Archive | March, 2013

Into the Wild

30 Mar

This is what my past 9 days have looked like:
[Note: these miles do not miles walked in search of water or shelter/tent sites or backtracking because of bears.]
[Note: these miles are up and down the north Georgia mountains.]

Day 1 – 0.9 miles
Day 2 – 11.4 miles
Day 3 – stomach flu
Day 4 – stomach flu
Day 5 – 8.7 miles
Day 6 – 10.7 miles
Day 7 – 16.5 miles
Day 8 – 10.4 miles
Day 9 – 11.0 miles
Total – 69.6 miles

Briefly, here’s a recap:

Slowly but surely I recovered from the stomach flu:

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My Dad left me this diagram and then flew back to DC:

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I packed up:

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And repositioned my safety whistle for easy access:

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It was incredibly cold. All of my water froze. Snot froze on my face. Climbed a mountain in a snowstorm. Felt like I was climbing Everest.

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Met two other solo hikers named Stretch and Staph:

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We noticed our campsite was encircled with fresh bear tracks but were exhausted so we hung the worst bear bag ever:

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All 3 of us slept in Stretch’s tent for warmth. Put our gear in my tent. Send Staph out at 3 AM to investigate noise.

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The next day, Stretch stayed behind; Staph and I hiked all day.

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Climbed some more mountains. Slept in a shelter:

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Felt badly for girl in the shelter who cried the whole night because she was freezing cold.

Woke up at 6:15 and got on the Trail in the dark. Hiked 11 miles to a road. Got a ride into town and checked into the Holiday Inn. Staph lays down on the bed and goes: “Son of a b*tch! I feel like my head is downhill.”

To Mordor We Go

30 Mar

I’m now 69.6 miles into the AT. The last couple days in the Chattahoochee wilderness have been nuts (did I mention that I’d never done any actual camping before this past Tuesday?!!)

Full report coming soon. It includes various snowstorms, me teaming up with a Boy Scout, sleeping three in a barely-two-man tent for warmth, and crashing in a guy named Pirate’s unheated back room.

But first I’d just like to mention that there are some strange people out here on the Trail. For instance, take a look at these guys (picture credit goes to my Dad):

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They are legendary and are known by either the “Friar Tuck Gang” or “Fellowship of the Ring” (to Mordor they go!).

They are also kind of dumb. In this – the coldest start to an AT northbound season EVER in history – they headed into the wilderness with not a stitch of modern clothing, no sleeping bags or blankets, and no tents. The also had no money, and at least one of them is a monk who took a vow of poverty to the Order of Dea or something and therefore he can’t even use money.

They literally almost died in the cold, but no one has heard from them in a while so everyone thinks they left the Trail.

Are You Kidding Me?!

24 Mar

Day 2 on the AT started off auspiciously enough. My Dad and Velcro walked the first little bit down the trail with me:

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But then I continued off into the woods by myself. Within minutes I was a little freaked out. The stillness of the woods made me feel very, very alone. I could not decide if I was comforted when I came across this sign:

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On one hand, I thought, it means there is someone else out here. On the other hand, however, that person has an automatic rifle.

Soon after, I came across a young male AT hiker collecting water at a stream. We exchanged a few pleasantries, but he was talking some big backpacking game and I was intimidated so I headed onward.

Nervous about being alone in the woods, I cranked up my iPhone and started listening to Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air. See, I thought, at least you’re not climbing Everest! 5 minutes later, I heard the noise.

You’re just wigging yourself out, I thought at first. Then I saw the black shape under the tree. I stopped. I couldn’t exactly make it out (I didn’t have my glasses on).

I retreated a bit and turned around. Shhhh**t, I think it’s moved, I thought. But I collected myself by rationalizing: it has just appeared to move because I’ve changed my orientation. I decided to retreat a little more and reassess. I backtracked down the trail 10 yards more and turned around.

And there was a Georgia black bear staring at me. Standing on his haunches on the trail in the exact same spot I was 10 seconds ago.

F************CCCCKKKKK! I turned around and unzipped my fanny pack, frantically searching for my whistle. All my stuff fell out onto the trail: to include toilet paper, hand sanitizer, pages from my guide book, and the guardian angel my Dad had given me.

At this point I knew what I should have done: faced the bear straight on, yelled at the bear, clanked my hiking poles together, and otherwise attempted to appear large and threatening. But – excuse the pun – I just couldn’t bear to look at the bear. I found my whistle (conveniently, it was in the other pocket of my fanny pack, where I had specifically put it for easy access) and stuffed it in my mouth, but I was too scared to blow it. So I just began to shuffle down the trail – back the way I had come – as slowly as I could make myself go. When I turned around many yards later, the bear was gone. And, thankfully, he remained gone the next 50 times I looked back. But there was no way I was headed back that way alone so I just kept hiking back the way I’d come.

According to Brendan, I came “hauling ass” down the trail with a “face as white as a ghost” and my “poles flailing overhead.” He says I yelled, “HEY, you, WHAT. IS. YOUR. NAME.?” Apparently I felt the need to get his name before telling him there was a freaking bear blocking the path ahead. His name, as it turns out, was Brendan, and he was the young male hiker I’d run across earlier. He was not impressed when I told him the story. “You ran from a bear?”
“Well pardon me for ceding ground to the ginormous bear on my second hour in the f*cking woods.”
“Where is he?”
“Up ahead.”
” How far?”
“Half a mile. You can’t miss it. All my stuff is there.”
“All of your stuff?”
“I told you – I lost my sh*t.”

Brendan agreed to protect me from the bear and so I turned around and we continued up the path. I followed him closely, my nose practically brushing his pack.
“Brendan, are you scared?”, I asked.
“Of course I’m scared. Bears are freaking huge.”
“Okay, well what’s our plan?”
“Dunno.”
“Brendan!”
“Not run away.”

As we approached the site of the encounter, we were both on edge. Brendan instructed me to blow my whistle at any rustle of the leaves, and he banged his poles together and yelled. Of course, the bear was gone. We chuckled – for the first time – as we collected my stuff, which was strewn all over the trail.

I hiked the rest of the day with Brendan, who turned out to be fabulous company:

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All told, I covered 11.4 miles, not including the backtracking. My Dad and Velcro met us with bear jokes like “how are you bear-ing up?” I almost clobbered him over the head with my pole.

We left Brendan to set up camp, promising to return in the morning with coffee and Haribo gummy bears. I was super stoked to have a hiking partner.

But I never made it back in the morning. At about 10 p.m. that night (Friday the 22nd), I became as violently ill as I’ve ever been. I spent the entire night projectile vomiting over every inch of this hotel room. Without getting too graphic, I will note that it came out the other end, too. When there was nothing left in my stomach, I just sat over the toilet dry heaving up bits of yellow bile.

The next morning (yesterday), my Dad took one look at me before announcing that he was – despite any protests I may have – moving his flight back two days. Soon thereafter, he came down with a more mild though feverish version of the “AT Plague.” So we have spent the last two days in bed subsisting on sleep and a diet of Pepto-Bismol, Tylenol, ginger ale, and the occasional saltine and tablespoon of applesauce.

The puppy Velcro, meanwhile, has grown restless and is doing his best to get us kicked out of this hotel room. We are all looking forward to more good times like this:

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And less sightings of these:

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Lucie Meets the AT

22 Mar

Day 0
– Dad, puppy Velcro, me, and our stuff took the overnight train to Georgia.

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Day 1
– Arrived in Atlanta.
– Rented car, went to Starbucks, made last minute REI stop, and drove 2 hours to our hotel in north Georgia.
– Navigated way to trailhead; involved 1 1/2 hours of unmarked gravel United States Forest Service roads and 3 roadside pee stops.

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– All 3 of us hiked 1 mile to the top of Springer Mountain – the southern terminus of the AT.

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Day 2 (Today)
– Hiking starts in earnest, and the trail mix hits the fan. Seriously. Some stuff goes down, and I completely lose my sh*t – literally and figuratively. Stay tuned for the next post.

Notes on My Way out the Door

20 Mar

I’m catching the midnight train to Georgia tonight!  I’ve spent the entire day packing.  And — even leaving the undies and deodorant out — I’m having some real issues.  Hmm.

Anyway, this will be last time at a computer for a while so a few notes:

1.  Track me while I’m on the AT!  The new “Tracking” page on my blog header includes a link that shows my GPS location (my iPhone will regularly ping my location).  Check it out.  Should come in handy if I need rescuing.

2.  A big last minute decision for me was: to bear bag or not to bear bag.  Hikers traditionally hang their bags from trees during the night to reduce the chances of getting eaten by a bear.  I read half an article and watched one minute of a YouTube video on the subject of “bear bagging” before realizing — with complete certainty — that there is no way I’ll be able to figure out how to do it properly.  It’s just way too complicated and requires way too much practical sense.  I will do it incompetently and then the bears will steal my food and I will starve.

You figure that out.

You figure that out.

So… I plan on sleeping with my food bag as my pillow.  If the bears want my food, they’re going to have to come through me.  I’ll let you know how that works out.

3.  I closed the polls early upon realizing I needed a computer to post the graphics.  So… [drum roll]:

How Far Will Lucie Hike on the Appalachian Trail?

Poll 2a

Poll 2b

The “other” vote was 200 miles.

If I Were Lucie, My Biggest AT Fear Would Be…

Poll 1a

Poll 1b

The “other” vote was loneliness (good one!). I am also worried about loneliness’s cousin: boredom.  Someone else also expressed concern about “eating random plants” (someone who has obviously watched The Hunger Games a few too many times…).

Lessons from the Halfway Mark

16 Mar

No, I’m not halfway done with the AT.  Supersonic speed still eludes me.

What does not elude me is the march of time.  I’m halfway done with my year off — or, as I’ve dubbed it most recently: “my one year escape from the real world.”  “So, like, what would you say you have learned?”, the voice of my Aunt Leslie booms through my cell phone receiver as she crunches down on a Medifast bar.

Looking out a bus window in Australia.  It captures perfectly this feeling that the world is whizzing by, and we're just trying to grab a piece of it.

Looking out a bus window in Australia. It captures this feeling that the world is whizzing by, and we’re just trying to grab a piece of it.

Ummhh, well.  It’s hard to sum up the lessons of 4 months of solo backpacking Asia and the Pacific, 2 months of rehabbing my ankle while raising a puppy in the metro DC area, and a week-plus stay at a silent meditation cult in bumfart Canada.  But, if I had to try:

1.  I have learned… a few new prayers.  I’ve said a few during the last six months (except, I will note, during my time at the meditation cult when prayer was BANNED — yes, still traumatized; will write about it… next century).  A sampling:

  • “God, please don’t let me [expletive] up.”  
  • “God, please preserve my sanity in spite of the craziness happening around me right now.”  
  • “God, please sustain the lift beneath this airplane right now.”

2.  I have learned… that Thornton Wilder (whoever he is) said one of the truest things ever said:  “It’s when you’re safe at home that you wish you were having an adventure; when you’re having an adventure you wish you were safe at home.”  One of the great — and frustrating — truths of adventure.

3.  I have learned… to see myself differently.  Before (on an admittedly self-indulgent level), I pictured myself as a strong, independent person who has pulled it all together and, like a phoenix, risen from the ashes of life’s sorrows.  But now, when I look in the mirror, I see just another broken person, like all those who walk around me — the prostitutes and the johns and the vacationing families and the other backpackers (or, that’s who was walking around me in Thailand, when this thought first skipped acrossed my mind).  I am broken; we are all broken, in some sense.  And there is a unity in that brokenness that binds us together.  That feeling, racing through your veins, is the antidote to so much — expectation and perfection, fear and inadequacy, judgment and envy alike.  It restores our humanity.

4.  I have learned… the difference between confidence and self-confidence.  Before, I was confident in my ability to succeed at various things.  I strode into job interviews and dodgeball leagues with confidence.  But, I’ve realized, I lacked self-confidence because — if it came to it in the end — I couldn’t weather the storm of failure.  The disapproval of others was hail to my psyche.  It’s like: I bet on the racehorse and I piloted the racehorse, but — at the end of the the day — I didn’t own the racehorse.  Because I didn’t love it no matter what.

You can be really confident and yet lack self-confidence.  The latter — self-confidence — is the tricky one.  It happens at home underneath your covers after you’ve royally messed up.  Botched a work project.  Completely embarrassed yourself in a social setting.  Ate multiple pints of Ben and Jerry’s in one sitting.

5.  I have learned… that — no matter what they say — you can’t enjoy the ride until you believe that everything is going to be okay at the end.  [Note: this is particularly true with airplane flights.]  Six months into this big journey to “figure it all out,” I have figured out little beyond the best way to get gored by a rhino and that Germans are good kissers.

Recently, I had dinner with a friend who queried me about how my life was going to look 5 or 10 years from now.  My reply: “I haven’t got the faintest, foggiest clue.  When I am able to wrest the drunk goggles from my face, I will let you know.”

She looked at me, and she said what I never really knew until she said it.  She said: “It doesn’t matter.  Because whatever happens,

You are going to have an amazing life.

You are going to do cool things.

You’re going to meaningful things.

And, most importantly, you’re going to be happy.”

Trekking through the Longji rice paddies of China.

Trekking through the Longji rice paddies of China (November ’12).

Vote Now!

15 Mar

In honor of the imminent start of the my AT hike, I have two fun polls for y’all.  Voting will close on March 21 at noon (when I start my hike), and I’ll release the results shortly thereafter.

So vote now!  [And don’t worry: it’s totally anonymous.]