It has Been a Month
One Month Out
It has been a month since I summited Katahdin. Now, I am sitting here writing this on Labor Day, drinking a beer and watching HBO. “But Ollie, why aren’t you on the lake with the frat buddies behind a boat wake boarding?” Because those things don’t exist in my my life and my feet still kind of hurt, fuck you.
People are asking me about what I am missing about the trail. What goes through my mind immediately are the things I certainly won’t miss.
1) Several of my toenails rotting off
2) The bottom of my feet peeling off in chunks
3) Always being in a state of perpetual exhaustion, dehydration, and hunger.
What I haven’t told people is that you miss the “purpose.” Your life is at the simplest form out there. Wake up with sun, hike till your tired, then go to sleep. At the most you are a week away from a town. That sense of progress is not experienced in a lot of places. All my jobs and internships so far have just been lateral moves in my mind. I talked and obsessed over this trip/adventure more than any job/class/internship I have had all through college. My summit photo will go up on my wall sooner than my diploma. I just feel more accomplished over this 4 month span than that entire 4 years of college.
It still feels surreal that I accomplished something like this. My Facebook feed is full of people’s summit photos and it feels great knowing them all. With all the thinking about giving advice to next year’s class of hikers, coming up with anything specific seemed useless. You are going to buy whatever gear works for you in your budget. The only advice I can comfortably give is one thing. People. Find people who can make the experience better for you. Find people that make you laugh and challenge you. The group I was hiking with started in Vermont, but I met 3 of them before that. During our last few days on the trail and the ascent up Katahdin, we came across some thru-hikers who had no group or people they were with. They had their day packs from the ranger station and were reaching the famous sign with the hoards of day hikers. From a thru-hiker’s perspective, I felt bad for them. Their internal struggle and journey was over, but a celebration alone at the top would not feel complete to me.
This is one of the only times where you would share a hotel room with people whom you met 5 minutes before, and in some cases with people who you have yet to meet. I had a whole room to myself at the Allenberry in Boiling Springs and hikers were still making their way into town. Darwin and Snuggles were in contact with a hiker who needed a room and asked me about the extra bed in my room. I would have wanted the same thing done to me and meeting Mufasa was a great time. This trail connects you with other people in ways you’d never find on a different kind of trip.
The first half of the trip up to Harpers ferry was spent in no sort of group. My mental state was substantially different. I relied too much on drop boxes from home and town stops were meticulously planned. Not saying it wasn’t fun, but all the views, towns and meals were better and more fun when shared. All my good memories are when I am surrounded with other hikers. From my Team Stroganoff clutch answer of who Charli XCX was (thanks Spotify Running/Hiking playlist) in Kent, CT trivia to getting in free to the Limerock Park racetrack (due to some sweet talking by Peacedog) for the 4th of July.
I have been reading Scott Jurek’s book Eat and Run and came upon a passage about his fellow ultra marathoners. But I think it applies to thru-hikers as well.
“It also struck me how ironic it was that my most important friendships had come from a sport singular in its isolation and demands on self-reliance.” – Scott Jurek
I would like to close with some words from people I met on the trail, all of whom finished. Some is advice, other is warning, but all this coming from bonafide thru-hikers from the class of 2015.
“Ten Important Lessons I Learned on the Appalachian Trail:
1) Cinnamon roll is the best Pop-Tarts flavor. Hands down. Sadly, its limited edition status has run its course. R.I.P. cinnamon roll Pop-Tarts.
2) Never camp near a road.
3) Those extra shiny, extra bright blue berries growing all over New England are not, in fact, blueberries.
4) Being dry isn’t even real.
5) Don’t use your knife for something your teeth could do better.
6) Self-talk and motivational mantras: not just for hippies!
7) Virginia is not flat.
8) Pennsylvania is not as bad as they say.
9) Strangers are friends you haven’t met yet.
10) It’s just walking.”
“When people ask me “how was your hike” I will say “good.” Unfortunately there isn’t a very easy way to describe the entire ordeal.”
“There are days that are very hard, but the payoff of a fantastic view makes the hardship worthwhile. There are other days that are very hard with no reprieve. There are still more days where no view no matter how fantastic can compensate for your exhaustion.”
“Overall, I would say the trail was a satisfying experience. I am glad I did it. If we are the sum total of our life experiences, then I am happy I completed a long trail. As a result of completing my thru-hike I feel more capable and confident.”
“To people contemplating hiking the trail in the future, I would recommend doing whatever is possible to make the trail easier on you. More than half of the trail is a mental exercise, so making the physical exercise as easy as possible will be a great help. Make your pack light, your food tasty, and your gear comfortable. Then just start putting one foot in front of the other and you’ll figure everything else out as you go.”
“Anyone can thru hike, but thru hiking isn’t for everyone. There are days of absolute torment, pain, illness and internal war. But most of us embrace that strife and grow from it. It’s a 5 month battle. You either win or lose. You either thrive in the simplicity and beauty of trail life or you get your ass handed to you and leave broken hearted with a bruised ego and defeated body.”
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Excellent follow up Oliver. Your next life journey will likely be better done because you did this first.