Day #25-Bears and mountains; Miles hiked: 20.5

As far as trail days go, today was pretty eventful. This morning I started walking early to catch up to my friends after staying with Half Slow. First up was the Lemon Squeezer, a very narrow section of trail that a hiker/pack can barely fit through. I went to resupply while I was hungry yesterday, which meant I accidentally bought way too much food and payed the price in extra weight today. However, I eventually made it up to Fingerboard Mountain where I ran into these two bucks.On top of the ridges in this section, you can see New York City only 40 miles in the distance.

Today’s main attraction was Bear Mountain, a popular tourist spot with a road and a perfectly manicured trail to the top.I also saw my first bear of the AT at the zoo that the trail passes through. Yes, a real live zoo. The fun was nowhere near over as there was also a public pool next to the zoo with free admission for hikers-what a blast it was to go swimming in chlorinated water. I’m calling it a shower! On my way back to the woods, I crossed the Hudson River-will be going to NYC with some other hikers in just a few days!Relationships are forming quickly–can’t wait to see what’s to come.

Day #24-Double vortex well spent; Miles hiked: 10.1

When I woke up at Wildcat Mtn shelter this morning, I had plans to hike 19.6 miles. That obviously didn’t happen, but I can’t complain!

First off, I ran back into Killjoy, one of the other single girls hiking in my bubble right now. We had a grand time filtering water out of a puddle until we got to the first road where the locals had cached some jugs-New York is dry, but the locals rock!Eventually lunch rolled around and 7 other hikers shows up and started talking about going into town. Running low on food, I couldn’t resist the temptation and illegally hitched with three others to Walmart (you can get ticketed in NY, so we waved instead of sticking out thumbs). Once at Walmart, we got plenty of stares pushing packs around.After the resupply, what hikers call the vortex kicked in (insatiable desire to stay in one place, especially when that place has chargers and running water) at Wendy’s.

When I did finally get dropped off at the trail, I planned to hike 5 more miles but only accomplished .5 before I met Half Slow again, my favorite Vietnamese friend. The second vortex quickly kicked in and I spent the rest of the evening doctoring his blisters and learning more about his story.I’m camped in the parking lot next to his RV with big miles to walk tomorrow, but it was a day well spent!

Day #23-Hello New York; Miles hiked: 12.3 (+2 if you ask me)

Today began with the last leg of my march to the post office. I left camp with what I thought would be plenty of time to get down to Greenwood Lake by 11, but encountered some unexpected terrain that put me racing to the window at 11:57 before the noon closing. Let’s just say the residents of Greenwood Lake had the pleasure of watching a hiker sprint through their streets (with a pack of course).

I did get my packages and rewarded my efforts with a cheeseburger.While I couldn’t stop for long due to my postal commitments, I also crossed the NY/NJ border (pictured below) this morning and caught a glimpse of the NYC skyline-kind of amazing to be in the wilderness but still see one of the world’s largest cities.Cranking out such big miles so fast on still somewhat young trail legs left me pretty tired, so I spent the better part of the afternoon talking to people and eating ice cream at Bellville Farms Creamery–it’s obviously a popular spot!I’m hoping for rejuvenated legs in the morning because New York is beautiful so far!

Day #22-Midnight march to the post office; Miles hiked: 22.6

Wow, today was full of surprises. For starters, it’s pretty easy to lose track of the days out here and after taking a really slow morning/waiting out the rain at Mosey’s, I realized that it was Friday and I had exactly 24 hours to cover 33 miles before the post office in the next town closed. Off to the races!With the day halfway over already, I had to go as fast as I could to make up the miles, but passed some of New Jersey’s beautiful wetland areas.This boardwalk is a very popular photograph that people take on the AT, and I had no idea I would be passing it today-how cool! Anyway, I was making remarkably good time and was almost going to make it to the shelter before dark (a miracle considering how many miles I had to crank out) when the Lord intervened with other plans.

I climbed a rocky mountain and came across another hiker who had injured himself on the climb up and decided to go ahead and cook my dinner with him at the overlook since the sun was setting. We got to talking and had a fantastic conversation about life and faith. I was able to connect him with some local trail contacts (he thinks he’ll be fine by morning) just in case. Here’s the sunset we enjoyed together:The sun went down after my delay, but I quickly ran into another hiker who I got to chat with all the way to the shelter 4 miles away-we got to see some pretty amazing stars and twinkling fireflies. The day I thought would be a death march (and it seemed it at first) turned out to be one of my favorite trail days yet!

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!