Thursday, December 30, 2010

Looking for Peter Pan

Climbing trees and traipsing through brambles was a natural part of my childhood. As an only child, I found ways to entertain myself. I spent hours outside, making believe and playing pretend. Cuts and scrapes were proudly held trophies of my games.

As I grew older, I played less with trees and more with eyeshadow and lipstick. High heels were all I climbed into. I soon forgot my love of warm summer afternoons underneath a shady tree. Once a sworn devotee of Peter Pan, vowing never to grow up, I walked away from Neverland and forgot how to fly.

At 28, I've realized that our obsession with adult things like our cars and clothes and jobs aren't evil in and of themselves, but they can't let us forget the joy of childish treasures such as walking barefoot in the grass.

Hiking isn't always easy, but one thing it does is remind me that I should stop and appreciate small things more often. I need to fill my life with more things that me bring joy and silliness.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Meltdown

Trekking the first 30 miles, we’ve met quite a few South Bounders (SOBOs) who are near to finishing their journey. Our conversations with them remind me constantly that the trail is not just one thing; it is many things to many people.

For us, this section of the trail is a beginning, but for them it’s the end. One section may be a wicked mountain ascent for me and a jolly day hike down a hill for someone else.

Around six days into our actual hiking we met a newlywed couple called Ragamuffin and Mega Mo. They had some advice to pass on to us:

  • Never decide to leave the trail in town or on a bad day
  • You WILL have bad days.
  • You will cry.
  • It will get better

These words were especially helpful to me, since three days into our hike, I had a major meltdown. One mountain after another broke my spirit and wore me down until I finally fell down in tears crying, “I can’t do this. I hate this. I want to go home.”

A lot of people don’t talk about those experiences, but many have them. Something like fifty percent of people who try to thu-hike don’t make it out of Georgia. It’s not that those fifty percent couldn’t do it and the other fifty percent could. It’s that the second fifty percent chose to keep going.

The things that kept me going were the following: Pete, my family, and you.

Pete was very mad when I said I wanted to stop. Understandably. I was leaving not just the trail, but him, too. He came with me to town and asked me to at least sleep on my decision. I agreed.

All I wanted was to go home and spend the holidays with my family. I justified that I could leave, spend the holidays at home, and come back later when it would be warmer and ‘easier’. (I knew in my heart that if I left, I’d probably never come back.) And, I knew my family would rather I keep working at this goal, despite how much they missed me.

At the time, I’d just started to write regularly and get feedback from you. I hated the idea of letting you down by giving up.

After a restless night, I realized that if I left then, I would have lost. I would have done with this trip exactly what I’ve done with the rest of my life, skated through life on the path of least resistance.

I told Pete that I would commit to getting at least to Helen, where are first food drop was supposed to be. (Only 50 miles into our 2,178 mile trip.)

We’ve hiked four days since we left that hotel, and despite cold weather with a still insufficient sleeping bag and an Achilles heel injury that has us taking yet more zero mile days, I have been happier on the trail than I could have imagined. Following that rule of not giving up on a bad day reminds you that there are more good days than bad and gives you just enough extra energy to make it to the next summit.

Then, as you keep hi

king, each summit becomes a reward in itself.

I may not end up finishing the whole trail, we’ll see. I want to, but what I know I will do is follow the guidelines. I am committed to trying to get out of Georgia. I will not stop on a bad day. I will continue to challenge myself to do even more than I ever thought possible. I will hike as long as I choose to, but if I stop

it won’t be because “I can’t”. It will be because I make a choice.

As it stands, this

trail has strengthened me already, and I see why people continue to come back over and over again.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Canis Unexpectedus or The Many Uses for a Water Bottle

Stover Creek Shelter 12/9/10

The bracing bite of winter’s darkness settled in on our first night in a shelter after an unsuccessful hour of tending a fire that preferred to smoke uncontrollably rather than give off any serviceable heat. As newbies, Pete and I tossed in our bags uncomfortably, disturbingly aware of the lack of a fourth wall and our exposure to the night.

In silence the minutes ticked away as we waited in the loft of the shelter for absent sleep to pay us a visit.

Crunch, crunch, crunch…the crisp dead leaves alerted us to the presence of someone or something else at our camp.

“What is that?”

“It sounds too big to be a raccoon.”

“I don’t think it’s a bear.”

“It sounds like a dog.”

“We’re in the middle of nowhere. It can’t be a dog.”

Thump, click, click, thump…

“It’s in the shelter now!”

Our mystery four legged companion weathered a windy and restless night with us, and as morning broke, we debated what do to.

“I really have to pee.” I whisper to Pete.

“So, pee.”

“I can’t. It’s still down there. I hate you. You can pee out the window.”

But, as we heard the animal begin to move for the day, I timidly peeked over the edge of the loft to see a brown and white speckled fox hound trot away from the shelter with a bounce to his step that seemed to taunt me and my needless fear.

“It was a dog, an freaking actual dog!”

How unusual. How unexpected.

As I climbed down the ladder to gratefully relieve myself just outside of the perimeter of our bear free campsite, I pondered some of the trail’s lessons: there is no usual, there is no expectation. Anything can and will happen. It was a dog today. For many other campers, it has been a bear snooping about the tree cables to see if he can get an easy meal. It might be a bear for us next time. All you can do is be prepared, be aware, and be willing to laugh at yourself and your fear the next morning.

That, and now I have one less Nalgene for water and one new container for those annoying night time pee breaks.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

No Frigate Like a Book

Emily Dickinson says that "there is no frigate like a book to take us lands away." She's right that cracking a a copy Rudyard Kipling's "Kim" instantly transports me to the spice filled streets of India and L.M. Montgomery's "Anne of Green Gables" makes me feel like I am eleven again and walking down the roads of Prince Edward Island with Anne Shirley. I take no greater joy on a cold rainy day than climbing into the safety of my own bed with my special friend, a new book, and snuggling down under mountains of covers with a cup of tea while devouring page after page.

The pleasure of a book is that when I get bored or tired I can just fold over the page corner and abandon the book to my nightstand for a day or a week. Similarly, when watching The Travel Channel, if something is gross or too graphic, I can change the channel. In a way, though that safety kills the soul of travel.

Travel is the insecurity of knowing that even though the muscles in my legs are begging to be done, I still have three miles to cover before dark. It's knowing that I've just started my journey and have not just days to go, but months of the same hard work to endure. It's knowing that no matter how often we may disagree or not get along, my hiking partner is my partner, and we owe something to each other.

With a book, we know at the start what sort it is: romance, comedy, adventure, or drama. With individual adventures, we never know if our story will a heroic quest with victory at the end or a tragedy holding only disappointment.

On the trail (or any adventure we take) we can say that we are ready, but we don't really know if our patience or our strength or our will power will fail us. we just don't get to know how the story ends. But, the power lies in the fact that even though we don't know what the next page will hold, we are our own authors. We are our own frigates.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The First Few Days

"Hey, Pete, fancy a walk today?" my words to Pete on the way to our last breakfast before heading out for the first day of the trip.

"This sucks, I hate this, I'm cold!" my words less than twelve hours later, setting up camp in a cold, windy valley.

A reminder that on the trail, tension and emotions often run high. We've hiked four days so far and I've had one really good day, two rough days that had great moments, and one miserable day. Ladies and gentlemen, winter hiking isn't easy. I've seriously considered going home already and I've only hiked just short of 19 miles. I have over 2,000 still to go...

Pete has been beyond patient with my slowness and my meltdowns and my bad gear choices. We're taking two and a half days off the trail to fix some gear issues and heal my blisters.

For now, we are hoping to be back on the trail later this week, though it's going to be cold. Hope you all are nice and toasty and ready for the holiday season.

For now, here are a few pics on the trail:

The first morning after camping. Rough night, beautiful day.

Ice Crystals. :)

Walking on thin ice...

Another great view in the Chattahoochee National Forest.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

On the cusp

I am less than 24 hours from starting the hike. We are on the road in South Carolina driving down from Baltimore. We've driven through a good deal of snow In the higher elevations, which makes me nervous as I was hoping to settle into hiking for a few days before we hit snow. We'll see what Georgia looks like.


- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Women's Adventure Magazine

Hey all,

My first blog entry was picked up by a blog run by Women's Adventure Magazine.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Adjustments to life

So, we have ended up staying in Baltimore for about a week longer than originally planned. Not only does this mean that we will be starting almost a month later (and colder) than our original plan, but also, I've spent a week hanging with Pete and his friends in Baltimore.

One of the things that I've encountered this week is that I am spending time socially in a much different manner than I am accustomed to. I am a huge fan of vintage fashion, and I usually doll myself up pretty well when I go out. I love makeup and pin-curls and heels and clothes. But, these are all things I've chosen (by both necessity and preference) to give up during the trek. I've committed to not plucking my eye brows or shaving during the course of the trip. None of these things are particularly unique for a hiker, but I've found the last week a bit difficult for me since I'd planned to be on the trail and not in a bar with friends.
Now, I know some of you who are reading, and I know how you are about going out in public. Imagine going out with no makeup, un-styled hair, hiking boots, and men's clothes (mine were in the wash, so I wore Pete's pants and sweater). It has been an act of humility, in some ways, to be stripped of all my traditional means of expressing personality visually. What it reminded me, though, is that personality is not found in the drape of a skirt or the cake of your eye shadow. It's found in your conversation, in you not on you.

I found myself initially more self-conscious when meeting new people, but that feeling wore off once we sat down and began talking and sharing stories. While fashion and appearance will probably always be important to me, because it's fun, it won't be able to define me in the same way that it once did.

And, this trip and this blog are a testament to the fact that in each of us, we carry different personalities that can sometimes contrast. I am currently reveling in the fact that I don't need to spend hours a week grooming and primping where I once did it just to entertain myself. So, this week, look at yourself and see what kind of dualities exist for you. What hobbies or interests do you have in your life that may on the surface appear to be contradictory in nature? How can you find a way to form them into two sides of one coin?

Just for fun, I'd like to link to some photos that reflect the theme of this post. These are done by a great company called jtMartin Photography.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

quick update

Pete and I will be leaving for the trail on Monday. We should be hiking either Monday or Tuesday! :) I looks like, for now, it might just be us at the beginning. We'll see who joins in later. So, calling all friends, you wanna have an interesting Winter or Spring break? Join us for a bit.

Talk to you all soon.


P.S. I am still working on setting up email notification when you comment. Anybody know how, comment and I'll love you forever.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

An inspirational thought

The road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began
Now far ahead the road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And wither then? I cannot say.
-J.R.R. Tolkien

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Short note

I find some amusing changes beginning to happen regarding my outlook on life. Pete's calling around trying find a ride from Baltimore to the trailhead in Georgia as our ride fell through. I was shocked to realize that people weren't able to do it till next weekend since they had to work. That's what four months of not teaching and working a serving job (or not working) have done to me.

Some might say I am loosing touch with the real world or am not thinking like a mature adult. But I actually find it refreshing not to be so bound by hours and days of the week. Pete and I drive when we need to drive, be it night or day. With the exception of Sunday, when I choose to observe religious practice, days of the week don't matter.

On a side note, I begin to wonder if Sundays will even matter once we start hiking since the wonder and beauty of the outdoors may render every day holy.


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The road to the road

"Why aren't you hiking yet?"

This is the question I've gotten from not just a few of my friends and family. Seeing that we aimed to be on the trail the first week of Nov. it's not an unreasonable question.

The short answer is, we've had a lot of stuff to do.

The long answer though, is that leaving your life behind is harder than just getting in a car and going. What we've literally been doing is visiting friends, packing an apartment, and seeing movies. What we've metaphorically been doing is saying goodbye to the things in our life that make it what it is as we prepare for a life that will look almost nothing like we've ever known.

We both have been going out of our way (in his case hundreds of miles) to visit friends who we won't see or maybe even talk to for at least seven months.

Pete came to pick me up last Tuesday, but was awesome enough to hang long enough to attend the midnight release of DH7. We went with Mom (Augusta Longbottom) Cousin Britney (Sybil Trelawney), and Cousin Robin (Pansey Parkinson). Pete and I went as Tonks and Lupin. He was wildly popular.

It was an experience I was very grateful to share with Pete and my family since I haven't missed a midnight release since movie four and book six. I'm especially glad given that soon this part of my life will be gone. But, that is what this trip is about, closing one chapter and beginning another.

After we left Texas we spent a couple of days in Louisiana packing up Pete's apartment. May I just say, if anyone wants to test a relationship, help someone move. :) We were both grumpy as Hell with each other. But, here's the thing, I learn with each bicker fest that these are things you have to work through. In the end, we left Louisiana in one piece and headed out to Florida to spend a couple days with my dad.

Florida was a lovely warm reminder that soon we will be spending many a cold might bundled into thick sleeping bags in a heavy duty tent. Dad was pleasant and enjoyable company, and I'm glad Pete's had the chance to meet so much of my family. I was glad to hear that he was a hit with all.

We are currently on our way North to Baltimore and should be headed back down to Georgia by sometime next week.

As always, I'll keep you updated.

Making plans and getting a start

Pardon my nearly three month break in posting. The move from Houston to my Mom's did crazy things to my head in regards to planning for the trip. I found myself thinking more about how to fill my days and make some money while waiting for the trip to start than actually planning for the trip.

But, alas, the gear is purchased, the first leg of the route is planned, and the food is ready for Mom to ship.

I'd like to take a moment to talk a bit about food. Many of you have asked about how we will be eating on the trail. For the most part, Mom is shipping us our food, though we'll also buy a lot of snacks and supplies in the cities we walk through. What food Mom does send will consist of a lot of things that can be eaten or prepared cold such as tuna and crackers or cold instant potatoes and spam (gross, I know). :)

However, our evening food will be hot dehydrated meals that Mom will be fastidiously preparing all year. I got a jump start on the project for her while I was still home and spent about two weeks cooking, dehydrating, and vacuum sealing. In that time, I learned how really awesome my mom is, because the process is actually very time consuming. She'll probably have to be in a constant state of dehydrating in order to keep up with our eating. Thanks Mom. :)

I'm looking forward to trying all the different meals we've made, especially the beef stroganoff. Pete and I still have to finish all our gear tests though, including testing the stove and practicing rehydrating the food. Can't wait to experiment.

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Friday, July 30, 2010

The things we carry and the things we leave behind

I sit here at the gym on a stationary bike typing this post on my iPhone and I tell myself, "Na, I won't have a hard time leaving my old life behind to walk in the (relative) wilderness for over half a year."

I think I'm lying to myself.

But, truly, isn't that what a trip like this is supposed to be about? I go to discover for myself what it is I really need in life. My question is then, if do discover that I don't like living without my iPod and Egyptian cotton sheets and daily updates on facebook and twitter, does that make me a shallower person than people who gladly shed these modern conveniences for a more rustic lifestyle?

I'm not sure yet, but I'd like to think that our lives are not so easily defined by what we do or don't consume on a daily basis. I want this trip to be a real chance to explore myself, and to that end there are some changes I am planning to make because they suit my needs for the trip. I've committed to going the entire trip without makeup, a haircut or dye, and not plucking my eyebrows. I haven't yet decided if I will wear deodorant outside the cities, or if I will shave my legs or underarms.

To those experienced hikers reading, these seem like nothing decisions that aren't really what the trip is about. To those reading who would never sleep outside a night of your life, my last paragraph may have grossed you out of ever reading another entry. :) However, the joy I find in planning this trip is that I can be both emboldened and grossed out by the idea that I'll only be averaging one shower a week or maybe even every two weeks. That's what's wonderful about being human; we are not just feminine or butch. We are not just hygienic or un. We are a collage of all our life's experiences.

In this one lifetime we have the chance to experience many different kinds of living. I intend to try as
many as I can.

What about you? What is an experience you've always wanted to challenge yourself to?

Why I Walk

The hallway noises fill my ears, shuffling shoes of students lingering, walking as slowly as they can to their next class, the sound of a principal shooing people in with determination. I stand silently glowering, listening to my friend from the class across the hall fill me in on the latest gossip about me that she’s picked up from our once mutual friend. Life in a high school is one incestuous pool of friends, enemies, and former lovers you can’t seem to escape from. You’d think I was talking about the students, but high school teachers somehow always manage to imbibe the attitude of the surrounding teens and exhibit all their worst traits.

I’ve spent the entire year living down one bad decision, and that, paired with the continual dissatisfaction of feeling just average in a job that requires true self-sacrifice and almost superhuman power has led me to make a choice.

Quitting your job without a replacement is like jumping off a cliff when you can’t see the water at the bottom. You’ve seen other people do it, and you’re pretty sure you’ll be okay, but there’s always that chance that the tide will be out when you take the leap and you’ll end up shattered in a thousand pieces on the rocks below.

Only, instead of jumping off a cliff, I’m hiking through the woods, thru hiking the Appalachian Trail to be exact. Just like Thoreau before me, I want to go to the woods to see if I can find a way to live more deliberately.

I feel foolish the last weeks of school. I’ve put in my notice, and told everyone that I am leaving and where I am going, but I can’t help thinking that I might be a gigantic hypocrite. My students walk the halls with “Walden”, their summer reading, under their arms, and I spout about the joys of the outdoors and read them Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” and Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road”, but really I’m thinking more about what life will be like for six months without a working toilet or my Saturday trips for coffee and croissants.

Sometimes I feel like I am just running away again. Running from failed relationships and friendships and jobs. I feel so average sometimes that, like my students who mess up the beginning of their essay, I want to just shout out to whoever is out there calling the shots, “Hey, it’s Niki, I messed up this life. I’d like a do over please.” I want that clean slate. And, I wonder actually if there is anything wrong with that. Everyone is entitled to a few fresh starts, and who am I to knock nature as a great place to get one. I have some pretty reliable precedent to back up my plan, if Thoreau and Whitman and Frost support it.

So, I walk. I walk to free myself. I walk to find myself. I walk to see if the place worth walking to is really someplace I’ve been all along. I intend to write about what I see and what I learn. Sometimes what I write will be simple anecdotes of who I meet and what places I go. Sometimes it will be complaints of how tired I am and wonderings about whether I was crazy to start this. Mostly, it’s for me, but if anyone else has ever felt lost in a place you know better than the back of your hand, I encourage you to read, and to share your thoughts as well.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Gear List

Below is my running list of what I am bringing. Right now, most of this is packed in my pack. At the moment, it weighs under 40 lbs. YAY! Also, there is a link to a google doc of the list including cost of items and links to item descriptions. After I've been hiking, I'll probably start posting some gear reviews. Sorry these posts are dull at the moment. I am posting a lot of research and data that I will want access to on the trip.

Google Doc Gear List

4 pr. underwear
green tank
smartwool bottoms
smartwool top
hiking pant
fleece hoodie
wind breaker
ski pant
2 pr hiking socks
1 pr hiking socks
socks 2
water shoes
camp shoes fluffy
knee braces

sleeping bag
sleeping pad
bag liner
compression sack
clothing sack (sleeping bag sack)
food sack
walking poles
nalgene cap
nalgene soap holder
2 eddie bauer wtr bottle
foot/hand warmers (10)
water filter
match box
duct tape
hair tie/comb
baby wipes
gallon/sandwish bags

Friday, April 23, 2010

About the Trail - Appalachian Trail Conservancy

This is it. I am starting the blog, perhaps a bit early, but a) I am so excited that I can't help but plan and b) I need to know where my blog is going to be, so I can let my students and soon-to-be former co-workers know where I will be posting about my trip.

Starting November 2nd, I will be entering into a multi-month thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail, Georgia to Main.

In case you've never heard of this before, here is some background:

About the Trail - Appalachian Trail Conservancy

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I'll be posting more as I continue to prepare and as the trip gets closer.