June 7th – A stroll through Hanover, a night in an open field 

June 7th – A stroll through Hanover, a night in an open field 

At about 8:30 am, Grammie Owen came to pick us up from our little house.  We loaded all of the gear into the back of her Odyssey van, and one by one loaded into her van and set off for Hanover, NH, the southern point of the trail in our home state of New Hampshire.  We made it to Hanover around 10:30, where we were met by Caitlin, a reported from the Concord Monitor newspaper.  

Caitlin interviewed each of us about the journey so far, about our goals moving forward, and why we are on the trail.  Then she took a few pictures of  our family getting back on the trail.  The funny thing about this part of the trail is that it doesn’t really look anything like the wooded footpath we have been traveling.  The state line is engraved on marble on the bridge that crosses the Connecticut River between Vermont and New Hampshire.

With cars buzzing past us, we made our way into the little town of Hanover.  We ran into a few hikers that had really been moving quickly along the trail.  Their journey will end in only a few short weeks.  They had heard about our family, asked a few questions, and let us know that there were a few places we needed to visit before leaving town.

Lous Restaurant & Bakery on Main Street offers a free donut to thru hikers.  They were absolutely awesome donuts!

After the sweet treat, we made our way over to Romundo’s Brick and Brew Pizza.  This place offers hikers a free slice of pizza, but only if you’ll sign their log book! 

The above picture of our packs lined up is a common sight in hiker towns.  

After we had consumed enough calories to count as lunch, we prepared to hike out of town.

The trail followed the main road through town until it turned, ran along the backside of Dartmouth College, and then became reunited with its wooden home.

This part of the trail requires its travelers to pay a little more attention to those little white blazes.  I needed to strip some layers, and told Ryan that he could just go on ahead, and I would meet up with everyone at the shelter ahead.  But once I was done packing everything into my pack and started hiking what I thought was the trail, I quickly found myself wandering through the forest.  Thankfully we had signal on our phones. I called Ryan and he came back for me.  I was quite a ways away from the trail.  We didn’t start hiking until about 2pm. 

About 6:30 we found a beautiful little spot along the river to collect water and make dinner.  Once we had finished cleaning or dishes, we set out to hike on.  As we were stepping out we ran into a hiker we had met a couple of months ago at Hog Pen Gap.  He was about to finish his winter south bound hike.  He was now hiking with a friend who is finishing their north bound hike!  He’s getting ready to head out on another adventure.

We thought we’d try to get to the next shelter, but when we stumbled upon this little gem, we couldn’t resist the urge to drop packs and set up camp!

It was the perfect place to end such a great day back on the trail!

We built a fire, hung the bear bags, and enjoyed the beauty that surrounded us!

A few more pictures from the day…

Happy Trails ~ The Thru Crew 

We quit… or did we?

We quit… or did we?

We haven’t posted anything about the past few days.  On Wednesday, we went back to the trail and had a perfect day!  I mean it was absolutely beautiful!  Thursday we continued to hike, with plans to meet Ryan’s parents on Sunday on the Lonesome Lake/Cascade Trail.  We have hiked this trail many times with them in the past.  It sounded like we had a great plan!  The morning was amazing.  We had hiked 2 miles before 9, another 2 before 10.  We were in stride.  We were dry.  The bugs were not horrible.  Everything was going really well… then it wasn’t.  Something happened and the morale fell.  Unlike the other day, there was no conflict, there were no external factors causing stress, the terrain wasn’t horrible, but morale was falling.  In effort to understand, we had conversations with each of our kids.  We can push ourselves to carry packs and hike further on, but we have a responsibility to listen to our kids.  We did.  Then, we made the decision to declare the hike complete.  At that very moment, it seemed that the decision was the right one.

After several days of conversations that included asking hard questions that required honest answers, taking time to search the depths of our hearts for those answers, and coming together once again to talk, everyone has decided that our time on the trail is not complete.

Our rhythm was interrupted when we had to go to New York.  We thought that coming back to New Hampshire would be good for all of us, giving us the opportunity to be supported by family and friends as we hiked through our ‘back yard’.  What we could not have known was how hard it would be to stay on the trail, when the comforts of home were so close.  On Thursday, when we left the trail, I struggled to find contentment in our decision.  We all struggled, every single one of us, with the ‘what if’s’ and ‘if only’s’.  All of us knew that there was no way to go back and reclaim the trial experience that we had before, so we sought to find contentment in the transition from one season to another.  All of this set the stage for where we are now.  We are going back out on the trail.  We had the opportunity to come home, be home, and move forward with our heads held high knowing that we had accomplished so much.  No problems!  Instead of settling for that though, this month of grand interruptions has only led us to have a stronger resolve to finish the journey that we started.  We all have our individual “why’s”.  For Zoey, 8, her “why” is to just be with the family that she has grown to love.  For Ryan and I, our “why” is so much more complex, difficult to express in words right now, but knowing deep down that this is something we are supposed to do.  There is much more work to be done, more memories to be made, more ground to cover both figuratively and linearly.

An article was released by the Concord Monitor this morning, it states,  “And it proved a little too much for the Owen family”.  This is a part of our imperfect attempt to thru-hike the trail.  We quit, we called it, decided we had had enough, then we didn’t.

We are not completely sure of the date, but we will begin a South Bound (SOBO) hike within the next several days.  We have sought advice from veterans of the trail, close friends, and even friends we have met along the trail… we have been assured that this plan makes so much sense.  With that, the journey continues, we believe the very best is yet to come.

June 4th & 5th: Reset

June 4th & 5th: Reset

When we left our home in March, there was an excitement that could just not be contained.  We couldn’t wait to experience all that the trail would offer.  When we arrived at Amicalola Falls on March 12th, tears welled in our eyes.  We had made it to the beginning of the journey.  We were hopeful, but unsure as to wether we would actually ever take our first steps on the trail.  When the weather turned dangerous at the top of Springer Mountain and we did not know if we were going to be able to find a reasonable ride down the mountain, we could not have imagined that we would find ourselves at Miss Jane’s home in Blairsville.  We were able to sleep in warm beds, take hot showers, buy new gloves to keep our hands warm, and more importantly we got our first taste of the new friendships that this experience would bring us.

Our first day on the trail, we were completely proud of the fact that we had simply made it to the trail!  We were as proud of our first 4.4 miles, as we have been over any 15+ mile day.  We set up our tents for the first time, and slid into our new sleeping bags.  We gathered sticks to make a fire and we sat around it with a couple of teachers.  I watched pridefully as Taylor discussed American and British literature with the two of them.  There could be no better reward to the end of a cold, hard days climb, than to enjoy the simplicity of a fire with all seven of us enjoying each others company.

When we returned to the trail at the end of the cold snap, we were so excited to make it to Hawk Mountain.  It is there that we met Antenna, ThunderBuns, and Papa G.  We would experience more memories with each of them.  Again, it was not the miles, but the memories that we were chasing.

It took us several days to hike the first 34 miles to Neel’s Gap.  We met the Warrior Expedition hikers there, and had a good laugh over the crazy of having seven boxes delivered to us there.  We met the Graham’s in town at the pizza parlor, and hiked out of Neel’s Gap with them the next day.  We all survived our first hail storm there, and we lived to laugh about it.

One memory after another, conversation after conversation… our first month on the trail was filled with trials, but more the mystery and misery mixed to make a whole heap of memories that propelled us forward each and every step of the way.  Of course the newness was bound to wear off.  There has to be a reason so many leave the trail.  If it were all good, all the time, this journey would really have no purpose except to provide a temporary escape from the inevitable reality that we will one day live again.  We trusted that the difficulties of the trail would provide opportunity to grow, to talk about the struggles that we have faced, and to be open about the hurts that we have experienced, to seek forgiveness from each other, and to find peace with each other and with God.

Somewhere, somehow, at sometime, things changed.  Not all things, but some things.  Even now, I struggle to articulate the changes, but over the past couple of days family conversations have confirmed that things had indeed changed, and moreover that there is so much more work to be done; not to go back to the place we were at the beginning of this journey, but to really come together as a family, and to let go of the anger that exists inside each of us.  The heat of the past week has revealed immense amounts of anger that dwells in the depths of each of our souls; a brokenness of spirit that has created chasms in our core.

We were told at the very beginning of our time in service that we need to just pull up our boot straps and keep marching on.  There is a sacrifice required from those who choose to serve… we had chosen to serve, therefore we would have to become intimately acquainted with the sacrifice.  Our children would have to know this sacrifice as well.  However, we cannot blame everything on this sacrifice; we have to own our contribution to the chaos.

As we sort through the heap of emotions, we are only now beginning to see the magnitude of the task.  Before now, everything has been somewhat stored in compartments created by expectation. As parents, we have told our kids how to store and deal with their emotions.  Regardless of the pain brought on by deployments, we have tucked emotions away in order to survive.  “There is nothing that our emotions will change.”  But after living through the consequences of thinking this way, nearly losing everything, we refuse to let our kids walk into adulthood without allowing them space to unpack all of that junk, and learn again how to let go of the negative and identify the positive.  It isn’t as simple as just throwing it all aside and moving on.

Lately, we have been to see the lack of milage as failure, rather than a part of this journey.  My ankle injury, as disappointing as it was, provided Ryan some time to be alone with the kids.  New York, a great interruption to the flow of this journey, was necessary.  Though I won’t go into all of the details, things are being made right, and the time Ryan spent there was a huge contribution to that.  The disruption turned up the heat, now real work can begin.  Only if we slow down!

There is simply not enough time to hike 18 miles, relax and enjoy the little creek we pass by, and sit around and just let the conversations take place for a long as they need.  With this in mind, we have decided that we are going to slow down, but we are going to keep going.  We have decided that we will stay out here as long as it takes.  There are many unknowns, and there will be many more obstacles to overcome, but we have gotten back to the heart of the journey.  We all are climbing into bed tonight with an immense amount of excitement; similar to the first day we began our journey on this trail.



June 3rd: We are doing this thing… Our way

June 3rd: We are doing this thing… Our way

We woke up at 6:30 and we are ready to start hiking at 7:30.  It’s not asked record per se, but we aren’t usually ready to step off so early. By 8:30, we had hiked two miles to Bromley Shelter.  We took a little water break, and I realized that there was signal, so I wrote a quick update about the 2nd and then we were off again.  

Our kids are so strong and quick.  We let them loose sometimes to just do their thing.  It is during those times that Ryan and I are able to have our only one on one conversations.  We need them, and sometimes the kids need their space too.

A short while past Bromley Shelter we summited Bromley Mountain. The last bit of the climb was actually straight up a ski run.

I know it looks kind of flat, but I promise it wasn’t.  At the top of the mountain, we arrived at a ski patrol shack.  They leave it unlocked, and there is even a hikers log their.  It was pretty cool, and a nice place to get out of the cold for a minute.

In the above picture, Stratton Mountain Ski area can be seen in the distance.  The chair lift looks so oddly out of place and lonely, when there is no snow.  

It’s National Trail Day. So I quick snapped a picture of Ryan in front of this abandoned pylon, dining the AT emblem and pointing us in the right direction.  I’ve never relied on white blazes as much as I do here in Vermont.  The trail isn’t always as obvious as it was down south, maybe because there hasn’t been as much traffic yet this year.

We made our way back down the mountain, and into a gap where we say down to eat lunch.  We were so grateful to have our bug nets, as they were out in force.  They aren’t so bad when you are moving, but as soon as you stop… They begin to feast!

They are so pretty aren’t they?

The kids played some Frisbee for a few moments, then the Frisbee got caught on a branch.  They spent a good half hour throwing a hiking pole with a strong attached to it at the Frisbee in hopes of being able to bring it down… They were finally successful.

Before seeing back out, we decided to have a little chat to see how everyone is doing.  Honestly, a couple of the kids aren’t doing great.  Here’s the thing, the hiking isn’t the issue.  It is the space to be together as a family to regroup, to talk openly, to process things that are bigger.  We listened to one of our sons, who told us that he knew we were better than a couple of days ago, but he wished we could just spend sometime alone, all of us, to really work through some stuff.  I love that the most about my kids.  They want to talk!  It shows that bitterness hasn’t overtaken them, and they trust that they will be heard.  This is a huge gift.  Coming from the one who wants to finish every single mile, leaving no blaze unseen, his request to go home is not at all about quitting, but about finishing strong.  We contemplated this for a bit.  Even if we decided not to hike many miles and spend the majority of the day sitting around a fire talking (which had been awesome in the past) we are fighting these bugs and it is forecasted to rain non stop of the next several days.  Two tents and more rain does not allow for those long, open conversations.  So we decided to call home and have Grammie come pick us up.

We still had to walk almost 5 miles… One we are on the main road we put our thumbs up.  Look at these crazy kids!

A really nice lady, in a Prius, stopped to pick us up.  She fit all five kids, their poles and their packs into her car!  She dropped them off at the Bromley Market, and came back for me, Ryan, and Belle!  (If you are reading this, thank you again!)

Not too much later, Carol arrived.  We stuffed our packs in the trunk and headed for home.  

Though we are home, we are not spending time with anyone but eachother.  We are looking at it like a free hotel, with a common area.  The purpose of this journey is to grow, heal, purge, be heard, come back together, forgive, be forgiven, dream… Find purpose!  If the conditions on the trail hinder that, then we need to hop off.  The trail will always be there, but our kids’ willingness to talk might not.

After eating pizza, taking showers, and putting on clean clothes… We went to bed!  

In a little bit, I’ll make breakfast, we’ll gather around the table, and we’ll start to talk… 

June 2nd: A day to refocus and rest

June 2nd: A day to refocus and rest

We didnt put on any miles today, but we did find eachother again.  One of our readers made a comment on one fo the posts about June 1st.  He shared his thoughts about all of the changes that we had gone through in just the past few days.  The rythym was broken, and though it seemed good, and was good in many respects, it left us all a little jostled and out of tune.  

It was so nice to be able to take warm showers after having been so cold and wet for the past few days.  We all slept really really well, and woke up in peace. 

The breakfast that we were looking forward to was nothing but cereal, but it was good none the less.  We used every single bit of our time in the hotel room. And then we started to hike back toward town.  Ryan was expecting an important phone call at 2:30, so we figured we would stay put until that phone call came in, since signal is never guaranteed out here. 

We started to hitch hike, when Greg from Maple Valley Design and Build saw us and flagged us over to his office.  He was surprised to see us, since he had just been reading our blog the night before.  It is a crazy little world.  Well, he was awesome and let us store all of our packs at his office, so that we would not have to carry them with us all day.  

They were not too stinky, I dont think, but we have gone nose numb to most smells. 

Greg and one of the other members of his team, John, drove us to town.  Ryan found out that he had been a Blackhawk pilot in the Army.  They laughed a bit and we went on our way.  It was so nice to have met him. 

We stopped at EMS and bought some bug nets.  These will certainly help keep the bugs at bay.  We hopped on over to Price Chopper where we bought some stuff for lunch.  Now, my fingers were too greasy to snap a pictures, but imagine seven of us sitting in a little alcove of a shopping plaza devouring 2 rotisserie chickens, a dozen Hawaiian rolls, a bag of tortilla chips with a tub of guacamole, a bag of salt and vinegar chips, an entire package of Oreo cookies, and five bananas. Oh, lets not forget the 32 oz. Gatorades. Yes… hungry hikers can eat some food!

Well, after lunch, we stopped over at McDonalds, because Ryan wanted a coffee.  And we made it there just before the sky opened up and drenched the soggy earth again. 

We finished up some things like paying our bills, and finding a way to get Taylors iPod warranty enacted… all of the things that we take for granted when we are at home with cars, computers, and printers.  

After the rain stopped we went down town to the outfitter to get Belle another bowl.  I think that we have left behind atleast 3 or 4.  Hopefully, we will not lose this one.  And while we were there, I was wearing my worn out Darn Tough socks.  It was awesome to find out that the had a sock exchange program, so that I could just take off my semi-clean but definitively warn out socks, and leave the store with a bright turquoise brand new pair!  They were also helpful in directing us to where we could ship Taylors iPod from… so we headed to the iShip.  They very kindly let me print out the forms and the label and sent it all away for us. 

We redeemed the free ice cream cones that a kind woman had given us the day before.  Ben and Jerrys was amazing ice cream, and hit the spot!

We didn’t have so much luck hitching a ride back to our packs… I guess that the packs are the part that catches everyone’s eye, so we walked the 2 miles and then when we got there found a nice surprise left by Greg and his team!  Pizza!!!

And as soon as we started to eat the pizza it started raining buckets again!!!  It was so nice that we had made it to the building before it rained since most of us did not have our rain coats with us. 

Greg returned and offered to take us back to the trail head.  We all took a picture, but it is on Ryan’s phone, so Ill have to add it later.  Greg was awesome, and his kindness played a huge part in the “rest” part of our day. 

We got back to the trail head at about 5:30.  We had planned to hike just a couple of miles, but decided it was Ok to just set up right where we were and tack on those miles to another day.

We are going to find our rythym again.  We are all committed to this journey, and more importantly to eachother. 

Happy Trails, The Thru Crew

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