You are going to do what?????? Are you nuts?????
Start Day Approaches
I am less than 30 days from Springer. Less than 30 days from leaving the life I built for myself behind and heading into four plus months (perhaps up to six months) of a very different life. Some would say insanity has set in. Others have said I am adding the spice to life. Almost all, however, have been supportive.
Seriously? You are doing what?????
I’ll be giving up solid shelter from the elements, refrigeration for my food and drink, convenience of a bathroom complete with a door, shower enclosure and running water, and unlimited changes of clean clothing. I’ll be giving up spending each evening for a couple of hours with the love of my life and then laying down beside her on a queen size mattress with several pillows and drifting off to sleep. I’ll be giving up the adoration of two cats, well, one cat really, the other is Leslie’s cat. I’ll be giving up evening fires in the backyard with a nice cabernet. I’ll be giving up complete and total emersion into an electronic world that seems to find each one of us and envelope our world.
OK, OK…so why?
So why on earth am I doing this thing? The biggest reason is the challenge of it. Can I hike from Springer to Katahdin in one summer while carrying everything I need on my back? I used to run track and cross country (in a previous life it seems as it was so long ago). Then after college I got into and did several triathlons (not iron man distance, short course stuff). Since then I had kids and a job and a family to support and the challenges became different. The seeds were replanted for this epic adventure a few years ago and now I have the opportunity to do it and I am taking it. Am I mentally tough enough to endure the challenges this hike will put in front of me so that I can gain all the advantages of being a thru hiker of the Appalachian Trail?
Love of Outdoors
If it was just the challenge, I could choose to run a marathon or some other physical endeavor. However, there are other aspects to this particular challenge that I love. I love hiking and in particular I love the raw power of being in hiking shape. They call that getting your trail legs. With trail legs, nothing seems particularly daunting. I recall at Philmont that we would hike five or six miles just to go to another staff camp to borrow a cup of sugar or play a joke on the staff at that camp or something equally as irrelevant. It was nothing to do that distance and back. I also love the outdoors and most things about living in the outdoors. I love camping and cooking over a camp stove, sleeping in a tent and hearing the wind through the trees. I love the vastness of the views and the wonderment of seeing wild animals in their home. I love the smell of the pine trees. There are times when I even love walking in the rain.
Recharge, Refresh and Reenergize
Another reason I am doing this is I love the idea of a sabbatical. Frankly, I think everyone should have a chance at doing one. Although it is not paid, I am blessed in that I was able to take one. And I think at this time of my life, (read: age) the timing is perfect. It will give me a chance to reflect on my life to date, to recharge my batteries and to refocus my mind. This is an opportunity to renew and refresh and come back a better person, spouse and father.
The key to making a trek such as this has very little to do with physical fitness or camping skills, and more to do with mental strength. Another thru hiker I have spoken to says you have to be stubborn. And I believe you have to have some degree of luck. Luck can somewhat be controlled…don’t do stupid things, but somewhat it is a roll of the dice. Injuries and illness happen. Do what you can to prevent these things, but they may happen anyway.
My biggest Challenge
I think the first 30 days will be the hardest. Three things will make the first 30 days the hardest. First, I will be getting into trail shape and I will have a lot of aches and pains. I was hoping to have gone into this past that point of physical preparation, but tax season has set me back in that department so I will have to deal with that on the trail. The worst for me is right hip pain, but I am learning some stretches that will hopefully help with that. Second, will be I am going to be learning a lot of my gear. I have done enough backpacking and camping that I am not a rookie at it, but there are several brand new gear items that I will be learning on the fly, like my umbrella. Never hiked with one. Read about how great they are for hiking and want to try it for a variety of reasons. It will be challenging though as I am used to knowing my gear and how it works and setup properly. Third, I am going to miss my wife. I think this is going to be my biggest initial challenge on the trail. She will have the same issue as she flies home and leaves me behind for five months. We will do our best to mitigate this through connectivity on a daily basis, but alas, it will be a very different existence for both of us, for a while.
Start day approaches.
Photo credit to Appalachian Trail Conservancy staff member, Mike Leonard. This is from Weverton Cliffs, Maryland, about 5 miles north of Harper’s Ferry.
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While a boy scout may always be prepared, most thru hikers figure if they do not have it … they do not need it. Travel light my friend.