My Eureka – The Appalachian Trail

Have you ever had a Eureka moment when the stars align, fate stares you down, destiny tells you everything’s going to be OK, and you suddenly realize what you want from life? I’m sure some of you know what I mean, and I’m equally sure some of you are looking at me as if I’ve got nine eyes. While I appreciate that some plans take years to mature, this Eureka stuff has that sledge hammer quality you can’t ignore.

My flashbulb moment is as clichéd as it gets and I make no apology for it. I blame (or maybe I should thank) Bill Bryson. I’d never heard of the Appalachian Trail or A Walk In The Woods before I saw the film two years ago, and that was it. Eureka. Kismet. Hooked. I’d found something I didn’t know I’d been looking for, an answer to a question I hadn’t asked. Who was I to argue? The universe had spoken and I listened.

Screaming

That’s when the Google / YouTube merry-go-round simultaneously became my best friend and worst enemy. Time disappeared into an internet vacuum and I didn’t sleep for the next three months (not really, but you get the idea). I became an Appalachian Trail info sponge, soaking up the hints, tips, and advice from a million hiker blogs, vlogs, and websites, trying to learn it all from the comfort of the couch. But there came a time when the daydream wanted a life of its own. So the idea became more than just an idea, and the plan became more than just a plan.

But there was another conversation to have before AT fever took an even stronger grip, the conversation with my significant other, the conversation when it could all go wrong in a heartbeat. So I waited for the fireworks, waited for the screaming, waited for the broken plates, but it didn’t happen. The chat went well, very well. She completely agreed that I could do with some space and me time, although she didn’t see the need to go quite as far as the Appalachian Trail. Fair point. So with her blessing (thank you so much), one by one the pegs starting falling into place.

Can you follow the white blazes?

Getting Up and Going

And now it’s my turn to have a crack at the five million steps from Georgia to Maine. My turn to stop stomping around in my own metaphorical wilderness and head out for the real life bears and bugs wilderness. My turn to walk and keep walking.

But as with the best laid plans of mice and men, there are issues. Aren’t there always? I don’t like being cold—who does? I don’t like being wet—ditto. I don’t like bugs, having dirty hands, eating outside, or getting lost. And I don’t like challenges—they seem so unnecessary. I’ve always favored the easy life, the path of least resistance. I’m rather fond of electricity, indoor plumbing, and cutlery, and generally prefer sitting back and watching to getting up and going.

Invited In, Chewed Up

But Eureka slapped me and urged me to change, to lever myself out of the rut I was in and push myself forward. I’m too old to change completely, and I don’t really want to, but tweaking my outlook on life may not be such a bad thing. So it’s time to accept what I can’t change and challenge myself to change what I can. Embrace the suck, so they say, but that embrace seems to start biting way before getting close to the trail. That said, I’m rather looking forward to meeting my future self, the man invited in, chewed up, and spat out by Old Mother AT.

So this is me. I’m just a normal bloke. Average height, average weight, but less hair than there used to be, a picture of brawn and brains without the muscles or intellect. I’m just south of the half century, hovering around in that nether-world of middle age, and I’m English. So another accent to go with those strange hikers hogging the left side of the trail. Do the Brits really do that? I know a trickle of Brits hit the AT every year but we’re a bit of a rare breed. And an AT Brit hiker my age is an even rarer beast. I’m sure they must exist, and like Sasquatch, I suspect they’re out there somewhere, I just can’t find one.

I don’t want to add my shoes to that tree.

Old School

And that’s it. I’m fortunate there’s no sad story or tale of woe. I didn’t buy the winning lottery ticket on the day of the apocalypse. I’m not the cowboy who’s just buried his favorite horse, or the rancher the day the world turned vegetarian. I’m just me, and I’m setting foot on the Appalachian Trail in March 2020 to see what I’m made of, good or bad. I may surprise myself, I may run home in tears, but I’ll have learned something either way, and I’ll be better for it.

I’m under no illusion this trail is the hardest thing I’m ever likely to do. But I’ve planned, prepped, and trained the best I can for it, body and mind, as I really don’t want to throw my shoes into that tree at Neel Gap. Am I concerned by the journey ahead? Yes and no. I’m proud to be old school, and although I’m not a big fan of change or the unknown, I’m more curious to see what fate and destiny have in store for me. So, Appalachian Trail, I’m coming to get you. Anyone care to follow the journey? Might be fun.

Toby.

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Comments 16

  • Stu : Feb 26th

    Brilliant bio Tobes. Looking forward to following your adventures. If the AT does turn out to be what you were looking for – can you pass it back to Bono when you’re finished? He’s still wanging on about it.

    Reply
    • Toby : Feb 27th

      Hey Stu, Thanks for the praise – it’s good to hear from you. I’ll see what I can do about the Bono thing.

      Reply
      • Dave : Feb 28th

        Yes I have to agree, very well written. As much as I hate to say it…. enjoy the short walk, watch out for bears and do us Brits proud! I expect to see a healthy younger looking man when you come back

        Reply
  • Daddy C : Feb 27th

    I in my day 5 million steps equates to a walk in the woods. The hardest task in life is staying marrierd. I hope you find time to join the club when you get back.
    I’ve read the book, seen the film and heard the stories. Good luck and don’t eat the yellow snow. D

    Reply
    • Toby : Feb 27th

      Hey Dad, Thanks for chipping in. I’m happy I’ve always listened to your advice as it was usually filled with words of wisdom. Advice gives me knowledge, and knowledge gives me options. And then I can consider those options and see what I think will work best for me and mine. And I’ll watch what I eat. Love you.

      Reply
  • Stu : Feb 27th

    We should count our blessings that you were watching ‘a walk in the woods’ when the eureka moment occurred. It could have been ‘boogie nights’ or ‘Deuce Bigalow’ – they would have presented a very different set of challenges.

    Reply
    • Wilson : Feb 27th

      Toby,
      Are you sure your not me? Cause you described me almost to a T. Except age. I’m 68 and just retired. I’m starting my NOBO thru hike on March 9. When is yours?

      Reply
      • Toby : Feb 27th

        Hi Wilson, Thanks for your comment. I’m sure they are a few of us out there who fit our description – we are not alone. I’m heading out at the end of March – date TBC once I get the flights booked. Happy hiking.

        Reply
    • Toby : Feb 27th

      You always make me laugh. Did you know that Naked Hiking Day is on 21st June? Only my shins and arms will be taking part.

      Reply
      • Toby : Feb 27th

        This comment was meant for Stu.

        Reply
  • Chris : Feb 27th

    God, I really hate to say this, but that is brilliantly written. If you’re still in that rut when you get back, maybe that’s the new career!
    Thought I wouldn’t start out with abuse, plenty of time for that 😉

    Reply
    • Toby : Feb 28th

      Hey Chris, Welcome to the party, and thanks for the pretty words. I think the trail will abuse me more than enough, but if you’d like to join the cheering section, that’d be great.

      Reply
  • Suzanne : Feb 28th

    Awesome write up, I’m excited and terrified for you all at the same time. ‘Be prepared’ as we were always taught as ‘Brownies’ and enjoy the whole experience. I hope you find yourself and can’t wait to see your write ups and pictures (please). Stay safe and write down the great tips you learn, as I think Karen will want to go next time LOL
    X

    Reply
    • Toby : Mar 3rd

      Hi Suzanne, That makes two of us who are excited and terrified. More pics and blogs to follow.

      Reply
  • Melanie Heron : Mar 1st

    Hi Toby,
    I loved reading your bit above. Such a great thing to do (and credit to Karen for letting you go!)
    We’ll enjoy following your adventure. Disappointed you don’t have your Gandalf beard to take with you ~ it would’ve kept you warm on the cold nights …. xxx

    Reply
    • Toby : Mar 3rd

      Hi Mel, Glad you liked the write up. Gandalf may be no more, but I’ve got a feeling his younger, more handsome brother isn’t far away.

      Reply

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