Day #21-How our Father answers prayer: Miles hiked: 17.1

Today was my first day without a friend from Vanderbilt by my side (besides the first few days which pure excitement carried me through), and I was honestly a little apprehensive about it when I got dropped off this morning. All sorts of questions from whether I want to join a tramily (close knit family of hikers) or not to whether I’m even doing remotely close to what I’m supposed to in this role swirled through my head.

Thankfully, it’s pretty easy to talk to Father when you’re walking through the woods and that’s what I did-and my how fast did He answer! I’ve been restless feeling that I haven’t been able to make deep connections with other hikers yet and I got to spend 5 miles talking to not one but two others today-what an encouragement when I left this morning afraid of being alone.

As for the views, here’s the ominous mist from the Culver Gap fire tower this morning that actually turned into a beautiful day.I also hit High Point, the highest point in NJ, today where I picked up that magical bug net. I was all out of energy to take the side trail to the tower that was already closed for stair-climbing, but here’s a picture from the distance. Even though it means I’ll have a lot of miles to crank out tomorrow, I chose to stay at Mosey’s Place Hostel per Trigger’s recommendations tonight and am very happy with that decision. In addition to the last laundry/shower for at least a week, Mosey and the other hiker here, Cookie Monster, have been a joy to talk to and learn about. We have been feeding a baby bunny (not pictured) that Mosey took into her garage-he’s so cute!

Day #20-An electrifying 4th of July; Miles hiked: 14.9

Today, like many days on the trail, had a rough start with a happy ending. For starters, the mosquitoes at our campsite last night were the worst I’ve ever experienced…I ended up sleeping in rain pants/jacket, a hat, and socks during a heat wave and they still bit the only exposed skin I had-between my fingers! Thank you to the Trail Blazers who sponsored the bug net heading my way soon.

After we got moving, we did pass a beautiful bog/pond with thousands of lily pads.As the day marched on, we were surrounded several times by some pretty electrifying thunderstorms with lightning way too close for comfort. For those of you who don’t know, lightning is my biggest fear on the AT. Humming How Great Thou Art for sure…However, after the storms I got to be rescued once again and spent a lovely evening at my friends lake house. Reminds me of all of my summers at home. Starting tomorrow, I am officially a fully solo hiker. I will miss the comfort of being around people I already know, but I’m looking forward to having more freedom to bounce between groups of hikers. Please pray for the Lord to bring those He wants me to minister to into my path (and keep me from breaking myself on these slippery rocks!).

Day #19-Goodbye PA, hello NJ; Miles hiked: 13.5

After another luxurious stay at the Shaykevich residence, today was my first day of walking in New Jersey.

I was lucky enough to meet up with a friend from Vandy who was kind enough to allow me to drag her a few miles down the trail in her home state-thanks Ashley!

First up today was one of the seven wonders of New Jersey (did you know there were 7 wonders in NJ?), Sunfish Lake.After discovering that the rocks weren’t all left behind in PA, we found a pile of them on top of a grassy ridge.Midafternoon, we found all the hikers at the Mohican Outdoor Center, an AMC operation with smoothies and milkshakes and fresh water-thank goodness, because it was hot today! Final attraction of the day was a real treat-a fire tower manned and in full operation! We got to learn the ins and outs of being a lookout from a guy who has dedicated his whole life to keeping the region safe.I met two other flip floppers today-one who just started from Delaware Water Gap. Please pray for hikers to link up with me in mileage goals so that I can start building some deeper relationships.

Day #18-Peace out Pennsylvania; Miles hiked: 20.2

Today was Pennsylvania’s grand finale and she held nothing back. I honestly wonder if there are forest elves paid to put rocks on the trail overnight.

As the heat wave wears on, we started walking at 6:22 am to beat the heat, but it was already pushing 80. Hikers pass power lines quite a bit…here are some with a good view. Also, for anyone interested, I have a little over 900 miles to go until the end of the flip and the beginning of the flop. Today was another day with dry springs and no water for over 13 miles, but the trail angels had our back with roadside refills.Final attractions of the day included a beautiful rhododendron tunnel in full bloom (reminded me of my summer at my beloved UMC camp, Camp Wesley Woods) and reaching Delaware Water Gap and the PA/NJ border.That’s a wrap, PA!

Day #17-Who turned up the heat?; Miles hiked: 15.6

Today it was back to the trail for the final push through Pennsylvania. Thank you to the Shaykevich family for the shuttles and especially to Rachel for the backseat entertainment. First up this morning was a rock scramble up to the Superfund ridge, a deforested zone due to some pretty reckless metal manufacturing.A big issue in today’s heat wave (heat index was over 100) was not having any water sources for over 15 miles. However, the trail (really the Lord) provided and there were two trail magic setups at mile 5 where we could get critical water.

The day was otherwise uneventful save trying to hang a bear bag that just wouldn’t come down. Just found yet another use for trekking poles!The campsite we found tonight is pretty buggy but my amazing trail boss, Trigger, has a bug net on its way for my tarp-my own little bug-free zone! Gearing up for the last day of Rocksylvania-only 20 more miles to go.

Day #16-Nothing to report; Miles hiked: 0.0

Today was another zero day to let my legs/feet recover from Rocksylvania. Tripod and I were lucky enough to get picked up by his parents and spent a very relaxing day inside. Back to the trail for the last and the worst of the rocks. Stay tuned!

Day#15-Wow, two weeks in!; Miles hiked: 17.8

Today marks my two week trailversary and I can safely say I feel so much better than this time last week. My trail legs aren’t fully formed yet but they’re definitely on the way and this way of life is actually starting to feel normal (I couldn’t remember what day it was today and woke up naturally at 5 if that’s a sign). My feet still hurt and I am still humbled by how far I have to go, but I think I’ve gotten past the “what the heck have I gotten myself into” shock wave. I’m sure it will resurface eventually…

Anyhow, I guess I owe everyone some more pictures of rocks:This part of the trail is called the knife’s edge and that’s exactly what it was like to walk across (or rather scramble across). The early start this morning also meant being the first to arrive at not one, but two trail magic setups. Thank you trail angels! Also thanks to my Vietnamese friend Half Slow for the strawberry milk and taste of Da Nang this morning-never would have thought I’d be eating durian on the AT.

This afternoon I also ran into my first wild blueberry bush and just had to indulge. The final excitement of the day came when Mama Shaykevich rescued us and took us to visit the Lady in Green…Frappuccino never tasted so good!

Day #14-Rocks rock; Miles hiked: 16.5

There was more rain predicted today, but somehow we escaped with only a few showers that really just cooled us off. Amazing how fast hiking gear can dry in the sunlight!

Past Port Clinton is where the rocks really kick in and we felt every step, but rocks do lead to rocky outcrops and views–below is the Pulpit and the Pinnacle.This afternoon I was able to spend some more quality time with the hikers I’ve met in the past few days at Eckeville Shelter. People are generally much more apt to chat when it’s not pouring rain, myself included. We’ve settled in for the night at Allentown shelter with the most adventurous dude I’ve ever met-he both teaches high school math and does high-altitude mountaineering…you can choose which you think is more brave, but I’d say it’s a tie.

Day #13-No rain, no pain, no Maine (probably not the last post with this title); Miles hiked: 14.7

Today was my Appalachian Trail baptism–the first day I was so soaked from head to toe that my skin felt like it was starting to peel off. Hey, the AT is in a temperate rainforest climate after all!

I’ve found over my years of backpacking that making light of the rain goes a long ways towards making miles pass less painfully. Exhibit 1: pretending to be a T-Rex in Jurassic Park fog all morning.I eventually arrived in the small town of Port Clinton and was desperate for a place to get out of the rain while I waited for the Cabela’s van to get me. I figured that as a tax-paying US citizen I couldn’t technically get kicked off of the US Post Office steps during business hours. After several hours of drying out/charging/washing socks in the sink (this is what we call being hiker trash) in the world’s largest outfitter (7 acres under roof!), it was back to the trail with an amazing trail angel named Eddie. Check out his 9 year old daughter’s website www.goalexandriago.com as she prepares to thru hike next season!I bid thee a very soggy goodnight…

Day #12-Walking the rocky road; Miles hiked: 19.2

If I had a dollar for every rock that I stepped on today, I would no longer need to take out loans for medical school next year.

Pennsylvania is legendary for being “Rocksylvania,” and until today I thought everyone was just whining about a few pebbles. My battered feet and legs tell me otherwise.

Nevertheless there are upsides to every day on the AT. Check out this shelter! It’s close enough to the road that you can even get pizza delivered!Today I also passed mile 1200 for my NOBO friends. The lingo for flip floppers like me is now BOBO, or “both bound.”Paul teaches in Philippians 2 not to complain about anything, but here’s what hikers look like at mile 17 on rocks. Thankfully, we did arrive at our shelter for the night where I’ve met a really interesting guy named Gnome. He is finishing a hike he started in 2015 that was cut short because of norovirus-a personal fear of mine as well.