First, from now until the end of Chipmunk's hike, she asked me to post this link to her Hike For Mental Health Fundraising page: https://www.z2systems.com/np/clients/hike/campaign.jsp?campaign=13&team=145&fundraiser=1052&
She asked me to tell our readers that she (and we) have enjoyed having all of you along for this adventure. Please consider donating to HFMH if you've enjoyed being a part of her hike. She said, "It would be the best trail magic!"
Second, thanks to Aunt Carol for your generous contribution and your company's matching contribution to Hike for Mental Health. You also made many a hiker's day with trail magic that you gave Chipmunk and us ... you gave us enough sodas and snacks to cool down, cheer up and make smile the weary thru hikers; sometimes, it was just what they needed to push them ahead to the next shelter.
Third, thanks to Mari for your generous donation to Chipmunk bucks ... I can't wait to share pics with you! Also, Kudos to you and your son for doing the American Heart Association Walk this Saturday!
Fourth, to Murphy and Amy and Clay and Julie ... Yes, the last few days hiking were lonely for Chipmunk and us; and yes, emotional. We expect re-entry into "regular life" to be a bit of a transition for all of us. We'll do it the way we do most things in life, forge ahead and try to laugh along the way!
Fifth to Jill, thanks for your generous donation and your comments. Your words made me feel really good. I'm sure you are an amazing parent and your child(ren) are lucky to have you!
Sixth, to Editor and Assistant Editor ... some errors in this blog were made intentionally to give you a little something to do ... imparticularly, Aunt Janice. (Also, as long as I keep this website online, I will win the GRINDSTONE Game!)
FYI, there will be more blogs, but possibly not on a daily basis, as we share Chipmunk's transition back to regular life up to her TED talk at the TEDx Tampa Bay event on Nov. 16th. I will also be kicking off my weight loss adventure and will post a start date, etc. in the next few days.
Once it was clear that she was unshakable in that resolve, we worked hard to support her, protect her and prepare her for one of the most physically demanding, emotionally draining and perhaps most fulfilling experiences of her young life.
We knew that hiking the Appalachian Trail was typically an adult adventure. Younger children have completed it, accompanied by parents or adult companions. She wanted to be the youngest solo thru hiker. We knew from the beginning that there is no award or official record for this endeavor. Guinness World Records and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy naturally would discourage such endeavors by the underage. We knew if she accomplished her quest, she would have the status of youngest solo thru hiker within the hiking community and most importantly, she'd know that she'd done it.
As parents, we prepared her not only for the animals she'd encounter, the weather conditions and the body aches but also for the very real things that happen in any adult community. She knew what to expect and knew that it was not fair to expect anyone to change their behaviors to accommodate her. The way she handled herself, earned the respect of many fellow hikers. In the second month on the trail, a hiker offered her a beer. She reached out, took it and said, "Thanks." When the hiker said, "Aren't you too young to drink?", she replied, "Yep. But my mom isn't." She unzipped a compartment on her pack, slid the beer in and said, "Thanks." When she emerged from the trail that evening, she said, "Mom, I brought you some trail magic", and handed me the still cold beer.
In the last six and a half months, she has encountered snakes, bears, wild horses, relentless insects and one porcupine (from which she learned that they are very good tree climbers). She has been given trail magic by church groups, friends, family, former hikers and total strangers. She has hiked in rain, sleet, wind, heat, humidity ...and also gorgeous sunshine. She has slept in shelters, our truck camper, a few hotel rooms, and her tent. While waiting for her to complete a 26 mile hike day, we joined a large group of hikers around a campfire. When they learned that she had camped completely alone, a murmur went around the group and it was soon established that not one of them had ever camped alone. Someone remarked how tough she was and another hiker noted that she builds a mean campfire. Not one of them quantified their remarks with "for a girl" or "for a 15 year old kid". It became obvious to me that she was truly one of them.
Like most hikers and as one who had never camped alone before the trail, she had to "learn the ropes" along the way. During one of her first shelter stays, she spied a loft spot when she arrived and decided that there'd likely be fewer mice up in the loft. She spread out her pad and sleeping bag, pulled out her cook stove and Ramen Noodles. She added water to her pot from her Camelbak and began heating the water. She added the noodles and flavoring and the pot promptly boiled over, spilling hot water down on the hiker beneath her on the ground floor. "Flatfoot" was shocked, but luckily not burned. He politely told Chipmunk that she needed to do her cooking outside, away from the shelter. She told us she felt embarrassed and apologized a bit red faced to the very patient (and loudly snoring) Flatfoot. Um ... yeah ... for the record, the loft space was not a "mice free" zone. Chipmunk said she woke in the morning and found "evidence" of mice on her leggings, arm and sleeping bag.
Her embarrassment didn't end there, during another shelter stay, she was really cold in the morning and decided she'd be warmer brushing her teeth inside the shelter. Her hiking friend, K Bizzie, told her that she needed to do that outside the shelter, as well, to keep animals from being drawn to the scent of the toothpaste. Again, she apologized, a bit red faced. Luckily, K Biz turned out to be a great guy who not only befriended Chipmunk, but also Chipmunk's mom! K Biz was the first to (seriously) offer to repair the hole in my camper after I hit the dead tree up on McQueen's Gap, just outside of Damascus, VA. I paid him in beer ... and we were both happy. I miss that kid already!
Although she has garnered a lot of respect from many outside the hiking community, as well, she (and we) continue to hear the comments of those who discount what she has done. There are entire online forums dedicated to the debate of our family's choice to do this. I will say what I've said from the beginning: We do what's right for our family. We don't expect everyone to embrace our lifestyle nor would we ever dream of telling others how to live their lives. Therein lies the benefit of being born into a free country. And, yes, we defend their right to the freedom of speech, even when their words sting a bit.
Until now, it's been a guarded secret that the hike update blog has been on a 2-4 day delay, specifically for our daughter's protection. Revealing such when naysayers attacked us online saying that we advertised exactly where Chipmunk was, would have negated the very reason for having done it. All that said, I did not turn a blind eye to the criticism that abounded in direct messages to me. I made subtle changes that still allowed family, friends and supporters to join us for Chipmunk's hike story, from my point of view. I apologize to any I may have offended by this small deception; please forgive me. It truly was for the best of reasons.
At fourteen years old, Chipmunk could not possibly have known all that she would face in her adventure ahead. On her first day on the trail, only 2 miles from the Southern start of the AT, Springer Mountain, she rolled an ankle. She rolled it pretty hard, bringing her to tears. She could have triggered the "come get me" message on her SPOT GPS satellite tracking device; she could have called us from her cell phone. Instead, she told us she sat down on a log, removed her boot and examined her ankle. Although it was tender, it seemed she could walk on it if she could stabilize it better. She gathered some sturdy sticks from the ground, broke them to the right length and stuck them in either side of her boot. She laced the boot tightly around her ankle and then hiked another 8+/- miles to meet us. Three days later, with a brand new pair of better suited boots, she hiked thru freezing rain, sleet and hail across Blood Mountain. News spread of hikers being rescued that day, suffering from Hypothermia and exhaustion. She maintained her hiking plan, emerged cold and wet, declaring they ought to install a giant slide off the backside of Blood Mountain. Her fortitude and sense of humor never ceases to amaze me. Over the next 6 months, she not only dealt with body aches but also the mental strain of her hike. She spent many a day and night crying and fighting the sometimes paralyzing depression that overcame her. There were times I just wanted to take her home, let her hang out with her friends at the roller rink, let her be a normal 15 year old girl. But that decision was not mine to make. She had proven that she could handle herself well in this sometimes bigger than life task. If she wanted to end it, she'd have to say the words. She never did.
Only recently did she reveal to me something she did before leaving home that would make her think long and hard before giving up. She took one of her beloved "One Direction" band posters and signed it, forging all the band members' signatures beneath a message of congratulations on completing her hike. Although it was all done in her own hand, she knew she'd be so disappointed in herself if she returned home early and saw that poster hangong on her wall.
In the planning stages of this hike, Chipmunk tested out 3 different backpacks via Bill Jackson's Adventure store in Pinellas Park, FL. They were patient and supportive, knowing that the right (or wrong) backpack can make all the difference. She chose an Osprey Ariel 55 in an x-small frame that accomodated her petite stature and still give her the capacity for all that she needed to carry. Chipmunk carried a full backpack thru her entire hike because it was her safety net as a solo hiker. She needed her tent, sleeping bag, dry clothes, first aid kit and food/water to sustain herself (should she have gotten ill or injured while hiking alone) until help could arrive. When the Baxter State Park Ranger offered her a lightweight daypack for her Katahdin summit day, she politely refused. She adhered to their "no camping on the mountain" rule and removed her tent and sleeping bag from her pack. She carried "Big Red" to the summit not only because it was comfortable, reliable and served her well, but because it was her constant companion throughout her hike. Many a hiker can tell you that they recognized her from far behind by her big red pack with the orange trowel that swished side to side as she walked.
For the record, Chipmunk did not begrudge any hiker for slackpacking. She stands by the belief that everyone should "hike your own hike." That being said, she doesn't like when hikers use that excuse to violate the "Leave no Trace" social contract to which we all should adhere. She has picked up and carried out other hikers' trash and only once "called out" a fellow hiker for the numerous times he carved and wrote his trail name on public and private property. She happened to meet him on the same day she found his name written in permanent marker on a survey marker. She enjoyed searching out the metal markers which dotted the trail where so many before her had passed; she liked the permanence of them.
When Chipmunk hiked out of Damascus, following the annual Trail Days festival, she encountered a lot of rain. She didn't let that stop her, knowing she had already fallen slightly behind her overall hike plan. When she came upon a group of hikers standing on the bank of a stream, watching another hiker cross it, she asked what was going on. As the hiker forded the stream in his bare feet, "squealing" from the cold water, she learned that a footbridge had washed away. The hikers on the bank were consulting maps to see how to bypass the crossing via the Creeper Trail. Once the other hiker made it safely across, then 14 year old Chipmunk walked down to the stream's edge and dropped her pack. She removed her boots and socks, rolled up her pant legs and slipped her feet into her sandals. She secured her boots high on her pack, pulled her pack on and as she would later tell me, she bit down on her lower lip. She knew the water would be cold and she didn't want to embarrass herself by "squealing". With that, she carefully forded the stream. When she made it to the other bank, she dropped her pack and grabbed her camp towel to dry her feet before putting her boots back on her chilled feet. As she did so, she heard clapping. It was from the hikers on the other side who had stayed to watch her crossing before taking the more attractive Creeper Trail.
We drove over 15 miles on the rough dirt logging roads towards the trailhead we first found some weeks ago when Chipmunk leapfrogged ahead. We only saw a few vehicles along the way, most had bird hunters in them with guns positioned at their door side. I've gotten a little more used to seeing hunters with guns; not a common sight in my neck of the woods.
As we drove along, we received text updates from Tom until we were deep into the woods and lost all reception. We parked off the side of the road near where the trail crosses the road and all 3 of us climbed out, Chocolate Chip eager to go "hikeys". We walked in the entrance of the trail for a little exercise and to check out a waterfall just about 50' feet down the trail. Chocolate Chip loved the wooded wonders around her and had to be reminded to "wait" a few times.
We walked back to the truck and made a small preparation for our daughter's last day on the trail. I pulled a roll of toilet paper and Papa Chip charged his cell phone. Then we climbed into the cab and waited as we have so mamy times before. When I get antsy, Papa Chip let me lean against his chest And wrapped an arm around my shoulders. It was comforting but my heart still beat faster than usual.
Just before it got dark, I heard a voice call from the woods and we sprang into action. Papa Chip and I ran to the trail opening and began tying toilet paper across it. It had been raining earlier so we had to do it carefully and quickly before it started to dissolve. As she got closer to us, I hollered to her to wait so that we could have our phones ready to take pics and video.
Also, when Chipmunk says "two thousand one hundred eighty five percent done", she refers to the number of miles (2,185) that the 2013 AT Guide lists. When Chipmunk bought her AT Guide in 2012, the one we used throughout the trail, it listed the total miles as 2,184.
We, too, decided to load up and head out. Papa Chip put Chipmunk's pack and poles in the camper and then the three of us drove into Skowhegan for a celebratory dinner out at Whit's End restaurant. Chipmunk ordered a Chicken Parmigian sandwich with fries, getting a free pass to skip veggies, from me. Her dinner came with a Caesar Salad, which we all stuck our forks into as we waited for our meals to be cooked.
During dinner we talked "trail" and between bites I texted updates to family and friends who were waiting to hear that she had safely completed her quest. After dinner, we drove to the local Walmart where Chipmunk wanted to purchase a few non trail outfits for our night at the Mount Washington Resort (a gift from Vasque footwear) and for our drive homeward.
While Chipmunk coordinated some sweater and leggings outfits, Papa Chip purchased crankcase oil. Our trail worries have been replaced by truck worries. It's okay though, nothing could diminish the joy of the evening. We all returned to the camper, walked Chocolate Chip and then snuggled into our bunks for the night. We turned off our alarms before going to sleep, said "I love you" and "good night" to one another. After turning out the camper light, Papa Chip said, "Good job" and Chipmunk said, "Thanks." With that, she rolled over with Chocolate Chip curled up at her side, and soon fell asleep.
Day 204 on the Appalachian Trail Miles Hiked to Date: 2184 Hiked yesterday: 17 Trail Miles, Miles left to hike: 0
And now, here's a little video footage of Chipmunk's arrival at Katahdin: