Weeks 14 & 15: It’s a Five O’clock World When the Whistle Blows

A few years ago, I was working as a lower level manager for a tech support call center in northern Kentucky.  My work load would shift depending on the month, but at times I had as many as 60-70 people reporting to me, sometimes as little as 30. I had a wide variety of things I was responsible for the but in addition to my regular work I took the time to meet with more experienced employees going over mentoring and development activities, sometimes mock interviews, reviewing their resumes, or discussing different management techniques. I loved being able to develop these folks but the job had its downsides as well. Doing payroll paperwork, time in meetings, and keeping track of multiple developmental plans, I’d sometimes find myself working as much as 70 hours a week. My diet took a severe hit. I’d drink several pots of coffee a day to stay awake, then come home to eat junk, I remember more than once a meal of frozen French fries toasted in the oven, served up with a half gallon of ice cream. I’d then drink half a bottle of bourbon to counteract the coffee enough for me to get some sleep.

This was before I'd discovered the wonderful sleep aid that is carrying a fifty pound pack up the side of a mountain

This was before I’d discovered the wonderful sleep aid that is carrying a fifty pound pack up the side of a mountain

Eventually, it culminated in a night that I was sitting up, mentally preparing myself for a meeting the next day when I began to feel a sharp pressure in my chest which increases slowly until I felt like someone had reached into my chest and squeezed my heart. I dropped to the floor and struggled for breath. I then had the joy of spending the next few days in the hospital hooked up to all kinds of fun machines.

That's a depressing story, so here's a sunlit forest to serve as a palate cleanser

That’s a depressing story, so here’s a sunlit forest to serve as a palate cleanser

All of this is to say, I’m a long time workaholic with some experience in bad job situations, so I find it funny to say that while exhausting, hiking is the most stress free job I have ever had.

Oh man, look at my Outlook Calendar for today!

Oh man, look at my Outlook Calendar for today!

It’s definitely a job though, with its own patterns of a work day and week. In fact, I can actually say it’s my current profession since I ran out of my own money a while ago, now paying my way using funds raised through my Facebook page (hey look, shameless plug: Facebook.com/madmonkonthetrail) Having now ventured a good distance into Virginia, I can say that my Trail life has fallen into a routine. Gone are the days when I’d wake up each morning considering what mountains were coming that day, or how I’d measure my afternoons by mountain vistas, because the Green Tunnel has swallowed most of the day. What I see in the morning is very little in difference from my afternoon.

The morning view from my office

The morning view from my office

This isn’t to say, however, that the Trail has gotten boring, far from it. I’ve found myself thrilling to the small things of the Trail, literally! I make it a point to regularly stop and look at flowers blooming along the way, and stepping aside to smell them when possible

I've used the scratch and sniff embed code on this photo, so rub the screen with your fingertips then press your nose up against the picture for full immersion. We're high tech here at Appalachian Trials

I’ve used the scratch and sniff embed code on this photo, so rub the screen with your fingertips then press your nose up against the picture for full immersion. We’re high tech here at Appalachian Trials

I’ve also learned to love the bugs of the Trail, from lightning bugs and moths to a huge variety of spiders. I enjoy looking down at the ground and watching for the random movements that clue my dull eyes to something interesting hiking with me.

Based on my own statistical analysis, I can guarantee you that this one has an Osprey pack

Based on my own statistical analysis, I can guarantee you that this one has an Osprey pack

There’s been several days of rain this past week, which has had its downsides, but a definite benefit is that spiderwebs are covered with dew, allowing for some gorgeous beauties, like ice sculptures of the forest. Sometimes I can spot the sculpter inside, sometimes not, but they’re always worth a gaze.

This was completed during the artist's "upside down bowl" phase

This was completed during the artist’s “upside down bowl” phase

Salamanders are also a gem to spot. Often they’re too shy and too fast to catch much of a glimpse,but I can’t help but get excited whenever I do see one. They come in so many beautiful colors, and their comparative rarity makes them feel like a treasure when I do happen across them.

Oooh, shiny!

Oooh, shiny!

Moths have been hatching lately, so some afternoons have involved walking through clouds of them as move down the Trail. Occasionally, one will land and I find myself simply staring at the delicate structures of them, from what looks like a white fur coat ruffle to the long and intricate feather like antennae.

I imagine this one had a Russian accent, but only because I was reading about the Bolshevik Revolution that day

I imagine this one had a Russian accent, but only because I was reading about the Bolshevik Revolution that day

Of course, there’s still the occasional dramatic day, and I stay to soak it up as much as possible. In one case, this was literal when I came to Dismal Falls. I pushed a long day the day before and the day after, specifically so that I could spend an entire afternoon swimming and gazing at the falls. I met a wonderful couple who were camping there, Charles and Levonne. Levonne had stage 4 MS and Charles had a stroke, so the two of them left their old lives behind to drive across the country in a completely unplanned road trip, simply going wherever it occurred to them would be a fun place to visit, all their belongings in the back of their car. I was impressed to meet these fine folks who were living a life on their terms of refusing to be defined by their hardships. And it was all the more touching to be able to tell clearly just how in love with each other they were.

C'mon in the water's fine!

C’mon in the water’s fine!

The Trail continues, and I’m feeling more and more that this is definitely the place I need to be for the moment. I think back to Georgia and it feels like a different life. I can’t imagine being somewhere else, but I’m slowly trying to transition to thinking about post trail life. I quit my job and moved out of my apartment to do this. Who will I be when I’m done? Where should I live? What should I do? I think about people like Charles and Levonne, and I remind myself that the options really are open, but I want to find a way that my life can help and bless others, lifting people up. I just need to decide what that’s going to look like. Fortunately, I’ve got plenty of time to decide. Until then, I have mountains to climb.

"Sir, your three o'clock is here"

“Sir, your three o’clock is here”

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Comments 7

  • Avatar
    Happy Baby : Jul 8th

    Great article, James. It really made me reminisce about the gorgeous nature of the AT and just how friggin amazing it feels to take a break from working. Hiking the AT was the first real break that I had from a job since I was 17. Oh, and your photo captions crack me up 😀

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Appa Lachian : Jul 8th

    Im not sure why, but the fact that you are asking for donations really bums me out… Huge fan of your blogs, but it just bums me out!

    Reply
    • Avatar
      James Scott : Jul 8th

      I can understand that, and it was a decision I had to give some serious time to. Ultimately, it came down to ending my hike back in North Carolina or being able to continue.

      I’ve strived to keep it in the model of simply a matter of return for content. I’m not paid for blogging on any site, nor did I take in advertising dollars. On the Facebook page, I try to make sure there’s an even trade. In addition to supporting written content that people enjoy, I offer additional content to those donors who choose it. Unfortunately, hiking the Trail simply isn’t cheap and I’ve never really qualified to be in the kinds of economic classes that would make it easily attainable. I could have chosen to do something like a GoFundMe, but it was important to me that I went a direction that let me feel like I was “earning” it. I know several hikers that have gone through other routes, and I’m glad it’s worked for them. I firmly believe that we should all work to ensure that everyone gets a chance to hike the Trail, regardless of background. But this was the method that worked for me. I certainly understand why you might be bothered by it, and it’s certainly not my intention to harm anyone’s perception of the Trail.

      Reply
      • Avatar
        Appa Lachian : Jul 8th

        Thanks for the explanation, while i dont particularly agree with it, i know im not always 100% correct. Still rooting for you. Best of luck!

        Reply
        • Avatar
          James Scott : Jul 8th

          For me, I don’t see it as getting money to hike, however, but a matter of offering a chance for people to pay for my writing. The model I tend to keep in mind is Johnathan Coulton, who used to have a PayPal link on his music page. He stated he understood people would download his music from BitTorrent sites and simply invited them to pay him whatever they thought it was worth. (I’m not sure if he still follows this practice) I’ve got my writing and other posts available for free, and simply offered a way for people to donate what they thought that was worth. If they don’t consider it worthwhile, that’s totally fine, but some have and I’ve been thankful.

          Reply
  • Avatar
    Deb : Jul 9th

    Loved it as a reminder to stop and revel in the beauty of each day, whether you are on the trail or not. Thank you!

    Reply
  • Avatar
    Will : Jul 10th

    Trail life suits you. The fact that you’re taking in the natural world around you and not just focused on clicking off miles speaks well of you. Leave tomorrow to tomorrow. You’re free. Many people go their entire life never really being free–living within the timeless moment and having that be enough. It’s a gift. Receive it. Enjoy it. Accept others help with gratitude. It’s okay.

    Reply

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