Friday, September 24, 2010

This Is It

Dear Appalachian Trail,

These past four months have been something else, huh? One minute I was working at a church, and the next I was on a train to find you in West Virginia. I am impulsive, and I didn't really know what I was flinging myself into. But I got lucky! And now my rose-tinted infatuation has grown into honest love and commitment. I'm crazy about you in the most sane, respectful way.

I adore your mossy mountains and turtle-filled lakes. I sing your storms and morning glory. Your fellow travelers have restored my faith in human generosity and karma and hope, and it's all because of you. My mom said I get "lovey eyes" whenever I talk about you, and I know it's true. I think of the fire towers and sleeping bags and bonfires...

Thank you for the chance to love so expansively. It hurt, all that stretching of my heart and self, but I am grateful for it. Now though, I have to continue on. The winter is on its way, and college loans are piling up. I don't make many promises, but I will be back.

With Love,

To all my advocates, friends, and family-
Thanks for following my hike.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The White Mountains

Excuse this post, I am only checking in.

I am alive.
My knees are scraped up.
I have successfully navigated 80 mph winds ontop treacherous ridgelines.
I am chronically tired.
I've slept on floors and tables and benches.
I've washed dishes, swept floors, and told stories in exchange for breakfasts, lunches, and dinners.
I've danced on euphoric mountain tops.
I only want to be here right now. But, when I finish, I will be ready to sit in a kitchen until I'm 90.
I am learning so much my head whirls to think about it.
Yes, I am ALIVE!

Also, I just completed Mahoousuc Notch. The Thru-Hiker's Companion describes the Notch:
"Famous for ice found in deep crevices throughout the year. Many find this scramble under, around, and between the boulders the most difficult mile on the Trail."
For three hours, I inched my way through the craziest mile of the A.T. I've never rock climbed before, but I met several hard-core climbers who drove hours out to the Notch for a weekend excursion. Yes. Mahoosuc Notch? Check. Completed.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

"Beetle" and N.P.

Once two dearest friends decided to climb a mountain together. One of them had brawn and the other had bravery. Between the two of them, they could do anything.

They met up on a rainy Sunday. A sign at the base of the mountain said it was 2.9 miles to the top. In 2.9 miles they would be 4000 feet up in the clouds. These two friends knew they could do anything, but they also knew this mountain would be an enormous challenge.

They set off. They clambered over rocks and roots. They heaved their packs over boulders and weaved between the trees. They pushed their bodies up and up and up. And all the while, rain drizzled down. The rain slickened the rocks and softened the moss, like a sugar glaze. The gray light intensified the green life around them and heightened the sense of awe inside them. Clouds were level with their heads and came speeding towards, through, and past their bodies. They understood they were very little and the world is very big.

After a mile or so, they reached a clearing. The wind ripped across the clearing, knocking over anything that dared to traverse the exposed ridgeline. They struggled to stay upright, but several times they sunk down to the ground to clutch the earth. The wind's force frightened them. All the trees looked like they were driving in a convertible with their hair blowing behind them. The northern wind forces the tree trunks to tilt south and the tree branches to grow only on the southern side. The friends became tired, then mopey and depressed, then hysterical. Then they became feirce and determined. And then, on their very last legs, they reached the hut.

Inside the hut (a solar and wind powered cabin), they met "Bisquits" and "Gravy". "Bisquits" was a compassionate activist, and "Gravy" was a straight-faced comedian. Combined, they made delicious company. So the four hikers talked and laughed loudly that night, and they were sad to separate in the morning. But such is the traveling life. It's all only a sample, and a traveler must be satisfied with that much.

So the two friends, the two heroines by this point, packed up and saddled their packs (their packs saddled them), and they set off back down the mountain. Hiking down a mountain is as intense as hiking up, it's just different. They needed many rest breaks and many dark chocolate m&ms. When they rested, they would keep their packs on, because it took too much energy to muster them off and on again. So they'd just roll backwards onto them and lean on them like a reclining back rest. Towards the end of the journey down, the brave friend got stuck belly up, held down by the pack. A large group of children and parents walked past while the brave one was fighting with her pack. Someone said she looked like a beetle. And there it was, Becca's trail name, "Beetle".

"Beetle" and I made it back to town. We found a coffee shop with a couch, and we moved in. The rest of the day we spent reading, writing, and eating pastries on the couch. We camped out another night at a local campground, and early the next morning set off on a bus to "Beetle"'s house in Boston.

We compiled a "To Do List" for the rest of the week:
Do yoga
Bake cookies
Go to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston
See "Eat. Pray. Love."
Take naps

We accomplished everything.

I had a wonderful stay with "Beetle"'s family, and I particularly enjoyed their kitchen. I can earnestly say of all the things I miss, most of all, I miss kitchens. I miss the warm spaces revolving around sharing food and conversation. If I get my way, my future house will be mostly a kitchen.

Then on Friday, I called home and was shocked to hear my cousin Lydia was in labor. Her delivery was sooner than had been expected. I impulsively booked a ticket for that day (luckily they were on sale), and flew into the Milwaukee airport that night. I visited Lydia, her home companion Matt, and their new baby, John Lambert Doyle in the hospital yesterday and at their condo today. I head back to the trail the day after tomorrow, hesitant to leave my cozy, happy home (and its great kitchen), but also looking forward to this coming month.

With Joy,

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mail Drops

Lincoln, NH 03251 August 20
Andover, ME 04216 September 5

(Let me know if you have mailed anything to Rangley, I will forward it to Stratton)

Julia Tyler
General Delivery
Stratton, Me 04982
Please hold for AT hiker ETA 9/19/10

Wednesday, August 11, 2010


Rutland, Vermont. Calvin "Big Bunny" and I find each other in the one room airport. We make a scene laughing and hugging. We regress back to our teenage selves. He starts making fun of me. I pretend to beat him up. People start staring at us. We leave.

First night out: Young math teacher at shelter wonders at our loud happiness as we make dinner. He asks if we are dehydrated. We ask if he ever gets crazy. He fumbles with words for awhile, then says, yes, absolutely.
That night, "Big Bunny" and I stealth camp in a very unstealthy location, right next to the trail.

Second evening out: We get ice cream at Gifford Woods State Park. A ranger teases us that we are crazy, and asks if we are dehydrated. We rebuttle, and yes, she also gets crazy sometimes. Then, we stealth camp again, in an equally unstealthy site a few miles from the campground.

Third day out: "Big Bunny" and I reach top of mountain, as the sky opens up and lightning shoots down. I flop onto the ground, as if to avoid the bolt. "Big Bunny" laughs at me, drops pack, rips off sweaty shirt, beats chest, and hollers out to the sky. We are literally on top of the world. We can see miles in all directions, and we can see the hefty, grey clouds racing towards us. My lips are tingly. Lightning strikes closer, I scream and break into a run down the other side of the mountain. My brother laughs more. I ask him, I beg him, to please come down this 4@*j!z mountain right now, because we're going to die. Resistantly, he follows me down into the pine forests.

Rain, like you can't imagine, starts pouring down. It's not individual droplets of rain. It's like a lake is emptying onto our heads. I start laughing hysterically. The weather is comically bad. "Big Bunny" gets sullen. He reminds himself he'll be on the beaches of Southern France in three days. I apologize on behalf of the rain. Many miles later, we drag ourselves into the next shelter. We have to cram seven of us into the six person shelter.

"Big Bunny" sleeps next to "Croft" (Lara). "Croft" snores raucously and sleep talks when she isn't snoring. We listen to many sensible conversations that night, ranging from cell phone reception and bills to logistical planning and issues that are "not [her] responsibility". "Big Bunny" eventually hunts around in the dark for Benedryl to knock himself out.

The next morning is understandably difficult, but as the day warms up and dries out, our spirits brighten. We walk through foggy woods, mist rising from the night's rain. We see thousands of spider webs glistening from the moisture in the air. We see bright red lizards, and big fat toads, and an unbelievable variety of mushrooms. "Big Bunny" says this forest is magical. He takes off his shoes and hikes the last six miles barefoot.

We cross the river into Hanover. I cheer, waving my trekking poles like a lunatic, thrilled to be in New Hampshire. The big, bad White Mountains are on my horizon, and Maine waits just beyond.

I am ending in Maine this year for several reasons. Primarily, I am tired. This is hard. I have exhausted all my reserves, physically and emotionally. I still have 441.8 miles left to Mt. Katahdin. That is a lot. I have mixed feelings about it all, but I do intend to complete, to feel, and to be further transformed by these next 441.8 miles.

I wanted to do something difficult for the sake of difficulty (thank you, Rilke), and I am doing it. Life willing, I will be walking, with a 30 lbs. pack up and down mountains nearly 1200 miles. And some day, I may hike the other 1000 miles. But no promises.

My well wishes to all of you, and to the challenges and paths you all are walking.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Same Structure

Just in case you are worried I am "emaciated," the word both Emily D and Becca used, fear not. I am exactly the same weight, exactly, as I was two months ago. My body's much stronger and my legs are much hairier, but really I look the same.

I do eat more, like a lot more. They say hikers use about 6,000 calories a day. That roughly translates to: Pre-breakfast, Breakfast, Second Breakfast, Lunch, Ice Cream/Cookies, Snack, Dinner, Dessert. Good thing I LOVE food.

On the trail, I'm usually eating:
pita bread
ramen noodles
black bean soup
clif bars
vegetarian chili
split pea soup
and an assortment of Mountain House freeze-dried dinners

I also carry spices--cinnamon, salt, pepper, oregano, curry powder, turmeric--in little plastic button bags. Even with spices though, trail food gets boring. Thus, combinations of the above items (ramen noodle-oatmeal, hummus-tuna) provide interesting, if questionable variety.

Anyway, food is well and good, and my body is healthy and happy, and for that, I can't be grateful enough.


Me and "Shake Down"

I don't know what made "Shake Down" ever want to hike with me again. After our crazy week in NJ, only a trail addict would come join me again. The second night of our week together in NJ, we didn't make it to the shelter I had foolishly imagined we could reach in one day. So, as night rolled in, we decided to set up camp on top of Rattlesnake Mountain. The only water sources we passed were dried up mosquito pits, meaning we had to camp without water. Our little tent sat on top the rocky bald peak of the mountain. When a thunderstorm rolled in around midnight, we could only laugh, loudly and fearfully. We could not have picked a more vulnerable campsite.

We survived the night, and we made it into a town the next day to rest and recover. Unfortunately, the Forest Motel was not what we envisioned. The "manager" picked us up from the trail. She was old, her back seat was filled, totally filled, with toilet paper, paper towel, and tissues. She said she was homeless. Nobody loved her except her cats. And her cats were dying. A doctor had stabbed her with a needle in her 50s, and when she tried to sue him for the damage he caused, the doctors, the lawyers, the government, her whole family, turned against her. Now she was 70, constantly in pain, and alone. We tipped her generously, and then rushed into our room. We almost began talking about mental health issues, before we realized she was in the room next to ours and could definitely hear our conversation. Instead, we talked loudly about what a great place the Forest Motel is. I felt exhausted.

The motel reminded me of "Fargo." The bed head-board was a plain 2x4 nailed to the wall. A few fading and wrinkly posters were screwed into the wall, just in case somebody tried to steal them. The place smelled like a nursing home. Mirrors were everywhere. They were positioned in bizarre places in our room. They were outside on the motel and surrounding buildings, on the trees, on the rusty swing set near the parking lot. It was very, very creepy.

Our luck changed, thankfully, for dinner. Across the street, a 5 star authentic Italian restaurant allowed us grungy hikers to dine. The spectacular food and wine restored us, and recharged us for our re-entry onto the A.T. We slept deep and hit the trail early the next morning.

In light of that crazy NJ week, I don't know why "Shake Down" would ever leave her house again, but she ventured out with me again, a third time, totaling about 94 miles this year!

"Shake Down" and I reached Bennington, VT last night. We both fell in love with it. Bennington is a funky and wholesome town. The posters and business cards in the South Street Cafe advertise yoga, massage, folk concerts, bluegrass jam sessions, "Center Yourself" pottery classes, and dog classes.

Bennington knows second-hand clothing stores are better than first-hand. Bennington houses have porches and rocking chairs. Bennington has carrots, broccoli, and squash in Mexican burritos. Bennington doesn't answer cell phones. Bennington doesn't like facebook, or computers in general.

When I think of Bennington, I will remember the car I saw on main street today: a yellow VW Bug painted with flames like a Hot Rod. It's quirky and artful.

Now, I'm off again, to Rutland, VT to meet my brother Calvin! I hope to run into "Split Pea" aka "Teen Wolf" aka "The Prince" in the hostel there (a friend from NJ), and to see Emily H in Hanover, NH sometime after that. In the words of "Stambler" (a fellow Steady Ambler), "This trail keeps washing me off and filling me back up."
Thank you, A.T.