfast at Woods Hole continued to reinforce the idea that we were experiencing "a little slice of heaven." With our tummies full, we headed into the hot day and hiked into the town of Pearisburg, VA. There we got our fill again, this time on Mexican food at La Barranca restaurant, and resupplied at the grocery. Being in town made us so thankful that we hike in the woods and not on pavement; as hot as it is under the trees, it is truly unbearable in towns. So hot! The only remedy (obviously) was a dip cone and a Blizzard at the local DQ before heading back out into the woods. We got a little lost trying to get out of town, but - thanks to our college degrees - we were able to figure it out. We had a very steep, long uphill climb to our campsite, but we made it there before dark. Just after we arrived, a group of 16 from Tallahassee - mostly boy scouts and a church group - showed up too! It was great to see some young people and families on the trail amid the scruffy thru-hikers.

Day 58
Campsite to Bailey's Gap Shelter (19 miles)

We arrived at Bailey's Gap Shelter after slowly making our way up a very steep hill in our last mile of a long, hot day (the longest mile of my life!). Exhausted, we set up camp and heard big thunder rolling in. Sure enough, a huge thunderstorm raged right overhead for over an hour. It was a pretty scary experience. We've had relatively few storms out here, but the ones we have had have been intense. We held up well and were able to sleep through the night in spite of it.

Day 59
Bailey's Gap Shelter to Laurel Creek Shelter (14.5 miles)

A bit shaken by the previous night's storm, we were a bit slow-going this morning. Another enormous climb in the afternoon zapped us of our energy, and we decided to cut our day short at 14.5 miles, rather than pushing on to 21 miles. Thunder threatened all afternoon, but unlike the night before, nothing became of it. Still, we were able to have a much-needed leisurely afternoon at the shelter with some of our friends - Mr. Tree, Jugs, John Stamos, Danish and Gravy.

Day 60
Laurel Creek Shelter to VA 620, Trout Creek (21.3 miles)

Let me tell you, the heat did not let up! We tried to get an earlier start this morning, but even still, by 1:00, the heat was unbearable. We stopped with some of our fellow hikers at Niday Shelter at lunchtime and took a hikers' siesta. I fell asleep on the shelter floor in the shade and couldn't have been happier. By 3:00 we were able to head out again; the clouds had moved in, so the sun's rage had diminished its hold over us. We put in a solid 8 miles after lunch and were able to make up the mileage that we had cut short the day before, arriving in time for an evening around the campfire with friends and their dogs (Luna and Kiwi - these thru-hiking dogs are very hardcore, but we still love Milo and Casey most of all).

Day 61
VA 620, Trout Creek to Catawba Mountain Shelter (15.8 miles)

Great things in store for us today! Within the first 6 miles of hiking, we reached Dragon's Tooth, a huge rock that juts upward out of the top of a mountain. We each scaled the steep monolith and got to the top for our photo-ops, of which we were very proud (don't worry moms, we were very, very careful!). It was a very rocky day of hiking, more boulder-climbing than I like (my short legs, try as they do, have a hard time in these sections). Mid-way through the day, many of our hiker friends were spreading their excitement about the legendary Home Place restaurant in Catawba, VA, a one-mile hitch from an upcoming road crossing. We hadn't planned on going to eat there that day, but we couldn't resist. After hiking 13 miles, we arrived at The Home Place, a beautiful old home restored as an all-you-can-eat soul food restaurant, which attracts people from all around. Even with the vegetarian version (very confusing to our waitress), we had our fill...far more than our fill, actually. The two-mile hike back out was an experiment in stomach-stamina. (Zack's wins; mine loses.) Still, worth it.

Day 62
Catawba Mountain Shelter to US-220, Daleville, VA (17.8 miles)

We woke up before 6:00am today! This is a big deal for us, but as it gets hotter, it will have to become a habit. By 7:00 we got to McAfee Knob, one of the most famous spots on the A.T. A rock juts out over the side of a mountain with "the best view in Virginia," and another amazing photo session. Waking up early also made it possible for us to hike the 18 miles into town before 3:00. Thankfully, there was a great breeze today, which made hiking not only bearable, but quite pleasant! Dinner at the Daleville Pizza Hut, and splitting a pint of ice cream from the BP was the perfect way to chill after a hot week on the trail.

Day 63

Daleville, VA (0 miles)

We decided to relax and take the day off in Daleville. It's not a fancy place, but it's got what we need. Of course, the heat wave has continued to give us a break now that we are no longer hiking (the high today is a perfect 75). It's a gorgeous day, and while we've got a few errands to run, we're mostly planning on cashing in our free-doughnut coupons and sitting by the Howard Johnson Express swimming pool (believe it or not, it's a very happening place).

I can feel our spirits lifting already, as our rashes, blisters and bug bites get a reprieve from the sweaty last few days. In the next week, we'll finish the section of Virginia described as "rugged," and enter the Shenandoah National Park, which is supposed to be absolutely beautiful, and a bit easier on the hiking legs. A lot to look forward to!

Love to all!
Lara (and Zack)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A vacation from our vacation. We cooked our last Knorr Side, broccoli cheddar rice, on the side of the road at the intersection of the Appalachian Trail and U.S. 52. Fourty-eight days and 584 miles after beginning our trek, we'd managed to land at this junction within two hours of our desired rendezvous time. Proud of ourselves for executing our plans so flawlessly, we sat in the shade refusing offers to hitch into town. We had our own, special hitch on the way. And lo, just as anticipated, a shiny black Toyota, filled to the brim and piloted by two smiling, sunglassed figures, pulled up the dusty gravel drive right on time. Lots of hugging ensued. For a brief moment, our on-trail lives and off-trail lives converged. We took pictures, walked a few yards of the trail. Then we dashed for the air conditioning. (For those of you born after 1987: why is it that whenever I try to be pithy in a blog post I sound like I'm writing a xanga entry about how much I love the lineup on TGIF?)

Anywho. The Goodriches were kind enough to meet us near Bland, VA (real name, I promise) and whisk us away to Duck, NC where Caroline Goodrich and Andrew Ornee are getting married (if either of you are reading this post after the wedding, congrats guys!). We're honored to be here to share in the celebration and grateful to have a beach vacation within our mountain vacation. I guess it's kinda like this.

We'll be spending days 49-55 visiting, eating chocolate frogs and fizzing whizzbees (thanks Mom and Dani), and washing everything we own. Looking forward to a rejuvenating respite. Despite the change of scenery and the easier terrain, many hikers suffer from the "Virginia blues" during this portion of the trail. We're feeling lucky to have 100+ miles of the state under our belts and a chance to refocus after this week off. When we return, we'll be carrying less weight (bye-bye winter gear) and hopefully rejoining some of our friends who we'd gotten ahead of.

By far the biggest highlight of the past week was our day and a half in the Grayson Highlands. If you live in south-central Virginia and haven't had the chance to visit this state park, please add it to your "must list." Imagine you're on the set of The Sound
of Music, add in a few dozen feral ponies and you'll have it.

Here's what we've done since Damascus:

Day 41
Damascus, VA to Lost Mountain Shelter (15.8 miles)

Sure feels good to be back on the trail. We love our off days but start to get antsy after too long. Ate some vegan jerky with lunch today that was absolutely delicious--really hit the spot.

Day 42
Lost Mountain Shelter to Thomas Knob Shelter (12.2 miles)

Dramatic weather! Last night at Lost Mountain was particularly serene and this morning was no different. As we set off to climb White Top and Mt. Rodgers, we were backed by birds chirping beneath blue skies. Soon, however, the sky began to turn hazy, then gray. Exasperated, we tried to hurry to the shelter, but it was out of reach. Buckets of water and tiny bits of hail drenched us to the bone. Within minutes the trail became a river. Mountain weather, you are fickle! Post-storm, however, the landscape opened up into something akin to the Swiss Alps. A stranger shouted, "Dudes! There's like 10 wild ponies over here!," a
lerting us to the presence of a great photo op. We spent the night (and weathered another storm) safe under the tin roof of Thomas Knob Shelter with some snoring firemen and some loquacious day-hikers. Oh, and in case you're keeping tabs or planning a hike yourself, Thomas Knob is up there in the Top 5 shelters with amazing views.
Day 43
Thomas Knob Shelter to Hurricane Mountain Shelter (16 miles)

A perfect day. The trail was even-tempered and well-graded. The skies were forgiving (save a bit off noontime heat), and the natural world was full of light. We ran into our second group of ponies right off the bat, and they were eager to interact with us. One licked, then nipped Lara's leg, but it was all in good fun. We found a glorious spot for lunch--a single, shady tree amidst miles of mountain grasslands near the 500-mile mark. One of our favorite days yet.


Day 44
Hurricane Mountain Shelter to Partnership Shelter (19.7 miles)

After an uneventful 19.7 mile hike we arrived at Partnership Shelter, adjacent to the Mount Rogers Recreation Area headquarters. Called "the Taj" by thru-hikers, this shelter has a built in shower and acts as nearby phone from which you can order pizza. We dug the place, but weren't fans of how crowded it was.

Day 45
Partnership Shelter to Davis Path Campsite (14.3 miles)

After 11 miles in the morning, we decided to stop in at "The Barn" restaurant for lunch near Atkins, VA where the trail crosses I-81. Our waitress, Carol, revealed at the end of our meal that she was a three-time thru-hiker and encouraged us to stay and wait out the oncoming thunderstorm. We took our sweet time, resupplying at the nearby Exxon station, drinking coffee and chatting with other hikers. Hours passed, but no rain fell. Sure enough, though, just as we decided to take a chance and leave, ominously dark clouds rolled in. We turned right back around, sat back down in the restaurant and waited out the downpour. Made it to camp during a window long enough to set up our tent and stay dry.

Day 46
Davis Path Campsite to Knot Maul Branch Shelter (11.3 miles)

This day may go down as one of our hardest, even though it was technically on the easy end. We had planned an 11.3 mile day--kids' stuff compared to what we've done by now. Unfortunately, we underestimated our reliance on our morning coffee and were feeling sluggish without it. (Zack felt doubly lethargic after getting a worrisome bug bite and deciding to take a Benadryl at 9:00 in the morning.) Our short days always seem to feel the longest. Maybe it was just the week catching up with us, but we crashed as soon as we arrived in camp. The day was not without enjoyment, however. An especially outgoing bunny visited us several times as we ate dinner. It was obvious he'd been fed by other hikers. Mixed feelings about that, but happy to have a cute critter around nonetheless.

Day 47
Knot Maul Branch Shelter to Jenkins Shelter (19 miles)

Climbed a big'un to the top of Chestnut Knob this morning, where we had lunch in an
old fire warden's cabin. An afternoon that looked tame on the elevation map turned out to be nothing close to easy, and we wiggled our way over rocks and gnarly roots. Thankful to have have a hiking partner on these hot Virginia days. Encouragement is where it's at.

Day 48
Jenkins Shelter to U.S. 21/52 (11.7 miles)

Left camp at 7:00 this morning and flew to our meet-up spot. Dinner in Chapel Hill--delicious pizza and salad. Craig and Andie G. even let me drive (an honest thrill after 7 weeks of traveling no faster than 3.5 miles an hour). Looking forward to a week's worth of sleeping in a real bed.

Love you guys,
Zack (and Lara)

PS - We finally added little pictures to the previous blog post, so check them out! (Also, Lara wants you to know it's OK if you don't get the "xanga" reference. She doesn't either.)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

We walked to Virginia! Yesterday morning we crossed the Tennessee-Virginia border and have made our way to Damascus, "the friendliest town on the trail."
It's been quite a week since Asheville, with many ups-and-downs, figurative and literal. We did two 22+ mile days, and we trudged through rain and cold, but we are very grateful for the last two days of sunshine, and for a full "zero" today in Damascus.

Here's what we've been up to:

Day 32
Erwin, TN to Curley Maple Shelter (4.2 miles)
After a great time in Asheville, we headed back to the trail. As we drove, heavy gray clouds moved in, and we learned that the forecast showed five days of rain ahead of us. We decided to press on nevertheless, and had a pleasant and short hike to a shelter just outside of Erwin. Just after we arrived, the downpour started and didn't let up all night. We were happy there was room in the shelter, and that our good friends, Avo and H.I.P., had also braved the elements.

Day 33
Curley Maple Shelter to Clyde Smith Shelter (22 miles)

Our longest day yet (until later in the week)! Phew. The weather was not fun (to put it nicely). We trudged through pouring rain and slogged up slippery slopes, but we made it the whole 22 miles. Once we got to the shelter, a heavy fog moved in, and the night turned cold, but thankfully we were able to stay warm and relatively dry in the shelter.

Day 34
Clyde Smith Shelter to Overmountain Shelter (14.4 miles)

Oh, the wind and the rain! We climbed Roan Mountain, one of the highest points on the A.T. and the coldest part of the trail in the South, year-round. (We were very thankful this week to have our cold weather gear with us; some of our friends had already sent theirs home, thinking that the multiple 80-degree days we had had last week meant that the warmth was here to stay...not so fast...) We also climbed over many balds, from which the guidebook tells us there are many great views, but we were lost in a cloud of white and couldn't see anything. We made it to Overmountain Shelter (an enormous, old barn converted into a shelter in 1986) for another cold, drafty night.

Day 35
Overmountain Shelter to Mountaineer Shelter (18 miles)

And the rain kept coming! Today was the day of "mud-skating." The trail was muddy the whole way, and almost all of our clothes were soaked from the previous days of rain. I was so eager to get to the shelter by the end of the day, that we pretty much ran there for the last hour. Staying warmtook some effort, but we were able to salvage one pair of dry-ish items each and get some sleep.

Day 36
Mountaineer Shelter to Dennis Cove [Kincora Hostel] (15.6 miles)
The thought of dry clothes must have motivated us down the mountain today, because we made it to Kincora Hostel fast. Though it wasn't actually raining, the trail was still muddy, and the air was still cold. We arrived at Kincora, a unique, low-key hostel with two bunk-rooms and a kitchen, supported by "a suggested donation of $4 per hiker." We washed our clothes and dried off; it was so nice to be in a heated room! And then...they brought us free food! (A hiker's best friend is free food.) They had tons of leftovers from the weekend, when they hosted an annual event called Hard Core, where volunteers meet at Kincora and go out and do trail work along the A.T. They said the food "had to go," so we worked hard at that task for a while (salad, pasta, ice cream, soup - yum!).

Day 37
Dennis Cove [Kincora Hostel] to Vandeventer Shelter (17.5 miles)

After a big and luxurious breakfast of fresh fruit and cereal, we headed back out into the woods. First thing, we walked by Laurel Falls, a beautiful and enormous waterfall. It felt great to be hiking in weather that was not cold or rainy. The sun even made an appearance! We arrived at Vandeventer Shelter in time for dinner and a nice chat with some older thru-hikers. Given the favorable weather conditions, we were even able to set up the tent for the first time in a week!

Day 38
Vandeventer Shelter to Abington Gap Shelter (22.7 miles)

Our longest day yet (for real this time)! We woke up early to watch the sunrise from Vandeventer Shelter. We were above the clouds, so even though it wasn't clear enough to see the sun actually rise, we did get some great views. We headed out early, as we had a long day ahead of us. One thing we have learned on the A.T. is that "flat" terrain is never flat. Indeed, our "flat" day turned out to have lots of hills and climbs, but we did it, and the day was gorgeous. It makes such a difference to hike in nice weather.

Day 39
Abingdon Gap Shelter to Damascus, VA (10.2 miles)

Yesterday morning, we woke up early and headed out of camp, eager to get to town. We made great time, and crossed the state-line around 10:00am. Such a great feeling to know that we've walked from Georgia - through North Carolina and Tennessee - to Virginia! At this point we're almost a quarter of the way done with the trail (we hit the 500-mile mark next week).

Day 40
Damascus, VA (ZERO miles)

Today we plan on relaxing and relaxing. After receiving an awesome mail drop from home and from Zack's Colby friends, Colin and Esther, we stuffed ourselves yesterday with sweet treats. (In fact, we were so full that we had no room for dinner - crazy talk!) Today we're hoping to do less gorging, but still more eating (of the fruit and vegetable variety this time). We're sitting at Mojoe's Trailside Coffeehouse eating breakfast and sipping coffee, and we've gotten a few recommendations for good veggie burgers in town, so that's where you can find us.

We'll be in Damascus until tomorrow morning, and in the meantime, we're looking forward to giving our legs the break they deserve.

Love,
Lara (and Zack)

Friday, May 13, 2011

We're in Asheville, NC! Home of the Biltmore estate, the best beer in the country (it's official--sorry Portland) and, most importantly, the Plaehn Family! Helen, Tim, Martha, Patrick, Flannery, and Henry have been kind enough to welcome our smelly selves into their abode for a shower, laundry and a good night's sleep. We like 'em! We also like Asheville, from the very little we've seen. About half the people here look like thru-hikers anyways, so the last few hours have been an easy transition for us. We were even able to do our resupply at a natural foods store. High fives for whole grain, organic toaster pastries and vegetarian chicken noodle soup!

A blogs-worth of stuff has happened to us lately. Today happens to be our one month "hike-a-versary!" Hard to believe we've already been on the trail for 31 days. Since the last post we crossed the 300 mile mark, located near a bald called--no joke--Big Butt. We also weathered a double thunderstorm in our tent, summitted Big Bald and hiked our first 21-mile day.

Here's the day by day:

Day 26
Zero in Hot Springs, NC (0 miles-yes!)

Pretty strange to take a full day off, but our bodies definitely appreciated the rest. Hot Springs, and the Sunnybank Inn in particular, was the perfect place to kick back. After a lazy morning and a big breakfast, we decided to enter into an untold realm of relaxation by taking a dip in the mineral pools at the Hot Springs Spa. All told, the "pools" were just jacuzzi tubs with the warm spring water pumped in. The view of the French Broad River was great, however, and the atmosphere was very peaceful. After an hour of soaking we felt pretty darn soothed, if not straight up loopy. Topped off the day with a big ice cream cone and dinner with friends.

Day 27
Hot Springs, NC to Spring Mountain Shelter (11 miles)

Excellent vegetarian breakfast prepared by Elmer and the staff at Sunnybank to send us on our way: waffles, granola, strawberries, cantaloupe, coffee, soy milk, jams, syrup, etc. One more stop at the library before leaving town. Short, but uphill day today to make sure our legs could readjust after zeroing.

Day 28
Spring Mountain Shelter to Jerry Cabin (15 miles)

Hard day today, both physically and emotionally. Our mileage was moderate to hard, 15 miles, but the grade was straight up for a large portion of the morning and afternoon. Something about the way the incline and the heat/humidity combined had us dragging our leaden feet. Hoping for a flat, easy 5 miles to end the day, but--surprise!--encountered a long stretch of ridge-line bouldering instead (easier for Zack, who has long legs, than for Lara, who has shorter legs). Had a few hours of peace at camp, but were kept awake all night by some of the most intense thunderstorms we've encountered yet. Constant lightning, sheets of rain, and rolling thunder kept us awake nearly all night. Fortunately, our tent held up, keeping us bone dry (well done, REI!). Oh, and we also had two encounters with two large snakes - yikes!

Day 29
Jerry Cabin to Hogback Ridge Shelter (15 miles)

Dreary-eyed, we emerged from our sleeping bags around 9:00 and decided to give ourselves a rest-filled morning at camp. Coffee and homemade breakfast breads definitely helped. Comparatively easy terrain made for a pleasant day of hiking, and we were able to camp with our friends Avo and H.I.P. for the third consecutive night in a row. Many thru-hikers have temporarily left the trail to attend Trail Days in Damascus, VA, so the trail has been quiet.

Day 30
Hogback Ridge Shelter to No Business Knob Shelter (20.7 miles(!!))

Our biggest day yet, and a beautiful one to boot. Conquered Big Bald, which, true it's name, was big...and bald. Outstanding views, and very few bothersome bugs at the top. Started feeling mentally drained around mile 15, but were able to push through thanks to a 10 minute 'focus break' and some nice chatter with H.I.P. during the last 2 or 3 miles. Spent the night at No Business Knob where we met Cimarron, an 88-year old solo thru-hiker. He's hiking the trail for the second time, about 50 years after the first. What an inspiration.

That's all for now!

Zack (and Lara)