The epic journey of a sibling pair as they trek 2,181 miles from Georgia to Maine on the Appalachia Trail.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Hansely Ever After... Thoughts

                           Sign at the start of the approach trail
                 up Springer Mountain, GA (the start of their journey)
Sign at the top of Mount Katahdin, ME (the end of their journey)

Here are a few reflections from our intrepid Hansel:

Georgia to Maine! Springer Mountain to Mount Katahdin! 2181 miles! 14 states! Right now though all I can really think about is my two sore feet and how happy I am to be home.  It is hard to write my thoughts on the conclusion of such a huge event in my life but I will do my best.  The first thing that I want to do before I say any more is to thank some people who desperately need to be thanked.  First I want to thank Rebecca.  Without her by my side for almost the entire hike I know that I would not have been able to do this.  If nothing else I would have been forced off by starvation.  The times that were the most difficult for me were the times when I was on my own.  The only part of the trip in which I doubted my ability to complete the whole trail was when I didn’t have her with me pushing me on.  Her strength and power of will amazed me and motivated me from start to finish and I cannot express how indebted I am to her for my success.  A lot of people have asked and wondered if we fought a lot throughout the hike and I can honestly and proudly say that not once did we have a serious argument.  As far as siblings go we were unusually close when we started this thing and we are even closer now that we have completed it. 

Next I have to thank my Mom and Dad for getting me through it all.  I am not a bit embarrassed to admit that there were some tear filled conversations with them at some particularly difficult moments on the trip.  I will never forget crying on the phone with my mom as I walked through New York and having her reassure me that “Sometimes it’s hard. I know.  But you can do this!”  Or sitting outside Madison Hut in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, tears of exhaustion and frustration running down my face, listening to my dad tell me that “It is hard to be a leader. This is the challenge, but I know you can do it.  You are strong enough to see this through.  You’re almost there!”  I also have to thank the two of them for introducing us to the Appalachian Trail in the first place.  There are a million other things that I have to thank them for as well but I could fill a book with that so I think I will move on to the next person I need to thank…

Amanda, the last of the fab five that is our family.  The amount of time and effort that she put into this blog and our fundraiser is unbelievable.  There were times that we would call her in the evening and she would excitedly answer the phone and say “Wait like two seconds I’m driving on the highway and I have to pull over so I can take notes!  Hold on…oh where is that pen…oh, ok got it.  Ok go!”  She made sure that she had every detail of all of our crazy stories so that she could share the whole experience with all of you!  She added her creativity and humor to our endeavors and made even the most mundane activities entertaining.  She also helped us coordinate everything from mail drops to family pickups and conveyed messages from all of our followers to us as we made our way up the coast.  All the behind the scenes work that she did really helped keep us motivated and for all of that she definitely deserves a huge shout out.

Finally I want to thank everyone who has contributed to our success in anyway.  Whether you were one of the many trail angels who provided us with support when we least expected it, you contributed to our MSAA fundraiser, or you sent us messages of encouragement along the way I want to thank you and let you know that all of your help was a key component in our ability to make it the whole way.

So now what do I say about the whole thing?  To be perfectly honest most of the trip is a big blur at this point.  There are some specifics that I can very vividly recall, like watching a fellow thru-hiker named Breeze jump 5 feet in the air and scream like a girl when a 4 foot rattlesnake decided to make its presence known to us as we walked past; however, most of it has blended together in my mind.  That probably is a result of the mind-numbing, monotony of the day to day activity.  With that said I do remember the feelings that I had throughout the trip: the sense of accomplishment when I made it up Albert Mountain in NC and could look back at where I had come from for the first time, the rush of excitement (tempered by a bit of discomfort) when I woke up in the Smokey Mountains to 3 inches of snow, the nostalgic feeling of homesickness that brought tears to my eyes when I heard “Looking for Space” by John Denver, the fear and awe that surged through me as I weathered a thunderstorm on the top of Arden Mountain in New York, and the exhausted sense of shear amazement and disbelief as I stood on the top of Mount Katahdin in front of that not so arbitrary sign.  I experienced some of the strongest emotions of my whole life on this trail and though the keenness of those sensations has already begun to dull, I know I will never be able to completely forget what it was like.  I suppose when people are in as extreme a situation as we were in extreme emotion is a natural result.

The other thing that stands out for me when I think about the trail is the people.  There were so many wonderful, interesting, and loving people that we meet along the way that I am inclined to say that my favorite part of the whole thing was just that: the people.  Along the way some of our fellow hikers have talked about how the kindness they were shone restored their faith in humanity.  Well, for me, my faith didn’t need restoring, but with that said my experiences on the trail certainly strengthened the faith that was already there.  When a complete stranger offers drive you to their house so they can offer you a shower, do your disgusting laundry, feed you dinner and then take you grocery shopping you can do nothing but be completely amazed (and of course thank them profusely).  As unbelievable as such an occurrence may seem it actually happened a few times to me on the trial!  What is more, a lot of the people who helped me actually thanked me for allowing them too!  To be honest the more I think about it while I write the harder it is for me to believe a lot of the generosity and kindness I was shown.  I don’t even have a word powerful enough to express it.

It isn’t just the “trail angles” who I will not be able to forget, it is also the other hikers who we encountered along the way. Though their contributions were of a different sort, my fellow hikers helped me through this whole thing in ways that no one else could.  Each person I meet along the way contributed in some way to my experience and without every one of them it would not have been what it was.  I will be telling stories about the wonderful characters I meet for the rest of my life, and though the trail friendships I made may not last, the memories that I created with those friends will never leave me.

I am sure that I will have many more thoughts and reflections as the whole experience continues to sink in, but for now I will leave you all with that.  Thank you all so much for following along and I hope you all will check back again in September to see the bonus stories that Amanda will be posting!

Happy Trails,
Hansel

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Epiblogue

It might be over... but it isn't over!  There are more stories to come!  More adventures to discover!  You might remember the Gretel left the trail in the middle of the journey.  Well, she is currently back in those skipped states and walking the miles she missed.  Hansel has decided to maintain his yeti-like appearance for as long as he can until Gretel finishes. She has already finished Pennsylvania and is currently in Massachusetts.  Mom is helping her slack pack so she can cover as much ground as possible before she has to begin law school.

You might also remember that while Gretel was off the Trail, there wasn't much being written about Hansel's solo adventures.  I have all those stories, but haven't posted them yet.  Over the next two months (more in the month of September than August because I'll be in Europe stating Tuesday... maybe I should make a blog for that too...) all of those missing stories will be posted. So don't be afraid to return to Jabeccawalk.  We're still here!

Happy Trails!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The End

At the top of the mountain, Hansel, Gretel, Two Bad and Mom had a quick photo shoot with the Katahdin sign.  The trip back down Katahdin was more difficult and a bit scarier than it had been to climb up.  This time they were looking at the many-foot drops making the fear factor so much higher.  Two Bad didn't seem to be having any problem.  

"He was jumping around and loving it," Hansel recounted.  Surprisingly, going down was no problem for him this time.  He was able to use his arms to lower himself over the huge bolders most of the time.  He often has trouble on the slow descents because of his two bad knees, but he was able to hop the boulders in stride!  Mom, on the other hand, was having a really tough time.  She was pretty scared.  Gretel led the way, followed by Mom, then Hansel and Two Bad took up the rear.  

When they got to the rebar spot, "that was an event, let me tell you.  She kind of lost it there," Hansel recalled.  She started crying and was getting a little "panic-ie."  This was because the only way to get down was to face forward and lower yourself with your arms behind you holding onto the metal rod.  You had to kind of slide down until you could get your foot on a particular rock.  It was a very big drop (about 7 feet) and it was extremely awkward to be climbing down the bolder backward.  

Hansel came to the rescue.  He managed to position himself so that he was sandwiching Mom between his body and the rock face.  He held onto the rebar around Mom so that she could slide down between his arms.  If she fell, she would fall right into his chest.  When she started to panic, Hansel looked at her (his face was only a few inches from hers) and kept repeating, "Mom, it's ok.  Just look at my face.  Just lower yourself down.  Your foot is almost there.  You can do this..."  He and Gretel coached her down the rock while Mom did her best to stay calm.  She made it safely and Two Bad followed.  He got his leg a little stuck which was hurting his hip a bit, but we was able to fix himself without help.  

Meanwhile, I had hiked one mile up Katahdin to a spot called Katahdin Stream Falls.  I arrived at about 3 pm with my four signs looking pretty.  I made attempts to gather a crowd to celebrate with me, but no one seemed very interested in waiting at the falls for a couple of thru-hikers they had never met.  I staked out a good spot for each sign and seated myself on a rock by the water.  I had also changed into the surprise Jabeccawalk t-shirts we made for the whole family.  I was carrying Mom and Dad's t-shirts too so that when they all came down to find me, I could toss them their shirts which they would throw on in triumph.  At that time, I also planned on jumping up waving one of the signs high over my head and whatever people happened to be there would start that oh-so-inspiring slow clap that speeds up into full out applause!  Maybe someone would even have some speakers handy and play the "We Are The Champions" song by Queen.  In my mind, this whole scene was looking quite momentous!  I sat on my rock watching up the trail ready for the first sign of my family.  Every now and again the wind would blow over one of my signs and I would hop up to fix it as quickly as I could, the whole time watching up the mountain so as not to miss Hansel and Gretel.  

Amanda (me) waiting on a rock beside the falls.


At 4:30 there was still no sign of them.  I had switched my waiting rock a few times and talked with every other hiker who was making his or her way down from the top of Katahdin.  I asked if they had seen Hansel and Gretel.  Some said they might have passed them, other's weren't too sure.  I kept waiting.  At 5:30 I decided to tape down my poster board signs.  I was getting tired of running to pick them up every 10 minutes when the wind knocked them over.  Luckily I had a role of clear packing tape that I used to attach the signs to nearby trees.  At 7 pm I was starting to get cold and the bugs had made a full-fledged meal of my neck.  I was itching and scratching all over.  I crouched between my poster board signs to keep warm and block the wind, making sure to sustain my gaze on the trail leading up the mountain.  

At 7:30 I was getting worried.  What if one of them had gotten hurt?  I hadn't seen any hikers coming down in quite a while.  Maybe they were stranded up there all alone.  What if they took an alternate route down and were already in the parking lot unable to find me?  I thought my parents knew I was going to hike up to the waterfall, but maybe they forgot.  I decided that if they still had not appeared by 8pm, I was going to gather my signs and head back to the car.  It would probably take me an hour to get back since I was still a little gimpy from when I broke my ankle back in April.  I was afraid that if I left any later I would have to find my way in the dark.  

At 7:45 I started pulling my signs off of the trees.  This momentous celebration I had envisioned was not turning out the way I planned.  I don't think I have ever sat and stared at one spot as long as I did that afternoon.  I wish I could say it was a meditative afternoon with the sounds of water and nature all around me, but it really was just kind of pathetic.  I set out on the trail heading toward the parking lot.  Not 10 minutes into my hike, I heard someone clomping along behind me.  I turned around and saw Gretel moving quickly over the rocks!  

"Oh!  Hi!" I said.  "Wait!" I unrolled one of my signs and held it infront of my chest.  "Hooray!!!"  I yelled.  It took Gretel a moment to realize what was going on.  She was very confused to see this gimpy person trotting along by herself with her arms full of poster board, but she started laughing when she realized it was me.  Together, we continued our hike through the woods.  She told me how difficult it had been to get up and down Katahdin.  She explained that she left Hansel, Two Bad and Mom because she really had to use the bathroom (a privy located at the waterfall where I had been waiting).  She was going to sit and wait for them at the waterfall, but it was getting cold and dark, so she decided to return to the parking lot and wait with me.  She had not expected to run into me on the trail.  As we walked, we kept our ears sharp for any sound of footsteps behind us.  A few times we thought we heard Mom and Dad's voice, but our ears were just playing tricks on us.  

Back in the parking lot, Gretel and I taped the signs to the trunk of the car.  It was about 8:20 and daylight was fading fast.  It was getting colder so we moved into the car keeping our eyes glued to the place where the trail comes out of the woods.  Minutes ticked by and Gretel started to worry.  Did Hansel have the head lamps?  She thought he had kept them in his pack.  But what if he didn't?  Maybe she should hike back into the woods to make sure they were ok.  8:45 rolled around and still no sign of them.  The sun was officially gone.  The suspense was killing us.  Where were they?  

At 9 pm two small beams of light glowed from woods.  It was them!  Mom and Two Bad were wearing Hansel's head lamps while Hansel walked between them.  They made it!  Gretel and I jumped out of the car.  "Hooray!!" we shouted, each of us holding up a sign.  We threw Mom, Two Bad and Hansel their Jabeccawalk t-shirt.  Gretel and I were already wearing ours.  After some hugs and some story swapping, we all loaded into the car and drove out of the now pitch black campground.  

We had an hour drive to get back into town, which means we didn't hit civilization until 10 pm.  At that point, every restaurant and ice cream shop was closed for the night.  Our celebratory dinner had to be McDonalds burgers with a McFlurry for good measure.  This momentous celebratory finish had definitely lost its luster, but sitting in McDonalds with the whole family together was really all any of us needed.  Hansel and Gretel had done it.  Knowing that was enough of a celebration all by itself.

McDonalds Celebration

The next day we raced to the airport for an early flight all decked out in our matching Jabeccawalk t-shirts.  I'm sure we were quite a spectacle, limping our way through the airport with a bunch of hefty backpacks.  At least everyone smelled fresh.  Two Bad, being the proud father that he is, didn't miss an opportunity to tell other passengers and airport officials that his kids just finished hiking the Appalachian Trail.  We got back to NJ in the early afternoon.  Pulling into the driveway was a breath of fresh air for Hansel and Gretel.  Tonight, they would use a real napkin, as opposed to their shirt sleeves.  They would brush their teeth with clean running water.  Finally, they would not have to "make their home" from the materials they carried on their backs.  After four long months, this adventure had come to an end. 

Happy tra... well, just happy!

On the plane!

Lookin' good at Newark Airport.

Gretel and Mom waiting for Two Bad to come back with the car.

A toast of wine, coffee and milk at Taormina's, our favorite Italian restaurant in Kenilworth, NJ.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The End: Katahdin's Peak

As Hansel and Gretel climbed their way up Katahdin with Mom and Dad, they discussed how it's kind of stupid that a lame sign is THE thing that signifies the completion of their 2,181 mile adventure.  It seems rather arbitrary to say "you have to get to this sign and then you're done."

"We signed in.  It's not like being on top of the mountain is going to be anything great," they said.  They were kind of poo-pooing it the whole way.  At that point, they were both just so tired and ready to be done with the Trail.  That's not to say it hadn't been the adventure of a life time, they were just ready for it to be over.  With that kind of attitude going up, neither of them were really prepared for the emotions that erupted out of them when that "arbitrary sign" came into view.

"We finally got there and, I have to tell you," Hansel said, "it was NOT an arbitrary end point and this sign was one of the most meaningful things in my life.  I can't even express the emotions that just flew through my body and I can't even explain why this piece of wood with writing on it elicited all these emotions.  [Gretel] and I just gave each other a hug and both of us just cried for like five minutes.  And everyone around us started crying too.  Mom and Dad were crying.  It really was like nothing I have ever experienced before."

It's not every day that a hiker completely the Appalachian Trail, but it's even less likely that a pair of siblings finish the Trail together.  Throughout their journey, people have wondered if Hansel and Gretel were married or dating, and they are always confused when their interactions never really match either of those statuses.  When the on-lookers realize that Hansel and Gretel are in fact brother and sister, the response is always so positive.  It must be refreshing to see that a set of siblings could be such good friends.  Having finished this adventure through the physical, psychological, and emotional hardship, there was something truly magical in the embrace that Hansel and Gretel shared at the top of that mountain.  This really was the moment of a life time.  They had done it!  And they had done it together!

True sibling love



2,181 miles with Froggie and Black Bear (the little animals they are holding)

Mom, Hansel, Gretel and Two Bad pretending to be asleep on the sign.

Not only did Hansel and Gretel climb the mountain, also climbed the sign!



Hansel posing like the cover on the AT Guide Book (click here to view)

Hoooooray!!!!!

The End: Katahdin Ascent

Hansel and Gretel started the final 5 miles up Katahdin at about 11:45am and it took them a little over an hour to catch up with Mom and Two Bad.  Their rendezvous came at the point on the mountain that Mom and Two Bad had rendered impassable.

"Well, it looks like we are going this far and that's it," they said regretfully as they gazed up at an 8 foot boulder at the top of which were two pieces of rebar (a metal rod) that had been hammered into the rock.  In order to climb this thing you had to hold on to the higher rebar rod and then swing your foot up to hook the other piece of rebar.  The foot hold was so high up you almost had to knee yourself in the face to reach it while your other foot dangled bellow your body.  Are you picturing this?  If not, you can see an example of another heel hook here.  You just have to imagine this taking place on the edge of a mountain instead of a foot off of the ground.  From the heel hook you had to pull yourself up.  If you let go, the fall would be about 6 feet and nothing to catch you after that.  It was pretty scary, especially for Mom and Dad.  Dad because he has hip mobility problems (recall previous post: Two Bad's Out of Reach Feet) so finding the flexibility to get his foot on the rebar would be extremely difficult, and Mom because she would need to find some super upper body strength to hoist herself up over the rebar.

"I don't even know how Mom and Dad did it, but they both got up over this part somehow," Hansel said.  Many people turn around when they reach that part of Katahdin, but Mom and Two Bad were determined even though Hansel and Gretel tried telling them that it was ok if they didn't go all the way to the top.  Once they got over the rebar, Mom said, "Well, I'm up now so we're going.  I don't know how I'm going to get down again, but I'm up."  As brave as she probably would have liked that to sound, she was almost crying because she was so scared.  They kept telling her that the hard part was over, but that wasn't really true.  There were more hard parts after that as the trail went straight up the mountain for the next 1.5 miles.

This was the most rock climbing Hansel and Gretel had done on the entire trail.  There were parts where they had to pull themselves up over the rocks.  Mom ended up doing a lot of seal-like belly slides to get up on the rocks.  Or she would just put her knees up because it was too hard to pull up on arms alone.  As they climbed up, a bunch of people were passing them going the opposite direction.  When they looked back, there was no one coming up the mountain behind them.  They were the last group to up and most people had already started the climb down.  This made them kind of nervous too, but as Mom said, "There's nothing else to do.  Can't do anything but keep going."

Gretel and Mom making their way up the boulders.

The End-ish-ish

Mom and Two Bad decided to climb to the top of Katahdin so they could be present when Hansel and Gretel reached their goal.  They left me in the parking lot of Katahdin Stream Campground at 11am and began their 5 mile climb to the top.

Mom and Two Bad.  Katahdin is the peak you can see just above their heads.

On their way up Katahdin!


Thinking that Hansel and Gretel had already passed through the campground, I set up shop at one of the picknick tables and began constructing giant celebratory signs on pieces of poster board.  I couldn't have been more than 15 minutes into it when Hansel and Gretel came trotting out of the woods.  I quickly lept up from the picknick table, abandoning my signs, and started walking towards them as cool as can be.  I made every attempt to draw them away from the picknick table I had left, but they were heading straight for it!  They were looking for the ranger station to sign in, which happen to be just past my table.

"We'll just put our packs down with your stuff," Hansel said, indicating over at my abandoned picknick table.

"That's not mah stuff," I said quickly.  But Hansel just kept walking towards it!

"Oh," he said and put his pack down right next to it, making sure to peak over at the poster board that the wind had blown off the table and was now laying on the ground with the words "Gretel, you did it!" written across it.  Luckily, my tape dispenser had also blown off the table and landed on top of the R E and T part of "Gretel" so it wasn't completely obvious that the sign was for her... just mostly obvious.  Fortunately Gretel is as gullible as I am so when I said "that's not mah stuff," she actually believed it wasn't mah stuff and didn't even bother looking at it.

The three of us walked over to the ranger station to register Hansel and Gretel as official finishers of the Appalachian Trail!  Of course they still had to climb Katahdin, but the Guide Book says to sign in before going up.

Hansel and Gretel were the 374th and 375th hikers to begin the trail back in George, and the 41st and 42nd to finish up in Maine!  That means that 333 either quit or Hansel and Gretel passed them on the trail!

Gretel's note for the log book at the ranger station

Registered Thru-hikers!  Numbers 41 and 42!

The End-ish

Two Bad and Mom took Hansel and Gretel to the trail head early in the morning.  They had a 10 mile hike to get to the base of Mt. Katahdin in Baxter State Park and then there would be a 5 mile climb to get to the top.  Their hike to base of Katahdin took a bit longer than they expected because "there was a stupid river that wasn't listed in the guide book that we had to ford."  Because it wasn't listed, they spent about 15 minutes trying to figure out where the trail went.  It seems as though other hikers were also a bit confused by this river and ended up creating other trails going up and down the shore in an attempt to figure out where the trail went and the best way to cross.

Finally, Hansel and Gretel realized they had to ford it.  Hansel was actually able to jump from rock to rock to get across, which is pretty extreme.  There was one leap in which he hopped about 4 feet to the next rock over the rushing water!  Gretel wasn't quite as daring so she took off her boots half way and waded through the river.  This not the most comfortable for her because the rocks at the bottom were really sharp and she didn't have her Crocks with her since they were only taking the bare essentials to climb up Katahdin.  They made it across, frustrated that they had waisted 15 minutes (time is precious to a thru-hiker who has made it all the way to Maine).  Half a mile later, the white blazes led them to cross right back over the very same river.  The rest of the trail was pretty easy and they blew through the remaining miles to the Katahdin Stream Campground, where I was waiting at the base of Mt. Katahdin.

Happy Trails!

That is Mt. Katahdin as seen from Katahdin Stream Campground

Hansel and Gretel coming out of the woods and not quite recognizing me yet.  Note Hansel's confused countenance as I snap this photo. 

Monday, July 18, 2011

SURPRISE!

As Hansel and Gretel were finishing up their last mile in the 100 Mile Wilderness (the 31st mile of the day) they played the song game to pass the time.  Hansel got stuck on a song and fell silent when Gretel started singing... at least that is what Hansel thought.  It wasn't until he looked up that he saw Mom in front of him!  She and Two Bad Dad had hiked in to meet them and Mom, of course, was singing as they walked!  The four of them hiked out together while I hid out in the hotel.

Mom and Two Bad told Hansel and Gretel that I wasn't able to come to Maine since I had a job interview in the beginning of the week.  It could have been true... but it wasn't.  They all returned to one of our two connected hotel rooms.  Hansel and Gretel had no idea I was listening behind the door in the other room as Hansel recounted the story of his fall on The Notch and Gretel hopped in the shower to get ready for dinner.  Two Bad took their laundry down the hall so they would have fresh clothes for tomorrow, and while he was "loading the clothes into the drier" he took me to the restaurant we all planned on eating at once Hansel and Gretel were all cleaned up.  I chatted with the waitress in this rather empty bar and grill while I waited for the family to arrive.  15 minutes later, the rented white suburban pulled up.  Sitting in the middle of the table with a huge menu open and covering my face I listened for all of them to get closer.  Then... SURPRISE!  I dropped the menu and sat grinning at Hansel and Gretel who didn't quite realize what was going on at first.  I watched as their faces changed and suddenly realize that the goofball sitting alone at a table for five was their very own sister!

"I knew it!"  Hansel yelled!  "There was no way you had an interview!"

"I didn't!"  Gretel said.  "I had no idea!"

The three of us exchanged many hugs in the middle of the dinning room and some of us might have even gotten a little teary-eyed in the midst of it all.   We proceeded to have a delicious dinner with drinks and lobster and plenty of laughter!

We returned to the hotel where the second room was revealed.  Hansel and Gretel prepared for their final hike- Gretel braiding her hair and Hansel dividing their candy stash into two even bags that they would carry up Katahdin tomorrow.  I took a video of the two goofs preparing.  It's probably a bit longer than it needs to be, but it's a pretty accurate representation of a typical dialogue.  This was right before bed and they were both very tired after their 31 mile hike.  Click here to see one of their final conversations before the big climb!

Happy Trails!

The Whole Fam Together Again!

Hansel counting out the Good and Plenties

Hansel and Gretel with their blogger in the midst of blogging

The 100 Mile Wilderness: White House Landing

White House Landing: advertised as "an oasis with the 100 Mile Wilderness."  Hansel and Gretel stayed here their last night of the 100 miles.  The method of access to get to White House Landing was truly unique.  The hostel is located about a mile off the trail.  Hansel and Gretel had to wind their way along the shore of another lovely Maine lake until they came out to a dock.  From the dock, they were able to see the house across the lake.  At the end of the dock, there was a fog horn.  They tooted the fog horn and a guy came out of the house and boarded a little boat which he used to cross the lake and collect Hansel and Gretel.

White House Landing had a few private cabins where hikers could stay, though these were a little more expensive than the bunk house where Hansel and Gretel slept.  The house had no electricity and the pluming was fed straight from the water in the lake which the owners of the hostel pumped every day.  For this reason, they asked that showers be restricted to as few minutes as possible.  The water was warmed by solar heat.  They didn't have a true bathroom.  Just a compost privy.  For dinner, you could pay for one of two options.  You could either have a 1-pound burger or a 14-inch pizza.  Hansel selected the burger and Gretel got the pizza... although, Hansel ended up consuming half of Gretel's pizza since she got full after 4 slices.  "Gretel wimped out," Hansel explained.  For desert they had homemade whoopee pies- a Maine staple!

The next morning, the White House Landing care takers agreed to serve breakfast at 7am so that Hansel and Gretel could hit the trail as early as possible.  They planned on leaving their packs at the hostel where Two Bad, mom, and I could hike in and pick them up so that they would be able to slack pack a 31 mile day to finish the 100 Mile Wilderness.  Also staying at the hostel were two South Bounders, just beginning their AT excursion toward Georgia.  Hansel and Gretel finished their breakfast quickly and prepared their day packs so they were ready to go.  They would have to take the boat back across the lake in order start, but the two South Bounders were moving very slowly.

"Hey, we're ready to go when you are," Hansel said to them in an effort to get them to move it along.  Apparently Hansel was a litte too subtle and these South Bounders just didn't get the hint that they really wanted to leave asap.  Their boat driver was also fully prepared and the three of them were just kinda sitting around waiting for the other hikers to get it together.

Finally the boat man said, "You know what?  Screw 'em!  I'll waste the gas.  I don't care."  Once on the boat and out of ear shot he expressed a few more sentiments.

"These f***ing South Bounders.  THey don't know what they're doing.  You guys are quick.  You have it together.  You know what you're doing.  But these South Bounders, they take forever.  You're always waiting on them.  They piss me off."

And he was kind of right too.  North Bounders have the routine down.  By the time they reach Maine, they are very efficient and they understand how important their time and energy is.  Nothing is waisted.  South Bounders have not yet realized this.  The guys running White House Landing were also extremely efficient, so they appreciated Hansel and Gretel's timeliness.  It was very kind of the boat man to take Hansel and Gretel across early, because they certainly did have a long day ahead of them.

Later that day, mom, Two Bad and I hiked into the woods to retrieve Hansel and Gretel's packs.  There was a road that took us to the edge of the woods, and then we had to walk about .5 miles to the house.  Well, we would have had to walk .5 miles if we had taken that left turn at the start of the trail.  Instead we hiked about three quarters of a mile until mom called the White House Landing to clarify the directions.  Even driving in was kind of crazy.  There were no real street signs.  Instead we were given land marks.  "It's the third turn marked by a boulder that has graffiti on it.  Then turn left at the place with a hundred signs (*see picture bellow)."  Somehow in all those directions, we missed the left turn at the start of the hiking trail.  So our 1 mile pack retrieval ended up being a 2.5 mile pack retrieval.  This was my first time hiking since breaking my ankle, but luckily the trail was flat and tame, so the 2.5 miles were nothing too worry about.  We got their packs, took some pictures, and headed to the hotel.

Happy Trails!

The left turn marked by 100 signs to get to White House Landing.

Mom and Two Bad looking out at the lake at White House Landing.  You can see the small motor boat that brought Hansel and Gretel across the lake.

Me, Two Bad, and Mom at White House Landing, collecting Hansel and Gretel's packs.

The 100 Mile Wilderness

Hansel and Gretel left Monson in the morning at hit the ominous sign indicating the start of the 100 Mile Wilderness.  Now, having covered 2,000 miles of the Trail, struggled through the heat, and battled the mountains of New Hampshire, the 100 Mile Wilderness turned out to be much less threatening than the sign and the stories made it seem.  In hindsight, Hansel and Gretel thought the sign was really kind of ridiculous.  "It seems really serious, but it’s definitely not has hard as they made it out to be."  There are even back roads that drive in and out of it.  As the caretaker at one of the campsites said, “Yeah, ‘100 Mile Wilderness’ is kind of a misnomer.  More like ‘100 Mile Inconvenient Resupply.’”  It’s true that the wilderness does not go through any towns, but the threat-level is not much to speak of. 


Hansel and Gretel were in and out in 4 days.  The first day they hiked 26 miles, the second they did 21, the third they hiked 23 miles and the final day they covered a whopping 31 miles.  (That is actually 101 miles if anyone did the math since they had to hike an extra mile to bet picked up at a road.)  There were two difficult mountains to climb, some steep uphills, some ridge-walking, a big downhill, but other than that, their main challenge was finding ways to occupy their brains for the long hikes.  

Towards the end of the day their brains would be feeling particularly fried which is sometimes the recipe for negative feelings to pop their way out.  To distract themselves from these negative feelings, they would play little games as they walked together.  Here are some examples of the games they played:

The Word Association Game:
Person A says a word and then Person B says the first word that comes into their mind based on the word Person A said.  In response, Person A similarly says the first word that pops into his mind and the came continues switching back and forth between the two people.  After a while, you stop bouncing back and forth and try to recall the entire sequence word by word, reflecting on how ridiculous the associations became.  

The Movie Connection Game: 
This game is much like the word association game only it is played with movies.  Person A states a movie title.  Person B then provides a new movie title that pops into their head because of some connection to Person A's movie title.  The movies could be connected or associated for any reason at all.  It could be because they have a similar actor, or because they were set in the same place, or they have a common theme, etc.  The connections can be very loose.  For example, Hansel provided the movie "Along Came Polly" and Gretel responded "Kindergarten Cop" because both movies have a ferret in them.  Another connection they made was Gretel said "Jerry Maguire" and Hansel said "Philadelphia" because Bruce Springsteen wrote songs for both movies.  Hansel and Gretel ended up playing this game a lot because it was really pretty mindless.  They didn't have to think too hard since pretty much anything works.  

The Song Game:
For this game, Person A provides a word.  Then each person has to come up with 2 songs that have that word in it, while taking turns sharing their songs.  Since Person A provided the word, he must also provide the first song.  After Person B has provided their 2nd song, they sing the song until they feel like stopping on a new word.  The word that Person B stops on because the word for a new round of the game.  This was a great game for Hansel and Gretel because if they both knew the song, they would end up singing the whole song together before continuing on with the game.  As you might imagine, this takes time so 50 minutes would pass by and they would only have been through 4 rounds of the game.  That is almost 3 miles worth of singing!

They also played the 20 Question Game.  Person A thinks of something and then Person B has 20 Yes/No questions to figure out what Person A is thinking.  

So for the most part, the 100 Mile Wilderness was just kinda boring.  Most of it was low elevation so Hansel and Gretel were just walking through swamp areas or pine forests.  There wasn't much to see, although one thing that they really loved about Maine, was that there were so many beautiful lakes!  Unlike other places on the east coast, no one lives around the lakes.  They were just in the middle of the woods surrounded by trees.  They would be hiking along and suddenly come to this gorgeous body of water!  

Hansel and Gretel were also very lucky to have had perfect weather while hiking through the 100 Mile Wilderness.  There had not been much rain before they started it, so everything had plenty of time to dry up.  If it had been rainy, they probably would have had to go much slower and the trail would have been swampy and floody the whole way.  

Happy trails and some new games!

Hansel with a real picture of the scary 100 Mile Wilderness sign

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Munchin' in Monson

The Shaw’s Hotel in Monson served as Hansel and Gretel’s final stop before the 100 Mile Wilderness.  They were greeted by a lovely woman who gave them the basic expectations of all Show’s visitors.  “So basically, this is a home, and while you’re staying here, it’s like your home.  So just treat it like your home.  There is a computer you can use.  There’s a kitchen.  Let me know what you need.”

After Hansel and Gretel took their showers and started settling in, they came upon most wonderful surprise!  A mysterious package with their names on it!  As it turned out, someone who had been following Hansel and Gretel’s story suspected that they would be staying at Shaw’s before going into the 100 Mile Wilderness!  “Such a wonderful surprise!”  Inside the package were some terrific goodies: Gatorade, Cliff Bars, trail mix, and a very kind note! 

When Hansel, Gretel and I were little, we went to a very talented and very knowledgeable soccer trainer, Mr. Turnbull.  Our family has remained in touch with the Turnbull family over the years, and when Hansel and Gretel started their journey, Mr. Turnbull shared their adventure with all of his current students at Soccer Skills and Drills*.  The surprise package came from the very thoughtful family of one of his current students.  Thank you very much!  Such kindness (in addition to those Cliff Bars) is the perfect fuel for this adventure!

Hansel and Gretel didn’t leave Shaw’s as soon as they should have and when they hit the grocery store at 6:15, their spirits dropped a little when the sign on the door said the store was closed.   “We were like, ‘Aw shoot! This stinks!’  ‘cause we really needed to get stuff,” Hansel explained since they were beginning the 100 Mile Wilderness the following morning.  As they stood outside of the store trying to figure out what they were going to do, a man popped his head out the door.

“Ah, can I help you guys?”

“Yeah!  We really need to get some groceries.  Just a couple of things because we are going into the 100 Mile Wilderness tomorrow and we are a little short on food.”

The man quickly opened the doors to them and explained that he was just closing up, but the register was still open.  He was such a nice guy and he even gave them a free post card!  So far Monson was turning out to be a great little town with such friendly people!

Following their resupply at the little grocery store, they walked down the street to Spring Creek Bar-B Q, voted #1 barbecue in the state of Maine!  They had a delicious meal and while they were on their way out, they stated conversing with a fellow who had hiked the Trail in 2001.  He now owns an organic farm and had just returned from the market.  He had a ton of delicious veggies in his truck which he generously offered to our Hansel and Gretel.  He talked a mile a minute in rambles with an excited tone.  As Hansel retold the story, it sounded as if this hiking farmer was an auctioneer speaking very quickly without any pauses between sentences.

“Hey you guys want some vegetables I have all these vegetables I have spinach you want spinach You don’t want spinach I have broccoli I have carrots Carrots are great You can just munch on them while you walk…” 

He ended up giving them a ton of vegetables and the carrots were, in fact, delicious! 

Happy Trails!

*If you would like to pick up some excellent ball skills, develop a love for soccer ballet, learn some fun soccer trivia (do you know Pele’s real name?), understand the meaning of good sportsmanship, improve your handshake, and meet a truly sincere and thoughtful person, you should look into Soccer Skills and Drills with Mr. Turnbull.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Fairly Funny Ferry Frolic

This morning, Wallace took Hansel and Gretel back to cross the famous Kennebec River.  This is the only part of the trail that a thru-hiker is instructed to take a mode of transportation other than his feet.  The Kennebec is apparently too deep and dangerous to ford, so the trail guide says to take “the ferry” across the river.  Now the ferry only runs between 9 and 11 am, so it was very important that Hansel and Gretel get there on time.  Wallace delivered them will little difficulty.  Eager to see this dangerous river and the special ferry that would bring them safely across, Hansel and Gretel made there way towards the bank quickly. 

Their arrival was accompanied by a hearty laugh.  At the bank of the river stood a man wearing a brown knit wool cap that was pinned up on one side and had a feather sticking out of it.  It sort of resembled a Robin Hood hat if you can imagine it.  His hair was very long and he had a beard of course.  When he opened his mouth to speak, Hansel and Gretel counted about 6 existing teeth, all of which were pointing in different directions and were stained yellow, maybe ever brown.  This was a serious hill-billy man. 

The grand ferry they had anticipated turned out to be a 3-person canoe captained by this toothless, bearded, Robin Hood hill-billy.  Further more, the river itself was as calm as can be.  Hansel was pretty sure he could have walked across it quite safely.  The “ferry driver” could only take two people in his boat at a time and there were already 3 people waiting at the shore so Hansel and Gretel had to wait a little while. 

When it was their turn to cross, Toothless Robin asked them to sign a release form and gave them life jackets to wear.  Looking at this docile river made the need for life jackets seem like the most ridiculous thing ever.  This whole situation was just ridiculous.  Maybe at different times of the year the river is more treacherous, but today, the danger element was seriously lacking.  When it was their turn to cross, Hansel took the front seat and assisted with the paddling.  Toothless Robin paddled in the back and Gretel got a free ride in the middle.  The most difficult part of the Kennebec crossing turned out to be showing up on time!  I suppose after 2,000 miles of adventure, it doesn’t hurt to have a less eventful river crossing.

Happy trails and dental floss!

In the words of Gretel: "The especially not-so-epic crossing of the Kennebec via canoe."

Hansel paddling in the front.  Note the oh-so-necessary life jacket. 

Wallace of Sterling Inn

Tuesday morning Hansel and Gretel found themselves in search of another shuttle.  They identified the Sterling Inn as a good place to stay so they called and rather confused sounding girl picked up the phone.  Gretel told the girl they would be coming out of the woods at Logging Road right before the Kennebec River.  The girl on the line had never hear of Logging Road and started saying things that didn’t really make any sense to Gretel, “Well, I’ll leave Wallace a note, but the owner would really know.”  Who is Wallace?  Where was the owner?  Gretel was confused about the whole thing. 

Well Wallace called back a little while later.  Apparently Wallace does a lot of shuttling back and forth to the inn.  He is actually the inn keeper’s husband, but the inn keeper is a nurse and lives about 60 miles south during the week.  She is only at the inn on weekends.  Wallace spends his week living with his dog in some kind of a camp.   

So Wallace said he would come and pick up Hansel and Gretel.  He really wasn’t sure if where Logging Road was, but he promised Gretel he would be there. 

“We’ll probably get there around 7,” Gretel told him. 

“Well,” Wallace responded, “I’ll be there by 5 o’clock.  I’m retired and I’ll be there.”  And he hung up the phone before Gretel could say anything else. 

Now usually Wallace takes a nap in the afternoon, but he was so worried that he wouldn’t be able to find Logging Road that he couldn’t sleep.  So, he skipped his nap and packed a backpack incase Hansel and Gretel didn’t make it.  He wanted to be prepared if he was going to have to stay out there over night waiting for them.  He brought a change of clothes, some food and a stove just to be safe.  His wife was worried he wouldn’t be able to find Logging Road and might get lost.  “What if you don’t come back?”  She asked him.  “Well, if I’m gone for more than a month, you can call the authority,” Wallace assured her and he set off. 

Hansel and Gretel emerged from the woods much earlier than they had told Wallace.  At 5:30 they hit Logging Road, but don’t you worry.  Wallace had been there since 3:30 waiting for them!  He greeted them with a cooler filled with cold beer, water and soda (he wasn’t sure what Hansel and Gretel would want to drink).  On the ride home, Hansel and Gretel learned that Wallace was a retired railroad worker where he had been for 40 years.  Before that, he served in the Viet Nam war.  The drive to the inn took about an hour since Logging Road was on the other side of the Kennebec River and there are very few crossing points.  Wallace didn’t seem to mind one bit.  One thing about this lovely gentleman was very clear: he LOVED his life.  Wallace was just the happiest person Hansel and Gretel had come across this entire trail.  It just seemed as if everything he was doing and everything he had done was just the great thing ever!  Although his life might not sound so exciting to anyone else, for Wallace, his life was a dream come true!  Hansel and Gretel took a liking to him immediately. 

Once their caravan had arrived at the inn, Wallace recommended a restaurant called Northern, which was right down the road from Sterling Inn.  Hansel and Gretel invited Wallace to join them.  He cheerfully obliged.   When they walked into Northern, it seems that EVERYONE knew Wallace.  Hansel and Gretel felt like they were walking around with some kind of celebrity!  They learned that the restaurant runs a lot of rafting trips and they often call Wallace to either shuttle people around or to put the adventurers up in the Sterling Inn.  In any case, Wallace was a delight, and he positive attitude was definitely contagious that evening!  He even started referring to Gretel as “B” since that is what Hansel calls her (short for Becca, he really life name).  Thanks for taking such good care of Hansel and Gretel, Wallace!

Happy Trails! 

Hansel and Gretel with WALLACE!

Hansel fording a river with the help of a rope and some sticks... actually they really weren't very helpful. Oh well!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Crazy Cravings and Linda

Perhaps the people in Maine know that by the time thru-hikers get to them, they are very tired and are doing all they can to finish the trail as quickly as possible.  For this reason, there is an assortment of inns and hostels that will help thru-hikers slack pack a good portion of the state.  Monday morning Hansel and Gretel were in search of such an inn.  They were calling around when someone gave them the phone number for the Chamber of Commerce.  Although they were pretty confused as to how the Chamber of Commerce was going to help them, they were pleasantly surprised when they were connected with Linda.  She runs a shuttle service and actually ended up driving 40 miles to collect Hansel and Gretel!  Linda then proceeded to take Hansel and Gretel to get some ice cream (every thru-hikers vice) and then to the store due to a tremendous craving that had come over Gretel.  Gretel needed Ellio's Pizza.  No one can be sure why Ellio's was on her mind.  Mom used to heat it up in the toaster oven for lunch when we were little, but truth be told, it leaves something to be desired in the delicious department.  In any case, Gretel got her Ellio's. 

The next day Linda picked up Hansel and Gretel to take them back to the trail.  When they climbed into her van she pulled out some fresh, hot, homemade blueberry coffee cake!  It was delicious!  What a great way to begin the day!

Happy Trails!