How many miles would you walk for blueberry pancakes?

This day would be an eventful day for us.  It took us a while to break camp.  Heather had to get her makeup on and shave her legs.  I’m just kidding but it does take her a little longer to get ready than Cara and I.  It’s just one of those things God did to her to balance out her prettiness. Seriously, if you look that good 5 days on the trail then you can’t be fast too.  That wouldn’t be fair to the rest of us halfway goodlookers.

Our plan was to get to Upper Goose Pond Cabin.  Rumor had it that there was a man there that made you all the blueberry pancakes you wanted with bacon and coffee.  We had over 18 miles to go , over the meadow and through the woods. The trail was a muddy mess.  After a morning of hiking hard we came to a road and there was a sign that said fresh boiled eggs for sale.  Well, heck when you have been eating lara bars and trail mix a boiled egg sounds amazing.  We followed the little road to an old farmhouse with an apple tree in front and load of blueberry bushes.  I knocked on the door and it was answered by a little old man.  He said, “Are ya’ll here for some cookies?”  I looked at the girls and said, “um, yes!!”  His wife usually served the cookies to starving hikers but seeing that she was visiting in town he hooked us up!  I ordered 5 boiled eggs and he brought out ice cold cokes and a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies.  We sat under the apple tree at weathered picnic table and feasted.  He talked and giggled with us for about half an hour and then asked us if we would like a Klondike bar.  Seriously.  Did we just get struck by lightening and enter the pearly gates?  Pretty positive at that moment I was sure that we had arrived and St. Peter was serving us at the marriage supper of the lamb.  Yes, it was that amazing.  We did not want to leave but we still had loads of miles before that cabin in the deep woods with the blueberry pancakes.  Back on the muddy trail we met some thru hikers, Red Beard and Tbow.  Eye Candy.  That’s all I will say about that since I am HAPPILY married.  After a couple more miles we found ourselves deep in a muddy thicket.  Cara’s backpack was really hurting her back and so we had stopped to adjust it.  At that moment we met another hiker who apparently had all kinds of backpack knowledge and was able to help her adjust her pack. Cara shared some words with him….totally crossed…no…jumped over the line of appropriate things to say to a complete stranger.  We left him standing there with a red face while we giggled and walked very quickly down the goopy path.  And , no, I can’t share what she said or else our mother will never buy us hiking gear again.

We kept hauling hot Oklahoma bootie up and down that trail.  Cara had developed some blisters and heather was imagining herself in a gentle yoga slow flow class so the later it got the slower they got.  It seemed like we should have been there already.  We had been walking over an hour since we saw the sign saying Upper Goose Pond 2 miles.  I was beginning to think we had taken the wrong trail and I started seeing clouds on the horizon.  I decided to break out the phone and give Tom Lavardi a call.  I told him where we were and asked him if we were close or if we had gone too far.  He told me we were getting closer and to keep going but start running because a huge storm was on the way.  He said it could be dangerous because of the winds and lightening.  At this point I am hiking alone.  I have left the sisters behind and have gone up to trail to try to make sense of where we were.  I turned and started running as fast as I could to them and when I saw them I started screaming, HURRY!!!!!  WE HAVE GOT TO GET THERE BEFORE THE STORM HITS!! We all started running….most was down hill, Thank God.  About a mile later we see the beautiful 2 story red cabin peaking through the tall trees.  We stepped on the porch and the first thunder sounded, shaking the cabin.  We were welcomed by the caretakers, an older man and lady and they told us to find a bunk upstairs with the rest of the hikers.  It was pitch black when we pushed open the doors so we turned our headlights on. The smell hit us before the smiles.  The room was filled with about 8 male hikers that had not seen soap or deodorant in weeks.  They were happy to see girls.  Of course.  We pushed our way through their clotheslines of wet socks and tents and found a couple of bunks empty by the screened windows.  AIR.  We rigged our own clothes lines through the rafters and hung up all our wet gear.  As I was standing to help heather get her sleeping bag out on her top bunk my old factory smelled the worse scent I had ever smelled.  In my whole, entire life.  I turned my head lamp on, thinking Heather had eaten too much hummus and was surprised to see Cara’s wet, 5 days of wearing, socks just mere inches from my face.  Her socks beat out the 2 months of no showering hiker guys.  There has got to be a way for her to profit off of that terrible smell.  It still haunts me.

The old cabin shook with the crazy loud thunder all night.  I felt for sure that the trees were going to come crashing down on us and the lightening show was amazing across the pond.

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Small Town Folk, Community Showers and Girl Scout Drama

We left Crystal Mountain Campsite in high spirits.  After about 5 miles of happy hiking we came to the small town of Dalton.  The town was bustling with activity.  We stopped and talked to people through their picket fences and complimented their gardening skills.  We were joined by two ladies on their morning walk.  They offered to let us come to their house, shower and visit if we had the time.  We politely declined because our minds or rather my mind was set on getting to the local diner and eating several entree’s.  Have I mentioned that hiking makes me ravenous?  Yes, it does.  We zigzagged through residential streets and eventually found the diner.  They were so nice and let us plug in our electronics and yes, I ordered a huge lunch with a side of blueberry pancakes.

We spotted the community center across the street so as soon as we finished up our amazing food we headed over to the community center. Once inside the beautiful old building we struck up conversation with the receptionist and asked if we could use their showers to get cleaned up.  She said Yes and even gave us towels and soap!  She said we were inspiring and she wishes she could have done something like this when she were young.  We actually get told that a lot!  I now tell older women that think life is done with them to go take a walk in the woods, breathe in nature and let it start restoring life back into their bones.  It’s never too late!

We got some interesting looks and struck up many conversations in the shower room.  I know some thought we were homeless.  Fresh and revived we headed out of Dalton.

We were almost out of town and Heather realizes that she has left her trekking pole somewhere.  Fortunately we were right in front of a yummy pita place so I just ate again while she went back into downtown to find her pole.  She returned with her pole about 30 mins later.  We met Thomas Levardi as we passed his home.  Thomas is known for letting Appalachian Thru Hikers stay the night and get water from his spigot.  He has thru hiked several times and is an interesting fellow.  I got his number just in case I needed advice later on down the trail.

We crossed the railroad tracks and went straight into the glorious woods.

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After a couple of hours of climbing we hit the Kay Wood Shelter.  It was built beside a steep drop off and already had a giant fire pit built.  We immediately went searching for sticks and dead logs to build a fire.

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As we were getting the fire ready we heard voices coming our direction.  4 women showed up and planned to stay at the shelter that night.  They had only been hiking a couple of miles and were headed back to their car in the morning.  The shelters are really provided for section and thru hikers.  They were worn out and so happy to be there so we didn’t explain the “rules” to them.  As we started getting our dinner together the “leader” of the pack started nit picking every thing she saw of ours.  Our bags, our meals, our utensils, on and on and on and on.  Apparently she was a girl scout leader in her chipper years and knew everything about camping.  I wanted to tell her 20 times that we weren’t camping, we were backpacking but could see that it would not help anything so I just smiled and said, “oh, interesting.”  I’m really good at that by the way.

We had put in some miles that day so we were ready for bed at sunset.  The ladies claimed the 4 bunks so we climbed the wall ladder and bedded down to sleep with the spiders up in the old loft.  After about 20 minutes we were drifting off and suddenly it because super hard to breathe.  The loft was filled with smoke.  The Girl Scouts decided to put out the fire and created massive smoke that was billowing up into loft.  Thank you so much master girl scout leader.  It took a while for the smoke dissipate but finally we were snuggled deep into our bags and dreaming of pancakes.

Parade and a Burger

Our sweet new friends at the lodge hugged us goodbye and we started walking down the wet, muddy trail.  The hike down Greylock Mountain was so much easier than the grueling hike up…partly because we got a ride (yes, yellow blazin) with our new friend Luke.  He dropped us off and pointed us in the right direction after a great moose story.  Several hours went by and we moved silently through the thick trees. We heard the small town before we saw it.  The buzz of a lawn mower, a dog barking in the distance and radio music floating in the wind.  We were hoping to catch a bite to eat at a local restaurant.  As we got closer to the center of the small town we could hear children laughing and lots of chatter.  We left the trees and immediately stepped right into the middle of the Memorial Day parade.

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Kids on bikes with red, blue and white streamers blowing behind them.  Clowns, firemen and police (all 6 of them) in their dress blues marching and honking the 75 year old fire engine horn.  It was like a movie.  I think everyone that could walk was in the parade and the old codgers just sat in their lawn chairs, waving their American flags and cheering on their great grandchildren.

We were handed “lunch tickets” by a local that was interested in our adventure we were on.  We stood in line for almost an hour to get our “lunch”.  A yummy hamburger with freshly cut parmesan fries.  The food was devoured and we people watched for a while before heading back to the trail.  There were some interesting characters there….from the deep woods.  You know how in Oklahoma the crazies swarm Walmart on the 4th of July?  Well, that was similar to the crowd we were fortunate enough to get to watch that day.   We walked until around 7pm and decided to camp on top of the mountain.  Tents were set up, water pumped and filtered from a nearby stream and Cara and I started sawing broken logs to make a nice campfire.

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It was a beautiful night under the stars.  We stayed around the fire until it became glowing embers and then climbed in our tents.  My tent had an opening at the very tip top and so it made star gazing quite easy.

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The mountain came alive about midnight.  The hooting and howling made it hard to sleep.  I was trying to figure out which sound came from what animal.  Very strange sounds.  I finally fell asleep around 3am and slept heavy until the break of dawn.

Hospitality and Laughter

2013-05-25 07.48.24[1]After learning of the lodge that might have hot cocoa and a sandwich available we decided to pack up our things and head over that direction.  Everything had dried except our boots and they weren’t near as wet as the day before so we bundled up….in our rain gear…since that was the only “winter” gear we had.  It was quite exciting to think about using a bathroom too that wasn’t freezing.  Have you ever had to go number 2 in a blizzard with no four walls or roof to protect your hiney from the wind and snow?  Yep, its not really that fun.  I tell you what was fun though….watching Heather and Cara through the window, slipping and sliding trying to find a good place to go pee.  Speaking of that, someday I will have to tell you about Cara’s She Wee.  Hilarious.  Look that up.  Quite Shocking.

So we started up the path and found a road that led us to a beautiful old lodge.2013-05-25 09.43.55[1] 2013-05-25 09.44.07[1] IMG_1009In the distance you can see the Greylock tower…its actually quite close but the snow is blocking the view.  The lodge was such a welcoming sight.  Cara went on ahead and banged on the door.  The owners were there and told her to her to get us and get out of the storm.  We were welcomed in and immediately they made us a yummy sandwich and hot cider.  John and Brad were the owners.  Both from New York City.  Brad was a designer and very jolly while John, a 5 star chef was quiet and was the work-a-holic.  Johns brother, Peter, was also there helping to get the lodge ready for the grand opening.  Peter was an interesting artsy looking fellow with long dreadlocks.

The storm grew worse as the day went on and so they invited us to stay the night there.  We said, Yes, but only if we could help them get the lodge ready for opening day.  We went to work.  We scrubbed the kitchen, made tons of beds, cleaned bathrooms, swept floors and oiled the old wooden banisters.  We giggled and sang and basically had the time of our lives.  Dinner time rolled around and we were invited to eat with the owners beside the giant stone fireplace.  John had cooked an amazing feast.  We all sat around the table by the fire and stuffed ourselves.  Cara and Brad became good friends fast.  He was a comedian like Cara and so they both just fed off each other.  The stories were wonderful.  We all laughed until tears ran down our faces.  After dinner and dessert (homemade chocolate Mousse in wine glasses) Peter invited us to watch The Shining with them on projector screen in the big room.  I declined that one. Haha.  Exhausted after a day of scrubbing and washing, we found a bunk bed upstairs to sleep in and slept as the lodge rumbled and creaked from the storm all night long.  I woke up several times in the night and was for sure I was hearing ghosts roam around, screeching and slamming doors.  Cara and Heather, of course, never heard a thing.

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We awoke to a beautiful sight.  Looking out the windows it was white as far as you could see over the mountain.  It was quite chilly.  The lodge is made for summer use so there is no proper heat.  We bundled up…as best we could…and headed downstairs for another day of work.  I helped sand and paint while Cara oiled woodwork and tables.  Heather….well….she was outside playing.  She and Peter decided to build snowmen in front of the lodge.  She put her bikini on one with a straw hat.  That pic made several local papers!

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Several day hikers came in that day and we helped serve them snacks and hot coffee or cider.  We swapped stories and adventures.  Two college age kids came in.  They were wearing shorts and were wet and shaking.  They had decided to take a run up the mountain and didn’t know about the blizzard up top.  They drank some hot cider and then left, determined to run back down.  Not super smart in my opinion but it takes all kinds, right? We made them let us take their pics so their mom would have one last picture of them the day they died of hypothermia.IMG_1017

We decided to stay one more night.  We were having a blast and the guys begged us to stay and tempted us with another delicious dinner by the fire.  We have a really hard time saying no to good food.  We all like to eat….a lot.  In one of my later stories I will tell you how many miles we walked just for blueberry pancakes.

Blizzard, Bear and Trail Magic

2013-05-24 18.08.33[1]So there we were.  In an old ski shelter lined with paned glass windows and 2 heavy oak doors.  It was cold.  The wind blowing CRAZY outside.  Heather and Cara squished together in one mummy sleeping bag and entertained Hedgehog with stories.  Hedgehog was a retired Hospital Administrator from California that left the comfort of his bed and wife making him breakfast to fulfill one more thing on his bucket list.  Hike the entire AT!  Hedgehog had a real name but  on the trail you don’t ask.  He was small framed and probably around 65.  He had that kind of face that makes you want to adopt him immediately as your grandpa.  We told stories and he just smiled and giggled.  Just as night was falling we saw lights coming close to the shelter and in comes 2 Greylock Rangers.  They looked quite stern and a little surprised to see us all in there wrapped in our sleeping bags.  They immediately told us that this was not an overnight shelter but they were not going to kick us out…seeing that we could possibly die in the elements.  They wanted to know where we were coming from and where we were going.  Well…..One story led to another and then another.  They got to hear all about Cara being a first responder in the May tornado and Heathers multiple car incidents involving running into people/cars/animals.    All we needed was a couple of pizzas and we could have called it a late night party.  Lots of laughs!  They were so kind and brought us dry wood and even started up the old wood stove.  They came back later…without pizza, unfortunately, but they came with enough wood to keep us warm all night.  We settled in for the night.  I woke up around 3am to a mouse messing with the sack I was using as a pillow.  I did some blind swatting but never smacked him.  I lay there listening to the wind blow through the trees and snow pelt against the windows.  Suddenly there was a new sound.  A low rumble.  Then a growl.  It sounded like it was coming from outside the door.  The door would not latch but I had stuffed some sticks in the bottom of it to keep it from blowing open.  We had been warned earlier that day of a aggressive male bear that was in the area.  As I lay there listening the sound increased.  It was deeper, louder and literally sounded like it was right at the door.  I lay there in fear for a couple of minutes…seemed like hours.  Finally, I decided to check it out.  I reached into my bag and pulled out my knife and slowly unzipped my sleeping bag.  I tiptoed to the door and that’s when the sound exploded into the air.  Loud and demanding and then silence as Cara changed positions and therefor enabled better air flow so that she was not snoring anymore.  Yes, my beautiful sister sounds like a wild, aggressive bear when she sleeps.  Had me fooled.  You cannot imagine my relief.  I smiled and laughed myself back to sleep.  We woke up warm and happy.  With the fire still going in the stove we were able to heat up bagels which we shared with Hedgehog and had a nice breakfast.  Hedgehog decided he was going to move on down the mountain.  He had snowgear and was ready to get his 20 miles in that day.  We on the other hand had swimsuits and sunscreen so we knew we might be stuck for a while.  Heather cried when he left.  She was so worried he would not make it.  Our Rangers came to check on us and see how we made it in the night.  They were happy to inform us that the lodge on top of the mountain might have some people in it so we should go see if we could stay there the next night but if not they would be happy to get us more wood for the shelter.  We are still so very thankful for them.  We would have been soooo cold if they wouldn’t have found us.

UP NEXT:  Find out how we traded out for room and board to wait out the blizzard.

From gentle rain to historic blizzzard

It was a beautiful morning!  We were alive!  We started the day off weighing our packs.  Heathers weighed in at 26lbs, Caras at 42lbs and mine at 50lbs…and this is without water!!  I realized why my shoulders were hurting so much.  Oh well, we were excited to climb the to the highest point in Massachusetts, Mt. Greylock!    I had scheduled us for 16 miles.  The sun was shining and it was supposed to be about 60 degrees.  We called a taxi and took the unmarked rickety car held together with bungee cords to the trail head.2013-05-24 13.55.41[1]

After starting out on the main trail we immediately decided it was going to be a breezy day. IMG_1002 The trail was gravel and wide and crossed over sparkling brooks and through fairy wonderlands.  About an hour into the climb it started drizzling so we donned our raingear and proceeded to ascend higher and higher.  About 2 hours later we were completely soaked and it was getting really cold.  2013-05-24 15.38.53[1]

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2013-05-24 16.28.50[1]The trail was steep and slick and we were having to move really slowly so that we wouldnt fall down the side of the mountain.  After 5 hours of climbing we realized we had missed the “real” trail and were climbing some random animal trail.  It was so cold.  The rain had turned into sleet and was pelting us in the face, stinging, yep…really stinging.  I started having survival thoughts, “should we set up camp and huddle in a sleeping bag”, “could I even get a fire started in this wet crap” . Heather was the only person that brought gloves, I mean we all had swimsuits in our bag that we were intending to use that day.  It was Memorial Day Weekend.  That means 90 degree weather, lakes, fireworks,  sunscreen and such in Oklahoma.  Another 100 ft of elevation gain and we are experiencing crazy wind and blowing snow.  Have I mentioned how cold we are?  We had no idea that you are supposed to bring a down jacket when hiking mountains.  Cara started telling jokes to help us ignore the pain of our freezing hands.  I remember it hurting to laugh.  We just kept pressing on hoping that we could get over the mountain and to the next shelter about 6 miles away.  Now the snow was blowing so hard we couldn’t see anything in front of us.  Keep on moving.  I said that to Heather and Cara over and over.  We came to a road and took a little video of the wind blowing us.  It literally was almost knocking us over!!  Through the blinding snow we saw a welcoming sight.  Man made stone steps!!  That gave us a boost of adrenaline and we slipped and slid all the way up to an old ski shelter.  The heavy wooden door opened to our delight and we went inside.  It was freezing inside but at least we were not getting pelted with snow!  The shelter had wooden benches and a old wood burning stove.  It was like heaven!!!!  We pulled our soaking wet clothing off and hung them from a rope Cara and I tied between the wooden beams in the ceiling.   We put on dry clothes and Cara and Heather got in a sleeping bag together while I searched for dry wood. And just so you know…the reasoning for heather climbing in Cara’s bag is because she bought her sleeping bag the night before we started our trip. At Walmart. Kids size. Pink Camo. It only came up to her armpits so it was not much of a heat trapper. Well the search for dry wood came up empty handed. It looked like we might be in for a long, freezing night and it was closing in. The wind had picked up.  Howling and screaming.  The wooden door opened and in stumbled an older man….maybe 65 years old.  He was covered in snow and had frozen patches of sweat and snot on his face.  He was shocked to see us and much as we were to see him.  Hedgehog was his name.  He was an Appalachian Trail Thru Hiker….meaning he had already come the 1600 miles from Georgia and was on his way to the finish line in Maine.  He quickly got out of his clothes and we added them to the makeshift clothesline.  He pulled out his handy dandy stove and made some hot soup.  We all got close and tried to get warm.  Night came and the storm grew worse.  We saw lights through the paned window and they started getting closer.  Who in the world would be out in this crazy blizzard?….and Ill finish this story tomorrow. The next episode includes a giant black bear and 2 angels.  Good night!

 

ps.  I have some great pics and videos from this day that I will post later….it wont work for me tonight for some reason.

Mace, Knives and a State Trooper

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So here we are, our first day of hiking the Appalachian Trail. Its been raining almost the entire day and we are exhausted but still happy. We were on the final stretch of the day, 2 miles until the shelter we were looking forward to sleeping in. Looking down the trail (we were coming down a small mountain)and we could see a rural road at the bottom. The sun was going down so I was yelling at the girls to hurry up so we wouldn’t have to hike in the dark. We were on about mile 12 and still had 1 to go. We heard the crunch of tires and saw a truck cross the trail about 100 yards in front of us. 2 heads turned and looked at us from the truck and immediately I got a weird feeling. The truck kept going but I yelled at the girls “Get off the trail now!!” Cara and I take off to one side and Heather to the other. Immediately we see the truck backing up slowly. So now Im really getting that weird, gut feeling that something is just not right. Cara hollers at Heather to get with us….there is no way we are letting the newbie to the outdoors out in the Vermont woods by herself. I told the girls to go deeper in the woods. So here we go crashing through the underbrush, spiderwebs and waist high ferns. We find a spot behind a huge fallen tree and crouch down. The sun is setting and rays are barely making it through the thick trees but we can still see the form of the truck down below. We hear 2 doors slam and someone starts yelling, “hey” and walking around the bottom of the trail by the road. My heart is racing as I pull out my hunting knife, take my pack off and prepare to do what is necessary to protect my sisters. I had read hiking posts that had warned against crossing roads near dark, close to small towns where trouble could come in the form of a local crazy. The men are walking up the trail but we are well hidden about 50 yards out, behind the log and I have covered us and our packs with large sheets of moss that were conveniently next to the log. We lay there in complete stillness, listening to the men mumble and look around. They walked back down to their truck and got in. Cara pulled out her cell phone and called 911. We had reception. It was a miracle. She explained what was happening but of course the 911 dispatcher had no idea what the Appalachian trail was so she forwarded us to the state police. I got out my map and gave the state police our coordinates. They said the would be right there and would flash their lights when they saw the trail. We stayed hidden under the wet moss and waited….and waited….and waited. After about 30 mins we heard a vehicle and saw 2 people with flashlights moving around towards the bottom of the mountain. It was pitch black by now and a gentle rain was falling. All of the sudden my eyes felt like they were on fire and I couldn’t breathe…I came up gasping for breathe…coughing as quietly as I could. Heather said, “Sorry guys, I was just seeing if my mace worked.” Yes, it worked heather, on me. Now I cant breathe, my eyes are burning, we have 2 lunatic men searching for us with flashlights and Im laying under a pile of decaying moss when heaven knows what crawling on me. Finally I had enough of this ridiculous situation and decided to really pray. I spoke protection over us and that our angels keep us and drive away the bad men. We all instantly felt that perfect peace and could literally feel our angels standing over us, guarding us, hiding us. The flashlights when off and the vehicle drove away. The Trooper arrived around 10:30 pm with lights flashing and a siren. We never felt so happy in our entire lives. We pushed our way through the thick undergrowth towards the lights and when I saw that tall man in uniform he was the best thing I’ve ever seen in my life. I wanted to hug him!! I refrained. He had been so scared for us and had driven to the wrong side of the mountain and that’s why it took him so long. There were only 2 troopers working that night and the other one was handling the Spaulding family feud. I helped him carry several rifles from his seats and stash them in his trunk and then we crammed ourselves and our 50lb packs in the police car and took off. He drove us to the nearest town with a motel and dropped us off. When we walked into the motel I know we were a sight for sore eyes. Soaking wet, filthy, shaken up and still in a little shock. The girls at the desk immediately went to getting us a room and brought us food and hot cocoa. They cried as we shared our story. They couldn’t believe we had just gone through that…we couldn’t believe we just experienced that.

The next our wonderful trooper called us to tell us he did some investigating and found a campfire ring smoking with lots of empty alcohol containers just a ways down from the trail opening to the road. He figured some loser guys had been done there drinking and on there way back spotted some girls coming down the trail and figured they could have some fun with them. He said our quick thinking of getting of the trail could have saved our lives and that hiding that long was the best thing we could do in that situation.

So basically our first backpacking night ended in a motel with a hot bath and feather pillow. We were treated like royalty there and they brought us so much good food!! We knew the next morning that we were supposed to be on this trip. We were able to challenge the women there to be brave and never give up. We knew we had already had wild adventure but still were not prepared for our 2nd day of hiking…it only gets better…