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Thru-Hike the Appalachian Trail? What Could We Possibly Be Thinking?

(Is This Like a Vision-Quest or Something?)

 To start with, this was never something I ever envisioned doing. It was never a fading dream or even remotely a long-term goal. Touring with a rock band, winning the Daytona 500 or producing a Grammy award-winning CD was more of what I had in mind. But even at 55 years of age and with accomplishing those dreams pretty much out of the question, thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail still was never even considered as a likely alternative. But, as any married guy can attest, wives can be pretty persuasive when there is something that they REALLY want to do; especially when you are married to one that is very goal oriented like my wife, Georgia. So when she suggested, dare I say bordering on insistence, that we spend a portion of our mid-life days, hiking the AT, how was I to resist? Saying, “No Way”, and ending up sleeping on the couch is not something that I was prepared to do.

 Though not very enthusiastic about it at first, as we took our preliminary “training” hikes, I came to the realization that six months on the trail would be a great opportunity to spend some quality time with my best friend. Out in the fresh air, away from all the stress of suburban living and not having to make a decision that was greater than “Do I want oatmeal for breakfast or a breakfast bar?” Each day seeing some beautiful scenery that would be right within reach and not separated by a car window and not having to delete any more of those offensive emails for Viagra, low-cost mortgages or from the wife of Mr. Zambazia, of Kenya, looking for someone to help launder her dead husband’s millions of dollars, sounded like a good idea. And, what great shape I would be in when we reached Mt. Katahdin. However, I had to keep reminding myself of all these benefits each time I climbed on the exercise bike to train or when we were hiking the C&O Canal Towpath in the pouring rain. Or when my feet and knees hurt from a long descent or I thought I could never look at trail mix again without retching. 

Now, hiking and camping is nothing new to me. I grew up in the countryside of New Jersey (yes there is, or at least was, countryside in New Jersey) and most of my days were spent outdoors riding my bike, fishing, climbing trees, hunting or anything else that would keep me out of my mother’s hair. Having some Native American blood in my lineage (but don’t we all) I felt that partaking in outdoor adventures was a way of honoring my Indian ancestors. My adolescent years were spent in the Boy Scouts (my Dad was a scoutmaster during that time) and I actually was one merit badge from becoming an Eagle Scout (high school and girls certainly can wrestle your attention away from other long-lasting accomplishments). Summers were spent at Camp Pahaquarra along the Delaware River or at the National Boy Scout Jamboree at Valley Forge. I also was initiated into the Order of the Arrow, which at the time, was a prestigious group to be in. To make it through the required three days of not speaking to anyone, walking through the woods in the dark with no means of light, sleeping outside with no shelter (it rained every night during my initiation) and having only one match per day to start a fire, put you into a very elite group. Sort of like the Navy Seals for teenage boys. Plus you received this very cool white sash with a red arrow on it that showed everyone that you were tougher than they were. At that time in my life, hiking 2,160 miles from Georgia to Maine would have been considered a walk-in-the-park or a rite of passage to manhood.

 Georgia also has experienced her share of athletic endeavors. Her family used to regularly scuba dive and they raced sled dogs in Minnesota. She has a black belt in Tai Kwon Do, was a gymnast and, for a period of time in her life, assisted her family as they navigated the entire length of the Mississippi River in the family’s houseboat.

 So to say we are “city-slickers” or are content with just going through life being satisfied with the memories of what we have done in the past, would be wholly inaccurate. In fact, every couple of years we go on a retreat, just the two of us, to a B&B somewhere and develop life plans for ourselves. This plan is a list of all the dreams and desires we have for our lives, along with a timetable for living them out and the steps required to make them a reality. These dreams can be as wild and as far-fetched as we can imagine but they are reflections of who we are and what we want to be. Every so often, we review these plans to see where we are with them and it still amazes us as to how many things on these list we can check off. We whole-heartedly recommend everyone doing this; it is an extremely rewarding endeavor.

 But doing the AT in 2006, when most men my age were dreaming of all the free hours they would soon have available to ride around in a golf cart shanking balls into the woods, was not even on my radar. All our kids are grown and out of the house, though not necessarily out of our bank accounts, and we are free to do whatever we like; whenever we like. I just thought that curling up with the latest book in the “Left Behind” series or having a marathon video-watching experience on a rainy Saturday was what I could look forward to.

 Now I am not soft, though according to my wife I can be very sensitive. (I often cry during movies with little kids in them or at the conclusion of “Extreme Makeover, Home Edition”). But there are things about my 21st century life, like eating at good restaurants, reading a good book, or writing music in my home studio, that I totally enjoy. And creature comforts like DVD players, air conditioning, and computers offer a source of relaxation and comfort that I was not sure I was ready to give up having spent so many years working to get to a point where I could actually afford them. But, I made the leap of faith, convinced myself that I could actually survive without these things and decided to go for it. The bottom line was that this was going to be as much a spiritual journey for me as it was a physical challenge. A chance to reset my philosophical, emotional and spiritual compass. A time to get away from the noise of urban living long enough to be able to hear the voice of God without any outside interference.

 For Georgia, this was to be an adventure as well. A test of her physical strength, will power, planning and another way for her to re-enforce the character of her Type “A” personality; not to mention spending 5 months without daily access to email and the internet.)

 

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