Warning! This Blog Contains Haiku
I got the following email from my mom.
“I just finished A Walk in the Woods. There must be 100 ways you can die on the AT. Hope you are prepared. Wish you weren’t going alone.”
WTF (it’s ok…mom cusses like a sailor)! I’ve been going on trips like this for 40 years. You’ve worried just as long and nothing you’ve feared has ever happened. I’ve been researching and planning my thru hike for over a year. I know my gear and how to use it. There will be 7000 or so people trying to thru hike the AT this summer and countless others taking section hikes. Will I really be alone? Don’t think so. I’m not afraid of dying on the AT. I have real things to worry about. Here are a couple of them!
Pointless up and downs Spawn demons you must battle beat them or go home
I’m 64. I will turn 65 eight days into my hike. My warranty has clearly expired and something hurts almost every day. People older than me have completed thru hikes, but this old man hasn’t done one. Will my dreams of thru hiking turn into nightmares? Am I writing checks that my body can’t cash? Is 2,189 miles too much of a good thing? I had no trouble on my shakedown hike last summer, but that trip was less than a tenth of the whole trail. I can expect to take over six million steps over a trail that experiences the gain and loss of altitude of a total of over five hundred thousand feet. I know I can do this for weeks, but months? I’m expecting a grind. Let’s face it, if we sentenced felons to walk the AT to pay their debt to society, the Supreme Court wouldn’t allow it. I’m retired. I’m not tied to any particular schedule. I can and will listen to my body, but the scale of what I’m about to do gives me pause. Every trip I’ve ever taken there were times when I questioned whether or not I could finish. Hot, long, rocky ascents generate as much doubt as beads of sweat. I fear I will give into this and quit.
Rain washes away my strength. Determination dissolves like sugar
Back in the early 90’s I walked from Lake City, Colorado to Wolf Creek Pass following the Continental divide. At that point virtually all of my long distance hiking had been in California where I went out as long as three weeks carrying all my food and little else. On those trips I cowboy camped or on those rare occasions when it rained, I would make a shelter with my poncho. No big deal. On this trip I learned that the Rockies were a different animal entirely. The Sierras are gentle creatures; the Rockies are predators intent on killing you. Every afternoon I had to deal with pretty scary thunder storms. Believe me it is incredibly hard to be comfortable hiking along the Continental divide in a thunder storm. These storms were so incredibly regular that I started setting up my poncho in the early afternoon to wait out the expected storm. On one particular afternoon, golf ball sized hail fell with the usual rain. My poncho was flattened under 3 inches of hail stones in less than 30 minutes. I was soaked and shivering. I thought I was toast, but after sacrificing half my fuel, I got a fire going, dried out, had something to eat and crawled into my sleeping bag. I was two days late getting to Wolf Creek Pass. My wife was planning my memorial service in her head when I called. Nothing sucks the joy out of a long hike like days and days of driving, relentless rain. When I’m faced with this on my thru hike, I hope I have the wisdom to dryout before going home. Notice I say when not if. The rains will come and I will have to deal with them.
I read MorningLori’s post about her fears and was struck by how similar they are to mine. We probably all share them and knowing that we aren’t really going through this alone…that others understand and share our burdens may help us persevere.
PS: Told mom to read Carrot Quinn’s Thru Hiking Will Break Your Heart. The language in this book is beautiful. She perfectly captures both the joyous misery of a long hike and the loving embrace of “tramily*.” If you have family that might want to know something about what you will be experiencing this is a great book for them to read if they can handle a few “F” bombs and some pretty hot canoodling. If you are contemplating a thru hike, you would probably like it too.
* trail family
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