Whisper Walking: How This All Started
November 27, 2012: I am sitting on the edge of my bed. I am not smoking. That is all I’m doing—all I am capable of doing, at 6:30 a.m. on a cold, cold, morning—I am not smoking.
November 28, 2012: Wearing yesterday’s pajamas, and still sitting on the edge of the bed, not smoking. I try to distract myself with television and books, but am unable to concentrate on anything but the fact that I am not smoking.
November 29, 2012: Now I am not smoking, and coughing. I’m forty-nine years old. I’ve been smoking since I was eleven. That’s 38 years of addiction, smell, burn holes in my clothes, ash everywhere, and never mind the expense. I’m thinking back, way back, to that moment when I made the stupid, horrible decision to put that first cigarette in my mouth and set it on fire. I remember very clearly that first time. My brain is searching a little further back, though. What was I doing before? What was I doing, say, the day before I chose to start smoking?
It comes to me, slowly, in bits and pieces of memory. My mind’s eye sees boulders near a fence. I think I recall bird song, the sounds of bees, and that strange zinging noise of the woods on a hot New England summer day. Lovely smell of pine and damp earth. I remember birch trees, ferns, scrubby oaks, and a well worn dirt path. What was I doing before I started smoking? I was hiking.
I pull my laptop out; turn it on, and Google hiking. The first hit is Appalachian Trail, and I think, “Oh, yeah, I was going to do that.”
My name is Kit (insert joke about candy or a talking car here). Kit Brady (you may hum the theme song). It’s been 15 months since my last smoke. I need a new way to identify myself. I cannot say, in truth, that I am a hiker of any distinction or merit. I can say that I am a camper. A camper and a nicotine addict. There I go again. Let’s focus on the camping bit, shall we?
I’ve been camping my whole life. My parents started camping with me when I was an infant. We had a big, stinky, blue and yellow canvas tent and a canopy to match. We had the round cooler, the rectangular cooler, the huge two-burner propane stove, the tent heater, not one, but two lanterns, a million flashlights, and a set of nesting kettles, the largest of which my baby brother could bathe in. We were supplied. We were outfitted. We had an axe that was taller than my mom.
The family graduated to a pop-up camper, and then a motor home. Then a camper pulled by a motor home. After the parents divorced, Dad returned to tent camping. He bought a tent that the family referred to as, “the mansion”. He had to rent two sites at the state park, that sucker was so big. He bought a bigger stove, new lantern stands, a fire grate, large air mattresses, and a tiny little television. Dad likes to camp in comfort. It eventually took two vehicles two or more trips from home to get all of our gear to camp.
So, as an adult, when I began to hike, my adjustment to small and compact gear was a culture shock. I developed all kinds of reasons not to hike and camp, because the whole backpacking thing was so alien to me. In time, I reduced myself to a day hiker and a car camper. Even now, I’m awed and a little un-nerved by Ultra-ultra-light hikers.
So, where does that put me now, less than a month from Springer Mountain? With a 48 liter backpack, a three pound tent, and a stove made out of ginger ale cans? I am ready. I am not ready. I have too much to do. I have to pack. I have to clear out of my living space, leave my job, explain over and over and over that there are no grizzly bears on the Appalachian Trail. How will I do this? What if my gear fails? Maybe I’m too old. Or maybe too fat? Or maybe my lungs will explode? How’s that for a case of the pre-hike jitters?
Okay, let’s change the tune: I have some experience. I know first aid. I can tie a bowline. I have a great support team at home. I have 177 dehydrated dinners ready to mail. I cannot wait to see the views, meet new people, and test myself as I have never been tested before. I will even welcome stiff joints, aching feet, and a cold nose. I could see bears, or skunks, or snakes, or a moose (I would love to see a moose!). There will be wind and rain and snow and heat and bugs—lots and lots of bugs. I welcome this. I planned for this. I want this more than I’ve ever wanted anything in my whole life.
Fifty, Fluffy, and (eventually) Fearless: That’s me. I am headed for the Appalachian Trail!
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