Monthly Archives: November 2012

Pennsylvania rocks

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Honor and gratitude

The Trail was conceived in vast devotion. It twists over rocks, through streams, and across mountains that have held the sky for millennia. The Trail is lovingly maintained by the sweat and blood of a legion of volunteers who do the work selflessly and without remuneration. The stones of the Trail are as old as Earth, and the trees have witnessed the slow advance of thousands of mere people.

So how can I honor the Trail?

I can try to take each day as it comes, and only as it comes. I can make general plans for the next three days, but then concentrate on accepting the Trail as it is, just at that single instant, at the birth of each new footstep. The Trail will present great difficulties; if I try to fight them, it won’t be the Trail that’s battered. The Trail always wins. If I relax and accept the Trail for what it is, I don’t win—but the Trail and I move together. I am permitted to float for a time on its river.

I can try not to complain. Everybody hurts. The Trail has been described as six months of pain management. I guarantee that if I’m at a shelter or a hostel and I’m hurting, there’s somebody at that shelter or hostel who’s hurting worse. I can honor the Trail with trail magic. The Trail, after all, is a moving city of fellow journeyers.

I can honor the Trail by not cursing the stubbed toes, the torn shoelaces, the leaky shoes, the snow. Instead, I can express my deep gratitude to have the opportunity to walk the Trail for as long as I’m privileged to do so, be it three days or three months or all the way to Katahdin. I have a choice between “F–k you, trail” and “Thank you, trail.”

I can treat the Trail with respect by leaving my camping areas clean and welcoming for the hikers who come after. I can diligently practice Leave No Trace.

I can smile.

Thank you, Trail.

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“Begging your pardon…

said Sam. “I don’t think you understand my master at all…. Mr. Frodo, he knows he’s got to find the Cracks of Doom, if he can. But he’s afraid. Now it’s come to the point, he’s just plain terrified. That’s what his trouble is. Of course he’s had a bit of schooling, so to speak—we all have—since we left home, or he’d be so terrified he’d just fling the Ring in the River and bolt. But he’s still too frightened to start.”

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The shape of things to come

Well, here it is. Four months from today, I’ll be boarding an Amtrak train and migrating south to Georgia. Springer fever.

I’ve been leery of posting too often in the lead-up, for a couple of reasons.

First and foremost: yawn. Really, who’s interested in the fact that I might take Crocs or I might take water shoes, that I might go with the Thermasilk longjohns or I might go with the Capilene, that toothpaste stored this way weighs 0.55 ounces versus that way at 0.45 ounces? Assuming that the only people who might read this are fellow hopefuls… well, not exactly riveting information, is it. We’re all on the same calendar page.

But also, there’s the… call it my jinx issue. Every year, we hopefuls start our preparation journals. Most of us assume we’ll be among the magical 200 who reach Katahdin. And every year, the majority of those journalists eventually post that one final post:

“Stress fracture. Had to get off the trail.”
“Torn achilles.”
“Hernia. I’m done for the year.”
“Bad news at home. I’m out.”
“Ran out of money.”
“This just isn’t fun anymore.”
“I’ll try again when it’s warmer cooler better when I’m in better shape when my kids are older when I don’t have this great job offer on the table when when”

I respect any and all of those possibilities and decisions, and I hope to gods I don’t have a hike-ending disaster.

I just don’t want to be writing that journal. I’m almost afraid that if I put too much excitement down on (virtual) paper, the universe will smite me. (“Here!” laughs the universe. “Have scabies!“)

Besides, the preparation is just taking up space until we hit Springer. Right? Spinning wheels in an actual direction, instead of spinning them with no direction at all. Gotta do, gotta move, gotta make it be March! For me, anyway. Tapping fingers, since I can’t march feet.

As far as training goes, I’m just walking the way I usually walk, with a few extra miles thrown in, maybe to shed a pound or two (I’ve got twenty I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the back of—pun intended). Nine miles three times a week, maybe four, on gently sloping terrain with a daypack. I know I can work up to my max pack weight. I know I can go 20 miles with a 30-pound pack with no lingering stiffness or pain, at least around here. I can’t really test the strain on the knees (my weak point) because there aren’t any steep sustained hills locally, but I’m planning to go slowly in March. I can’t train for the heat, because hello winter! Also, I had to concede that walking 20 miles a couple-three times a week is pretty much wasted effort, especially this far in advance. Not to mention that it takes five hours, which is hard to manage while holding down a job. When walking is my full-time job, I’ll train up to the longer distances.

Now, mental preparation is another story. I’m testing my gear piecemeal under cold and rainy conditions. Every day, every hour, I ask myself, “Now how will this be when it’s in the teens and you can’t get warm? How will this be when it’s 97 degrees with a heat index of 108? What if you were doing this with a painful chafing rash and poison ivy? What if you had bee stings? What if those shoes were frozen solid? What if you were trying to do this with a massive dehydration headache? How can you prevent that? How will you manage emotionally when mice chew your food and you have to walk a day on nothing but a granola bar? What tools can you practice?” I’m doing a lot of mental work for the stressful times. I can’t train for all the physical contingencies, but I can maybe get prepared their psychological impact.

The one thing I’ve got going for me (aside from the fact that I’m a walker) is that I have a full (and somewhat terrifying) understanding that every day on the trail is hard. Every single day. Rewarding, I hope… but hard. I know that from hiking the AT here in rocky Pennsylvania. I’ve bonked in them thar hills. I’m ready for miserable. Miserable and I? We’re like this.

The trick, for me at least, is to acknowledge the misery, then find a way to shout, “Bring on a little more of it, motherf—–s! Bring on that misery!” Fist-shaking at the storm… sending ki, we used to call it, back in my old martial arts days. Not drowning in the hopeless enormity of it all, but deflecting the hardness back on itself. Harsh language is enormously helpful.

If it were easy, everybody would have a summit photo on their mantel.

Well… almost everybody. Me, I’m generally happier just a bit outside the mainstream. ;D

Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: , , , , | 6 Comments

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