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!

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 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!