Sunday, May 31, 2015

Hittin' the trail!

The Finger Lakes Trail through the Catskill Forest Preserve
Whoop whoop! I am hittin' the trail in less than three days. Earlier this week, I had the chance to check out the trail a lil early. I visited the eastern end in the Catskill Forest Preserve, hiking several miles in either direction from NY route 206, near the Campbell Mountain Lean-to. This is just a couple of hiking days from where I will complete the trail at the end of July.

Dog Violet Viola conspersa
Let me tell you...this trail is gorgeous. The woods were filled the remains of moss covered stone foundations and crumbling stone walls. Birch (Betula), Oak (Quercus), and Maple (Acer) prevailed as did Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga Canadensis). The wildflowers were abundant. The Virginia Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum) was laden with fuzzy buds, the Wood Nettle (Laportea canadensis) was shin-high and perfect for ushering the hiker along with its shuddery stings, Canadian Violet (Viola canadensis), Dogtooth Violet (Viola conspersa), and Marsh Blue Violet (Viola cuculatta) shone their faces from the tall green grass, while the maroon leathery-looking cups of Wild Ginger (Asarum) hid beneath its heart-shaped leaves.

Wild Ginger (Asarum)
My father will be joining me once again on the trail, hiking with me for the first three days of the trek. On Tuesday (6/2) we will drive nearly 300 miles to the western end of the trail in the Allegany State Forest and begin our journey on Wednesday (6/3). I was surprised by the steep ascents and descents along the trail here in the east as well as reminded of the northeastern rocks after having grown accustomed to the red clay and mica trails of the southeast. Ah! We will see what this trail has in store for me! Either way, I am so looking forward to hiking across New York State. Home turf.

Finger Lakes I come!

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Finger Lakes Trail

A portion of the Appalachian Trail through New York's Harriman State Park 

I am excited to announce that in less than two weeks I will be beginning my next long distance hike. This time along the Finger Lakes Trail in New York state. As many of my readers know, I was born and raised in northeastern Pennsylvania, minutes from the border of New York and New Jersey, with the Delaware River creating a natural division. I also lived for some time in the tiny town of Port Jervis, New York which rests along the banks of this same river. This area will always be my home and my first love. It was here that I came to know the woods and mountains, rivers and streams, and the allure of the trails that leads one into these places, and when I followed, the magic that it was to travel there.

I have not done a long distance hike in this region since the Appalachian Trail in 2008. Even then, it was just a tiny portion region that I traversed, although when asked, I still tell folks it was one of my favorite portions of the AT. New York, at least from what I've seen in the southeastern portion is a land of rocks- from giant boulders the size of houses to random razor-sharp rocks that litter the forest floor. It is lined with water, streams, rivers, waterfalls, and natural springs (even if NY is presently in a drought). Pine of all kinds are plenty here as are the black bear.

Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)
It is also filled with edible and medicinal plants a-plenty. And so, as you may have guessed...I will again be hiking this trail to chronicle the edible and medicinal plants that can be found along the Finger Lakes Trail. I'll be keeping a daily list of plants I encounter, making a record of them in the evening and whenever possible incorporating them into my backcountry meals and wilderness first aid needs. I'll be blogging as I go, now upgrading to a lightweight tablet and keyboard that connects through bluetooth. So stay tuned northeasterners for a first-hand look at your local useful plants. For my southern readers, many of these plants can also be found in your region, although the new ones you meet may entice you to come check out the trail up here! Once I've completed my trek, I will get to work on writing a backpacker's guide to the edible and medicinal plants of the Finger Lakes Trail.

Allow me to tell you a little about where the journey will take me...

A bridge along the Appalachian Trail in Harriman State Park in New York close to an intersection with the Long Path
The Finger Lakes Trail begins at its western terminus in Allegany State Forest on the border of Pennsylvania and New York and travels 558 miles to its eastern terminus in the Catskill Forest Preserve where it intersects with the Long Path, and lands me just a little over sixty miles from my hometown of Milford, PA. Branching off of the main Finger Lakes Trail are an additional 6 trails: the Conservation Trail, Letchworth Trail, Bristol Hills Trail, Crystal Hills Trail, Interloken Trail, and Onandaga Trail, which tack on roughly 300 additional miles. I will be hiking these trails as well, bringing the entire trek to a total of 860 miles.

Comparing it to my other long distance treks, this trail includes more conventional trail and time in the backcountry with longer resupply times like the Appalachian Trail however without the AT's dramatic ascents and descents. The FLT's highest point is at 3600 feet in the Catskills and its lowest point at 430 feet near Ithaca. It is also outfitted with lean-to's along the trail as the AT is, however nowhere near as many. Like the Mountains to Sea Trail, it possesses portions of roadwalk along country roads as well directly through the center of numerous towns and what I am most looking forward to of this civilized walking...down abandoned railroad beds. It is also a patchwork of state, national, and private lands, regularly changing due to the permission of landowners. Also similar to the MST, it has only seen a handful of thru-hikers. 379 people have completed (by thru-hike or section-hike) the main FLT since 1962, whereas the AT sees at least this many successful thru-hikers every year.

A rock cairn marking a continuation of trail, these will often times be built where blazes are few to assist hikers in finding their way

My predictions about terrain and difficulty are in all reality though, just that. From what I understand the blazing is pretty good, with its more difficult areas through some private lands that are ever-changing, as well as areas where the blazes are a different color due to running along with other trails such as in the Catskill Forest Preserve. And as for maps.... I have downloaded 53 covering the entirety of the main FLT and branch trails. And I thought the MST had a plethora with about 10 of which to keep track. But these maps are thorough, complete with info on water sources and camping, as well as accompanying text regarding mileage markers. There is one guidebook to the trail but it has unfortunately not been updated since 2011. I have had this guidebook in my possession since this time, as I was toying with this trail even when I set out for my first hike on the MST. I plan to still carry this guide as it looks like it provides a wealth of information about lodging, restaurants, and resupply points...I will just have to bear in mind not to count to much on reaching that road crossing with the little family diner as it may be nothing more than a boarded up shack leaving my hiker belly growling grumpily.

Acorn - the well known fruit of the Oak tree (Quercus spp.)
I plan on making some stops along the way to share my journey and plant findings with some communities located along the trail. If you live along any portion of this trail and would like to join me for a few miles or have a group that you'd like to gather to learn more about either the flora of the trail or simply long-distance hiking, please drop me a line here in the comments section. Also, if you'd like to offer any accommodations or assistance along the trail, as I will need help with lodging in some areas where it is illegal to camp, as well as shuttling back to the main trail from end of a branch trail (right now I definitely need a shuttle from the end of the Interloken Trail back to the main FLT), please let me know.

Check out this link to the FLT conference website to learn more about this beautiful trail!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Trail Days 2015

The champion Chewbacca winning first place in the Hiker's Eating Contest at Trail Days 2008 
This too could be you. Well at least if you are an Appalachian Trail thru-hiker this year. If too could witness this level of not only hiker commitment but food induced intoxication and unrivaled elation.

Trail Days is happening this coming weekend in the tiny town of Damascus, Virginia. The first town that one walks through on the AT is Hot Springs in North Carolina (home of Trail Fest), but the second town that the hiker literally treks into is here, crossing a state line and marking the passing of a major mile marker. In Damascus, the thru-hiker is now nearly one quarter of the way to Katahdin. If you make it past Damascus, you're damn likely to make it to Harper's Ferry, West Virginia which is nearly half way....and if you don't quit there the odds are you'll to make it Mt. Katahdin in Maine.

Summitting Katahdin
I remember very well, trekking into Damascus. My feet were sore and swollen and it was hot and buggy. I had never been more happy to see a wooden bunk bed (sans a mattress) at The Place where I could shower, sleep, and put my feet up for the price of a minimal donation. However if this were exciting enough, I also happened to be hiking into town during the most important weekend on the Trail. Other hikers who were not as lucky hitched forward or even backward to make it here for this event. You see not only does Damascus have everything a  hiker could possibly need: cheap bare-bones hostels, diners, an outfitters, a barber, and beer but one a year this town welcomes its hikers with open arms by throwing them a festival all their own...complete with a free thru-hiker feed at the church, free hair-cuts from the ministries, free gear repair, an Alumni Thru-hiker Parade, a Thru-hiker eating contest, a Thru-hiker talent show, a Thru-hiker Prom, and a spot to throw your tent in town for ($5 for 3 days) in Tent City when you need to collapse.

Trail Days has grown since I last attended while thru-hiking the trail in 2008 and is now also chock full of live music and speakers as well. You can find me at the Town Hall on Friday giving a slideshow presentation about the edible and medicinal plants you can find along the Appalachian Trail, followed by a plant walk on the AT where you can meet the plants in person. Jennifer Pharr Davis - a record holder for fastest AT thru-hike and Warren Doyle who has hiked the trail over 15 times (when I met him on the trail in 2008 with just a daypack and wooden staff, this is what number he was at, so I imagine he's knocked it out a couple of times since). Scot Ward will also be doing a presentation on the Lakes to Ocean trail that he spent over 18 months mapping and hiking. As for the music, you can stomp your hiker feet to Fat Katz and Scratch River Telegraph Company. Outdoor gear vendors will also abound peddling their goods and offering fitting assistance.

At this point though, I must confess... when I happened into town on Trail Days weekend as a thru-hiker I wanted to party and did for all of one night but was really too exhausted to enjoy all the festivities and overwhelmed by the masses of people. I did my best, staying a full 24 hours and then hoofing it out of town as fast as I could to get back on the trail before the rest of the hiker mob departed the following day, descending upon the next so many miles of good camping spots and lean-tos. I'm convinced experiencing Trail Days as a non-thru-hiker is really where its at. The weekend will be far more fun without having to think about resupply and hauling a 30 pound pack  20 miles down the trail the next day!

Half Elvis, Micro Manfeet (me), FreeWil, and Banjo in the 100 mile Wilderness, just two days from Mt. Katahdin

If you are a thru-hiker alum looking for a little taste of that camaraderie you remember so well from the trail, this is the event to attend. If you've dreamed of hiking the AT and want to learn from all those who have done it or are in the painstaking and breathtakingly beautiful process of doing so, come hear their stories. If you just want to get your party on with some  hella inspired and impassioned people, then get your bootie to Trail Days!

Friday 5/15, 2:30 pm (no cost)
Identifying the Edible and Medicinal Plants of the Appalachian Trail
Town Hall, Damascus VA
Friday 5/15, 3:45 pm (no cost)
Plant Walk Along the Appalachian Trail
Meeting at In the Country. 1-2 miles roundtrip or 90 minutes. Difficulty level: easy
Vending All Day 5/16 and 5/17

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Weekend Workshops (5/9-5/10)

Spring Quiche with Violet, Dandelion, and Plantain
So you've been learning all about how to identify your local edibles and how to harvest them, now it's time to put that knowledge to use!
Join me at Trout Lily Market in Fairview, NC for a hands-on workshop in preparing a meal incorporating some of our well known backyard wild edibles: aka the weeds.
The meal will be vegetarian (all but the main dish will be vegan) and gluten-free. After we create, we will then devour. Tea, coffee, and wine will be provided by Trout Lily.  
Cooking with Backyard Wild Edibles
May 9th, 1-3
Cost: $20
(class size limited to 12)
Getting to know the plants up close and personal
If you feel like you want to get to know the plants in their natural environment before dicing, sautéing, and steaming...then join me at
The Villagers, a darling lil homesteading shop in West Asheville. The workshop will open with a slideshow presentation and discussion of 10 of our urban wild edible and medicinal plants, and then will hit the streets for an urban plant walk.
 Herbal tea and wild edible snacks will be provided during the presentation.
May 10th 5-7 pm
$15-25 sliding scale (children under 13 are free)
Hope to see you there!