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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Comments 11

  • John : Jan 21st

    Hike Your Own Hike! I’m 50 and waiting to retire to do my first thru hike! Just the life i choose now so i have to wait so a little while longer! Look forward to following your adventure. Maybe i will find in the NC mountains this spring and shower you witl trail magic! Good luck

  • George Turner : Jan 21st

    I’m doing a flip and won’t be doing North Carolina until August. You never know

    • Chelsea : Jan 22nd

      I hope you crush it! I hope it’s amazing and difficult and you overcome every single hurdle. My best friend and I are teachers and we live in NC near the trail. We are section hiking every chance we get-can’t wait to see you out there!!

  • Wazo : Jan 21st

    Love this post.

    It is funny, but I fear a lot of things about my upcoming thru hike attempt, none of which are bears, rattlesnakes, or pooping in the woods (the biggest concerns of my friends). Nor do I worry about grams and cutting off straps and toothbrush handles. It is a generational thing; I’ve been backpacking literally for decades, long before it was considered unreasonable to have a pack weight of 40 or even 50 pounds. Honestly, I worry most about my 56 year old body and all the dents and scratches I’ve accumulated. I’ve had surgery on both knees and one shoulder. I have a cardiac condition that, although now perfectly controlled with medications, caused chest pain if I climbed a flight or two of stairs until about 5 years ago (I am able to go thanks to my cardiologist – a true saint in my book). Beyond that, it the various microbial infections that are possible that scare me although a very small number of millions of people who annually hike some portion of the AT actually seem to fall victim to any of these. Viruses, protozoans, bacteria, and the like are a minor fear compared to physical concerns.

    I also know that I really a a miracle of modern medicine. With repaired knees, shoulder, and heart, I can complete a century on my bike with a very decent time, hike, and backpack (with an intact toothbrush and a few pounds of additional “unnecessary” grams). I know because I’ve done them all.

    I am right there with you and MoringLori. The good news is that this has been a dream for about 30 years. For me, the point is to live my dreams. Plus, and this is the important part, I am confident I can do it. However, if I can’t, my success will be living out a dream. The success starts with my first step at Springer.

    Thanks for a great post.


  • George Turner : Jan 21st


  • Don Barker : Jan 22nd

    I enjoy reading this stuff you write. When you start, please let me know, and I will keep you in my daily prayers.

    • George Turner : Jan 22nd

      Donny, I will be blogging the whole trip! I know you will be with me the whole way

      • Rob Herrington : Jan 24th

        George, are you bringing any electronic communication gizmos with you? Why or why not? If there are that many people on the trail, I imagine there will always be someone nearby with a phone.

        • George Turner : Jan 25th

          I’m taking two electronic devices…1) My phone: this thing is a swiss army knife. It will take all my pictures. I will keep up with my blog on it. I have an App which basically has the whole trail on it. May be able to ditch my guidebook if it works as well as advertised on the trail. 2) My Kindle: I have to have a book to read or I will go insane. I think the kindles energy usage will be better than my phone would be using the Kindle APP. Even though I have the larger iPhone, I think the larger screen on my Kindle would be better for me.

  • Dave Michel - Pitchit : Jan 22nd

    Hope I run across you. I’m NOBO assisted, 62 yr old early retiree. I also hate rain. Have done about 60% of AT in sections, and think it rained on half of it!

  • Bob "Boots O'Doul" : Jan 22nd

    I think the average for rain is about every third day… Of course that doesn’t count the Smokies when it was 7 out of 9 days. IE the only thing you can count on is that every day you will have weather! As for your age it’s only a number. I section hike with guys in their 70s and one in his 80s.


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