Thursday, June 15, 2006

"Our Hike" Adventures on the American Discovery Trail

Let a few of our "Our Hike" Adventures begin by introducing myself and my hiking partner. My name is Robin Grapa, 26 years old, from Oshkosh, Wisconsin. My hiking partner is my mom - yes, I said that right - my super-tough mom. Her name is Patty Laatsch, 48, from Phillips, Wisconsin (also where I grew up). I began planning this trip across America as a way to do something with the life I almost lost to Aplastic Anemia, a bone marrow disease in which the bone marrow stops making blood for the body to survive.

Planning for this hike was our first challenge. We had maybe taken 4 short backpacking trips before, so we considered ourselves novice hikers. But after a lot of gear research, trail research, and reading up on other thru-hikers' adventures, we felt excited. I don't know if we ever felt ready, but excitement alone was enough to get us going. Some have said we are very brave. We say in response, "Nah, we're just clueless!" with a chuckle afterward.

In West Virginia, we were told not to camp on top of Dolly Sods, an Appalachian mountain peak, in February. We were told by locals that the wind blows so constant in one direction that the branches on the trees only grow on one side; it can snow any time of year; temperatures are below freezing without the wind chill; it resembles the Canadian Tundra; it's easy to get lost. But even after all the warnings, I thought to myself, "Ahh, I've camped northern Wisconsin winters, I can hike across Dolly Sods in February." Well, finally, a couple miles before our climb, a local hiker convinced us to at least wait until morning so we wouldn't be camping up there. So we heeded the warning, and turned out to be glad we did. When we got up there, the conditions were - to put it lightly - blizzard conditions. We could barely see 20 feet in front of us. It was a situation I was very thankful to have a partner with me, or I'd have been tempted to just hunker down in the woods somewhere in my sleeping bag and wait out the cold - and I probably would have froze. But with mom there, we were able to just look at each other with icicles hanging from our eyelashes, laugh, and trudge on. All of our water froze solid, and we were exhausted from fighting below freezing temps and trudging against strong winds through deep snow. After what seemed like forever, we began the descent. Half way down the other side, a couple of bear hunters picked us up and brought us to the Canaan Valley Ski Lodge, where we got a room and warmed up. Looking back, we may have gone up there because we were clueless, but probably more likely because we were just really determined. We are very glad we did, and very proud for getting up there and making it across.

We are using the American Discovery Trail as our guide across America, and are now in Dodge City, our half-way point. Mom has really been touched by our journey so far. She says, "The ADT truly invites you to see America from the smallest towns to the biggest cities. From fording rivers to climbing mountain tops. The people we have met along the way have been tremendous and the trail angels are magical! Thanks to Robin, I'm hooked on hiking! Maybe it will be the Appalachian Trail next!"

One last tidbit that I'd like to add is our trail names. We both started with our regular family nicknames (Bobbi and Poot) because we felt left out not having a "trail name." But we always felt funny that they weren't earned. Well, since then, we have taken on new trail names - ones that have a story behind them from our trail adventures. Mine is Milkshake. With hiking, I found quickly that you can't seem to consume enough calories, so I was able to rediscover my love for milkshakes, particularly chocolate ones - and I have one at just about every opportunity I get. Mom is now Gumdrop. She made some really nasty-tasting oatmeal for breakfast one day by mixing in corn muffin mix. To make it taste better, she added the only sugary type food we had with us - gumdrops. It turned out to be pretty darn good! It's no surprise to us that both of us acquired trail names from something food-related!



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8/18/2006 3:53 AM


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