Saturday, November 26, 2011

National Parks and High Points

We may be off the AT, but we are still making the most of being unemployed and homeless! We are proud to be temporary vagrants and for the last couple of days and next couple of days, our home is the road in Texas.

Texas can easily be described as a land of oil rigs, ghost towns, rodeos and tall hats and desolate roads. But we'd like to say we went beyond those stereotypes and found the state's best gems.

So far, we have explored 2 National Parks.

In Guadalupe Mountains National Park, we met up with our thru hiker friends (NOBOs 2010) Misti/Ridley and Chris/Panther. While they backpacked basically all around the park, we joined them for about 25 miles.
The mountains are part of a fossil reef that was under the Delaware Sea more than 260 million years ago. Hard to believe this, as the are is now very much landlocked. When the sea receded, the mountains dominated the landscape and left rich geologic history and diverse plant life.
Our first trail led us up to the highest point in Texas: Guadalupe Peak. At 8,749 feet, it is no easy task, but so worth it. We actually camped up top thanks to a beautiful and clear night, and were blessed with a breathtaking sunset and sunrise all to ourselves. When we descended on Thanksgiving morning, we must have passed at least 25 people making their way up. I call that great timing!

The next trail we hit was McKittrick Canyon Ridge on the other side of the park. It is dubbed as the most beautiful spot in Texas. We concur. Besides boasting sweeping views, the canyon changes from desert to pine-fir-aspen forest over the miles making for a very scenic and remote hike.

After we left Misti & Chris, we jumped the border of TX to New Mexico to visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park. Deal had been here (as well as Guadalupe), but you could probably come day after day to explore the great caves of Carlsbad and never get bored. Unfortunately, we underestimated the popularity of the park during the holiday weekend and did not book the more challenging private caving tours we wanted in advance, but we still did 2 self-guided tours and 1 ranger-guided tour.

The caverns had the same geologic start as the mountains. But, hydrogen sulfide from gas and oil deposits combined with oxygen and ate away at the limestone, thus creating a whole world 800 feet below the ground. I really can't describe the cave system in words; it's just so surreal with huge rooms (like 8.2 acres large!) and miles of winding passageways.

Right now, we are camping in Marathon, Texas, the busiest town (population 500) in the middle of nowhere. Actually, it is the gateway to Big Bend National Park, our next (unplanned) stop!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

High Pointing and Road Tripping

Since we reached our goal of thru hiking the AT, we needed a new goal. So we are going to try and knock off as many state high points as we can while we are jobless and homeless!

We are 2 days into our epic road trip and so far, we have driven more than 1400 miles!! Right now, we are hoteling it in Abilene, TX. Earlier this evening, we stumbled upon an In-N-Out. Our tummies were happy.

Tomorrow, we will meet up with Misti/Ridley and Chris/Panther in Guadalupe Mountain National Park.

We are stoked to explore the Chihuahan Desert and hit the high point of Texas at 8,749 feet, but we made an adventure out of hitting some of the less exciting high points. Usually, just finding and getting to the high point is exciting enough.

#16 - Missouri High Point - Taum Sauk Mountain - 1,772 feet
This one is in Taum Sauk Mountain State Park, near the Ozark Trail and it is definitely well maintained. There is a nice concrete .25 mile path to get there with plenty of benches in case you tire along the way ...

#17 Arkansas High Point - Mount Magazine/Signal Hill - 2,753 feet
This one is also in a very beautiful state park - Mt. Magazine State Park. The weather was crappy, so we couldn't enjoy all the views, but we still caught glimpses of leftover fall colors and the fog was kind of neat. We had planned to camp outside of the park, but the rain, thunder and lightning were torrential, so we
slept in the car. We came to find out there was a tornado in the area!! Isn't it better to be in a car than a tent??

Guadalupe Mountain will mark our 18th high point! We hope to be on top while y'all are pigging out on turkey and watching football!

So Happy Thanksgiving to everyone! I do believe this year I am most thankful for the physical ability to hike 2,181 miles and then some!

Location:E Overland Trail,Abilene,United States

Monday, November 21, 2011

Fare Thee Well, Chicago

Goodbye Chicago. You have been good to us for the past 3 weeks, but it is time to move on.

In Chicago, we

played lots of games. Sadly, the boys dominated. Deal, who is the worst speller in the world, but best strategist, won every game of Scrabble. My BIL, Russ/Napolean Dynamite, won every game of Apple to Apples. The women will are planning their comeback.

went to REI every chance we could. We lose all self control when it comes to REI.

celebrated someone's big birthday (I will not reveal her age). We celebrated at The Girl & the Goat, a restaurant opened by a Top Chef winner. You have to call 6 months in advance for reservations, but Deal worked his magic and got us in. So worth it (and yes, there is goat on the menu and yes, it is good)!!
ate tons of good food. Homemade food as well as food from the millions of restaurants just within two blocks of where we were staying and are too hard to resist! One time, we got Thai food. I had been dreaming of Thai food on the trail and my Pad Thai and Pad See You Chicken backpacker meals were not sufficing.

watched a lot of football! After missing 7-8 weeks of football on the trail, Deal was a happy camper be able to properly track his fantasy team.

took the "El" and never got lost.drove and some of us (Deal) got lost.

spent time with 2 cats that oddly look the same, but have very different personalities. It made us miss Mr. McKinley so much!
also hung out with these cool cats.searched for jobs all over the country. Deal sent out 15 resumes and I sent out 7. I also sent another query off to Backpacker magazine. Dream big, right?

pampered ourselves and recuperated our bodies. We got 90-minute massages (thanks to my parents and Deal's mom for the anniversary gift!) and soaked in MamaF's jacuzzi tub.

ate a ton of food (did I say that already?).

walked without backpacks.

went to one concert (Deal went to 2).

took at least 20 showers in the 26 days we've been here. I bet on the trail, we only took 20 showers total ...

drank a little too much one evening (talk to SILMeow about that one).took a Hip Hop aerobics class (okay, just one of us did that).

applied for The Amazing Race (keep your fingers crossed!).

celebrated Thanksgiving a little early. We will be camping in a national park on Thanksgiving Day and feasting on a backpacker meal, but turkey dinner was a must.
For the next 3 weeks, we will be road tripping and hitting state high points (another goal of ours). I will update from the road when we can!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

You Might Be A Thru-Hiker If ...

- Your grocery list contains foods invented solely to make people obese and you choose the products that weigh the least, while packing the most calories
- You have difficulty recalling passwords, but you can spit out your start/end date, trail name and number of calories in a honey bun with no problem
- The smoke from the campfire makes you smell better
- You rationalize staying in a place that is missing part of its floor, the entire ceiling in the bathroom and has spiders crawling in the bed because, well, it's raining out and it's cheap
- Seeing little white rectangles excite you greatly
- You smack your head when you hear a buzzing noise
- You consider nature your bathroom (dig a hole, drop a load)
- Food becomes more important than taking a shower
- You don't know the real names of people you have met in the last month
- You can't recall where you slept the night before
- You eagerly take food from strangers without question and consider eating unopened food you find on the trail or in a shelter
- Duct tape is invaluable
- You don't blow your nose with a tissue, you just blow snot rockets
- You keep wearing a pair of socks or boots even though you can see your toes through the holes
- You sometimes look at a creek and wonder if that is indeed the trail
- You go to bed the same time as a 75-year-old does
- You look for coolers at road crossings

Anyone else have something to add?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cleveland ROCKS!

No one seems to believe us, but we really liked Cleveland! Yes, I am talking about Cleveland, Ohio.

We spent three days there and here are at least three reasons to support our opinion.

The Friends
We recently had 2 sets of friends (Sara/Caliente, Mike/theFr & Shayna/BFFcoworker & family) move to the Cleveland from Phoenix (odd coincidence), so there is a very good reason alone to come to Cleveland. Our friends make incredible hosts/hostesses. Not to mention one of them is 8 months pregnant and the other has a 4-month old
The Parks and Accessibility
Being a park & rec guy, Deal pays attention to the use of outdoor space in different cities and towns. Well, Cleveland capitalizes on its parks. There are many beautiful walking paths and open spaces. Cleveland is a big city, but the neighborhoods where our peeps live offer a great combination of accessibility and suburbia.
Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
Visiting the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was a dream come true for Deal. Seriously, he has been salivating over the possibility of visiting for many, many years. He did this visit solo because I could not tolerate spending a whole day there. The hall opened at 10 a.m. on Monday, and he was there at 8 a.m. It closed at 5:30 p.m., and the security guards ushered him out after finding him cuddled up next to Janis Joplin's car. On the drive back to Chicago, Deal made a bucket list of bands he wants to see in concert. And here I thought Deal had already seen every band out there ... damn it.
Seriously, it was a great time. Cleveland has a great history too. Does anyone know about the area called Firelands? Back during the Revolutionary War, British forces set fires to homes all over Connecticut. Then the Legislature gave the people tracts of land to make up for their losses ... in Ohio. Sounds fair, right? And, Thomas Edison was born way out in the suburbs of Cleveland. He only lived there for 7 years, but hey, there must be something good in their water because he turned out pretty smart.The bottom line is, put Cleveland on your must-see list. Or, just wait for us to move there someday, then come visit us.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

More EpiBLOG

So post-trail life. Still going well.

By all measures of success, we are on the right track. Lots of job applications out there, some interviews and freelance work coming my way.

We also decided aside from our side trip to Cleveland this weekend, we'll leave Chicago Nov. 21. Chicago is getting way TOO expensive for us. It's too tempting to have all these food options around. And Trader Joe's. We never had a T.J. near us and thank God. It's as addictive as REI (which is also dangerously close now - been there twice already).

So November 21, we will head south for an epic road trip to hit some high peaks and go on a backpacking trip with fellow bloggers and thru hikers, Misti/Ridley and Chris/Panther. The next place we have to be is northern Virginia Dec. 10 for a wedding, so we have lots of time to "kill." We are living our life in three-week increments these days ...

All of our gear is aired out and cleaned and ready for our next backpacking trip! Thank you $7 bottle of Febreeze. My (new) brother-in-law thanks you too, as we were airing everything out at their place and he cringed when even standing 5 feet from my sleeping bag.

Our bodies are still stiff and I guess they call this healing. Deal says his feet are still pounding on a daily basis, so I'm not sure how much progress he is making. He went to a concert the other night and could barely shake his hippy booty as he normally does. We still have yet to attempt running. Unfortunately, it's getting colder here in Chicago, so we are not even walking as much. In fact, we have been lazier this past week than we were in the first week off the trail! We are scheduled for 90-minute massages next week (a major good deal we found on Groupon!) and I cannot wait.

For the record, my feet don't hurt, but are still callous and peeling, thus causing them to itch like crazy. I guess I can give up on my aspirations to be a foot model. And I'm pretty sure my feet grew during the hike. My size 7 1/2 shoes barely fit. I have been a size 7 1/2 since college and for the person that does not buy new shoes often, this is not good. It is nice to have access to my sister-in-law's closet right now because she has bigger feet and much nicer shoes!

Rest assured, we are gaining our weight back. Deal's bones are no longer poking through his back and I can hug him without fearing I will break him. I still can't fit in any of my pants and continue to use pants I borrowed from my friend's 16-year-old daughter. I suppose this is a good problem to have, so I am enjoying the skinny version of me for now.

As for the mental part of post-trail life, Deal is perfectly fine and I believe I am too. I dream of the trail every night and am already thinking of how and when we can do another long-distance hike. Overall, I do think I am waiting for a revelation that is not coming. I have yet to comprehend that we actually completed our thru hike and how it changed us.

Anyways, Cleveland, here we come!!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Rainy Days

It's a rainy day here in Chi-town.

I appreciate being indoors so much more after doing the trail. When we were on the trail and it was raining, we would sometimes get a phone call, text or e-mail from someone off trail saying they were thinking of us. I always thought that was so nice. Because yes, being on the trail in the rain sucks big time.

In the summer, it's too hot to wear a rain jacket, so you just get soaked. On the cooler days, you just want to keep moving because when you stop, it's cold. You get to camp and change into dry & warm clothes, but the next day, you have to put back on the wet & cold clothes because nothing dries out on the trail.

My favorite rainy days were the ones when I would get all geared up in my rain jacket & rain pants because of the rain threat, and it would never rain. So I would spend the whole day sweating and overheating, but gosh darnit, I was prepared! It actually became an inside joke for us. If Steadee geared up, it most likely would turn out to be a beautiful day ...

As for our transition back to real life, all is going well. Had some promising interviews, I picked up some writing assignments from my old connections and we are heading to Cleveland for the weekend to visit some friends!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Post-trail Life

We have been off the AT for more than a week and you would think now that I have easy access to cell service and computers, I would be blogging more often. Clearly not the case. I've been so busy ... doing practically nothing!

Well, we did have the wedding, which was not just a wedding, but a whole, exhausting (yet fun) weekend of events!

First, Deal & I had to clean up. It took hedge clippers to tame Deal's beard. But after many hours of labor and much manpower, we both came out presentable.Anyways, the wedding was beautiful. We had great weather in Chicago on Oct. 28, unlike the East coast. The bride and groom looked gorgeous and were on cloud 9 all day long.On Saturday night, the newlyweds hosted a very fun Halloween party. We had a good time, but were sleepy by 11pm ... I think we were still trying to adjust to a more normal bedtime as opposed to 7:30pm!Since the wedding, though, we have been house and cat sitting Deal's sister's place and will be until Sunday. It is good to stay in one place for more than 1 day. We've been nomads for several months and most likely will be for several more, so one week of normalcy is a gift.So now the big question. How do we feel now that the AT adventure is over?? There's no easy way to answer this, so get ready for a stream of consciousness type of post.

Do we miss the trail? Yes. Deep down, we are both glad the arduous task of hiking into winter is over, but we miss many things about the trail—the serenity, the simplicity, the people (especially Fire Marshall!), nature ... But we realize we can't live on the trail forever (although, we met many people who thought they could). What we miss most, though, is having a purpose and a goal. I remember many days when I woke up and had to force myself to be excited about hiking 20 miles. But after I did those 20 miles, I always felt good and accomplished.

These days, our purpose is a little unclear. At the end of the day, we both look at each other and say, "what did we do today?" Yes, we have so much catching up to do, but don't really know where to begin. We are both spending lots of hours on the computer—between job searching, returning e-mails and organizing photos—but I long for the days when we had no computer access. By the way, I've uploaded all our photos to Flckr, so if you feel like looking through 1,000+ photos, check out the sidebar of the blog!

I will say, it is quite amazing how quickly we fall back into old routines. We are cooking, staying up late and sleeping in ... it did take us 3 days to learn how to turn on the TV, but now we are back to watching some TV. I almost feel like we never left, but then I realize that we took a break from a lot of "life." The last 4.5 months were not just a dream.

We are walking everyday in Chicago. Thankfully, since driving in Chicago makes us break out in hives. But walking 4 miles on sidewalks is not the same as hiking in the woods up and over mountains with packs on. And so many people!!! I know the worldwide population just hit 7 billion, but holy granola, I think a quarter of those people roam the streets of Chicago.Anyways, despite the walking, our bodies are so stiff and in a lot of pain. I believe it's pain from inactivity. We went from constant movement to sedentary, especially given the fact that we spent the first 24 hours after finishing the trail on a train and in a vehicle. I wake up with charlie horses in my calves at night (although I've been drinking tonic water and I think that helps) and Deal's feet wake him up. We have to gingerly walk up steps because our knees hurt like they did in Maine! From what I hear from past thru hikers, the wear and tear of walking 2,181 miles will not subside for awhile.

We went grocery shopping at the beginning of the week and were a little overwhelmed. On the trail, our trips to the grocery store had one goal - buy items with as many calories as possible that were as light & easy to carry as possible. But now we have to ween ourselves off the intense amounts of sugar we were inhaling on a daily basis. Detox is not an easy thing!

I hope I don't sound too manic-depressive about post-trail life. I'm sure we will adjust more and more as the days go by. I just want to point out that we are SLOWLY making the transition back to being responsible adults and re-entering the hustle and bustle of real life.

As for what's next, we are looking for suggestions ...