“What is a blaze?” by Pua Ali’i KH Lum aka Mašté

One year ago today, I huffed and puffed my way up Sky Meadows State Park’s North Ridge Trail with a group of ladies. As I carpooled with an acquaintance to this new place, I felt nervous about my ability to hike much less walk because the athlete I had once been turned into a heavy couch potato. In 2012, I came to the area for a job promotion, and I knew no one. I promised myself once I got settled I would reintroduce myself to the active woman I enjoy. Over the years, I learned the heavier you are, the less people acknowledge your presence. With that in mind, some part of me wanted to remain invisible, but the universe had a purpose for me that I said yes too, so no matter how many times I tried to deny my calling by eating, sleeping, watching TV, and gaining weight I always came back to the reality that I am, was, and will always be visible.

Anyway back to the day at hand, I asked what any newbie hiker, I use the term “hiker” loosely, would want to know, “How hard is this hike?” She nonchalantly stated, “It’s pretty flat.” With that answer the couch potato in me felt much better about the decision I had made to attend my first hike. The beauty of the park helped me stave off my desire to beat feet home. It wouldn’t have mattered my car was tucked safely in my garage, and by golly, walking that far was absolutely out of the question. We made our introductions and began our trek up the unknown elevation gain. While dodging cow patties and wishing I had an oxygen tank, I slowly, but surely made my way up Mount Kilimanjaro. Oops, I mean the North Ridge Trail. A lovely woman kept my mind occupied by telling me her story. Another tried to engage me in conversation by asking me the get to know you questions. Many grunts and groans made it very clear that talking, and walking were out of the question! So the first lady, took me under her wing and walked with me up that BIG, HUGE, MAMMOTH hill. She understood my plight by waiting on me while I rested, and sucked wind like a newborn baby. She told me her age and I was flabbergasted that I had let myself go so much that a woman some years my senior was waiting on me. Somewhere between being out of breath and disappointed in letting my health go, I vowed in that moment that I was far too young to have this fixable problem and that someday I would hike this trail with ease.

Fast forward a month, I had been walking up to 6 miles a day, rowing on my machine, and eating healthy again. Two friends and I from the first hike visited Sky Meadows North Ridge Trail again. I moved up that hill like a teenager. What a sense of accomplishment! I kept that same passion for my health up to today one year later. In honor of my hiking anniversary, I hiked my second Section on the AT between Keys Gap and Harpers Ferry with the Trail Dames of VA. It was a 6.5 mile hike that turned into 10 miles. The day before I hiked 11.5 miles. So it goes that the views drive me to the top, the waterfalls call me into the swimming holes, the off chance I might see a bear terrifies and excites me, and I am planning several Section hikes over my three week vacation in October. This peace filled place I live is about good friends, laughing, eating, and of course, hiking. I love to hike solo, and with others. I am planning my vacations around the John Muir Trail and the AT, however, I am still a shower after a hike, and sleep in my own bed type of woman. If you want to find me hiking, look on the TD of VA meetup group, we’d loved to have you just as you are. I’ve been taught hike your own hike when your solo, and hike with the group when you attend an excursion because after all the group is the place where I am encouraged to push my limits, be myself, and take it easy all in one day.

So I asked, “What is a blaze?” Well, the blaze is me moving at a speed that I had only dreamed of. I am here because I said, “Yes!” Then the multitude of women showed up to guide, support, and lead me to this wonderful life I cherish called hiking. There are so many to thank. Nancy M., Tina C., Lisa H., Lola, Barb, Thelma, Jana, Char, Joyce, and all the ladies that I continue to meet on the trails.

This is my most treasured quote by Marianne Williamson that I want to gift to you:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Liberate yourself and join us! We would love to have you laugh, relax, and love nature as we all do!

“What are you waiting for?” by Anna Huthmaker

I was several hundred miles into my grand attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail, and the foot path in front of me had turned into a stream. It was raining.

A lot.

It was an El Nino year, and later we would learn that it would rain 28 out of 31 days. But for now, all I knew was that my socks were dry. And I was just doing my best to get through the rest of the day that way.

I made my way up the trail, hopping from side to side, avoiding puddles and sticking to the high ground. A lot of money had gone into my water-proof boots and as long as I didn’t step into anything deeper than a couple of inches, I was good.

Halfway up an incline, I stopped to catch my breath and let a fellow thru-hiker pass by. He turned to me grinning and said, “You know… once your boots get wet, you are free”.

He strode up the trail, and I stood there in surprise. We were miles from the nearest road or shelter, and the rain was predicted to go on for days. What was I doing? Was I really going to hop my way up the trail for the next ten miles?

I stepped gingerly into the large puddle in front of me, letting the cold water seep in through my lace holes. I walked forward, picking up my pace, and realized… he was right. My feet were wet, but I was free. Free to walk with purpose and enjoy the views around me. And to splash through the puddles like a kid, smiling and dancing.

It has been 12 years since that A.T. hike, and I have thought often about that hiker and what he said. How many times do we twist ourselves around, going far out of our way to avoid a perceived discomfort? And how much are we missing around us when we do just that? I don’t want to be so engaged with the effort of life that I miss the great stuff that is around me.

I am sure that hiker never realized how much purpose, joy and freedom have come into my life as a result of his statement. But anytime I find myself tied up in knots, attempting to dodge something uncomfortable, I smile and think of him and that rainy day. And I say to myself, “What are you waiting for…. just get your boots wet!”

“Why Vermont’s Long Trail” by Bren “Pokey” Miller

When I decided to expand from day hikes to backpacking and going on long distance trails, the next logical step was to decide where. Living in Albany, New York, there were plenty of lengthy trails nearby to choose from. The Long Path, Northville-Placid Trail, even the Finger Lakes Trail are right in my own state. Yet after much research, a multitude of factors tipped the scales to make the Green Mountain State’s pride the best choice for my maiden trek.

It’s the oldest long distance trail in the United States. That held a certain appeal to me. I am fascinated by the things of old. The pyramids, ancient trees, even historical buildings and artifacts. The oldest of the trails? No brainer.

Easy bail outs. Because the first half or so of the Long Trail is shared by the Appalachian Trail, it seems that “civilization” is but a short walk off the trail. With my lack of experience on long hikes and overnights in the woods, having that quick escape if necessary is a prudent choice.

Trees. Lots and lots of trees. Having grown up in the northeast, I am used to seeing pines, hemlocks, and birch trees everywhere. On my day hikes in the Catskills and Adirondacks, I find great calm and joy being surrounded by the trees and fallen leaves. Compared to the Southwest, where I expect to find sagebrush and cacti, which have their own enjoyment and appeal, the beautiful greens of home will provide a comfort to me that will be appreciated on that first trek.

Water, water, everywhere. It’s been written that to find water on the Long Trail, one only needs to look down. Some people report that rain is a near constant (as is mud), while others claim that to be exaggerated yet agree it is a wet trail with frequent water sources. I carry a hydration bladder and three ways to purify water. Gaining experience with plentiful supplies will be most appreciated before I venture to the more difficult routes just as the John Muir or Arizona Trails.

The high peaks. One of my goals on my bucket list is the Northeast 111, that is, the peaks above 4000 feet in New York and New England. All five of Vermont’s 4000+ footers are on the Long Trail. My plan is to hike northbound, taking the first half of the trail on my first attempt, then going back another time to complete the trek. The five high peaks are in that northern, or second, half. My goal is that my body will be in better shape to achieve that feat when the time comes to face that second part in the future.

Population. Unlike some trails where it is easy to go days without seeing another human being, because the southern part of the Long Trail is also part of the Appalachian Trail, it is a popular route with many hikers. As a solo hiker, there is a comfort in knowing that if something were to happen and I was not able to activate my personal locator beacon, someone would eventually come back and be able to provide assistance.

This post was contributed by Bren Miller. She is a middle-aged woman who lives with cats and takes care of her disabled brother. She discovered hiking last year and can’t get enough of it, despite her slow going due to her weight and lack of physical prowess. Her joys in life are my cats, my writing, and hiking. 🙂

The AT Summer Series Through Maryland

Last winter, as I sat in my comfy chair, cat on my lap, dog at my feet, and a cup of hot coffee within reach, I began to plan the AT Summer Series.  Having completed the AT through Maryland twice, once in a series of day hikes and once as a backpack with fellow Trail Dames, I could think of no better way to pay it forward than to host a series of day hikes on AT from Harper’s Ferry, WVA to Pen Mar, MD!

ATC 32

We kicked off the trek north on June 7, 2014 in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia.  Beginnings are so exciting, especially when it is the start of something big, like completing the AT through Maryland!  We left most of our cars at Weverton, and then shuttled down to the ATC in Harper’s Ferry to begin our hike.  It was a busy morning at the ATC but Python found a break in the action to take a picture of all of us embarking on this journey north!


The thing about walking through Harper’s Ferry is that there is SO much to see that it is hard to make yourself stop looking at stuff and continue to make forward progress!  Good thing we are Dames who aren’t in any hurry and love to take time to enjoy the moment!

Wonderful day that left us all looking forward to the next section…which was RAINED out!  Can you believe it?!!  Weverton to Gathland State Park ended up at the end of the series.

So we reconvened a few weeks later for a hot and humid hike from Gathland State Park to South Mountain Inn (Old Rt. 40).  One of the Dames making the trek with us on this section was Victoria.  If you all haven’t had the pleasure of hiking with Victoria aka Queen V aka Bag Lady, then you are missing out!!  After hiking up the first hill, which rises steeply leaving Gathland, we were already breaking a sweat.  A few steps further brought us to the blue blazed trail down to the Crampton Gap shelter, the exact place where Victoria earned her trail name “Bag Lady” on another Trail Dame adventure.  She was gracious enough to reenact that moment and had us doubled up, pains in our sides, laughing so hard we could barely catch a breath!  Well, with a hike that starts like that…whew!


A few miles later we were taking in the hazy view from the rock outcropping at the top of Lambs Knoll, and then happily descended to the new Rocky Run Shelter for lunch.  We met a thru hiker at the shelter who told us we should go down and check out the old shelter as it was his “favorite place on the AT so far”.  Wow! That is an endorsement! So off we went to check it out.  It was a beautiful spot with a spring flowing in full force right in front of the shelter…and (insert squeaky voice) there was a swing!!!  Oh, it was lovely…thank goodness Dames are not in a hurry and enjoy being in the moment!

We finished off our hike together by grabbing ice cream at the South Mountain Creamery…every hike should end this way!  Shortly, thereafter the skies opened up letting loose a slew of dangerous thunderstorms in the area.  We timed that one just right!

Next trek was from South Mountain Inn (Old Rt. 40) to New Rt. 40.  The Dames climbed South Mountain…did I say that loud enough?  CLIMBED.  It was hot, it was humid, we huffed and we puffed and we blew that mountain down! Or something like that…the thing about writing this in late October is that I hope the Dames have now forgotten any pain associated with the hard climbs and just feel victorious in the memory!

We took a break after reaching the Washington Monument at the summit.  This is not the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C….just for clarification! Now, just so you know…you cannot hike the AT across Maryland with learning a little bit about the Civil War.  Ground zero right here!  So it was not a big surprise to find Civil War soldiers hanging out in the shade and taking in the view from the top of the monument!  And what do Dames and Civil War Soldiers do when they get together?  Take selfies, of course!

Well, I think we were all feeling mighty proud of ourselves at the end of this hike.  We were now half way across Maryland…Bring on the rocks!  The section from New Rt 40 to Wolfsville Road has a few places that give a beating to your feet!  This section was a big, big change from the sections we had hiked thus far.  We hiked the section from North to South starting at Wolfsville Road.  Now coming from either side there is quite a climb, but the Dames took it at their own pace.

Hiking along the spine of the mountain it seemed like forever before we got to Pogo Campground!  At the campground we gathered round a fire pit, sitting on nice stone seats, for lunch before heading up to Black Rock Cliffs and Annapolis Rocks.  It was a lovely day to sit up on the cliffs overlooking the Middletown Valley.

Returning to our cars we knew we had done some HIKING! Around 9 miles with the side trips…wow, go Dames!!!

The next section was a short one from Wolfsville Road to Warner Gap, so we hiked it as an out and back hike.  On this section we passed the Ensign Cowall Shelter and walked through a lovely field before entering the woods that would lead us downhill to a pleasant creek for lunch.  Nothing better than to have a picnic and conversation in the woods with such great women!

And then the final stretch to the Pennsylvania line…Warner Gap to Pen Mar.  This is a fun, fun, tough section of trail!  And the rain was supposed to STOP!  But did it?  For most of the hike it drizzled, then poured, then drizzled…back and forth, back and forth.  We had our ponchos and extra dry clothes!

ATC 26

Made a stop at Raven Rock Shelter for lunch…and what a happy surprise!  A backpacker had a nice fire going!  Extra nice!  Sitting around eating lunch was great…but when we got chilly we knew it was time to get back on the trail!  Mother Nature was very accommodating and stopped the rain for the rest of the hike…just in time for us to descend the rock pile down from High Rock!  It was a long, wet day and everyone was tired as we dragged into Pen Mar.  However, it ended triumphantly for us all as we celebrated Diana’s completion of the AT through MD!!!

Congratulations Diana!!!
Congratulations Diana!!!

Two weeks later we were celebrating again when we finished the AT series hiking from Weverton to Gathland State Park.  Amy and Renate walked through the arch at Gathland State Park signaling their completion of the AT through MD…Huzzah!

Congratulations Amy & Renate!!
Congratulations Amy & Renate!!

Hike on!

“I slept at the feet of a giant last nite” by Michele Zehr

Michele Zehr is a member of the Trail Dames Board of Directors and she is also the head Dame of the Central Virginia Trail Dames.

Michele’s trail name is Certain and she finished her Appalachian Trail (AT) hike in 2008.  It would be safe to say that Michele has one of the most popular Trail Journals of all time.

Michele has given us permission to post her journal entry from October 8, 2008 – the day she submitted Mt. Katahdin.  She also has a wonderful video showing her final ascent.

I slept at the feet of a giant last nite

A giant that for so so long has reflected back to me
My fears and pain and disappointments
As well as the raw beauty of nature

As I lay there awake in the nite
Feeling its presence looking down upon me
I wondered if it was ready to receive what I had to offer to it

So before the sun shed its light on the morning sky, I rose
One last time
I exposed my bare skin to the frigid fall air
One last time
I packed the things that would keep me alive out here
One last time
I strapped my pack on my back
One last time
And I started walking north again
One last time

I passed a rushing stream with crystal clear pools
I stood next to a roaring waterfall with endless cascades

I struggled over boulders the size of buildings
And scaled the sides of rock faces that hung on the ends of the Earth

I finally made it to the shoulders of this giant
And walked across its cracked red surface

Then climbed one final time

I walked right to the top and looked this giant in the eye
And whispered
“Thank you, my friend…thank you”

And at that moment
The giant unfolded its bouldery arms
And cupped its rocky snow covered hands
And allowed me to place my fears and pain and disappointments into it

The giant took these things that I had offered
And folded them inside to be held forever
Leaving me with my joy
And a deep deep appreciation for the beauty of nature and this trail

So I turned south
And started walking away for good
And I suddenly felt choked
I stopped for a moment, stumbled and gasped
And my tears dropped to the ground beneath me

Then a surge came rushing through my nostrils
And into my lungs
And filled my veins and body with pure fresh air

I knew
At that moment
The giant had released me from its clutches

And I was free to breathe again.