Slowing down and being fully “here”

Two nights ago I stealth camped 1.5 miles out from Sunrise Mountain, with a plan to leave camp at 4am to catch this sunrise below. The animal (99.99% sure it was a bear) that visited my camp most of the night made waking up early easy. This wasn’t my first time camping alone, but it was my first time bushwhacking to a makeshift campsite, attempting to scare an animal away in the middle of the night, and then hiking out alone in the dark this morning. Boy was it rewarding!

I continue to get better at enjoying the trail as it comes and living in the moment, rather than methodically planning out my days. At the beginning of this journey, I probably would have hiked past this spot yesterday because I felt it was more important to get in miles while there is daylight. That is the exact opposite of my mindset now and I am so proud of myself for getting to this point. Though it still requires a conscious effort, I now consistently wake up, listen to my body, take the blue blazes (side trails to views off the AT), and am not afraid to set up camp after only 8 miles. The trail is about so much more than the miles.

That said, for these final 800ish miles I want to challenge myself with social media. Though I enjoy sharing my journey and appreciate the support, I’m curious how I can further grow from this experience when I completely live in the moment and don’t worry about posting so much on Instagram and Facebook. I will continue to take pictures for my own memory and share important milestones with you all, but don’t be concerned when my activity on these mediums slows down quite a bit😊 I do plan to continue this blog as it has been effective as a reflective tool for me, rather than the more “live” posts that Instagram and Facebook showcase.

Phases of a NJ sunrise with a perfect moon sliver🌙 at Stokes State Scenic Mountain Lookout

I’m looking forward to hopping off trail in a few days to visit friends in NYC. Even though that’s where I was living before the trail, I am expecting this to be quite the culture shock! I already know I will be eager to get back on trail, but am looking forward to seeing friends and letting my body rest a bit.

– Rocket

100 days on trail!

Even though I’m technically off trail today nursing a hurting foot, it’s crazy to think I’ve been on this once in a lifetime journey for 100 days! Time has FLOWN by and I am so very grateful for every second of this experience 🙂 I’m hoping this foot pain is just a minor set back (x-rays showed nothing to worry about!) and I can get back on trail tomorrow, but I’m not going to push it by any means. I want to reach Katahdin too badly to prematurely get back on trail before my foot is ready (even though all I want is to be in the woods hiking).

Oh it turns out I can’t escape hiking even when I’m not supposed to be hiking! As I was ubering back from getting an X-ray to the place I will spend the night, we came across a fallen tree about a mile out. Couldn’t move it. No way around it. No other road. Must hike there. Official rest will start now!

I thank you all back home for your continued support, and it goes without saying that I have had incredible support from the trail community as well! Here are some of the beautiful people I have met along the way. I might remember the views through the 14 states, but I will NEVER forget these faces (plus so many more )!

Onwards to Katahdin!

– Rocket

Accept my apology, Pennsylvania

I stand by my previous statement that Pennsylvania is rocky, buggy, rocky, humid, rainy, and very rocky BUT yesterday PA redeemed itself. I had one of my favorite days, from both a hiking and social standpoint, and it goes to show what a little sunshine and good weather can do. Yesterday morning we were hiding in our tents waiting for the storm to lighten and by last night we were sitting at an outdoor bar and grill that we bushwhacked to from our campsite, eating a hot meal and enjoying the views and good smelling people.

Hiking with Siren and Jstroke, I did just under 15 miles; a short mile day, but still long because of the challenging rocks and scramble sections. Lehigh Gap was one of my favorite climbs of the whole trail so far and the views did not disappoint! Once at the top, we walked along the ridge with clear views of PA for a few miles. I’m so glad I’ve slowed down my pace because doing this climb in the rain we have had the past few days would be no fun and we would have missed out on views. The majority of the trail yesterday was beautiful, with pine needles covering the ground and rows and rows of bright green ferns.

Lehigh Gap scramble
Blue skies at the top of the ridge line
We climbed loooots of rocks!
Smiles for the sunshine!

We camped at a tent site which we heard was about half a mile from a local resort with real food, so of course we made it our mission to hike even more after we set up camp to find this place. More important than the food, was the opportunity to fill up on water as we are in a 20 mile stretch of the trail with no safe water to drink. We had a little trouble finding our way, but once we got there it was so worth it! The restaurant had unlimited fry refills and live music 🙂 Turns out we even got a ride at the tail end of walking there by the performer who was about to start his show in two minutes!

We went to bed with full bellies and happy hearts. At the end of a long few days, bushwhacking for warm food and music is a perfect reset. After spending about 3 hours there, we reluctantly started the walk back to our campsite. After about 5 minutes of walking, we noticed the fireflies and stars lighting up the sky. Though initially difficult to leave the warmth and creature comforts of the lodge, we all agreed we would much rather be in our tents in the woods. We questioned this paradox: when we are in the woods we want civilization, when we are in civilization we want the woods. I’m pretty sure if I had to choose one or the other I would choose the woods.

This raised the question: If I had been raised in the wilderness with this simplistic lifestyle I am currently living, would I feel the urge to venture off into civilization for 6 months?

When the sun is shining, my belly is full, and my body isn’t hurting (at least not too much) the answer is simple. Keep me in the woods. On the harder days, the temptations of civilization hold a stronger pull. All I know is NEVER EVER quit on a bad day. And this applies to anything you set out to achieve in life. A guy I was hiking with quit two days ago; the rocks and rain became too much. Yesterday I kept thinking, if only he powered through one more day he would have dry gear, blue skies, and much higher spirits to conquer the trail.

– Rocket

Pennsylvania is TOUGH!

The rumors are true…Pennsylvania is rocky, buggy, rocky, lacking views, rocky, and an overall grind. We’ve traded out challenging elevation changes for constant small, pointy rocks that hurt your feet. The northern section of the state is apparently constant boulder walking, so I hope I don’t kick myself later when I say I’m actually looking forward to that over the small ankle breaker rocks. That said, I continue to make progress and just passed 1,200 miles yesterday! I have been very conscious of listening to my body and hiking at my own pace the past couple of weeks, which means I have been floating between different groups of hikers and meeting lots of new people! Here are a few updates from the past couple of days:

I reunited with my tramily in Duncannon and hiked with them a bit for the start of Pennsylvania!

I’ve trudged through the constant rocks PA is known for.

I sent home three pounds of weight in clothes, so bought an actual book! I’ve been enjoying slower mornings reading rather than packing up right away and leaving.

I passed a trail runner who stopped and gave me this rock he painted! He said it was for good luck as I continue my journey toward Katahdin 🙂

I passed 1,200 miles!

I’ve enjoyed hiking with a few new people: Spoons, Airbud, Gummy Bear, Peanut, and Chickadee.

I’ve savored the PA views that feel few and far between.

Now I’m at mile 1220 and never thought I would say this, but I’m excited to get to New Jersey!

If my trail name wasn’t already “Rocket” I think it would be “Fruit Salad” or something like that because what I crave most on trail is FRUIT FRUIT FRUIT! I’ve started packing out at least 2 pounds of apples, bananas, mangos, oranges, etc. and it’s always worth it!

My favorite lunch recipe thus far is a wrap with: Hickory smoked tuna, sharp cheddar cheese, parmesan garlic Snyders pretzel pieces and avocado 🙂 Avocados keep surprisingly well in the heat!

I appreciate all of the continued support and words of encouragement! Though PA has been my least favorite state so far, I anticipated the challenge and am still as determined as ever as I continue toward Katahdin!

– Rocket

Officially past halfway!

Two days ago I passed the 1096 mile marker! I have officially hiked half of the Appalachian Trail! It feels like I was just deciding what pack I wanted…time has completely flown by!

Yesterday morning a bunch of my friends attempted the half gallon ice cream challenge (you eat the container in the picture below plus another pint of ice cream). I enjoyed the free early morning entertainment, but was too much of a baby to give it a try.

Today I did a short day into Boiling Springs, PA. This was my first Nero (nearly zero mile) day in a while, so it feels nice to relax. I got some good food in the tiny town and then headed to Lisa’s hostel – the only hostel in town, situated in a renovated shed behind Lisa’s house. It’s simple, cozy, has a warm shower and shelter from the rainy day. There are loaner clothes here to wear while we do our laundry and I had no clue putting on a cotton hoodie for the first time in almost 3 months would feel SO GOOD! Before heading to bed, we are sitting here watching the movie Gettysburg. I’ve never seen it, so it’s crazy to be seeing this movie for the first time, having just hiked through some of the places where battles took place. In just a few miles I go through Carlisle, PA.

Lately I have been very conscious of SLOWING DOWN and letting the day unfold naturally. I take my time in the morning, hike only the miles that I feel like hiking, and stop if I feel like stopping. I recently sent home almost 3 pounds worth of weight, so I bought a book at Walmart to help me relax at night. I was finding myself less inclined to read books that were downloaded on my phone, so I’m happy to have this luxury item.

I’m so grateful for this experience so far and appreciate every day out here more and more, taking nothing for granted.

– Rocket

Virginia Blues who?

And just like that, I’m out of Virginia! The state of VA was more than 500 miles itself, which is more miles than the prior 3 states combined. This makes it notorious for giving hikers the Virginia Blues, but I honestly did not feel this at all. Like the rest of the trail, this state flew by and it’s really hard to process that it’s already over. Despite its reputation of being a “flat” state, VA was deceptively challenging with tough climbs, rocky terrain, and the notorious 14 mile rollercoaster of steep climbs and descents. I am writing this from Harpers Ferry, WV. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy HQ is located here and this is the final major dropping out point for hikers. From here I hike on to Maryland then Pennsylvania! I have a feeling this second half of the trail will go by much quicker, so I am making a conscious effort to slow down. I would love to be hiking in Maine during Fall color, so I am trying my best to summit Katahdin in mid-September (I’m currently on track for early to mid August). Here are some highlights from the northern part of VA:

Got my picture taken at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Hikers who arrive here, whether thru or section hiking, get their picture put in the archives that go back many and many of years. I started on March 17th as hiker #1047 and I am #489 to make it to this “spiritual halfway point” (the real halfway point is in about 70 more miles.

After finishing the Shenandoahs we backtracked 40 miles and aquablazed (canoed) the 40 miles we had already hiked. This was a wonderful 3 day trip with my tramily and a great chance to rest our legs. The most memorable part was the second day when we got stuck in a torrential downpour and had to pull over to scoop water out of our boats. Empty beer cans, boots, ziplock bags were scoopers of choice.

We passed the 1,000 mile mark! Crazy! I purchased new boots the day prior and was having issues with my left boot, so needed to hike about 5 miles with a croc on my left foot.

We saw lots and lots of bears in the Shenandoahs!

VA was a super hiker friendly state! I think I hitch hiked no less than 7 times.

That’s all for now…I have the whippoorwills to thank for my new habit of waking up and blogging at 5am 🙂

– Rocket

Quick update from mile 870

I’ve become decent at multi tasking while hiking: brushing my teeth, taking my coat off, looking at my phone, eating, etc. Why not try blogging while hiking? Ignore the brevity and typos.

Trail Days was a great experience; I’m glad I went back to Damascus for it. Fun to reunite with old trail friends, talk to gear companies, and meet some notable thru-hikers. During the parade there were way too many men in thrift shop dresses.

We camped next to this rattlesnake for a bit.

We got a hitch to Devil’s Backbone Brewery for camping and showers with the help of Floyd – a local dog who likes to wander off onto the AT. His owner gets called all the time and offered to drive us after we called him about Floyd. Floyd drooled a lot on Wildcard.

I ate the second biggest cinnamon roll of my life in Waynesboro (first biggest was in Gatlinburg).

We sat in the parking lot of Kroger after resupplying and ate pints of ice cream. True hiker trash. I felt like puking after half a pint, so the half gallon challenge isn’t looking so great anymore.

Last night we made the spontaneous decision to stay the night at Basic City Brew – a brewery that offers hikers a shower and backyard to tent in. Only caveat is you have to purchase one beer.

We also did some hiking too…only 30 miles until 900!

We are in the Shenandoah now and in a couple days we plan to aqua blaze. Go backward and canoe three days of the miles we have already hiked!