thru hike prep: August

The entire month of August slipped by without an update. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t busy training!

I’ve upped my distance in the past month – I regularly did roughly 9 miles throughout the month of August, hiking at Belleplain State Forest and in Wharton again. I completed the Mullica River Trail (the yellow trail on this map), which was a goal I’d set for the month. There’s a pretty good description of the trail here – this site describes it as “Moderate to Strenuous,” which I scoffed out before setting out – what trails in the Pine Barrens are strenuous?! Oh. This one. The first 6 to 6.5 miles were gorgeous, and we noted that each mile looked different than the last, moving through bogs, cedar stands, and plenty of pine-and-oak mix. We stopped around 5 miles in and had lunch – I broke out the BioLite Stove that Karen gave me for my birthday last year, and we cooked up some chicken sausages using Light My Fire’s Grandpa’s FireForks, for what was probably the easiest camping meal I’ve ever made. The BioLite cooled off and was ready for repacking within 20 minutes of the fire going out – I was pretty impressed.

The last 3 miles or so were a different story – primarily on the soft sand roads that the Pine Barrens are so well known for, the hike was still beautiful, but much more difficult. Imagine hiking on the beach well above the high tide line for 3 miles with a full loaded pack – only there’s no water in sight! It was a rough go for the last stretch, and there was even some rerouting of the trail, so we ended up on some of the old roads behind Batsto Village. I managed to empty my hydration pack just as we entered Batsto Village; fortunately the awesome hot dog guy that usually appears in the Batsto Village Visitor Center parking lot was there, so we were able to refresh with some extra water and an ice cold root beer. That guy is awesome.

I also hiked a section of the Batona from Route 679 to Buttonwood Camp that was marked at about 8.5 miles, but actually ended up being close to 10 miles. The last mile or so was a connector trail that took us off the Batona – this was fine, except that it was absolutely drenched in spiders! Every three feet or so, we had to stop and disentangle ourselves from a giant web. At one point, I didn’t spot the web until it was literally in my face – spider included. I jumped and yelled so loud just from being startled by the feeling that I scared Don, who was a few feet behind me.

This weekend, Andy and I are setting out to do something like 11-12 miles along the Batona, from Buttonwood Camp up to Quaker Bridge, which is roughly five miles back into the woods beyond the Atsion Ranger station. My friend Lynn, who is a triathlete, is going to brave the woods with us for the day – it’s going to be an awesome day!

Tonight I’ll post an update to the mapping page with distances between landmarks and some info about the campsites we’ll be at in October. In the meantime, enjoy some pictures from our August adventures – and visit my event page to donate to support us in October!


somewhere along the Batona

beaver pond

Beaver Pond

bed o moss

Again, somewhere along the Batona

fire forks

Using the BioLite and FireForks!

snake friend at belleplain


sunrise on the way to belleplain

Sunrise on the way to Belleplain

turtle friend outside batsto

Making friends on the way to Batsto



thru hike prep: July

We’re about 11 weeks out from the thru-hike, which is almost no time at all.

The first two days are going to be long ones – 17 miles each, we’re estimating. In order to build up stamina, I have moved toward 6 miles at a minimum. Up until today, that’s about all I’ve done – 6 miles at a pop, coming in at just around the 2 hour mark. Today, though, I did about 7 miles on the trails around Batsto Village, still coming in at around 2:20.

We also took a trip up to New Hampshire for a week this month with some writer friends. It was intended to be a writing retreat (you can read about it over here) – but of course I managed to sneak some hiking in! One of the trails we attempted was a 2-mile trail – sounds easy, but it was actually straight up the side of Black Mountain. Oof. It was beautiful and challenging, and to be honest, we didn’t quite finish. But it was good to be out there and moving.

Next weekend, I’ll be heading down to Belleplain State Forest to do a 7+ mile trail, and then it only goes up from there. I’d like to do the Mullica River Trail in its entirety before the end of August – that’s a 9-ish mile trail. And then start tackling the southern end of the Batona in September, so I have an idea what I’m working with there before I set out in October.

I’m also trying to keep myself on track at the karate school – I fell off the wagon pretty hard and was lucky to make it to one class a week. But I’m building back up with a goal of doing at least 4 classes per week by the end of August, and maintaining that through September. That should help with the stamina AND the strength, since the instructors combine cardio workouts with core/strength exercises that rely on body weight.

In terms of gear, I bought myself a nice set of trekking poles and a new pair of Keen boots, which are super comfortable. I also signed up for a subscription to Cairn, one of those monthly box services. Cairn is geared for outdoorsy things, and so far I’ve managed to score a titanium spork, a backpacking pillow, and some delicious snacks from Simple Squares and Bricks Bars.

Upcoming posts: figuring out what the heck I’m going to eat on the trail, more training notes, and some hacks I’ve managed to pick up over the last few months.

As usual, consider supporting my hike with a donation to the National MS Society! Details here. 

the surprisingly wild



More than a year ago, I posted this entry, where I set a goal for myself to hike the Batona Trail from end-to-end. I failed the Krav Maga training I attended last spring, and that failure demolished my self-confidence. I wanted to set – and conquer – a goal that felt good and that I knew I could complete. I had a lot of work to do to get ready, and I really had no idea what was on the horizon for me.

Five months and one week after setting this goal, I married Donna. We had an incredibly fun celebration at Camp Ockanickon, where we were surrounded by friends and family. It was a perfect day.

party about love

Three weeks after that, my hands went numb. I thought that I had slept on them, but when the pins-and-needles feeling didn’t go away, I decided maybe it was a pinched nerve, or an injury from karate. After a few days, the feeling had spread – I couldn’t feel the texture of objects I touched, I couldn’t grip properly, and now my feet were giving me trouble, too. Eventually the feeling spread up my legs and into my abdomen. I visited 3 doctors and one emergency room over the next few weeks. I had tests, tests, and more tests: blood work, evoked potential testing, MRIs.


Seven weeks after my first symptom,  received a diagnosis: Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis. I learned a lot about MS very quickly, but mostly I learned two very important things:

1. My prognosis is excellent. Because I paid attention to my body, and didn’t ignore it when I felt something was wrong, we were able to identify very quickly what was happening. The neurologist I am working with now is confident that we found the illness very early, and he describes me as a “textbook case.” This is good news.

2. I am very lucky. Many, many people experience symptoms far worse than I did – vision loss, cognitive impairment, loss of motor control, partial or total paralysis – the list of symptoms is seemingly endless. My symptoms were not severe – in the grand scheme of things, they are annoying and inconvenient, but that’s about it.

So what now?

Well, the hike is still on. My mobility, balance, and strength are good right now. That might be the case for years or decades; that might be the case only for a few months. There is no way to tell, though at this point, all signs point to good things. But while I have the opportunity, I’m going to take advantage of feeling good.

The trip is scheduled for October 9-12, 2015 – Columbus Day weekend. My friends Andy and Don are going to join me on the trail, and we’ve started inventorying our gear.


I’ll be doing the hike now as a fundraiser for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society; check out the Batona Trail section of this site for details on how to support me by making a donation to the NMSS.

Screenshot 2015-07-06 15.23.54

where i lived, and what i lived for


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I have set a goal for myself that in September or October 2015, I will hike the entire length of the Batona Trail – a 50-mile hiking trail through the Pine Barrens of Southern New Jersey.

Batona Trail Map

I will, of course, need to find someone to do it with me – hiking alone for 3 days in the Pine Barrens is not exactly something I feel ready to do. A few friends who have shown some interest, so we’ll see how that works out.

I started prepping today by taking a short hike around Pakim Pond in Woodland, NJ. It was a beautiful day, sunny & warm, low humidity. We hiked the Cranberry Trail, an well-blazed and wonderfully kept trail that is ADA-accessible. The woods were quiet and we spotted a Northern Fence Lizard rustling up a tree next to the trail, a pair of butterflies hanging out by the pond, an assortment of birds, some sheep laurel, and the loveliest pine cones I’ve ever seen.


It was a good day.

NaPoMo, Day 7



This morning I woke up to the smell of forest fire. The Pine Barrens were on fire again, and something called a temperature inversion meant that you could smell the fire all the way up to New York City. The air was hazy and smelled like summer camp. 

The fire is under control now – local news is reporting 100% containment. 

Day 7

Rachel’s Poem at the PFFA: Mere-Exposure Effect
Someone Else’s Awesome Poem: Tawni Vee Waters, “From Isis to Osiris On the Day She Found His Head”

NaPoMo, Days 4 & 5


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Today is April 5. Today is the day Kurt Cobain died. Today is also the day Layne Staley died. 

I came of age in the 90s – I learned about sadness, about anger, about love and greed and jealousy and compassion in the decade where political correctness was a trend, where the slacker generation was trying to figure out what to do with the frustration and discouragement they felt. Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden opened up music for me in a new way, and I will be forever grateful for that. 

But Alice In Chains spoke to me in a way the others didn’t. 

I was standing in my friend Anna’s living room when the news of Layne Staley’s death broke – I remember it scrolling across the screen and I was just heartbroken. I don’t often feel connected to celebrities – their lives are so unlike mine, and I recognize that they are not actually people I know, just people whose faces I see in the news. 12 years later, though, I am still devastated. Perhaps it’s simply because of the loneliness of Staley’s life at the end. But in listening to the AIC catalog, I realize now how incredibly anxious he was about life. And death. 

Oh Layne Staley we love you get up. 

Day 4: 

Rachel’s Poem at the PFFA: I Am What I Am: A Natural Disaster
Someone Else’s Awesome Poem: Frank O’Hara’s “Poem [Lana Turner Has Collapsed!]”

Day 5: 

Rachel’s Poem at the PFFA: In the Box
Someone Else’s Awesome Poem: Frank O’Hara’s “The Day Lady Died”


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