Introducing Pearwood on the AT
Who am I?
I am a photographer, walker, and sometime paddler, a theologically-educated geek living in Rochester, NY. Once upon a time I was an Army helicopter jockey in Alaska.
I started with film photography, switched to digital, then went back to classic film cameras.
With major back surgery in August 2019 and bunion repair in January 2020 now behind me, I am gearing up to start Appalachian Trail NOBO in March, 2021 to celebrate my seventy-first birthday.
Pearwood has been my online moniker ever since I signed up on deviantArt.com in 2005 and needed to come up with a username. I’ll tell you the rest of the story later.
Why am I thru-hiking the AT?
Because it has been far too long since I have done anything really outrageous.
In 2017 I got laid off from my software quality assurance job, had outpatient surgery to correct a herniated disk, and started working my way back to the land of the living.
In January 2018 I made two critical decisions. The first was, “Screw it. I’m 67. I am no longer unemployed. I am retired.”
The second was, “You have long had this idea that thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail would be a good idea. There’s only one way to make it happen. Set a date and start telling people.” 2020 for birthday 70 sounded like nice round numbers with reasonable lead time. On Epiphany Sunday, January 7, I wrote in my journal, “Resolved: I intend to spend my 70th birthday thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. So help me, God.”
I started planning for a March 2020 start. I walked a lot of miles in Letchworth State Park that summer. In November I started having back problems again. We assumed it was another herniated disk. The x-rays and MRI told us differently. It was an infected disk, which turned out to be much worse than the herniated disk. Was it related to the disk surgery over a year earlier? Perhaps. Who knows? Doesn’t really matter. Heavy antibiotics looked like they were clearing it up, but the infection came roaring back. In August 2019, I spent ten hours on the operating table and eight days in the hospital getting the infection cleared out and the adjacent vertebrae fused.
On to plan B
Even while I was in the hospital the surgeon told my I would be ready to thru-hike in March. I told him that meant I would be ready to resume training. I set my sights on March 2021. By December I had the surgeon’s enthusiastic approval to go ahead. But now the bunion on my right foot was getting rapidly worse. It was becoming a matter of taking care of it or being crippled. X-rays showed the toe joint eaten up with arthritis. We got that cleaned up and the main toe joint fused in January. The foot surgeon gave me a thumbs-up for the thru-hike as well. Then came the pandemic. I could not have thru-hiked in 2020 even if I had been ready.
Will there be a plan C?
Earlier this month I started adding #PandemicPermitting to my #AppalachianTrail2021 for #Birthday71 hashtags on Instagram. I am still working toward a March 2021 start at Springer Mountain, but it is looking iffier every day. I am in excellent health now, but I did turn 70 last June. If thru-hiking in 2021 means recklessly endangering myself or the people in the communities along the trail, then it will be #AppalachianTrail2022 for #Birthday72. But one way or another, it is going to happen.
I’ll keep you posted.
Steve / pearwood
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