Backpacking and Hiking Trips

I’m baaaaack! It’s been a long 10 years since my last Colorado adventure. Since then I lost over 6 years of my life to a severe illness, spent 2 years recovering thanks to the Gerson Therapy, and then moved to Colorado last year. This was my first big adventure in the backcountry since moving to 9,000 ft of elevation in CO. The altitude sickness that I always struggled with in the past, being from PA, would not be an issue.

The Maroon Bells Four Pass loop is a 26 mile high altitude loop trail just southwest of Aspen, CO. It starts at 9,500 ft and takes you over four mountain passes, all just shy of 12,500 ft with a total elevation gain of almost 8,000 ft. It features alpine lakes, lush forests, exposed, rocky climbs, and the most amazing views ever. It’s also very active bear country and requires a bear canister and permit to hike. I hiked it mid August with my two dogs – CJ, a Pomeranian, and Everest, a big baby Husky.

Four Pass Loop from AllTrails app

Day 1: 8 miles
I headed out of the house with my sidekick pups at 5am for a 3 hour drive to Aspen, CO and boarded an 8:45am shuttle to the trailhead (parking at the trailhead is very hard to come by and requires a reservation made months in advance). After wading through the hundred or so tourists that had already arrived but never ventured further than the first couple miles of trail, we were on our way…uphill for hours on rocks.

It was a beautiful, sunny day with little chance of thunderstorms so we leisurely made our way up and over the 12,500 Buckskin pass, down into the next valley, and halfway up the next pass, arriving at Snowmass Lake, where we set up camp for our first night on the trail, by 5pm. There were a ton of great spots around the lake and not a whole lot of good camping before or after Snowmass lake so the place got packed. Which meant zero privacy. A number of guys caught me watering the bushes over the next 12 hours and I caught them watering trees. But in typical hiker community fashion, we were all respectful and looked away.

I got myself and the dogs fed, coordinated where we’d be stashing our bear canisters for the night with the neighbors and I turned in at hiker midnight (7pm) and read for a while before falling asleep to the chatter of the neighboring groups still audible through earplugs.

Maroon Bells - named because they're maroon and are bell-shaped

View from Buckskin Pass

View from Buckskin Pass

The trail down from Buckskin Pass

Everest chilling at the campsite

Snowmass Lake

Snowmass Lake from above

Day 2: 7 miles
Storms were in the the forecast so it was an early start. Up at the crack of dawn at 5:45am, feed the dogs, pack up, and on the trail by 7am. The goal for the day was to do the 1,000 ft climb up and over the 12,500 ft Trail Rider Pass and down into the next valley before the storms hit. I don’t screw around with lightning above treeline.

We hiked hard (1 mile per hour up the steep pass with waning oxygen in the air) and the rain held. By 1:30pm we made it over Trail Rider Pass, down into the next valley, and halfway up the next pass before rain started threatening. I set up the tent and cooked lunch in a drizzle. Then all hell broke loose and it rained, thundered, and lightninged for the next 3 hours. The dogs and I dozed in and out until the storm arrived squarely in the gulch where we were camped. There were 3 memorable lightning bolt strikes too close for comfort with simultaneous ear splitting thunder claps. It was a tense 15 minutes where I watched the fur on Everest for any hint of it standing on end – an indication that the energy is building for a lightning strike RIGHT THERE and a sign to RUN LIKE HELL! His fur stayed down and we went back to snoozing the afternoon away.

The rain let up at 6pm and I made us supper. The dogs picked at their food for the second day. I added some olive oil and butter and they still weren’t interested. They were stressed. The rain started up and it was back into the tent for reading and watching downloaded videos on my phone, then bed at 9pm.

View from the top of Trail Rider Pass

View from the top of Trail Rider Pass

View from the top of Trail Rider Pass

View from the top of Trail Rider Pass

Reaching treeline below Trail Rider Pass

Trail junction

Waterfall from the valley

A knee deep river that required taking my shoes off and carrying CJ - the only time CJ was carried

Day 3: 11 miles
Storms were forecast again. And today there were two 12,500 mountain passes to get over before they hit. The goal was 5 miles. That would take us to the first existing campsite after the second pass, although still above treeline. Little did I know what the day would hold.

We started off under cloudy skies (unusual for mornings in CO), high-tailed it up the 1,400 ft ascent over Frigid Air Pass, back down to below treeline and then back up the 700 ft ascent over the final pass, West Maroon Pass. One snag: all that rain that we got at the campsite the night before had been snow and sleet on West Maroon Pass and it was cold enough that it hadn’t melted.

Going up West Maroon Pass had a few dicey spots in the snow but they only lasted a few steps at a time. Going down, however….holy hell. I was taking in the view at the top of the pass when I watched a couple people start down the trail…sliding on their butts. This couldn’t be good. I was chilly and the dogs were antsy so I snapped a few pictures and we didn’t linger. I headed over and looked over the edge at the path and knew immediately this descent was going to be a problem. The path was steep, two feet wide at best, covered in three inches of snow and sloped toward the outer edge of the path to a 300 ft dropoff. I dropped Everest’s leash. He was on his own. I alternated between sliding on my butt and taking two inch steps. Everest was behind me occasionally getting harshly whacked across the snout with my hiking stick at the first hint of trying to surge on me. There was zero room for error from a pup still learning the ways of backpacking. In addition, we faced two more obstacles.

First up was a 5 ft section with about 6 inches of snow that was sloped hard to the dropoff. It would have been precarious in the best of conditions. The woman in front of me was stuck in a spider man position facing the inside of the trail for about 10 minutes. Fortunately, a guy with traction on his shoes showed up from the opposite direction and helped peel her off. Freaking out that I was next, I took my pack off and asked the guy to sling it across the scary section. Between my hiking poles and digging the front of my shoes into the bank of snow and testing every ounce of pressure I put on a foot or pole before making my next move, I made it across and put my pack back on.

The next hurdle came when an asshat with an agressive, medium-sized dog coming from the opposite direction decided to ascend into the snow section of trail and sit against a rock on the bank on the inside of the trail. He announced to me as I approached that his dog wasn’t friendly. I proposed that he descended 10 ft to where the snow stopped so we could pass in better footing. He refused. He did not have his dog under control AT ALL. At 10 ft away, the dog was lunging and carrying on. I told him in a not so friendly voice to grab his damn dog by the scruff and get it under control. This was no time to be polite to the owner or the dog. Everest was friendly and I knew wouldn’t pose a problem as long as he didn’t have to defend himself. I didn’t worry about CJ. He was a freaking mountain goat this whole time, climbing up the bank on the inside of the trail whining because we weren’t going fast enough for him. He’s also an ace at diffusing aggressive dogs.

The guy decided to position his girlfriend(?) on the bank between the dogs as we passed. Apparently she was supposed to follow Everest and CJ and keep herself between them and his dog but she didn’t. As I reached the safety of the snow free trail 10 ft later, I heard him reaming her out for it. Did I mention the guy was an asshat?

What I wouldn’t have given for my microspikes. It took 45 minutes to go about 200 ft. It was definitely the most intense 45 minutes of my thousands of miles of backpacking.

Operating on the adrenaline, I continued descending to just above treeline. We’d made it the 5 miles to the first campsite…by 11:30am. With everything being wet from the previous day’s rain and no sun to dry things out, I decided to continue on with the remaining 6 miles and finish a day early. We made it to the shuttle by 3:30 where CJ curled up on my lap and Everest sprawled on his side in the aisle for the 20 minute ride to the car.

Heading up to Frigid Air Pass

A cute little pika

View from Frigid Air Pass

View from Frigid Air Pass

Snowy West Maroon Pass in the background

The trail getting snowy

From the top of West Maroon Pass

From the top of West Maroon Pass

Survived West Maroon Pass and heading down to treeline

Clouds rolling in on the final miles

Heard the loud chirps of marmots throughout the trip and finally got a picture of them in the last mile


  1. Having to use a bear canister sucks. It’s heavy, hard to open (many f-bombs were dropped in the process), is difficult to get in and out of the pack, and means no midnight snacks.
  2. Training a new dog in the ways of the trail is hard. Everest was awesome and learned quickly but I REALLY missed my Cassie girl who has it all down pat. At 14 years old, she was better off in the kennel for this trip.
  3. An iPhone 11 battery lasts 3 days in airplane mode.
  4. The hiking community and culture are alive and well and still awesome. Over the 3 days, we leap frogged with several groups doing the trail in the same direction and got to know their dogs’ names if not the humans’. We also met several groups going in the opposite direction with whom we swapped knowledge of campsites and distance to the next water.
  5. CJ was a hit on the trail. I don’t know how many “awww!” comments we got as people passed. And his fame was passed through the trail grapvine. Several people approached and said, “Oh, that must be CJ! I heard about the little guy!”
  6. This was a strenuous route with a ton of elevation gain and loss. In addition, I’d barely run, walked, hiked or done anything physical for over 3 weeks before the trip. I was also carrying a heavier pack than usual. In the past, I’d have come home sore and hobbling for days. This time? My legs were a little tired but not sore and I ran the next day. The difference? I removed all the processed, sugary, inflammatory foods I used to get my calories from and relied on fats for calories. (Thank you, Dr. Donofrio, for patiently teaching me.). I still ate lots of dehydrated potatoes, oatmeal, rice, packets of tuna/salmon, soups with lots of dried veggies, and dehydrated smoothie mixes, but I skipped the snickers and cliff bars and candies and breads, and replaced the calories with olive oil, mayo, butter, and eggs. The result was less inflammation and soreness. I don’t know why I continue to be surprised by this but diet matters.
  7. And lastly, I can’t even express how amazing it was to be back on the trail and in my happy place. It’s been almost 10 long years since my last trip. And as I’ve been struggling with burnout in other areas of my life from the relentless pushing of getting through the illness, the intense schedule that the Gerson Therapy requires while working full time, and the move to CO, I really wasn’t sure if I was going to mentally be up to the rigors of backpacking. Not only was I up for it, but it recharged my charge resistant batteries some. I regularly had tears in my eyes throughout the trip at the joy of being able to experience it once again.

In 2011, I hiked the 500 mile Colorado Trail from Denver to Durango. It was the best 5 weeks of my life. (Read about it from the beginning.) So, when the Colorado Trail Foundation added another 80+ miles on to the trail this year, I HAD to hike it. It looked like it would rival the most scenic parts of the trail. Best friend, Sandy, would be joining me for the hike. This would be her fourth backpacking trip. Nothing like skipping directly to the advanced backpacking.

Day 1 – September 3, 2013 – 9 miles
At 12:45, Wild Bill, owner of the Leadville Hostel (best hostel in the world!), deposited us at Twin Lakes, 80+ trail miles north of where we parked our rental car at Monarch Pass.

We started walking across the Twin Lakes damn. A mile later we were already off trail, having missed a turn somewhere. Drrr. A little cross country walk and we were back on track. Two miles in we’d reached the place where the Colorado Trail splits. To the left was the route I’d taken 2 years ago when I did the whole trail. To the right was the new section which rejoined the old CT about 82 miles south. From now on, it was new territory for me…virgin territory as Sandy called it while singing Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” to me. That freaking song stuck in my head for days. Thanks, Sandy. [mean face]

The first 4 miles were easy hiking…a walk around the lake at 9,000 ft. Then we started to ascend toward our goal for the day – tree line at 12,000 ft just below Hope Pass.

We made it by 7pm, hiking through rain, and just in time to set up the tent in a downpour. Once the rain let up, I made supper for us – Mountain House freeze dried Beef Stroganoff for Sandy and Beef Stew for me. Neither of us had much of an appetite thanks to the altitude so we each ate about half and saved the rest for the next day’s breakfast. By the time we cleaned up and turned in, it was well past dark.

Crossing the damn at Twin Lakes

Crossing the damn at Twin Lakes

Twin Lakes

Twin Lakes

Excited to be on our way!

Excited to be on our way!

Finally made it around the lakes and heading to the mountains

Finally made it around the lakes and heading to the mountains

Day 1 campsite just below Hope Pass

Day 1 campsite just below Hope Pass

Day 2 – September 4, 2013 – 9 miles
Camping just below Hope Pass meant a long, slow trudge up to the pass first thing in the morning, which got our blood pumping and kept us warm. Then a steep descent with beautiful views down to the ghost town of Winfield. As we hiked out of Winfield, I said something to Sandy about doing Mt. Huron, a 14er (14,000+ ft mountain – 1 of 55 in Colorado) that was just 2.3 miles off the CT) the following day. She was game. We hiked to Mt. Huron trailhead. And just as we got there, the clouds let loose. I set the tent up while rivers were forming under it. (Lesson learned: never set up a tent on bare dirt when you can put it on a grassy area instead.) Knowing full well that everything was going to get drenched and covered in mud if we attempted to transfer the stuff from our packs to the tent, we decided to wait out the storm under the shelter of some pine trees. Then the hail started. It didn’t take long until the ground was covered in small white pellets of ice. 45 minutes later the storm was still in full force and we were both getting cold and CJ was shivering uncontrollably on my lap. It was time to act.

We got in the tent and soaked up the puddles that had formed while setting it up and the mud that sprayed in from the driving rain. Then I passed the packs under the rain fly in to Sandy with the pack cover side down in the mud. She unloaded the contents and set up the sleeping pads and bags. I got everything settled outside and dove into the tent. Till all was said and done, we’d managed to keep the most important things that we’d need to keep warm overnight dry or just damp. Another hour or so later and it was down to a drizzle. I tore myself from my warm sleeping bag, put on my wet socks and shoes, and went down to the water source (a small lake) and filtered the water we’d need for the night and the hike up Mt. Huron the next day.

When the drizzle stopped, we hung out all our sopping wet stuff on a downed tree and made supper. After supper, we pulled our still sopping wet clothes into the bottom of the tent, and turned in around hiker midnight (7 pm.)

Heading up and over Hope Pass

Heading up and over Hope Pass

Heading up Hope Pass

Heading up Hope Pass

From the top of Hope Pass

From the top of Hope Pass

Heading down the south side of Hope Pass

Heading down the south side of Hope Pass

Across rock fields

Across rock fields

Through Aspen forests

Through Aspen forests

In the path of snakes

In the path of snakes

Past the Winfield cemetery

Past the Winfield cemetery

Through the ghost town of Winfield

Through the ghost town of Winfield

Eating lunch along the main street of Winfield

Eating lunch along the main street of Winfield

Setting up camp in a downpour

Setting up camp in a downpour

Day 3 – September 5, 2013 – 3 miles
Plans of hiking Mt. Huron were replaced by the need to dry things out from yesterday’s downpour. Everything was either soaked or damp. And given the cool temps at 10,000 – 12,000 ft, it was prudent we got things dried out.

At first light, we got up and packed the cold, wet gear into our cold, wet packs as CJ explored and tried to run off with our socks. Ahead of us were 2 moderate uphills followed by 2 grueling, steep uphill miles in which we’d gain 2,000 ft in 2 miles.

I took off hiking at a comfortable clip feeling good. When the path started to steepen, I started pushing it, thinking I’d conquered my issues with altitude. I left Sandy notes along the way – arrows in the dirt to direct her at intersections, paper notes held down by rocks in the middle of the path to let her know how far she had to go.

I made it up to Lake Ann, an alpine lake at almost 12,000 ft, and emptied my pack, spreading the contents on the ground to dry in the bright sun and dry air. Just as I started heading back down the trail to meet Sandy, she crested the hill to the lake.

We scattered the contents of her backpack on the ground to dry and sat down to eat a late breakfast and waited for the stuff to dry.

And then it hit. It no longer mattered that I was sitting in the most beautiful spot I’d ever been in my life. My focus was on trying not to hurl or pass out. (And we all know my #1 rule in life is no hurling at any cost.) The altitude had caught up with me. I shouldn’t have pushed.

I contemplated throwing in the towel and crawling back down to the trailhead for Mt. Huron where we’d camped the night before and hitching a ride out. Then I remembered reading Cookerhiker’s (fellow CT thru-hiker) blog and his day 3 hell. Every time he’s done a backpacking trip at altitude, he felt horrible on day 3. Day 4, he felt great again. Today was day 3 for us. Hoping his day 3 theory worked for me, we packed everything up and hiked (SLOWLY) back down to treeline for the shade. We chilled out there for a couple hours waiting for the inevitable cloud cover that develops everyday to overtake the sun. I started feeling not so rotten but not good enough that I wanted to tackle the remaining 800 ft in .8 miles over the pass.

Once the full sunshine was intermittent, we hiked (SLOWLY) back up to Lake Ann and set up camp for the night…at 1pm. :-( We’d made a whopping 3 miles progress for the day.

Once I got over my fear of not being able to finish the 80+ miles, I started enjoying the amazing views again and was glad we’d be spending the rest of the day and night at Lake Ann. And best of all, we set the tent up in the sun and not a downpour like the last 2 nights. And we had the place to ourselves. A couple hiker/hunters came down to the lake for water but we couldn’t even see where they were camped.

By 4pm the temperature had dropped considerably and the hail was flying and thunder booming but we were nestled dry and cozy in the tent. It rained on and off all evening and stopped long enough to cook supper. Just after dark we got company – some hikers set up camp about a 100 yards away.

Easy stream crossing thanks to this make-shift bridge

Easy stream crossing thanks to this make-shift bridge

Bestie takes a selfie

Bestie takes a selfie

Drying out from the previous night's downpour

Drying out from the previous night's downpour

CJ coming to check on his mama

CJ coming to check on his mama

Mama not feeling so good

Mama not feeling so good

The Diva

The Diva

View from campsite

View from campsite

Day 3 campsite

Day 3 campsite

Day 4 – September 6, 2013 – 8 miles
Woke up at 6:30 feeling better, although still not 100%. I was dreading the climb over the pass. My plan was to take it super easy…and not hurl. By 7:30 we were off. By 7:35 I had gotten into a groove:

Take 20 steps. Stop. Count to 20. Don’t hurl.
Take 20 steps. Stop. Count to 20. Don’t hurl.

By the time I was nearing the top of the pass, it was:

Take 10 steps. Stop. Count to 50. Don’t hurl. Don’t pass out.

I made it. And boy was the view worth it. We continued down the other side of the pass and down into tree line.

We were both feeling pretty scrungy, it being day 4 of not showering and wearing the same clothes. We stopped at a flowing creek and took a hiker bath in the privacy of the tall underbrush. This stream was also one of the two possible camping spots for the day. But it wasn’t even noon yet so we decided to push on another 5 miles to the next spot since it would be mostly downhill.

About 2 miles on I started feeling rotten again. Another .5 miles and I’d reached my limit, hit the wall harder than I’d ever hit it before on any run. I felt like I couldn’t take another step. My chest felt tight. I couldn’t take a deep breath, and my breathing and heart rate were through the roof and wouldn’t calm down with resting. I took my pack off and sat down and willed myself to not hurl or pass out, and wondered how in the world I was going to make another 2.5 miles to the next watering spot. That distance might as well have been 100 miles and up Mt. Everest at that. Just impossible at the moment. Sandy and I talked. (I omitted the details about the pressure in my chest and breath and heart rate at the time so I didn’t completely freak her out.) We were at a section that wasn’t campable. Every direction was too steep to pitch a tent. After a rest, Sandy hiked ahead to see how far to the next relatively flat section. About .1 miles. Even that seemed insurmountable. Sandy took my pack for me and I walked at a snail’s pace to the area. We set up camp and waited out another storm before Sandy set off for water another .5 miles down the trail.

We made supper and settled in for a long night.

Heading up Lake Ann Pass

Heading up Lake Ann Pass

From the top of Lake Ann Pass

From the top of Lake Ann Pass

From the top of Lake Ann Pass

From the top of Lake Ann Pass

Down the south side of Lake Ann Pass

Down the south side of Lake Ann Pass

Almost to tree line

Almost to tree line

A fox!

A fox!

Day 5 – September 7, 2013 – 2.5 miles
I hardly slept, still feeling pretty crappy, and wondering how I was going to make it out the 2.5 miles to a potential bailout point the next morning, despite it being entirely downhill. We got up and packed and hit the trail. I hadn’t eaten hardly anything for the past couple days and still had zero interest in food. I took it at a snail’s pace. But still, 1.5 miles later, I had to stop. I was beyond any limit I had ever reached before. We rested for a while and I forced down my gummy vitamins and a piece of jerky. Then continued on for a mile or so. About .3 miles from the bottom of the valley, we started hearing a chainsaw. I sat down and waited while Sandy continued on to investigate. It turned out to be a husband and wife and her brother who had set up an elaborate hunting camp on BLM land for 2 weeks.

I forced myself down the last bit of trail to their camp. The people were amazing. The brother was an ER doctor who also struggled with altitude sickness so he knew exactly what was going on. His remedy was a huge handful of Tums to get rid of the acidity in my system that apparently builds up from over-exertion and oxygen deprivation. Within an hour I was rallying, no longer on the verge of hurling or passing out. They offered their extra shelter to us for as long as we needed and offered to drive us a mile out to a point where we could walk another 2 miles to a turn-around point for ATV’s. I didn’t have the 2 miles in me yet so we just hung out for a while until 3 ATV’s showed up who gave us a ride down to Taylor Park Trading Post (what was supposed to be our resupply point) where we could hitch a ride out to the main road and back to our car. We were at the Salida Hostel by 3pm thanks to the generosity of a couple on a weekend vacation who took a liking to CJ.

Getting down to the lower elevation of Salida (7,000 ft) helped things immensely. I was still drained but didn’t feel so horrible. We stayed in Salida for the night, then headed back to the Leadville Hostel to recuperate for a couple days before we either continue on the trail or just do a few 14ers.

To be continued…

Spent the weekend in the wilds of north central PA on the Black Forest trail – a 42 mile loop trail. I decided to not take pictures of all the great views because you really can’t fully appreciate the whole experience unless you’re there. Words and pictures wouldn’t do it justice. It’s not the towering snow-peaked mountains of the Rockies but the area is just as beautiful in its own right. The variety of the vegetation (Pigged out wild blueberries and wintergreen berries along much of the trail), the landscape, the micro climates, etc. Absolutely beautiful.

And Charlie was a real trooper. He did 2 consecutive 17 mile days and was still up and raring to go the next morning. He’s 9 years old and only 10 pounds but he’s a tough little guy.

Finished the hike Monday morning and then headed over to Wellsboro and Pine Creek Outfitters where I rented a kayak for a couple hours of paddling on the Pine Creek and then headed home with a stop at a Chinese buffet in Selinsgrove.

Great adventure. I think I’m ready to thru hike the Appalachian Trail.

For future reference:
Mountain Laurel peaked late June.
Blueberries will be at their height late July.
Rhododendrum was at its peak but there wasn’t much of them.

Colorado Adventure #1 – (1 of 3 in summer 2009)

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Sunday, June 7

Made it to Colorado on Saturday early afternoon after a LONG but uneventful drive across country. And realized too late (forget who jokingly mentioned it) that I could have totally broadcast the entire drive live over the internet, complete with webcam and chat. I had all the equipment to do it but nothing set up in advanced. That would have definately taken some of the boredom out of the drive.

Set up camp Sunday afternoon. And to those of you who think I’m roughing it…hah…I’m living it up compared to backpacking. Take a look at my home sweet home:

Home Sweet Home
view from campsite

Charlie’s been really good in the car and at the campground. Didn’t find out till I got here though that dogs aren’t allowed on trails in the Rocky Mountain National Park. :-(

So far I’ve spent most of my time sleeping, reading, and eating. I’m hoping to get some hiking in once I can start breathing again. Tomorrow morning if the weather’s good. Just took a drive through the Rocky Mountain National Park today:

Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park
Rocky Mountain National Park

Monday, June 8

Took a 6.5 mile hike this morning that turned into a 10 mile hike….missed a crucial turn. It rained most of the time but that’s cool for a trail hike. Running in the rain sucks and backpacking in the rain sucks but a short hike in rain…woohoo…bring on the mud. Here are some pictures:

Elk-chewed Aspen trees
Elk-chewed Aspen trees
Roaring creek. Fortunately, I didn’t have to cross it.
A fort in the middle of nowhere?
Which way do I go?
My wrong turn took me another 1000 ft up in altitude and into the snow. What I wouldn’t have done for a topo map!
There are some nice peaks in the background.

Alternated between reading and napping all afternoon. And discovered something interesting. There is no cell phone reception up here at the campground. In fact, I have to drive 5 miles into town before I get reception. HOWEVER, there is literally a 2X2 foot square in the center of my tent where I get 1 or 2 bars. No joke. That’s not enough to hold a phone conversation but it lets me get email and chat on the Blackberry instant messenger. Oh and I can also tether my Blackberry to my laptop and get internet access for it. Blackberries ROCK!

Went into town in the evening and t-shirt shopped. Found some great ones. Then went to dinner and got this awesome vegetarian pasta meal. I’m not a vegetarian. (The best I could do is be an aspiring vegetarian. I’m just not committed in that area.) But this dish was incredible. I think it’s going to be my pre-race meal on Saturday night. The restaurant was fairly empty, thankfully, because I was chatting with Kathy J. and had a few LOL’s. I’m sure people were wondering.

Oh and BTW, Chuck, the shop is all yours and Kris, you get my house. Sell it or make the payments on it. I’m staying in Colorado.

Tuesday, June 9

Went for a trail run this morning…on the trail I hiked yesterday. I’m definitely making some progress in the acclimating area. Saturday and Sunday I was lightheaded and I felt like I was constantly breathing stale air. Monday was ok during normal activity, but I was sucking some serious air on a fairly easy hike. Today’s run was pretty good except for the uphills. At home I could have run the moderate uphills but here, I was huffing and puffing just hiking them. Level ground was doable and downhill was good. So I guess if the race were tomorrow, I’d kick butt on the level and downhills but die on the uphills. That means I’d have roughly half of the marathon licked. Thank goodness I still have 4 more days to acclimate.

I think my sleeping has finally leveled off (hopefully). I’d been sleeping 10-12 hours a night every night since Friday night plus a 2 hour nap in the afternoon. Only got 8 hours last night though. And didn’t nap today despite reading all day long. Maybe it was my body’s rebelling at the lack of oxygen.

Went on a very short hike into Bear Lake. Views sucked because all the peaks were behind rain clouds. And then there was the couple that insisted on making out two feet from me. Get a room!

Charlie’s been a real gentleman. I didn’t know he had it in him. He’s been friendly and QUIET! I can leave him in the tent or tied outside and walk away and he doesn’t wine or bark. Just waits for me to come back. And he’s been friendly…ok, maybe just tolerant… with other dogs. And best of all, he’s gotten some serious snuggling in.

And lastly, finished reading one of the many Drupal books I brought along. Drupal (or Gerbil as they call it at work) is a framework that I build websites on. I’m on a quest to become an absolute expert in the framework and have bought every book on the market for it. See?

Drupal books

I just finished one of the more important ones on Drupal security. While I knew of many of the security aspects of coding, I learned a lot about ways to find bugs from contributed modules. Guess what I’ll be doing first thing next Wednesday morning when I get back to work. Oh, and my favorite quote from the book, “A big part of finding bugs is simply being paranoid…”. LOL. Love it!

I’ve also decided on next year’s adventure. I’m really digging Colorado but the amount of hiking and exploring I’m able to do is limited by the marathon on Sunday. I’d like to actually survive it so I’m holding back and not doing some of the longer hikes I’d really like to do. So next year…screw the running…I’m going to do a 2 week backpacking trip either on the Colorado Trail or the Continental Divide Trail.

Oh yeah, and I forgot to include a house picture…it’s a very important piece:

The furnace

Wednesday, June 10

Slow news day here at Micksville. It rained most of the night and rained on and off all morning. Not gonna be getting any great views today. So I stayed in and vegged out, read, and spent some time in my “happy place”. That’s what Kathy J calls my 2 square feet of Blackberry reception I get in my tent:

My Happy Place

Also finished the Drupal Multimedia book and started the Drupal Social Networking book. Then watched a Netflix video I brought along. Real party animal, I know. Sorry to disappoint.

The only other news…and this is actually BIG news…
I found a cap!!! HARD, you no longer have to listen to me whine about my favorite 8-year old Yamaha baseball cap that fell apart on that cold, WINDY 11-mile Mt. Pleasant-322 loop. Take a look:

Life is Good hat

Back to reading. Hopefully the weather will be better tomorrow. I have a hike planned that should give me the mother of all views. Cross your fingers.

Thursday, June 11

Wow, if yesterday was a slow news day, I’m not sure what to call today. It rained all day so I stayed in the tent and read. I think the boredom may have gotten to me. Or could I possibly still blame it on the altitude? You decide:

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Friday, June 12

It FINALLY cleared up this morning (after torrential downpours half the night. Holy cow. There were several tents at the campground that were demolished. My Walmart tent stood the test with only a few minor leaks. All excited about the clear skies, I got up at 5:30 and headed over to the Rocky Mountain National Park to take in the views. I got about 1/4 of the way through the park and was stopped by a gate. Road closed. Ugh. Apparently all that rain that we got at 8,000 feet was snow up at the 11,000 and 12,000 feet. *sigh* Back down to the teenage brats that have taken up residence across from my site. They bicker constantly…and loudly. Fortunately, they are leaving tomorrow morning. I can stand to continue to wear my headphones till then.

So I read and played on the computer all morning. Got a good start on a video I’m making of this trip. Just need some footage from the marathon and the way home and I’m set. About 1pm I couldn’t take the brats anymore. I packed Charlie in his crate and headed back to the park to see if the road was open yet. Yup! Headed on up….straight for the Alpine visitor center, the high point on the road. You park at the visitor’s center and then hike up some steps for a few more hundred feet of elevation, topping out at over 12,000 feet. There were two buses of German speaking people there. Really cool! I felt like I was back in the Swiss Alps again. I even tested out my German with some woman when I asked her to take a picture for me. Boy am I rusty speaking it! But I can still understand most of it. Here some pics of the journey:

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Saturday, June 13

Preparations for tomorrow’s marathon are complete:

Pick up race packet checkmark.gif
Painstakingly pin bib number
on shirt (Al would be so proud)
Configure Blackberry for easy
texting and video taping
while running
Headphones to listen to the
same 13 songs for 4+ hours
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Electrolyte gummies checkmark.gif
Lay clothes out checkmark.gif
Clip toenails checkmark.gif
Hydrate checkmark.gif
Carb up checkmark.gif
Set alarm checkmark.gif
Acclimate to elevation checkmark.gif
Confirm insanity checkmark.gif

Tomorrow’s the big day. I’m as ready for it as I’m going to get. I feel better prepared physically than for the last marathon although the altitude may cure that. Mentally, I’m not sure what to expect. The last marathon was an absolute life-changing experience. I spent 3 days afterwards on a euphoric endorphin high and then the next 3 weeks bawling followed by a couple months of a roller coaster ride. Hopefully this marathon isn’t quite so…uh…eventful. We’ll see.

Sunday, June 14 – A Good Butt-Kickin’

A marathon at high altitude? No problem. I’ll just get there a week early and acclimate. Hah. Showed up at the start along with about 75 others. Beside me are Grandma and Grandpa. So cute:

Grandpa and Grandma
Grandpa and Grandma

An account of the marathon, Sandy-style:

Mile 1-3: Hey, this isn’t TOOO bad. Could be worse. I feel the altitude but I’ll just take it easy here on the inclines.

Miles 3-6: Hmmm…this 3 mile hill didn’t seem this steep when I drove it. Reduced to run/walk till the top of the hill.

Miles 6-9: Woohoo! What goes up must come down. Flying along losing the altitude we just gained.

View from the top of the hill

Mile 10: Oh…not feeling so great. I’ll lay off the Gatorade and grab water at the next aid station

Mile 12: Lookin’ at a 5:20 finish. I’ll take it.

View of mountains from park in Estes Park

Mile 13: Mmmm…really not feelin’ so good. Better walk before I barf. Chat on Blackberry. Listen to The Climb by Miley Cyrus on Blackberry.

Mile 14: Try to run the downhill….ohhh…lightheaded….better walk or I’ll pass out. Chat on Blackberry. Listen to The Climb by Miley Cyrus on Blackberry.

Mile 15: Trying to decide whether to barf or pass out. Not sure I’ll have a choice in the matter. Emotions getting raw. I’m seeing months of preparation going down the drain. If I have to finish this at this speed, I may not make the cutoff. Tears well up and spill over. Quick, wipe tears, there’s an aid station. Don’t want to be pulled for what is clearly altitude sickness. And more importantly, don’t want to look like a wuss. Chat on Blackberry. Listen to The Climb by Miley Cyrus on Blackberry.

Mile 16: SOS to friends on chat…thinking of dropping out… can’t continue another 10 miles feeling like this. HELP! Friends text back, getting my mind off feeling green. Chat on Blackberry. Listen to The Climb by Miley Cyrus on Blackberry.

Mile 17: I really should just barf and get it over with. NO! I have this rule about barfing. It goes something like this: Avoid barfing at all cost. I went for over 20 years without barfing (except for once because of anesthesia). That’s my claim to fame. No barfing if I can prevent it. Carry on. Chat on Blackberry. Listen to The Climb by Miley Cyrus on Blackberry.

Mile 18: Still walking and holding chat conversations up long 3 mile hill. This one didn’t seem as steep in the car either. Rethinking next year’s backpacking trip. Why do I need to backpack in Colorado. I think Indiana or Illinois or Iowa would be great places to backpack. Chat on Blackberry. Listen to The Climb by Miley Cyrus on Blackberry.

Mile 19: Ahhh…aid station and porta-potty. I really should try to go. Ohhh….watch it…almost lost car keys in porta-potty slurry. That was close. Aid station volunteers were the local high school track team all decked out with costumes and a nice spread of fruits and beverages. Don’t barf on them. Chat on Blackberry. Listen to The Climb by Miley Cyrus on Blackberry.


Mile 20: Try to run a downhill. Stomach sends warning. Forgive me HARD for I have sinned. I am wasting a downhill. Don’t barf. Don’t pass out. Chat on Blackberry. Listen to The Climb by Miley Cyrus on Blackberry.

Mile 21: Haven’t been able to get anything in my stomach since mile 13. Chewed some ice earlier but had to spit it out. Wouldn’t go down. I’m getting dehydrated. Take orange slice at aid station. Either the orange juice is going down or everything’s coming up. Juice goes down. Chat on Blackberry. Listen to The Climb by Miley Cyrus on Blackberry.

Mile 22: Inhibitions gone. Start singing aloud to The Climb by Miley Cyrus. Chat on Blackberry.

Mile 23: Feeling a little better. Starting to run/walk again on the downhills. Chat on Blackberry. Listen to The Climb by Miley Cyrus on Blackberry.

Mile 23.5: Grandma passes me. Chat on Blackberry. Listen to The Climb by Miley Cyrus on Blackberry.

Mile 24: I go off course. Apparently missed a turn. End up in downtown Estes with all the tourists. I am clearly lost. I tell them, “I’m the first, the rest are coming soon.” Chat on Blackberry. Listen to The Climb by Miley Cyrus on Blackberry.

Mile 24.5: Police officers stop traffic for me to cross busy highway. Back on course. Chat on Blackberry. Listen to The Climb by Miley Cyrus on Blackberry.

Mile 25: Run/Walk. Chat on Blackberry. Listen to The Climb by Miley Cyrus on Blackberry.

Mile 25.5: Donna posts on Facebook, asking how Colorado is and if I’ve run the race yet. I tell her .5 to go.

Mile 26.2: DONE! Get finishers medal. Talk with Grandma. This is her 40th marathon. She and her husband are doing a marathon in all 50 states. Her husband is on round 2 of this. All the marathons of round 2 have been completed since he turned 70.

Head back to campground. I wasn’t sure what shape I would be in after the marathon…didn’t know if I’d be up to driving. So I made tentative arrangements for another night at the campsite. Felt fine though. Actually, my legs were good. I could have run another 5 or 8 miles no problem if it weren’t for the altitude. So I started packing up…but none too quickly. Still lightheaded from the race. Bending over and standing up again had some negative effects. Took a couple breaks but finally got the tent down and everything packed into the car. Took Charlie for a short walk and headed downtown to grab a pizza before I left. It was almost 5:00, I had run a marathon in the morning, and I STILL hadn’t eaten anything all day. I was famished. But my stomach said “fat chance”. Nibbled on a couple slices of pizza for a few hundred miles until I got to Colby, Kansas and turned in for the night.

So…moral of the story: No more races at altitude until I’m LIVING at altitude. Made for a great story though, didn’t it? :-D

Monday-Tuesday, June 15-16 – The Perfect Ending to the Perfect Vacation

My Rescuers!

The drive back slowly went downhill. Literally and figuratively. Got down to a lower elevation and the lightheadedness disappeared. Stomach queasiness persisted though. Plus a couple other things cropped up. Made it through travel day 2 to just inside Illinois. Exhausted, I stopped for the night and slept 10 hours which should have rejuvenated me but didn’t. I was just drained. But I continued on, chatting occasionally with friends to keep me focused. When I talked with Carol and Sally they suggested they come meet me and drive me in. I brushed it off jokingly. No person in their right mind would consider doing that. I was barely in Ohio. They’d be driving a good 250 miles till we met. I was right. They weren’t in their right minds. They were completely insane! They called me back half an hour later and said they were on their way. OMG!!! This was too good to be true. I stopped at a gas station to walk Charlie and grab some high test caffeine for the last push of the day – to meet Carol and Sally on the eastern border of Ohio. What a wonderful sight for my sore, blurry, tired eyes. We met in the pouring down rain, grabbed some soup at Bob Evans and then headed back with Carol at the wheel of my car, following Sally in hers. What an absolute relief! I was really dragging and I don’t mess around with driving tired so probably would have had another night out on the road if it weren’t for their rescue mission. Carol and I talked and laughed our heads off the rest of the way back. Got home around 1:30am till I went and picked up my other dog. Whew! What an adventure every second of the past week and a half has been – even more than I bargained for. You two rock, Carol and Sally!!! Thanks for making my trip that much more special!

What a week! Ugh. Started off with a bad 14 mile run last Saturday that I barely made it through. Continued with trying to figure out a networking problem at work that took half the organization off the internet and phones. Then on to the stress of ending a relationship with a web company. All that culminated in a run on Thursday where I didn’t even make it 3 miles, broke down and bawled in front of our entire running group (how embarrassing!), and then landed in the doctors office Thursday afternoon. Sheesh. Just shoot me already.

Things started looking up on Friday though. Went out Friday after work with the runners intending to take it mile by mile. After not eating or sleeping well all week, my expectations were low. I had Shawn on standby to come pick me up when I reached my limit. 16 miles later, I was still feeling pretty good. Yeayyy! I’m back on track for the marathon training.

Went hiking this morning with some people from work, foolishly intending to do maybe 10 miles. Hah. A couple of miles in I started fading. Thankfully, Sally and Jen kept an interesting conversation going that carried me along. But about 3 miles in I’d had it, admitted I was spent and we turned around and headed back out. Sorry for cutting it short, ladies! You were such good troopers!

jen_sally.jpgWe stopped at a diner and had some brunch on the way back. Mmmm, tuna melt sandwich. Maybe eating healthy isn’t so bad! And of course, the company made the meal. It’s so nice to be around people that are courteous and thoughtful when the world can be so full of jerks sometimes. So, thanks for a great hike Sally and Jen. I promise I’ll be perkier next time!

And HAPPY BIRTHDAY JEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

FINALLY got out on a short hike for the FIRST time this year. How could I have let this happen? I’ve normally got several backpacking trips under my belt by this time of the year. Life just gets in the way sometimes.

Kris (sister), Karla’s mom (Wanda?), Karla, and Jen (a princess on her first hike!)
Kris (sister), Karla’s mom (Wanda?), Karla, and Jen (a princess on her first hike!)

Anyway, did a 5-mile loop hike on the Appalachian Trail with some friends…5 miles that were a good representation of the AT in PA. Read – lots of rock and boulder hopping. We all took turns leading the pack and eating the spider webs spun across the trail through boulder fields, tropical rain forests, meadows, dense underbrush, and every other type of forest that PA offers. Ok, there were no tropical rain forests but there was a huge variety in vegetation.

Black snake across trail
Black snake across trail

Animals were sparce…except for a huge black snake sprawled out across the trail. First we thought it was a stick. After Charlie (my dog) walked across it a few times we realized it was a snake but thought it was dead. I reached for my cell phone to take a picture and saw its tongue move out of the corner of my eye. We threw some sticks near it and as it reluctantly started slithering off the trail, I think I heard it mumble something about “freaking hikers” under its breath. We continued on, coming up with some good headlines about a Palestinian woman (Jen!) out on her first hike being eaten by a black snake.

We continued on to the AT shelter about 2/3′s of the way in where we disturbed a couple sleeping in. Bummer. We sat on the edge of the shelter and the picnic table and ate a snack, and I took Charlie down to the spring for water. I’m always forgetting poor Charlie’s water bowl! But Karla’s mom gave me a great tip. She suggested keeping a piece of Saran wrap in my pack and then just digging a little hole in the ground, lay the Saran wrap over the hole and fill with water…voila, instant dog bowl. Cool!

Also got another great tip from her. I’ve got all kinds of packaging materials from having to ship horns. She said she uses the bubble wrap as a seat cushion. It’s light-weight, cheap, and replaceable. I’ll have to try it out.

So…we all had a really good time on our little outing…even my sister, Kris, who I often try to drag along on my ventures. Occassionally (very occassionally), she’ll give in and join me for something. I think she usually regrets it with several days of sore muscles and vows to never do it again. Eventually she always comes around again. This time, I think she actually enjoyed herself. By the end of the hike she and Jen were well ahead of the rest of us and chatting like magpies. :-)

Then I went home and took an hour-long nap!!!

Forget the ramblings….take me to the pictures.

Spent 4 days hiking 50 miles of the 85 mile Susquehannock Trail in north central PA with my two dogs and Ken, one of the members of the group from the BFT trip. I had two main objectives on this trip:

1. To not go hungry
2. To stay warm – temps were to be lows in the 30′s and highs in the 50′s

In light of these two objectives, my pack was heavier than it’s ever been – about 35 lbs with food and water.

Day 1 – Friday

I met Ken in the little town of Cross Fork where I parked my car and drove with him in his car to the start of the loop. I’d be hiking the 50 miles to my car and Ken would be hiking an additional 35 miles to complete the loop back to his car. I was originally planning to do the entire 85 miles in 7 days but I was already behind in the shop so I compromised. A painful and bruised ankle clinched the shortened hike.

We started hiking at 10:30 Friday morning (Oct. 12) in a drizzle. By 11 we realized we were no longer on the trail, so we backtracked 3/4 of a mile and found where we went wrong. Our hike was supposed to be 9.5 miles that day. With the extra 1.5 miles in the beginning and another mile at the end when we somehow missed our campsite, it turned out to be a 12.5 mile day. High temp was 42. Low was 35. But I stayed warm!!!

Day 2 – Saturday
spam.jpg9 miles with only one major uphill. Hooray!!! Still, hips and feet were sore from carrying a 35 lb pack.
Discovered some interesting things today:
1. Spam now comes in foil pouches like tuna and on the back of the pouch it says spam can be used as an air freshener. I kid you not. Check out the picture.
2. According to Ken, you can actually gain weight on the trail. I was having trouble fathoming that because I always starve on the trail.

Day 3 – Sunday
A 10 mile day. Hiked 7 miles into Ole Bull State Park where we ate our supper for lunch. We weren’t sure if we’d have water at our campsite tonight because many of the streams are totally dry, so we decided to eat our cold lunch for supper which wouldn’t require cooking or cleaning up. We got to the campground and sat at a picnic table like civilized human beings and cooked our mac and cheese (me) and noodles (Ken). I opted for a soda from the soda machine – a 20 oz bottle of Mountain Dew. Under normal circumstances, it would have given me a bit of an energy boost for an hour and staved off a caffeine withdrawal headache for another day but I had detoxed from caffeine about 3 weeks ago so it had a little more affect than usual. Between the Mountain Dew and the Vitamin I (Ibuprofen) I took for my my ankle, I practically flew up those mountains after lunch. In fact, if I hadn’t had to stop every 10 minutes to pee out the liter of water I also drank, I would have left Ken eating my dust.

We made it to the campsite by 3:30. It turned out that the stream was running. We ate supper by a roaring fire (our fifth on this trip) with S’mores for dessert (a third for this trip).

Day 4 – Monday – A trail of apples, bees, and blowdowns
15 miles today. Started at 8:30 and finished at 5:45. It was a memory-making sort of day:

Apples – found several apple trees over the length of the trail today. My food supply was getting pretty low so they were a welcome addition – all 6 of them!

Bees – We were heading down a REALLY steep section of trail (sliding down is more accurate) and had to bushwhack our way around a blowdown. As we were just getting back on the trail, I saw Charlie swatting at his face. Some bees were after him. As I was trying to help him, I noticed Ackey….and gasped. She was absolutely covered in yellow jackets. They were just clinging to her fur…probably a hundred of them or more. I started trying to brush them off with my hiking stick but then they went after me. So I grabbed her by the pack and made her run down the trail as fast as we could, knowing there was a good stream at the bottom about a 1/2 mile away. By the time we got to the stream most of the bees were off. I had to pull off a few that were embedded in her fur. But I didn’t have to dunk her in the stream. I watched her for a while concerned about how many times she was stung. I know it wouldn’t take a whole lot to make a 60 lb dog sick or worse. After a while I was able to tell where she was stung as the places swelled up. One was right above her eye and swelled her eye shut. I found only 3 stings on her. Whew!!! I didn’t find any on Charlie. Ken got 2 and I got 4. Who needs caffeine when you have adrenaline?!?

Blowdowns – Blowdowns are trees that have fallen across the trail and you have to climb over, under, through, or around. Most of the time it’s not a big deal to hop over a trunk or duck under a limb. But there was one section of trail about a mile long with blowdown after blowdown where you couldn’t hop over them. You had to either find your way through all the branches – like playing twister on a jungle gym – or bushwhack around them (also no small feat). This mile of trail just kicked our butts – it was harder than any of the mountains we had to hike up. There were several instances where I had to pick up Ackey by her pack and lift her over. On the last blowdown of the series, I watched horrified as Ken took a nasty spill, envisioning myself trying to summon help to get him treated for a broken leg. He was fine though.

It was a S’mores evening after such a tough day of hiking.

Day 4.5 – Thursday morning
Hiked out an easy 4.5 miles to my car in Cross Fork. Called home to get my messages to see if there was a possibility of finishing the trail even though my ankle told me straight out that there was no chance. We grabbed lunch at Deb’s Place. I had one of their Bubba Burgers and fries. Wow…it was quite the burger but I ate every bite of it! Also got the dogs 6 hot dogs to chow down on. Said goodbye to Ken and wished him well on the last three days of his hike and drove the 3.5 hours home. The dogs slept the whole way.

Regarding my objectives:
1. I failed miserably on not being hungry. I once again grossly underestimated the amount of food I’d need. I should have doubled the size of every meal and the amount of trail mix snacks. *sigh* But that would have been sooo much extra weight. :-\

coldackey.jpg2. I did manage to stay warm. Slept in 2 shirts, a fleece jacket, a rain jack, running tights, wind pants, two heavy pairs of socks, a winter hat, a scarf, and a 20 degree sleeping bag. I had to give up the wool sweater I used for a pillow to cover Ackey so she didn’t shiver. Charlie slept in my sleeping bag with me.

Enjoy the pictures below. I gotta go put my pack and equipment in storage for the spring. :-(

Almost halfway up cardiac hill. So glad for the sign.

Beautiful setting for this camp.

Heading down the trail.

Poor Ackey is so tired after our 15 mile day that she won’t even lift her head up to eat.

A tease of a view.

The sign reads, “Spook Hollow – Keep to the center of the trail. Stay within sight of companion. Refrain from looking back. DO NOT TRY TO RUN”

Leave it to Charlie to find the softest place to sleep.

Ken was serious about his sleep with the 5 lb air mattress. He should have had an air compressor to blow it up!

Appropriately named – I was famished!

aft07-3.jpgIt was another awesome weekend of backpacking! Headed out on Saturday morning for a 2.5 hour drive to the Black Moshannon State Forest in central PA – just north of State College (home of Penn State University). Met the rest of the group at the ranger station where we all signed in. It was a smaller group this time – just 6 of us. Four women, Mike, and my dog, Charlie.

Headed out on the trail to the tune of 90+ degrees and sunny skies. We knew it was sunny because we could cleary see the sun. That sounds pretty stupid but normally when hiking in the woods at this time of year, you’d be under full canopy of the trees. Apparently, this area was being hit hard by gypsy moths. There were so few leaves that it looked kind of like spring when things are still budding out. So we hiked under little shade most of the weekend which made for a warm Saturday but wasn’t a problem on Sunday or Monday because it was either overcast or raining.

aft07-10.jpgWe did 10 miles each day. Saturday’s and Monday’s hikes were extremely tame as there was very little elevation change. Sunday’s hike was an ankle buster over all the classic PA rocks. There were also a few moderately steep ups and downs although they didn’t last long.

Spent the first night in a blueberry bush field along a stream. Had a cushiony bed but no fire to toast the 10 oz bag of marshmallows that I lugged along. Everything was dry and the fire ring was overgrown with grass.

The second night’s camp was in a cozy little hemlock grove beside a stream. We got into camp about 3:30, just after it had started drizzling. We immediately started setting up our tents. By the time we were finished with setting up camp and filtering water, etc. it was raining in earnest so we all retreated without a word into our tents. I took a nice hour long nap and woke up to a break in the rain. I heard a couple of the others chatting as they started making their suppers so I grabbed my food bag and joined them in the common area. As I started laying out my fixings of tuna, pepperoni, mayo, and pita bread, the rain started picking up again. Not having full rain gear along, only my jacket, I quickly gobbled down supper. Giving up on the idea of having a toasty fire, I passed the marshmallow bag around forcing marshmallows into everyone’s hands. I was NOT going to carry these back home!

Charlie and I headed back into the tent wet and chilly. It was only 7pm. I didn’t bring a book along so I read the fire warning and care tags on my tent. Very intellectually stimulating stuff. Finally fell asleep to the sound of rain on my tent fly around 9pm. Woke up refreshed and ready to attack the trail at 7am! I made up for the sleep deficit I had been operating under for the past couple weeks!

The hike out on Sunday was really fun. We had all chatted over the weekend and gotten to know each other. So here’s a little bit about us:

Catherine was our trail maintenance crew. She cleared the path of sticks and debris. For some reason we couldn’t get her to clear all those PA rocks off the trail for us though.

Mike was our hike leader and tour guide, giving us the “packs off” and “packs on” signs and turning our attention to the various plants along the trail.

Ellen was our manager but didn’t want to hear about our problems, refusing to answer her phone.

Diane was our therapist and counselor we needed to talk to because Ellen wouldn’t solve our problems.

Charlie was our entertainment for the weekend.

Unfortunately, I totally forgot to take my camera. That’s what happens when you pack at the last minute the night before the trip. :-\ But if anyone from the group would be willing to send some pictures I would love to post them here with the review.

It’s back to the grind for two more weeks until another backpacking weekend on the Quehanna Trail. See you then!

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The pictures above are courtesy of Mike. The pictures below are from Dianne. Thanks Mike and Dianne!!!

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This was my first hike with a group and I wasn’t sure what to expect going into it. I’ve always hiked by myself and done my own thing (what else is new, right?!). So, I wasn’t sure how other people go about the various aspects of trail life. Do they wash up at night or just accumulate the funk? It could get pretty tricky trying to find an isolated spot to strip down and wash but then again, you start smelling pretty rotten after the first day. Do they always hike together making the faster hikers impatient and pressuring the slower hikers? Or does everyone hike their own pace and meet up at the end of the day? These were some of my questions going into it.

It turned out to be a really great weekend with an awesome bunch of people…one of the best backpacking trips I’ve ever gone on. There was the perfect mix of company and isolation. If you wanted to chat while hiking there was always someone to hold the other end of a conversation. If you wanted to be on your own and think, you could do that too.

We did about 20 miles of the Black Forest Trail…covering some of the miles that I didn’t do on this BFT trip plus 5 or so miles on a couple linking trails.

Some highlights of the trip were:

Really great vistas

Tom’s kitchen pot he brought along for cooking….he was SERIOUS about his Mac & Cheese!

Craig’s fire-dousing pasta

Blueberry patch after blueberry patch. I don’t know how many handfuls of blueberries I ate but they were good!

Forgetting my tent stakes…not a smart thing to do on a non-freestanding tent.

Trying to guess what Mike was eating for supper at night.

Trying to guess Ellen’s age all weekend.

Comparing backpacking gear and seeing some cool items I didn’t know existed.

Theresa’s sound advice

And just general chatting with some really nice people

I’m really looking forward to the next two trips scheduled in August.

Pictures of the trip:


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Blueberries galore!

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Tired puppies!
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Pasta dousing fire

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Craig, Betty, and Duncan

Around the campfire

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Rest break at a road we crossed

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John gathering wood for the fire




Olive oil drenched bag waiting for bear to climb up tree


I recently took a trip to Tennessee – Smoky Mountain area – and hiked up to Clingmans Dome, the highest point in Tennessee (6600ft) and a popular place on the Appalachian Trail. I hadn’t really planned to go hiking on the trip – lots of reading and sleeping and maybe a little running, but not hiking. However, when I got there and realized I was staying only 20 miles from Clingmans Dome, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

On Tuesday on the way through Gatlinburg I stopped at a visitor’s center and bought a map of the Smoky Mountain National Park roads and trails. Awesome! There was a road leading right up to the top of the mountain. I could drive up, drink in the scenery, snap a few pictures and head back down inside of an hour. Then the lady at the visitor’s center informed me that the road closed for winter three days before. I’d have to hike up – 7 miles on the Appalachian Trail. A 14-mile hike. No problem. I’d be sore but it was do-able. I’d done several consecutive 16 to 20 mile days with a 25-30 lb pack on my back on some backpacking trips. Admittedly, I’m not in that good of shape any more but 14 miles with a 6-8 lb pack was certainly within reach.

Mistake #1
Got to the trailhead at 9am and found where the AT crossed the scenic view pull-off/rest area.Trailhead to Clingmans Dome There was a sign there indicating that Clingmans Dome was 7.9 mile up the trail. Well, the visitor’s center lady’s 14-mile round trip hike was now up to 15.8. I suppose I should have taken a closer look at the map and added up the mileage for myself instead of taking her word for it. No matter, 15.8 with a light pack was still do-able. I had a good 8 hours before dark after all. My normal hiking speed is about 2.5-3 m/h depending on terrain. Plenty of time with a few rest stops thrown in for lunch and to take pictures. Such were my thoughts when heading out.

Mistake #2

Now, I did NOT go down to Tennessee with hiking in the plans, so I didn’t have anything I normally would take on a day hike except my Camelback backpack (minus the hydration bladder). All I had was cotton clothing – socks, underwear, short sleeve t-shirt with a long sleeve t-shirt over top – and running tights, sneakers, and a baseball cap. Basically, I had the running attire I wear down to about 25 degrees. No polypro or moisture-wicking fabric on this hike!

In my backpack I had a cotton sweatshirt, jogging pants, my winter jacket, and a digital camera, along with 2 bottles of water and a snack – peanut butter sandwich and Golden Grahams cereal. I also had my cell phone which was useless except for telling the time since there was no reception in the area.

The Hike
So, I started up the trail. The air was a bit chilly so I alternated wearing the inner shell of my winter jacket on the downhill sections and tying it around my waist on the uphill sections to minimize sweating until I warmed up enough to leave it off.

I saw some interesting ice formations on the ground much of the way. Saw a few birds. But no other wildlife. They were smart. It was a pleasant hike through a hardwood forest. The sky was clear and sunny although the mountain usually blocked the sun from reaching me. There were a couple ramps set up to cross over barbed wire fencing, a protected area to enclose the wild hogs and keep them from doing further damage in other areas with their rooting up the ground.

I also encountered some interesting blow-downs (trees that have fallen over across the trail) halfway up. The closer you get to the tree line, the smaller the trees get and the denser the woods become. There are a few large trees that do survive and when one of them falls across the trail in a manner that is impossible to climb over or under, it makes for some interesting bushwhacking. One tree had fallen over and taken a section of trail with it. As you’re hiking along all you see in front of you is a 10 ft wall of roots and ground. No getting over that puppy. The only way past was into the dense forest. Fortunately, the blow down area only lasted a mile or so with about a half dozen to skirt.

At about mile 5 things started to go downhill. My arms were chilly but my trunk was maintaining warmth with minimal sweating. Do I put my jacket on and really sweat but keep my arms warm or continue the way I was. I decided to stick my hands in the sleeves of the jacket wrapped around my waste to keep them warm and keep going. I’d get to the top, don my extra clothing, take a break to eat lunch, and get some pictures of the incredible view.

As I continued on, the sections of icy trail increased. A spring would run down the mountain, find the trail and follow it….and freeze there, creating stretches of slippery ice. About a mile from the top, the ice started alternating with sections of snow.

By the time I reached the top, and got into the really windy area, I was starting to get chilly. I reached the base of the lookout tower and reached back to get my water bottle on the side of my pack. I couldn’t do it. The muscles in my arms were so cold that they wouldn’t do what I was telling them to do. That scared the hell out of me. I immediately got the pack off, and put my sweatshirt, sweatpants, winter coat, and baseball cap on. In the amount of time it took to get everything on, I started to shiver. I grabbed my peanut butter sandwich and camera and headed up the ramp of the tower hoping the movement would help warm me. More accurately, I staggered up the tower. My leg muscles were starting to seize up from the cold too. I took a bite of my sandwich an choked it down. Got to the top and snapped 3 pictures. Between the wind blowing me around and the shivering, I wasn’t sure if they’d come out or not. Tough. I’d get better pictures some day when I actually thru-hiked the AT.

I headed back down and huddled on the ground on top of my empty backpack out of the wind and in the sun as much as possible and ate my sandwich, drank my water, and had a meeting with myself. For the past 15 years that I’ve been running (on and off) I always start out a little chilly in winter. As I run for a mile or so, I warm up. I always figured that all one had to do if they were dangerously cold was to get moving to generate heat, and they’d warm up (within limits), and that the real danger came with exhaustion. I’ve learned that isn’t so. I still had energy left (even after a slight bonking when my body finished consuming my morning cereal) to keep pushing but that walk up the ramp made me realize that the cold can prevent you from being able to move enough to generate heat. Scary.

I decided to head down on the road instead of taking the AT because the road was out of the trees and in the sun. Good choice. The sun made a big difference. After a few miles I was warmed up enough to start shedding layers. I pulled out the Walmart-plastic-bag-tasting-Golden-Grahams (no baggies!) and enjoyed the scenery the road afforded the rest of the way down.

I returned to my car at 3 pm, 6 hours and 16.2 miles later. I asked a nice man to take a couple pictures for me and then headed down the mountain to Pigeon Forge and an all you can eat BBQ rib dinner. I was still surprisingly cold throughout dinner. But an hour in the jacuzzi when I got back to the cabin took care of that.

This hike was a memory maker but definitely not the brightest thing I’ve ever done.

The cabin
DSC01691.jpgMore pictures of the cabin
At the trail head
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On the trail
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At the top on the tower
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On the road back down
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For Dave and Sherry

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