Appalachian Trials Blogger!!

Hey Karyn

Zach Davis with Appalachian Trials here.  How’s it going?  
 
After reviewing your application, I’d like to invite you to join our 2017 class of Bloggers!  Congratulations!
The above is a portion of the acceptance email I received recently. For anyone who doesn’t already know, Appalachian Trials is a website by Zach “Badger” Davis designed after he completed the AT (and he wrote a book about the psychology of thru-hiking the AT) and it’s crazy popular with AT & PCT hikers *and those who want to thru-hike*. This website is the epitome of everything “hiker” from “almost-in-real-time” posts from hikers on the trails, gear advice, books, sponsors, guidance, maps, and more. I highly recommend it (so much information!!) and his book. And I’m not just plugging it because of the above email, I know I’ve mentioned it in previous posts. 
 I hope by the time I commence my thru-hike I will have some followers (from this blog) who are interested in reading my posts *which will be one of many featured on Zach’s website* but either way, it will be an experience that will definitely give me plenty to blog about.

 

Pups on Mt. Kearsarge

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“Westerly” view from the peak.

Always cognizant of my future pilgrimage, AT’17, I am trying to get in shape physically as well as mentally. Working night shift doesn’t allow a lot of ‘days off’ for obvious reasons so when I get a ‘real day off’, I head to one of many choices of hiking trails here in NH. I always take along my constant companions, they’re small but thIMG_2156.JPGey are really good hikers!

There’s the puppy cuteness factor that always makes other hikers pause and pet. I am sure some people feel that dogs don’t belong on trails but it’s not about me ‘bringing them hiking’ as much as it’s about them being with me; they are happy hiking and they are not happy when left home alone or with a ‘sitter’. They have smiley faces when they are out hiking with me.

While I am hiking I’m constantly reminded of the decision as to whether or not I am going to take them with me. I’m leaning toward taking them for various reasons that slightly out-weight the reasons NOT to take them. I try to find blogs or articles about hiking the AT with dogs and there are not many (unless you consider the big-sale books based on hiking the AT with a dog, but, I think, they are usually ‘glamorized’ tales and not as realistic as they could be). I’ve found three blogs on the Appalachian Trials website that were very good about stating the facts of hiking with a pet. What I am looking for is intel on “HOW” a thru-hiker goes about doing the trail with a dog: there are areas where no dogs are allowed ~ what did you do, how did you do it; there are the obvious problems with carrying kibble AND all the hiker necessities; a constantly wet dog on days that it’s just rain, rain, rain; how does it effect other hikers and how do you handle it; etc. There are many questions and, I’m sure, many different responses bases on individual experiences. I know my experience would be unique to any one else’s experience but what we all have in common is the rules of the AT where no dogs are allowed and the more daily issues of carrying extra weight and dealing with less than desirable weather.

I’m getting to the point in my imagination where I can’t imagine NOT taking them with me. They are, as I’ve said, ‘constant’ companions and leaving them behind just doesn’t feel right for me. I’d appreciate any comments or references that anyone can suggest (I know I don’t have a bunch of ‘followers’ so this is an exercise to be repeated at a later date)

BTW: the Kearsage hike was great. One hour up via the Barlow trail and about two hours at the top on a day (as you can see in the photo) that was beautiful but only slightly cool with the breeze and the sun behind a cloud. We sat and snacked with less than a dozen other hikers before we headed back down. The state park has a very ‘swanky’ picnic area and a very nice play area for children and, when the park is officially ‘open’, facilities. This day, the ladies room was still locked so I stripped off my clothes between my car and an open door, doused myself with bottled water (driving back home soaked in sweat is very uncomfortable), and put on dry clothes.

The day was glorious.

 

53…how did I get here?

Pensive is the ‘daily prompt’ here at WordPress: the ‘ping-back’ didn’t appear to work for me last time and, per my usual, I just keep on trying.

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Turtle Pond from (near) Oak Hill in New Hampshire

“Per my usual”

I’m one of ‘those people’ who ..”things just don’t work-out for” but I’m not going to write about that. I’m going to write about my awesome day which started at a leisurely 9:30 a.m. with sunshine, coffee, my grandson and the whole day stretched out before me with no work in sight (well, after my boss texted me, we phone-tagged, and ultimately talked about the next schedule…but after that…) no work in sight. I sat with my grandson and, yes, my mind wondered because he’s four and we just hadn’t gotten to the in-deapth conversation stage at the time so,… I was wondering about life and what to do with my infrequent, wonderful-perfect-weather day off. I decided, once relieved of my child-sitting duty (I enjoy my grandson but he preferred to go with ‘daddy’ somewhere instead of going to the park and playground with ‘grandma’) that I’d go ‘for a walk’ with my two constant companions, my dogs. The walk turned into a little pleasant surprise.

I usually leave home thinking about where I am going to walk and there’s limited trails in my area but my car drove itself to a place I hadn’t even thought of and then my feet took me on a new trail I hadn’t been on. We, in no time, came to an over-look on a beautiful day; temp. about 70 dry degrees with a light breeze. The above photo on the granite ledge. I didn’t want to leave. The ‘kidz’ wandered a bit, then lied down in the shade of a stout evergreen while I tried to find a comfortable position for my back (padded rear-end but no back support) and once I found it I just sat and leaned into the moment. I let little cross my mind but the blue skies, white clouds, green hills, the bird-song and the breeze with that ‘solar-heated pine-needle’ aroma that I LOVE.

I thought: I’m 53 years old. How did I get here?

It was a weird hybrid of nostalgia/regret/contentment. I can not express how much gratitude I feel when I am in the woods/on a trail. I count my blessings: I’m healthy, my parts work, I’m independent, I’m employed, I have a home, my family is healthy, I live in a wonderful part of a free country, I have nothing to complain about. It’s great. I know that I should express my gratitude, if only in my mind, and count my blessings. I know this because I’m aware of all that is ‘wrong’ in the world and all that other people don’t have or suffer. My life isn’t perfect, far from it, but I’ve learned to think ‘globally’ or ‘outside of myself’ when I’m not being self-absorbed.

I was having “trailing thoughts” stemming from a composite of ‘things’ that I’ve noticed lately or I’ve heard about (I’m going to break these thoughts down into separate posts) but I tried to just “be” and not get immersed in one feeling or another, especially the nostalgic or regret ones, those are a downer. I made my mind focus on one particular thought trail: the AT in 2017. I thought of myself, in that moment, on the trail in some place I’ve not been yet, sitting in the sun and drying my tent/socks/shoes/clothes while resting my feet and warming up from a cold night or rainy morning and thinking about being grateful for my journey, my ability to do the AT, my opportunity to take the pilgrimage that some only dream about doing, my independence, my ‘new friends’ and my ~ what I hope will be ~ new direction in life.

I never thought I’d one day be in this place: a place where I decide, because I want to, to ‘leave it all behind’ and make a solo journey backpacking in the woods for months on end, enduring ‘hardships’ (it’s all in the perspective) and fears to get to an unknown place; not only a place geographically but also physically, emotionally (financially) and spiritually and socially. A stripping down to the raw essence of ‘who I am’ and ‘why I am here’. I can barely contain my enthusiasm to do this ‘thing’, this wonderful thing that so few do.

And those were the trailing thoughts that made my day so awesome! The decision to ‘go for a walk in the woods’ turned into 90 minutes of ‘meditation’ on where I am in life and where ~ barring any ‘unforeseen occurrence’ ~ I might be in another 30 plus years.

Okay…so something today ‘worked out’ good 🙂

Lone wolf or prefer a pack?

I started hiking with a group, a formal group – the kind that ‘advertise’ everyone have a pack with all the essentials: medical bag, layers of clothes, extra socks, shelter material, headlamp, matches, etc. I’m not demeaning these groups; being prepared is smart hiking even if it seems like ‘overkill’. And hiking with a partner or in grimages-2oups is also wise. But we can’t all prepare for every situation nor can we accomplish what we want if we wait for the best circumstances to arrive.
I got a good hiking foundation and learned a lot from hiking with groups. However, even living in a hiker’s paradise it soon became apparent that, if I wanted to get out more, I’d have to go solo, my schedule just didn’t jive with those of hiking groups – which was usually on weekends. It was a little daunting at the beginning. I feared breaking a leg, getting lost and envisioned other misadventures that I’d heard befall other lone-hikers. But after the first few short, well-traveled trails, I got my nerve on and started to just enjoy the hike.

As it turns out, hiking solo isn’t really all that rare among our species. There are probably a lot more adventurers with the same limitations on their time as myself. Since I started hiking on my own I’ve encountered many other hikers, men and women, young and more mature, with or without a ‘guard dog’, (with or without appropriate gear or adequate water and shoes too!). I learned very quickly that I really enjoyed the solitude; I could hear (besides my own heavy breathing) birds singing, the wind blowing, sometimes something rustling in the woods (squirrels usually but I have seen deer and bears), occasionally some distant truck but more often than not…quiet…

~~~~~~ the absence of sound ~~~~~~

In a world of noise pollution ~ which is how I describe almost every aspect of daily life including relaxing in my own back yard ~ getting beyond it is heaven. I almost cringe when I make plans to join a group (and I’ve backed out every time, not necessarily for that reason). I love conversation, not gossipy talk but real discussions. And I like learning about other places, trails, experiences that other hikers have had. But there is something about hiking alone in nature that is so rejuvenating.

imagesI’m a lone wolf. Even when I have been in a group, I spend over 90% of my time listening to the conversations of others so, in effect, from the perspective of other hikers, I’m almost not really there. The other reason for my aversion to group hiking is the responsibility to others; being on time, car-pooling, basically…following the leader. I’m not ‘hiking my own hike’ when I am conforming to the pack.

 

So, as I think about backpacking the AT, I still have not decided which way to go: NoBo or SoBo? That’s the topic of a future post.

 

Sacrifice:

I’m resorting to using a prompt at WordPress for this post, not because I don’t have anything to say but because the word “sacrifice” touches on something regarding hiking and my future plans. I have a friend with a friend who has never hiked the AT because he’s been told it’s a “selfish act” (and for some reason this took root). This person breathes hiking and is planning doing the Long Trail in Vermont this summer; he is over the moon with giddiness about this because it’s a ‘thru-hike’.

I’ve read only a few times that doing the AT is ‘selfish’. I really don’t understand that. My assumption would be that spouses, bosses, or maybe anxious parents/friends/family feel that the hiker is putting their own desires, needs, dreams ahead of those of others’ – i.e. just stay ‘home’ and Live the American Scheme like everyone else and don’t upset the routine.

I can’t really say personally why someone would react as if selfishness is what doing the AT is all about because I haven’t told anyone yet that it’s my plan. For all I know, my family might feel that I am being selfish. I don’t think so but…you never know. I feel that I’ve sacrificed my life to the routine that it has been because it was the ‘responsible’ thing to do: school, family, job with very occasional deviations to ‘enjoy living’ (if anyone has the means, they might use a week or two per year to do something that they really love).

Hiking the AT might be a selfish act but six months out of, what will be, almost 54 years of my life is small potatos. I think of my life thus far as a sacrifice of my authentic self. Hiking the AT might turn out to be another sacrifice: I will probably have to quit my job to do it (I don’t think a ‘leave of absense’ will be likely but I will try that first), I haven’t yet figured out what to do about my two small dogs (I don’t really want to find someone to care for them for six months -a sacrifice leaving them behind and worrying,  but taking them along is another sacrifice as the hike is now much more complicated), and finally, leaving my family for six months with minimal contact is going to be very difficult. My visit to my brother in the Philippines for two weeks had me weeping because I missed them so much.

There are many sacrifices made by those deciding to thru-hike the AT but it’s a sacrifice of the spirit NOT to do what you so desire, what you are compelled to do. You have to live your own life, hike your own hike.

Reading Hiker Blogs:

Naturally I am reading others’ blogs about hiking to prepare myself for the journey next spring. I read today about one woman’s experience with her (“one-person”) tent, which sounds much like my tent and I’m glad to read that she’s comfortable in it. I particularly enjoyed her process; what she did from setting up the tent to emptying her pack. This is helpful information. After reading some references to ‘bigger’ tents, I had thought I might need to buy something bigger than my one-person-barely-used (in my back yard) so it was a little of a relief to read that someone is utilizing something small with relative comfort.

Besides reading books about personal experiences, I am finding the blogs very helpful – insightful in real-time. In addition to the tent set-up and subsequent process of how to organize ‘stuff’ from the blogger above, I am wondering what and how thru-hikers are using electronic devices? Where are they recharging and how often? Is it ‘worth’ the extra weight – a weighty decision when I’ve read hikers cutting the handle of their toothbrushes down to nubs to ‘reduce weight’! How often do most leave the trail for food/lodging? What are some of the surprises that were not expected – good and bad – from what you read? How have you adjusted after a week or three? Paper journals or electronic?

Most hikers like to talk about their experiences during the hike, who they meet, stories they relate in their blogs and photos they share. These are all enjoyable, entertaining and engrossing but I like the little details that Mathina added to her blog (a little unnecessarily apologetically) because it’s very helpful for those of us who are hopelessly pragmatic. Every hiker is going to have their own journey, stories, experiences and take photos. They are all unique but – I will admit – somewhat forgetful. But the personal details of how someone arranges their sleeping quarters – the headlamp location, etc. or (yes) the peeing process (you guys don’t have to even think about this) is very memorable. So, “thank you, Marthina!” And keep the details coming 🙂

In the Beginning…

 

I’d never planned to hike the AT, never even considered it. Now it’s (almost) all I think about. No, I am not YET a thru-hiker but it’s my intention so it’s what I wanted to use for my blog and it would more likely attract the very audience I am seeking. My purpose for blogging, aside from my inability to suppress the need to ‘talk’ in writing form, is to create a network of ‘followers’/friends/advisers/fellow hikers to participate in my journey in preparation for and while hiking the AT. I’ve noticed there a lot (probably thousands) of bloggers ‘out there’ who are doing the same thing, especially those hiking the AT (I never thought it was so popular to combine “getting back to nature” and 21st century electronic-reality WHILE thru-hiking) and I intend to read/repost/’like’/’follow’, etc. as I find those who I enjoy reading.

I’m going to keep this post short as I am still trying to figure out all the jargon and widgets and stuff like that – plus, find a theme,color scheme, yada yada. When I figure it out, I’ll add my blog to my Twitter page.

Meanwhile, to quote Zach Davis, “Embrace the Suck” you ATers out there!