A Previous Hiker’s Perspective

Wow – we’re finally only 2.5 months away. 2.5 months more of two crappy part time jobs, fake smiles, “Hi, how are you?!”s, and taking orders. Then I return to the “simple challenge”, as I call it, of taking a few million steps over some pretty big hills. For six months straight.

The difference between me and a large number of people who will be setting out April 1st is that I’ve done this before. Not the whole thing, but a few hundred miles the fall after I graduated college. That’s when I read Appalachian Trials, got my ass sniffed by a bear in my hammock in the middle of the night, and learned that the AT is much, much more challenging than I thought.

I remember my first few hours on the trail, scared pretty close to shitless, wondering what the hell I was doing. I had never carried a backpack into the woods, much less one that (quite absurdly) weighed 50 pounds. I had on a Columbia button down fishing shirt. My boots had only been worn around town and to bars for a few days prior. I had three shirts and two pairs of pants. I was a complete and utter novice, helpless and at the mercy of nature for the first time in my life.

Then, as you’ll learn, I slowly found that Columbia button down shirts are a waste of time, boots that are snug on your toes will cause all your toenails to turn black and blue, and that you really don’t need a change of clothes. Or a machete.meat2013

You start to slim down your backpack and gear – then your body follows suit. You learn to carry just enough until you get to the next town or road crossing. You learn that sometimes just camping behind Wal-Mart to save money is actually an entirely separate adventure in itself. You see a bear for the first time in your life and clank your hiking poles above your head and scream like a maniac until it turns away. You start to smile upon seeing a steep incline, not because you’re excited for the pain you’re about to endure, but because it’s almost as if the AT Gods – the spirits of Benton Mackaye and his crews – and perhaps even Mother Nature herself, are saying, “Here’s another one, bitch. Come and get it.”

You meet Southbounders who have come ALL THE WAY FROM EFFING MAINE. To you, only 8 miles in, this is quite truly unbelievable. You’re infatuated with their stories and talk to them with a cautious intrigue – like they’re small time movie stars from an indie film you’ve watched 1230920983 times.

You hike through snow, the first time you’ve seen it since you were a kid. You sleep in your new hammock in a snow storm the first night you have it because you underestimated how slowly you’d move through the white mess – only to discover it’s way, way colder than those damn guys on WhiteBlaze.com had warned you about.

And all that in only 310 miles.

This time I’m actually intending to walk all the way to Maine. This is much different than “I’ll just go as far as I can before it gets too cold.” This is a set goal – there is a finish line, and I know how far away it is. Really. Really. Really. Far.

Will my previous experience work to my advantage? Will it give me an air of confidence that may spell my demise as a through hiker? Speculations abound!

My guess is that I’ll be much better off in the first few hundred miles. Then, once the first timers have their legs and we delve deeper into the post-honeymoon-stage-psychological-endurance-phase, it’ll come down to simply whether or not we want it. And I’m pretty damn sure I want it. I don’t know why – to say I did it, to see how I grow spiritually and react to 6 months of a somewhat isolated existence, to do something only a tiny percentage of people in the world can claim they’ve even tried. And oh yeah, to finally read some damn books without Netflix screaming my name.

So what’s this previous hiker’s perspective? I’m like the guy who’s run a 5k racing the first time runner in a marathon. I may have my stride down and some better shoes, but who the hell knows what could happen.

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