Okay Mom’s this is your warning! In fact click on THIS and you can re-read everything about the wonderful Appalachian Trail. The safe, well-organized, simple, old, reliable Appalachian Trail.
Alright I warned you. If you proceed from here I don’t want to hear a word about it!
Seriously, last chance! Here’s a picture of John Candy you can look at instead of going on. Soon enough that goofy mug will distract you from reading any further.
Okay are they gone? Good let’s dish some dirt.
Hiking the AT is really hard. Like really, really hard. I think we should break down the reasons why into some basic categories.
1. You Can Go Insane
Okay, not literally. But would you be as impressed if I said “it will test your mental prowess”? Dramatic effect people!!! Anyway, this is the most common reason people quit the trail. They just can’t stand the idea of another day out there. Sometimes there’s a nagging injury hanging around, maybe they took a weekend off the trail to see the family they miss so much, or maybe they just got bit by one too many
bear mosquito. Whatever happens they hit a breaking point and can’t take any more.
I’ve been reading a lot of AT blogs and I’m starting to be able to predict when people are going to quit. It’s not necessarily when the tears start, those seem to be a given. I have every confidence we will pass multiple people, somewhere 1/3 the way up a hill who are balling their eyes out on the side of the trail. We may even be those people.
It will happen. We both will want to quit. We both will want to quit A LOT. There will be a call home when Mom’s voice is just a little too warm and nostalgic. You all know the call I’m talking about. Freshman year of college. The fun of your new dormmates has worn off. You’re a month in and your first exam is Monday. It’s Saturday night and you’ve put off studying to go party with your friends all month. You take a study break and call home. Mom answers. She’s cooking. It’s your favorite dish. Everyone is coming over. You want nothing more than to have one bite of those chicken enchiladas. You can actually taste them. You look over at the food options on your one shelf (because in your dorm your bookshelf, kitchen counter, bathroom counter, dresser, and pantry are all the same thing) and realize tonight you will be having chicken Ramen instead. Then she does it to you… she says, “I miss you”. Done!
Yeah so that is going to happen. In fact the mental game is so rough it has its own terminology- the Virginia Blues. I will get into more specific analysis later but the quick version is that Virginia is the state with the most AT miles and it is also one of the flattest. People tend to drop out in or around Virginia as the fun of the trail wears off and everything gets monotonous. They call it the Green Tunnel.
This year a 2011 thru-hiker, Zach Davis wrote a book about how he went from being a novice day-hiker to a professional thru-hiker. I will do a review of this book soon but for now Appalachian Trials was written to help people get past this toughest aspect of the trail. The mental game won’t kill you but it will end your trip. Zach also has a very unique place in the nexus of our hike but I will get to that.
What’s important is that while we need to make sure we are good physical condition, know how to fight hypothermia, build a fire, etc., we also need to make sure we have tested our minds. As a mental health professional this really hits home for me. Sure I need to worry about bears but I’m not going to go try wrestling one to make sure I know how to do it. I will however try to push myself to my quitting point before July 1, 2013.
2. You Can Die
Let’s just get this out of the way. Yes you can die on the Appalachian Trail. I had this whole tongue in cheek piece ready to write about how fear can be misguided and keep us from accomplishing things in life. Many times it is unreasonable fear in that the thing we fear is no more real than stuff we encounter in every day life but take for granted. I will forgo the comedy here out of respect for a tragedy that occurred recently on the trail. I think I’m going to do a whole post about it at some point. Kind of a bummer way to start a blog but it needs to be said. Anyway, yes people die on the trial. Brief research seems to show it happens every year. Yet for the most part it is not from hiking accidents. Most are pre-existing medical conditions, chance encounters in towns, or random mistakes. Very few seem to occur while hiking. The bigger point is that more people die every day driving a car but we still go out and drive a car. The death rate is much lower on the Trail. So while it is reason to be aware, it is not reason to not do the trail.
So I have to be honest here. I am going to cut this post off and finish later. I actually just learned of the above tragedy just now. As I was writing this paragraph I wanted to find some facts on fatalities and the AT. Subsequently in researching I came across the information above. I cant say I knew the guy but I did follow his friend, Achilles, blog every day. They were doing some major miles and really taking the AT by the horns it was very impressive. Long story short, I want to make jokes and I can’t right now. So like I said, I will finish later. Sad stuff.