Is The Appalachian Trail Worth Doing?
The saying “if it isn’t a little scary it probably isn’t worth your time” comes to mind for me. So if it is way more than a little scary then it must really, really be worth my time and I should go for it, right? I ask myself that a lot these days. Waking up at night or sitting comfortably on my couch listening to Spotify with Beagles or a Coonhound pressed against me, anxiety creeps in. This undertaking is definitely way outside of my comfort zone but how can it not be? That is probably the very best reason for me to attempt the Appalachian Trail now, to be pushed out of my comfort zone, and grow in ways that I haven’t for a very long time. I can’t think of a better way or place to do that.
Getting Into Backpacking
My backpacking experience began in my early 40s when I became friends with coworker Vince who was already into it. Not counting my time in the boy scouts using paper maps and a compass to navigate, I knew little. My first real trip was a point-to-point trek in Great Smoky Mountain NP with Vince. Despite having a black bear stick its nose under my tent flap at night or me needing to finish the trek in sandals because of the massive blisters on my heels, I was hooked.
Other trips with Vince followed. The Rock Slides Trail in Yosemite NP and on the Wagon Wheel Trail on the Mogollon Rim. Using the longer route to climb Mt Whitney was ready to go but a blizzard and severe weather in the Sierras forced us to the only dry place we could find in the area, Death Valley. Death Valley NP and the Mojave National Preserve have since become my favorite places on Earth to explore.
Later on, I enjoyed trips in Grand Canyon NP, Grayson Highlands SP, and the Four Pass Loop in Aspen with family and the Gila Wilderness, Manistee River Trail and Dolly Sods with my wife. All the trips were awesome but none solo or long enough to need to resupply. None forced me to learn to embrace the suck of extended bad weather, monotony and the so many other ways there are to be miserable. Only a long distance thru hike does that, and much more of course.
A Disclaimer and LNT
Before I get too much further along, I wanted to be sure to mention that my friend and I practiced LNT in GSMNP. Backpacks were up on the cables. No food or smelly things besides us in our tents. Earlier we had seen two bears checking out a nearby campsite, but they fled into the woods when we made some noise. Checking things out, we saw remnants of leftover food dumped in a fire ring. Well, in the middle of the night the bears returned and checked out everything in the vicinity. Hearing the snorts and sticks breaking beneath their feet was unnerving in the pitch black. The next morning revealed my water bladder chewed, trekking poles scattered and a tee shirt that was drying on them missing. I should have put the water bladder up on the cables too in hindsight.
LNT for me boils down to leaving situations better than I found them. Respect nature and people. It’s not that complicated. The other principles flow from there.
So I plan to start NOBO on the Approach Trail in early March and on my 60th birthday. Milestones on major birthdays are my thing. For my 40th birthday I ran my first half marathon and lost 40 pounds in the process. Credit goes to my doctor for threatening to put me on cholesterol medication for life to motivate me. When my 50th birthday rolled around I ran a marathon, saw the Eagles in concert before the late great Glenn Frey passed and trekked the Inca Trail in Peru to Machu Picchu. Big birthday plans just keep getting bigger. I can’t imagine if I will make it to my 70th birthday. What will I decide to do? Going to space seems popular these days. It will probably be common a decade from now.
How I Think That I Think
Now a little about myself; how I’m wired. I’m an extrovert but avoid crowds preferring a smaller circle. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy and relaxed to plan and organize. That can be finances, trips for me or loved ones, or anything really. The more logistically challenging the better like a weeklong family canoe trip. For decades, I organized golf trips with my friends and our weekly rounds. Handicaps were calculated with a five-page workbook. Wouldn’t say I’m a geek but I wouldn’t argue the point either.
I’m a bargain shopper that would rather buy three good deals than buy one perfect full price item. It’s a weakness. It costs me more in the long run, but I enjoy the chase. For all of my planning, I still tend to measure once and cut three times than vice versa. That lets me make a new plan though, so I guess that’s a win. Maybe I’m cross wired.
Transitioning From Work
Work life is currently in an office leading audit teams. My position is pretty technical, using spreadsheets and data and researching system issues, so I really enjoy it. But I’ve been doing it for 25 years and feel like it’s time to let someone else run the show. My teams know what they’re doing so it makes my decision to leave a little easier.
The skills I use at work seem to translate to my Appalachian Trail planning. In fact, I have several spreadsheets of where I will be every single day of the five months or so on the AT that include the expected weather, preferred hostels and probable resupplies. I do this because I love to plan, not because I think it will be at all accurate or worth much once I start my journey.
And Onto The AT
On the trail I won’t plan much more than a few days out and to the next resupply. No resupply boxes are planned for example. I kind of look at the trek as a series of new plans and that is appealing. Unexpected things will happen daily. I will adjust and the trail will provide, or it won’t.
Speaking of the trail providing, I have invested. As a believer in karma and in paying it forward, I’ve provided trail magic here and there already. This past Summer, I did so while day hiking north to the Washington Memorial in Pennsylvania. If you are reading this and I was fortunate enough to meet you and provide you some fresh fruit and sparkling water, let me know how you did. You will remember the couple with the two beagles I suspect.
Back To My Comfort Zone
Leaving work is one thing but leaving condo life with two Beagles, a Coonhound (recently rescued) and a spouse of 39 years is quite another. Life is fun, comfortable, organized and, well, good. I have two grown children and my first grandchild on the way. It doesn’t seem responsible of me to give up a good job and do this right now even though my spouse and children are extremely supportive. The little voice inside of me whispers maybe it’s them that needs the break from me!
I’m probably not going to say this right, but my friend Vince and I compare staying in one’s comfort zone as being stuck in the mud. It’s warm and cozy there and far simpler to stay put than to try to pull free. That’s the struggle I feel right now. I’m warm and cozy in the mud. At the same time, I can feel the universe pulling me to do this. Many factors I may get into later have aligned to make early March launch time for me. I’m lucky to have the opportunity to try this at least.
That’s enough for now. My goal here will be to keep family and old and new friends updated with what life before, during and after the Appalachian Trail is like from my narrow experience. Tell me what you want, and I will do my best to include it.
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