The latest from Denise.

The Other Road

When you start hiking the AT, you start off on a big journey with a bunch of strangers. Sure there are some couples and friends that are hiking together, but everyone else is a stranger. Hikers are an eclectic bunch for sure. They range in age from teens to the eighties in age. Come from every sort of socio-economic and educational background you can imagine. You get to know each other quickly though. We sleep in close quarters, share our meals and stories around the campfire, help each other when we need it, and quickly become friends. It has now become as though we are all residents of a small town that just happens to stretch some 2000 miles long.

I think the part that amazes me the most is how all of these different people come together to get through this hike. The kindness is overwhelmingly times, especially when…

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Day 23: Bonk

To suffer or not to suffer….

Karma on the PCT

Mile 325.6
Elevation 3374 feet

I’m calling today a bonk. I think. It was heat on blast again, and I’m managing the heat the way old people usually do: not as well as young people. That’s to say, it’s wiping me the hell out. And if I take a break from 12 to 4 like the kids do, I’m looking at 8-mile days.

Ah, well. Something will present itself. It’s only 380 more miles of desert. 😀

I woke up on my shelf above the trail, and had a glorious view of the mountains. Which were rocky. But not the Rocky Mountains or I’d have been pathologically off trail.

I tried going without ibuprofen this morning. The knee is fine! It’s back to its regular bag-of-sharp-pebbles condition. But I have an outrageous case of hiker’s hobble. My feet! Oy vey! So I ended up taking the ibuprofen a half hour…

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Day 22: More brains!

Karma on the PCT

Mile 311.9 (15.3 miles)
Current elevation: 3339 feet

First day of week 4.

Today’s highlights: three snakes, and surviving some brutal heat. Oh, and passing 300 miles. And three consecutive 15-mile days!

I woke up in the Blair Witch field at 5, and it still took me until 6:45 to hit the trail. That’s significantly longer than my usual 1 hour. I was trying a new morning system to try to eliminate my first break, wherein I get a mile, find that the pack is hurting something or other, and empty it and repack it. That break was eliminated today, but it didn’t save me 45 minutes. I’d like to streamline my breaks to try to tease out an extra half-hour of walking time. It wouldn’t have made any difference today. It was so hot that I had to stop every 15
minutes and drink, all day long. And this…

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Day 21: Water fail!

The trials and tribulations continue.

Karma on the PCT

Mile 296.6 (15.3 miles)
Highest elevation: 7740 feet
Current: 5107 feet

Important things first: A friend of mine got some unwelcome medical news. I’m thinking about you, my friend! Real life is what’s important. This stuff out here is… I don’t know what it is, really.


Quote of the day: “This isn’t a race to Kennedy Meadows.”

I’m in my tent in a weird rocky field eating tuna I don’t want, just because it weighs 6 ounces and I don’t want to carry it anymore. You always eat the heaviest food first. Such is the math of the long-distance hiker.

I can’t tell if I’m losing weight. It’s weird. I think I am, but it must be coming off proportionally.

Last night I pitched my tent near another tent. It was a good night–minimal wind, but COLD. I couldn’t force myself up until nearly 6. After I packed up…

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Day 20: Hiker superhighway!

At last. A good day for Karma.

Karma on the PCT

Mile 281.3 (15.2 miles, yo!)
Highest elevation: 7800 feet
Current: 7740 feet

You see that? 15.2 miles! It’s still not enough to cut the mustard, and I have to find a way to make 20s, but 15 has been a huge psychological hurdle for me. Given that I’m carrying heavy (ie, first day out of town with 100 miles’ worth of food, plus 3 liters of water) and the knee issues, today has been amazing! Maybe one of the best days yet.

Which is interesting because it had a shitty start. That’s how it goes out here. Every day = a week of regular time.

I’d made semi-arrangements with another hiker to share a cab to the trailhead. (I didn’t think a 5-mile roadwalk would help my knee, and I didn’t want to try hitching at 6:30 in the morning.) She bailed on the plan without texting me. Her reasons…

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Day 19: Chickens in cities

This is really what a hiker’s inner voice sounds like.

Karma on the PCT

Big Bear City.

Logistics! Random town logistics! And also a bit of a come-to-Jesus look at the rest of the hike.

I was in the grocery store this morning, kind of laughing at my gimpery and wondering if anybody’s ever finished a long trail with a walker–or those canes with the four little feet. I’m willing to endure a lot of trail suffering–but I have to be able to walk at a normal, rolling gait, even if it’s a slow one. I see the young gazelle hikers just skip along, taking pain-free walking for granted in the same way we take our water abundance for granted back home, passing me, passing me, passing me, and gone around the next bend forever–I can’t help the little envious spider that whispers its strange bitter sadness in my ear–or a hint of it, anyway. I know I also had my skipping-gazelle time when…

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Day 18: Freeboiling and Ziggybear

A bit of a fuzzy pic of Karma on the bus. That’s the look of a happy hiker.

Karma on the PCT

Big Bear City, mile 275

Quote of the day: “There are no purists on this bus!”

Weellll… the epic adventure continues! This morning was cold–30 degrees lower than normal. Two days ago, hikers were stumbling into Ziggy and the Bear’s in the blistering heat with heat exhaustion. Today? Jackets and pants.

That 5 miles across the canyon floor is no freaking joke, even in cool temps. Because… freeboiling!

New PCT terminology: Freeboiling! When you’re boiling from the sunbane but freezing from the windbane, all at the same time! It’s the most puzzling freakish thing. I think what happens is that the sun is so hot that you sweat instantly, and the wind is so fierce that it dries it instantly. You can’t put on more clothes. You can’t take off more clothes. You just have to suffer. And walk.

The winds this morning were so fierce that it was impossible…

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Leave No Trace!


Overlooking the Shenandoah River Valley. About the only dry sunshine we enjoyed.

Shenandoah National Park, May 1-5, 2016 — Some hikers are pigs.  No doubt about it.  I saw plenty of that on my AT thru hike.  Being involved with ridgerunning has driven it home like a pile driver.  That’s why I signed up for the Leave No Trace Master Educator Course taught by the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS).

We’ve got to get better at helping people do the right thing when they are in the back country or it will evolve into a place we don’t recognize.  Educating those who use the great out doors is important.  So for me, I’m already in with a dime so why not a dollar?

In addition to trashing the woods, some folks can’t resist making the maximum impact they can.  Most times they are simply ignorant.  These folks can be educated.  Others not so much.  There is a “no rules for me” crowd that is killing it for everyone else. If the trend continues, future generations won’t have a lot left in a pristine state to enjoy.

Now you know why.

(If this weren’t a family-friendly blog, I’d show you some outrageously gross behavior.)

Pinnacles featuring mouse-proof storage!  Rededicated the previous day.

Saturday night I reported to the newly renovated Pinnacles Research Center in Shenandoah’s central district to kick off five days of advanced Leave No Trace (LNT) training designed to teach us how to train LNT trainers and to give more effective classes ourselves. The idea is to help instill an outdoor ethic – good behavior when nobody is watching.

The group was small.  Seven students with two instructors.  The course is mostly practicum in the field with each student required to present a training session on one of the seven principles of LNT.  They are:  1)  Plan ahead and prepare.  2) Travel and camp on well-used surfaces.  3)  Dispose of waste properly.  4)  Leave what you find. 5) Minimize campfire impacts. 6) Respect wildlife.  7)  Be considerate of other visitors.  If you’ve read this blog, you’ve found it has touched on these concepts plenty of times.

My fellow students were a delight.  Each cares a great deal about the outdoor environment.  Their diverse backgrounds included a college student who works at a Scout camp in the summer, a professional Boy Scouts of America scouter, a county park environmental educator, a Vermont Green Mountain Club summit steward, a college professor and more.


All told, we were a good humored lot that could not stop talking shop.


This forecast proved to be optimistic.

We would suffer the first day indoors followed by three nights and four days tramping through Shenandoah’s Hazel Mountain wilderness area.  Weather forecast:  Liquid sunshine garnished by warm and cold temperatures with wind and thunderstorms on the side.  Yum!  At one point the weather abruptly changed to pea-sized hail and the pellets stung the hey out of my bare arms.

Along the way we slept in four-person circus tents and prepared meals from scratch.  These are not my favorite ways to approach backpacking.  I like to be in control and don’t like the time and mess required to do dishes in the back country.  Nevertheless, this arrangement turned out to be simple, efficient and actually facilitated some of the lessons we were studying.  It reminded me of being in the Army and Boy Scouts.

Our group.

Our field kitchen.


Deeelicious!  Pasta, broccoli, cauliflower, salmon and cream cheese.


Last night.  At Birds Nest 3, a hut on the AT.  Discussion on how we planned to apply our newly acquired skills.  It rained buckets and hour later.  No.  That’s not a whiskey bottle.  It’s a water bottle with a filter on top.  We wished it was whiskey.


Cooking at shelters is a bit easier.


Cleaning up and turning in NOLS equipment back at Pinnacles.

The scenery alone is worth the time.


Shelters are designed to concentrate environmental impact in a few places.  Sometimes you can’t make it to the next shelter.  If you can tell I was ever there, then I did something wrong.

The honeymoon is over…

Denise is now headed for one of the best treats on the AT, the wild ponies of Grayson Highlands State Park.

The Other Road

Things have been going well. My body has been changing fast, adapting to trail life. Coming out of Hot Springs I was able to put in longer days with bigger miles and not dropping dead as soon as I arrived at camp. I even did a 16.8 mile day to get to Erwin, TN – the next stop on the trail. I decided to take a day off there to eat, do laundry, and just rest.

View of Erwin coming down the mountain.
Leaving Erwin, things began to change. After a short 4.5 mile hike I arrived at the first shelter. The weather was beautiful and I ended up hanging my hammock and spending the day reading in thesun. However, the next day I didn’t want to hike either. Or the next. I kept pushing on though because what else is there to do. I just wasn’t into it though…

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