Posts Tagged With: inspiration

Best summit photo EVER

Best summit photo EVER.

Here’s the link to their 2008 journal. They did a super-fast hike, too: 112 days. “In the summer of 2008, my friend Adam and I Thru-Hiked the Appalachian Trail, starting in Georgia and ending in Maine. We hiked an average of just under 20 miles a day with backpacks that weighed up to 40 pounds! We took many breaks during the trip to relax, but when we hiked, we took it seriously. The average mileage that we hiked in a full day was more like the distance of a marathon, 26 miles. We finished our trek well ahead of our scheduled 127 days. It took us under 4 months, 112 days in total from Springer Mountain to Mount Katahdin!”

I’ve often thought about carrying something interesting, or planning something clever. Bomber carried a rubber chicken, right? But first I have to survive to Neels Gap. I don’t really think much past that.

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Just finished one of the best videos I’ve ever seen on the whole, crazy moving circus. It’s Bomber’s 2012 video. Highly recommended!

Bomber's thru

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Time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping into the future

Well… I’m as nervous as the next guy, I imagine! But here it is, January 2, and my birthday! I’m not worried about training and eating right and hike prep today. Honestly, I’m trying not to worry about much of anything today—my birthday gift to myself. 🙂

There’s a lot to be done. This week, first and foremost, I have to get the taxes together. One of the issues for a self-employed thru-hiker is that not only do I have to pay my 2012 taxes before I hit the Trail, but I have to pay my 2013 taxes, too. That’s probably my biggest paperwork issue at the moment, and it’s time-consuming. A detail, though.

Everything that’s left is a detail.

The gear is dialed down. I’ll probably dump some stuff at Neel (or Neels—I can’t decide, and sources vary) Gap. Maybe not, though. My pack weight with a max load of winter gear, five days’ worth of food, and a liter of water is 29 or 30 pounds (I’m fussing around with a few ounces). I’m fine with that, for now. (It will go down after Mt. Rogers, when I can send the winter stuff home.)

The arrangements are made. There are details there, too: extra keys to be made, that sort of thing.

And of course, life goes on. This morning my keyboard broke. I have a backup that I’m using. I’d like to not buy anything before I get back, because who knows what I’ll be thinking then? My roof has developed a leak, so I need to get that sorted.

Details, details, details.

For hiking prep… well, hiking and working are butting heads. I can’t walk every day because I’ve got February deadlines. The best thing I can do for myself is take some days (even weeks) away from the trail, since it’s all snowy and treacherous anyway, and finish up the work as fast as I possibly can. That would give me some weeks in February to start amping up the training. I’d like to do more, but I don’t think I’ll be able to—and I’m OK with that. I’m in good physical shape, more or less. The twenty pounds I’d like to lose will just have to work themselves out on the Trail.

The big issue is this arthritic knee of mine. I feel like I’m starting the hike with a giant strike against me. On the other hand, it doesn’t limit my motion in any way, manner, means, or form. It just hurts. So: will the hiking change that? Will the pain increase to the point where I can’t use it? I’m worried about that—quite a lot, in fact. But it is what it is. It hurts at home, too. The only place it doesn’t hurt is when I’m actually walking. If it drives me off the Trail, well, I suppose I’ll be a section hiker. And in fact, I think I’ll probably be fine. But I’m a worrier.

So there it is. The state of the state on my 52nd birthday, and the year in which I tackle the last thing on my bucket list. (After this, I’m going to need a new list.)

Happy 2013! May the weather be mild and the ticks be few! 🙂 (That’s an old Rocksylvania saying that I just made up.)

Oh, and by the way… good luck to Rifle and anybody else who started on January 1. I’m reading your journals while you blaze the Trail. Smooth sailing to you all!

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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

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Training march–20 miles

I did it! I did it! Twenty miles with thirty pounds.

I was wondering about the twenty miles, given that it took me five hours, or a few minutes under. But then I remembered that my regular walks are four miles and they take roughly an hour and a half, including stopping at traffic lights and a trip into the grocery store. Plus the one thing I’ve never been accused of is walking slowly. Once I get steaming, I roll along. And this is an easy walk, too. Paved roads and footpaths. Not much in the way of uphills, but it is what it is. And I’m OK with that. I remember back in my martial arts days: one of the greatest teachers I had the privilege of learning from said something along the lines of “The dojo is where you practice under bright lights on a soft floor with friends.” The Farm Park is bright lights on a soft floor with friends. At the very least, my back and shoulders know what it feels like to carry thirty pounds. My feet know what it feels like to march twenty miles.

I feel pretty good! A little stiff, for sure. I wish I could sit on something high and swing my feet, because those dogs are barking! The only thing that’s worrisome is the same old left knee issue. It really started to hurt at the end, and it hurts now. I didn’t have the brace with me, but I’ll wear it tomorrow.

Wait. Did I say tomorrow? Yes. Yes, I did! I think the only thing I can do right now is prepare my body to do long days in a row. Three times a week is fine, but for me, I want two of them to be back to back. I want to have a little soft-floor, bright-light training with complete lack of motivation—or worse, really not wanting to go out, and going out anyway. Going out without having had a full day of rest to recover.

As far as the walk itself went, it was pleasant. Saw some dead snakes, some dead caterpillars, and some smooshed mice. On the other hand, I had a long stare-down with a deer. I love the way deer stand in the woods and peer at you. They seem wise, somehow, and serene. In the moment. They’re gauging which way the wind is blowing from one instant to the next, prepared to move in whatever direction is called for. It’s very zen. Thank you, deer.

I saw a lot of people, mostly retirees getting in their miles, and a lot of people walking dogs. A lot of dogs. And some poop. But I digress. I saw one guy who was very chatty—a World War II vet who asked about my backpack and gave me a long rundown of most of the strategy for most of the battles in most of the theaters of the War. It was interesting, but the man himself was more so—more interesting, I mean. Here he is, clearly without people to talk to, clearly deeply interested in this massive experience that shaped his life.

Will that be me, someday? An old woman meandering through a park, pinning down a stranger and talking relentlessly about bear sightings and running out of water near Pearisburg? I hope so. Because when push comes to shove, the guy had to be 80. But there he was, still fit and strong, and wandering, and having those crisp bright memories (and opinions) to share.

When he stopped for a breather, I thanked him for his service, then I slipped away.




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Trail journals

“I finally made my way back to the shelter—no rides, so it was another three-mile walk in Fontana. You would not think this would bother me, with all of the walking I am already doing on this trip, but my legs and the bloody stumps I use for feet have only so many miles in them on any given day, and I hoard these like a miser. Wasting them on roadwalks not part of the official Appalachian Trail mileage frustrates the hell out of me.”

From the best trail journal I’ve ever read: Then the Hail Came, by George Steffanos, 1983 thru-hiker.

Why, oh why isn't that an e-book? George, if you're reading this, you should put it out on Kindle and make yourself a buck or two. I'd pay for a copy, for sure!

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