“Well, I come to the barnyard to walk through his farm, he is very much alive.”
In part one of our conversation with Laura Finch about her 19 day solo hike on the Allegheny Trail, Finch talked about the fears she had camping alone in the wilderness as well as the exhilaration of being alone in the wild and seeing a Bald Eagle, In this part Laura tells us about the weather along the trail, some of the people she met, and about her faithful four legged companion on the hike, Shiloh.
Since she had mentioned packing her rain gear, I asked Laura if she had needed it.
“I think there were four days of rain-just with showers” Finch said. “But, no, unfortunately it was so dry during my trip that was when the Governor had enacted the fire ban which I found to be very inconvenient when a campfire is so nice for light and for heat. There were a couple of occasions when there were downpours, and I just found myself in a really convenient place. One time when there was a downpour, I was in a place called Rockville, which is a beautiful little town in Preston County. I happened to be right near a bridge when the rain started falling, so I just hung out under the bridge while the downpour happened. And the other time it rained, I was in Terra Alta and right near a picnic shelter. So I just had a lot of good luck on my hike.
Laura, did you meet any interesting people along the way?
“I met amazing people. The northernmost section – which I did complete – goes mostly through Preston County, and then a portion of Tucker (County) between a lot of private properties. So you will be walking a very seldom used gravel road or an old stone logging road and there will be ‘posted-private property’ (signs) on both sides. Which is not what backpackers are necessarily accustomed to. But what that made me do was reach out to people, and rely, you know, so some degree on the kindness of strangers. My first day hiking was only about 8 miles. After I made it to West Virginia from the State Park where I had camped in Pennsylvania the night before and I had read in the Guide -which is published by the West Virginia Trails Association which maintains the trail – that the trail would go right through the barnyard of this elderly farmer. And I had spoken the day before with a woman who had told me that this farmer was deceased. Well, I come to the barnyard to walk through his farm, he is very much alive. He serves me sweet tea. He invites me to stay at his cabin just a quarter mile back on the trail, so I didn’t even have to sleep out my first night.”
“I was able to camp out in a few peoples’ front yards. It was just delightful to rely on the kindness of strangers because you don’t expect it so much anymore. Actually, just this morning I got a call from Mrs. Harned in Preston County who let me stay at her place the second night of my hike, and she was just checking in to check that Shiloh and I had gotten home well.
I understand that you weren’t completely alone, can you tell us about your companion on the hike?
“Shiloh is a three-and-a-half-year-old Lab and Border Collie mix. She weighs about 65 pounds. I did give her a pack during the hike, although I did end up taking about half of her food and packing it myself. She is pretty well trained. She loves the woods, but this trip was not exactly the Cranberry Wilderness that we are accustomed to because of the road surfaces being gravel in places and large stones over very old logging roads in other places. It was not what she had expected out of a walk in the woods. So, she was more tired than I would have expected and whereas she’s normally running circles around me, she was kind of begging to take breaks. And I was able to work with that, and accommodate that and to be honest, from time to time I wondered whether she wasn’t telling me to take a break because I ought to (chuckle.) But we had a great time, and ultimately were able to stay on the trail together the whole time.”
Laura says she looks forward to doing the complete trail next summer, and in the meantime will do short trails in the Cranberry Wilderness and other trails.