Monday, March 30, 2009

TRAIL + 1

A few months back, I met with Matthewski, a veteran AT hiker I spent time with in Virginia. He warned me that the year anniversary would be a heady one. Well, here it is. Hard to believe it was a whole year ago since I walked onto the Approach Trail, headed up Springer Mountain. Even harder to believe that it took the better part of this past year to then walk to Mount Katahdin. I finally visited the AT a month or so ago, when Elizabeth and I met up with Zen at a cabin in Maryland that the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club rents out. We climbed up the ridge behind the cabin on a blue blaze trail, with me following behind Zen, staring at his pack and boots as I had done for so many months. At the top we saw the first white blaze any of us had seen since last October. Lots of emotions, but I think the dominant one was happiness that the AT is still there. That's the most amazing thing about it really: that it actually does exist, this little footpath that runs through our collective backyard, available for anyone who needs an escape. A month ago I received an email from a friend of a friend of Elizabeth's, who was planning his own thru-hike starting in March. Very glad to know the cycle continues. Lots has passed since leaving the trail. I rebuilt my kitchen (almost done!) and planted a small garden out back. Elizabeth and I have been preparing for our wedding in May. I returned to work in November, but was laid off two weeks ago, and am now trying my hand at freelance work. But I still think about last year's adventure at least once a day. In celebration of today's anniversary, I'm taking the train to Harrisburg. I will cab to the spot I skipped last July, when I came home to Philly early and surprised Elizabeth for Independence Day. It will be nice to see my other home once again.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

TRAIL SUMMARY VIDEO

I took over 5000 photos while on the trail - thats over 2 pics per mile. Took me over three and a half months to go through them, sort them into folders, and then pick my 80 favorites for this 5-minute video. But it shows some of the majesty out there. Hope you enjoy... video

Thursday, January 08, 2009

THREE MONTHS

Hi all. Three months since summitting, a pretty odd feeling to go from counting the time past summit in days, then weeks, and now months. Talked to a buddy, Matthewski, a few weeks ago who warned, "wait until its been as long as the time you spent on the Trail." That will be weird, but perhaps not as scary as the anniversary of my start date on March 30. Also got to see Snack, who with her friend Snap, are a great pair of great trail buddies. Orion and I only spent a week with them, in central VA, but it was memorable, and seeing her again last week was fun.

I am also finally turning in my 2000-Miler Application, the form the ATC uses to record thru-hikes. I will be official! The form asks the usual questions of dates, ages, etc., but also asks for a trail summary. Some hikers were able to complete theirs soon after summitting, but I could not, preferring to let the experience sit around for a while. But its done now, and I thought you might appreciate what I wrote:

MY TRAIL SUMMARY

For six and a half months I hiked the Appalachian Trail, from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Katahdin in Maine. The details of my experience are now fading, but what I am left with is how fully human the Trail allowed me to be.

The scale of the Trail and the time needed to thru-hike it perfectly interrupts the normal egotism of civilized life. I climbed the bare bones of ancient continents that humans never walked on. I felt tiny and timeless under the same moon and stars as our ancestors once stared at. I lived every day surrounded by the uninterested cycle of life, watching sprouts inch out of the humus, grow full and green, and slowly drain away in the cold leaving a final show of color. I woke to songbirds, walked with woodpeckers, slept with owls at night. I huddled through storms and slacked through heat and bent into winds and shivered in cold. Almost daily, I was reminded of my powerlessness and unimportance.

Through walking, I was given a perspective that is uniquely pedestrian, and therefore human. I know what a mile, a yard, a foot is. I know how they relate to my body. And consider my body – after the first month or two, I realized the Trail started doing more than exercising my body. It was bringing out the ancient homo sapiens frame buried deep within, the body given to us through two million years of walking and surviving and mating, the body that exists for most people as a memory buried under softened muscles and accumulated fat, a mere prop for hands and eyes. I used it as it was meant to be used, upright in motion, horizontal when resting, with the ability and need to consume all the fats and protein I could get my hands on.

I experienced a social humanity I was once certain did not exist. We moved from individuals and couples to become small tribes, as our ancestors once lived, banding together as support groups, unified by our common purpose. Get through the tough physicalities of the South, mental trial of Virginia, distractions of the mid-Atlantic, and cold emptiness of Maine. And I’ll never forget that magical milk of humanity: the so many friends, family, and strangers who ported us, fed us, housed us, and cheered us on. The innocence that surrounds such unrequited kindness is beautiful.

For six and a half months I enjoyed freedom of thought; what could be more human? Most uninitiated people are afraid of that idea, equating it with intimidating boredom. But without media distractions, without jobs that impose on your thoughts, without the material goals of life to concentrate on, minds will widen. We spent every day as gods, sitting atop mountains, observing society thousands of feet below us.

With a campfire to rest our eyes on, our minds and ears were free to converse, and not simply talk at each other. We shared stories, that most ancient and human way of conveying information. What’s more, people had the patience to participate as listeners. Our conversations grew wider and more intimate as the Trail wound on. Fears, joys, deaths, loves, nothing was too sacred. I grew as close to fellow hikers, people I might have known for two days, as I have with anyone, ever.

There is no meaning in hiking the Trail, despite all the searching for one that some people, myself included, do. It simply exists, and amazingly so. It is a conveyance, a catalyst, a tool for any of us to explore our own humanity, our instincts, our raw abilities. It’s a human construct, intertwined through nature, in whose service we may connect intimately to something as large as life itself.

SUMMIT

Lookie what I has - summit photos!
The last stretch to the top
Celebration!
Not quite lonely at the top

SUMMIT PHOTOS !!

67 Thru-Hikers!
My NH Buds: Me, Zen, The Thinker
The Rap Pose
Ouchie
The Naturalist

SUMMIT PHOTOS !!!

My 100MileWild Crew (cw from top left): ZeroZero, me, NoAmp, Zen, Spidey, CookieMonster
The Flamboyant
The Standard - a fave
Say goodbye No longer a thru-hiker