Walking North: Trail Legs, Family, and Hiker Funk
But their strength is the strength of numbers and of stubbornness and persistence; do not underestimate it. – Robin McKinley
With 11 states done, OneFoot reports that he feels less like he is out there on a thru-hike and more like he is just living his life. He is not as militant as he once was. If he feels like having a second cup of coffee in the morning, he does it. He knows how many miles he has to hike on any given day and he gets those miles in, but is less focused on Maine being the only destination on this journey. Ebbs and flows is the best way to describe trail life. He has enjoyed meeting up with friends he met earlier in the walk, including Flex and Curly Turtle, Vegas, Workhorse, Miz Man, and Send It. He continues to hike with Autumn, whom he met in New York. They both report that this far up the trail the thru-hiking crowd seems to have become less social and more focused on Maine. In the beginning, there was excitement in meeting new people and hearing their adventures. Though folks are still friendly, their purpose for being out here is clear and all are focused on that goal.
How’s It Going Out There?
As OneFoot moved into Vermont, the heat was wearing him down physically and mentally. He had only taken two zero days since the Fourth of July and reported that the heat and humidity were kicking his ass. We’ve known many hikers who have contemplated leaving the trail or have left the trail around this point. OneFoot and Autumn shared that the dropout rate is higher than they expected at this point on the trail. Spending time slackpacking him has made me realize that there is so much more to this challenge than walking. After hiking for eight to ten hours, the day isn’t done. There is planning, preparation, and chores to be handled before bedtime. OneFoot’s least favorite chore is getting water. Sometimes water may be available right at the shelter or campsite, but most times it requires a walk. The last thing he wants to do at the end of the day is walk even more. His enthusiasm for reaching Maine hasn’t wavered, but what it takes to get there is taking its toll. We joked that hikers may say to each other “only two more hours and we’re done for the day,” and yet there I am at the gym wishing those 30 (total) minutes on the treadmill would end. Perspective.
Moving from Pennsylvania to New Jersey was difficult on the legs. OneFoot reports that he wasn’t ready for the hills as Pennsylvania, though rocky, was pretty level. It took four or five days to get his hill legs back. As seemingly endless as Pennsylvania was, the miles ticked by in New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts, in spite of the tougher terrain and heat. There was so much to celebrate as OneFoot made his way through his most familiar state. Having grown up in the Berkshires, OneFoot has hiked Mount Greylock many times. On this particular day in August, he was going to summit the mountain as a thru-hiker. This time he didn’t just walk out his mom’s back door and up the mountain. This time he walked all the way from Georgia to reach this place. When he came through the trees to reach the summit, he was greeted by a large contingent of Team OneFoot members, including his grandmother, who was celebrating her 91st birthday on that day. It was a pretty cool moment. Yes, I cried. I was just so darn proud of that man and happy for him. I knew he was carrying his Pa close in his heart. He has been throughout the trail, but this place is special and Pa was with us, smiling at his grandson and the whole family who gathered to be with him in this moment. It was our little Katahdin.
For this part of the journey, OneFoot and I were fortunate enough to spend some time with his family in the area. His aunt generously let us use her place as a home base while OneFoot enjoyed some slackpacking days. A comment was made to OneFoot that he doesn’t just have support, he has an army. Very true. We continue to be amazed by the love, support, and encouragement we have received throughout this journey. What we both find most awesome is that so many have taken an interest in the Appalachian Trail. Many were not familiar with this trail or this type of expedition. It’s a special opportunity to share this adventure with so many and act as trail ambassadors.
A Few Terms and Traditions from the Trail
I thought I’d take a moment to share some terms and traditions from trail life for those not familiar.
The fist bump: Have you ever seen hikers greet other with a fist bump and wondered why? This is the preferred method of greeting each other as it helps prevent germ and dirt spread. I have also noticed that hikers are more self-conscious of their dirt and odor when around other non-hikers. While we non-hikers might extend our hand to shake hands or even hug as a greeting, hikers prefer the friendly and less contagious fist bump.
Hiker funk: This term refers to that smell that attaches itself to the hiker and all the hiker’s belongings. Case in point: I could not figure out what was making my motorhome smell even though OneFoot, Autumn, and their backpacks were inside the apartment for the night. When I moved their trekking poles, I realized it was the handgrips. Ugh. Hiker funk.
Hiker hunger: This massive hunger cannot be satisfied. Owners of all-you-can-eat buffet restaurants must cringe when they see hikers coming. Chalk up a loss on that day.
Hiker midnight: Whereas midnight for us non-hiker folk occurs at 12 a.m., hiker midnight is sometime right around dark or even earlier. It’s a rare occasion when I hear from OneFoot after 7:30 p.m.
Hiker trash: What thru-hikers become after being on trail for a while. They tend to not care so much about how they look or smell. In fact, they seem to be proud of it (maybe as they should be).
Sock juice: This is the water that a hiker wrings out from his socks at the end of the day. Eeewww.
Slackpack: Carrying only the essentials instead of a full pack for a full day of hiking, then returning to a home base, hostel, or motel to sleep for the night.
NOBO/SOBO: This refers to northbound (NOBO) hikers or southbound (SOBO) hikers.
Flip-flop: Hiking a large portion of the trail and then moving to the other terminus of the trail and hiking back to where the first portion ended. For example, hiking Georgia to Harpers Ferry and then starting at Katahdin and hiking to Harpers Ferry.
Hike your own hike (HYOH): Have a vision for the way you want your thru-hike to go and work really hard to make that vision a reality. Respect that others have their own vision. Basically it means mind your own f’ing business.
Leave No Trace: A term I hope all are familiar with. Enjoy the outdoors, but leave it as you found it is the basic principle. No leaving trash or walking on plants. Walk through the mud, not around on the vegetation. Be respectful of nature.
What Have I Learned from This Section of Trail?
I’ve learned that trail life is always in motion. We tried to plan various get-togethers with family and friends and it just didn’t happen. OneFoot is trying to limit his zero days while I’m around to offer slackpacking services. Hiking all day and then meeting up for social events in the evening just doesn’t work. Of course, everyone understood and we appreciate that. I am a planner and like to know my schedule for days, weeks, even months out. That doesn’t jive with this trail support role. I have learned to ask the night before where I will drop him and where I will pick him up. I know his hiking pace well enough to estimate the pickup time but he tries to call when he has two to four miles left in the day. Our timing has been pretty spot on, for the most part. One day I pulled into the trailhead lot just as he was walking in the other side. Pretty darn cool.
The Life of a Trail Support Person
Just as many other aspects of this journey have surprised me, the role of trail support person has been more challenging than I anticipated. Managing home and car maintenance, finances, family, and full-time work while being there to support OneFoot has been a five-month juggling act. The loneliness is pretty overwhelming at times. Yes, I have family and friends helping me along, but the absence of Ray in my daily life is sharp. On the plus side, it has made me a stronger, more self-reliant, and independent person. I believe it has made us stronger as a couple as well. When OneFoot returns from this journey, I see us having less defined roles in our relationship. I’m not sure I want to give up the skills I’ve acquired over these months and I think OneFoot will be happy to share some of the duties he’s exclusively handled in the past. Let’s be clear, though. If he considers thru-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail or the Continental Divide Trail, we’re going to have to have a serious conversation.
Peter Miles’s Grandson
The spiritual growth OneFoot has experienced since early on in the hike continues. He is very much at peace these days. He even sounds different to me and has told me he feels he is the best person he has ever been. His journal reads that his conscience is clear, he has no worries or stress or confrontations. He has become really open to connecting to other people and they seem to sense that and gravitate toward him. He feels he’s a completely different person than the one who retired from the DOC and took those first steps on the trail almost five months ago. It’s been a real healing walk and I’m so happy for him.
From OneFoot’s journal: “I am Peter Miles’s grandson and I try to live my life that way.”
Until the Next White Blaze,
OneFoot and Should be Good
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