6 States and the Art of the Short-Term Quit
It feels like a whole lifetime has gone by since I last updated this blog. It is crazy to think about just how much has changed and shifted in my life in the last month and a half. But first, I must apologize for my prolonged silence. I know that I promised to update this blog with greater frequency, but living life has gotten in the way a little. Since my eighteenth birthday I have completed 7 more states (which means I only have 5 more to go!) and completed more than half of the Appalachian Trail. Even now, I find it hard to believe that I have walked over 1,100 miles. Springer feels just as far away as it was in Maine, even though I will be hitting my 3 month trailversary (which I think is a great word by the way – not sure anyone has used it before) today!
The Short-Term Quit (no I did not get off trail, keep reading)
But before I get carried away with the details, I wanted to tell you all about some of the lessons I have learned in the trials and challenges of the last six weeks. The most important lesson I have learned is the art of the short-term quit.
When I hit New York, I went through the worst two weeks of my journey yet. I was constantly tired, but unable to sleep properly for days at a time. I was getting bad headaches most mornings and dealing with almost constant nausea. Most of this was just a result of intense physical activity, stress and insomnia, but it was really hard to accept that it would eventually ease up with time. Right around this time I also got separated from people I had been hiking with off and on in Massachusetts and the early miles of New York., And so amidst feeling physically worn down and incapable, I also felt, for the first time, truly very lonely. It wasn’t until here that I realized just how much I missed being around other women on trail, and having people to talk to about the difficult things I was dealing with. Not to mention the half dozen existential crises I was going through every day just trying to process the emotional roller coaster I was putting myself through and all the crazy ways my life has completely flipped upside down in the past 3 months.
Suffice it to say that I was incredibly discouraged. Not because I wanted to quit but because I could not imagine being able to finish in the state that I was in. I think that that was what really drove me under for a little while, the possibility that despite my careful preparation and strong desire to keep going, there was something holding me back that I did not have an easy way to fix. That is when I became the master of the short-term quit. I slowed down a lot, I took more days off in my tent just trying to catch up on sleep. I journaled a little more, but I allowed myself to let go of a lot of the high-stakes expectations I had for myself and focus on just trying to get through each day appreciating the deer and the cooler weather. And eventually, I did get through it. But that meant having to give up on some of my short-term goals in order to make the long-term vision a possibility.
It also meant having patience and trusting that other hikers would eventually catch up. I am so incredibly grateful that I did eventually get to be around a group of hikers again once I got to Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania. That town truly brought back a lot of the spirit I lost in the weeks I spent by myself. And after spending the last 7(?) years of my life so hyper-fixated on trying to be perfect, it was refreshing to learn how to fail for a little while and then get up and come back stronger. And the best part of all this is that I have found so many people who have gone through the exact same thing on trail. Learning to accept failure is something I think our current world does not encourage. We don’t encourage people to admit their mistakes, to be humble, or to talk about their imperfections. We have a hard time accepting that not everyone will take the same path, and that sometimes being bad at the things you love doing is ok. But having those conversations with other folks on trail has been so fulfilling.
Alright, that was enough of that emotional nonsense, onwards to all the cool stories and awesome tales of adventure I have waiting for you!
Goodness gracious Vermont was a very long time ago, and I hate to say it, but it was my least favorite state so far. It was very muddy, and the trail seemed to be in worse shape than anywhere else I have seen, which is probably because it sees twice as much use with the convergence of AT and Long Trail hikers, and it was seriously lacking in variety and good views. It also just so happens that one of my favorite memories from Vermont happened just a day after I posted my last update. I had spend a day in town and needed to be on my way back to trail so I stood on the side of the road for a little while before a man and his daughter in a pickup truck at a gas station across the road waved me over and told me to hop in the back. I felt like I was living in a different era, just me and a glorious black dog sticking our faces into the wind from the back of some kind person’s car. It was rather glorious.
There was quite a bit of rain when I was in Vermont – and a couple more fire towers (all built during the Great Depression by the CCC, along with large portions of the AT and LT). Vermont was also pretty rocky and had me wondering how Rocksylvania could get any worse than what I was already seeing. Spoiler alert: it’s really didn’t get much worse.
I also got to hike for a few days with my good friend Britney, and we got stuck for almost ten minutes behind a porcupine who insisted on taking the AT rather than scampering off as soon as we came into view. When it did try to run, it tripped and stumbled adorably over its short little legs. It was very cute.
I also found this amazing little poem tacked to the wall of a shelter – my favorite kind of poetry right now!
Massachusetts was simply divine! It is definitely up there with Maine as one of my favorite states on the AT so far – it was simply gorgeous. Not only did Massachusetts has wonderful views and unusual landscapes, but it had the most perfect little trail towns that were full of kind, helpful people who were looking out for the hikers and stashing water caches near roads where the drought had caused water sources to dry up over the summer.
I went up Mt Greylock in thick mist – which was a little unfortunate because I was excited to be able to see all the way to New York from the top, but I had no such luck. But by a wonderful little accident I ran into two other SOBOs, fieldmedic and goosehawk that same day and we hiked down into Cheshire where the town had set up a campsite for hikers on a plot of land just off the trail. There was a shed that we three huddled in to keep out of the rain and bikes that we used to get dinner. Perhaps the most spectacular thing about this site was the Polish hermit. The Polish Hermit was raised in western Massachusetts by his Polish family and brought up like they still lived in Poland. He brought us snacks and told us all about his life growing up and the Polish community that used to be the main residents of the towns in the area. It was a wonderful little reminder of how little we really know about the lives of Americans outside of our little bubbles of knowledge. He was a truly fascinating person and I wish that I had been able to get to know him better. That night, just before the hermit went home, I rode one of the bikes down to a nearby lake and watched the sunset. It was, I am sorry to say, too beautiful to take pictures of. Not everything can be truly captured on camera.
The next day the three of us hiked to the hike of the Cookie Lady, a woman who bought a blueberry farm from a couple that had been baking cookies for thru-hikers for decades. And so she took up the mantle and carried the tradition on, letting hikers tent on her lawn or sleep in her bird bus. I enjoyed a lovely evening sitting on the front porch of the farmhouse wasting homemade cookies and sipping the most delicious lemonade I have ever tasted. To top it all off, the sunset descended in waves of pink and orange clouds as people picked blueberries and swapped stories.
In the morning I woke up early and picked as many blueberries as I could to carry to our next stop; Upper Goose Pond, where the caretaker cooks pancakes every morning for hikers and is always grateful to get a bag of freshly picked blueberries to include in breakfast from the the cookie lady. While picking blueberries I met an organic farmer from Asheville (where my dad is from actually!) who talked to me about his life as a farmer and a traveling consultant to small farms like the one we were staying at. Sometimes the greatest reward for hiking is meeting fabulously unusual people.
At the upper goose pond, after taking a swim and getting some good sleep, I woke up early with Fieldmedic to canoe out onto the lake and watch the sunrise from a little island off in the middle of the lake. It was absolutely beautiful, and over the years people had made little cairns in the water around the island. After fearing our eyes on the golden mist, we feared on blueberry pancakes.
Not long after, I started seeing some of my first fall leaves. As I have come south they have gotten less common, But Massachusetts was just beginning to see the early stages of fall, which was truly a sight to see.
Towards the end of MA I got to stay with some family friends, and I was greeted my some beautiful wildflowers, a tour of a very cool dairy farm and this wonderful sign. I am so grateful for all of the people who have taken me in over the course of my hike, it is such an immense blessing to have people looking after me. So thank you thank you thank you to Liz, Carol and Lauren for all welcoming me into their homes in Massachusetts and Connecticut.
Of course, we cannot wrap up a state on the AT without a discussion of history, and Massachusetts gave us the privilege of walking across the last battlefield of Shays rebellion, which was one of the many events of the late 18th century that pushed our early government to have a constitutional convention, and we can thank this little plot of grass for giving us a federal government capable of taxation.
Having already hiked all of the AT in Connecticut, it seemed to fly by pretty fast. After digging around and finding some of my old log entries from December, 2021, I got to climb several mountains that I had last done in dense fog, ice and snow. It was nice to be able to enjoy the views of Northern Connecticut and revisit spots where I had so many crazy experiences.
But before I knew it, I was walking along the Housatonic river (much lower than I have ever seen it), deciding to wade in, and listening to the 2005 pride and prejudice soundtrack while sitting in the middle of the river. And the very next day I was in my home state.
NEW YORK RECAP
I have told much of what there is to tell of my experience in New York already. And while it was fraught with emotional and physical turmoil, it was also full of beauty (as is every state). After prancing through a cow pasture I came upon the Metro North train tracks. I stopped to eat lunch and watched the trains go by. And after telling myself for weeks that I would not go home, I decided on a whim to take the next train home and sleep in my own bed. And so I did! I spent two days with my family and then hopped back on trail, only to get caught in several days of severe rain and watch myself struggle to make minimal miles for a while.
It was in New York, however, where I had my favorite deer encounter of the whole trail. I looked up from my feet while trudging up a steep hill to see a doe walking slowly alongside me just off the trail a few feet. She stayed with me for a few minutes before running away. It is amazing to me that she trusted me so much, given that I must have been making a racket with my trekking poles, but she did anyway.
Just a few minutes later I found myself looking at the most beautiful sunset I’d seen in weeks. Suddenly, I realized why the view looked so familiar; because I had been there before I my first-ever backpacking trip. It was in this exact location where the idea of thru-hiking first occured to me. While I stood back and watched my dad walk along the cliff, I wondered in awe what it would be like to hike mountains like these everyday. Well, I know now. And let me tell you, it is worth every moment of pain and uncertainty that come along the way.
I will admit to being very proud that New York is such a beautiful state, and has some of the most beautiful rocky ridge tops I have ever seen – not to even mention the insane rock jungle gym that is the lemon squeezer.
NEW JERSEY RECAP
Having grown up ripping into New Jersey at every opportunity, I was glad to find that there are at least some parts of the state that aren’t disgusting. But seriously, New Jersey had some of the most beautiful hiking I have ever done.
One beautiful afternoon I came out of the woods to discover that the trail wrapped around a beautiful marsh dotted with white cranes that took flight one by one as I made my way through. Beautiful things can be found in the most unexpected places!
New Jersey also had a really beautiful suspension bridge built just for hikers. I crossed it early one morning just after the mist had left it sparkling with Spider webs. It was the start of several peaceful days that helped me recover. I even got to stop at a farm store and buy two boxes of frozen ravioli that I cooked and ate for dinner (yep all of them) after hiking to a secluded little spot across some cow pastures.
Before I passed into Pennsylvania, however, I met a group of hawk watchers who post members of their organization on top of the mountains to count the birds and keep track of the migratory patterns of the birds passing through the Appalachian Mountains. Needless to say, they got a real kick out of my name. It was cool to see people just hanging out and watching birds all day, what a great way to spend a retirement.
Last state you guys! Almost there! Pennsylvania was not nearly as rocky as everyone made it sound, and after running into a bug bubble of hikers in Delaware Water Gap, I started to truly feel healthy and energetic again. I spent many many hours sleeping on a couch in the basement of a church there and talking with all the wonderful new SOBOs I was meeting. I don’t think I will ever forget the stories I heard and the people I met there. With every new person I met (or reconnected with), I felt more and more a part of a little community that was just keeping me alive and reminding me I was not, in fact, truly alone. Everywhere I looked there were more hikers coming together and moving onwards. We got this great photo in a coffee shop across the street from the church. At first, it was just me and Mayo sitting and watching the street, but slowly everyone migrated (haha) over and took up seats on the windowsills. A local stopped in and asked to take a picture of us. It was one of my favorite moments on trail. As the guys were lining up behind me, Mayo joked that they were gathering around their grandma for the last time. So yeah, I guess I am the resident grandma(of sorts) on trail.
I camped that night on the edge of a field looking out over Pennsylvania farm fields, and the next day Mayo, Layke and Hunter (two twins who just graduated high school in Missouri) caught up with me and we hiked the rest of Northern Pennsylvania together. We ate pizza and ice cream for breakfast one day at a hostel along the way and met up each night at shelters. I am missing them a little right now – it was just so nice to stick with a little tribe of hikers for a week or so. They all hike faster than I do, but somehow I managed to keep up.
I did my first 25 mile days in Pennsylvania, and was rewarded with some beautiful cliff side walks and rocky outcroppings. I still haven’t hiked any marathons, but that will come pretty soon I think.
When I got to Duncannon I got to catch up with some hikers I hadn’t seen since Vermont, and I got picked up by my dad, who drove me south to Harpers Ferry. I completed the Harpers Ferry to Duncannon section in April of this year. A thru-hike demands that the whole trail be completed in a calendar year so I am going to be skipping over the miles I completed before I started hiking south. If you want to read about those miles, I wrote about them on my Instagram, which is linked in my blogger profile, back in April. I will miss the friends I made in Pennsylvania, but I am certain they will catch up eventually. I am beyond grateful for the challenges the last 500 miles have given me, and I am happy to finally be more than halfway done with the trail. I am looking forward eagerly to hiking through the south and discovering all there is to learn about this new half of the AT. As always, I am full of wonder and love for all the beauty I get to live in every day. I am grateful for the concern that you have all expressed about my journey, and I am grateful that life keeps going on in spite of difficulty.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.
Good to hear from you. My niece hiking the PCT blogged almost daily on her first northbound attempt; second time she wrote quite a bit less. Both approaches are good; there is so much else to pay attention to, from friends to loneliness (and vice versa); wildlife, seasons.
That view of the Mt. Greylock monument is how I best remember it, taking the long way to a high school reunion. The AMC lodge is a cool place to stay, but not required, and obvously was built in the wrong place for your through-hike!
Dayhiking from the lodge on my own schedule, I finally visited a place I’d seen on the map all through high school (outing club trips); never got to – The Hopper, a deep hollow on the northwest corner of the mountain and quite a ways below the AT, with some huge, old-growth pines, straight and tall, like a western forest (though smaller than Muir Woods redwoods).
Wishing you more delightful, safe and reflective travels! And random late mornings.
Migrator! Loved your post. I trust I’ll see you soon on trail. You’re doing a fantastic job.
Congrats on making it over halfway through the AT and Happy Trailversary!! I am loving getting your updates and hearing how you are overcoming the obstacles in your way. Keep it up, love ya!!
Very happy to hear that about your getting through some tough times and doing better. There is always sunshine on the other side. Hope that experience stays with you far into your future!
Love hearing about the trail, and thanks for the wonderful pictures!
Keep it up!
Love this post! So good to hear from you. Life-changing experiences!
Althea- I quote you here, because if you can master this- that life is not perfect, nor should it be, nor will it be, then you will have matured about 100 years on this trail. Life is about making mistakes, failures, and responding- sometimes well, sometimes less well. So that lesson is huge. And I agree with you that the idea of success forgets about the path and process, that it is up and down. And success does not have to be the focus, yet in our society it is way too much. Drop perfection and you will enjoy the moment and the process so much more. Hooray for you and your insights and thank you for the photos and words. “Learning to accept failure is something I think our current world does not encourage. We don’t encourage people to admit their mistakes, to be humble, or to talk about their imperfections. We have a hard time accepting that not everyone will take the same path, and that sometimes being bad at the things you love doing is ok. “