Three Ridges

Posted on October 16, 2016

We snatched a few days from the jaws of routine this week and found ourselves back on the Appalachian Trail for the first time in five years. About an hour’s south of Charlottesville, Virginia, along the Blue Ridge Parkway, the trail intersects with a parking lot at Reid’s Gap. Following the suggestions of many others, we parked our car and set out for the Three Ridges loop hike along the AT and Mau-Har Trail. If you live anywhere within the vicinity of central Virginia, I’d highly recommend this popular 14-miler as either a long day hike or leisurely camping trip. Pros: very easy access, no red tape, outstanding views, plenty of camping, waterfalls. Con: immediately makes you wish you had more time in the woods.

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Veggie notes, accurately, that there are parts of our brains that only turn on when we’re hiking – habits and quirks that spend most of their time hibernating, but never really diminish. The familiarity we experienced this week was especially spooky. As we walked south along the AT, we wondered if we might get to high-five slightly younger versions of ourselves coming around the bend. I really enjoyed slipping back into our well-worn conventions and was surprised by how quickly I felt transported.

We parked our car as the sun was setting and hustled about a mile into the woods to camp for the night atop a ridge. Though the view was still obscured by leaves, we caught a great breeze. The next day we cruised past the Maupin Field shelter and ascended (sometimes steeply) for some stellar views over the valley. On the south side of Three Ridges, a big, lethargic rattlesnake sat sunning in the trail, and wildflowers were in bloom. We took a quick break to sign the register at the Harper’s Creek shelter before connecting up with the Mau-Har trail until Campbell’s Creek. Contrary to our thru-hiking impulses, we set up camp around 3:00 PM, soaked our feet in the deep (and cold) pools, read our books for about six hours, and went to sleep. Luxurious.
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The next morning, we strode up the remainder of the Mau-Har trail, past numerous waterfalls, until we reconnected with the AT. After that, it was an easy jaunt back to the car. We sat in the parking lot for a few minutes while our hiker brains went back into storage.

So long, and see you soon.

Square

Dolomiti

Posted on July 18, 2016

Ciao ragazzi.

We spent the last ten days gallivanting through Northern Italy! We rowed in Venice, partied for nearly thirteen straight hours at a wedding in Padova, ritzed it up in Como and found ‘paradiso’ along Lake Maggiore. It was my first trip to Europe, and each stop was filled with enough sensation and memory-making to fill a tome. But, since this blog is primarily about hiking, I’ll zoom in now on our two alpine days in what many call the most beautiful mountains in the world – the Dolomites.

Comprised of carbonate sedimentary rock, the Dolomites have been slowly eroding since the Triassic, producing a landscape of upturned combs-teeth. Once puzzled by the discovery of marine fossils embedded in the peaks, it wasn’t until relatively recently that geologists understood the range to be a remnant of a tropical coral atoll, formerly undersea, but now in the sky. In the short scheme of human history, the mountains played host to treacherous WWI battles. Today, they host skiers and sunbathers.

We stayed in the elegant Chalet del Sogno in the resort town of Madonna di Campiglio, a popular ski destination in winter, but just as enthralling in the summer. The surrounding mountains felt more High Sierra than Sound of Music, but that didn’t stop us from bursting into song.

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In European fashion, the Dolomites are speckled with Rifugi – mountain inns where you can kick off your boots, have a draft beer and a dynamite meal, or grab a bunk for the evening. We have a comparable system in the White Mountains here in the states, but the Rifugi seem far more numerous and almost absurdly well-stocked. Rounding a corner at 6,000 ft. and having the fog part to reveal plates of fresh tagliatelle and a full wine list? Makes even the most rugged hiker think, “Hm. I could probably get used to this.” To be fair, the Rifugi system isn’t all posh. It’s tough to pitch a tent among the crags, and the staff can heroically spring into action for search and rescue.

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With limited time in Madonna, we still managed to get in some spectacular walking. On day one, we took the low road, following a gentle (if misleadingly-marked) trail system through the woods to two gorgeous waterfalls. Adjacent to Cascate Mezze we found (of course) a full-service rifugio with a lonely caretaker who likely has the grotto all to herself most of the time. The sun parted after a light drizzle to produce a misty rainbow.

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For day two, we set our sights higher. Sogno’s informed and adventuresome Alberto (who, we later learned, was an Olympic snowboarder), insisted that we “touch the Dolomites” in our remaining time. He helped us devise a route that would give us the most bang for our buck: take a cable car up to Groste 2550, hike south to Rifugio Tuckett, have lunch and a beer, then descend to catch a shuttle bus back to town. I initially scoffed at the need for vehicles on the front and back ends, but, boy oh boy, he did not lead us astray. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.

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We lucked out weather-wise, getting sun when we needed it and just barely beating an afternoon thunderstorm. The next two days were monsoonish (our harrowing drive down from Madonna is another story for another time), which, as always, added to everyone’s feeling that we’d just experienced something really, really special.

You can see more of our photos from the trip at www.instagram.com/veggieandsquare.

A few of our Pacific Crest Trail classmates are exploring the Pyrenees as I write this post (jealous!). So, naturally, we can’t wait to get back to Europe for a more extensive trek.

Square (Zack)

Getting out again!

Posted on June 26, 2016

 


It’s been more than nine months since we finished our PCT thru-hike. Of course, we loved that stunning trail, the hiking life and the rewards of being outside for months at a time.

But our thru-hikes also helped us realize that we don’t want to think of our adventures as all-or-nothing propositions. (I.e. Either we drop everything and hike for five months, or we live, work and sleep in the city.) We’ve resolved to incorporate the outdoors into our weekend jaunts, to get outside for shorter stints, and to savor it.


On Memorial Day, we finally made good on our resolution. We dusted off our gear and drove up to Acadia National Park in Maine. We spent the weekend taking on some lovely day hikes – into the woods and along the shore. We set up our loyal tent at a designated spot in the park, and enjoyed the cushy amenities of car camping (something we’d never done, believe it or not!).


Acadia is a favorite spot of Square’s; in college, he and his friends would drive to the top of Cadillac Mountain to watch the sunrise over the Atlantic. He had taken many trips to the park through the years, but I (Veggie) had never gone. I was eager to cross it off my exploration bucket list.


It was the park’s opening weekend, and this year marks the 100th anniversary of the national park system, so it was teeming with people. It certainly wasn’t a secluded wilderness experience, but it was great to see so many people exploring.


A few weeks later, we took on a different sort of adventure. Back in November, fresh off the PCT and with our formidable “trail legs” still in fine condition, we confidently signed up for our first ultramarathon. (An “ultramarathon” is any race longer than 26.2 miles.) We felt invincible and were certain that – even though the race was eight months away – we would still be in tip-top shape and able to take on anything.

Alas, “trail shape” is truly unsustainable, especially through the winter and with any sort of routine that doesn’t have you hiking 10 hours a day. We did our best to keep up our running legs, but the race that seemed forever in the distance snuck up on us quickly.


The Vegan Power 50K is a 31-mile race held in Pittsfield State Forest. The course is beautiful and shaded (much appreciated on a day that reached 85 degrees) with friendly volunteers manning aid stations with plant-based treats.


The course was also rocky and rooty, and we each took our fair share of full-on and near tumbles. (We also each have a few blue toes to show for it.) Zack was sure he had finished his 31 miles only to find out that he had only run 26 and had 5 more to go. I was pretty sure on lap 3 of 6 that I had made a huge mistake in signing up for this morning of torture…

But! We each finished the race and, for the most part, had a great time. Trail running is much harder and slower than road running, but, as you might expect, it kind of felt like home, being back on a trail again.

We met some wonderful folks, ate delicious food at the finish, and all in all were glad that we signed ourselves up for the ridiculous undertaking.


So, with some recent trail time under our belts and the PCT nearly a year behind us, we’re eager to continue to take on some smaller adventures (and document them here).

Thank you for following our adventures, big and small!

Happy trails!

Lara (Veggie)

Planning your hike?

Posted on December 22, 2015

April is only four months away. If you’re planning to do any hiking in spring/summer 2016, and you’re anything like me, you’ve already settled into a mix of obsessive gear research, premature weather speculation, and message board lurking.
While preparing for our thru-hikes, we so valued the thoughtful and patient feedback we received from experienced hikers. Whether you’re thinking about hiking 2 miles or 2,000, if you have any questions at all, please drop us a line! We’d love to hear from you. Honestly.
General things we know a lot about: gear, meal-planning/logistics, transportation, picking a section hike, technology on trail.
Specific things we know a lot about: hiking with a partner or significant other, vegan backpacking / plant-based nutrition, carving out time for a long hike.
Looking forward to hearing about your next adventure,
Square

The End, Part 2 (The Very, Very End)

Posted on September 21, 2015

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We left Stehekin in the company of new and old friends, and all of a sudden, it was summer again! After two weeks of cold, wet hiking, the sun reemerged, and we got 80-90 degree weather for the rest of the trek. A strange and welcome change for our soggy band of hikers!

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On the shuttle back from town to the High Bridge Ranger Station, our friend IceAxe (a two-time AT thru-hiker and the fittest 68-year-old you’ll ever meet) looked up at the mountains above us and said, “They’re waiting for us.” The sun was shining, and we had only 89 miles left to go.

Trail Magic at Rainy Pass with Easy, B.K. and Prickly Pear.

Trail Magic at Rainy Pass with Easy, B.K. and Prickly Pear.

Our last days on the trail were filled with trail magic, an enormous porcupine, snow-capped peaks, sweeping vistas and a few more tough climbs for good measure.

A porcupine in the trail!

A porcupine in the trail!

We experienced just about every emotion as the miles wound down: sadness for all that was ending, gratitude for what we’d been through and for our health and safety, eagerness for a chance to rest our weary bodies, and excitement for the sense of accomplishment that would come from crossing the border into Canada. But it wasn’t over ’til it was over, and it always seemed that there would be more miles to hike.

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Our last night on the trail was so windy that we weren’t sure if our tent would hold up, or if we’d be able to sleep. We had to laugh, though; it seemed that there was always a new challenge for us on this trail, even at the last possible moment.

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Sunrise special effects on our last morning.

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On little sleep and pure adrenaline, we woke up at sunrise to hike the last 11 miles to the US/Canada border. By late morning, the pull was strong.

At 10:00am, we turned a corner and saw the famous monument marking the northern terminus of the PCT. With a deep breath, a bit of reverence and some nervous giggles, we ran to it. It was a strange and surreal moment, though it still didn’t seem like it could really be the end.

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Monument 78, US/Canada border.

We tried to soak it all in among some of our fellow hikers, but we still had 8 miles left to hike to Manning Park (back to civilization) that loomed over us. So, once again, we packed up and started walking.

As we hiked into Canada, we decompressed. It was really over, and somehow we had managed to hike every mile of the PCT in a year when that had seemed impossible. Plus, we were still in one piece, and we hadn’t gone crazy. We had just kept going until we ran out of miles. In the end, it all felt like a gift, pure and simple.

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It’s been over a week now since our 2,650-mile journey came to an end, and there’s still a lot we haven’t processed. Being back in the “real world” — first, Seattle, now Atlanta — seems fine, and we’re taking it in small doses. We’ve adjusted to using computers and calendars again, and it’s been wonderful to spend time with friends and family who we have missed.

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But, already there’s some grief that comes along with leaving the trail behind. After all, it was our home for nearly five months, and, though it wasn’t always comfortable, it was the most stunning place to call home. We miss the quiet and the beauty, and the surprises around each turn. I miss the humility that comes with staring down a huge volcano, and the peace I felt from walking through every obstacle and every joy.

It was simply amazing, and we tried to savor as much of it as we could take in.

Thank you for coming along for the ride.

Happy trails,

Lara (“Veggie”)

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The End, Part 1

Posted on September 15, 2015

Spoiler alert: we made it to Canada!

Veggie will be offering concluding thoughts shortly (look out for “The End, Part 2”), but I want to take a few minutes to pay tribute to Washington’s beautiful Northern Cascades. Per our last post, we were amazingly lucky to “thread the needle,” so to speak, between two significant fire closures affecting the PCT. The Washington section of the trail is always imbued with emotion for thru-hikers, but, taking our first steps onto trail we’d long-assumed would be closed, we experienced a kind of sensitive disbelief. “Here you are, so tread lightly. And don’t complain. About anything. Especially rain.”

Section K, here we come.

Section K, here we come.

It was Labor Day weekend, so the woods were full of day hikers and campers on their way to Lake Valhalla (a worthy home for any Norse diety), or up into the Glacier Peak Wilderness for a few nights. Forecasts predicted that the weather would abate, but not until we were all treated (surprise!) to an overnight dusting of snow. Our feet felt like popsicles in our trail runners the next morning, then half-melted popsicles that afternoon. But the scenery – what we could see of it through the fog – seemed even more beautiful with an added coating of white. We felt thoroughly prepared with our rain gear, gloves, and umbrellas, but saw a few shivering hikers rush down the mountain back to civilization, chanting mantras about cheeseburgers, hot coffee, and beer.

Veggie ventures into Labor Day snowfall.

Veggie ventures into Labor Day snowfall.

Over the next few days, the sun slowly emerged. Section K proved to be fairly challenging hiking, which made us even more grateful to be walking it now, with our thru-hiker legs, than in the future, when we’d be starting from scratch. The big elevation changes brought great rewards though, leading us to adopt the new motto “Washington Delivers.”

Fog, fog, fog.

Fog, fog, fog.

Micah Lake, Glacier Peak Wilderness.

Micah Lake, Glacier Peak Wilderness.

Glacier Peak finally emerges.

Glacier Peak finally emerges.

We also had the pleasure of meeting up with some of our favorite hikers, who, like us, were thrilled to have access to this once-closed portion of the trail. Some of them had already hitched up to Chelan and taken a ferry to Stehekin, ready to proceed north, when the heard about the section reopening. In true thru-hiker fashion, they turned around and started trekking south. which made for a very happy intersection/reunion near Glacier Peak. It was one of those moments (and we’d have many more before our trip ended) when we realized that the people really make the experience.

(Left to right) Sweetums, Skua, Ice Axe, Pounder, Twist, and Square.

(Left to right) Sweetums, Skua, Ice Axe, Pounder, Twist, and Square.

(Left to right) Sneezle, Backwise, and Leopard Sauce.

(Left to right) Sneezle, Backwise, and Leopard Sauce.

A few dozen miles later, we found ourselves in North Cascades National Park (our 7th!). We caught the bus from the High Bridge Ranger Station (filled with only thru-hikers, save one brave couple who endured our collective stench) and headed into Stehekin, our last town stop. Stehekin is an idyllic place accessible only by boat, plane, or foot. They have an astonishingly good bakery, which the bus always stops at, and the best post office on the trail, at least in my opinion. They’ve had a rough summer due to all the fires, but, when we were there, you wouldn’t have known. To us, it was paradise. We can’t wait to go back for an extended stay.

Sunset view from the Stehekin Lodge deck.

Sunset view from the Stehekin Lodge deck.

We spent the night dining and reminiscing with other thru-hikers, sharing our favorite (and least favorite) moments from the trail. We’d all come so far, over 2550 miles, and faced just one more stretch. The magnetism of the border pulled us forward, but we couldn’t deny that we were somewhat reluctant to approach the end. Would we ever see these friends again? What would life after the trail hold for each of us? Soon we’d be back in society, trying to explain what it feels like to walk such a long way. But here we were, one last time, surrounded by people who knew exactly what it felt like.

Stay tuned for Part 2,

Square