Up to this point we had confirmed one thing– we loved being outdoors.
A simple weekend in one of the best “designed” national parks in the country (?) had hooked us. We loved being outdoors, we loved that it meant a weekend being active instead of sitting on the couch watching the Phillies/Eagles/Union. It was one of those things we could do all our lives, with our future children. It was a key to a future that involved physical health and appreciation of what is truly great about our nation. We had started thinking about the next step- pop-up trailers, 5th-wheels, KOA’s, fishing from canoes in lakes named after Native American tribes that had once inhabited these lands. Then I received this email:
|From: Elizabeth||Tue, Aug 30, 2011 at 8:20 AM|
Now Liz isn’t known for hair-brained schemes. That’s my job. Going from riding a spin bike to doing a century ride with Livestrong. Watching the US Open to competing in JGAA golf tournaments. Doing impressions of 90′s SNL characters to acting in a kids community theater. Riding on a rental wakeboard to spending every moment thinking about wakeboarding for four years. Give me an idea and I will run with it. It’s a trait I picked up from my dad- when we pick up a hobby we go with it full bore. So yes it would make sense that I would have taken us from car camping to hiking the AT. Nope. It was all her.
So here’s how it went down. I got the above email and watched the following:
It’s funny, I can still watch it right now and get exactly the same feeling. I watched these 5 minutes of pictures and was overwhelmed. “I have done nothing with my life.” First thought, no question. I looked at these pictures and immediately felt like I was wasting so much time. I have traveled through MOST of America, but I’ve never seen it. I’ve never stayed in a hole in the wall inn lost somewhere in small town America. I’ve never pushed myself to the limit like these guys did. The last shot in Zach’s slideshow really stuck with me– kneeling atop the Katahdin sign– I’ve have never had a reason to shout like that.
Still, that’s all fine and good, it doesn’t matter if we WANT to hike the AT. We aren’t going to be able to do this. That’s when my internal motivator kicked in. I began POURING over every piece of information I could get. I read through Zach’s blog constantly. I must have watched that slideshow at least twice a day for a month. I reread his posts again and again. Eventually came to realized this Badger guy was an internet icon. It was probably fortunate that I was reading Zach’s blog because he always gave a positive, fun take on the trail. Plenty of people just complain for 6 months. He talks now about how much fun he had and it really showed.
That’s when the AT started to become demystified. We could do this. Old-ass men were doing it RIGHT NOW. This wasn’t doing an Ironman with a tent on your back. This was doable, really, really doable.
The idea of a thru-hike is actually one that wasn’t new to me… it just wasn’t one I ever entertained. Growing up I always knew about the stories of my uncle who was a bit of a wild child in his teenage years. As far as my memory served me, he and his friends would take off and hitchhike throughout California. They carried everything they used on their back and fished for food at every possible chance. Later I would learn the reality- they thru-hiked the John Muir Trail.
As I’ve come to know it now they were the REAL hikers. Ultralight? That was a brand of cigarettes. Cast iron pans? No problem? 30lb pack weight limit? Maybe in their food bag. They would just head out there and figure it out. Come across a nice camp with a viable food and water source? Stay for a week. It wasn’t about miles or getting from point A to B. It was about the experience. I was never jealous of that then… now I am painfully jealous.
The first time I heard about the Appalachian Trail was at the behest of my old roommate Keith. Keith was from Boston born and bred. Another outdoors lover, he spent his childhood up on Lake Winnie in New Hampshire. He and I had hiked the aforementioned Kendrick Peak together (remember Frosty?) after I graduated from college. While I was in medical school he mentioned the AT to me- a long trail from Maine to Georgia that was basically a bunch of trails interconnected by local hiking clubs. We actually made plans to hike it for a week over one of my spring breaks. It sounded like the ultimate man-experience. In the end the timing and cost didn’t work out. Ironically it was the section from Pennsylvania to Harpers Ferry we were going to hike. In 2011 Liz and I moved to Maryland and that section of the trail became our training ground.
So I knew about the trail, I figured it might actually be possible. But I couldn’t do it alone.
I talked to Liz about the idea further. Did she know what she was saying she wanted to do? I immediately set out for all the scare tactics I had. No matter what it cost she needed to know how bad it could be. That meant bugs, I had to find lots of pictures of bugs. Guys like this
Still no matter how many bugs I found, no matter how many stories I gave her of snakes and bears she was still down for it. I was amazed. So I kept digging.
I soon came across The Dusty Camel. Here was someone doing it in the moment. Zach had already finished his hike but these guys were just hitting their stride on the PCT. With every sport I’ve ever tried to learn from scratch I have a very basic formula– find someone really good at it and copy them. Between The Dusty Camel and The Good Badger I had the recipe for success right in front of me.
The simple fact remained however. These guys were hiking 2000+ miles, pulling 20+ mile days on many occasions. “Could we do that? I’m not sure I even know how to build a fire without perfectly dry wood much less cook food”. Hell at that point I still thought trekking poles were a useless luxury yuppies and gear heads used because the want to keep up with the Joneses.
But it was still doable. In fact it might be perfect. I realized that come July 1, 2013 I would be free of responsibility and have control of my life for the first time since… well I guess middle school. My training program would finally finish after 5 years of elective servitude/residency. If I wanted to, I could delay my career 6 more months and allow us to undertake the biggest challenge of either of our lives. Where Zach’s slideshow had left me feeling like I’d done nothing with my life, now we would do the biggest something possible.
It really was one of those decisions that when you sit down to figure out the logistics it almost seems like it was always meant to be. Liz and I will be getting married in September 2012. My training ends on June 30, the perfect time to begin a Southbound hike. It would almost be like an extended honeymoon (after our real honeymoon in Munich/Oktoberfest and Italy!!!). Even more significant, on return from our 6 month “eff-you” to society we will completely reintegrate. I will start my career (FINALLY!). We will commence to procreating (bow-chicka-bow-bow). We may even leave the East Coast for good depending on my job prospects (fingers crossed!). What better way to say goodbye then to walk the entire stretch of it.
There are no two ways about it- The Appalachian Trial is really the main artery to the heart of America. The course of the trail winds through the birthplace of America. It’s in these towns that the last remnants of those origins still exists.
So it came to this that I realized that to answer the question of whether we can handle 6 months of walking we would have to test ourselves. We needed to get on the trail. We needed to learn how to do this crazy thing. So we set about to get as many training hikes under our belts as possible…