Monday, January 31, 2011

The Kindness of Strangers

One of the things you realize once you've spent some time on the trail is that you have to, from time to time, rely on the kindness of strangers.

This can be frustrating when you are on the trail to find independence and freedom, but if you roll with it, you'll find many treasures mixed in with your reliance.

Something I quite enjoy is the necessity of coming into town for resupply and a hot shower. I've never spent any time on the East coast, so this is a great way for me to get to know this part of the country. But, coming into towns means finding rides, getting directions to laundry and outfitters and food and entertainment.

You really do, as Blanche Dubois says, have to rely on the kindness of strangers in a lot of these situations. For many hikers, town is a fast stop, usually at most just overnight, if that. They don't have a chance to see much of town or meet many locals. The curse, or the blessing, of our hike is that we have had a few (I mean LOTS) bad weather days where we get stuck in town. It's a drag, because it's expensive and we're not hiking (which is our job right now). However, the joy is that we have the opportunity to really get to know some of the people we meet.

One of the most recent examples of this is our eight (yes eight) day stay in Franklin during some of the most unseasonably cold weather we've had this year. We stopped into a small new Outfitter in town for a few odds and ends. What we found at Outdoor 76 was not just a place to buy new gaitors and shoe inserts. We found friends. We found people who really cared about getting us back on the mountain and went out of their way to help us get there. Cory and Rob, who run the shop, have been some of the friendliest people we've met since starting this journey.

I hoped that in taking this journey, I'd learn something about myself, grow closer to Pete, and meet some people to share the adventure with. You know you've done that when at the end of your hike, you don't just want to send them a thank you card for "being a part of your journey", you want to call them up and invite them on the next trip.

I'm sure that we will meet a great many people as we continue to hike, and there will be other people who are friendly and touch my heart in some way. But, these guys are the first people we've met that I was really sad to say goodbye to.

Cory, Rob, good luck with your new adventure. I wish and pray for all the best for the both of you. We'll see ya soon.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Secret to Happy Travel

“He who would travel happily must travel light”

-Antoine de Saint-Exupery

The folks at Mountain Crossings might use this quote at the beginning of their famous shakedowns. And, it is appropriate, given that after their help we have hiked a little easier.

However, I think there is something else to be gotten from this phrase. The weight in your pack is not so important, I think, as the weight in your mind.

To truly hike happy (or travel in any way for that matter) you can’t carry too many troubles or too much worry.

You must just let your adventure happen, let it be. To use the words of another beloved poet traveler, you must take to the open road afoot and light-hearted.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Discovering the Mystery of the Ascent

It’s 7am. I am tucked into my Mont Bell 0 degree bag, snow has been falling for most of the night, and everything I own is either on my body or frozen in a pile outside the warm sanctuary that is the tent. I know I have to get up.

“I like winter hiking, I like winter hiking, I…I’m so damn cold, this sucks!” This is a thought that runs through my head, often. Yet, I get up each day to below freezing temperatures and walk until my body is so sore, it doesn’t know what to do at the end of the day when I finally get to take off my pack.

Why am I doing this? Is it just to be with Pete? Is it just to lose weight?

Any long distance hiker gets to a point where they have to question what their purpose is.

I’ve successfully hiked close to 100 miles now, and one of the things that surprises me each time is how I feel about ascending the various peeks and summits we come across.

Each day there comes a point that I see yet another ascent rising up from the densely forested and sometimes snow drift laden trail, and I think, “No, not one more. I am sick of climbing.”

Physically, this is the most exhausting, difficult thing I have ever done. Walking up a hill was never so mentally challenging either until I willingly chose to strap a 40 pound pack to my back. I quietly curse Mother Nature for making so many hills each time I have to start a new one.

But, there is this moment…this moment as you start to see the end. When you think you might be getting to the top. Your legs are burning, you can barely look up past the next step to enjoy the view of the trail itself, but in the back of your mind and body you feel something kick in. It carries you the last few hundred vertical feet on pure adrenaline. Then, you turn the bend, clear the trees and are blessed with some of the most amazing views that nature has to offer. Each one is a little special, not just on its own merit but because you earn it with sweat and determination.

I don’t consider myself athletic. I’ve heard runner friends of mine talk about “second wind” or “breaking through”, but having finally felt it myself, the experience of pushing yourself that far beyond what you think you can do is almost beyond description. It’s a thrill I never thought I’d get to experience.

I don’t think any gym equipment could ever motivate me to do physically for myself what the last month has given me. The beauty and mystery that each summit holds hasn’t gotten old yet, and I sincerely hope it carries me much further since I have miles to go before I rest.

Monday, January 17, 2011


It’s official. We made it out of our first state, Georgia. My first personal goal was to hike the first 80 miles to the North Carolina border, and I almost didn’t make it.

But, I am here! We may have gone slower than people thought was prudent. There may be people who think that we won’t make Maine. But I made it out of freaking Georgia, and that’s what counts right now.

There’s no way we could have done it without the help of many people. I would like to take a minute to acknowledge a few people who helped us survive the first leg.

The Hiker Hostel run by Josh and Leigh Saint was a great refresher early on after my first few frustrating days of hiking.

Winton, Lumpy, Pirate, Logan, George, and all the crew at Mountain Crossings were great about giving us a few days rest while I nursed an Achilles tendon injury and offered respite over the Christmas holiday. We spent a very pleasant Christmas Eve and morning with a family at the hostel.

Sage, Mega Mo, and Raggamuffin gave us wonderful and much needed advice. They helped keep us on the trail.

The young crew who plucked us out of eight inches of snow on Christmas night to drive us into Helen made what could have been a very cold night instead a night filled with warm food and beverage.

To the Sheffields, thanks not only for the ride into Helen, but for the encouragement and good company.

Thanks to the awesome man who offered us a right through Helen on our way back to the trail. I never thought I would hitch hike, let alone be picked up by a horse drawn carriage.

Thank you to the family who offered us a ride, accidentally took us to the wrong trailhead, and went out of their way forty minutes to get us to the right place.

Lastly, I have to take a minute to say thanks to Pete. He has pestered and pushed me to the point of making me cry at times, but without him I would not still be here. I can’t find words to explain to him in person how grateful I am, because sentimentality is just not our way. But, if he had a porch right now, I would hide under it (inside joke) and tell him that I am so glad he invited me on this trip.

Now, on to North Carolina and even more awesome adventures.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

How To Stay Entertained Off Trail

One of the challenges with hiking in the winter is that we spend a larger amount of time in cities than most hikers because of weather. There’s only so much time that we can spend calorie loading in front of the TV watching AMC and HBO movies before Pete and I break down and try to kill each other. Sometimes we have to get out.

One evening in Helen, GA, in an effort to save my sanity and the annoying task of hiding the body after Pete drove me to murder, we decided we ventured out to a pub called The Hayloft where we met a couple of locals for a few friendly games of pool. While rapping with a cool blue haired chick with a carbon atom tattooed on her arm (you figure it out), a squat guy in a leather jacket walks up to us, flashes the ten inch blade he has tucked into his pocket and asks, “You think this is legal?”

I personally think this is always a great start to an evening.

He and his friend wanted next game; so, they joined our ragtag group of players. Though, ever the cautious one that I am, I made sure Pete was consistently between me and our new dagger wielding companion.

An hour and a hundred dollar tab that consisted of nothing but girly shots later, and our knife boy had been slapped in the face, pulled his knife on someone, and asked his buddy where his gun was. Naturally, this is when the police got involved.

After hearing that the police were on the way to escort him to his lodgings for the night, he attempted to leave by leaping over a handrail and down a flight of stairs only to be stopped by a 6’4’’ rugby player and thrown solidly face down to the ground. Standing well back, enjoying the show, it was at this point I was glad to see the police take over.

Sometimes, entertainment like this just happens, and all you have to do is sit back and watch.

Other times when you’re in town for a longer stitch, you have to work a little harder to keep boredom at bay and sanity in check. Occasionally, for Pete and I this includes pulling hijinks on each other.

One of the things Pete relished for a time was to get rid of his gum by putting it on random parts of my body, like my elbow or nose. He got a huge kick out of this, and I tried to humor him. My humor lasted until the moment I rolled over and found my shoulder blade stuck to the bed. It was then that I chose to retaliate. I did so by taking the gum and sticking it to his chest. Anybody ever get gum in your hair as a kid? Yeah… the next twenty minutes were spent giggling guiltily and watching him cut the gum out of his chest hair. I felt a little guilty, but I figure, he hasn’t done it since. So, I guess I got my point across.

No matter how you do it, it’s important to keep a good attitude when you can’t be on the trail. The key to enjoying the journey is to take whatever it throws at you and have a blast with it. Sometimes the unexpected or odd things that happen bring the most joy.