AT Training highlights!

Hello all and Welcome to Our AT Journal! To officially kick off this journal, we thought we’d start by putting together a compilation of all the training we’ve been doing to prepare for our big adventure. We’re not including every hike, but we are including all of the hikes we have done with full backpacking pack-weight where our focus has been to train for the AT. We started doing this on Labor Day Weekend when we Thru-Hiked the Art Loeb Trail.

Here are our stat totals for our AT Training Excursions between Friday, September 4th 2020 and January 30th 2021

  • ⛰ Total Training Miles with Full Pack Weight: 150.2 Miles
  • 🥾 Total # of Training Days: 12 Full Days (6 or more miles) & 4 Half Days (6 or fewer miles)
  • 🇺🇸 States Where We Hiked For AT Training: Maryland, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee

If you’re just looking for the highlights, cool! Look no further. Buuuuuuuuuuuut if you’d like to read more about each of the training adventures we’ve embarked on, please keep on a readin’!

This post is kinda long as we wanted to catch you up on all we have been doing. So please feel free to take breaks and come back to it if need be. Rest assured, future posts will be a bit shorter since we will be on the trail and have to post while we are resupplying or going through towns.

We hope you enjoy all of the pictures, videos, and stories below!

Art Loeb Thru-Hike – 34.1 Miles

Sunrise from the top of Cold Mountain!

Friday 09/04/2020- Monday 09/07/2020- Three Night Backpacking Excursion (Art Loeb Trail Thru-Hike) 

🇺🇸  State: North Carolina

We had quite the adventure out on the Art Loeb Trail! This one had been on both of our bucket lists for quite some time, and knowing that we needed to hit the ground running with our AT training, we figured a backpacking trip on the Art Loeb would be a great place to start. We wound up doing the whole Art Loeb trail plus a jaunt up to the top of Cold Mountain so we could enjoy a beautiful sunrise on our last morning.

Starting the Art Loeb – Here we go!

We kicked off our adventure the night of September 4th, 2020 the Friday leading into Labor Day Weekend. We dropped our car off at the northern terminus of the trail at the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp in Canton, NC. Our dear friend, Justine, met us there and drove us in her car to the southern terminus of the trail located at the Davidson River Campground in Pisgah National Forest, NC. We shoveled down some delicious wraps from Gypsy Queen Cuisine before bidding Justine adieu and kicking off our adventure. Since we were heading out in the evening after a full workday, we stopped for the night just 3 miles in at a small random campsite just off the trail. 

🗺  09/04/20- Davidson River Campground > Random Campsite – 3 miles

Stopping to check on a hot spot – Gotta take care of your feet!
Indian Pipe Mushrooms – One of our favorites to see in the forest!

The next day, we hiked roughly 13 miles. Our legs were already feeling it as we hit the toughest section of elevation gain near the end of the day – climbing Pilot Mountain was no joke!

Pilot Mountain is Kicking our Butt!
We definitely felt like we earned this view today!

We did it! We certainly were hurting, but we made it down the other side of the mountain, up over little Sassafras Knob, and found ourselves a quiet campground at Farlow Gap. We still had lots of daylight to work with, so we were able to cook a yummy dinner of Backcountry Gado Gado (Micah’s specialty) and enjoy a lovely late-summer evening.

🗺  09/05/20- Random Campsite > Farlow Gap – 13 miles

We woke up sore on Sunday, but nonetheless determined to tackle some more of this crazy trail. We had another high mileage, super intense elevation gain kind of day ahead of us, as we were determined to hike from Farlow Gap all the way to a spot just below the Cold Mountain summit. It. Was. Brutal. But also super fulfilling and included some of the most beautiful views from iconic WNC spots such as Black Balsam, Tennent Mountain, Shining Rock, etc…

Looking back at Pilot Mountain and Sassafras Knob

By the time we got to Shining Rock and took a second longer break, we weren’t entirely convinced that we’d make it all the way to Cold Mountain like we’d hoped. Somehow though, we were able to push ourselves beyond Deep Gap and up onto Cold Mountain stopping just below the summit. We scored a beautiful campsite, cooked us up a delicious spicy rice and beans dinner as the sun set through the trees, and read a few chapters of “The Unlikely Thru Hiker” by Derick Lugo before crashing out.

🗺  09/06/20- Farlow Gap > Cold Mountain – 13 miles

We awoke before dawn on Monday, gathered our stove and breakfast fixins, and made our way to the Cold Mountain summit. After all of those crazy miles the past few days, we were treated to a gorgeous sunrise in the Shining Rock Wilderness- spectacular doesn’t begin to cover it! It was a peaceful start to the last day of our Art Loeb Adventure, as it was both serene and oh so beautifully solitary!

Beautiful Sunrise on Cold Mountain

When we got back to camp, we finished packing up and then started the 5 or so mile hike down, down, down to the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp to retrieve our car… 

… BUT our car wasn’t there when we got to the trailhead!!! AHHHHHHH!!! Ensue the panic! We were so consumed by the fact that our car, which we’d last seen Friday night when we dropped it off, was not where we had parked it, that we didn’t get to fully relish the accomplishment of having completed the Art Loeb. Long story short, our car was towed on the grounds that it supposedly would have obstructed an ambulance from getting down the road along which it was parked (beg to disagree, since everyone else parked there, too- we just happened to be on the end), and was towed Friday night. Luckily, we were able to get in touch with the towing company, and after securing a ride with a friend, picked up the car that same day. Suffice it to say, it was not the ideal ending to our journey, but now that some time has passed we are able to truly appreciate tackling the Art Loeb and all the good that did come out of it.

🗺  09/07/20- Cold Mountain > Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp – 5.2 miles 

Here’s a breakdown of our stat TOTALS from the Art Loeb trip:

  • 🥾  Total Miles 34.1 🥾  (31.1 on the Art Loeb + 3 out-and-back on the Cold Mountain Trail, according to the Hiking Project App)
  • ⛰⛰  Total Elevation Gain  ⛰⛰ 8,590 feet (7,578 on Art Loeb + 1,012 on Cold Mtn Trail, according to Hiking Project App)

Graybeard Mountain – 9.4 Miles

Graybeard Falls is always a welcome resting point

Saturday, October 31st- Day Hike with Full Pack-weight (Graybeard Mountain Trail)

🇺🇸  State: North Carolina

By Halloween, it had been a while since we’d last trained with full packweight on our weekend backpacking extravaganza out on the Art Loeb trail. Of course, this doesn’t mean we didn’t hike at all between Labor Day and Halloween- hardly! We got in plenty of day hikes with “normal” day hike packweight. In fact, we did a ton of hiking while out in Colorado during our late-September Honeymoon. Lounging around on a beach just isn’t our style. Being that we seem to be gluttons for misery, our Hike-A-Palooza in Colorado included a rather technically challenging 18 mile-long 14-er called Long’s Peak (14-ers are peaks that are 14,000 feet or more above sea level). We did over 5,000 feet of overall elevation gain and our lungs weren’t fully acclimated, we definitely had our work cut out for us on that one!

Summit of Longs Peak in Colorado

So, it’s not like we had been completely slacking off between Labor Day and Halloween, which is when we threw on our backpacks and trudged up Graybeard Mountain for what has become our annual fall hike up the peak. That being said, it had been some time since we’d trained with our full pack-weight, so we were eager to get back and focus on getting in shape for the AT. Despite not hiking with full pack-weight for a month and a half, we felt strong on this hike and enjoyed beautiful views out at Walker Knob and at the summit of Graybeard (although the summit itself was pretty much shrouded in clouds most of the time – so we didn’t get any pictures). 

The views aren’t everything that we love about this hike. The journey of this hike is what brings us back every autumn, how lovely the lush reds, oranges, and yellows of fall color look amongst the tunnels of dark green rhododendron. We love, too, the gentle murmuring of the creek you cross a few times on your way up to the cascading Graybeard Falls. Though a mountain’s summit no doubt can fill you with a sense of awe-inspiring grandeur, so, too, can the tranquility and quiet of the forest enliven and enrich your soul.

Here are our stats for the Graybeard Hike:

  • 🗺   Parking Lot > Graybeard Summit > Walker Knob > Parking Lot
  • 🥾   9.4 miles roundtrip
  • ⛰   2,368 ft of elevation gain
  • ⏰   Roughly 5 hours

Mount Cammerer – 11.6 Miles

Saturday, November 28th 2020 – Day Hike with Full Pack-weight (Appalachian Trail, Northern Smokies Section)

🇺🇸  State: North Carolina

For this day of training, we hopped on the AT at Davenport Gap and headed southbound on the trail into Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We climbed and climbed and climbed some more on this one! We were grateful to have the latest addition to our gear repertoire for this one: our new Black Diamond Ergo Cork Trail trekking poles! Lightweight yet extremely durable, they make hiking with full pack weight a heck of a lot easier! Our knees were thanking us on the way down.

After 5.2 miles of hiking (all uphill- though we’d remind you in case you forgot, haha!), we came to a trail intersection where we had the option to take the 0.6 mile spur trail to the top of Mt. Cammerer. We figured we’d gotten this far, so why not? We took the Cammerer trail and were so glad we did, as we were treated to a magnificent view from atop what was an old fire watchtower. We even met a guy at the top who said that Cammerer was his favorite spot in all of the Smokies! We were both really happy with our decision to venture down the Cammerer Trail offshoot.

In all likelihood, we will be racing through the Smokies when we come through during our thru-hike attempt. You see, thru-hikers only have eight days allowed on their permits to hike the 72 miles of the AT that traverse through GSMNP. This may seem perfectly doable, and yet the Smokies present some of the most challenging terrain you find on the AT, boasting the highest peak found along the trail, Clingman’s Dome (6,644 feet above sea level). Not only that, but the Smokies are notorious for having unforgiving weather at best- we’re talking about the possibility of serious snowfall as late as May, friends!

After a quick snack at Cammerer peak where we also enjoyed the warmth of the noontime sun, we started making our way back down to Davenport Gap. We’re tellin’ ya- those trekking poles were EXTRA AWESOME going back down those crazy mountains! Even with a 20 minute stop at the Davenport Shelter (the last shelter along the AT at the northern end of the Smokies)  to write in the shelter book, we made it back to our parked car within 2 hrs and 30 mins of leaving Cammerer peak- we were cah-ruisin’, y’all! 

Here are our stats for the Mount Cammerer Hike:

  • 🗺    Davenport Gap > Mt. Cammerer > Davenport Gap (Out and Back)
  • 🥾    11.6 miles round trip
  • ⛰    Roughly 2,600 ft of elevation gain
  • ⏰    About 6 hrs with breaks

Tanyard Gap – 11.8 Miles

Saturday, December 5th 2020 – Day Hike with Full Pack-Weight (Appalachian Trail, Hot Springs)

🇺🇸   State: North Carolina

For today’s long hike training, we did a section of the AT starting in the trail town of Hot Springs, NC. After parking our car out front of what is now Big Pillow Brewing Company (definitely stopping there on our way through to Maine now that it’s open!), we crossed over the (Dirty) French Broad River and followed the trail up, up, up steep switchbacks to a rock outcropping known as Lover’s Leap. From there we continued on all the way to Tanyard Gap, where we turned around and made our way back to our parked car. 

For this hike, we added extra weight to our packs to try and simulate full pack weight right after a hefty food re-ration. We want to try and get our bodies acclimated to our heaviest pack weight before we start our thru-hike so that we have a good foundation going into hiking everyday. During this hike, we also had an opportunity to test out some of our layering systems as it was quite chilly! Hot Springs had a low of 34 degrees/high of 48 degrees while we were out there, and the wind chill made it feel much colder at times.

Knowing that we’d be coming back through this section right after a layover day in Asheville on our trek north, we scoped out some spots within the first few miles of the hike where we could possibly make camp. There’s something special about walking through a space that you know you’re going to return to, and that when you do return, you’re going to be on the journey of a lifetime.

Here are our stats for the Tanyard Gap Hike:

  • 🗺    Hot Springs > Tanyard Gap > Hot Springs (Out-and-Back)
  • 🥾    11.8 miles round trip 
  • ⛰    Roughly 2,000 ft of elevation gain
  • ⏰    About 5 and a half hours with breaks

Rich Mtn Fire Tower – 5 Miles

Saturday December 12th 2020 – Day Hike with Full Pack-Weight (Appalachian Trail, North of Hot Springs)

🇺🇸   State: North Carolina

The hike we did from Tanyard Gap to Rich Mountain Lookout Tower was a shorter one. This was in part because Keeka was working in some new hiking boots and started to feel some pain on the side of her left arch, and in part because we still had SOOOO MUCH to do with regards to the holidays and getting ready to move out of our house in Asheville in less than a month, etc… To say that we were feeling a little stressed out would be an understatement. 

Despite it being a shorter hike, we thoroughly enjoyed the views from atop the lookout tower- even the crazy, cold wind couldn’t get us down. And of course, we always love any opportunity to be on the trail and feel the stirrings of adventure within us! As we get closer and closer and countdown the days ‘till we set foot on the Approach Trail in Amicalola Falls State Park, our excitement (and nervousness) is mounting!

Here are our stats for the Rich Mountain Lookout Tower Hike:

  • 🗺    Tanyard Gap > Rich Mountain Lookout Tower > Tanyard Gap
  • 🥾    5 miles roundtrip
  • ⛰    1,236 feet of elevation gain
  • ⏰    About 2 hours

Lane Pinnacle – 11.6 Miles

Just admiring natures artwork – Beautiful dark lines of a twisted tree against the hazy Blue Ridge Mountains

Saturday, December 19th 2020 – Day Hike with Full Pack-Weight (Mountains-to-Sea Trail, Rattlesnake Lodge Area)

🇺🇸   State: North Carolina

After a shorter hike the weekend before, we figured we were overdue for a high mileage, significant elevation gain training day. We decided on a hike along the Mountains-to-Sea Trail, starting between Craven Gap and Bull Gap with Lane Pinnacle as our turn-around spot. 

About a mile or so into our hike, we passed Rattlesnake Lodge, one of the more popular spots to hike to in the Asheville area. Before today, we hadn’t ventured past this point, so we pushed on before the crowds of people looking for a quick Saturday hike started to converge on the space. As we got into higher elevations, we realized it must have snowed at some point during the week before this Saturday adventure, so we were treated to what remained of some beautiful snow-clad forest scenery. At one point, we paused to watch bits of melting ice fall from the branches of trees as a series of high winds blew across the ridgeline, making a tinkling noise as they hit the ground. 

Such a cool sound! I wish we had a better microphone for you all

We had a quick lunch break at Lane Pinnacle in a nice sunny spot (you may have noticed a theme here- we love our winter afternoon sunshine!), featuring some amazing homemade Chai Peanut Butter energy balls from Ultra Coffeebar (nom nom nom). Then we started our descent, treading carefully as we went downhill on the steep, slushy terrain. 

Here are our stats for the Lane Pinnacle Hike:

  • 🗺    Bull Gap > Lane Pinnacle > Bull Gap
  • 🥾   11.6 miles roundtrip (guestimate)
  • ⛰    Roughly 2,000 feet of elevation gain
  • ⏰    About 5.5 hrs

Roan Mountain with Laura and Heather!!! – 5 Miles

This hike was short but so much fun – It is always a joy to hike with close friends!

Sunday, December 27th 2020 – Day Hike with Full Pack-Weight (Appalachian Trail, Roan Mountain Area)

🇺🇸   State: Tennessee

We’re really lucky to have been able to cultivate an incredible community while in Asheville. As much as we love Asheville for how cool of a place it is to live, it is truly brought to life for us by the friends and framily (friends who are also your chosen family) who call this place home.

On this particular day we got to hike with two of our phenomenal friends. One of which you see in the picture above (center). Heather is our longtime roommate and a big part of our framily in Asheville – we love her so much! The other is working her magic behind the camera – the incredible Laura Sparks! We met Laura while the three of us were all working for MANNA. Though all of us have now moved on from working at MANNA, our friendship has endured. And how could it not? Laura is one of the most hilariously wonderful and unique individuals that we’ve both had the pleasure to know. She absolutely cracks us up, has quite literally had us on the floor laughing so hard it hurts! At the same time, the three of us have had some deeply profound conversations, the kind where time and everything else seems to just fall away. 

Laura is also one of our creative friends. A photographer by trade, Laura has done both our engagement and elopement photos (which we are thoroughly obsessed with). Being the generous soul that she is, Laura offered to do a Hiking for Hunger photoshoot with us so that we could get some professional photos up on our website. We had such a great time hiking and sliding around on the Roan Mountain balds (the trails were SUPER icy) with Laura and our other dear sweet friend, Heather. Laura captured some great images while we were out there, which we immediately used to bring our website and social media images up a level.

We really cannot say enough good things about Laura, both as a friend and as a creative partner. If you haven’t had the opportunity to check out her work yet, go do it… right now! ….

…Yes, I mean right now, for real! Go to www.sparksintheforest.com … what’re ya waitin’ fer anyways, huh? Go on, git!

In all seriousness though, if you’re in the market for a photographer who will literally climb mountains for you, Laura’s got you covered. Go check out her phenomenal portfolio if you don’t believe us!

Here are our stats for the Roan Mountain Hike:

  • 🗺   Carver’s Gap > Grassy Knob > Carver’s Gap
  • 🥾   5 miles roundtrip
  • ⛰   500+ feet of (icy) elevation gain
  • ⏰   3 or so hours (this was a more relaxed occasion)

Washington Monument SP and Annapolis Rocks – 18 miles

Winter Camping in Maryland with a beautiful sunset!

Tuesday, January 19th 2021 – Thursday January 21st – Two Night Backpack with Full Pack-Weight (Appalachian Trail, Washington Monument State Park)

🇺🇸   State: Maryland

Because of the times we find ourselves in (that whole pesky pandemic thing), we wanted to take every precaution before going to our new home base in East Stroudsburg, PA, a.k.a. Keeka’s mom’s house. Out of an abundance of caution, we got a PCR COVID test before heading there, which meant that we had a few days of wait time before the results were expected to come in. Well, what do you think we did to bide the time? We went backpacking, of course!!!

Keeka excited to be on the trail!

Having just spent a few days in Harper’s Ferry, WV, we decided to find a spot on the AT a little further north for our “Winter Backpacking Shakedown”. We wanted to be in a good position to hike back to the car as soon as we got our test results and not be too terribly far from East Stroudsburg, PA. At the same time, we didn’t want to pick a spot on the AT in Pennsylvania due to the fact that current PA COVID regulations for out-of-town travelers are that you either 1. Need to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival or 2. Have proof of a recent, negative COVID test. Based on this and the fact that we wanted to try and do a social distance hike with Keeka’s dad who lives in the DC area (and, thus, needed to find a spot that wasn’t too far of a drive for him), we found a section in Maryland, starting in Washington Monument State Park (WMSP) with a turn around at Annapolis Rocks, ending back in WMSP.

For the first day of our two-night backpack (which was really just a half day), we got started late (around 3 pm) and only hiked about 3.8 miles from the hiker parking lot in WMSP to the Pine Knob Shelter. We hastily set up camp and got dinner rolling since the sun was already beginning to set. Though we were surrounded by trees rather than up on a 360 view ridgeline at this campsite, we did get to enjoy a spectacular sunset that blazed through and lit up the surrounding forest. We marveled at how long the vibrant colors lingered… Still, it couldn’t last forever, and soon enough we found ourselves submerged in darkness. 

We ate our dinner and cleaned up our “kitchen” area, threw our Ursack Bear-Resistant Bag up on a bear hang pole, and proceeded to get all bundled up and snuggled in for the cold night ahead. We read the last few chapters of “The Unlikely Thru Hiker” by Derrick Lugo, which we’ve taken turns reading aloud to each other, typically while we’re out in the backcountry. There wasn’t a dry eye between the two of us as we read about the moment when Derrick touched the iconic sign on top of Mt. Katahdin, the northern terminus of the AT. We’d been “along for the ride” in the literary sense, so to speak, for months now. Because of his phenomenal writing style and the way he could make you laugh one moment and cry the next, we really felt like we were living parts of his experience, too. Needless to say, we felt a bit overwhelmed when we got to the end of his journey, especially as the beginning of our own is just around the corner.

Here are our stats for the day:

  • 🗺   01/19- Washington Monument State Park > Pine Knob Shelter
  • 🥾   3.8 miles
  • ⛰   428 feet of elevation gain
  • ⏰   Less than 2 hours
Camped near Pine Knob Shelter in Maryland

We woke up before dawn, knowing that we were scheduled to meet my (Keeka’s) Dad at the I-70 Footbridge parking area by 9 am. We stared at each other for a few minutes after our alarm went off at 6 am, silently asking each other if we really, truly wanted to drag ourselves out of the cocoon of warmth we were snuggled in. Outside, we could hear that the winds had picked up- the abrupt thrashing against our tent made the prospect of going outside even less enticing. Somehow we mustered the wherewithal to sloooooooooowly begin layering up and organizing our belongings within the tent. After some time, Micah had gotten organized to the point where he could go down to our “kitchen” to get breakfast started. I finished up with organizing our gear inside the tent, packing it up, and then clumsily breaking down the tent with numb fingers. Mercifully, the sky started to lighten, and we could turn off our headlamps. While we were eating breakfast, it started to lightly snow. We looked at each other with deer-in-the-headlights expressions on our faces. Nooooo…. thankfully, it only lasted for a few minutes.

We reached the parking area where we were supposed to meet Dad about half an hour early. By this point, I had some serious “stirrins” (how Micah and I communicate in the backcountry that we have to poo) and the ground all around us was frozen solid, meaning that digging a cathole would be a nearly impossible endeavor, especially given my now desperate state of having to go. I turned to Micah and told him “I gotta go!” and just started running back to the Pine Knob Shelter. I had noticed a privy was onsite when we camped there the night before, but I stuck my nose up and told myself I wouldn’t use it. Now I was all about it. Luckily, the privy was well-cleaned and clearly hadn’t been used in a while (well, duh, it’s freezing, late-January in Maryland). I kept my mask on and did my thing and sheee-shooooooo what a relief! As a bonus, the privy not only was stocked with toilet paper but hand sanitizer, too! (I had brought some sani along, but was grateful to be able to save it and use the privy-sani instead) To my surprise and then my delight, the hand sanitizer sang to me when I pushed down on it- can’t say I had experienced that before! I didn’t recognize the song, but it had a Winter Wonderland kind of vibe to it.

I got back to the parking area expecting to see Micah and my dad chatting while they waited for me to return, but my dad’s little yellow Fiat still wasn’t there when I returned. I called Dad to figure out what was going on. Apparently, Waze took the coordinates I sent him and decided that he should go to Eastern Maryland rather than Western Maryland. We determine that GPS sent him to the same address but in Ellicott City, MD rather than Myersville, MD. Good grief! Well it took some time, but we figured it out, got Dad to the trailhead, and were able to  proceed with our hike! Out of an abundance of caution, we all wore our masks whenever we were within a few feet of each other to keep each other safe.

We had such a great time hiking with Dad. It was awesome getting the chance to catch up in person, and it was such a treat to be outside together on a hike, something we hadn’t done all together in quite some time. We hiked out to Annapolis Rocks where we took in the beautiful views and ate a quick lunch before the cold winds forced us to keep walking for warmth. Even though we knew we’d be hiking back to Annapolis Rocks later to set up camp, Micah and I hiked back down to the parking area with Dad to maximize our time with him. It was hard to say good-bye, but we’re so glad we got that time together in the first place.

After parting ways with Dad, Micah and I hiked back up to the Annapolis Rocks campsite area. We found ourselves a nice spot that wasn’t too far from the water source and began setting up camp. Knowing that this night was going to be even colder than the previous one, we added a layer of leaves to the ground as extra insulation for the spot where we ultimately set up our tent. After getting our home for the night situated, we got rolling with dinner (spicy, chili lentils and rice). We watched the sunset as we ate our dinner. It struck me, as we sat there, essentially freezing our butts off, how incredible it is that we humans never seem to grow tired of the allure of a deeply aesthetic sunset, how each time you experience one it somehow is not quite the same as the last. Perhaps a sunset is a bit like a fingerprint, each one unique, though at times you wonder how exactly does each one feel different and new when they can also feel so similar. Does that make any sense? Share your experiences in the the comments below.

Sunset from Annapolis Rocks – Just Pondering

After the sun had set, we did our best to prepare for the cold night to come. Tonight was going to be 10 degrees colder than the previouse night and we felt cold in our tent last night. So we wanted to take a few extra measures to make sure we stayed warm tonight. After we had read to each other for a bit and determined we were ready to hit the hay, we scarfed down a go macro bar (to give our bodies fuel to create heat through the night) and then jogged for a bit around camp to build up heat before getting back in the tent. I will remind you that we had also added a layer of leaves under our tent for insulation from the ground.  Doing this combined with good layering of gear meant that we not only survived the cold night, but we were warm and toasty through it! 

Here are our stats for the day:

  • 🗺   01/20- Pine Knob Shelter > I-70 Footbridge Parking Area > Annapolis Rocks > I-70 Footbridge Parking Area > Annapolis Rocks Campsite
  • 🥾   8.6 miles
  • ⛰   1,034 feet of elevations gain
  • ⏰   Who knows…? (:D)

“Ahhhhhhh, we maaaaaaaaade it!” That’s what I first heard from the Micah-lump next to me as the warmth of the sun began to permeate our tent. Indeed, we survived the night. It dipped below 20 degrees and yet we not only survived but stayed toasty, comfy warm the whole night. As a person who struggles severely with staying warm, this felt like a breakthrough! Overjoyed that “we maaaaaaade it” as Micah put it, we started to leisurely pack up camp and get breakfast started. We took our time getting ourselves organized that morning, enjoying the pleasant weather and good spirits borne out of a successful night of sleeping and waking up warm (I’m tellin’ y’all, going to bed warm and waking up warm can make ALL of the difference!). Eventually, we had our breakfast, got packed up, and started to head to ‘the Rocks” one last time to enjoy some views before heading back in the direction of Washington Monument State Park. We weren’t exactly sure what our plans were exactly, but that quickly changed once we realized that both of our COVID tests that we’d been waiting for had come back as negative! With that news we had a renewed energy and a lightness in our step that propelled us forward towards our parked car some 5.6 miles away.

Because of our determination to make miles and get to the car as fast as possible, we didn’t do a whole lot of stopping and admiring of the views- definitely more of that “head down makin’ miles” kind of trekking. We did, however, take pride in our hiking speed and were beyond stoked when we got to the hiker parking lot and our dear ol’ RAVY (we have a Toyota RAV4)  was still parked there (the towing situation at the Daniel Boone Boy Scout Camp scarred us for life). We jumped for joy and then jumped right on into the car to knock out the 3 and a half hour drive to East Stroudsburg, PA.

Here are our stats for the day:

  • 🗺   01/21- Annapolis Rocks > Washington Monument State Park
  • 🥾   5.6 miles
  • ⛰   408 feet of elevation gain
  • ⏰   2 hours and 15 minutes 

Sunfish pond and Kittatinny Mountain – 14.3 Miles

A Frozen Sunfish Pond cracking and popping in the sunlight

Monday, January 25th 2021 – Day Hike with Full Pack-Weight

🇺🇸   States: Pennsylvania & New Jersey

Well we are settling into our new home base in PA. We will be here until we head down to Georgia to start the trail in mid-February. 

We are just 10 minutes away from the AT trailhead in Delaware Water Gap! So, today we hopped on the trail and hiked north into New Jersey. We did 14.3 miles in 6.5 hours with full pack-weight! Suffice it to say, we are feeling strong.

The section we hiked was lovely, albeit rocky, with beautiful views and a frozen lake (Sunfish Pond) that was making all sorts of fun noises (think along the lines of the storm trooper blaster sounds in Star Wars) as the sun started to warm it up. We also saw a beautiful ice flower (also known as Needle Ice)… they are so cool!

Beautiful day with Beautiful Views!

After that we summited Kittatinny Mountain and had beautiful 360 degree views of the surrounding ridgelines and the Delaware River. We had ourselves some lunch and took in the views and then headed down the other side. Today we were excited because we didn’t have to do an out and back and could continue pushing forward on new terrain. Big thanks to Suzanne (Keeka’s mom) for the shuttle- you’re the best, momma!

Here are the stats from our Delaware Water Gap hike:

  • 🗺    Delaware Water Gap (Hiker’s Parking Lot) > Millbrook-Blairstown Rd (Parking Area)
  • 🥾    14.3 miles
  • ⛰    1,782 feet of Elevation Gain
  • ⏰    6.5 hours

Kirkridge Shelter Out and Back – 12.4 Miles

View of Mount Tammany from Mount Minsi on the other side of the Delaware Water Gap.

Wednesday, January 27th 2021 – Day Hike with Full Pack-Weight

🇺🇸   State: Pennsylvania

While we may have been the first humans on the trail today, we were not the first beings. One of my (Micah) favorite things to do growing up in Michigan was to go exploring after a fresh snow fall. You can see all of the tracks of creatures that you rarely get to see. The forest comes alive when you realize how active the environment really is.

Today we had ourselves a snowy AT training hike consisting of an out-and-back in the Delaware Water Gap area. We hiked 6.2 miles south on the AT before turning around at the Kirkridge Shelter, for a grand total of 12.4 miles. 

Keeka’s “Happy Dance” or more like “I’m really cold dance” – Staying warm on the trail!

We hiked a bit more slowly today because of the snow (12.4 miles in roughly 6 hrs and 20 mins). As Micah put it, snow hiking does two things to slow you down: 1.) You’ve gotta watch your footing a bit more carefully in certain sections because of the slippiness and 2.) a snowy trail brings to life the activity of a forest, which results in the “look, nature is so cool!” effect, which means stopping to take more pictures.

Here are the stats from our Delaware Water Gap hike:

  • 🗺    Delaware Water Gap > Kirkridge Shelter >Delaware Water Gap
  • 🥾    12.4 miles
  • ⛰    1,364 Elevation Gain
  • ⏰     6 hrs 20 min

Wind Gap – 16.6 Miles

Wolf Rocks – Super Cool Spot but the Blazes go right over the tallest rocks seemingly for no reason but to make it more difficult – Thanks Rocksylvania!

Saturday, January 30th 2021 – Day Hike with Full Pack-Weight (Appalachian Trail, Northeast PA, Wind Gap)

🇺🇸   State: Pennsylvania

After looking over our AT Guide and determining that this hike would involve less overall elevation gain, we decided that this could be a perfect opportunity to push our mileage with the goal of completing 16.6 miles. We did just that, hiking from the Fox Gap parking lot on PA 191 to the Smith Gap Rd. parking area 16.6 miles away. Despite not having too crazy of a time with elevation, we did encounter lots and lots of rocks all along the trail (hence the nickname for Pennsylvania: Rocksylvania), most of which were caked in snow leftover from a dusting from a few days prior. Did one of you slip and fall, you may ask? To which we can say why yes, a Keeka did indeed take a tumble (Thanks for that one, Rocksylvania!). It was more funny than anything- it’s too bad Micah wasn’t fast enough to capture it in all it’s goofy glory on our new GoPro. Alas…. next time perhaps!

Trying out the new GoPro – We hope to do a lot more videos for you all during our Thru-Hike

While this turned out to be more of a “head down, makin’ miles” kind of hike, we got to appreciate some of the views from Wolf Rocks and Hahn’s Overlook, and a nice, warm, sunny spot to have lunch, which was much appreciated given that when we started it was 15 degrees Ferenheit with a wind chill that made it feel a ton colder.

Special thanks to Momma Grant, who met us at Smith Gap Rd. and shuttled us back to Fox Gap, where we left our car. She’s notorious for bringing along water, chocolate, and snacks when she comes to pick us up, which we have no problem with whatsoever! 

Here are the stats for our Northeast PA (Wind Gap) hike:

  • 🗺     Fox Gap, PA 191 (Hiker Parking Lot) > Smith Gap Rd.
  • 🥾     16.6+ miles
  • ⛰     860 feet of Elevation Gain
  • ⏰     7.5 hours 

If you have gotten this far, you are a CHAMP! Wahoo!

Thank you for following along with our adventure thus far, and most of all, thanks for your interest in Hiking for Hunger!

Remember to check out Our Cause page to learn more about why we are hiking to support MANNA FoodBank. And please consider donating to MANNA as part of the Hiking for Hunger project. 100% of all donations go directly to MANNA. With every 4 dollars donated equaling 1 mile on the trail – we will see who makes it to Katahdin first! If you have already donated thank you so much – you are making a big difference in the lives of so many in WNC!

Please follow our blog and share our site with friends and family. Check back often to see what we are up to and find out who is winning in The Race to Katahdin.

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">Happy Trails,Happy Trails,

Keeka and Micah Grant-Tomlinson