“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald
Before I took the photos from the last post, I stopped by the Appalachian Trail RR station to get some pictures. I have been there before but since it was such a nice crisp morning, I went back to see if I get a different perspective.
I had the opportunity this morning to watch two excellent documentaries on the Appalachian Trail. The first, White Blaze-Stories From Appalachian Trail, was filled with interviews of thru hikers explaining not only why they decided to hike the AT, but also had it had changed them.
This documentary features M.J. Eberhart, also known on trail as the “Nimblewill Nomad.” His insight and and wisdom is second to none as he has been hiking for more years than most people have been alive. His hiking accomplishments are many, and to me the most amazing is that at the age of 60 he hiked from the Florida Keys to the far North of Quebec. That is an astounding 4,400 miles!
He is also the author of Ten Million Steps: Nimblewill Nomad’s Epic 10-Month Trek from the Florida Keys to Quebec. I have read this and it is one of the best written hiking books out there. He is one awesome dude! I highly recommend this book to anyone that wants a detailed look at long distance hiking.
The second documentary took a little different path than the first. One group of people that thru hikers will encounter on their hike are “Trail Angels.” Trail Angels are folks that take time out of their lives to provide assistance to thru hikers. Often times in the form of a cooler left on the side of a trail, they can be filled with soda, snacks, beer and candy bars. Trail Magic can also be rides into towns, meals that are bought for you or even a free place to stay for the night.
This documentary featured “Apple,” a 30 year veteran of IBM who decided that in retirement he would spend his time providing Trail Magic to thru hikers. He sets up a 12 person tent that includes a stove, food and drink. For many at the start of a thru hike, something like this can be a life saver as the weather can be incredibly unpredictable with night temperatures in the 30’s to mid 40’s. He goes into some detail as to why he does this and the cinematography is just outstanding.
Here is the You Tube link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uaZxBlVwhcE
I have mentioned in previous posts that the one thing the last two months has given me is a chance to think. And since I have been doing a lot of thinking, I find it kind of funny how one small and seemingly insignificant event can change plans, goals etc. For the longest time I have wanted to hike the Appalachian Trail. My original plan was to retire and then soon after that start the trail on Springer Mountain in Georgia. That has changed just a wee bit since the end of June.
As I leaned against the slab of rock in Harriman waiting for the park rangers to carry me out, I knew that I was in for some time off from hiking. What I didn’t know at the time was the extent of how dehydrated I was and how that could possibly have an effect on future hiking. The ankle I can deal with. The surgery repaired it and the PT will help me get back on the trail.
The dehydration thing is a whole other story. After spending four days getting bags and bags of fluids pumped into me, I also knew that I was going to have to make some changes in regards to a thru hike.
After much deliberation, I don’t think that a thru hike is possible. Why you might ask? Even though the AT crosses many roads and you do have access to towns, the amount of time that you can be isolated in the woods is somewhat daunting. If something happens or access to water is limited, that could spell trouble.
Am I making to much of this? I don’t think so. At my tender age of 53, I have developed a healthy respect for staying alive. Watching videos of folks who have vlogged their thru hikes, although water is plentiful at times, at others it can be scarce. My doctor has said that I can not afford to have another episode of dehydration like this one.
So what to do? With all of the time to think and ponder that I have had, I believe that I have found a suitable alternative. One that makes me happy and one that makes my family happy (and less worried!)
A while back I made a decision that when I retired I would hike the Appalachian Trail. Even though it is almost two years away, I am glad that I have that time to plan for this six month adventure. As I have watched videos of thru hikers, I have come to one conclusion. You have to know what gear you need/want and you have to know whether it works for you or against you.
On Wednesday of next week I will be heading out to Harriman State Park with two friends to backpack the Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail. Running a little over 21 miles, the trail begins at the Tuxedo RR station and ends on route 9W on the opposite side of the park.
I am considering this my first shakedown hike in preparation for the AT. A shakedown hike is described by Brian Lewis as a “…longish backpacking trip where you try out your gear and associated process to find out if there are things you can improve (in either) before your thru-hike. And hopefully it will also confirm that hiking somewhat longer distances is something you really want to do.” My first shakedown will be three days and two nights.
Will I like the gear that I have? Will I want to do another trip, maybe longer before I make any final decisions? I don’t know. Only time will tell!
Over the next few days I am going to post some of the new gear that I have as well as the tried and true that I am pretty sure I will use on the AT.
Please feel free to leave your comments!
Please read more about shakedown hikes here:
Thru hiking the AT has been a bucket list item for me since before I even began thinking about a bucket list. In an effort to be as prepared as I possibly can for a thru hike, I want to use this blog as a way to ask questions and get opinions/advice on whether my thought process is sound. More importantly, it will allow me to continue blogging about what I love to do.
Even though I have read many, many books and articles and watched hundreds of videos about the AT, I feel almost a sense of urgency now to continue to not only keep doing the same, but to also further refine my reading to researching about how to thru hike the AT. I know that sounds odd, but there is so much information out there about every aspect of hiking, that I want time to be able to sift through it all make informed decisions. Or….I might like something from start and go with it!!
One of my first questions/concerns has to do with pack weight. I understand lighter is better, but since this could be a once in a life time adventure, should I bring my DSLR camera with me? Is the 2-3 pounds of extra weight and the lost space worth it? I am saying yes for a couple of reasons. The first is pretty simple. I know this camera. I know the limitations and what can be done with it and at this point it is pretty much an extension of me whenever I am out hiking.
The second is much simpler. I want to be able to document this endeavor in the best possible way for my family and whoever might want to look at the pictures and follow the blog.
So what do you think? Go with what I like and know or am I missing something??
Any sane ideas will be considered. Insane ones receive priority consideration.
“To travel, to experience and learn: that is to live.” –Tenzing Norgay
In a little under two years I will be eligible to retire from my job as a special educator. In NYS, teachers can retire at the age of 55 if they have 30 years in the system. Directly after high school I spent four years in the Marine Corps, then went to school and worked other jobs for several years before teaching.
So what does this mean? It means that my time in education is near an end. So what next?
As I mentioned in my previous post, my first goal in retirement is to thru hike the Appalachian Trail. As a matter of course, the first question that everyone always asks anyone with a similar goal is “Why?”
With that said, let’s get the “why” out of the way.
My first adult real life challenge came in October 1983 when I reported to Parris Island, SC for basic training with the USMC. Without a doubt, this was the most difficult thing that I had done in my life, both physically and mentally. To describe it as three months of pure hell would be an understatement!
After being discharged I began hiking more than I ever had and used this as my primary form of exercise during the months that were suitable for hitting the trail. The rest of the year was spent riding a stationary bike in an attempt to try to get and stay in shape. This remains true to this day.
So, when you look at my love of hiking and put that together with a lifelong desire to accomplish difficult tasks, a thru hike almost seems inevitable. Why not?
More on this as I continue my research of the AT and engage in some more self reflection.
Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.” –Robert F. Kennedy
“No Pain, No Rain, no Maine” – Common Appalachian Trail saying
Since the inception of our great nation, the Appalachian Trail has existed and snaked its way from Springer Mountain in Georgia all the way to Mt. Katahdin in Maine. Almost 2,200 miles of grueling mountains and rock covered trails that punish the body as well as the mind. Every year, thousands of people start the pilgrimage north (and some south) to see if they have what it takes, both mentally and physically, to thru hike the distance.
The statistics for potential thru hikers are sobering. In 2016, 3,377 people started a thru hike of the AT. Compare that to 2010 when only 1,460 hikers began in an attempt to join the ranks of successful thru hikers. With that said, only 685 actually completed the trail in 2016. That represents just a little over a 20% completion rate. You would think that with all of the information out there, the number of folks completing a successful thru hike would be higher.
So then why do so many hikers not finish the thru hike they begin? I suppose that many times you have physical injuries which can be brought on by many factors. Accidents, poor preparation and the constant feeling of being uncomfortable for long periods of time that some people find to be not worth it. The mental aspect, unseen and mostly unheard, can end a thru hike as quickly as a broken ankle. That nagging voice that is in your head constantly telling you, “Just quit. The pain, being wet and miserable can all be over.”
My thoughts are this-I am firm believer that if you are properly prepared to thru hike the AT, then the odds of you completing it go up rather than down. To me, this means you need to be realistic during the prep period. Realistic about living outdoors for six months, realistic about the weather, realistic about not being around your family and realistic about your own physical condition, age and medical issues.
So why this post? Why am I researching the failure rate of AT thru hikers? It is my hope and my intention that shortly after my retirement in 2-3 years time I will undertake a thru hike. Northbound from Springer to Katahdin. 5,000,000 (or so) steps.
Let the preparations begin!
For this challenge I chose three photographs that I have taken while hiking. The first denotes where vehicle travel ends and foot travel begins on a trail in Harriman State Park. The second and third were taken in Bear Mt. State Park along the Appalachian Trail.
This is one of my favorite photos. The Appalachian Trail has only one passenger railroad station that stops on the trail about one and a half hours north of NYC. Many thru hikers have taken the train and made the journey into the city as a a temporary break from the long days of hiking. The photo was taken looking north.