Monday, March 31, 2008


I woke up this morning with Hall & Oates’ “Fall in Philadelphia” which I find fitting and a nice relief from John Lennon’s “Sitting Here Watching the Wheels Go Round” which is also fitting, but has been in my head since last Tuesday’s karaoke. I also woke with some final thoughts and expectations for the Trail before I leave in an hour: I am hoping the trail will teach me patience, and let me see how wonderful life is when lived slowly. I want to accomplish the whole thing, because then what couldn’t I do? I’m looking forward to spending everyday in nature, and seeing the subtle changes of the seasons each day. I am scared about the length of the trail, about how much time I will be away from Elizabeth and home. I’m more scared of not doing it or quitting for weak reasons. I’m scared about hurting myself. I’m scared about being alone and existing on superficial relationships for such a long time, but I’m curious to see what happens when I do. I hope it allows me time to know myself more fully. I hope I will write better journal entries than “hiked 11 miles, it was raining”. I hope I see a bear, but from a safe distance. Same with a moose. I want to learn about trees and be able to identify them. I hope I don’t screw my teeth up from sleeping face down on hard ground every night. I hope the Trail is as rewarding as it is challenging. I hope my friends will come hiking with me at times. I hope Elizabeth forgives me for leaving her alone for so long. I know we will love each other even more than we do now because of this shared experience.


We have arrived at Amicalola State Park after a long and tiring, but beautiful, drive. Free internet here too. Elizabeth and I crossed the trail once yesterday and five times today. We saw some hikers in Franklin, NC and earlier at Elwin, TN – one I recognized as Dynamite, a guy whose trail journal I randomly started following a few weeks ago. How perfect is that? I called out his trail name and got out of the car to talk to him, but I think he was a little disconcerted by my stalker behavior. Had an incredible dinner at a funky restaurant in Dahlonega, GA before coming to the lodge. Unfortunately, the bar is not open and nobody sells booze on Sundays in Georgia, so we’re a bit dry for our final night together. Still lots to do – finish writing an outline for Doug (will work ever end?), pick out the id and cards from my wallet, cut my fingernails, write this up. I also want to take a moment to thank everyone who has helped in some form or another, whether it was a gift card or a simple “good luck”. You’re all in my thoughts as I prepare, and your well wishes will be a solace in times of boredom and loneliness. See you all soon!

Sunday, March 30, 2008


Next time I do the Trail (!), I will do things a little differently. Like give myself at least one day between ending work and starting the drive down. My desk at KSK looks like I'll be in on Monday, I didn't have time to touch a thing. I also didn't have time to fully load my ipod with music, so Elizabeth has to endure me whining whenever a good song comes on the radio. I still have to do an outline for Doug for a work project - its coming Doug! I also would like to have exercised my hiking muscles a little more. I started using the stairs to our 12th floor office in the last two weeks, but it’s annoying to arrive at your desk winded and sweaty. I feel like I'm in some sort of decent "base" shape since I bike the 7 miles roundtrip to work fairly often, but that uses totally different muscles than hiking. I would also liked to have had more time for the drive, and maybe done some shakedown hikes along the way. Plus the mountains here are pretty amazing and there’s lots of attractive places to visit. Elizabeth and I could’ve made a real vacation of it. Other than that, I think we're mostly prepared, at least in terms of gear, food, and other physical things. The mental preparation is strong, in terms of knowing what I'm getting into, but it was still a shock yesterday when loading the car, since all I own right now is in a backback, and I won't see home for months. A tearful goodbye with my Camille as well.


Hello from Staunton, Virginia, which has at least one leg up on Philly with its free wireless. We're about halfway to Dahlonega, Georgia - the first gold rush town in the US and the initial cause of the Cherokees being force-marched to Oklahoma during winter. We'll get a nice dinner there. And then a quick ride to nearby Amicalola Lodge at the base of Springer Mountain.
Had an interesting dream last night where I was at the start of the trail, which turned out to be an ageing hippy commune on a palm-treed beach. Everyone was living in cool little bech shacks and tents, and walking around barefoot to toughen their feet. I met up with a 90something Ed Garvey (the now-dead author of a popular Trail book in 1971) who showed me around, pointing out the places where other historic AT figures lived and spent time. Elizabeth was going to do the first 40 miles or so with me, but we needed more food and the only thing around were wasting bananas. What all this says, I don't know, other than I need to stop talking and reading and thinking about the Trail, and get out there already.

Friday, March 28, 2008

On the move...

Shawn had thought he might "bring Camille on the trail" with him, so we tried out her hiking gear. I think the realization of the weight of the cat chow she would have required, combined with her need for constant petting, ended that partnership pretty quickly .... despite how cute she looks in camo.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


With the purchase of duct tape today, it seems that my gear purchasing is complete. For those of you who are interested, I've put the final gear list as a link to the right. According to the industry weights, and me weighing smaller items on a kitchen scale, the base weight of the pack (without food and water) is 27.5 pounds, but I think its probably closer to 25 pounds. Or at least I hope it is - I will be testing that theory tomorrow.

Monday, March 24, 2008


Roland Mueser, AT ’89, handed out surveys to his fellow thru-hikers that asked them hundreds of questions about their experience. He catalogued the answers to his queries in a wonderful book, “Long-Distance Hiking: Lessons from the Appalachian Trail”. According to his findings, hikers cite three basic reasons for wanting to thru-hike the whole trail in varying degrees: Escape, Adventure, and Nature. Strangely, no one cited the fine cuisine. I suppose for me it’s mostly the first two of those reasons.

Simply put, I wanted a break from regular life to do something different. I’ve been doing the same thing – working at the same job, living in the same city, thinking about the same subject matter, and participating in the same hobbies and activities for over ten years now. Not that I don’t enjoy all this, but the sense of adventure isn’t there anymore, which is something I’ve always considered essential in life. Heck, if I ran the world (!), we’d all have summers off where we’d move to the beach, or take another job, or just do whatever we wanted – just to keep our brains healthy.

So, if that’s the desire, the catalyst is the timing. I’ve read that it takes three things to hike the trail: time, money, and ability. Young people have time and ability, but no money; retirees find themselves with money and time, but a lower ability; and us middle-agers (egads, am I middle-aged?) have money and ability, but often lack time. In this I am fortunate, having an understanding boss, accommodating partner, and patient cat, and being at a point where I don’t have any responsibilities to children yet.

But why do the Appalachian Trail? Couldn’t I buy a sports car? The trail idea came about after some other adventure ideas were tossed aside – although someday, I swear, I will fly to Mexico, buy a car, and driving around Latin America for a few months. I first discovered the AT as a kid from a National Geographic book about the trail at my grandparents’ house. I knew then, at age 8 or so, that I’d do this trail someday – or so I thought then. The Trail dream went away for quite a while, but resurfaced in 2000 when my friend Jeff and I started quasi-planning a thru-hike. It never got off the ground, but I got a pack and boots out of it. (Of course, now that I know what I’m doing, I’ve had to replace these expensive items with even more expensive items to save a few pounds.)

Plus, hiking is something I love doing, as anyone who’s traveled with me and been dragged down some random path can attest. Thanks to my parents, I day-hiked and car-camped as a kid, but it was during my time as a Forest Service volunteer in Alaska that I picked up the addiction of climbing on top a crest to see the view. Juneau is not a bad place to get to know hiking, either. My fellow volunteers and I hiked every week on our days off – Juneau has dozens of amazing and challenging trails to mountain tops, alongside glaciers, and through old-growth temperate rainforest. Plus, I was volunteering, and hiking is free.

And even better, I escape contemporary society for a bit. I’ll miss a good portion of the election insanity, I’ll leave reality TV behind, I won’t have to think about Ed Rendell trying to put casinos in my neighborhood, and I won’t have to wear a suit for 6 months. Considering this, any of you up for joining me?

Sunday, March 23, 2008


I’ve been reading books by some of the earlier hikers to get a sense of the Trail’s past and see how it has changed. I just finished “Walking with Spring,” which details the first-ever thru-hike of the Trail, done by Earl Shaffer in 1947. Amazing how fast he manages to do the distance, especially given the equipment he carries, including a backpack with no hipbelt. It’s also amazing how much the Trail and America have both changed. Strangers have no problem taking him in and feeding him. There’s still backwoods farmers living in Smokey Mountains and Shenandoah National Parks and the rangers there actually hike and maintain the park, instead of managing traffic and crowds as they do today. In the forests, American chestnut trees are everywhere, though they are in the process of succumbing to the blight that will make them virtually extinct today. Because of the War and a huge hurricane in the mid-40s, the Trail is so poorly maintained that Shaffer looses his way often, forcing him to bushwack and roadwalk large portions. Earl Shaffer was quite the hiker – he went back and did the Trail north to south in 1965, and then hiked it again for a third time in 1998 – at the age of 79!

The book I’m into now is Ed Garvey’s “Appalachian Trail, Adventure of a Lifetime.” Garvey thru-hiked in 1969 and wrote a book about the hike, his preparation, and detailed descriptions of the gear he used and food he ate. The first how-to for the Trail, it sparked a lot of interest in the Trail when it was published in 1971, and the number of thru-hikers started growing from a handful to hundreds in the 1980s. Garvey is great, a true hiker nerd. He’s got detailed directions on cooking mundane things like pasta, he picks up every piece of litter he finds (amazing how Americans had little problem littering back then), and he even pleads for hikers to wear nice button-up Boy Scout style hiking clothes to present a good image to the rest of the world. Of course, at the time the trail was still on a lot of private land where hiking privileges could be easily revoked, and the typical unshaven and smelly hiker might smack of “too much hippy” for the squares of the time. Garvey’s best moment comes when he makes camp and goes for water, but looses the path back to camp. Dark comes and he has to sleep on the ground and cover himself with leaves for warmth. After he makes it through the night, he finds his stuff, and gets off the trail for a well-deserved day off.

I also recently re-read Bill Bryson’s “A Walk in the Woods,” which is the book I would most recommend for novice Trail interest. Bryson is a travel and general interest writer, well known for his humor and his book is very popular. If you look at the stats on the numbers of thru-hikers, they peaked in the three years after his book came out, which suggests some correlation to me. The book tells of how Bryson attempts the trail, but he becomes frustrated with the various challenges, from dealing with Park Service bureaucracy to dealing with the other characters out hiking. Eventually, he becomes bored in Virginia, tired of looking at the unending “green tunnel” that can become tedious without milestones. This apparently happens to a lot of hikers in Virginia, where you are hiking for 500 miles without feeling any progress being made – the phenomenon is known as the “Virginia Blues”. One more thing to worry about.


One of the things about the Appalachian Trail that makes it unique is that it’s OLD, at least in terms of recreational trails. Vermont’s Long Trail, which goes up the spine of the Green Mountain State, is older by a few years, and the White Mountains and Hudson Valley have trail networks that predate both, but the Appalachian Trail is still the granddaddy of long-distance hiking trails.

The idea for it came about in the early 1920s, when a government forester named Benton MacKaye proposed it as a connector between a series of wilderness and farm camps set up in the mountains to provide rest, vocational training, education, and escape for America’s city dwellers. It’s a classic project from the age of regional planning, along with America’s first highways and regional park systems and such. And the amazing part is that it went from idea to actuality in just 16 years, being completed in 1937. Even more amazingly, it was built almost all by volunteer labor, with help from the Civilian Conservation Corp. In fact, it’s still maintained by volunteer labor.

Friday, March 21, 2008


So, the first mail drop has been prepared and shipped out. If I want to ever see the potato flakes, ramen, and peanut butter/honey spread that Elizabeth prepared again, I will have to walk the 39 miles to Neels Gap, Georgia. Four breakfasts, four lunches, four dinners – all for under seven pounds.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Tent City

Realized I never put this photo up, from the day Shawn's new tent arrived in our office. We all tried it out, and we realized that he'll be living and sleeping in a space the size of his cubicle for the next 6 months...

Thursday, March 06, 2008


Absurd is how I felt about the trail today, which happens now and then since it seems so far away from day-to-day life right now. I spent the last 2 days in Savannah for work, a town I've been visiting for several years for a few different city planning projects. Savannah is gorgeous. No matter how stressful the projects there get, its always a delight to visit that city. This trip had especially beautiful weather, and the azaleas were in full bloom, and big public meeting went really well, and left me feeling especially good about career and city life, etc.

So, this afternoon, I was looking out the window of the plane as I took off from my Atlanta connection and could see the mountains I'd be walking through three weeks from now. And it all felt ABSURD. Not crazy or impossible, just plain absurd.

However, I know that ole Philadelphia will have me back in reality within 24 hours, and reading Earl Shaffer's book about his thruhike - the first ever thruhike - in 1948 will get me back in Trail mood real quick. But then I still have to go to Savannah two more times before the trail....

Tuesday, March 04, 2008


Elizabeth and I went shopping last weekend. $100 later, we have the beginnings of my mail drop cuisine. Looks delicious, no? At least we could now survive a month or two if a nuclear war happens....