Greetings from August. Merriam-Webster tells me that august means “marked by majestic dignity or grandeur” but I think it should describe the state of a perfectly ripe piece of fruit, warm from the sun and hanging heavy on the tree. The kind of ripeness that can’t be suspended and captured, that is utterly transitory.

This particular August has definitely felt like the peak ripeness of the season so far. Full of small adventures nearby, time outside, hours playing with yarn in natural dyes, out-of-town visitors and time with friends… so many things that I enjoy and that I have invited in. And yet, amidst all of that glorious summer, there is an urge to curl up and be still as if embodying the calm I crave might make it so. I am trying to practice finding my calm center and staying steady while riding the current of it all. I’m not sure how it’s working.

This August has also found me reflecting on last August. A year ago, our Appalachian Trail hike was nearing its untimely end.

When the anniversary of the start of our trip came around in April, it felt very fresh. I could step right back into my mind a year earlier as I was excitedly winding down obligations and preparing to set out with so many hopes for a half-year sabbatical, and the quiet of 2019 felt very mundane in comparison. But somehow over the last four months of living, the span of a year grew. The endless rain and rocks and mud and bugs and sheer physicality of last August feel distant from this August in a way that the two Aprils did not.

And then there is, of course, the reckoning with the gap between our hopes and how the trip actually ended. It wasn’t a tragedy, but it wasn’t the triumph that we imagined, either.

The Race to Alaska is an event that shares some of the spirit and experience of a through-hike (minus the race part, of course) and this excerpt from their wrap-up in June is about as good a description of our experience as any:

“They put everything out there and came up short of a dream to find it replaced with another something. An accomplishment they never expected and a satisfaction they are still trying to understand.

“How can a person be satisfied after pushing up against a challenge, giving everything – 100% of their skill, tenacity, courage, spirit, and hope – yet still come up short? In struggles as deep as these, you find identity. You go to a place where you see yourself for the first time; your relationships, your ego, humility, greed, compassion, leadership, thresholds for pain and cold are all shown in stark honesty. You get a chance to see the true parts of yourself for the first time. Or maybe the first time in a long time.”

It all sounds more dramatic than I’m really comfortable embracing, but I also accept that there is some good reason this rang true. Coming up short is uncomfortable on so many levels and reaching an edge is a satisfaction that takes real work to understand. And yet, here I am; here we are. Undoubtedly shaped and pushed in ways that standing in triumph at the finish never could have. There’s an ache in my heart for the us-from-2018 and I am proud of where we are, and who we are, a year hence.

It’s a lot to unpack, but you know by now I’m prone to reflection. Especially when sunsets return after a couple months of long northern days stretching past my waking hours.

Happy August, y’all. May it feel like a biting into a perfect peach, complete with juice dripping off your chin.


We’ve been off trail for a week but already it feels impossibly more distant. Part of me believes that any lasting insights will emerge on their own, and in their own time, but another part of me believes that it’s important to intentionally take the time to reflect in order to process the whole experience.

But we’re not home and won’t be for several more weeks, so it’s difficult to carve out the time and space for that processing. Today’s small step: make a (simple, imperfect) slideshow from of my daily photo project. I took a photo of my feet nearly every day of our hike. (I missed several, most often when we were in town.)

I have no idea if this will be interesting to anybody else. My mind takes these little snapshots and translates the light or the rock to a whole memory of that time and place but obviously you have only the snapshot.

But here it is, 1600 miles of trail in two minutes of my feet:


I didn’t know it then, but this is what our last day on the AT (for 2018) looked like. After four months, we conceded that while our hearts and minds and most of our bodies were aching to walk another 550 miles, Lucy (as I’ve dubbed Dean’s left foot) demanded and frankly, deserved otherwise.

For the one from Maine, everything since Georgia has been a “Katahdin approach trail”. The mountains and lakes and miles I was most excited to see still lay north. It’s heartbreaking to let that go.

And yet… I know that the trail was always just a sturdy container for the real journey, and the wildest wilderness is the one inside me.

Slowly (and with a fair bit of resistance) I am learning to relinquish my imagined plans and to surrender to the way it is.

And… because I got behind on sharing the last couple weeks, I still have photos from the hike from our travels through Massachusetts and southern Vermont.

It was my favorite stretch in many miles, the transition toward bigger forests and wilder country unmistakable. It was also a mess, the trail a giant mud pit from the intense nightly storms.


Lots of signs of progress since I last wrote. We completed the New York and Connecticut sections of the trail. We passed mile markers that were round numbers (1400! 1500!) and meaningful fractions (2/3!). The calendar even turned to August, a very real reminder that the darkness creeping into our evenings is only going to steadily increase.

Time marches on. We continue to pluck our way northward. And yet…

It feels very much like we have been hiking every day for long enough that it’s hard to remember what waking up at home felt like. And the 670ish miles of remaining trail feel like we will be doing so for the foreseeable future. So every day I put on the same smelly clothes and chew through a mountain of dense food and walk under a green canopy, up and down, rocks, rain, bugs, blah blah blah.

We are in the doldrums. We are making progress. Both are true.

Progress feels more true when the sun shines, though. I wish it were more complicated than that, and really I’m sure it is. But… blue skies sure help.


Postcards from New Jersey.

Vistas of more forest than anything else, a real novelty of late (when the clouds allowed a view). Wild berries. Signs announcing a pond as “one of the seven natural wonders of NJ”.

Also, monsoon season rains and vicious swarms of mosquitoes. (actual snippet of conversation: “maybe we can pretend like we’re on an exotic vacation to India”) A night tenting in a town park, tormented by streetlights and dogs barking. Gorgeous boardwalks over wetlands and sketchy bog bridges.

We made it to NY, and felt a small sense of accomplishment, and then immediately embarked on a few miles of rocky ridges requiring bouldering moves, wet and slippery from all the rain, and were humbled once again.

No update on the foot troubles I wrote about last time. It still hurts, we are still hiking north. Still a bit slower, still hoping.


The last time I wrote, the whole idea of being in Pennsylvania was full of the triumph of reaching the north, of getting over the hump and marking northward progress. Just below the surface of that triumph was a simmering anxiety about the storied rocks of PA. It turns out this stretch of trail was a bit like a protracted game of mercy for us. And that even our pride was no match for the pain.

Overall, our bodies feel strong and settled. But Dean’s left foot has grown more painful than is sustainable for another 900 miles over the last couple weeks. So progress has slowed while we sort that out. In the last week and a half, we have more than doubled the number of non-hiking days of our entire trip. We spent an entire day procuring him a new pair of shoes, a day that culminated in 180 miles of freeway driving in a Ford F-150 (mind bending, terrifying, and exhausting). We also walked many miles of Pennsylvania rocks, alternately convincing ourselves that it wasn’t nearly as bad as the stories we had heard and that it was cleverly devised torture aimed very personally. We got a visit from my sister and her family to buoy our spirits. And we were forced to admit that right now, these rocky miles were threatening to derail our whole trip.

So we skipped the last 50ish miles of Pennsylvania and opted to spend that time resting instead. We stayed in town long enough to get Dean in to see a foot doctor. We put our feet up, and tried not to think about it all too much. Because we don’t know, and of course we never do, but right now that truth feels a little too raw. I feel a little raw, frankly. The paradox of bodily rest is that it is the opposite of rest for your mind. My mind is at ease when I’m walking these days, or watching the fireflies outside the tent at night. Holed up in a hotel, anxiety is a noisy mental narrative and acceptance of this vulnerability an occasional visitor. So mostly, I avoid it all by escaping into a book (thank you library ebook loans) or some similar distraction. Like any other part of life, I suppose, but stripped to such simplicity that it’s all unavoidably obvious.

The verdict at the doctor was that a high threshold for pain (check) and some serious anti-inflammatories might be sufficient. So tomorrow, we plan to tentatively venture north, humbly hoping New Jersey is gentler on us than Pennsylvania. Wish us luck!


Greetings from Pennsylvania! Since I last wrote, we have passed a whole pile of trail milestones. First was the 1000 mile marker, a nice round number. We completed Virginia after more than a month and 550ish miles, then West Virginia and Maryland in quick succession. There were halfway markers of all sorts – the actual mathematical one as well as the traditional sort in Harpers Ferry and the plaque of the appropriately weary-looking hiker on Center Point Knob.

And there was a heat wave. The mid-Atlantic isn’t known for its mountains for good reason. The Appalachians are… subtle through these parts. More of a theoretical concept than a geographic feature. So our heat relief came in the form of state park picnic grounds and a tavern with an outdoor shower rather than mountain breezes and lake swimming.

It seems likely that these next weeks involve more of the same, as summer settles in and the tracts of public land dwindle and the AT becomes more of a “backyard trail”. It’s interesting to see all the little corners and corridors that connect together to make the trail’s path. There are still points of interest but they are more likely to be civil war monuments than vast views just now. On the good days I appreciate the unique nature of this trail, on the bad I calculate miles until the mountains rise again to the north.


It was 108 trail miles from our last town stop to this one, our longest carry yet on this trail and only a few miles shy of the longest we plan to do. And yet those miles were the least removed from civilization of any yet.

We were walking through Shenandoah National Park, a beautiful place very much designed for automobile tourism. So what you can’t see in those shots of a ribbon of trail is the background rumble of motorcycles on Skyline Drive. And what I didn’t take pictures of were the water spigots in picnic areas (no filtering required!) and wayside grill selling hamburgers and milkshakes for lunch one day and the other little conveniences gleaned.

We still hiked 108 miles in 5 days and our feet still feel just like you might expect. And extra snacks are always very welcome. But novelty only lasts so long, and I prefer quieter environs.

Today is a rest day in town. My big indulgence was a haircut (ok, so really the salon shampoo was the indulgence), Dean caught a matinee movie. Tomorrow morning we head out in the heat in search of quiet, and the end of Virginia.


A week ago, we got a ride 5 miles back to trail. Our driver wasn’t chatty so we all listened to the local radio station for 10 or 15 minutes.

Five days later, eating lunch with some hiking friends, I was moaning about the song that had been stuck in my head for days and Dean was telling the story of the hopelessly bad caller playing the name-that-tune game.

everything dies and that’s a fact/ maybe everything that dies one day comes back/ put your makeup on, do your hair up pretty/ and meet me tonight in atlantic city

That’s where we are in this hike right now in a nutshell… one brief bit of input from the world is still the most interesting topic of conversation a week later.

We are strong enough to hike longer days now but too tired to do anything else in a day. We truck northward.


Here I am again, wondering what to tell you. It seems that I have reached that point in our hike where I’ve lost perspective on what is new or interesting, what is different. I feel like I’m just immersed in the daily rhythms, and it’s hard to parse out the highlights to share.

We have walked one-third of the miles and been out for nearly two months. We are still trying to acclimate our bodies to the daily grind, still trying to increase our average miles just a bit higher. Somehow I had this notion that we would spend a month or so getting up to speed and then we would just be “there” – not that it would be easy, but that we would generally have our trail legs and maintain a steady pace. The longer we are out here, the more memories of prior long hikes have come back and I know that was a delusion, but it’s been a hard one to let go of.

We have reached the point where we have calculated the average daily pace needed to reach the end of the trail in the time we’d like given the number of miles between here and there… which is both intimidating in its stark reality and encouraging, because the results seem utterly possible.

We’ve reunited with trail friends after hiking a couple hundred miles mostly together and then hiking nearly as far separated by less than a day, tracking each other through log book entries.

I found my first pint of non-dairy ice cream yesterday, and ate it for dinner. I may or may not write a letter to Coconut Bliss telling them how much better a world we live in for their existence.

I’m finally letting go of some of my ideas about what a through-hike should look like and beginning to understand the nature of this trail… how “trail” and “town” aren’t so distinct but more often blur. How much more varied the nature of a through-hike can be with the frequent hostels and shuttles and roads intersecting trail.

We are re-evaluating every day the relative merits of living with the cast of trail discomforts – heat, humidity, rain, bugs, etc. Lucky for us, it seems that it’s a pretty constant trade from one to another.


Ten days is an age right now, so a tidy recap of the hike since my last post feels impossible. So instead of trying, I offer some snapshots from our days…

We traversed some high country where our databooks were sprinkled liberally with “view” icons out of Damascus, but we mostly saw the inside of the clouds and pondered how real a threat trenchfoot might become.

But the sun returned, complete with generous laurel and rhododendron blossoms.

And then the most glorious weather development occurred, and a breeze picked up. And I realized that wind is the natural antidote to humidity and suddenly a whole lot of fanning in older southern stories took on new levels of meaning. We even had enough wind to feel a bit of chill a couple nights and zip up our sleeping bags. Best sleep!

Unfortunately the bugs have returned with the clear skies. Or rather, I should say the bug bites have returned. Because they don’t seem too bad until I absent-mindedly scratch an ankle and then can. not. stop. Ankles are definitely the most delicious part of me.

The mountains have mellowed a bit in Virginia, with more rolling hills and long cruisy ridges.

Also, lots of rhodies that grow so dense the trail is a tunnel.

And occasionally, views high enough that capturing that “I’m standing on the edge” photo gives you a bit of vertigo and requires some cheating.

And after 600+ miles, I finally got my first swim. It felt pretty great and I hope to work on improving my swim to miles ratio.


Greetings from our first zero day in a month. It seems that we have become the proverbial tortoise in this non-race. For the last 30 days, we have walked some bit of trail; some days 20 miles, some days 3. Resting and walking, all things in moderation.

It snuck up on me, that string of days of forward progress. But it also feels like an appropriate summary of how the trip feels right now. I told myself I should take advantage of the day to write a bit more, to tell a tale from the trail. But I’m not sure what that would be. This trip hasn’t had a lot of singular moments or epic days, it feels like the story of this trail is the steady accumulation of the days and miles, paying attention to the gradual shifting of the forest with the season, the latitude, the elevation. (And of course, the gradual shifting of us as legs grow stronger, calluses tougher, minds a little quieter.)

The forest is dense with layers of green now so that it’s hard to remember the bare branches we saw back in Georgia. And all that growth is lightly contained water, which is exactly what it feels like. The air is thick with humidity, regardless of sunshine or cloud, hot or cool, day or night. A week or two ago I found myself hoping for rain, naively believing that would clear the air. But I’ve grown familiar with “a nice southern rain”, as we have come to call it, the sort where the sun is shining and there’s not a whisper of a breeze and rain is falling but there’s no discernible change in air temperature or humidity.

No high tops with grand views this section, but it was a good stretch. We got lucky and found ourselves under a roof every time the rain was torrential, walked by some bigger waterways for the first time that held real potential for swimming if our timing had been better. And we crossed from Tennessee into Virginia, where we will spend the next 500+ miles.



Just a very quick post to share a few pictures from our last short section. It started pretty wet… we counted 131 of these little red efts one morning while walking in a cloud.

But then the skies cleared and the trail traversed the Roan highlands and it was pretty glorious.


I took fewer pictures the last few days and looking back at those that I did take, there is a striking uniformity to the palette if not quite the subject matter. Spring green is on in these mountains.

When we walked out of town last, it felt much more like summer, though. It seems that I have either never experienced real humidity or I have blocked it out. Because it’s been rather a shock for me. The most confusing are the days that are overcast and cooler but equally humid. I’m a comfortable temperature but my body is sweating profusely and everything we have is vaguely damp. It’s disorienting and terrifying if I think too much about the expanse of summer in front of us. I have never wished so fervently for rain while backpacking.

Of course, it wasn’t the kind of rain that cleared the air and moved on… It was the sort that started with thunder and lightning and torrential rain that made trail tread indistinguishable from creek bed and then settled in for another day or two.

And so we found ourselves waking up in a shelter on Wednesday morning warm and dry, putting wet hiking clothes back on and packing up into wet packs and setting out with the intention of walking our first 20-mile day of this trip.

It was very wet but never really cold. Spring forests look remarkably similar whether they are dripping or not. Our feet spent 8+ hours in socks fully saturated with rain and mud. There were old football stories told and bad 90s pop songs quoted.

And we got to camp beat but feeling really satisfied that we could pull out a long rainy day and be just tired at the end of it. It felt fitting that it was our one-month anniversary on trail. There has been a long feeling of tentativeness these last few weeks, but I am exhaling just a bit more. We’re finding our way, and finding our trail legs.


I have found myself in town and short on words once again; it seems to be a recurring theme of late. I am full of thoughts that I want to capture while I’m walking but somehow they evaporate when I am still. So, I give you some images from the last stretch of miles.

The northern Smokies were just as fabulous as the southern parts, maybe better. Lots of ridge walking and expansive views, neither of which the AT is reputed to have too much of.

And then an abrupt transition as we found ourselves following white blazes on a guardrail to pass under I-40 about two miles outside the park.

Returning to lower elevations, it is apparent that the season is changing, with the bright shades of new leaves moving higher up in the forest canopy. More and more things are looking familiar as it all comes to life. I am both enjoying more shade and lamenting the reduced views as everything fills in.

And we found ourselves in a most restful spot, a quiet corner in an old Victorian home where the plaque in our room tells us that the very first AT through-hiker slept right here on his journey in 1948.

We left home four weeks ago today. It feels like an age, and yet we are still finding our way. We feel strong and morale is good, unless you ask around 3p when the legs are tired and the joints start hurting and descending among rocks and roots and mud feels like each step has the potential to be catastrophic. But then we find a place to camp, and rinse off the day’s miles in a creek and eat a hot meal and lay down to rest accompanied by a chorus of owls or coyotes or squirrel chatter, and it’s all more than worth it.


Three weeks on trail, it’s not long by any objective standard but the days are starting to accumulate so that each one feels less distinct and more part of a whole something.

I has two quotes bouncing around my head this last section…

“But complete freedom, it turned out, is not what a trail offers. Quite the opposite – a trail is a tactful reduction of options. The freedom of the trail is riverine, not oceanic.” (Robert Moor, On Trails)

“Everyone is trudging along with as much dignity, courage, and style as they possibly can” (Hafiz, 1320-1389)

Sometimes I’m flowing with the river of the trail, content to see where it will take me; sometimes I’m trudging along trying to hold onto a bit of dignity. But I am remembering how it feels to just surrender to the trail, to the weather, to this body. Again and again.

We passed a couple of milestones as well. Clingman’s Dome is the highest elevation on the trail. It was mostly just a big expansive view of white cloud when we were there, which seemed somehow appropriate – a little reminder from the universe that the real landscape to explore on this trail is the inner one.

And the 200 mile mark!

And a few more images from the Smokies, because they have been so fabulous…


Hello from day 11 and my first attempt at blogging from my phone. At the laundromat, trying not to resent town for all the chores it requires. On the other hand, it is raining outside and I have a roof over my head. Which is also a pretty good summary of this last stretch of miles.

After a beautiful day leaving town, our days ranged from damp to drenched. It was wet and stormy enough that we took an unplanned zero on our third day out and holed up in a shelter while the worst of it raged. In one three-day storm, I went from happily riding it out in our tent to skeptically moving into the shelter to gratefully squeezing into the last possible shelter space mid-downpour to opting for the shelter out of laziness on an evening that was maybe threatening rain.

And similarly, I swore that I would never use my phone service away from town and then the first storm blew in and we were headed for higher elevations… so we checked the forecast from our tent and made the call to sit out the six inches and 50 mph gusts. And I was reminded, yet again, that there are good exceptions to every rule.

After yearning to find routine in the first few days, I’m yearning for the imagined routine and simplicity of dry days now. It’s always something.

The trail is starting to feel familiar, as we learn the landscape and our bodies learn to navigate the terrain. Starting. It’s all so tentative, a good morning has me thinking maybe I’ve crossed some magic invisible line and then my knee screams down a steep descent and I find myself contemplating five months of knee pain. Neither is true, of course, but when each day feels like an odyssey, it’s easy to get caught up in it.


Our plane landed in Georgia last weekend but it’s taken most of the week to feel like we fully landed.

Not surprisingly, week one of a big trip is all about adjusting, finding your rhythm, letting things settle. Thinking “I can’t wait until I have a routine for this” as you fumble through packing your pack, filtering your water, setting up your tent each day. Watching all your anxieties about the trip surface, seeing many of them go, finding out which ones are going to persist. And of course, feeling the miles, walking that line between finding your legs and overstressing them.

There’s a sense of waking up something old and familiar, something dormant. My body remembers parts of a long hike that I’ve forgotten.

We made our way to Atlanta on Saturday and then to Amicalola Falls State Park on Sunday so that we could wake up and start walking on Monday morning. Sitting in the tent on Sunday evening, Dean was sewing a Smokey the Bear patch onto his backpack and I was modifying my ill-fitting bra with some scavenged cord and needle and thread from my film canister repair kit.

Right. We have this move. Even if I’m not exactly sure what that means just yet.

60 miles. 5 days. Snow, sunburn, lots of wind. One small blister, a few sore knees.


As the start of our Appalachian Trail hike nears, I’ve been thinking more about prior trips. In 2007, I hiked from the Mexican border to Yellowstone National Park on the Continental Divide Trail. A couple days later, sitting in a coffee shop in Bozeman, Montana and processing my prior three months, I sat down and these words poured out.¬†They were a mass email then (ah, the quaint old-fashioned mass email) but mostly hold up at capturing the long hike experience for me.


no job. no schedule. all i need is all is i have. in my pack, on my back. a route to follow, a narrow swath of this country to see. the continental divide – the place where waters part, pacific and atlantic.

trail. a gentle path, just wide enough for one foot traveler? or maybe a jeep road, forest road, gravel road, highway, stock driveway, cow path, no path… pile of rocks, sea of sagebrush, beaver swamp, creek bed, canyon, ridgeline, line of cairns, nothing…

where’d it go? i don’t know… find your way. topo maps, backwards guidebook, compass, gps. follow your trail instincts, game trail, path of least resistance, probably uphill… if all else fails, go norther.

walk. desert heat, open range, barbed wire, “keep out”, cows… grassland, mesas, mountains. snow-capped, snow-covered… post-holing, going nowhere, everyone going their own way… mountain forests, mountain meadows, mountain ridges, mountain-sized pile of rocks. walk. up. way up. down. straight down. rain, wind, hail, thunder and lightning… glorious sunshine. sunrise, sunset. just walk.

95 days following the divide… never a dull one. i know fatigue and frustration. i know strength and satisfaction. the futility of self-pity and the immense comfort of shared misery.

thanks for making my summer immeasurably more joyful, for reminding me all along the way that i am never alone.

An ordinary backpack

Another backpacking trip in the books. It feels too ordinary to write about – a few days of cruising on fine trail into the high Olympics, a day spent doing nothing more than watching marmots and clouds and exploring a creek, and then back out. Sunny summer days, shady old forest, huckleberries that Dean declared the best he had ever tasted, and the simple joys of having an alpine meadow all to yourself for a day. Well, except for the marmots.

There’s nothing ordinary about it at all, I suppose, but it speaks to the richness of this life that I can find it so. It’s a mark of a good trip when we spend the drive home daydreaming all the possible itineraries for our return. It was a short hour-long drive, but long enough to know that we found another backyard gem.