New and Notes from the AT: Perhaps the Trail Really is Magic
It wasn’t our intention to post so often. We’ll likely slow down as OneFoot moves along. For now, it’s all so new and exciting, we want to share!
Update on gear change
In our last post, we shared that OneFoot had decided to switch out some gear. I can report that he is thrilled with his choice to send the hammock home and get comfy in the Hubba Hubba tent. Again, we’ll say gear is a personal choice. He loves his hammock but for this adventure, he prefers the tent. Why?
–Better storm protection (if there is such a thing in the middle of the woods).
–Can get dressed and undressed in the tent, and not on the ground under the tarp.
–Option to sit in his sleeping bag in the tent to journal, read, or text with family.
–Can sleep on his side.
–Better privacy and more space.
Yes, he’s added a bit of weight to his pack but it’s well worth it.
The first zero days.
When OneFoot made the decision to swap out gear, he thought it would be a good time to take a couple of zero days. His body was feeling the bumps and bruises of trail life and it was time to rest. So, while waiting for the gear to arrive by UPS, OneFoot enjoyed his first days of downtime. As with everything in this journey, zero days are new to us. To Ray, it was a chance to wash up, relax, and spend time with our friends who live in the area. For me, it felt like the years when he worked multiple days of double shifts. In those days, when I finally saw him, I had to pack in all the news from home in the minutes we had together before he’d grab a few hours of sleep. At some point in these zero days, I realized that’s not our life anymore and he doesn’t need to hear every detail from home in 2.3 minutes.
Planning trail visits from a distance.
OneFoot and I agree that when he makes his way north, our visits will be more frequent. Both location and my summer work schedule will allow for more impromptu outings. When looking at his hiking plan in January (remember when we tried to formulate a hiking plan? Silly kids!), we decided that we’d first meet up in Hot Springs, N.C. Great trail town and we could make it fit with my work schedule for April if I flew down (too far to drive given my limited time). Asheville is the closest airport, but whoa the airfare, so we decided on Tri-Cities, Tenn. I would just have to drive a little farther to reach him. We picked dates and got all the details confirmed. As time grows closer to the visit, we realize that we were naïve to think we could pinpoint X location on X date. Now we’re thinking flying to Knoxville may have been better to catch up with him at Newfound Gap (Smoky Mountains). A thru-hiker permit is needed before entering the Smokies. The permit gives the hiker eight days to get through this section. If I meet him before he’s done and he comes off trail with me for a few days, he’ll risk running out of time on the permit. Bottom line? The logistics are tough. His plan now is to be through the Smokies, where I’ll pick him up, and we’ll drive up to Hot Springs for some zero days. I don’t like having the pressure of this schedule on him so we won’t lock ourselves into such a timeline again. Live and learn.
What? No camping at the NOC?
Who knew? We’ve always seen these beautiful photos and videos of people camping by the river at the Nantahala Outdoor Center (NOC). Turns out that was near the NOC. OneFoot hiked in and had hoped to get a bunk for the night but the hostel was sold out. Although there are tent platforms (also sold out), there is no rogue tent camping allowed there so off he went to find a place to crash. Turns out it was a great night as he met up with other hikers who were in the same situation and they all camped not far from the NOC.
Trail vs. section hiking.
Up until now, OneFoot has only had the opportunity to section hike; the longest hike being 82 miles. Of course, they were always wonderful, glorious, mind-clearing, back-to-nature miles. Now he’s adapting to the idea that this is a thru-hike and it is awesome. He notes the biggest difference is the people. On a section hike, in his experience, you are alone much of the time. Now, with no deadline to finish up the miles, you meet so many people and have the time to get to know them. Relationship building, he’s finding, is pretty cool. “You’re out there experiencing this with others just like you. You’re all in the suck together,” he explains. From his journal: “This is way more fun! For me section hiking was about getting the miles done in a short period of time. No town time, no going to a free hiker breakfast, no visiting the brewery.”
OK folks, here’s the kicker.
Remember when I said that we hoped that 2,200 miles could help him peel away some of the negativity left by his career? Well, also from his journal, this entry was moving: “I’m a more relaxed person out here. But it’s because of my retirement, not just this hike. Understand that I am very grateful for my career and what it provided for our family. But I really can’t articulate how much I hated what I did for 20 years. That was simply the worst job for who I really am.”
That one broke my heart a little and brought to mind one of my favorite Thoreau quotes: “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.” Side note to our children: find what makes you happy and then build your life and career around that.
What is the most surprising part of the adventure so far?
For Ray, as we’ve said, it’s the people and the relationships. He’s so easily connected with others and neither of us saw that coming. He’s also very surprised about his choice to swap out the hammock. Pre-hike, he never doubted his gear decisions. He’s fortunate to have a basement full of hiking gear making it pretty easy to try, try, and try again, as needed.
For family and friends, we’re hearing that Ray’s time spent in towns is something they didn’t expect. Some thought this six months would be entirely in the woods. Others didn’t realize how close the trail is to civilization and, at times, that it goes right through towns. Ray sees the trail as one giant adventure and wants to experience it all, on and off trail.
For me, where do I begin? First, I discovered that I hate cleaning the shower. Just how much I hate it is shocking. Ray, I am sorry. I get it now. When you get home, we can split this chore. I’ll handle it on months with fewer than 30 days; you can take it for the months with 30 or more days.
As for the trail stuff, I am most surprised by how quickly I’ve seen a positive change in my husband. I never doubted that he would adapt well to trail life. I didn’t ever expect that the transformation would begin straightaway. Perhaps it’s the trail itself that is magic.
Which brings me to my next revelation. I honestly did not expect to feel such joy in watching Ray live this dream. Seeing his new smile, reading his journal entries, listening to his enthusiastic stories, and hearing the change in his voice fills me with an indescribable happiness. I can’t stop smiling. How many people in your life do you know who, at this moment, can say, “There is no place on this earth I would rather be. I could not be happier than I am right now?” I’m pretty confident that Ray will say this every day on the Appalachian Trail.
Until the Next White Blaze,
OneFoot and Should be Good
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