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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6 thoughts on “The shape of things to come

  1. From a 97 thru-hiker lucky enough to have found myself in the ‘magic 200’ (and one who has also survived scabies in Nepal) I wish you good luck! A successful thru-hike is built on a few things – being smart, being lucky and being so goddam pig-headed that nothing will get you off of that trail, not pain, not rain, not boredom, not missing people… Lord you have to be so thick-skulled and singular. It is the journey of a lifetime and I envy the butterflies that you have right now – it is because you are on the precipice of a great adventure!

    • I’m totally impressed by the scabies! =D

      Congratulations on finishing your thru, and thank you so much for the good wishes. It’s encouraging to hear that other people survived!

  2. gcobb1990

    I had to bail in January 2010 on my adventure-best of luck to you! It really does take an incredible combination of chance, circumstances, and preparation (and not a masochistic fascination with winter backpacking). I just posted a gear list outlining some of my mistakes- I hope you’ll check it out!

    • I’ll definitely check it out! I’m sorry to hear that 2010 didn’t work out. 😦 That sucks. I hope the next effort brings you better luck!

  3. great post!!
    <<– fellow 2013 hiker too

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