I started on the AT the spring after I finished college, mostly because I had no idea what else to do. Maybe go to law school. Maybe grad school in philosophy. I had a short-term job as a researcher/editor, notable mostly for introducing me to a potential hiking partner. She’d grown up in the Alps, and when I told her about trips I’d taken on the Long Trail in Vermont, and about this Appalachian Trail that went all the way to Georgia, she was all in. We were a little unclear what a hike of this scale might involve, or how long it would take, and were both a little anxious about what we would do when we got back, probably penniless. I didn’t want to lock myself into anything, but I didn’t want to lock myself out either, so I hedged my bet by applying to law school, one law school, with a low acceptance rate. That way, I figured, I wouldn’t have to think about it. I couldn’t influence the outcome, so I would just have to chill out and see what happened. If I got in, I’d go to law school. If I didn’t, I’d figure something else out. In the meantime, I’d be worry-free on the trail.
We had a great hike through Vermont, but it started wearing thin in Massachusetts. After way too much rain and mud, Maluca, my hiking partner, developed horrible blisters, and we had to take a break while she healed up, which, luckily, we were able to do on the front porch of a local trail angel. Then, our first night back on the trail, camped at a state park campground, we looked up into the trees to see that every one of them had a resident porcupine. Our brilliant solution? Leave our packs on the picnic tables. We woke up in the night to the sound of raccoons tearing through our packs, and strewing our food all over the park. A couple of days later, I turned my ankle. A little. A few days later, a little more. I limped along. It got worse as I hiked. Then, somewhere near Connecticut, I tripped in a hole, and I was done. I made it to the next road, stuck out my thumb, and started the long trip home to Montreal. The plan was that I would visit the doctor, get my ankle taken care of, and rejoin Maluca as soon as it was healed.
Healing wasn’t a quick process. As it turned out, I’d torn a couple of ligaments badly enough to need a cast for six weeks. I dragged my right leg all over town for the next four weeks, and then, frustrated by how long it was taking, hitch-hiked down to a shelter in Southern Vermont (Old Job), where I parked myself for a week. Every day, I would hike five miles down the trail or five miles up it. On Day 6, I used my Swiss army knife to saw off the cast, and declared myself better enough to go home, repack, and find Maluca –by this point, somewhere in Virginia, I figured—on the AT. When I got home, though, I found a postcard saying that she had given up on the trail, and was working at a hotel for the rest of the summer. I also found a postcard from the law school, saying I’d been accepted for the Fall term, which was to begin in 5 weeks. So I thought, well, not this year. Maybe next year.
That was 1974. Life happened. Law school, more graduate school, family, work, moves from Montreal to Vermont to California to Montana. But of all the things that happened, what didn’t happen was the AT. There’s a time and a season to everything, or so they say, and so next Spring, a little more trail-battered and a lot more experienced, I’m planning to pack up and try again.
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