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.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

CT and now MA

Connecticut was thick with tall pine trees. The scent of pine was so strong I hoped it would stick to my clothes and work as deodorant. The red pine needles on the forest floor gave me a bounce in my steps. In these woods, morning sun rays streak through the pine trees, and as the wind blows, the trees' shadows on the ground look like a kaleidoscope turning.

My incredible family came and hiked with me for a week through these forests. I savored every second with them, on and off the trail. But now that they're gone, I only miss them more. I miss Mom's ecstasy over a clean pair of socks. ("New socks?! I feel like a new person!!") I miss Will imitating Mom imitating a thru-hiker (head down, hunched over, bobbing up and down, big steps). I even miss Will and Ellen laughing about farts late into the night. Every night. (Their trail names are appropriately "Lard Butt" and Butt Face" respectively. They politely used each others' names at every opportunity). I miss Dad and his punny humor and and his steady, congenial presence. My dear family! Come back! Luckily, wonderfully, my brother Calvin is joining me for some time before he heads back to Germany this fall.

Anna C came out too! and "Shake Down"! "Shake Down" may insist she's not thru-hiker material, but she's joining me again in a few days, so we'll see...
Their company was like water on a hot day. I had missed the company of people who already know and love me. People who have to love me! People who know good food and make a scene about good food like I do. People who take smirking pictures like I do. (Anna, did you SEE that photo of us?) People who give me hugs and back massages. They say you need 10 hugs a day, so I had been short on hugs for nearly two months!

One of my favorite moments with the family was on the second day. We were short on water and the few stagnant streams we did pass, were not drinkable even if filtered. We decided to push on a few more miles to the next clean water source. Only minutes later, we encountered Trail Magic. A thru-hiker from 2007 left us clean water, cookies, and watermelon with a note saying "Trail Magic."

Trail Magic may sound campy or hokey, like the trail names, but before you judge, I challenge you to come out here and sweat and stink. Then you can decide how you feel about Trail Magic. Plus, once you hear a few burly, bearded men praising Trail Magic, it may sound cooler to you, as it is.

After our dose of Trail Magic, Mom, "Mama Bear", had the generous idea to give back to the trail. I'd grown used to being the needy recipient, so it hadn't crossed my mind that I could be, instead, a Trail Angel. A few days later, we brought plums, Oreos, and water to a road crossing on the trail. We felt positively Great about ourselves. I'd like to do that more often. Maybe I could live somewhere near the A.T., like the Cookie Lady I passed yesterday. The Cookie Lady makes about 1500 cookies during the summer months when hikers pass by and stop in to her house. I met the Cookie Man and told him he was a lucky guy. He agreed.

Since they've left, I've entered into MA. The first person I encountered in MA was a man on a motorcycle who drove past me at a road which crossed the trail. He was cranking "Cecilia, you're breaking my heart!" I got the feeling MA was going to be a good state.

Other than these darned mosquitoes, I've been right.

Earlier this week, I decided to take a day off from hiking, and work at Moon in the Pond Farm in exchange for quality organic food, a shower, and a place to pitch my tent. The farm reminded me of the movie "Babe" or E.B. White's "Charlotte's Web". Animals were everywhere. Geese, ducks, chickens and turkeys wandered around like they owned the place. The roosters tried attacking me and the farm intern, Matt, a bright eyed, high school sage. I also met Bri and Josh, two earthy and earnest farm apprentices, who are committed to their garden beyond reason. Josh dreams of the weeds growing in his sleep, and Bri will fight any fight to help her vegetables grow. I admired all three of them.

I could've gotten sucked into staying longer on their farm with their company, but I am committed to my hike. I've got to travel on. And with each day Northbound, the mountains get steeper, the trees get taller, and the views get more breath-taking.

On one mountain top view, the song "America the Beautiful" rose up in me. It's easy to become cynical, what with all the heart-breaking injuries to Earth, like oil spills and mountain top removal, but this hike is making me fall back in love with the United States. We have spectacular beauty here. I am overcome with gratitude for the people who have protected areas of the U.S. like the Appalachian Trail.

"O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain."

On the A.T., I've walked through the amber waves John Steinbeck describes. I've walked over purple and blue mountains. I've stared up at the spacious skies. At night, that sky has made me aware we are hurtling along at a crazy speed, in a lonely universe, and I've clung to the ground as though I'm on a roller coaster.

And actually, this journey has been very much like a roller coaster. The ups and downs come faster and harder than I could have imagined. And I'm hanging on as best I can.

With Love,

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Next Mail Drops

I plan to be in Dalton, MA 01226 on July 21 and Killington, VT 05751 on August 5.

Hanover, NH 03755 ETA August 10

Please send any letters General Delivery as previously directed. LOVE, N.P.

Friday, July 16, 2010

But Why?

People always ask.

Why would you CHOOSE to carry a 30 lbs pack in the woods, alone, for days and days, with bears and strangers and “just add water” food, without a roof or a shower?

Sometimes I answer this by talking about the inspirations behind this trip. There was the summer I worked at Tree House Adventure Camp (and lived in a tree house all summer). There were the epic family vacations canoeing in Canada and hiking in the national parks. There have been the Macalester College Outing Club trips every spring break. This last year we were backpacking in the Smokey Mountains, NC, in unexpected snow. One night, we didn’t reach the shelter as planned, and ended up pitching a 4 person tent on the side of a snowy mountain in the dark. All eight of us smooshed into the tent and then prayed all night we wouldn’t slide down the mountain. It was sometime during this trip that I knew I wanted to hike the A.T.

I think the most accurate answer to this “why” question is actually, simply, because it feels good. My body loves the smooth and steady exercises, and my brain does too. The birds are my alarm and the sun my clock. I wake up around 5:30, break camp around 6:30, hike until it’s too hot, around noon. Then I take a long lunch break or siesta until 2:00. Here I’ll take off my shoes and socks (that’s essential), I’ll read for awhile, see how far I’ve gone that morning, and then see how far it is to the next shelter or camp site. Once I’m rested, I hike until I get there. I make dinner, set up my tent and my sleeping bag, brush my teeth with my toothbrush (which has half its handle cut off to reduce space), put on my one clean shirt, and crawl into my tent just as the night settles in. This outline is very flexible, but it provides me enough structure to keep my body and my brain moving steadily along, healthy and happy.

This trail is my element. I sleep deeper than ever before. I wake up more alive than ever before. I eat food more reverent than ever before. I jump into more rivers and meet more interesting people than I have anywhere else.

Becca sent this poem to me by Mary Oliver entitled “Wild Geese.” It has been The Poem of my hike.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting --
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

So that’s why.
Thanks for your love and support everyone,

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Odd New York Town

For 40 days and 40 nights there was no rain (practically). The springs dried up. The wild blueberries and blackberries shrivelled up. The hikers got crabby. N.P. went to into Peekskill, NY to find airconditioning.

There she bought a vanilla milkshake. A 400 lb man asked her to describe drinking it in detail because he was on a diet and still needed a vicarious milkshake. A Jehova's Witness talked to her in a coffee shop about yoga and then God. A "sister" told her to call her mother, NOW, and then gave her pamphlets on Pentecostalism.

Then N.P. went into a cosmetology school for an 8$ hair cut and a 9$ pedicure. She was terribly excited because her poor feet hurt after 400 miles, and she hadn't cut her hair since October. She instantly regretted the hair cut, as per usual. The pedicure was worse. She had thought her feet were quite pretty until Luigi began touching them. She'd never met someone who disliked feet as much as Luigi, a scrawny teenage boy who was allegedly a cosmetologist in training.

N.P. left the town confused and very ready to get back in the woods.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

5 Weeks Out

I spent this last week with Anna F ("Shake Down") in New Jersey. Anna's going to send me some words about it all, since I have little internet access and I'm setting off on the trail again in 20 minutes. On the whole, we've decided hiking the A.T. is very like pioneering the Wild West. More to follow.

Next mailing stop:
Salisbury, CT 06068
ETA: July 12
(send General Delivery)


Friday, July 2, 2010

Short Story

I was at the base of Blue Mountain, sitting on my pack, map spread out on the trail, deciding whether to turn back and walk half a mile back for water at a shelter I missed, or go forward and hope for some water source.

"Lefty," a bulky, tattooed, twenty-something hiker, came up to me on the trail. He stutter-stepped a bit, looking like he needed to talk. I blandly asked how it was going. He breathed out really big, pulled off his pack, and sat down on it facing me. I didn't really know him, we'd only exchanged names the day before, so I was surprised. We began what was effectively a Clearness Committee (a Quaker discernment practice).

"Lefty" had met a local Port Clinton girl. He had fallen in love. Should he turn around and go get her? Or should he finish the trail and then go back to her?
He wanted to complete the trail.
But this was the girl of his dreams.
But he had already hiked hundreds of miles.
But then again, she had sparkly eyes.
But he'd respect himself more if he finished the trail.
But she liked him too.

The pros and cons went on.

I didn't know him, so I didn't have a strong opinion, but I got wrapped up in this decision process anyway. I was thrilled to witness a critical, highly charged moment in someone's life. Finally, he decided he'd keep going, then come back and marry her immediately afterward.

I gave him my well wishes, and then turned back to go get water. It was a painful hike South because I could've used that energy to get one more mile down North. Hikers agree each mile off the trail is psychologically exhausting. Each step backwards was heavy. It was like slow-motion hiking with a 80 lbs pack. I made it to the water, exhausted beyond reason, and ended up taking a two hour break reading Walden. Eventually, I set off again.

100 paces from where I had run into "Lefty" earlier, I saw him again. I began laughing. He smiled sheepishly and hugely.

He said he climbed up to the very top of Blue Mountain, and physically could not take one more step. He knew what he wanted (Ashley), and he didn't care anymore if he was "being a girl," he was going back to be with her.

Again, I teased him about it, he liked being teased, and simultaneously, whole-heartedly supported his decision. He reminded me of the Thistle Weeds growing in the Steinbeckian tall grasses out here: fuchsia flowers that are prickery on the outside, but soft as a bunny's tail in the middle.

Thanks "Lefty".

Monday, June 21, 2010

General Facts

A.T. length: 2,178 miles (though this depends on who you ask)

65% are "Northbounders" or "NoBos" hiking Georgia to Maine.
10% are "SoBos."
5% are "Flip-floppers" who complete the trail in one trip, but with an alternate itinerary.
20% are "Section-hikers" who complete the trail in more than one trip. [Timothy Denherder Thomas, who graciously lent me his maps, is hiking the A.T. this style.]
562 people celebrated completion of the trail last year (in all manner of hiking approaches).
Then, there are "yo-yos," people who hike the whole thing one way, get to the end, and go back.
Think that's crazy?
Two girls hiked the whole thing barefoot.
And, one blind man is hiking this year, making a documentary of his trip.

To beat all this though, the first man I met fresh off the train station in Harper's Ferry is "Baltimore Jack." He's thru-hiked the A.T. 7 years in a row. You've got to wonder.

I've noticed thru-hikers think about, talk about, dream about food, all the time. A pbj is awesome on top of a mountain, but not 30 days in a row. Ramen, tuna, beans, get boring. Hikers play all sorts of tricks to spice up their food--for instance, I'm carrying button bags of salt, pepper, oregano, cumin, and cinnamon--but there's simply no kitchen. Basically, hiking food is good ideas of food processed and put in a bag. Case in point: I had cheesecake for breakfast yesterday. Sounds good, right? But freeze-dried anything is just never going to be all that appetizing.

The most popular A.T. hiker foods:
1. peanutbutter
2. raisins
3. Snickers
4. beef jerky

One fellow hiker I met today, Jeff, directed me to his blog. I quote his most recent entry:
"Ah yes. Snickers. THE food of thru hikers. Most likely, one would be hard pressed to find a thru that does not know the nutrition facts of a Snickers bar by heart. (Since you’re wondering: 280 calories, 130 from fat, 4g protein, 14g total fat, 5g sat fat, 140 mg Sodium…)

This magical bar out-shines most energy bars in terms of straight up calories per ounce. AND they are an excellent entertainment source. Mars, Incorporated has developed a series of terms relating to snickers and their goodness in order to better market their product; terms such as substantialicious (noun: The weight of something when you weigh it with your tongue.). I, of course, know these by heart. I strive to use them in my everyday speech. Word-of-the dayers I suggest you add these to your repertoire."

He's right. Even I, in my one month of hiking, know about the grandeur of a Snickers.

Also, a word about my pesco-vegetarian status...
I've rocked beans, nuts, legumes, and fish for 9.5 years. However, the Giardia episode seemed to reset my whole digestive system, and all I wanted was a BLT. So, three days ago, I ordered one. And it was perfect. (I admit I half-expected it was going to start talking to me, though.) I don't think I'll go on a carnivorous rampage--though who knows--but I think we should eat what our bodies ask for. Hence, bacon?

Ok, that's all for now

Great Company, Rough Conditions

Well, no more Giardia jokes.

I couldn't have been much sicker and lived. I guarantee you that you don't want to know the details, but I will say this: purify your water. As romantic as it sounds to drink water straight from a mountain's spring, it's simply not safe. Last week, I stumbled into Port Clinton, dehydrated, starved, vomiting, *cough,* 10 lbs lighter, and my vision swirling.

I'm not sure I know the words to express my experience of receiving letters that day. I sat outside on the cement steps of the little post office jamming chocolate in my face, greedily opening letters and the box of food I had prepared for myself before I left. My family had spruced up the box with letters and chocolate and almonds and Walden. It was better than Christmas.

I carried everything back to the Port Clinton Hotel, up to a tiny room above the bar. I took off my shoes, surrounded myself with these treasures, ate more chocolate, and fell asleep. And I slept. Boy, did I sleep. When I woke, I read everything again. Finally I emerged and went across the street to explore the candy store. (There's no grocery store in town, just a candy shop, barber, and bar/"hotel".) The place is floor to ceiling, candy. An old woman runs the place, and I thought she'd enjoy her work, but she was like the witch in Hansel and Gretel. Turns out she doesn't even like candy. I asked, and she said she only likes spaghetti. I'm serious. Just spaghetti. When I get old, if I only like spaghetti, I don't want people questioning me about it, so I didn't push the issue. I just bought more chocolate, since it seemed to be helping with the Giardia, and then scurried out along my way.

The following day, I tentatively set out again. My own condition had improved, but Pennsylvania's terrain, begrudgingly known as "Rockslyvania," had not. The rocky trail waits hoping to twist, sprain or break hikers. It is the land where shoes go to die. There are some bouldering sections, such as "The Knife Edge" yesterday, where choice words are uttered. Some sections, I have to sit down and slide along slowly. Some sections, I sit down and just say "No." I'm not sure to whom. We hikers all wonder whose bad idea it was to run the trail through these miles of raggedy boulders.

Fortunately, I've met Charlie/ "Ramblin Rick," a retired Georgian. He has a charm all his own, and I've greatly enjoyed his companionship. We became friends when I sat down at a shelter across from him and said, "I'm interested in your stove," which was a hole-punched a tuna fish can. We got to talking and then kept bumping into each other over the next few days. Now, a week later, we have a fun rapport, and I'll miss him when he gets off the trail this weekend.

The other memorable hiker I've befriended is "Pop". He had been hiking with "Snap" and "Crackle", but then stayed on an extra week while Kristin R met up with me. The three of us had a great adventure, but I stopped feeling well halfway through that week. Pop helped me get to the hospital when Giardia had taken over, and then took heart-breakingly good care of me as I waited for the antibiotics to kick in. He bought me yogurt and probiotics, and he told me funny jokes and stories as I was shaking with fever. Heck, he even did my laundry! A perfect stranger took care of me the way my grandparents take care of each other. It still seems unreal. What are the chances I'd meet someone like Pop as I grew sick? I don't know, but I'm grateful for these magical coincidences. I feel I need to pass these gifts, love and generosity, on.

Whew. Let me finish with today: BEAR! and HITCH HIKE! Two scary things in two hours. So now I'm wiped out and looking forward to holing up with Thoreau for the rest of the day. I'm staying in the basement of the city borough hall, free for A.T. hikers, across the road from this practically one-room library. I'm meeting up with Anna F in Delaware Water Gap in a few days, and hope to be in Unionville, NJ by July 1. If you'd like to mail me, please address to:

Julia Tyler
General Delivery
Unionville, NJ 10988
Please Hold for Thru-Hiker ETA: July 1

Again, thank you for your letters. I adore them. Especially because I am alone most days, your words have heightened importance and love in my eyes.

Happy Summer Solstice!


Monday, June 7, 2010

First 10 days

have been terrific! I am truly living my dream. I am gleeful even when I am smelly, tired, being eaten by mosquitoes, whatever. The novelty "I am hiking the Appalachian Trail... I am still hiking the Appalachian Trail.... Woah, I am on the friggin Appalachian Trail..." has not worn off.

In West Virgina I met a young man thru-hiker named Sonic. I wish I could hike 33 mile days with him just for his cheery company--he's a regular BFG (Big Friendly Giant)--but I can't. I'm pleased if I hike 12-15 miles in a day at this point. Sonic hopes to reach Mt. Katahdin in Maine on his one year anniversary of being sober. He has been through a lot, and this journey is part of his rehabilitation process. I respect him a great deal. He knows things I never will.

I'll remember Maryland as one gigantic wedding, or celebration of all weddings ever performed. Miles and miles of Laurel flowers, white blossomy puffs, grace the A.T. and as luck would have it, are in their full glory this week. Walking through it, especially alone, is dreamy. There's no other word for it. Dewy, translucent spiderwebs span the trail in the mornings and stick to my arms and legs and face as I push through them. I saw a hummingbird and a coyote close up; I walked two feet away from a tiny fawn that sunk into the grass to hide rather than run away from me; I talked to a turtle on the trail whose vivacious, neon orange body startled me from under its dreary gray shell; I gasped four times for each of the snakes I've seen.

Now, I'm here in Pennsylvania. I have officially accepted the name "N.P." (for "No Promises"), named by a gentleman known as "Little Brown." It came about because so many people asked if I was thru-hiking, and eventually my curt reply was "No promises." Little Brown laughed and said, "Hey, N.P." And that was that. Better than the alternatives. For example, some older woman said, "You should be Sunshine. You are such a Sunshine." Let me remind you, I am a Solo Woman hiker. I may as well be named Bambi. For a little while, I was tempted to go by "Smelly Feet" or "Giardia" (the nasty contaminated water disease), as an attempt to ward off unwanted interest. But you are supposed to be named by someone else, and N.P. is probably the best name for me anyway.

At this point, June 201o, the A.T. is the only place I want to be. I am at the infamous Doyle Hotel (an old, old, crumby hostel popular among A.T. hikers for its cheapness and proximity). I am showered, laundered, fortified by beautiful letters, and stocked up with groceries for this next week. How could I ask for more?

Thank you again for the wonderful letters and for all your love.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Regarding safety

I'm not used to being afraid, certainly not of people. I can talk to anyone, anytime (as you all can testify), but I guess all the scary "woman alone" stories were getting to me yesterday. I've never had as nervous and distrusting a day. It felt awful.

But then I ran into Alex and Nicole in the Chicago Amtrak station, two absurdly cute newlyweds returning from their honeymoon. Nicole showed me her ring, in between their passionate smooching and their effusive "I love you" mantras. It was rather unbelievable. Their cuteness was absurd. According to Alex, Nicole has "blessed genetics" and according to Nicole, she has a blushing problem.

I felt a lot better.

Plus, then I talked to Becca, my amazing, kick ass, outrageously cool, soul friend, who has taught young girls self-defense. I asked for some general instructions. Here's what I learned/remembered:
#1 I will listen to my gut. It is smarter than me.
#2 I will walk like a panther.
#3 I will put distance in between me and questionable people at the risk of being cold.
#4 I will not smile and convince myself everything's ok, when it is not.
#5 I will raise my voice if need be. The closer the creeper, the louder I'll be.
#6 I will make me a strong, protective shell.

Last night on the train, in my sleeping bag, I felt like I was in a giant, rocking cradle. I watched an orange moon rise, and woke up later to see it dropping behind the pine tree line. Tonight, my first night camping alone on the AT, the moon will be full. I'm taking this as a good omen; I'll have the moon's light as my nitelite tonight.

I am still in disbelief, but I am here, and now I'm off!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Mailing instructions

A solo woman thru hiker from last year told me I will absolutely need letters and love from friends and family on the trail. (A thru hiker is someone who walks the whole shebang in one year, which I may or may not become.) She said that because thru hiking is a largely solitary experience, the reminders of love from far away are positively divine.

If you want to mail me,
before June 5:
address it to

Julia Tyler
General Delivery
Duncannon, PA
ATTN: Please Hold for AT Thru-Hiker ETA June 5

before June 12:
(same except)
Port Clinton, PA
ETA June 12

I'm not sure how many other stops I'll have yet, but I'll update when I do know.

Much love,

Finally made a blog

I'm guessing it's difficult for everybody to begin a blog. What do you want to know?

I am leaving in 2 days and will begin hiking north from Harper's Ferry, WV in 3.
I am past the romance phase, now I am only anxious to begin.
I am sick of camping gear and map planning.
I can't decide which books to bring.
I don't want to hear about any more abductions, hypothermia cases, bears, creepy men, etc. documented on the A.T.
I did like Bill Bryson's book though.
I am aware that my hopes for this hike are too high.
The longer I am home here with people I love, the lonelier I feel about these coming months.
I am armed with pepper spray, a pocket knife, and Rainer Maria Rilke.