Tuesday, September 25, 2018

"Spoons" and the Appalachian Trail

This blog post is a bit unusual. It does not simply report on our travels across the US in our coach, my misadventures, or other daily travails. Rather, it celebrates a young woman who recently completed one of the most strenuous and iconic backpacking trails in the world. "Spoons" (also known as "Amanda" to her family and friends), is the granddaughter of one of our dear friends, Colette Sasina, back in The Villages. Back in April, Colette alerted me to Amanda's decision to hike the Appalachian Trail ("the AT"), a 2,189 mile trail that runs through 14 states from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Mount Katahdin, Maine. 

Needless to say, I was jealous, because it's an adventure I have long wanted to attempt. It's also one that my daughter Susan, who was struck and killed by lightning in 2006, wanted to do, as a daughter and dad team. Regrettably, we were unable to make it happen before she died. A post written by one of Spoons' friends, "Defib", took my breath away... "A Reminder of Life. I came upon a live tree in the middle of nowhere decorated for Christmas. Ornaments adorned the tree. As I looked closer I found an ornament with the picture of a child... a child who had passed away too soon. The tree was dedicated to a child named Max. On the ground was a book in a large Ziplock bag. I opened it. It was filled with messages to Max from those who passed this spot. Spoons, Ghost, Rhodo, Sunshine... they were all in there. Gone were the normal humorous comments, the off-color remarks. They were replaced by sincere reflections of hikers affected by the loss of this unknown child." It was especially poignant to me, having lost a child, and reminds us all that no matter how different we all are, we are brought together by personal tragedy and love.

When Colette first told me about Amanda, I thought that this may have been a recent (perhaps even "rash"?) decision; she is now 20, and many college-age thru-hikers do the AT on the spur of the moment. I was astounded to see a photo of "Spoons" at an AT signpost at 12 and 20, side by side, which proves she had been planning this for years! How many people can say that they have followed their dreams as did Amanda?

For those who are unfamiliar with how hard this hike is, a few statistics are in order. In the AT Thru-hikers Class of 2018, approximately 2,800 hikers registered but only 20% or so will complete the distance (there are still a few weeks left, but the season is almost over). Only 25% on average are women. By the way, Spoons completed the hike in less than 5 months, an average of about 15 miles per day, inclusive of time off-trail for injuries, finding food in remote locations, helping injured friends, etc. Most AT through-hikers take 6 months, and wear out 4-5 pair of hiking shoes/boots. As to sleeping arrangements, the choices are either a tent, tarp or 3-sided wood shelter that may be populated by more mice than snoring hikers.  


An AT hiker consumes about 5,500 calories per day (that's 11 Big Macs), and still has a calorie deficiency, and loses about 30 lbs during the five to six months it takes. It's no wonder that kale and quinoa are not the most favored foods... but ice cream, pizza and Lil Debbies Cakes are!

Having hiked part of the AT, I envy Spoons' perseverance. The heavily forested parts of the Trail are often called the Green Tunnel, because viewpoints are few and far between, especially down South. But the occasional vistas are rewarding. 

In July, Spoons reached Mt. Katahdin, in Baxter State Park, Maine. A remote location, it's one of those places that even some Mainers say, "Ya' can't get thea' from hea'." I'm sure she was glad to have good weather - it can snow almost any time on Katahdin - but because she was hiking FAST, Amanda got there before the snows arrived. Does she look happy, or what?

Such an accomplishment is best shared with family and friends, and Amanda/Spoons was joined on Mt. Katahdin by many of those, including "One-T", her trail team partner. He summited the same day within minutes of her, filmed her arrival at the summit, and is in the picture with his dad... a very happy ending for a long, arduous summer. Now back at William and Mary, you have to let us know... Amanda, what's on for your next challenge???

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Chateaugay, NY; Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada; Moose Poop! Bar Harbor, Maine; An Addiction

My last post had us in the lovely White Mountains of New Hampshire. Unfortunately, I had forgotten to post this picture of one of Suzanne's favorite natural wonders, a waterfall. This one is in Chateaugay, NY, at the High Falls campground (gee, why did they name it that???). We were there midweek, and only a few other hikers made the short trek to the falls. Even in August, it was roaring! The campground was mostly French Canadians from Montreal and Quebec, but since I have my own translator,we were cool...

From Franconia Notch, we headed northeast through Maine to Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada, where we parked behind the beautiful Iris Center, operated by Wendy Carty and her husband, Dr. Bill Cook, MD. Situated on 35 acres, the Iris Center provided the ideal venue for Suzanne's Serving Spirit Level 1 course, the first time presented in Canada. 

But our week at the Iris Center wasn't all work. Wendy and Bill were amazingly gracious hostess and host during our visit. We kayaked together on the Saint John River, along with their two dogs, Nelson and Lily, seen here swimming alongside Wendy's kayak. They would swim to shore periodically to romp on islands that had once provided grazing locations for cattle and sheep.

Wendy loves to grow veggies, herbs and spices. Here she and Bill are showing off trays of Wendy's garlic drying in their basement. I even got a sample to take with us, and it was fabulous!

We were also treated to dinner at their beautiful house on the Saint John. Bill surprised me with some "moose poop" from this cleverly-designed moose; it was actually candy dispensed from the rear end of a wooden Alces alces when you lifted his antlers...

On a related topic, on the day before we departed Fredericton, a pumpout truck stopped by to empty our grey and black waste tanks (grey, from showers and sinks; and black, from toilets). I asked the waste truck guy if he used a pumpout hose with very low vacuum, so as not to collapse our tanks. He replied, "No, I empty them into a 5 gallon pail and suck them dry with this here hose..." I was shocked, because back home, such trucks connect to the RV directly. But he assured me that there would be no spills, and indeed, with me minding the valves and him operating the hose and bucket, he drained our tanks into that pail and sucked it dry, in about 5 minutes, with nary a spilled drop! (The simple things in life can also be impressive...if not a bit gross!)

Our next stop was at New River Beach Provincial Park, on the nearby Bay of Fundy, which boasts the most extreme tidal range in the world, at times up to 50 feet. These tides are the result of the movement of up to 160 billion tons of salt water in and out of the Bay of Fundy, an amount equal to the combined flow of all the world's rivers. This photo shows the exposed beach where people and dogs walk at low tide; it is covered by 40-50 feet of water at high tide.

Another neat stop was in Saint John, where the massive tides cause the river to reverse direction, and what were outflowing fresh-water rapids now become inflowing brackish rapids. We were a bit late getting to the viewpoint, and MLB was anxious, so I reminded her of the old saying, "Time and tide wait for no man... or woman!"

Of course, we had to get a couple of hikes in while in Canada. This one was near Haggerty's Cove, near our campground. The trail varied from beach to forest to rocky overlooks, and we enjoyed two hours almost totally alone in this beautiful, serene environment.

Thankfully, we didn't run into any moose during our hikes, bike rides or drives. Road signs warn drivers of the danger, which is very real. The signs are bilingual to alert French-speaking moose of the dangers...

From the New River, we dropped back below the border to Bar Harbor, Maine, where we set up camp in the most mosquito-infested area I have ever experienced... and I grew up in Louisiana, and now live in Florida, where the mosquito problems are relatively minor. To give you some idea of the issue here, we stepped out of our coach on arrival about 4:00 PM, and were immediately surrounded by swarms of mosquitoes, at least 100 or so between the four of us. For the uninitiated, the most common species in the eastern USA is the Eastern Salt Marsh Mosquito (Aedes sollicitans), while other evil varieties include the Asian Tiger Mosquito, the Yellow Fever Mosquito, the Malaria Mosquito, and the Encephalitis Mosquito. (Don't they sound wonderful?) One of the reasons Maine is so heavily ridden with these beasts is that they don't spray... I guess PETA convinced New Englanders that spraying would be inhumane to bugs. (I looked on-line, and I would recommend the State of Maine contact Mosquito Joe, of Hilton Head, SC. I'm sure he would be happy to start a franchise operation on Mt. Desert Island.)

Happily, we were able to out-ride the bugs on our mountain bikes in Acadia National Park. There are miles of gravel-covered carriage trails here, some quite steep, and often connecting lovely lakes and overlooks. Here is My Lovely Bride (Army people, please note her jersey!) on the side of Eagle Lake (I think). 

The lakes here are lovely... and are probably even nicer in October when the mosquitoes have been killed off by early frosts.

A Mainer friend of Suzanne's, Mary Hauprich, joined us for a morning of kayaking in Bar Harbor. She drove up from 
Islesboro, a beautiful island between Castine and Rockport, two of our favorite coastal boating towns. I would love to live on an island where we could sail and fish...

The Acadia Ocean Trail runs along (what else?) the ocean! It is one of the most heavily trafficked roads in the National Park System, mostly because of its proximity to Boston, home of the Red Sox ("Good", unless you're a Yankees fan) and some of the worst drivers in the US, perhaps even the galaxy (Bad!!!). Even other New England drivers call them Massxxxx... well, something naughty! 

While on a hike up Gorham Mountain, MLB stopped to meditate, at one of the prettiest overlooks we've seen this trip. The sand beach behind her could have been flown in from the Bahamas, but yes, it's actually just a few miles from Bar Harbor, Maine!

One of the best part about visiting Maine is the local cuisine... okay, let's just say one item on the menu... Lobstah! Here is Your Faithful Correspondent on the deck of a lobster restaurant in Bar Harbor, ready to enjoy a nice 1 1/4 pound soft shell chicken lobster. And yes, it was heavenly!!! (Note that I am wearing fleece; by sunset it was chilly!)

Finally, I have to admit that My Lovely Bride has a new addiction... to Energel Liquid Gel 0.7mm pens!  Spouses of authors may recognize the tell-tale signs of a pen addiction (shaky hands, clammy skin, anxiousness, etc...) which led me to make a late-evening foray to save her from agony. Being a "pleaser" kind of guy, I had to make several stops to find the particular pen to which she is addicted, but thankfully, I was able to find a few dozen of her favorite pens... hopefully they will last a week or so!