Saturday, March 28, 2015

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Trail Overlove

It happened in 2009 on Mount Moosilauke as I hiked southbound on the Appalachian Trail.


I’d heard stories, read Bryson, understood in a very cloudy way how popular the AT was.  But I didn't understand – truly understand – until my hiking partner Hungry Creepster and I reached Beaver Brook Shelter on the north side of Moosilauke in New Hampshire.  It was there I UNDERSTOOD.

Not really a joke.
We arrived in the late afternoon – certainly no later than we usually pulled over – and there was nowhere to sleep.  I don’t mean that the shelter was full.  I mean, it was.  But there was Nowhere. To. Sleep.  Every inch of the area was covered in tents and people.

It was too late to continue up Moosilauke – besides, thunder rumbled.  There was no chance of flat land up ahead anyway. Retracing our steps down wet ladders was absolutely not an option.  So we set up the tent on roots and rocks, surrendering ourselves to an awfully uncomfortable night.

It would have been okay if not for the constant noise.  Zipping, unzipping.  Privy door squeaking.  The crumple of ziploc bags.  A backpacker symphony that I could almost sleep through.  And all night long – well past “hiker midnight” – some rowdy thru-hikers were partying.  By “partying,” I mean “lighting their farts on fire.”  I am serious.  This actually happened.

(I’m not bringing this up to contribute to any northbound/southbound squabble on the AT.  There were some real winners in the southbound class that year too.  I know the average northbounder does not stay up all night farting into flames - thanks, by the way.)

This is the privy at Beaver Brook.
I like it.
That's all.

That night, I understood.  So many people love the AT: the leave-no-trace purists, the fart-lighters, and the vast majority of us in the middle who try to be decent stewards.  The AT is epic, legendary -  it deserves the attention.  But on Moosilauke I understood the perils of its popularity: people can flatten a wilderness with their feet and with their love.  

The backpackers - all of us - did not mean to trample the Beaver Brook Shelter area.  But with so many people in one place (even ignoring extracurricular fire activities and the cacophonous night) it was grossly impacted by humans: vegetation visibly crushed, trails widened, mud holes deepened . . . and this was the effect on an area after most aspiring thru-hikers (both northbound and southbound) had quit the trail.

With such popularity, the hiking community needs to continue to be proactive before our trails get loved to death.  There are so many ways to help the AT: it needs volunteers to maintain it.  It needs hikers who know how to leave no trace (such as not tenting directly on tree roots, as I did that night).  It needs financial support.

The Great Eastern Trail: happy sigh.
And I believe it needs the Great Eastern Trail. 

The GET is growing into a trail that can and will relieve some pressure from the Appalachian Trail.  The GET isn't the whole solution for the overcrowded AT, but it's a big part.  When I volunteer on the GET, I feel like I am helping both trails. (FYI: We need more help to complete the GET and to maintain it.)

In the past week I've responded to more Great Eastern Trail inquiries than I have in the last year.  I am grateful to the hiking community for embracing this trail - both for its own, well-deserving sake and for the sake of the Appalachian Trail. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Best Trails for 2015

Outside Online just posted a list of the 5 best trails to thruhike in 2015 . . . guess which trail was at the top of the list?

Check it out: http://www.outsideonline.com/adventure-travel/escapes/go-list/The-Best-Thru-Hikes-for-2015.html.

We're super excited that the GET is getting some much-deserved attention!


Monday, January 19, 2015

Help Preserve Pennsylvania Hiking!

The Pennsylvania Game Commission has recently announced proposals affecting their State Game Lands: one would require hikers to carry permits and another would ban non-hunters during some of the best times of the year: the end of September through mid-January and mid-April through the end of May.  During these periods, the trails would only be open to hikers on Sundays, eliminating any chance for a long-distance hike.  The proposal is located here at this link

This would affect 95 miles of the Great Eastern Trail and would limit the season for both northbound and southbound thru-hikers, in addition to severely restricting the opportunity for people to hike sections of it during pleasant times of the year.

Please take five minutes of your day today to write to the Pennsylvania Game Commission to let them know your thoughts.  The next meeting will be on the 25th, so please send in your comments as soon as possible!  The Keystone Trails Association sums up the situation nicely and provides contact information at this link.  

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A beautiful, wonderful, and fitting week

 This morning I woke up at 5:02AM to drive Bart to the airport.  After a brief yet scenic tour of the wrong terminal, we got him to where he needed to be.  This ends one of the busiest, most productive, and funny weeks of my life.

For the last week we've toiled away at the book. We've hacked it apart, chopping out huge sections and adding new chapters.  We've discovered certain words that we overuse: we had a beautiful, wonderful, and fitting time obliterating the words beautiful, wonderful, and fitting from the manuscript.
It was fun to host Bart at my apartment.  He cooked chili and walked on a frozen lake.  Other than that, it was all work.  Even working was beautiful, wonderful, and fitting because we got to relive the trail.  During every chapter we worked on, we could scarcely breathe from laughter at something we remembered.

I was sad to see Bart go.  As J.K. Rowling wrote, "There are some things you can't share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve-foot mountain troll is one of them."  The Great Eastern Trail was our mountain troll - a beautiful, wonderful, and fitting mountain troll.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Serious editing

Although Bart and I have not talked about it much online, we are in the middle of a journey more arduous than the Great Eastern Trail: writing about it.  

Our rough draft has been done for a long time, but the process of turning a rough draft into something less painful has been long and tedious. Finally, we concluded that it needs to happen in "real life" as opposed to over the internet.  (Pro tip: Don't write your first book with someone who lives over a thousand miles away.)

Happily, Bart is able to fly to Minnesota next week for Round 1 of Serious Editing. 

Today I finished my edits on over 200 pages.  I can't wait to share them with him.  
This has been my office for the last couple of weeks.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Tom Thwaites

Trails don't just happen; they need people to nurture them into existence. Tom Thwaites, Father of the Mid State Trail, died on Christmas. The Mid State Trail is the wildest trail in Pennsylvania and is an integral part of the Great Eastern Trail.

I never met Tom Thwaites in real life, but hiking the Mid State Trail felt a little bit like meeting him.  Trail creators, builders, and maintainers leave their fingerprints on their trails; they weave their hearts into the trails they love.  No, I never met him, but nevertheless, maybe I knew him.

Hike his Mid State Trail.  Better yet, volunteer on the trail to help maintain his legacy. Best still, volunteer and join the organization for just $12/year.  And if you live nowhere near Pennsylvania, find your local trail and spend a day improving it. Please give back to the trails you love so that others may discover them too.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Shenandoah Mountain news

New Plan Offers Protection for Shenandoah Mountain is an article about a great example of compromise and synergy between user groups who enjoy their trails in different ways and want to protect the land that they love. Check it out.
 Some portions of the GET are open to bikes and the Shenandoah Mountain Trail is one of them.  (There are other portions of the GET where I’d love to eat popcorn and watch people try to bike it.)


Bikers have done a lot of maintenance on trail, and those we met ranged from courteous to ultra-friendly, offering us water (we didn't need it, but it was a very sweet gesture).  I was not offended to share trail with them – I felt like they were the ones sharing it with me.  I was grateful to be there.

The Shenandoah Mountain Trail would make one of the best section-hikes along the entire GET and I highly recommend it, whether you have a few days to thoroughly enjoy it or whether you have a day to hit some of the highlights.  This trail has far-reaching views, a sweet tower, a hidden spring, flowing streams, easy grades, and is well-maintained.  It also hosts the high point of the GET: a small field with seasonal views called Bother Knob.


This is a spectacular area.  Sometime in the next decade I'll be deciding between re-hiking the GET or revisiting another trail, and this section is huge plus for the GET.  No one who has visited Shenandoah Mountain would question why it needs protection.   I hope this plan will become reality. 
You can check out the Friends of Shenandoah Mountain page for more information.

For right now, a guide to the area can be found online.  Soon it will be in book form!  Woohoo!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Great Eastern Trail vs. Ice Age Trail

The Differences             
Great Eastern Trail


  • 1,600-ish miles, Alabama to New York

  • Generally painted blazes of every color: red, orange, yellow, gold, green, blue, purple, white


  • High point 4,300 ft

  • Months of prep recommended to gather together the needed resources


  • About 20 shelters

  • A few outfitters on or near the trail


  • Locals generally unaware of the GET

  • 3-4 months needed to thruhike
Ice Age Trail


  • 1,100-ish miles, Wisconsin to . . . Wisconsin!

  • Yellow blazes that may be painted or plastic markers on trees, on stakes, may be different shapes

  • High point 1,920 ft

  • Thorough map and guidebook available for purchase, free updates and hiker notes from volunteers

  • A few shelters

  • I don't know of an outfitter along the trail; REI accessible by a long shuttle


  • Locals more generally familiar with the IAT

  • 2-3 months needed to thruhike


The Similarities

  • The Ice Age Trail and the GET have much more in common than I would have guessed.  Most importantly, with both trails, were the people.  I feel like each trail I hike brings wonderful lifelong friends into my life, and the IAT was no exception.  
  • These trails are also both lonely.  While Devils Lake (IAT) may always be comparatively crowded and the Thousand Steps (GET) is a popular dayhike, neither of these trails boast many long-distance hikers.  I met 4 on the Ice Age Trail.
  • Easy resupply due to frequent town visits - just one section on each trail that is dicey for resupply
  • Challenging camping situations at times due to private land or public land where camping is not allowed
  • Maps are a necessity - neither the GET nor the IAT is fully blazed (this mostly applies to connecting roadwalks but there are wooded sections that are unblazed or underblazed
  • Both trails have an element of choose-your-own-adventure, as the connecting roadwalks are often unofficial and you can link the trail together by foot as you like.
  • Both trails have a bifurcation!  East or west, which will you choose?
  • They have similar ideal seasons for hiking: spring or autumn are your best bets to avoid ticks, heat, and mosquitoes.
  • Both are routed through a large city (Chattanooga for the GET, Janesville & Madison for the IAT)

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Ice Age Trail video

Hi all.  Just a quick update to say that I've been out of the woods for a month now after finishing the Ice Age Trail.  I have to say, the Ice Age Trail got a little rough at the 800-mile mark when I realized that I had walked the equivalent of Alabama to Mullens, West Virginia . . .  but I was still in the same state.  But overall it was a perfect adventure.  If anyone's interested I made a video about the experience:

-jo

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Jo's next adventure

Hi GET friends!  I'll be hiking the Ice Age Trail this fall.

You can follow along at my blog: Someday on the Ice Age Trail.

Have a great autumn and happy hiking!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Cheaha State Park Visit


Daniel, Ben, Sarah, and Jon
The economic impact of a trail is not just in the hikers themselves; it is in the promotion of these locations as destinations.  Today my sister's family visited Cheaha State Park.  The Alabama Pinhoti Trail goes through the park and they're visiting because they heard about it from the GET hike last year.  If the GET didn't exist, I doubt they would have ended up here today. This is pretty cool. I'd love to be there too!



Ben surveys the beautiful beginnings of the Appalachians


Thursday, July 17, 2014

GET website

The Great Eastern Trail's official website has been redesigned, and it is fantastic!  Check it out: http://www.greateasterntrail.net/

Monday, July 14, 2014

Sunday, July 13, 2014

East Route vs. West Route

Between Hancock, MD and Detweiler Junction near State College, PA there are two official routes that the Great Eastern Trail aligns with.  Either route is legitimate for a thru-hike.

Assuming a northbound hike, the decision happens in Hancock, where you turn either right or left onto the C&O Towpath.  Turning right takes the hiker to the west route.  Turning left joins the east route.  (Does this seem backwards?  Yeah it does, but it isn't.)
East and West Routes - C&O Towpath
The east route utilizes the C&O for about 8 miles. 
This view is super awesome for, like, 2 hours.
The west route follows the C&O for 30+ miles.

The towpath is almost completely flat, and while it's possible to knock out 20+ miles per day on the trail with decent camping spots and potable (although highly iodined) water, it presents numerous issues such as bike traffic, monotonous bugs, monotonous pounding of the feet, and, well, general monotony.


 East Route - Tuscarora Trail
On the east route, the GET continues on the Tuscarora Trail through Maryland before entering Pennsylvania.  The GET briefly continues on the Tuscarora to Cowan's Gap State Park where the Tuscarora and GET separate.  Highlights of this short section include:

  • Crossing the Maryland/Pennsylvania border at a nice wooded location
  • Two shelters, one with a pond
  • Hang glider ramp (don't get any ideas)
  • A biker bar atop Tuscarora Mountain
  • Potential resupply in McConnellsburg, off trail
  • Cowan's Gap State Park

East Route - Standing Stone Trail
The east route next veers onto the Standing Stone Trail.  The GET follows this trail for its entire length, meaning an eastern hike includes an automatic end-to-end of the Standing Stone Trail.  The SST leads to Greenwood Furnace State Park.  Highlights of the Standing Stone Trail include:

  • A giant stone monolith
  • Potential limited resupply in Three Springs
  • Potential limited resupply near Mapleton
  • The Thousand Steps
  • Hall of the Mountain King
  • Throne Room
  • Butler Knob Shelter
  • Rocky Ridge Natural Area

East Route - Greenwood Spur
From the northern terminus of the Standing Stone Trail, the GET follows the Greenwood Spur Trail to meet up with the Mid State Trail.  Highlights of this short trail are:

  • Greenwood Furnace State Park with some amenities
  • Alan Seeger Natural Area, a ridiculously lush and gorgeous section of trail

West Route - Green Ridge State Forest
Green Ridge State Forest is a beautiful and challenging section of the Great Eastern Trail.  Northbound hikers will get to make up for the long flat walk to get there.  Highlights include:

  • Access to official campsites and shelters - some with porta-potties!
  • Breathtaking views
  • A more thorough representation of Maryland 
  • Potential resupply in Flintstone, Maryland

West Route - Mid State Trail
The western route hiker will complete the entire Mid State Trail, starting at the Mason-Dixon Line/PA-MD border, continuing to Detweiler Junction where both routes come together, and heading to the NY line.  Highlights of the MST from Maryland to Detweiler Junction include:


  • A superb and amusing guidebook
  • Frequent register boxes or mailboxes
  • A GET diamond at the border
  • Martin Hill area
  • Sweet Root Natural Area
  • Fantastic resupply in Everett
  • Tenley Park's free camping
  • New Frontier Restaurant just off trail at Loysburg
  • Maple Run Valley, a fairy wonderland
  • More fantastic resupply in Williamsburg
  • Jo Hays Vista among others
  • A gorgeous walk through Rothrock State Forest

Okay, okay, whatever -- which one is best?

Both of 'em.  I cannot recommend one route over the other; it depends on your strengths and weaknesses and what you want to get out of your hike and what kinds of challenges you appreciate.

In terms of overall difficulty, the western route is moderately more challenging due to being longer and also the rockiness of MST Sections 7, 3, and 2 in particular.  The western route has significant water issues and also lacks legal camping locations along some sections of the MST, leading to long days.

BUT...The western route is easier in that there is only one guide/map set needed (other than printing the free Green Ridge State Forest maps) and it is fantastic. The western route is also much easier for quality resupply.  Also, there are many stretches of the southern route that I would rate as very easy, terrain-wise.


The eastern route's difficulties are that it requires no fewer than three guides/map sets of varying updatedness.  There are frequent rocky sections (particularly the Stone Mountain section of the SST).  It is also very challenging to resupply on this stretch and a maildrop would not be a bad idea.

BUT... The eastern route holds perhaps more iconic locations.  Overall, its water situation is sufficient - while there are dry (and rocky) sections, they are not nearly as long or arduous as the western route's.  The east route also spends less time on the C&O, which for me is a plus but might not be for you.

Choose your own adventure! 
-jo