Monthly Archives: January 2014

FAQ about My AT Thru-Hike

22-7120400I thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail from May 4th -October 10th, 2008 Here are some frequently asked questions…

Why did you want to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail?
I had a lot of factors influencing that decision including wanting to spend more time outside, wanting to write a book about it, wanting to spend time with my brother who was also going to hike the trail. Most of all I think I was just yearning to do something big, something meaningful that I could be proud of afterward, an accomplishment on a GRAND scale.

Would you do another long-distance hike?
I don’t know. Doing the entire AT like that was really hard on my body and I’m not sure I would put myself through it again. Maybe it depends on the length.

What did you find most challenging about your thru-hike?
I hated being smelly and dirty and not showering daily. It made me feel ugly, self-conscious and embarrassed to be around other people.

AT-7160536What did you enjoy most?
I enjoyed my intimacy with the natural world–being part of it rather than separated from it. I loved waking with the sun and witnessing animals in the wild. I loved being out in all of the weather, not knowing what the day would bring, just dealing with it when it came.


Where did you sleep? 
There are 300 shelters along the AT, but I preferred my Superlight Big Agnes Seedhouse tent. It provided a bug-free environment, privacy, warmth, dryness and quiet. No need to lose sleep because of mice crawling on me or hikers snoring!

AT-7240651Did you hike it alone?
I started with my brother but that did not work out and we went our separate ways before halfway, though even before that we were not actually hiking together as his pace was much faster than I wanted to go. After we separated I then hiked alone until the last 6 weeks when I met another hiker and we shared the rest of the journey, all the way to Maine.

Were you ever scared of hiking alone? 
No. I grew up roaming the woods and wild land around my house so being alone in the woods is second nature; I have been doing it my entire life. I relish my solitude and the serenity I feel when I’m alone in nature. I know the animals aren’t “out to get me” and that I have little to fear from them. I did not meet any people who made me scared for my safety.

Were you ever scared? Yes, I was scared to death the first time I had to hitchhike alone! I was really dreading it and worried about it turning out badly. But in the end, a really nice guy in a white pickup truck pulled over and we talked some before I got in. He was fascinated with the idea of thru-hiking and had a lot of questions for me as we drove. I felt comfortable and at ease and then, the next time I had to hitchhike, it was so much easier!

Did you worry about bears? I did not as I know bears have no interest in eating me. They are scared of people (unless they’ve been “taught” to associate food with people–for instance someone who feeds them) and will run when given the chance.

Did you see any bears?
I did, 10.  As a naturalist and photographer, I was absolutely thrilled to see a bear, knowing that I have nothing to fear from them. Usually it was a quick glimpse of the bear’s butt as he ran the other way.

I did. And was thrilled every time. In my opinion snakes are amazing and beautiful creatures and I am always thrilled for the chance to see a wild animal in its natural habitat, including snakes. In my five months I saw 5 different kinds of snakes, including rattlesnake and copperhead, both of which are really beautiful species.I believe that if you keep your distance and treat them with respect, you will be fine. Snakes are not going to bite you for no reason! You have a lot more to fear from crazy people than from snakes, bears or other animals.

What was the biggest surprise?
I was most surprised how inspired I was by the kindness of strangers. On the AT it is often necessary to get into towns in order to “resupply”. Often the best way to make that happen was to hitchhike. In my five months I hitchhiked frequently and met the nicest, most generous and kind-hearted people. Most went out of their way to help me, not asking for anything in return. Amazing!


AT-0210How did you get your food?
I usually carried 4 or 5 days worth of food in my pack. When I ran out or came to a town, I would visit a grocery store and “re-supply.”

What did you eat?
A lot of the same thing! Pop tarts for breakfast, tuna or pb and j for lunch, a Mountain House freeze dried meal for dinner. Lots of snacks and high calorie foods. When I was lucky enough to be at a restaurant, I had the wonderful privilege of eating whatever I wanted, including decadent desserts, pizza, butter slathered bread and everything else I desired. Hiking everyday all day burns a lot of calories!

What was your favorite state?
Maine because I was there in the peak of the fall season and the scenery was spectacular! There were lots of lakes and rivers and I felt surrounded by beauty every day, even the rainy ones. Plus, it was the end of my 5 month trek and I was joyous that I was almost to the finish line.

Least favorite state? 
Pennsylvania! Too many rocks.


What kind of boots did you wear?  
Different kinds. In my five months, I went through 4 pairs of boots! Not waterproof as this seemed a ridiculous concept seeing as how I often had to walk through the river and doing that barefoot–for me–was not an option. (My feet were way too sore. I would have died with the pain of it!)AT-0763

How much did your backpack weigh? 
It averaged 30-40 pounds depending on food and water.

What did you do about water?
I used what I consider a WONDERFUL invention called a Steri-pen. This device weighs only 4 ounces. It works by sending a beam of ultra-violet light into the water and killing all the living cells. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND IT! The water was ready for drinking after 90 seconds and it tasted cold and delicious. Click here for more information

What about going to the bathroom?
At most of the shelters there are privies but the woods worked just fine for me–less smelly and with a better view…find a spot, dig a hole, bury your waste–simple. There are a lot worse things in life–going to the bathroom in the woods wouldn’t even make the list.

Did you ever get lost? 
The Trail is well-maked with rectangular white “blazes” or paint marks on trees. Once, towards the end of my hike I was walking with someone and we got so caught up in talking that we found ourselves on a blue blazed trail far from the AT. We eventually arrived at a road and found our way back.

Did you carry a gun?
I got this question a lot and it always made me shake my head! I have spent my entire life outside alone. I do not fear the animals in the woods, knowing they are afraid of me and not wanting to “eat me.” As for people, I know there are twisted, bad people out there who prey on others, but in general I felt safe and did not worry about one crazy someone.

Did you bring a pillow? I have had several people ask me this and it really cracks me up! I did not bring a pillow! But I will say that every night I had a VERY COMFORTABLE pillow that I “rigged” up. I just stuffed my extra clothes into my sleeping bag stuff sac, put my soft fleece over the top and voila! An instant pillow that worked just fine!

Do you have a question I haven’t answered? Here’s your chance to ask–I’d love to hear from you!AT-0751

Also, check out my Appalachian Trail photo gallery.

My Hero: Merlin Tuttle

A flying fox in Thailand

A flying fox in Thailand

A person I truly admire is a man named Merlin Tuttle. Have you heard of him?

In the 80’s Merlin Tuttle founded an organization called Bat Conservation International (BCI), partly in response to the growing panic in Austin, Texas over alarming numbers of bats moving into town. When the city rebuilt their Congress Avenue Bridge, they inadvertently created the perfect habitat for Mexican free-tailed bats who, much to the dismay of many people, began taking up residence under the bridge.

Bat Conservation International and Merlin Tuttle stepped in to convince people the bats were worth protecting and that so many of the things people believed about bats, were myths. Bats aren’t blind. They don’t all carry rabies. They won’t get stuck in your hair. They aren’t vampires. They are not flying mice. They are not pests. Sadly, in our culture bats are often feared, misunderstood and often persecuted as a result of this misinformation. Merlin Tuttle worked tirelessly to change the way Austin and the world looks at bats.

Amazingly, 30 years later, Austin embraces the Congress Avenue bats and has built a tourist industry around their nightly emergence from beneath the bridge. They call themselves “Bat capital of America.” Restaurants offer bat viewing from decks overlooking the river, boat operators take visitors on sunset cruises, people travel from all over the world to watch the one and a half million bats emerge.  Throughout the spring, summer and into fall, one and a half million bats who make the bridge home emerge each night, forming long, undulating columns that sweep up the river and disappear into the darkness where they will eat 1.5 million TONS OF INSECTS EACH NIGHT including crop pests that if left unchecked, would cause billions of dollars in damage. (This is an AMAZING spectacle–if you ever are in Austin, be sure and make time to see it!)

Merlin Tuttle faced immense challenges in his early days, powering forward because he recognized the importance of bats and could imagine a future where bats are valued and not feared. Of all the animals to try and protect, bats were probably the MOST difficult one but even so, he pursued. This dedication to such a worthy goal is inspiring and offers hope to all of us who strive to accomplish goals that seem unreachable. We need more leaders like this! In my opinion, THIS is what a real hero looks like.


Wrinkle-lipped bats emerging from a cave in Thailand

These days bats are facing a different kind of trouble.  A disease known as white-nose syndrome has caused  80-97%mortality in some species. Since its discovery in the winter of 2006-2007 in a cave in upstate New York, this disease has spread to 23 states with scientists estimating more than 5 million bats have died from this disease so far.

What can you do? Read Five ways you can help BATS.

and  TEN things you may not know about BATS.

The Waiting Game

On day at  the North Carolina Arboretum last summer, I went searching for what I call “little wonders” and was not disappointed. Where there are flowers, there are sure to be insects and spiders and with a little awareness, they are pretty easy to find.

I found a lovely pale yellow crab spider on a pink coneflower, with her legs in ready position to capture some unsuspecting insect visiting the flower for a taste of sweet nectar. Crab spiders have the amazing ability to change colors based on the flower they are on–in my experience, it is unusual to find one that does not blend in. One on a yellow flower will be yellow, one on a pink flower, pink. This one perhaps had not been there very long. Her pale body stood out dramatically against the pink petals.

 This spider does not build a web, but waits, still and silent.

I waited with her and eventually, a small iridescent insect landed and the spider made her move. Some reading might feel sad for this turn of events, but in nature, everyone has to eat. Sometimes you’re the predator, sometimes the prey. It is the way it is and always has been, a part of nature that must be accepted.

Struggles like this go on every day, in every part of the world. We humans are usually unaware of them. As usual, I felt fortunate for the opportunity to witness a tiny moment in the lives of two fascinating creatures.

A lesson I think we can all learn from this is: Life is short! And you never know when your time will be up. Live each day to the fullest without concern for what tomorrow may bring.

To find out if what you know ABOUT SPIDERS IS FACT or Fiction, click here.

Are you afraid of spiders? Learn about  how I overcame my fear of spiders here.