2018 Camino de Santiago Pre-Lessons


I have always been a pretty positive person. In 2015, I lost my job due to the company downsizing and my emotions have been similar to a roller-coaster ride up and down since then, probably worst since a roller-coaster ride is about 30 seconds. You see society sometimes equates “success” with having a full-time job (I do work part-time though). Growing up it was ingrained in me that in order to be successful you had to have a job, so somehow, in these past two years, I have been feeling like a failure. A funny thing happened. I was running errands this morning in preparation for my Camino and realized that I get to go to the gym every day if I want to. I get to cook healthy meals because I am home. I am able to teach from home and at least once a week get to teach in a classroom where I interact with my students and have an impact on their academic endeavors and get to see and talk to my colleagues to keep abreast of what is going on in the academic world.

I will be walking from France to Spain to complete a 500-mile pilgrimage walk in 2 days; 7 hours; 23 minutes and 23 seconds for about 7-8 weeks. I have a wonderful husband that supports all my crazy ideas and have two wonderful kids that are doing well for themselves. Who gets to do this? The reality is that not many people can and do. So, why I am complaining? I am not a failure, I have been working since I was a teenager and now get to do what I love to do the most, teach. I am truly blessed and somehow didn’t see it or felt it until today. As the quote above states, the reality is that life is amazing, ordinary, mundane, and awful at times. You just need to regroup, appreciate the now, breath and relax that things are going to be ok. The Camino is making an impact on my mind and my soul and I haven’t even started yet. #spiritualawakening. Stay tuned!


Grieving during the Holidays

This article resonated with my state of mind during the holidays. Although the trail helped me cope with my grieving, I still grief and the traditions that I once held close to my heart somehow are not as important since I no longer have my mother. I have created some new ones this year, but as the author states sometimes you just have to say no to other ones and keep it moving.

The Effects of Grief During the Holidays December 15, 2016 – by Kate Motaung




My First 8 Days on the Appalachian Trail

Day 1 – March 28

Arrived at Amicalola State Park and signed the hiker log. Hiker #1,070. The bag weighted 32 lbs including food and water not too bad.


signing the hiker log









Decided to take the 600+ steps at Amicalola State Park as a pre-training exercise and it was very hard climbing with my 32 lb. backpack. At one point, I thought that my back was going to give out and this was not even the beginning of the trail, but as a purist had to carry my backpack up the stairs instead of driving the car to the Amicalola Lodge like many folks did. Along the way met several thru hikers that I met on Facebook via the Appalachian Trail: Women’s Group.  Decided to stay at the Lodge and begin the Approach trail the following day.


Day 2 – March 29

Miles Today – 7.25

Miles Total – 7.25

After having a nice breakfast with my husband, I started the Approach trail around 9am and it was a bit cold and going uphill. Since I climbed the stairs the prior day, I only had 7.25 miles to go today. The hardest part was saying good bye to my amazing and supportive husband. After hiking for about 1/2 a mile had to take my coat off because it was very hot. I was very slow going uphill. You see for the past 5 months I had not been very active, but dealing with a bit of depression after losing my job in Academia. I was the quintessential couch potato. I spent most of the day hiking by myself since I was very slow and was trying to adjust to the weight of my backpack. At some point during the hike, I started thinking about why I’m still grieving for my mother who passed away 5 years ago. I felt angry because she was not supposed to leave so soon at 66. Who dies of rheumatoid arthritis anyway? I need to work this out. The hardest part of this trail was the fact that these miles are not part of the AT. Why do it? Well, for me it was part of the ritual and as a purist I had to complete them to feel that I was truly hiking the AT and this was just the beginning.

Made it to Springer Mountain (3,782 ft. elevation) around 4pm and took in the amazing views at the top. After searching for a bit, I found the plaque/register at the Southern Terminus and signed it as Tin Cup my original trail name (later to be changed). By this point many hikers had already set up their tents and were settling in for the evening. Although there was space at the Springer Mountain Shelter, I decided to find a spot to pitch my tent and setting it up was not a problem. Cooked Ramen noodles for the first time in my life and then used the bear cables to hang the food. Lesson learned; next time pitch tent near water (had to make four trips using the Mini Sawyer which sucks big time). Will have to upgrade soon. Here I met Starbucks and Dolla Coin, two young ladies thru hiking by themselves as well.

Day 3- March 30

Miles Today – 8.1

Miles Total – 8.1

Woke up at 7am, made coffee and quickly dismantled camp. Started at 8:45am from Springer Mountain to Hawk Mountain Shelter. Hiked most of the day with Justin (Darkness) from Kansas City. This was not a bad trail, but certainly had some tough hills and I felt that my body and legs were starting to adjust. I was very surprised that by 11am, I had already hiked 5 miles (not bad). Got to the shelter around 2:15pm and decided to stay in the shelter since rain was predicted for the early part of the morning. Here I met Louis and Clark a young environmentalist couple from Virginia doing a flip flop. Last year they hiked from Maine to PA and this year they started in GA going to PA. Also met Steve (Mountain Goat) and older gentlemen and Steve, a young man from Waco Texas–very quiet and reserved (who was suffering from blisters and during this hike injured his back by falling). I got to experience my first trail magic. A group of four from the 12 tribes stop by and provided us with hot tea. I’m not a tea aficionado, but this tea was the best I had ever had. Perhaps it was the fact that it was extremely cold and windy by 7pm when they came around.

hawk mtn shelter 2

Hawk Mountain Shelter

Day 4 – March 31

Miles Today – 7.7

Miles Total – 15.8

Started my hike at 8:30am from Hawk Mountain Shelter to Gooch Mountain Shelter. Today, I had to use my rain gear for the first time. Thunderstorms were on the horizon and as predicted it started to rain throughout the day. Hiking in the rain was an exciting experience, but as the rain continued to pour my rain gear and backpack started to get really wet even though my backpack was covered. Towards the end of the hike I became frustrated because I started to get cold and the shelter was nowhere in sight (I swear that this hike felt more than 7.7 miles). I arrived at the shelter at 5:30pm where there must have been more than 50 people already there not including those who had set up their tents already. I was cold, tired, and wet. Quickly made my Lipton soup to get a little warm, but it was difficult since there was hardly any space available. I then found a space to pitch my tent and with the help of Darkness it went up, however it was completely wet; as a result, so was my sleeping pad and parts of my sleeping bag. It took an act of congress to get somewhat dried. It continued to rain throughout the night with heavy lightning and thunderstorms. I was so scared all night and couldn’t sleep at all and was feeling defeated by the rain. I did not come out of the tent after 6pm and had to improvise my bathroom trips, so decided to pee in a cup inside my tent (not to get my only dry clothes wet). I contemplated quitting all night long since the next day was also supposed to rain. If I had had phone reception, I may have left the trail for good. However, I decided that I needed to regroup and dry all my gear, so decided to hike to Woody Gap the next day and stay at the Hiker Hostel.

Day 5 – April 1

Miles Today – 5

Miles Total – 20.8

All my gear was soaking wet. I put everything in my backpack and headed out from Gooch Mountain Shelter to Woody Gap to recharge my batteries if you will. This hike was not bad although it was raining on and off throughout the day. Once I got to Woody Gap, I was welcomed by my second trail magic day (several of the 12 tribe members) were providing tea, hotdogs and lentil soup in their bus. Because I didn’t have phone connection (TMobile is not reliable), I asked to use the shuttle driver’s phone to call the Hiker Hostel. Well what do you know, the hostel was completely booked.  I became very frustrated and Murris the shuttle driver suggested staying at Two Wheels of Suches a Motorcycle Campground since they had private cabins and that was exactly what I needed at the moment. Luckily, there were cabins available and I was able to wash and dry all my clothes (including my tent). Here I received my third trail magic for the day….four cans of Budweiser beer. Once I settled down, I felt the energy and excitement of getting back to the trail, but there was one problem, I did not have a working phone. So, I decided to take a day zero at the Wolfpen Gap Country Store.

Day 6 – April 2

Miles Today – 0

Miles Total – 20.8

Took a day zero today at the Wolfpen Gap Country Store which has a hostel on the second floor not because I was tired but because I needed to get a new phone. I called Murris the shuttle driver again and he took me to the Verizon store (which apparently is the only provider that has access on the AT). Murris was very accommodating as he took me to the store and waited for me while I got the new phone.  Then we stopped at Walmart and I got a 4-pack of Merlot. Also upgraded my sleeping pad and got a water proof bag for my sleeping bag at the Outfitter store. Got back to the hostel and met some great hikers (Taylor, Cliff, Mike, Ethan and Rich (Heavy D) and that is how I got my new trail name “Veeno” since they were all drinking beer and I was drinking wine (it kind of stuck). Now let’s talk about the bed, made out of wood and the mattress was a piece of remnant carpet (hard as a rock) and not the cleanest hostel either. Worst sleep ever.

Day 7 – April 3

Miles Today – 3.5

Miles Total – 24.3

Left the hostel (Woody Gap) at 7:30am and headed to Lance Creek a campground right before Jarrard Gap and Neel Gap where bear canisters are mandatory if you plan to camp between those areas and/or stay at any of the shelters. The plan was to hike through the next day to Neel Gap and stay at the Mountain Crossing Hostel. This was an easy hike, I was at the campground by 11am; set-up my tent near the fire pit, had lunch and took a very nice nap from 12-2pm. As the day progressed, I was joined by Heavy D, Taylor, Cliff, Mike, and Ethan who were taking a day zero the next day. Taylor and I started the camp fire and we all gather around and talked for hours; laughing, making jokes. By this point, I was back on track with hiking from GA to ME and feeling GREAT!


lance creek_our tents

Lance Creek

lance creek_fire


Day 8 – April 4

Miles Today – 7.4

Miles Total – 31.7

Left Lance Creek at 8:45am….headed to Neel Gap to resupply. This trail proofed to be very challenging going up to Blood Mountain. It was all up hill. It took me 7 hrs. and 15 minutes to complete. However, although the last 2.5 miles were down hill; they were very difficult since they were many rocks and mini boulders throughout that stretch. Made it to Neel Gap at 4:05pm. Reserved a room at the Mountain Crossing Hostel where for $18 you got a bed, towel and soap and for an additional $5 you got to do your laundry. Here I upgraded my Mini Sawyer and ate pizza and soda for the first time in 8 days. This hostel was more comfortable even though the bed was made out of wood–it had a mattress. As more and more hikers came in there were talks about the weather changing in the next couple of days to include snow, rain and low temperatures at night. So, since I do not do well in the cold weather, I decided to get off the trail and head back home to New Jersey. The one thing that I am most concerned with is being cold and that is what can make me quit if I’m not careful. I’m aware that they will be rainy days and that is Ok, but being cold is another story. In addition, my daughter was moving to Florida and I wanted to be home to see her go.

up blood mtn

Up Blood Mountain

blood mtn

View from Blood Mountain

Section Hike: Bake Oven Knob to Lehigh Gap


In my quest to hike again solo during the Labor Day weekend (2015), I read countless of books prior to my hike such as Wild by Cheryl Strayed (saw the movie first), Guide to the Appalachia Trail by Jim Chase; Exploring the Appalachian Trail by Glenn Scherer and Don Hopey, The A.T. Guide 2015 North Bound by David “Awol” Miller and followed several websites/blogs on hiking the AT.

I felt pretty comfortable with the knowledge gained. So, I set out to section hike from Bake Oven Knob to Lehigh Gap (9.5 miles); Lehigh Gap to Smith Gap Rd. (12.6 miles); Smith Gap Rd. to Wind Gap (8.0 miles). All in-all the goal for the weekend was to complete 30 miles on my own.

This hike was going to be different. I was familiar with the terrain (check), my backpack was about 25 pounds (check), stayed at the Jim Thorpe hotel the night before for an early rise the next morning (check). But during the night my CamelBak water reservoir bag ruptured, and as a result I had to buy several bottles of water to carry inside my backpack (which made it heavy).

I was at the Oven Knob Rd. trail head at 8am and started my hike and was doing well, but the backpack started to feel heavy and heavier as I approached Bake Oven Knob and started to hike uphill where the rocks seemed to go on FOREVER. I wanted to take a picture of this magnificent site, so I pulled my small and cheap and battery operated Vivitar camera. Took several pictures only to realize that I had forgotten to insert the SD memory card (duh!), so I had to pull out my phone which wasn’t an easy task to take the picture.

Midway through the hike, I decided to drink the majority of the water to lessen the weight on my pack (good idea right?); well it was until I had to stop every 30 minutes to pee. Sounds like an easy task, but when you have to get your pack off and then put it back on every 30 minutes it becomes quite an ordeal (but I did achieve losing some weight). The other problem I encountered were my highly priced high top boots; expensive and yet my feet hurt like hell, you see every time I started to descend on the trail my toes were pressed against the front of my boots, so I felt like my toes were going to explode.

At this point, I started to think about where I was, the reason I was there (to stop thinking about the pain in my feet and the weight I was carrying on my back) when all of a sudden I felt a rush of fear when I realized that I was the only one on the trail and after a couple of minutes I pulled myself together and started enjoying the quietness of the woods, enjoying nature at its best with the beauty of trees, the leaves, the flowers, and the birds singing around me.

I made it to the George W. Outerbridge Shelter around 4pm not bad. It was daylight and the shelter was empty. I set out to stay there that evening, so I did not have to pitch my tent. After a couple of minutes, a young man named Nathan, a thru-hiker from Minnesota, arrived at the shelter. Nathan saw my heavy bag and offered to make it  lighter, but I declined (I didn’t feel like emptying the bag and putting everything back again), but again this is how the AT community looks out for one another. We both resupplied our water and started cooking our dinners in silence and then literally went to bed. When I woke up around 7pm, there were other thru-hikers at the shelter and by midnight two Australian girls arrived as well (they were hiking through the night)—Yikes!  and one of them slept outside the shelter under the stars (I want to this someday).

This was my first experience staying in a shelter and sleeping with people that I had never met and despite the bugs, spiders, and mice I felt so at peace, but I was tired and decided to call my husband to come and get me the next day because I was not going to continue with the hike and complete my goal of 30 miles that weekend.

I did not see this as a failure, but an opportunity to regroup, address my backpack weight issue and perhaps get some new boots. As Robin Williams said “It’s not about the goal, it’s about becoming the type of person that can accomplish the goal.” In my case to someday hike another section or perhaps the entire AT without stopping.

Section Hike: Wind Gap to Delaware Water Gap


Our first section hike on the Appalachian Trail (AT) and what we learned: Wind Gap to Delaware Water Gap

For the past year, I have developed a love and respect for the AT; there is something about hiking 2,189 miles from Georgia to Maine that is so appealing to me (although not everyone makes it). Being in the woods and exploring nature provides me a sense of solitude that I cannot find in the real world where we are tasked with having to work and take care of our lives on a daily basis.

In April 2015, I saw the movie Wild based on Cheryl Strayed’s 1,000 mile hike in on the Pacific Crest Trail. The movie was an inspiration because I too was dealing with the loss of my mother in 2011, so I decided to do my first hike in May during the Memorial Day weekend by myself. The idea of being in the woods by myself was not a new one, you see I grew up in on an 18-acre farm in Puerto Rico, so my entire childhood was spent playing in the woods, climbing trees and camping. My husband Dave, did not like the idea of me going by myself during the 15.1-mile hike from Wind Gap to Delaware Water Gap, so he decided to accompany me on this hike although that meant that we would have to hike back from the Delaware Water Gap to Wind Gap where our car was parked, thus making the hike 30.1 miles.

We researched the type of equipment needed and went to REI, where we tested all the equipment and bought pretty much all that was suggested by the salesperson, who was a thru-hiker having hiked the AT twice, so we were confident that we had the right gear. However, we did not test any of it prior to our hike.

Reality set in when we arrived at the trail head at Wind Gap around 9 am and had to put our backpacks on and start the very steep climb up to the trail. This section of the AT is considered to be one of the toughest hence the name Rocksylvania. I went up first with no difficulties since I was in pretty good shape at the time. Dave on the other hand, had a very difficult time climbing with his backpack on, he actually had to take off his backpack to climb up the steep hill (not a good experience). It took us about two hours to actually start the hike since there were many rocks that made it difficult to walk up with the weight on our backs. I quickly realized that we were not making good time and were not going to arrive at the Kirk Ridge shelter at a decent time, so I spent the majority of the hike pushing my husband to walk and walk faster. However, four or five miles down, Dave saw a brown bear stood stand up and look directly at him, and boy he picked up the pace very quickly.

When we got to the Kirk Ridge shelter it was almost 6pm and it was full (not to mentioned that it was freezing). We had to find a space to quickly pitch the tent, cook our “cup of noodle” dinner before sun down, but we were happy to arrive at Fox Gap and stayed the night. We were exhausted, but the view was spectacular that evening and somehow rejuvenated our desire to continue hiking the next day. We left Fox Gap and headed to the Delaware Water Gap, our final destination the next day. One of the things that you learn on the AT is that there is this sense of community whether you are a section hiker or thru hiker and people are always watching out for each other on the trail. We met a couple from Maryland and at times we would hike together, and quickly became friends. So when we finally arrived at the Delaware Water Gap they gave us a ride back to Wind Gap where our car was parked. Otherwise, we would have had to hike back again and given our state of tiredness it would have been impossible to hike AGAIN over the countless rocks. Needless the say, my husband left having a hate-love relationship with the trail and I left with the idea of someday going back and hiking the entire AT on my own.

What I learned during this hike was that if you want to introduce hiking to someone you should NOT start on one of the most difficult parts of the trail if you want them to enjoy the hike and one day go back.