Wednesday, July 29, 2009


I hadn't been able to put my finger on the answer before, no matter how hard I thought about it and how hard I tried.

The answer to the question asked of me on the Trail, by hikers, non-hikers, and by my own self:
"Why are you out here? Why are you doing this?"

I was watching the TV broadcast of the Ironman World Championship in Kona (it was on NBC last Saturday.) A participant who was a Navy Seal said, "You do this to test your soul."

To test your soul. That's the answer I've been looking for.

The great Christian writer Oswald Chambers said, "The author who benefits you most is not the one who teaches you something you did not know, but who puts into words what you have been struggling dumbly to express."

It's not the answer to why I run marathons or why I do triathlons, even the two Ironman triathlons I've completed. Those are physical tests. I guess my spirit is challenged to go through with marathon or Ironman training, but the events themselves don't test my soul.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail did. And I found I wasn't up to it. I have to develop some more before I can undertake that soul-test again. I have to develop and mature and change in a number of areas before I'll be ready. I thought I was ready. I guess I was ready to start.... just not ready to keep on.

Partly it was my body. My body was ready to start but not to continue past 1,000 miles.

But it was also my soul. Part of my soul is still out there, with my friends who are now in New York.

My AT hike is still a work in progress. So am I.

Thursday, July 23, 2009


Nope, this isn't about leaving the AT and returning to real life.

It's about my bike computers.

Since I started biking 3 weeks ago, my cadence computer hasn't been picking up. I cleaned the sensor, checked the position, checked the wires... still didn't work. Front-wheel sensor working fine, so I had my distance, time, speed, average, and max, but had to guess at my cadence, relying on (of all things) how it felt.

Yesterday I broke down and bought a new front tire (every tube I've put in, since running through the glass, has flatted.) Took both wheels with me in case I decided to buy 2 and have them put on. Ended up buying only one tire. They wanted money to put it on so I said, thanks, but no thanks. If it were free with the purchase, fine, but I can put the tire both wheels back on myself, thankyouverymuch. I'll buy a new rear tire come payday.

It was wonderful today to ride without my front tire going flat. But now.... my FRONT sensor isn't picking up, and, since removing and replacing the wheel, the REAR one is. So now I have cadence feedback but no distance, time, speed, average, or max.

Yes, I put the wheel on right side around. Yes, I've tinkered with the sensor position, and the position of the little gizmo that gives the info to the sensor. I rubbed dirt and dust off both. Nothin'.

Anyway, per schedule I rode for an hour by my watch. No stats other than that my cadence was in the 80's and 90's. I'll credit myself 16 miles: medium-distance, medium-pitch hills, as much downhill as up (for once) and I probably averaged 16. Maybe.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Well, I wish I had a video. Or even a photo. But didn't have the foresight to have a photographer accompany me.

My first day at the gym job. I was supposed to open the facility at 7:00a.m. I left at 6:05 on my bike allowing me plenty of time for an effortless 7.5 miles, planning to get there at 7:45.

Until I rode through the glass.

There must have been a wreck. There was crumbled windshield glass all over the road. There was no way I could ride around it, and by the time I saw it, I was already in it.

And of course a tire went immediately flat.

I was only about half a mile out from the gym, and thought, "I could walk the bike there as fast as I can change the flat." So I pulled my running shoes out of my backpack, changed shoes, and started walking.

The County Fairground is right there, and I saw that the lower gate was open. I could cross the hypoteneuse of a right triangle, rather than its sides, by going through the fairgrounds. Good! That'll save time.

Until I discovered that the upper gate, right across the road from the gym entrance, was locked. Chainlink fence, 6 feet high, topped with barbed wire, gate of the same. Locked.

By now, if I go back down through the fairgrounds and back around the right-angle of the road, I will be late. I'm opening the gym; there's no one else there. I can't go back around the road.

I have to get over the fence. Chainlink. Six feet high. With barbed wire at the top.

I saw an above-ground electric box, about 2 feet high, a few yards along the fence. And above the box.... a place where the barbed wire was broken. We're on! It's the only way I can even get close to opening the gym on time.

I climbed up onto the electric box, picked up my bike, hoisted it over the fence, and dropped it down on the other side, keeping my arms out of the way of the barbed wire.

Then I tried to find a foothold.

Yeah, right. Chainlink has little diamond-shaped structures about 2.5 inches across. Standing on the electric box, I only had to climb up about 4 feet of them. But my toes wouldn't fit in, and the little x's formed by the chainlink structure protruded above the top rail, even where the barbed wire was broken. I had to navigate over those sharp wire x's as well as through the little sagging place in the barbed wire.

It took half a dozen tries. I had to find a handhold between the x's to give me some leverage and stability, and stick the tips of the toes of my bike shoes in between the chainlinks and hope friction or something would hold me in place, while I dodged the sharp x's and maneuvered into the narrow spot where the barbed wire was loose.

I had to unhook my shorts from the fencing and barbed wire several times, while not losing my grip with the other hand. From the top of the fence, it was 6 feet down (no electric box on the other side.) I dropped my daypack over as something, anything, to land/fall on.

Several cars passed during all this. No one stopped to see if I needed help or to ask what the heck I was doing. I guess a small, skinny, older woman in shorts and a bike helmet, climbing over a barbed-wire-topped chainlink fence at the fairgrounds with her bike waiting on the other side, is an everyday occurrence.

I prayed, "Lord, I'm training for SavageMan... Please don't let me get hurt."

And with that, I Spidermanned up one side, through the hooks and spikes, and down the other. I was not hurt. My clothes were not torn. I was over!!

I had the gym open at 5 minutes before 7.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Yesterday I went back to bed, after an hour-long birdwatching walk with a group from the park, during which I still felt so miserable I wanted to just go home and cry. I felt a lot better after I slept a couple more hours. Then I went with my mother to the viewing of a friend of hers, whose death we hadn't even known about when we got up yesterday morning (although I knew about it by birdwatching time, another reason I was miserable.) I skipped the planned swim and bike, took a rest day. I've been knocking myself out grinding my bike up hills with no particular plan except increasing the mileage of each ride (I got up to 24 with about a 4-mile killer hill about 5 days ago and was sick the rest of the day.)

Today, by contrast:

Got up at 6:15

Drove (did not bike) to gym where I start part-time job tomorrow, had hour-long orientation

Ran 30 minutes

Went on plant-identification walk with group from park, loved it, learned a lot

Feel much more optimistic, motivated, productive, hopeful; much less tired, remorseful, or depressed.

On my run, I followed Jeff Galloway's suggested run/walk pattern for 9-minute miles: run 2 minutes, walk 30 seconds. Not sure if this is recommended if you're already running 9-min miles (I don't think I am), or if you're hoping to achieve them (that would be nice.) Also not sure I'll stick with that pattern, but for now while I'm still testing and challenging my tendons, it's both conservative and ambitious enough.

I've downloaded and printed Gail Bernhardt's 13-week Ironman training program, to use for my SavageMan Half. My long runs won't have to be as long, but the swim and bike sessions are fine for me just as they are. The longest bike workout is 5 hours, which is just about what the SM course will probably take me (or longer....)

Since I'm 9 weeks out from SavageMan, I jumped into the program at Week 4, which happily is a "rest" week after 3 "build" weeks. I'm amazed at how easy this program is, the relatively few training hours and easy workouts. Reading over it, it became clear to me that I've been working myself far, far too hard, pounding myself too hard for too long on the hills on the bike, and doing too many bricks and 3-way's (all 3 sports in one day.) I've done low-key 1/2 and full IM training before, but somehow thought I needed to put in 2-3 hours a day for this one because of the difficulty of the course and because I've been hiking hills and mountains 8-10 hours a day and wanted to maintain my fitness.

There is no way I can maintain what 8-10 hours a day gave me. I might as well give that up right now, and as a matter of fact I have. What I can do is take that wonderful base and enjoy my 1-1.5 hour tri-training sessions, even if I gain a few pounds and lose a few muscle fibers.

So: tomorrow's training is supposed to be:
1-hour swim
30-min bike

I'm already breaking training, though. I'll bike the 8 miles to and from the gym, which will be about an hour of biking. Working 7-4 tomorrow, alone, my first day there. Luckily I've worked there before, maybe 3 years ago, and not much has changed.

With that work shift and a bike ride home, I probably won't work in the swim. It's OK, though. I really don't need to swim more than once or twice a week, just enough to keep me from panicking at the start of the race, and get me through before the cutoff time, a generous 70 minutes for the 1.2-mile swim. No problem there.

On with the show....

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


We spent the weekend in Columbus, OH, with ALL of our kids and grandkids, and my mother, and Steve's parents.

We had a great barbecued-ribs picnic.

I shared the One-Hundred Pushups website with our 16-yr-old wrestler step-grandson and we did pushups together.

I went running, with our 13-yr-old grandson and 10-yr-old granddaughter along on bikes. One hour, 3 min walk/3 min run, no tendon problems.

We got photos of four generations on both sides of the family.

I hurt a beloved family member badly without meaning to and it continues to haunt me even though we hugged and talked about it. I'd give anything to be able to undo it. Anything. Anything.

I finally made friends with our one-year-old granddaughter.

I jumped on the trampoline with the grandkids until I got motion sick, which was about 90 seconds.

My mother, 6-yr-old granddaughter, and I went to our 10-yr-old granddaughter's gym and watched the last half-hour of her 4-hour gymnastics practice.

I played innumerable alphabet games with our 6-yr-old granddaughter for the 4-5-hour trip both ways in the car. I drove both ways, with her and my mother and my 50-pound dog. Steve and our son and the one-yr-old went in our son's truck.

I came home so drained and exhausted from the highs, lows, and exertions, that I wanted to cry but couldn't.

I went to bed at 8:30 and read Jeff Galloway's "Running Until You're 100." He recommends running every other day at my age. He says nothing about whether the off-days should include bike training for a half-iron triathlon with a 7-mile climb straight up the mountain, and that's only the longest of the climbs (1,950 of the total 5,700 feet of climbing.)

I finally fell asleep after 11 and woke up at 4:30. I don't know how I'm going to train today. I also don't know how I'm going to be ready for this triathlon.

It's not even 7 o'clock in the morning and already I'm discouraged.

Thursday, July 09, 2009


Tonight I'm feeling homesick for the Trail. I miss my hiking companions.

Maybe I should have stayed out there.
If I'd done some things differently, maybe I could have.
If certain things had been otherwise, I would have.

But I didn't, and things are they way they are.

Maybe I shouldn't have stopped.
Maybe I could have kept going.
If I could have.... should I have? Would I?

You know what.... "Should have..." "Would have..." "Could have...."

These are all useless speculations. Whenever we say these words, the fact of the matter is, we didn't. Pondering whether we should have, or would have, or could have, is continuing to try to make a decision that has already made.

The reality is, we didn't. Learn from it, pick it up and go from there; don't waste energy imagining how things might be different if we had, because imagining is all we can do. Better to direct one's power into the reality that is now.

Tomorrow's docket holds some serious hills on the bike. 20 miles, to the bottom of SavageMan's first, 4-mile "dangerous descent" (verbatim from course cue sheet), and then back up it.

I would have been irreparably sorry if my prospects for SavageMan disappeared -- if I chose the Trail, and then, for whatever reason, SavageMan was discontinued. This I knew.

I "could have" broken my ankle out there if I'd kept on, and and not been able to have either the Trail or SavageMan.

This way, I have both.


One hour, walk/run intervals in a pattern of 3:00/2:00 for a total of 24 minutes of running.

No word from my tendons, during, after, or today. No news is good news.

But my quads are sore. I can't believe it. I've been walking down mountains carrying a 30-pound backpack for 3 months.... I thought I had quads like the gods'. Twenty-four minutes of intermittent running, over very gentle rolls with downhills rarely coinciding with the run segments, made them sore.

Either I'm losing it or it continues to demonstrate, as I've discovered already, that these triathlon sports are not to be equated with hiking. I can't just jump into it as I thought I'd be able to. I have the endurance, and aerobically I'm fine on heavy-duty bike climbs, but my legs.... well, it's not the same. I thought I'd be able easily to knock off 2 or 3 hours of training a day.

Oh, well.... who *needs* 2 or 3 hours a day? It's not like I'm getting paid for this.

I just want to kill the Westernport Wall. Or at least put it out of its misery.

And then continue to ride the remaining 7 miles of Big Savage Mountain with something resembling aplomb.

Go on. Check the links. I dare ya. Well, no, actually I really want you to. This is one hell of a triathlon. I hope I'm up to it.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


First, though.... isn't today's date cool? 7/8/9. Won't happen again till 8/9/10.

Our granddaughter Gracie, when she was about 6, had a favorite joke: Why is 6 afraid of 7? Because 7 8 9. We laughed and said it was funny. She told it to us every time we saw her for a couple years. One summer, when she was maybe 9, she asked the question, and I answered: "Because 7 8 9." She was silent a moment and then burst out laughing: "Oh! I get it! Because 7 ate 9!" Then she looked abashed and said, "Took me long enough....."


I'm 6 steps forward and 2 steps back adjusting to off-Trail life. Yesterday was a rest day from training and I couldn't find anything to do with myself except read and eat. I finished John Steinbeck's "Tortilla Flat" -- a hilarious tragedy -- and started a borrow-and-bring-back from a coffee house: Jan Karon's "Home to Holly Springs."

I ate like an idiot. We didn't have any junk food so I made my own out of weird combinations. My weight is up 3 pounds today.... too many carbohydrates = fluid gain. My Google average is up a pound from last week although it still says "Maintaining your weight." I ate a lot of stupid stuff because I couldn't think of anything to do. I could have played the guitar or penny whistle (piano isn't set back up yet) or cleaned out my closet or.... but I didn't. I ate and lay on the couch and read books.

I haven't decided how much weight it's OK to regain. I thought I was 15 pounds overweight at the start of my hike and lost 20-21. I'd like to stay just under where I'd been if I'd lost the 15 -- which is where I am now.

I felt restless and sluggish all day. Maybe I should go take a hike on "rest days." I felt depressed and unmotivated. Hiking all day every day took the decision-making out of the Trail days. Wake up, hike 15-20 miles, stop, eat, sleep. Decisions were like, fill my empty bottle at this creek, or do I have enough in my other bottle to make it to the next one? Never anything like how to fill empty days.

Last night I slept in my sleeping bag on the deck outside our camper. It was cool and breezy and the bag/underpad combination felt right and today I feel better. Going grocery shopping and then out to walk/run on the SMan course, then taking care of Abbie and Sarah for the afternoon and evening.

Monday, July 06, 2009


I had this idea that, having hiked 8-10 hours a day for 3 months over steep hills, 5,000-ft mountains, rocks and boulders, carrying a 30-pound backpack, it would be a cinch to switch to a couple hours a day of triathlon training carrying *no* pack.

It's not.

My arms and shoulders, accustomed to "poling" with my hiking poles, as well as push-ups, aren't used to swimming.

My legs, hardened to hauling me and my pack up and down hills, aren't used to pedalling.

My back, strengthened to the weight of my backpack, isn't used to riding position on a road bike.

My rib cage muscles, used to heavy breathing over long, slow effort, aren't used to the aerobic intensity of biking up hills.

My feet, accustomed to 15-20 miles a day walking on dirt and rocks in thick-soled leather-and-Goretex hiking boots, aren't used to running on pavement in flexible lightweight fabric running shoes.

I was worried about my Achilles tendons. I wasn't prepared for metatarsal soreness just from flexing my feet more on the road than on the trail. Plus I'm still concerned about my tendons.

My butt, smaller with less cushioning than before, isn't used to the saddle. My sitbones hurt.

Nevertheless, here's the training story:

Last week
Came home from Trail on Monday. Rested Tuesday and Wednesday.

Thursday: 35-minute swim, in wetsuit in lake. Later, one loop of SavageMan run course (6+ miles) walking, 30-second run every 10 minutes for total of 80 minutes with grand total of a whopping 4 minutes of running.

Friday: 16-mile bike, on SavageMan course, average 14.7mph. Saw a black bear, a turkey, and a deer -- more wildlilfe than on any single day on the AT.

Saturday: Rested.

This week
Sunday: Brick consisting of 18-mile bike, including a 2-mile-long uphill and a bunch of shorter ones, 15.7mph avg., then a one-minute walk followed by 5-minute run. No complaints from tendons.

Monday (today): Although my rib muscles were sore from yesterday, 40-minute swim with swim-to-bike transition and easy-spin 11.5 mile bike. Then got ambitious and did 9-minute run.

Tomorrow: I better be careful. Going pretty hard here. And right now, it's 9:30pm and I'm going to bed. Good night!


I'm finally unpacking my backpack. This makes it official: it's over. I haven't been able to bring myself to do it till now.

Tent is set up outside airing out, sleeping bag and liner are in the hamper, rain pants in the closet, various accoutrements where the various accoutrements go (or in the trash), "everything dress" (nightgown, camp dress, town dress, laundry-day dress, even church dress, purchased for $1 at a yard sale in Damascus, VA) is hand-washed and hanging to drip dry, and I guess the pack will go in the big bin with my unused dehydrated food and other supplies. Maybe I'll store it in Jon or Jamie's freezer, rather than eating it up over the summer as I'd planned. It'll be that much less to dehydrate for next year (or whenever.)

Thank you so much to all who have been following my journey and offered their support, encouragement, and congratulations. I'll be getting to you all individually... stay tuned, waiting with baited breath!

I have a lot of catching up to do, blog-wise, on unfoldings between "The Last Night" and now. I've been in the water, on my bike, and in my running shoes (transitioning v-e-r-y carefully from hiking to running and listening carefully to my tendons. Up to 5 minutes of running now!!) I have also been to church with my mother, to the local 4th of July "Homecoming" parade and picnic, to our son's birthday dinner, and especially have been with our two youngest granddaughters catching up with them. Abbie wants to monopolize me, which isn't difficult as Sarah (13 months) doesn't even KNOW me and only fraternizes with me as a last resort if her parents, grandpa, or other grandparents aren't available.


Thursday, July 02, 2009


(My journal, 06/08/09)

Miles hiked: 11.x, short day following yesterday's near-20.
Hiked with: Jim Dandy and Bee Man, but they walked down the road to get cheeseburgers and I hiked on, so I was alone for 8 miles of thoughts and rocks and finished an hour or so ahead of them.
Stayed at: Blackburn AT Center, an actual house with wrap-around screened porch for eating, socializing, and sleeping (no access to actual house), 7 tentsites, a lukewarm solar shower, potable water from a hose, and a cabin with 4 bunks.
Weather: Cool and breezy.
Terrain: Steep ups and downs, and very rocky.

Bee Man, Jim Dandy, Solar Man and I stayed in the cabin. The 3-generation family slept on the screened porch, along with Lucky Star (a girl) and Pyrofly (a guy), who hike together and whom I've run into here and there for a couple months. It was good to see them again to say goodbye.

The caretaker cooked up a huge vat of spaghetti, with made-from-scratch sauce and Italian bread he'd also made himself, and brownies. Bee Man eats no wheat products and abstained, cooking up whatever lentil-rice mix he had there. I don't eat wheat, either, in general, but I took a chance and ate the dinner. Afterwards I took 2 Imodium tablets, then another before bed, and another on awakening, which allowed me to make it to the pit privy w/o having to make an emergency stop en route and dig a cat hole. Another tablet back in the cabin, and I was OK the rest of the day. Why does everything have to be made with wheat???

The cabin had a front porch, and after dinner I sat out there playing sad, sweet farewell songs on my Irish penny whistle. "Auld Lang Syne," and "God Be With You Till We Meet Again," the mood of which was shot when one of the guys, I'm not saying who, ripped this elongated, exaggerated fart, an everyday occurrence among hikers subsisting on dehydrated food and legumes, but this one rated probably an 8 out of 10, and that was the end of the sad sweet songs as typical ribald hiker hilarity took over. We have deteriorated into a bunch of dirtballs.

Solar Man had left the Trail for about 3 weeks and returned about 5 days ago. When he saw me he said, "Yard Sale! Gad! You look like a refugee from a war camp! Every time you go near a town you need to get 3 Big Macs!" Solar Man is fun. He's from Hawaii and has done IronMan Kona.

My last night on the Trail. Jim Dandy asked me, "Are you having regrets yet?" I said, "Yeah. But I'm doing the right thing."

I am. I can't wait to get on my bike again. I hope I can run. My tendons were aching today on the last section of the Roller Coaster. Not injured.... just stressed. My knees hurt, too, but I'm not worried about them. I have Achilles Tendon PTSD. My plantar fascia hurts as well, and my unhealed sub-callus blisters. Actually, now that I think of it, I hurt all over. Bedtime meds now include: Xanax to prevent nighttime panic attacks as well as induce sleep; Benadryl because my myriad bug bites itch (also helps with sleep); 600-800mg of ibuprofen, since as soon as I lie down my hips, thighbones, knees, shinbones, ankles and feet start to ache, about a 6 on a scale of 10. And of course, tonight, I included the Imodium as antidote to the bread-and-pasta dinner.

My last night. Harper's Ferry tomorrow will give me 1,013 miles. Even without the lure of SavageMan, I don't think I have another 1,170 miles in me. I am whupped.


(My journal from 06/27/09)

The die is cast.

Steve has registered me for SavageMan and I'm going home from Harper's Ferry, WV, the day aftre tomorrow. This is my next to last night on the Trail, for this trip.

I am not finished with the AT.

Next year. Next year, a start from Harper's Ferry in early June will put me with the northbound thru-hikers, with plenty of companions. I'll finish in time for Steve's mother's 80th birthday party in mid-September.

Now that I'm leaving, I finally have my backpack adjusted to compensate for the loss of my butt curve. I bent the internal stays and added some closed-cell foam for sacral padding.

Now that I'm leaving, I finally have my socks figured our: Cool-Max liner socks + knee-hi hose + Smartwool hikers.

Now that I'm leaving, I finally have hiking partners whose distance and pace match mine. It has been a pleasure and privilege the past 2-3 weeks to hike with Jim Dandy (my age) and Bee Man (daughter Val's age.) Jim Dandy and I have had spirited discussions on religion, theology, philosophy, and a little politics, that have made me think and want to read up more.

But I am sure this is the right decision for me at this time. I'll probably cry for a week after getting home, and I've told Steve to be prepared for that.

When I think of not reaching the summit of Katahdin this trip, I feel regret.

When I think of not doing SavageMan this year, in this physical shape, living and training on the actual course, I feel heartbroken.

Heartbroken wins. SavageMan, here I come.

Miles hiked today: 19.8, over the first half of the "Roller Coaster" section on which I blew out my Achilles tendons last year. I'm stepping carefully and my ears are pricked for any suggestion of alarm bells coming from my heels.

Stayed at: Rod Hollow Shelter, where I stayed on that practice hike last year. I feel, again, that I'm home.

Shelter/tentsite companions: Jim Dandy, Bee Man, Bird, Freebird, Amero, and a 3-generation family consisting of 2 adult grandsons, 2 middle-aged sons, and the 77-yr-old matriarch, Nancy (trail name "Gran"), who hiked over 12 miles today with her progeny. They're out for a 3-day weekend, total of about 60 miles planned. Yup, Gran does that mileage. She was great fun to talk to. She started running at age 57 and in 20 years has run 400 races of various lengths, including 3 marathons. Her favorite distance is the half-marathon; marathons are too long and 5K and 10K too intense. Yup, she still runs, too, besides backpacking long days. She weighs 95 pounds and carries a 30-40-pound pack.

There was space in the shelter, but I tented. Just felt like it. I was next to the rippling creek. On my Irish penny whistle I played the hymn "In the Cross" because of the line, "Rest beyond the river."