2nd Birthday celebrated hiking the AT

Patriot photos by Lisa Mitchell Posing for photos at the Fort Dietrich Snyder stone marker.

Anna celebrated her 2nd birthday hiking. Well, in a way she was hiking.

Saturday, May 25th, a group of our family members threw on our packs with enough gear and food for three days. On my back, Anna hung out in a carrier, onto which I had also strapped on my camping gear. In other words, I had enough clothes, diapers and wipes to be prepared for any type of weather. Her father carried the tent and tarps, cooking gear and food. Both our packs were rather heavy, but we were only hiking a few miles, or so we thought.

We arrived at the Appalachian Trail head along 501 in Bethel around lunch time, yes a little late but something always delays our start time. We follow the white blaze marks on the trees anticipating a four-mile hike.

Ive completed this section before, probably 6 to 8 years ago. From what I remember, its a fairly easy hike with some ups and downs to challenge you. Were enjoying the scenery and several miles pass easily but Im not recognizing the trail. Its much rockier than I remember.

I kept saying, Were getting close, were getting close.

But the trail just kept on going.

Then, the trail veers right, and on the left is a trail barricaded by tree limbs. This is when the thought crosses my mind that the trails course may have been changed since my last journey. Oh, dear. The group consensus is this section is more like 6 miles to camp. Tried looking up the mileage online but had difficulties pinpointing mileage for a short section of the AT. Im open to comments if anyone has further information.

Meanwhile, weve eaten lunch and several snacks, stop at an overlook and realize we still had 2 more miles to go. Not happy news for anyone, except Anna seems perfectly content. She likes watching the scenery pass by, pointing out birds and bugs. There were times she even sang.

I tried to focus on Annas happy voice and just kept walking, one foot in front of the other. The good part about a challenging hike is I focus so much on hiking that I forget about everything else. There are no deadlines. No ringing phones. No pressures. No chores. No dirty dishes. Even Anna is content. I found the experience to be therapeutic, in addition to tiring.

My aunt and I are the slower of the group. We like to take a lot of breaks and enjoy the scenery. This meant we were still hiking while the others were setting up camp. Still a good 15 minutes away, my brother calls. Its about 6 p.m. and they are concerned. The connection is choppy so I sent a text with a photo of our location. Im sitting on a log wondering how I will make it to camp when I hear my moms dog barking. The sound bolsters my spirit and pushes me forward. We are close, really close this time.

Not long after I begin to recognize the trail. Ive been here before. Were close to camp. Then we are greeted by other hikers. One is a thru hiker who calls the trail that never ends as a 2 mile 1 mile. Yes, I very much agree.

Then, at last, we arrive at camp, grateful and tired.

We rest for a bit but soon Annas running around and the tent needs to go up, a fire started and dinner needs making, all chores that are a group effort. Needless to say, we all slept great that night.

The next few days was an enjoyable routine of feeding the fire and feeding our bellies. Anna played with the dog and we sang Happy Birthday. Then, before we knew it, we were packing up. Anna cried when I put her back in the carrier to leave.

But soon the tears were gone as we returned to the trail, this time taking another route out, 3.9 miles out to 183. The guys hiked back the way we came to 501 to retrieve the cars, my mom, aunt and myself very much appreciate that gesture of chivalry.

We passed a sea of ferns, ambled over rocks and were then on soft, level ground when we suddenly found ourselves at the Fort Dietrich Snyder stone marker, which meant we were close to the end. We were so happy we stopped for photos. It was an even better moment seeing the guys drive up along 183 and took us all home for showers and pizza.

Hiking can be a challenge, particularly with a toddler, but so worth the effort. Cant wait to do it again!

Lisa Mitchell is editor of The Kutztown Area Patriot. Contact her at lmitchell@berksmontnews.com.

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