C&O Canal

The C & O Canal has been many things for me but the biggest has been a wake up call. As soon as I set foot on the canal it seemed like Murphy’s Law had it out for me. I started out with all my water reservoirs filled because I was unsure of my water source. I knew the water pumps at each campsite would be turned off due to the freezing temperatures and I knew every twenty miles or so there would be a town. Nevertheless, I was now burdened with a 60lb pack and my body hated me for it. Each mile marker mocked me as I walked by. My feet were being crushed with every step. My left hip bone had continuously been sore from my high-waisted pants with an unfortunate allignment of pocket zipper and pack hip belt. I then had to deal with breaking in hiking boots. The warmer weather made my winter boots inadequate and after a few days of soggy feet I’d had enough. Other than thinking about the pain and discomfort, I questioned what reality was. By entering and exiting so many families’ lives, I get a glimpse of what another life might have held for me if I was raised in a different lifestyle with different values. I questioned the reality of the American Discovery Trail. After all was said and done, I came to the conclusion that reality is fluid. It is constantly moving and changing and therefore reality is the present moment. By the end of the day my body felt broken and it was only a 15 mile day. I had encouragement however, the West Virginia coordinator contacted me and debuted my arrival on the trail on the trail’s Facebook page. Suddenly, I had an influx of people offering their help to me further down the trail and I had hope.

A 20 mile day was ahead of me and I was fighting the urge to push through the canal while still managing my body’s physical limitations. I was experiencing a love/hate relationship with the canal. I could see the beauty it held in the spring and I was fascinated by the history yet it was redundant. The wintery state of the canal was filled with lifeless and leaveless trees. The path ahead of me was unmistakable, a gravel road. To my left was the Potomac River. To my right, the remnants of the canal. This was how it was and how it stayed mile after mile. I had to search for the motivation for the day. I’d been in my tent and sleeping bag for twelve hours hiding from the cold, darkness. I wondered how I was going to lighten my pack. I decided to carry minimal water and ditch my book “Gifts of the Wild: A Woman’s Book of Adventure.” I thought it’d be inspiring but each night I was too tired and I never actually started reading it. Therefore, I graced the next pooper in that campsite’s porta-potty with reading material. I started walking and the aches and pains weren’t as bad yet as the mileage went on they exacerbated. I didn’t see anyone for the first twelve miles and then was met by two women on horseback. The small interactions make my day. Four phrases helped me get through thus far. 1) Keep moving. 2) Progress. 3) This too shall pass. 4) Nothing lasts forever. I strangely found comfort in knowing that I can always count on things changing.. eventually. As I was walking, a bicyclist passed me and off in the distance a pitbull/lab mix was sprinting after. I thought it odd and wondered if the owner was the bicyclist but then saw a man even further back running after the dog. My guess, the dog gave chase after the bicyclist and the owner didn’t know if the dog would ever stop. The dog’s attention shifted towards me. I wasn’t afraid of her but I braced for impact. There was so much excitement. So much, that her slobber was flinging all over her face and she never skipped a heartbeat over it while continuing to be excited. I decided then that that was going to be my life goal for excitement. Next, a bicyclist stopped and started talking to me. He’d done the Appalachian Trail twice now and had life altering experiences from it. He assured me, “You’re not crazy, you’re wise,” when I mentioned some of the wild looks I’ve received. I thanked him for stopping and sharing his experience. At camp I treated water out of the Potomac with iodine tablets. It had a cloudy brown tint but tasted fine. I was also painfully aware of the train tracks not fifty feet from where my campsite was. My feet were hurting and it was getting dark. I wouldn’t be able to walk another five miles to a different camp. After a quick dinner, I retired to the warmth of my sleeping bag and slowly started to become unravelled. I layed there trying to make plans for the next day but soon felt overwhelmed. I was losing confidence in my body’s ability to keep moving but I equally didn’t know how to do nothing. Anxiety was rising in me and I felt like I wanted to throw up. I stopped trying to figure out the next day. “One thing at a time.” I told myself. I tried to gather myself and then an ungodly horn would go off and a train would flash by in all of its metal clashing. I lost it and started crying. I was now preparing myself for a restless night full of trains, jet engines, and animals fighting in the darkness.

It started sprinkling as I finally decided to get camp packed up for the morning. I thought back to the night before and had to remind myself that there is strength in allowing myself to feel my emotions. Old habits die hard and I needed to remind myself that it was okay not to always be okay. Shortly after I started walking, I decided to stop in Harpers Ferry. I didn’t know a lot about the town but I had been excited about it. A man, Sherman, stopped and talked to me a few miles before I reached the town. He gave me the directions to Harpers Ferry and asked me if I believed in God. It is a common question that I’m asked on this trail. One that I am still figuring out for myself. But it gave me a lot to think about my last few miles before I reached town. Anyways, I was happy to just have a quality conversation with someone. When I reached Harpers Ferry, I was battling the gusty wind as I crossed the bridge over the Potomac and into West Virginia. I immediately went to investigate the town directory and starred at it a good five minutes or so. Now what? I had no idea what I wanted to see or even what there was to see so I started walking down the main street and stumbled upon a visitors center. No one was inside so I started reading the plaques about the artifacts located there. Then, Bert walked into the building. He was a lovely park ranger that had lots of knowledgeable information and no one to tell it to. I asked the simplest, and frankly only question I could think of, “What should I see?” He was more than willingly to help and offered films to watch, museums to see, and places to eat and sleep. The trick was finding out what businesses were open in this wintry off season. I started telling Bert about what I was doing and he started grinning from ear to ear with disbelief. Next thing I know, he hands me money to make sure I have breakfast covered for the next couple days. Now, I was in disbelief. I exited the building feeling rejuvenated and touched by the kindness of a stranger. I wandered up a side street trying to find food. Between the cold and the mileage I have been in a calorie deficit and am on a learning curve trying to find the right balance between food weight and calorie dense foods. I came across the Potomac Grill and walked inside, pack still attached. I was immediately taken aback by the number of people in such a small place when it felt like a ghost town outside. There was one door entering and exiting the establishment and I stood there, pack and all, and waited to be seated. That situation would have been uncomfortable enough but on top of that it was a room of rather attractive guys staring at me. Soon to find out, they were all Marines on a sort of field trip. With the waiter’s permission, I finally dropped my pack at the door and sat by myself at a table meant for six. I didn’t know where to look so I starred at all the decorations and signs on the wall until my food came. Next, I needed to find a place to stay for the night. There was a campsite on the canal I could go to a few miles up river but I needed a break from the ground hog day experience. I wandered around the street searching for an Inn that apparently didn’t exist. I spotted a guy walking towards me wearing what reminded me of climber’s attire (Patagonia puffy jacket, Appalachian Trail hat, coffee cup in hand.. I don’t actually remember his shoes but if they’d been chacos I would’ve argued with him until he agreed he was a climber too) and asked him for directions. He couldn’t directly help me but he pointed me in the direction of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy where I could figure it out in a warm lounge with nice people and wifi. There I realized that for the day, I had been an Appalachian Trail (AT) hiker. I was in awe as soon as I awkwardly fit through the doors. I was given a pamphlet with nearby Inns but was immediately shown the support and network surrounding the AT community. They had binders with the picture of every hiker with a small description that had passed through the building. There was trail magic, book exchange, and so much more! It felt like a thru-hiker’s mecca. I wanted to be a part of this community and I knew I’d return one day. They also helped me realize that I had to be patient with my body and give it time to adapt to the hiking life style. I officially weighed my pack for the first time and it was 48lbs with minimal food and water. Not good. In between all of my awe inspiring revelations, I did manage to find a hostel to stay at but I wasn’t eager to get there. Instead, I hung out with my new AT friends until they closed up shop. I had found familiarity there so when I walked outside into the dark, gloomy weather, I found myself in a daze. I made my way to the Towns Inn & Hostel and although it was nice and comfortable, it felt foreign. Instead of staying in the hostel, I was allowed to stay in a room because three men were already staying there. This way, no one was uncomfortable. The building itself was an antique and the people that I found myself surrounded by lived a unique lifestyle. The three men were part of a Christian church where their main mode of transportation was on bicycle and their life dedicated to spreading the word of God. They wore tunics, grew their beards out, and wore simple clothes. They also refered to God and Jesus by their Hebrew names: Elohiym and Yeshua. The women who ran the hostel were also part of a similar church except instead of beards grown out their hair was well below their waist line. They were soft spoken, kind, and seemingly at peace but I couldn’t help but think about what they’d be like angry. I once again pondered my belief in God and thought it fascinating to discover such a diverse interpretation of what it means to live by the will of God.

My task for the day was to make it to the next town, 12 miles away, and gather groceries. My left foot wasn’t hurting too bad and I managed to fix my hip irritation by slightly sagging my pants, that way the pack hip belt rested above the zipper seam. Before I got into Shepherdstown, I asked a woman for directions to the grocery store and she gave me phenomenal descriptions. When I told her what I was doing she lit up like a fire cracker! Her energy was contagious and it inspired me. As I crossed the bridge over the Potomac I was content and driven. I was going grocery shopping! It started snowing as I walked past the college campus into the heart of town. The snow fascinated me. I started singing “A Thousand Miles” by Vanessa Carlton but only the main chorus because it appears that I’m incapable of remembering entire songs. Then, I started to try to catch the snowflakes with my mouth as they flew into my face. Hydration?? As I neared the Food Lion, I began narrating my thoughts and actions in a Northern/Scottish accent. Don’t be fooled, I’m terrible at accents but under the right conditions it appears that my deeply surpressed talents emerge. My favorite part about grocery shopping was pushing my pack around in a grocery cart. No one said anything to me but the looks were obvious. I was trying to shop for high calorie foods and felt that I did a pretty good job watching the weight. Man, I was wrong. My pack was crushing me again. My logic told me that buying dinner packets that I didn’t have to rehydrate would be beneficial. However, I forgot to think about the weight of the sauce that resided inside each of them. I shuffled back to the canal and then the three miles to camp already thinking about ways to discard the weight.

My genius idea to relieve pack weight was to eat dinner for breakfast and breakfast for dinner. That meant strange Indian cuisine packets with cheese cubes  for breakfast that I mixed with tuna and children’s dinosaur oatmeal (more calories than the others and I get to watch dinosaurs hatch when the oatmeal is ready) for dinner. Let me not forget lots of butter in both! This was a long day. Every five miles I had to stop and it was a twenty mile day. My feet were hurting and it was getting worse. The brightside, I encountered the Big Slackwater section of the canal. The “big” is because of the larger water body created by Dam 4 and the “slack” means that this section of water tended to be calmer than the rest. This isn’t why I enjoyed this section though. I walked along the shoreline next to limestone cliffs. Limestone cliffs that I wanted to climb. Limestone cliffs that reminded me of my first outdoor climbing experience. The tallest cliff was no more than thirty feet tall but it gave me a sense of nostalgia and reminded me of the climbing communities I’ve become a part of across the country. Along this section, I came across a “hazardous conditions” sign that blocked my path. If the ADT has taught me anything, it is that I should be skeptical of signs and check it out for myself. While I took a break, I witnessed an orange and white kitten run past the sign. I freaking love cats and they provide a sense of comfort for me. There is also a possibility that they are my spirit animals so I took it as a green light to meander past the sign. A mountain biker also appeared and nonchalantly ignored the sign. At least if things got weird or dangerous, he’d experience them first. As it turns out, the path had been closed because of flooding but the water levels had since dropped and the path had a few muddy portions. No biggy. The last five miles of the day were pretty bad. I had a good limp going and rested after every mile while racing the sun. The dark forest green/bright blue/refrigerator white colors of the porta-potties soon became a beacon of hope for me. They symbolized opportunities to relieve myself but more importantly campsites, places of rest and shelter.

Frustration was the theme today. I had the time, the will, the energy, to make a twenty mile day but my feet were on strike. I had a couple blisters (my heel and in between my big and index toe) but what I was concerned about was the structural integrity of my feet. With my background in kinesiology, I’m familiar with bodily awareness but I sometimes lack the patience it takes the body to heal. I decided to switch tactics for today. I begrudgingly agreed to a fifteen mile day and actively avoided looking at the mile markers. As the runners ran past me I wanted to yell to them, “Take me with you!” I want to run. I was tired of walking. So, I decided to run, well, as best I could with a 50lb pack on. I tightened my straps, stationed my trekking poles, and began galloping forward. Oh, it was great! Of course after completing a few intervals my back held a small ache.. totally worth it. I felt invigorated and my spirits were lifted. I wanted to interact with the runners but they all seemed so serious and focused on their running time. I saw a guy with a minimalistic trail running pack and tried to convince him to switch packs with me. He just kept walking and laughed. I wondered if I could convince someone to carry my pack and walk with me for a distance but by then all my fellow humans had dispersed. I made it to camp with plenty of daylight to waste and felt unaccomplished. I set up camp and hobbled around. As I retired to my tent for the night I could hear the water lapping against the shore. I felt like I was on a boat.

I was at a loss for motivation when trying to convince myself to get the day going. I had a restless sleep and it was freezing outside but after I got going it became a race to pack everything up. In order to save time, I decided to not heat up my strange Indian cuisine and immediately felt the chills rolling down my back. I just made myself twice as cold and wasted energy to heat up the food once it was inside me. I knew better but ignored the voice of reason. When I finally started walking, I was walking for warmth, for life. The sun hid from me the majority of the day and snow perspired from the gloomy sky. Before I reached mile four of my fifteen mile day, my feet were giving me grief. Everyone kept telling me to take care of my feet but no one ever told me how. I knew I needed rest but between my stubbornness and lack of resources, I didn’t know how to allow myself to help myself, at least until I got into town. My thoughts were engaged in planning my evening. I needed to find a hotel. I day dreamed about a massive pizza delivered just for me and rest. Somewhere around mile seven or eight, I hit my breaking point. I plopped down in front of a big tree and had the sun briefly shining on my back. I felt defeated and stared down the trail as tears began rolling down my cheeks. I began to think of all the things I was grateful for and then I started sobbing. I thought about the support from my family, from friends, from strangers that I’ve met and will meet. I then thought about how fragile the idea of the American Discovery Trail had been for me. Despite having lived on my own for the past couple years, if my parents had put their foot down and told me, “No!” about me doing this walk, I don’t think I would’ve had it in me to continue without their support. Whether they realized that or not is a different story but I believe despite their fear for my safety they had a deeper understanding that I needed to do this walk and that in the end, it would be good for me. So, I sat there sobbing and hoped no one would stumble upon me on their morning run. I began to feel an unworthiness of the love and support behind me and my journey. I started to wonder why people believed in me but then I remembered, “Why not?” I started walking again but this time I felt numb. I was emotional exhausted. I was now only concerned with the moment, with the day. I blocked out the uncertainty of tomorrow. I eventually made it into the town of Hancock. Music was playing from the local businesses and there was a town directory waiting for me. People stared as I walked down the street but I felt more human and my spirit began to lift. I made my way to the American Best Value Inn and was immediately greeted by a cat. I knew I was in the right place. As I checked into a room I awkwardly tried to socialize and was pleased to find a personable atmosphere to rest. The vintage patio furniture and a room to myself gave way to bits of excitement within me. It was time to heal.

Chesapeake Bay to C&O Canal

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge was my first major hurdle, 4.3 miles of road spanned across the Chesapeake Bay without a pedestrian crossing. I had plan A, B, and C all lined up to accomplish the crossing. Option A: hitch hike. Option B: wait until a nearby family friend was able to come get me. Option C: pay for a transportation service. I walked to the furthest part of the shoulder before the bridge officially began and saw a maintenance vehicle sitting there. I knocked on the window and figured I’d try asking for a ride. It was a no go.. not in the company vehicle. Not deterred, I waited behind his vehicle with my right thumb perked in the air. I positioned myself so that people could see me and have enough time and space to decide they wanted to help me out. I waited about ten minutes and then a woman in an SUV pulled onto the shoulder. A lovely lady named Kim would drive me across the bridge. She had seen me earlier in the day walking and was curious as to what I was doing. She dropped me off at exit 32, where the trail picked up again. Thank you Kim! I had made plans for my friend Josh, from Yosemite, to meet me after I crossed the bridge and as soon as I jumped out of Kim’s vehicle I saw Josh walking across the street towards me. Kim drove away looking confused as this man approached me in the middle of an isolated intersection. I met Josh last fall while we were both rock climbing in Yosemite. We had shared a campsite but he had had to unexpectedly leave so I never had a chance to say goodbye. As life would have it, a mutual friend reminded me he lived in Maryland and gave me his contact info. Now, we were both meeting again on the completely opposite side of the country. We drove into downtown Annapolis for food and exploration of the area. We explored the Naval Academy and wandered around the docks. I jokingly mentioned swimming but when I looked into the depths of the water I saw little jelly fish swimming around. Coming from Texas, the creatures of the sea had completely evaded me. Across the street from us, there was a general store with a giant “fudge” sign and like a little kid in a candy store, I blew up with excitement and rushed through the front doors. I was going to buy some fudge. The cashier gave me flavors to try and then told me that there was a buy two, get one free deal. Lost in my excitement, I had intended to buy one and ended up with three. I had no regrets but after munching on the first block of fudge I realized that I had stunned my body with the richness of the fudge and now had trouble functioning. What was I going to do with three blocks?? I asked Josh why he hadn’t been my voice of reason and stopped me from making my delicious choice. He said he didn’t have it in him to burst my bubble of childlike bliss.

Josh is an extrinsic and charismatic individual so just like he puts me on blast and yells to an entire subway cab that I’m walking across the United States, I’m going to put him on blast for being a supportive, reliable, and generous friend. Josh opened up his home to me for the past week and drove an accumulation of four hours every day to drop me off and pick me up at my destination. He sacrificed his bed to ensure I had the luxury of comfortable sleep while he suffered from back problems exacerbated by sleeping on the couch. He exposed me to the magical pizza sauce of Ledo’s and the ridiculously fantastic crab cakes from Box Hill Pizzeria. Last but not least, he gave me emotional support for my journey. Twice now, I have felt a legitimate, physical sickness in my stomach from thinking about different portions of completing the trail. Once was before I even began the trail and the second was before I was suppose to walk through Washington D.C. The inauguration and women’s march were occurring the two days after I walked to Greenbelt National Park and I could either walk through the chaos or try to avoid it. Walking through the chaos is what gave me the sick feeling but thanks to Josh, I was able to have the option of avoiding all of it, so I did. I can’t emphasize the importance of having a stable, confident mind set each morning before I embark on the next portion of my journey. In the end, I’m the one walking and I have to make sure that I have the mental strength to practice patience when I take a wrong turn or get lost. I have to have the mental fortitude to overcome adversity.

The twenty miles between Tasker Middle School and the south parking lot of Greenbelt National Park were where I felt lack of motivation and defeat. When I’m walking without my pack, I start to loose my sense of purpose. Physically, it is miraculous and healing but I find that there is a loss of opportunity in human interactions. I turn into another person walking and my journey becomes my secret. This section is where I also took a wrong turn for the first time. In the giant blob of directions, I had read over the “turn left” and turned right. The positive side of this was that I found a mistake in the directions. Two waypoints, an elementary school and park, were along the incorrect direction I took (which is why I thought I was going the right direction) and after about 3/4 of a mile I knew something was wrong and had to back track. The other hurdle for the day were the continuously curvy roads I walked along. Curvy roads are dangerous to begin with because they create blind spots for drivers but it became sketchier when there also were no shoulders to walk along. The way I dealt with this was to continuously shuffle between each side of the road and constantly be aware of any cars that could sneak up behind me. Overall, the drivers did a good job of giving me space when they could and when they couldn’t, I flung myself into the ditch, awkwardly stood on a hill, or froze where I was at so they wouldn’t have to try to avoid a moving target. When I made it to Greenbelt Park I was surprised to learn that it was part of the national park system. The park spanned no more than three miles from the north end of the park to the south. When walking through the middle, I could consistently hear the engines buzzing by on highway that bordered the park perimeter and see hotels and homes through the forest.

The time finally came to say goodbye to Josh. He and his brother were flying out of town and I needed to find a means to get back to my last hiking spot. I ended up being able to ride with them to the airport and then find a Lyft (similar to a taxi/uber) driver to take me the rest of the way. Everything about my situation perplexed the Lyft driver. He picked me up from the airport but I hadn’t been on a plane. I wanted him to drive me to an empty parking lot at 6am and leave me in the darkness. Every routine question he asked me was answered with a response that led to more questions.  He had been doing the driving gig for awhile now and never had he come across a story like mine. I was walking now to Georgetown, MD, and another reality was upon me. I found my first dirt trail here. The Valley Trail in Rock Creek Park was marked with blue, square blazes (blue spots were painted on the trees to mark the way). The dirt under my feet gave way to me and the weight of my pack as I galloped up the hill. It felt natural, familiar. This was the hiking that I knew. When I got to Georgetown the Maryland coordinator, Peter, picked me up from a Starbucks (it was the easiest place to find me) to host me for the night. While I waited for Peter, I sat outside in an impressively fancy area and a man asked me where I was travelling to (he noticed the 50 pound pack on my back). I told him I was walking to California and he looked baffled. He began lecturing me and telling me I should fly to California. He told me I needed to be trained in how to survive in the wilderness and that there are large, unfriendly animals out there. He told me to trust him because he knew about wild animals. In the middle of this lecture, Peter thankfully arrived and I was then able to perplex the man by jumping into a car after I told him I was walking to California. Peter drove me back to his house where I was met by his wife and son. They were filled with so much joy  and excitement. They wanted to know about my guiding in wilderness therapy and had veggie lasagna waiting for me after I showered. After dinner, I looked at maps of the route in Maryland and gave notes on portions of the trail that were confusing. I felt a sense of duty to help improve the American Discovery Trail. I wanted future hikers to have an even clearer route to follow.

Rain was in the forecast so it was decided that I would slack pack for the day on the C&O Canal and stay another night with Peter and his family. In the morning, it was misty and windy. My rain jacket did its job and my water resistant pants were holding up to the weather. Then it began to down pour. I had walked about six miles and had another eight miles before I would get to the next shelter, a visitor center. I could feel my pants saturating. The water crawled its way to the waist of the pants and seeped through to drench my socks and then boots. At that point, I was walking on water. Four more miles to go. My legs were numbing, my feet were soggy. My hands were useless and all I could do was keep going. I knew that with time, I would get there. I would eventually be warm and dry again. I appreciated the kindness of Peter and his family for giving me a home to recover in after such a storm. I made it to the visitor center but it was closed. I hid in the bathroom instead to escape the weather and to wait for Peter to come get me. I dumped water out of my boots into the sink and rung my socks out. I was chilly but grateful to be out of the wind. My clothes clung to me in their dampness as I sat and waited. I played with the hand dryer to see if I could effectively dry anything but everything was too far gone. Thank you Peter and family, your kindness and dedication to the trail has given me a greater understanding of the trail as a whole. Thank you for your generosity!

Cape Henlopen to Chesapeake Bay

Serendipity: “The phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.” as defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary. It is a traveler’s greatest ally and one of my favorite words.

I have been traveling on the American Discovery Trail for about a week now and it is nothing that I expected. I flew to the east coast knowing I would have to take one obstacle at a time. I wasn’t sure if getting through the airport would go smoothly or if my pack would survive the process of being checked on the plane. I didn’t know exactly where the start point for the trail was. It was uncertain how long my friend Stephen would be able to walk with me the first day or two. From the outsider point of view, I looked calm and collected but on the inside, I was terrified. The amount of uncertainty weighed me down. Doubt clung to me and if I allowed myself to succumb to the depths of fear, I would find myself paralyzed. Despite these uncertainties, I clung to what I did know. I knew that I was getting on the plane and I knew that Stephen would be there to pick me up at the airport. I knew that, to the best of my ability, I had prepared and prepped for this journey. Most importantly, I knew that I was capable of figuring out any obstacles that appeared.

Day 1: The Bunker Overlook at Cape Henlopen State Park was impossible to find. There was absolutely no signage. The first thing Stephen and I saw were tiny ADT markers on a post and after several wrong attempts at finding the beginning we decided to work backwards from the markers. When we pulled into the parking lot it was unmistakeable that we had found the beginning. This was my first time seeing the Atlantic Ocean and my first time on the East Coast. I was thrilled! I wandered down to the ocean and passed snow swirled into the sand dunes. There were barges in the distance surrounded by the blue sea. The sound of the waves lapping the shoreline radiated pure joy within me. I wanted to stay longer but it was already noon and we still had about 15 miles to hike. After hiking for about an hour, I already almost got us off course by making a wrong turn. Lesson number one: pay attention to the fine details and double check the map. We hiked into Lewes, Delaware, and before I knew it, I heard , “Amanda?!” being shouted out of car. My attention jumped to the sound of my name and I saw a man in a black vehicle. The neurons in my brain rapidly fired to search for the connecting piece of how he knew me. In a matter of seconds I remembered and yelled across the street, “Are you …..?” Before I could recall his name he yells back, “Yes, I am.” He pulls over, jumps out of his vehicle, and says, “My name is Reese and I’m your first trail angel.” Reese is the husband of the Delaware State Coordinator and knew that I would be starting my hike. I immediately saw the excitement radiating off of him. He’d been searching for us and told us that we would be staying with him that evening. Stephen and I continued hiking through the last light of the day. I was determined to make the 15 miles it took to get into the town of Milton. 12 miles in and Reese pulls up next to us and tells us to jump in the car. It was almost dark now and he was concerned for our safety. Stephen looked at me and told me that it was my choice if we would get in the vehicle. Both of us were planning to sleep outside and find a place to stealth camp. The possibility of staying in someone’s home hadn’t even occurred to me previously but with the knowledge of his connection with the trail, his excitement to help us out, and my understanding of this trip being about the people I met along the way; I decided to jump in the car. Homemade chili with the secret ingredient of pineapples and a fire awaited our arrival into Reese’s home. The front room had the essence of a log cabin and the back room we were told was haunted. We acquainted ourselves with Reese and met his two sons and almost immediately it felt like we were part of the family. I can’t describe it any other way than it just felt right to be there.

Day 2: Blueberry pancakes and real syrup from Vermont were on the menu for breakfast. The daily life of Reese and his family did not halt with the arrival Stephen and me. Instead, we were suddenly part of the family and made sure that his sons caught the bus for school in time and got to know his family. The agenda for the day was to walk into Milton and take the Dogfish Head Brewery tour and then walk until Reese was able to pick us up. Reese introduced the idea of slack packing to us. Basically, we leave the heavy, ginormous pack behind and day hike with the minimal amount of gear. At the end of the day we are picked up and the next morning we are dropped off exactly where we left off. The brewery tour was fantastic. Stephen and I arrived as soon as the brewery opened and snatched a private tour with Jon. Jon was funny. The running joke was that his tour would be awful but he held his own and threw back at us everything we threw at him (not literally of course). There were free samples of beer and taste testing of selected liquors. Around 1pm, we began hiking again. Our motor functions never failed us but after sampling the beers we definitely felt some of the after effects. Down the road we went, following the turn by turn directions, having conversations intertwined with giggling and then having more serious conversations about life. I had given the task of creating a trail name for me to Stephen and he finally told me that it was “Gigglybutt.” Although quite fitting for my personality, I had reserves about introducing myself as “Gigglybutt.” It was decided that I could only introduce myself as “Gigglybutt” when I was absolutely able to say it with a serious face. The total mileage for the day was about 7. Reese picked us up early because we had to drive back to Cape Henlopen to pick up Stephen’s car. So, after little over 24 hours on the American Discovery Trail, I found myself back at the beginning. This time at the beach, there were surfers. I was captivated watching them ride the waves back towards the beach. As conversation continued, Reese mentioned pods of dolphins in the summer time and I about lost my mind with excitement. Pods of dolphins?!?! Stephen and Reese thought it was no big deal but I was thrilled with just the idea! Before long it was dinner time and Reese was kind enough to treat us to “Po’boys Creole.” It was fantastic and I could help but think about how beautiful all of this was. A day and a half ago, Stephen and I were strangers to Reese and his family but now, we were family. We all drew inspiration from one another and that is a beautiful thing.

Day 3: Today was the day that I would continue forward without Stephen. He drove me to the spot where we had been picked up the evening before but now it would be different. I was in a good head space with a full stomach. I knew what I needed to do. Stephen and I said our “see you later’s” as it became apparent how odd it was for me to be dropped off on the side of the road and left behind. How was I willing to be dropped in the middle of nowhere?? How was Stephen going to drop me off and then drive away?? We both knew what would come next and we parted ways. I was fortunate enough to find another contact point further along the trail. I had a destination for tonight. Approximately 16 miles away, another host family waited for me. The obstacles for the day began to unfold one by one. The weather was too warm to walk in my winter boots so I opted for my only other pair of shoes, my chaco sandals. I have hiked in these sandals perfectly fine previously but with the added weight on my pack and the additional mileage it resulted in a massive blister on the bottom of me left foot and additional smaller ones covering my feet. I tried to protect my feet with mole skin and bandaids but the damage was already done. The next being a German Shepard. I saw it from across the way and made a point to move to the opposite side of the street. It didn’t sprint towards me but barked and moved closer. I made the conscious decision that my bear spray would be unnecessary. It came closer to me and I kept walking but as my back turned slightly towards it, it got closer and lower. The owner was standing in the doorway of the house calling her dog back but it wasn’t listening. I was being herded away from the property. Finally the dog backed off as the owner started across the yard. I continued to walk purposefully past the property. Despite the incident with the German Shepard, I felt confident and hopeful for the day. I tried to wave and say hello to the cars and people that passed me. A man walking his dog questioned what I was doing. I told him that I was walking to California with enthusiasm but he just shook his head and kept walking. I became disheartened. I realized that I would have to be the one that motivated myself regardless of the naysayers. Further down the road, a car stopped. A German woman and her husband from Texas knew about the trail. They were ecstatic to find me. A few years ago, they picked up another woman hiking in the rain, Amy. I then became ecstatic because I had read some of Amy’s trail journals about meeting this very same couple!!! The woman got out of the car and hugged me and told me to be safe. They gave me their contact information if I needed help with anything. Before they drove away, she hugged me again and again and kissed me on the cheek. The incredible amount of love I felt was heartwarming. I continued on my way and made it to my next host family where I met Chris, Lee, and their family, right before sunset. I was immediately welcomed inside their beautiful home and given a tour.

Day 4: I did not walk with purpose today. I found myself walking past the farms but walking because that was what I was there to do not because I had a destination. I thought about the differences between walking by myself verse walking with someone. It had only been a day since Stephen left but it seemed like another life. Today, I felt alone while walking. I came to the conclusion that the walking part of my journey would be the boring part and the people I met along the way would be the heart and soul of it. With those thoughts swarming my mind, I hoped that the mole skin and band-aids would do their job. I had to wear my chaco sandals again but this time I did not have my pack. With Chris and Lee hosting me, I was able to slack pack for the day. As I kept walking, my feet began to hurt more and more. It wasn’t an ache and it wasn’t the same sensation as the rubbing that causes blisters. Instead, the pain was from a structural stand point in my foot. I had to keep going but I couldn’t keep wearing the chacos. For about a half mile I walked barefoot along the road. Relief came to my foot but the discomfort of gravel and tough grass under my feet challenged the relief. The trail took me along a muddy, dirt road and that is where I crossed into Maryland. Next thing I know, a truck is headed towards me. He was muddin! As he was driving along the road he purposefully drove into the mud puddles and created tidal waves of muddy water next to his truck. I saw him coming straight at me and had a deer in the head lights moment. I stared at the tidal wave that would be in my near future and tried to decide if jumping into the forest next to me would actually do me any good. While I was trying to make this decision, the driver thankfully pulled away from the mud just long enough to miss me. With my foot hurting and my low motivation for the day, I stopped after 12 miles at a Walmart and waited until I could be picked up. When I arrived back at the household everyone was preparing for the family dinner. Cousins, aunts, uncles, grandkids, the whole shebang were all coming together for this dinner and I was a part of it. Once again, I was part of another family. I helped watch and entertain the little ones. I laughed and joked alongside everyone. It felt natural. Words can’t express the gratitude and love I felt.

Day 5: For breakfast, I got to try Scrapple for the first time. Scrapple is all the left over parts of a pig.. it tasted like sausage but was made out of pig heart, snout, etc. The weather for the day was rainy and gloomy but the decrease in temperature allowed me to finally wear my winter boots again. The blisters on my feet were finally able to begin to heal. I made it to Tuckahoe State Park and found an ADT shelter along with the first trail marker  in Maryland. I followed the trail to the shelter and there I found engravings and messages tagged on the shelter from previous hikers. I was overcome with joy. I felt like I had found a part of my long lost heritage and was uncovering lost and forgotten artifacts. From there I wandered down to the lake where there was a playground with a tire swing. I swung on it and tried out the timing/burst mode on my phone camera. It was wet and cold but I was having a blast! I was picked up for the last time by Chris and Lee and ate my last dinner with them: taco soup and a quesadilla. I loved witnessing the way their family worked together to help and support each other and how they came together to help me as well. They have a beautiful family.

Day 6: I was dropped off in the middle of no where once again. This time, I had no predetermined destination. I would walk until it got dark. Queenstown was lovely to walk through and I would pause to read the various historical signs along the way. As 3pm approached, I began looking for places to spend the night. Should I settle down early and try to stealth camp? I passed a heavily forested area, a good place to stealth camp, but apparently it was where the Battle of Slippery Hill occurred in 1813. I decided I would keep walking. I didn’t want to test my luck at stumbling upon body remains, deal with questionable haunting situations, or find old shrapnel. I kept an eye out for churches I could potentially call to ask for a place to stay. I thought to myself, “How do I decide what house to knock on and try to camp in their yard?” I entered Grasonville and as it got later more and more people stopped to ask where I was going. A man working in his front yard asked me where I was headed and where I started. I shared with him why I was walking and told him about being partnered with Youth World. After having a conversation for less than five minutes, he pulls out his wallet and hands me $20. I was baffled. I couldn’t believe his willingness to give. I asked him his name and he told me his friends called him “Alias.” I walked away emotional and began to tear up. I kept walking and before long I was sobbing. For the first time in my life, I was crying from happiness. I couldn’t believe it. Further down the street, a man pulled up in a truck next to me and held two snicker bars out the window. He assured me they were fresh and drove away. I keep walking, searching for a place to spend the night. I came across Willard’s Service Center and met a man named Ken. He asked me what I was doing and I asked him if he knew of a place I could set up my tent. He looked at me and said, “Well, you can stay here.” First I was going to sleep on the office floor, then I was offered to sleep in the RV that was in for maintenance (it wasn’t a customer’s). I was telling my story to the other employees when Ken popped back up and told me to come eat dinner. I felt so welcome! I followed him to the house next to the shop and there I met Donna. Donna and Ken are the most entertaining, endearing couple that I have ever seen. The were like a teenage couple that bickered and play fought with each other. It was too cute to witness. Ken loved to grill so he rewarmed hamburgers on the grill and that was dinner. By the end of the night they both were calling me their daughter. Ken gave me a bullet for good luck and once again, I was part of another family.

Thank you Stephen, Reese and his family, Chris, Lee and family, Alias, Snickers guy, and Donna and Ken. You are the ones that are changing lives. Your generosity and love are the components that make the world a better place. You all have inspired me.