atsignIn recent years, I’ve begun setting yearly goals or challenges for myself in lieu of New Year’s resolutions. In 2012, I set myself the goal of hiking the Georgia portion of the Appalachian Trail, totaling 76.4 miles. Hiking the trail has long been a dream of mine (ever since reading Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods) but I’d never actually set foot on it. ┬áThat changed on February 12, when Mike and I joined members of the Georgia Appalachian Trail Club for a hike from Blue Ridge Gap to Bly Gap, the point at which the trail crosses from Georgia to North Carolina. That morning was the coldest of the year, with a wind chill temperature of only 9 degrees Fahrenheit (-13 Celsius) when we started our hike. It was brisk, but sunny, and we soon warmed up as we climbed the mountains and made our way to North Carolina – although the water in my water bottle remained frozen for much of the day. After a couple of ours and a few miles, we had reached our end point, and I’d made the first steps in completing my goal.

Throughout the rest of the year, I made my way south to Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the trail. Although I’ve hiked for years, I’d never done any backpacking, and this also changed in 2012. I did my first overnight backpacking trip in April, with a women’s hiking group – and loved it. Some of my Georgia AT hikes were backpacking trips, including another women’s group overnighter, when I tried out sleeping in a hammock for the first time – and was rocked to sleep by the wind blowing through the trees as screech owls called in the night. Another time, my friend Alicia and I went out on our own and spent two nights on the trail, getting to know one another more as only several miles of hiking together and sharing a small tent space will do! Watching (and feeling) a storm roll over a mountaintop while sitting in a wooden shelter is something I’ll never forget. (Neither will I forget the yellow jackets in the privy, right, Alicia?) ┬áThose first couple of forays into backpacking were addictive, and when Alicia invited me to join her and a few friends for a week-long 55-mile backpacking trip on the AT in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, I jumped at the chance. That week was a highlight of my year, and made memories and friendships that will last a lifetime. I hope to be able to do another AT trip again with them in 2013.

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At the GA/NC border; and atop Springer Mountain

At the GA/NC border; and atop Springer Mountain

In the last few days of December, I was scrambling to find someone and some way to hike the last few miles to Springer. Earlier in the month, a hike attempt was thwarted when Alicia, Mike and I inadvertently served as “trail angels,” helping a woman who had become seriously ill by calling 911 and waiting with her until the medics arrived. As the remaining days in 2012 passed by, plans to hike were made and canceled, as weather and illness reared their ugly heads. Finally, on December 30, Mike and I drove up to Springer Mountain, making our way on a snow-covered forest road to the parking area near the summit, where we met up with one of the most famous AT shuttle drivers out there, Wes Wisson, who has been shuttling AT hikers from one trailhead to another for 23 years, including Bill Bryson. Mr. Wisson had agreed to meet us at the Springer trailhead and take us to Hightower Gap, 8 miles north. After dropping us off and wishing us well, Mike and I started out on what would be my final hike to complete the trail. On this day, it was a little warmer than our first hike of the year, as the wind chill temperature was a balmy (ha!) 22 degrees Fahrenheit (-6 Celsius) and again we had the sun shining on us. The treetops were lined with ice and the trail was dusted with snow, making our last hike of the year a beautiful winter wonderland. The last mile to the top of Springer was the most treacherous, as the trail snaking up the mountainside was covered in ice, making for a very slow ascent. But before too long, I was at the top, and completing my goal. My year of hiking was bookended by hikes with my husband, and in between I hiked with him and with friends – and those shared miles were the best part. My heart and thanks are with each person who helped me achieve my goal.

Sharing a moment with Geraldine Brooks

Sharing a moment with Geraldine Brooks

My reading and blogging habits in 2012 were less successful, as it was the first year I neglected to review a single book, although I did still manage to keep a log of the books I read this year and finished 40 books. I wouldn’t have reached that number if my friend Heidi hadn’t finally managed to hook me on paranormal fantasy/romance, something for which I’m not sure whether to thank or curse her. (I kid, I kid.) Earlier in the year, I finally jumped on the Dragon Tattoo bandwagon and read the three books in that trilogy. I read several stand-out books, including Unbroken by Lauren Hillenbrand and Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Other literary highlights in 2012 included meeting two of my favorite authors, Margot Livesey and Geraldine Brooks.

In 2013, I’ve set myself two sets of challenges, one physical and one cerebral. I’ve challenged myself to run 500 miles over the course of the year and to participate in at least one race a month. I’ve already got several races lined up for the year, so barring any injuries, that shouldn’t be a problem. The other challenge is a little more lofty, as I’ve pledged to read 100 books and revive my dormant blog by posting here once a week. Wish me luck!