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A Dream Come True

13 Oct

On the Friday before last — October 4th — Bojangles summited Mount Katahdin, the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail.Bojangles Katahdin

In all, he hiked 2,185.9 miles

through 14 states

in 197 days,

which is over 6 1/2 months.

In the process, he lost 38 pounds.

He is amazing.

FieldLake

His crew after me.

His crew after me.

FogMouseMount100 MileSunsetFor Bojangles, the AT was a dream that took hold over a year ago, when he moved back into his parent’s basement and started working at a moving company to save money for the hike of a lifetime.

And now he’s done it, and he’s moving back into his parent’s basement.  He’s not sure what’s next in life.  He figured the AT would help him with that.

He says he thought he’d feel different — changed in some profound way — when he got done.  But he says he feels the same.

I told him that when he looks back in 15 years, the change in him will be plain as day.

To me, the greatest gift of an AT thru-hike — or a similar escape from the real world — is the gift of time. Time to see.  To feel.  To think.  All those hours spent in your head.

Time is also one of the greatest gifts of life.  It is life’s currency.  When you look back on your life, you’re going to count your hours and days and weeks and months and years and wonder where they went.  My hope for Bojangles is that he lives every one of them like he lived the last 6 1/2 months — fully embracing the pain and the possibility, the crooked paths and the straightaways, the doubt and the doggedness, and — of course — the sweet, sweet joy of triumph.

CONGRATULATIONS, BO!

Broken Silence

13 Sep

My heart still beats.  My lungs still inflate.  I am alive.  [Though down a toe:]

Leaving the Trail was much more painful than this.

Leaving the Trail was much more painful than this.

I haven’t posted… in a while… because I have been living in a swirl of head-spinning change, which has made me want to crawl into a hole rather than broadcast my abstruse emotions over the blogosphere.

The short and skinny of it is that I left the Trail because I got my dream job.

Leaving the Trail was devastating.

It all happened very abruptly, and that day was one of the hardest of my life.  No joke.

We sat on a rock in New York, and he promised me he’d finish.

“But I never would have made it here without you.”

I would have called him a liar, but I already knew this.  He would have hiked home to Pennsylvania and never left.

“Use the hand sanitizer,” I said.

This was a joke.  I had done everything but eat the stuff and had still been the Trail’s harbinger of sickness.

I attempted to dam the stream of tears flooding my face, I hugged Bojangles, and I watched him clamor over the rocks away from me.  He turned around and waved and then disappeared into the woods.

Five minutes later, I got a text.  He’d been stung by a bee.  I bawled.

It was so hard.  Hiking the Trail with Bo was my whole life.  Every second of every minute of every hour of every day.  It took 5 hours on a highway to get me back to the real world, but more than a month to get me where I can type this.

I may fill in the details later, but in the interest of continuity, here’s where we’re at:

Since I recovered from the tonsillectomy, Bojangles and I finished up the very tail end of Virginia, went through West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and into New York.  I left Bojangles where the AT crosses West Mombasha Road at mile 1374.7.

Since then, his pace has considerably slowed, undoubtedly due to lack of the great slave driver Oxy.  BUT, like a champ, he’s hiked all the way through Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire.  He’s now at mile 1887.6, and we shall follow him as he goes the last 300 miles!

The weekend before last, I visited him in the White Mountain National Forest of New Hampshire.  Being there, amidst Bojangles and other scruffy hikers — a bizarre clan of which I was no longer a part — was emotional.  Nostalgia, failure, guilt, regret swirled ribbons around my head.

Bo didn’t understand.  “The AT gave you your dream job,” he said.  “It hasn’t given me shit.”

Here's Bo a few days ago on the top of Mt. Washington in the Whites of New Hampshire.

Bo a few days ago on the top of Mt. Washington in the Whites of New Hampshire.  Obviously, the AT did give him something:  a homeless person’s beard.

Rocksylvania

18 Jul

7/17 – 21.9 miles
7/18 – 18.0 miles
AT Mile Marker – 1,235.6 miles

Hope everyone is surviving the heat wave. I’m on my 10th liter of water of the day. I don’t even remember what air conditioning feels like. Probably a bit chilly for my taste.

Also making things difficult for me are… the boulder fields. AT hikers know Pennsylvania as “Rocksylvania” because God unloaded a dump truck of ’em overhead this state.

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We shared the shelter last night with two old women – one perhaps well into her 70s and the other similarly situated in her 60s. The four of us were so hot and knackered that we barely spoke a word to one another.

This morning, the old women woke up at 5:30. Though they seemed to work diligently, it took them a while to break camp. “Why are old people so slow?”, Bojangles asked me later.

They left before us, but we soon caught up to the women… in… a boulder field. We zoomed (relatively) past them, but I spent the next hour thinking about them. “How in the hell are they doing this?” “Why?” “It’s going to take them all day to get 10 miles.” I wish I would have gotten their stories. And a picture. But I barely said a word to them.

The bugs are terrible. My body is riddled with mosquito bites. 100% DEET insect repellent is doing nothing but giving me DEET poisoning. As for the gnats… they swarm around me as if I’m a steaming pile of cow dung. For sport, I killed 33 of them on my chest in the last half hour of hiking yesterday. Their blood and guts streaked my shirt.

And yet, yesterday at 6 PM, I was listening to Green Day and tripping over rocks and almost busting my head open when I realized I’m having the time of my life.

Yesterday, I accepted the job I will start in September — when this wild year comes to an end. And yesterday one of my dear friends from law school, who is my age, had lung surgery to remove cancer. And my Dad was bummed because his puppy Velcro had a bad night at obedience class. I told my future employer yes, I told my friend good luck, and I told my Dad to go back and try again.

I’m on this damn hike because I read a book about a woman my age who, fifteen years ago — with heroin tracks in her ankles — set out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. She wrote, “The best thing you can do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of it.”

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Update

15 Jul

“I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.”
– Agatha Christie

7/13 – 17.4 miles
7/14 – 11.3 miles
7/15 – 24.4 miles
AT Mile Marker – 1,213.7

Let me recap the major points of the past few days, with no attempt at organization. And with a lot of whining.

On Saturday the 13th, Bojangles got attacked by a swarm of bees while taking a #2. I was drinking some water on the Trail when he ran out of the woods with no pants on, screaming like a banshee and grabbing his butt. I gave him one of those insect bite relief sticks, but apparently I did not display nearly enough sympathy because for the rest of the afternoon, I had to field questions like this: “Do you have any idea what it’s like to get attacked by bees?” “Can you imagine what that must feel like?”

On Sunday the 14th, we only covered 11 miles because we had difficulty launching from Bojangles’ parents’ house. They slackpacked us for 80 miles over 5 days. Thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Bojangles!

The sweltering heat is uncomfortable, but what is really driving me bonkers is the bugs. In particular, the other day, after inhaling up my nostril the 11th gnat of the day, I erupted in a tirade (mostly directed at the Appalachian gnat population, though I do faintly remember kicking a tree stump and barking at Bojangles). The next day I was (very happily) outfitted in this:

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Bojangles makes fewer and fewer jokes about my new headgear as time goes on and our gnat following grows. I said nothing (but snapped a photo) when I saw him today with sassafras leaves affixed to his forehead (he says they are natural insect repellents):

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We cruised into the shelter last night at about 9 PM. It turned out to be one of the worst nights on the Trail. Worse than the freezing cold March nights in Georgia. Almost as bad as the searing throat pain nights in Virginia. It was hot as Hellman’s. I laid on top of my sleeping bag, which slowly soaked with sweat. Meanwhile, the mosquitos (and who knows what other creepy crawlers) had a field day chomping down on my exposed skin. Let’s just say I was ready to get up when 5:30 AM came.

What else has happened. Oh yes, only perhaps the single grossest moment of my life. I’ll spare you, but let’s just say I’m experiencing some serious gastrointestinal issues. That royally suck when you are in the woods. Moving on…

Let me tell you everything I’ve learned about hitchhiking: wave an American flag. Seriously, the flag has earned its keep.

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Here are some red mushrooms growing on a tree:

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Other pictures of late…

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Also, underarm chafing (it is worse in other areas I will leave out):

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Heebie Jeebies!

12 Jul

7/12 – 18.6 miles
AT Mile Marker – 1,160.5 miles

In my post yesterday, I promised to attempt to capture, in a photograph, the next rattlesnake I came across.
Promise delivered, folks, here ya go!

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It is a black phase timber rattlesnake.

After this sighting, I made Bojangles go first. And BOOM, not ten feet away, a copperhead slithered out from underneath a rock just inches away from his foot. He emitted a string of curse words and leaped a great leap. We later learned that timber rattlers and copperheads are known to den together.

Talk about a case of the heebie jeebies for the next mile afterwards.

Return to Appalachia

10 Jul

5/31-7/1 – 32 zero days (tonsils-be-gone)
7/2 – 10.5 miles
7/3 – 15.6 miles (passed through West Virginia and into Maryland)
7/4 – 13.1 miles
7/5 – 22.4 miles (crossed the Mason-Dixon Line into Pennsylvania)
7/6 – 17.7 miles
7/7 – 19.1 miles (passed the AT halfway point)
7/8 – 11.8 miles
7/9 – 16.8 miles
7/10 – zero day at Bojangles’ house
7/11 – 18.6 miles
AT Mile Marker – 1143.5 miles

I’m back on the Trail! It’s a different can of worms this go around. MUGGY and BUGGY come to mind.

There have been a lot of milestones in the last 10 days of hiking, to include the 1,000 mile marker, new states (WV, MD, PA), and the midpoint of the AT.

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It says 1000, I swear:

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Our favorite state so far is West Virginia. This is because the Trail in West Virginia is 4 miles long.

At the Appalachian Trail Conservancy in Harpers Ferry, WV, we got our pictures taken and were officially branded 2013 thru-hikers 886 and 887.

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Other news, other news…

At Pine Grove Furnace State Park, Bojangles undertook the famed “Half Gallon Challenge,” in which AT thru-hikers attempt to eat a half gallon of ice cream as fast as possible. The record is 8 minutes. Bojangles put down his 2,480 calories in a respectable 15 minutes, 40 seconds. He would *not* recommend mint chocolate chip.
Here’s him at at the start:

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And while underway:

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And afterwards:

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Also offered was the “Gallon Challenge,” in which hikers attempt to eat a gallon of butter as fast as possible. The record is 43 minutes. In a moment of remarkable prudence, we did not partake.

We have seen a lot of snakes on the Trail, to include rattlesnakes, black rat snakes, and an unidentifiable gray snake with creepy eyes. The rattlesnakes have blown me away. They are massive, and their rattle is so loud. I’ll try to spend less time freaking out and get a picture of the next one. No such problem with this rat snake:

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We are liking Pennsylvania — primarily because we are currently stationed at the Harrisburg home of Bojangles’ parents, who are kindly “slackpacking” us. Slackpacking is when others help you with modern inventions like vehicles so that you can hike with only a daypack and sleep in a bed. We never want to leave, which is problematic.

Pennsylvania so far is best described as “rocky, with a side of cornfield.”

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Lucie Kerouac

29 Jun

 Below, my attempt at Kerouac-style stream of consciousness.  [Otherwise known as frantic scatterbrained late-night typing sans editing.]Jack Kerouac Making a  Face

McAfeeI was at a bookstore in Perth, Australia at the end of last year when my eye caught the Warhol-esque cover of Jack Kerouac’s On the RoadOn the Road, of course is Kerouac’s memoir of his travels across America that has come to define a generation – namely, the postwar 1950s “Beat Generation.”

And the thought first bubbled in my head: Is my adventure kinda like Kerouac’s?  I mean, it too is rebellion of sorts against societal norms that insist upon conformity.  It’s a search for meaning in my life, a longing for something to believe in, a hunt for a compass heading in the life ahead.  And I’m doing it in my own, uniquely American way – you know, equal parts individualism, conquest, and self-discovery.

Right?  It’s the same unabashed pursuit of happiness – a year of capturing memories like fireflies in a jar on a mid-summer night.  But realizing that, even when that’s your only aim in life, you still have to deal with a whole lot of gnats dive-bombing into your eyeballs and skeeters chomping on your exposed (and unexposed) flesh.  Oh, and — as the case may be — disease-riddled ticks.

I picked it up, but I didn’t buy Kerouac’s book – because as much as our journeys are the same, they are different.  Kerouac is not me, his trip is not mine, and his generation is not mine.  Kerouac’s trip was a rejection of the postwar American Dream – a gray flannel suit job, a wife, 3.4 (?) kids, a house, and a picket fence.  He divorced his wife and went on a mad hedonistic rush through sex, drugs, jazz, and alcohol.  “Wild and unrestrained!” boasts the cover.

My trip is not that – a full-scale rejection of society – but a quiet, contemplative pondering of how I fit.  Kerouac’s trip was mindless; his writing only maybe held together by some so-called “stream of consciousness.”  But my wanderlust, while perhaps rooted in the same thirst for a flood of emotion, is an ache – not a mad addiction. Continue reading