Before my trail calling, I was searching for something. I had met the one year mark at my first job out of college, my dream job on that note. I had been living in the same house for a year with especially compatible roommates. My routine consisted of waking up before the sun, going to the gym, eating my one packet of brown sugar instant oatmeal before I left for work earlier than I needed to. I would see the same people and clients, talk about the same things, listen to my bookmarked NPR stations. I would leave entirely too late to go home, because no one was waiting for me. I would look forward to that phone call from Nathan on my drive so I could recap my day with him (which had limited variability from the day prior and the day before that). I was getting that paycheck, filling my gas tank, feeding myself, dressing myself, paying bills on time, and was in a healthy relationship. I would come home to eat my frozen vegetables in some makeshift dinner, do my online study modules for a certification I was working for work, then go to bed by 9pm. Rinse. Repeat.
Past Isabelle would have thought, "You have made it! This is what the early 20's are all about." The first job takes some time to get used to because up until the age of 20- life has a series of foreseeable milestones, hierarchies to move up, and natural reinforcers. I had done the "education" route, I had done the internships, done the studying and testing, moved at least one time to a new home each year for the past 5, pushed and pushed. It was exciting, fresh, but also somewhat to be expected. I had my head down, blinders up getting me through this normal life sequence to finally get me to that celebrated and desired title of a "working adult."
I remember calling Nathan one night after work in my parked car outside of my house, in uncontrollable tears because I was perseverating on the fact that we don't live together. He was in his first job as well, but lived over 2 hours away. This February will mark the most beautiful 3 years together. However, I remember crying on the phone that night saying, " I don't know why I feel so lonely." I felt like my life had platoed and I was putting an unnatural amount of pressure on my relationship to provide me with that "next exciting step." I wanted to plan and to keep my mind active. In the back of my mind though, I knew it was bigger than my relationship. That's when something clicked. I was not in control of my happiness. That same conversation marked the first realization that I needed to take care of my actual SELF and that self cannot depend on anyone or anything. I needed to love that self, put it in the light and beauty, share it with deserving people that make me happy. My mom is on a whole other frequency of "self-realization" then the common "soul-searcher" but she has shared with me some beautiful wisdom over the years about how to be happy. One lesson being, "It is only when you truly love your higher "Self" separate from your physical and material self, can the two rejoin as one and be a transparent vessel to share your joy, spirit, and love with all who need it!" Pretty "Granola" I know...but I get it :)
And here is where the magic happened... the trail found me. When I focused on letting my true self come through, and allow for the "crazy" desire of hiking the Appalachian trail slowly shine out of me, the most amazing, beautiful, joy filled people surfaced and began flooding into my life and I am no longer lonely with myself.
Christmas evening, my mom and I sat on my childhood bedroom floor as I started to unpack and take inventory of my growing AT gear. Mom amuses me while I pick up each item, describe its utility, weight, and its comparison to other brands. I love talking about gear. It has become somewhat of an obsession. "Synthetic, down, wool, fill number, gortex, layers, too heavy, wicking, polyester..." you name it, I have probably talked entirely too much about it since my relationship with the trail began. I loved it when my mom looked at this pile of "stuff" and said, "It makes sense... this is going to be your home you carry on your back." She's right.
One of the most fascinating things about acquiring backpacking gear is that you realize how cluttered your "real life" is. Why do we need so many shoes, especially ones that hurt our feet? Why do we need a 3rd "little black dress"or why do we need so much damn hair product? What is this obsession with "new" when you already have an item that works perfectly? I have been doing a lot of "work" in this department. I have been cleaning up, donating clothes, giving things away to family and friends. It's difficult during the holidays because we are constantly giving and receiving things that no body actually needs...My mom calls these cleaning spells "purges." I do these most commonly during transitional phases in my life. I need to de-clutter my living spaces so I can focus on de-cluttering my mind.
I am absolutely intrigued with "tiny homes" (this housing movement where people live in abnormally small conditions--sometimes on wheels). It forces the homeowner to live minimalistic, to utilize space, to emphasize quality over quantity, meanwhile allowing you more liberty to live outside of your home--What?!? CRAZINESS *sarcasm*. We live in an era where we believe that bigger is better, we need the latest version of an electronic, we need 2 cars, 4 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms... we are wasteful and our environmental footprints are getting larger and larger, while climate change is presenting us with record breaking occurrences of natural disasters that should be taken as reminders that we are in fact, so small...
Osprey Aura 50
Osprey XL rain cover
GrandTrunk (double) Hammock (with strap extensions) + Grand Trunk Rainfly
Sleeping bag + liner:
Marmot 20 degree, down + Sea to Summit: Thermolight Mummy liner (adds 10 degrees and can be used as summer bag)
Therm-a-rest: Z light Pad
JetBoil: Mini Mo (Christmas gift from my brother)
Darn Tough X 2 for hiking
Reefs X 1 campsite
Icebreaker Marino wool leggings
patagonia polyester "unders" X 2
EMS Down coat
Patagonia half-zip fleece
EMS wool hat
Patagonia Baggies (shorts)
EMS wicking polyester short sleeve and long sleeve athletic shirts (may bring only one and swap out)
Solomon (wind stopped) Leggins
EMS rain coat
REI rain pants (W Tall)
Sea to Summit dry sack X 2. 6.5L and 8L (for loose/smaller items ad food)
Granite Gear 18L (for clothes)
Coleman (waiting to replace this item)
12 ft of rope (thin)
First aide (band aids, mole skin, antiseptic wipes, ibuprofen, needle and thread, tweezers)
Trash bag liner for pack
Kindle Voyage (Christmas gift from my brother)
May be missing some things above, but I will slowly be testing out and replacing what I can. Would love any feedback or recommendations!
Cheers! Happy New Year!
My response... "Yes. Well, kinda...No." This is the number one, most asked question by those aware of my decision to hike the AT. With my response, it usually evokes a gasp or a surprised look- which can be discouraging at times. I must continuously remind myself that their reactions reflect their fears and concerns, and I can choose to take them on as my own. I try my best to walk them through my reasoning--while justifying my decision, and still, they typically do not warm up to the idea. That's okay. I try not to think that their doubts are because I am a woman and the horror stories one can come up with being a woman alone in the woods...but I know that's not too far off. The bottom line that is difficult to comprehend, is that I will never be...alone. Literally speaking, no one I know is starting at Springer Mountain with me on April 1st, but I will be joined with hundreds of other like minded individual hikers starting their own personal journeys that day and hopefully for the next 5-6 months. Trail families are made and broken and made again. Figuratively speaking, I will not be alone, I will be part of a hiker community-a bond, a safeguard, a confidence, and an unspoken understanding.
I want to be uncensored.
I want to only worry about myself and my material and emotional needs.
I want to go at my own pace.
I want to be with myself.
I want to have my own story and my own accomplishment.
I want to meet new people.
I want to listen to only my body.
I want to be quiet.
I want to be on my own time.
I don't want to compromise.
I don't want to share.
I don't want to compete.
I don't want to upset anyone.
This only scratches the surface. Yes, some of this may sound selfish and inconsiderate, but this is the first time in my life where I am allowing myself to be free!
(11/27/2015 - Friday after Thanksgiving, Nathan and me)
Old Rag is a mountain I hold very close to my heart. It is a 20 minute drive from my home. I believe I have hiked this 9 mile circuit a grand total of 10 times-- and for the most part, can do it with my eyes closed... (Pictured above...haha).
No, this trail does not connect to the AT, but its boulderous summit can be seen from Skyline. When I am on the trail next spring, I hope when I get to Virginia and when I am reunited with the Shenandoah's - I am filled with the memories of the friends and family who have joined me on these mountains. Each and everyone of you have helped me to get to this point and I love you all.
(Easter 2015: Margy- cousin/best friend, post traumatic brain surgery, me, Bennett- brother, first week home from living abroad)
(Easter 2015: the VT crew)
(November 16, 2015: Kara, me, Grace- UMW mates)
(Valentines Day 2011: the one time I didn't make it to the top...)
(April 6, 2003: Caren, Margy- 9, me- 10, Wayne... We can never get over Margy's white outfit and posture in this photo)
Aviator and I completed Three Ridges this Halloween weekend! It's a 14.4 mile circuit that follows the AT and Mau-Har trail. We parked at Reeds Gap around 5:30PM and stealthed about 1.5 miles in. We decided not to stay at the Maupin Field Shelter because I wanted to practice my hammock/rainfly.
We set up camp right by the river. My rainfly took some time to put up and it is still a mild source of annoyance-- I will just need more practice.
I slept much better in my hammock than the shelter a few weeks ago. It feels better on my joints and I prefer having my head and feet elevated when I sleep. An added plus was sleeping that close to the running water-- absolutely beautiful and peaceful.
I woke up around 7 and started a fire. Aviator and I packed up our sites and sat for breakfast. Eating/preparing breakfast is one my favorite parts of backpacking. Aviator shared some of her coffee with me because the brand of instant coffee I got had sugar and cream already in it...little disappointing when I am a black coffee drinker.
We did the days hike mainly by ourselves. I liked having Aviator ahead of me. I liked going at my own pace, only hearing my footsteps, not feeling embarrassed that I'm breathing heavily. It was my first time really "hiking my own hike" and not worrying about another person. I loved that Aviator knew she could leave me.
When I got to the summit, I found Aviator sitting on the ground, leaning against her pack. She looked at peace, face tilted towards the sky, smiling, with her aviator glasses on. I feel so lucky to have her as my mentor and friend. She is truly guiding me through this experience. Her stories, knowledge, and physical presence fuel my motivation. I have no fears when I am with her.
Right now, I am happy, warm, and thankful for my sore joints and muscles-- for those 14 miles and every single step that has gotten me to this point.
"Who is your dream asking you to become." For the past month, multiple questions have surfaced with my decision to hike the AT. Some have been answered, some not. I had dinner with my mom and dad a few weeks ago. We were sitting in one of our favorite restaurants in Charlottesville. We had almost finished eating and the big topic had not yet come up. My mom asked the upfront questions, as usual, "who are you doing this for?" "what are you getting from this?"- the very emotional, heart string questions. I have hopes that down the road I can answer these questions with a confidence, knowledge, and ease that wont make others doubt me or make me feel overly defensive. In fact, this is a skill I wish I had in answering questions and talking in general... To be articulate, to speak in a cadence that demands attention, to speak out loud and not actively criticize myself while I'm hearing what I'm saying. It is a flaw I find in myself, and it was magnified that evening.
I wish my goal was as simple as getting to Katahdin. I visualize it. I see myself on the summit. I feel the sweat on my clothes cooling from the wind. I see myself closing my eyes and thanking whatever higher force got me to that point...Needless to say, I am not worried about getting to Katahdin. I will get there. My goal, however, is to be as present as I can be. To me, getting to Katahdin is just as important as getting to Springer mountain, Skyline Drive, or any summit of the White Mountains. I am using the AT to be my meditation, to be my church/community, to be exactly who I am-- on that day-- in that moment, I want to fully feel the exhaustion, exhilaration, cold, warmth, hunger, and laugher. I want to live in a state of deprivation so when I take a hot bath, eat a home-made meal, or be held in Nathan's arms I will truly feel it and already miss it, in all its glory and be reminded of how beautiful and simple it all can be.
I can prepare, prepare, and prepare. I can be physically ready. However, nothing is going to prepare me fully for the phycological toll this will present. I have read Zach Davis's book "Appalachian Trials" and he had discussed this very topic. I will elaborate more on this book in the future. What resonated the most is that there is no reason why I should not be happy and find joy and love with this experience- though this will require the greatest mental preparedness. I must make this decision actively, every single day on the the trail. I will have a mantra (I will have to think of one when the time is right).
Right now, I am happy. (This video helped :) )
Wow! I did it! And now my body hurts in muscle groups I never knew it had. I packed my bag, met Aviator at her home, did a final gear check-through, and headed out on the trail. The weight felt great! If I had to guess, I was carrying around 30lbs. (a gear list will be posted in the near future once I finalize some things). One things for sure, I do not believe I could hike comfortably with a pack without hiking poles- that support is crucial for getting up inclines and keeping your balance crossing streams.
We ran into two SOBO's (southbound hikers). The one this morning said he started the trail in July (which is late and not too common), his Trail Family's name is "Take off your pants or get out"---I would love to know how that name resonated.
Aviator and I got to camp only to find a group of boy scouts. It turned out not to be a problem. Aviator and I practiced setting up my hammock and rain fly, we fixed our spots in the shelter, prepared and ate dinner, used bear bags and put up our food. I loved every second of it. Aviator has two stoves, a pocket rocket (which I used) and a jetboil- before last night the whole portable stove/cooking process was extremely foreign to me, now I am stoked to get a stove of my own and see what types of freeze dried or dehydrated food are out there. For dinner I ate freeze dried chicken and rice, where you boil the water and pour it straight into the bag. For breakfast this morning, I made instant oatmeal (my go to everyday in the real world too) and instant coffee. I want to make it a priority of mine to eat as many vegetables as I can while on the AT, I understand that a lot of camping food options and hikers' diets are not the most nutritious.
"9 o'clock is hikers midnight" so we went to bed relatively early... I however was having a hard to getting to sleep because it just so happened to be below 30 degrees and couldn't shake the chill. I look forward to trying my hammock out and seeing if that sleep is easier on my joints and with my z-pad curved to my body it would help with the warmth.
Waking up with the sun this morning was a gift. With fall, all the trees are yellow, orange, and red-- forming a rich, full canopy that glitters when the sun shines through, I loved sitting by the fire this morning, hearing Aviators stories, drinking coffee, and slowly feeling my heart filling with warmth and peace in knowing that, that was exactly where I needed to be.
Yesterday I got my sleeping bag from Blue Ridge Sports here in Charlottesville, Va . It's a size long, 20 degree, 650-fill down, Marmot bag. I have read lots of information out there about the comparison between synthetic and down. One flaw about down is that, if it gets wet...good luck getting it dry. That is a mild concern of mine, but this bag has a water- resistant wash and with a proper rain cover for my pack, I shouldn't get in too much trouble with that. One BIG plus is that, if cared for, down will keep you warmer and last you much, much longer--"Over 20 years" is what I was told by the salesman. It certainly feels good getting my gear slowly together and into my pack.
Turns out I have pharyngitis. I started my prescribed antibiotics this morning and took a sick-day from work. Using this time to hang up my hammock on the front porch and pretend I am in the woods.
Hoping for a speedy recovery so I can do my overnight circuit hike with Aviator this weekend.
I met Aviator today for coffee at her home! I was nervous initially. I was worried she would be able to tell at first site whether I "had what it takes" to complete the AT. Pushing those anxieties aside, we were gifted with a wonderful afternoon filled with stories, tips, gear-talk, hardships, pictures etc. At one point, she brought downstairs an armful of books she suggested I read- she lent me:
1. Appalachian Trials by Zach Davis (which I finished tonight)
2. AWOL on the Appalachian Trial by David Miller
3. Grandma Gatewood's Walk by Ben Montgomery
After coffee, she assisted me to Rockfish Gap Outfitters in Waynesboro, Va. She's a regular there and the guys had worked with her in getting all her gear for the AT and CT-- needless to say, they know their stuff. I went in there the previous week to purchase my LEKI walking sticks and to get properly fitted for a pack.
Aviator requested they place 35lbs in a pack and have me walk around the store for a few minute. The pack I chose was a grey Osprey pack, size medium, with lavender straps (those are growing on me, but still a little girly) . Overall I love it! It's comfortable, the price was right, and Aviator has the same style and brand which support that it's a good quality, durable pack.