About the Author:
Hi ladies. I did it! Took me 5 years from 2014-2019 but I completed my goal of all 229.2ish AT miles in the great, rocky, state of PA. In August 2016 I promised myself I would finish the miles in one year after making a lot of progress in 2015 (including my first backpacking trip on the AT), but life brought me other responsibilities. The trail has been a constant in the last decade. Hiking has been a constant all my life.
I was inspired to start on PA when in 2014 my dad asked if I wanted to join him as he nailed down the miles from the NJ state line to Wind Gap, in two day hikes. My dad has always been the instigator for hiking the AT. He has an orange AT guide from 1986, the year I was born, and yeah he has tried to use it on our hikes from the 2010s HAH. That section hike in Fall 2014 was when I first came to appreciate the narrow ridges of PA. I could see east and west, north and south, the rocks had vultures chilling on them, the trees were thin. It was a beautiful two days of hiking with my youngest brother and Dad. Turned out, they became my most frequent hiking buddies.
My sister and I ticked off Rte. 309- Eckville next in May 2015, making a side loop up and around Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, a favorite hiking destination in our family. She taught me a lot about managing expectations and taking fickle weather in stride since she worked in Outward Bound and had that experience already. I asked her to take me on my first backpacking trip. She and I grew closer on the AT there near Hawk Mountain, processing some things from our childhood as we waited under trees for the frequent down pours of rain to stop. I had to rent a car to get to the trail as I didn’t own one. We met two guys who said they felt like the biggest weenies on the trail, we took pictures with them because they shared our novice status, being out for 2 days when thru-hikers who had been hiking on rocks in the rain for days were hastily passing us by. Later that year in July I attempted another backpacking trip in the White freaking Mountains with my cousin Alice, we bailed after 2 nights at Imp Shelter, having been stuck in 40*F weather, hail, rain, and wind. We were not prepared and it was a lesson that kicked my ego down a great deal. I became comfortable hiking in the rain.
I started therapy again in 2015, and realized my relationship with my job at the nonprofit I loved was too toxic. I cared too much about something that didn’t care about me at all. I left that job and started a new one in January 2016; the work I did inwardly, caused me to progress on my career and health goals. Everything fell into place after that time period, life felt easier. I was more confident about doing Life alone, and the AT is a big part of my life. I solo-sectioned the miles from Rte. 309 to Bake Oven Knob road on a day hike the next year in August 2016 as a training hike – I wanted to start solo backpacking. I camped at a State Park to test my gear, drove south to the trail. I took to heart the lessons I learned in 2015, though I tried to start early, I miscalculated my driving distance and started later than I wanted. I set a turnaround time since I had no sleeping gear with me, and stuck to it, I didn’t try to finish something I knew I would not. I returned to Rte. 309 in February 2017, and connected the miles I had attempted in August 2016 from Rte. 309. The AT will teach you whether you are accountable to yourself or not. April 2017 I solo-backpacked from a blue blaze one mile from Eckville shelter to Port Clinton, the infamous trip where I forgot my hiking socks and got the worst blisters of my life after hiking in basically thin everyday socks. But I did it. That trip was really cool, I made a lot of decisions about my route, changed up my second day plans, went off the AT down into a valley in between the ridges the AT walks along between Hawk Mountain and Hamburg. I felt confident.
My friend Melissa Davis, who introduced me to the Appalachian Trail Women’s Group on Facebook and our sister group All Women All Trails, accompanied me on another backpacking weekend July 4 from the Superfund site/Lehigh Gap to Wind Gap, and just like that a section was done. I met Melissa at my new job, sometime in 2017. I experienced some amazing trail magic, waking up on the second day craving hot food, and walking two miles to see a tent with people frying bacon and making pancakes. We cached water on this section because of how dry it was, and these trail angels took our extra water for other hikers coming through. Pay it forward when on the AT.
I closed the miles between Bake Oven Knob and Lehigh Gap with my brother and Dad, had a really fun hike, my knees were hurting on the downhill but it was beautiful, one of my fav sections in PA (Rte. 309 – Lehigh Gap). At that point I was about 80 miles into PA and my overconfidence took over, I thought I could finish it all in one year. I was ready, I had the gear and experience.
Life had other plans, and later in 2017 while camping with my family in NC for a family reunion, I sprained my ankle while chasing my brother in wet grass. Goofing off. It swelled up really big, but got better the next day and I thought I was fine.
Because I overestimated my ability in my ankle I went for a section hike in SNP, I backpacked with my sister again from Rte. 72/Swatara Gap to Rte. 183, and then I went for another backpacking trip with my brother and dad from Rte. 183 to Port Clinton and bam. That weekend was really frustrating for me; I was in the worst mental shape I had ever been on the trail. I knew my ankle was messed up, I couldn’t keep my balance on the slick rocks, I was carrying the least weight as my gear choices kept getting more efficient. All I could think was “what have I done to my ankle.” I went to an orthopedic specialist, got x-rayed, no breaks, started physical therapy. I stopped hiking that November 2017 and didn’t start up again until around January 2018 on local trails. I stopped blaming myself for my mistake of overdoing my injury and starting tuning in more. I’ve always coached myself mentally on the trails, and forgot that even off trail, you have to coach yourself to keep making the right choices, to try something different when the normal isn’t working anymore. Change your shoes, change your gait, change your trails, change your training regime.
Boy let me tell you, 2018 was eventful and I took every opportunity I could to hike! I moved back to Delaware, fell back in love with local trails that I link for miles of ups and downs, stream and road crossings. I summited Katahdin with my dad and youngest brother, and completed the 14 miles of AT in Baxter State Park, ME. I said goodbye to my maternal grandmother with my family, at a cove out on Acadia National Park, Bar Harbor.
I planned to finish PA in one go after coming back from Maine, to go from PenMar Park in MD to Rte. 72, Solo, then that changed because of my PTO allotment to PenMar to Peters Mountain overpass — I made it as far as Rte. 11 in Carlisle before I came off trail due to heat indices in the 100s, but that was SO fun. So hard. I had to just keep walking. Five days of hiking, with my biggest day being about 16ish miles from Quarry Gap Shelters to the hostel in Pine Grove Furnace SP. Fuller Lake is restorative. I sent myself my first resupply box and had an amazing brunch in Boiling Springs, followed by an amazing lunch at the café across the stream from the AT conservancy offices.
My sis joined me again in March 2019 to pick up where we left off, we hiked from Clarks Ferry Valley Rd NOBO to Rte. 72, that was my coldest night ever on the AT in PA, and I put a 20* bag plus 4+R Value sleeping pad on my wish list for 2019 (got ’em, by the way). I got Clarks Ferry to Duncannon done in October, again with two day hikes with my dad and brother, mostly because I was leery of how close the trail is to roads and towns in that area, I felt the same way about the section between Rte. 11 and Duncannon.
Saturday 12/14/19 I finished the section between Rte. 11 and Duncannon, 16.7 miles in 45*F temps, constant rain, my dad decided last minute to come with me and we crossed those two mountain ridges (Cove and Blue), then valley walked to our victory. I think my dad was expecting me to cry, and I did get choked up about a mile from the finish, but where I really felt the emotion was right before lunch. My lefts were cramping from the cold, my feet were cramping off and on, I was tired, and I was thinking “What am I doing out here, I can’t do 16.7 miles plus all this up and down, in the rain”. We met this dude Wolfman at Darlington, who obviously has been living in the area for the last 3 or so years, I suspect I have read about him on this forum, in AWAT, on some trail journals and that’s when I knew I was fine. I was at a shelter, I wasn’t backpacking, I was going to finish today, and sleep in my own bed, I just kept thinking, in 4 hours I will be warm and dry, in 3 hours I will be warm and dry. I didn’t complain, I tried to keep our spirits up. I cried walking behind my dad thinking of how lucky I was to have a person in my life like him, so genuinely supportive, and someone who deeply loved the AT as much as I. He was having fun, I was having fun, and I was aware that when my dad is no longer able to walk in front of me on these hikes, I will miss that time and those quiet slogs through fields, muds, rock fields.
When he and I are long gone, the AT will still be there and there will be other people reflecting on their personal growth, their aches, the barriers that block their trail. In fact I read about you daily, in the magical Facebook group. I hope you keep hiking as long as you want to!