Tuscarora Trail Prep!

Finally! The month we hike is upon us!

The past few weeks have been full of meal planning and gear testing. The dehydrator has been humming in the kitchen, and the house smells like yummy food that I can’t eat (yet). Return train tickets have been purchased from Harrisburg, PA back home, and arrangements have been made for the dog and cats. We adopted a beagle/blue tick coonhound mix a few months ago and named him Pippin. He comes on all of our pre-hike adventures with us. The itinerary for this trip has us doing big miles almost every day, and Pip wouldn’t be up for that. Plus, he couldn’t come on the train home.  Pippin loves hiking with us! He doesn’t even mind wearing his pack ūüôā

This is the first time I’ve worked with a dehydrator, and it’s been fun planning meals. Idahoan instant potatoes will always be my favorite trail meal, though. We’ve been pulling recipes from “Lip Smackin’ Vegetarian Backpackin'” by Christine and Tim Conners.  Favorites include: Triple Crown Curry Couscous, South Sister Stroganoff, Peaks of Dolomiti Rice and Beans, Orange Sky Granola, Grizzly Berry Granola, and Cheese Coins (basically baked cheese and butter with some seasoning). We’ve tried the orange granola (swapping the canola oil for coconut oil) and the stroganoff (Froot Loop wasn’t so sure if she was gonna like it-but it’s sooooo good!)

   Mushrooms and butter. Mmmmmm

I’ve also been trying my hand at making tofu jerky. There’s a recipe in the cookbook for teriyaki jerky, which I tried. It was good, but very sweet. Knowing my trail stomach, I generally crave more salty things than sweet things. So I decided to make another batch with liquid smoke, chili garlic sauce, soy sauce and sesame seeds. Next on the list is Old Bay jerky!


I marinaded the tofu overnight in the fridge. Tofu takes awhile to absorb flavors.

It’s peach season here in the good ol’ south, so we also got some peaches from the farmers market and made a peach-wild berry fruit leather. We cut it with unsweetened applesauce so it would make more leather.


I’ve never done this extensive food prep for a hike before. It’s a lot of work, but it’s also one of the only things keeping me sane. For the PCT, I just threw dry ingredients in ziploc bags- still a great method, but dehydrating your own meals is very satisfying. Last night, I painstakingly squeezed little Taco Bell sauce packets in to a squeeze bottle for the trail. What even.

Along with food prep, comes gear repair and upgrades. After the GAPCO bike trip earlier this year, we decided that the Tarptent Contrail was a little tight on space for 2 people. We like eachother and all, but we also like to be able to move inside our shelter. We ordered the Tarptent Stratospire 2 and it should be arriving any day now! I can’t say enough about Tarptent’s customer service. The tent we ordered wasn’t in stock, and I emailed their ordering department to make sure we would have the tent before we left so we could seam seal it, and Henry Shires, the owner, emailed me back within the hour to tell me that wouldn’t be a problem.

Not a Coincidence

Many of my fellow thru-hikers are having trail-versaries right about now. It feels like the strangest, most debilitating mix of longing, jealousy and sadness. All the fresh faced, optimistic folks making their way north through the scorching desert. I’m jealous of their blisters and sweat drops.

One year ago today I began the most exciting adventure of my life. I expected to look back on this day with fondness and nostalgia, like remembering a graduation or a summer at girl scout camp. But it’s not that simple. While I still feel these things, there’s also a pit in my stomach, like the kind you get when someone breaks up with you. Since I’ve been back, I’ll get a twinge every now and then. I’ll take a walk and be reminded of a day on the trail, something Shredder or Happy Pants said in camp one night or how the top of a mountain smells. No matter how little oxygen there is, it still smells like bright sunshine and sweet, fresh freedom. I’m still worried that nothing will ever be as exciting as that one time I strapped everything I needed to my back and wandered around in the woods for 5 months.

In all my adulthood glory, today Froot Loop and I sign documents to purchase our very own dwelling. ¬†A building made out of brick that can’t be picked up and moved. A home base, if you will, to return to from all the great adventures we have planned. It’s terrifying. I’m impatient. The most persistent desire that I have is for the trail. I just want to be back out there climbing mountains, breathing hard and watching every last sunrise and sunset. This is not settling down.

The universe is a strange place. I refuse to believe that it’s a coincidence that I’m buying a house on this day, the anniversary of my great adventure (this was supposed to happen 10 days ago but if you’ve ever bought a house, you know nothing happens when they say it will…). Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail is, to this day, the best thing I’ve ever done. But I won’t let it be the only trail that breaks my heart, I’m too much of a masochist for that.

Thru Hikers Go Cycling Day 8

Harper’s Ferry – Washington D.C.

60.5 Miles

Waffles for breakfast round 2! We awoke early, ate quickly and were on our way before we knew it. Laurel showed us a better way to get back to the canal that was all downhill, so the mile between the hostel and the trail took no time at all. The sky was grey and within minutes of hitting the trail again, it started to rain. Then it started to pour. Like, really pour. It rained for 10 miles. Our bikes sank in to the trail and spat mud up into the air, all over us. Rain that had fallen on my legs ran down my pants and into my shoes, water dripped off my helmet inside my rain jacket. I was cold and wet and miserable. Eventually, the rain slowed, turned to mist and then stopped. The trail was still really muddy and there were puddles everywhere.  I stopped trying to avoid them because I was soaked.

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Luckily it started to warm up a bit, and the trail got prettier. We went through Great Falls State Park and took a minute to go look at the falls. By the last 15 miles, though, we were just ready to be warm, dry and done. As we approached the end, we started to see more people. Folks out on their evening runs and walking their dogs and stuff. There were city noises and lights and traffic. Once we navigated our way out of the city, there was hot tea and pasta.

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Thru-Hikers Go Cycling Days 6-7

Little Pool – Harper’s Ferry

60.5 miles on Day 6, Zero on Day 7

Another cold morning that quickly warmed up. I found out today that Froot Loop set the alarm for 6:15 instead of 6:45, but both of us ignored the first alarm so I guess it’s okay. She’s no longer in charge of morning wake ups, though. The weather was gorgeous all day, at times it was almost too warm! We went over a bunch of aqueducts and bridges first thing in the morning, and then we hit Big Slackwater. It’s a section that’s mostly paved that runs right next to the Potomac. There’s no canal because the builders couldn’t blast through the limestone so they had no choice but to pull boats UP the potomac for a couple miles. We were riding in the wide open sunshine.

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For whatever reason, there were no pumps on the handles for the well water on the canal. Since the town of Williamsport there haven’t been any handles, so we had to purify water. It’s slightly frustrating and kind of confusing, just because if there was going to be something like this I would have it expected it to be on the GAP.

Along with the sunshine came a lot of really obnoxious flies. They flew into our mouths and stuck to our clothes and every time we stopped they would swarm. Luckily, it was only bad for a couple of hours during the heat of the day. When we were nearing where we planned to camp, we checked the weather for the next couple days and it was supposed to get nasty over night. Originally, the plan was to camp about 4 miles outside Harper’s Ferry and ride in early in the morning. We decided to go in to town a night early. It turned out to be a fabulous decision. There are like 4 ice cream shops in this town.

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Last time when we hiked the C&O we stayed at the Teahorse Hostel in Harper’s Ferry. It’s run by an awesome person named Laurel who makes Belgian waffles for breakfast every morning. We spent our zero day taking care of a few adult things going on back home and walking around historic Harper’s Ferry. Also, eating. We had another delicious pizza and played board games and it was wonderful. It was also good to let the saddle sores heal up a bit before we made the 60 mile push in to DC.

Thru Hikers Go Cycling Day 5

Irons Mountain – Little Pool

54.8 Miles

Last night was warm, but there was a lot of condensation. 2 people in a Tarptent Contrail is a little tight, even if you like each other. We also didn’t use guy-lines to pull out the sides, so that was probably part of it.

Once we hit the trail, it was freezing for the first couple of miles per usual, but it warmed up quickly. It felt like we were flying down the trail – 25 miles by noon! It was sunny, warm and beautiful. The turtles must have all just woken up from their hibernation slumber. There were so many sunbathing on the logs floating on top of the canal. Naturally, this caused me to ask A LOT of questions about turtles. Froot Loop took a whole class on amphibians and reptiles, which is apparently called Herpetology. She answered some of my questions. I learned that turtles spines are fused to their shells. There were a few things she didn’t know, though. Do they sleep under water or on land? Do they have permanent nests? As we rolled by on the path, some of them spooked and slid off the logs into the safety of the water.

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20 miles in, we went through the Paw-Paw tunnel. It was blasted into the mountain to avoid having to wind around the river. It was dark and bumpy, I tried to get some good footage of it but I’m not sure how it turned out (once I sift through all the GoPro footage, I’ll put together a video and post it here).

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The rest of the day was sprinkled with breaks by the river, and even then we got to camp by a little after 5. After we made dinner, a couple of dads and their kids rolled into the campsite. The kids had to have been 7, maybe 8. They set to work on building a fire while their dads put up the tents. While the kids weren’t looking, they hid candy around the campsite (it happened to be Easter). When one of them went to get fire wood, they found some and went nuts darting all over the campsite looking for treats. It was really sweet to watch.

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Thru-Hikers Go Cycling Day 4

Rockwood, PA – Irons Mountain Campsite (C&O – Maryland)

53.2 Miles

It was cold and rainy outside when we woke up. Luckily we got to pack up in the dry basement of the guest house. I wasn’t looking forward to the 20 mile climb ahead. Froot Loop did a good job of trying to psyche us up – she’s good at that. ¬†We both ate huge breakfasts from our food bags and stuffed our tube bags with clif bars for the climb. Froot Loop bonked pretty hard towards the end of the day yesterday, the goal for today was for that not to happen again.

Flurries were falling from the sky as we set off up the trail. Initially I tried to be optimistic that it wouldn’t be the dreaded sinky sponge gravel, but that’s exactly what it was. It was freezing cold and windy, and it took all we had just to make it 5 or 6 miles at a time. I was becoming incredibly frustrated with our pace. I just wanted to go fast! That’s why we were biking! FL was starting to show her frustrations, our tires were sinking so deep in to the trail that it was almost not worth it to pedal. We had switched roles from this morning and it was my turn to be the encourager. We stopped for lunch just before the Eastern Continental Divide. Neither of us said much. The sun had come out, but it was still cold and windy.

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When we finally reached the divide, it was 1:30. It had taken us 5 hours to go 20 miles. Luckily the next 24 miles sailed by – we made it to Cumberland by 4pm. It was a glorious downhill coast and we had earned it. We stood up on our bikes and cruised down the mountain, spirits were instantly lifted as we looked down into the valley. That’s the thing about biking you don’t get when hiking – when you get to the top of a mountain, you still have to walk down the other side.

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After the divide, we got to the Mason-Dixon Line. I peed on it. That was cool. We were making a game out of how long we could coast downhill without pedaling. The trail was no longer terrible, it was like we crossed in to Maryland and everything sucked a whole lot less. When we got in to Cumberland, we split a basket of greasy food, picked up a few necessities and headed out of town on the C&O Canal 9.2 miles to our campsite. This was the trail we hiked 2 autumns ago (I wouldn’t recommend it – this trail is best for biking). I felt a warm nostalgia being back on it. It was comforting, and predictable. The canal is on the left, we cycle the towpath, and the Potomac River is to our right. We pass through historic locks and towns from when the canal was functioning. It’s mostly flat, and I’m okay with this.

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We reached our campsite right next to the river and set up the tent for the first time this trip. We also ate a second dinner and crushed the first block of cheese. Yum.

My butt also feels like it’s acclimated to the saddle a little more. Can you get butt callouses? I’m not sure I want an answer to that question…

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Thru-Hikers Go Cycling Day 3

Connellsville, PA – Rockwood, PA

46 miles

It was very warm last night. Almost too warm. But it meant that I was ready to get up and get going when the alarm went off. The sky was cloudy, but not raining so we were in good spirits. As soon as we left the town of Connellsville to head for the woods, the trail started a gradual climb skyward. Little did we know (that’s a lie, we totally did), this would continue all day. As we took our first break, it started to sprinkle and it got chilly. By now, we were up above the river a few hundred feet rather than right beside it. To the right, we kept passing waterfalls tumbling down the mountain. To the left, the Youghiogheny River in all its slow rolling glory. There were gaps in the trees with railings we could lean over to peer down.

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The railroad tracks ran on the other side of the river, trains were going by every 20 minutes or so. For awhile I tried to chase them, but that game got old fast. The scenery helped pass the time through the drizzly weather. There were tons of huge rocks with rhododendron bushes poking out between the cracks. I tried to imagine the in bloom. The Great Allegheny Passage is built on an old rail bed. The tracks have been pulled up, but sometimes there are stacks of rotting railroad ties arranged on the side of the trail. Looking at the bits of mountain surrounding me, I wonder what it must have been like to be the people slicing into it with their dynamite and pick axes (did they use those?). Did they feel powerful? Sad? Indifferent?

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Before I knew it, we were in the town of Ohiopyle. It’s in a state park, and we were originally planning on taking a side trip to see the falls, but it was gross and rainy so we decided to skip it. Unfortunately, this meant we forgot to fill up our water in Ohiopyle. Except for a quick snack break, we didn’t stop again until Confluence, 27 miles in to our day. Froot Loop was mega hangry and I was out of water. We ate lunch on a bench overlooking the river with a sign telling tourists the difference between Bald Eagles and Osprey. I put Cheetos in my wrap and it was glorious.

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On the other side of Confluence, the trail turned to mush. It seemed to be surfaced with tiny bits of shredded gravel that, when wet, turned into a giant sponge. Our tires sank into the ground and pedaling instantly became 5 times harder and our speed was cut in half. For the next 18 miles we rode like sad, damp turtles; swerving all over the trail to try and figure out which 2 inch wide section offered the least amount of resistance. We slogged uphill through the gravel sludge for 4 hours before we reached Rockwood. I had to stop and put on my second pair of bike shorts to cushion my butt against the saddle. Morale was low.

Thankfully, the sun peeked through the clouds right as we rolled in to town. We had mailed ourselves a package to the Husky Haven Campground and guesthouse. It’s run by this older couple that used to raise sled dogs. We paid for our campsite before taking hot showers and gulping a liter of water each. Then we walked through the cute little town of Rockwood to get some pizza. It was so delicious, the cheese was crunchy and melty and I burned the roof of my mouth but I didn’t care because it was heavenly. There was also a chocolate ice cream cone.

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As we walked back from dinner, we decided to ask the hostel owners if we could just sleep in the basement of the guesthouse. It was supposed to rain and snow and the windchill was negative. Thankfully, they said yes! Barry even came over and put an extra log on the wood burning stove. I’ve never been so happy to sleep on concrete.

Thru-Hikers go Cycling Day 2

Dravo Cemetery – Connellsville

35 miles

The next morning we awoke to frost covering the picnic table outside the shelter. I wanted to stay cocooned in my sleeping bag, like most mornings. But there were miles to make and the sun was rising. The first hour or so on the trail was so. cold. My dumb ass forgot to bring my warm gloves, so all I had were my fingerless cycling gloves. We biked with socks on our hands, like true professionals. By 10am, though, it had warmed up and we were cruising. By a little after 11 we made it to where we planned to have lunch, which also happened to be by a baseball field. This field, however, was vacant, just like the town on the other side of the trail. It was eerily quiet and it didn’t seem like anyone was inside the tiny single level houses smushed together in the windy little valley.¬†¬†¬†17120_10203940135175105_137247389257199964_n

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After lunch, we both picked up the pace and found ourselves cruising along at 10 miles an hour. Although it was hard to tell exactly how many miles we had done because the mile markers didn’t seem to be accurate. After the next water break, it started to rain, and our butts hurt real bad from being in the saddle so long the past few days. We rode in silence for the next 8 miles until we hit the town of Connellsville. There were shelters right on the outside of town, we happily claimed one and ducked out of the rain. We reassessed our food situation and realized we were going through cheese at an alarming rate. We had both already gone through half of our 16 oz. blocks. The shelters were right behind a grocery store, and from the looks of the guidebook it was our cheapest option. So we bought more cheese. 3 more pounds of it. We checked in with our bodies – backs were a little more sore, knees more creaky, but energy level wise we both felt great.

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Thru-Hikers go Cycling Day 1

Pittsburgh – Dravo Cemetary

28 miles

Shortly after I returned from my thru-hike this summer, Catie (trail name: Froot Loop) and I decided our next adventure would be on bicycles. At the time, I’m not sure exactly what the reasoning behind this was, since neither of us has ever done a bicycle tour before. Regardless, we made it happen. We decided on the Great Allegheny Passage and C&O Canal (GAPCO for short).

The GAP starts in Pittsburgh, PA and runs 150 miles along old rail road beds, up and over the Eastern Continental Divide, to Cumberland, MD. In Cumberland, the C&O Canal starts. It follows the Potomac River 184.5 miles to Georgetown in the middle of Washington, DC. It was formerly used to tow boats that were used to transport things to and from DC. The plan was to complete the trip in 8 days, spending 1 zero in Harper’s Ferry, because this was supposed to be a vacation, after all.

The morning we were supposed to leave for Pittsburgh, the alarm came too early, as it always does. We piled our bikes and all of our gear into the back of my dad’s Suburban and drove northward. The GAP western terminus is in a park in the middle of Pittsburgh proper, surrounded by skyscrapers and food trucks and people walking around in suits. A trail that starts in the city? We were definitely in for a different kind of adventure.

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Everything we’d read about the GAP said that navigating your way out of the city was the hardest part. All of those people were right. By sheer dumb luck, we didn’t get horribly lost in the urban maze that is Pittsburgh. An angel with a Scottish accent and big curly hair saw the confused looks on our faces as we were standing in the middle of the park trying to decide which direction to go. She, the angel, had a dog who’s hair was almost as curly as hers. He kept barking at people passing by on rollerblades and skateboards. I wondered if it was because he couldn’t see with all that hair in his face. The angel told us to cross one of the many steel bridges (seriously, I know they call it steel city, but there are SO many bridges. And they all have names, like boats or something) sprinkled throughout the city, make a sharp left and the trail would be ours.

Winding through the city streets felt strange. I was simultaneously intrigued and unsettled. I knew the trail started in a city, but I wasn’t sure what I was expecting? Even once we left Pittsburgh, we kept passing through towns. There were movie theaters, restaurants, and we literally drove around a Costco parking lot. About 10 miles in we finally felt like we had left the city. There were still train yards and some lingering city noises, but for the most part it was all behind us.

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We stopped to take a break outside Boston, PA. There were bathrooms and a baseball field where a high school team was warming up before a game. We sat on the picnic tables and shared an avocado while their pre-game pump up music blared through the speakers. Despite these leisurely breaks, we still arrived at our planned campsite at 4pm. And holy hell, what a campsite it was. Privys, fire pits (with a HUGE stack of super dry wood split to perfection nearby), a shelter and a view of the river. We were especially thankful for the shelter because someone forgot the trekking pole to put up the tent. We were planning to use a stick, but I like the shelter plan better.

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As I stretched and got ready to make dinner, I couldn’t help but feel that I was cheating. I had just travelled 28 miles in 4 hours, and I felt fantastic. Cycling feels so cushy with bathrooms, water sources (pre-treated well water!) and town access at our disposal! Plus, climbing up to the bridges and just coasting down the other side was pretty cool. You can’t coast when you’re hiking. Still, I look down at my patched jacket while curled up in the sleeping bag that kept me warm every single night on the PCT and I miss that magical ribbon of dirt. I try not to spend so much time comparing this experience to it, but it’s difficult. The PCT will always be my first love, and my first heartbreak.

Also, if you’re interested in reading Froot Loop’s account, here’s the link to her trail journal: trailjournals.com/catiekgapco

This Year’s Adventures

Since my last post, I’ve gotten a little more adjusted to life off the trail. I still take bites right out of the block of cheese in the fridge, and I still feel weird not having everything i could ever need on my back. It helps having someone around who gets it (thanks, Catie!). Though this years adventures aren’t quite as exciting as a long distance thru-hike, I’m still looking forward to them!

At the beginning of April, Catie and I are going to bike the Great Allegheny Passage and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal – running from Pittsburgh, PA to Washington, DC. It’s about 335 miles and we plan to bike it in 8 days. We’ve already got most of the gear we need. The plan was to do a long ride once a week, but of course every day I have off it pours down rain and the trails are all closed. Hmph.

The second adventure will take place in September. We’re going to thru-hike the Tuscarora trail! It parallels the Appalachian Trail through Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania and it’s about 250 miles long. We’ll start in the Shenandoah National Forest and end near Harrisburg, PA. Since we both have to take work in account, our daily mileage is going to be pretty high.

Planning these trips, along with getting out on the mountain biking trails when I can, is the only thing that’s keeping me sane through this stupid winter. There isn’t 3 feet of snow on the ground like Boston, but it’s just gray and rainy most of the time. I’ve been keeping myself busy, though. I’ve been playing around with my new GoPro and getting better at documenting things. I had fun on the trails last week playing around with different ways to capture movement, so look forward to video footage of the GAP/C&O and Tuscarora Trail!