Ego vs Adventure

Snake!

I wasn’t sure how it was going to feel being back on Trail after completing the thru hike. Without the goal, would I still feel the same about hiking through the challenging parts? The heat, sore feet and bugs are still out here but would I focus too much on those now that I don’t feel the pressure to finish? Did I really love the hiking or the accomplishment? I talk a lot with other hikers about how much of this is ego vs adventure for them. Everyone has a different approach and that is the beautiful thing about thru hiking. Some want to race it and others take a year to get it done. Both groups are fiercely proud of their approach and I love to hear them talk about it.

It turns out that I like it even better. I feel a sense of freedom that I didn’t have when I was so focused on making miles. I can spend more time at the summits, hunt down butterflies and take side trails to dip in cold waterfalls. Boogie and Scoobie must be feeling the same because they joined along with me. The highlight of our day was an awesome blue blaze trail down to a series of waterfalls and swimming holes. The cold water felt amazing on our sore and dirty feet. We never would have left the Trail before to explore like this and it was great. We lingered for about an hour and devised plans for how we can hike the Pacific Crest Trail together when they graduate from college. It’s four long years from now but it was fun to daydream about hiking from Mexico to Canada.

We got in about 27 miles today and found an amazing tent site next to the Tye River. The lightning bugs are out and there is a big moon rising up over our tents. It’s setting up to be a great night’s sleep once it cools off a bit. I also got some great news today from a dive instructor named Bruce in Monterey, California. He is going to be able to conduct the instructor certification course for me staring August 30. I got in touch with Bruce through a shop in Maui and we instantly hit it off. He was a real estate lawyer for many years before he started to teach scuba instructors and he really went out of his way to put all this together for me and another student. I’m really happy that I won’t have to leave the country. Although it will be cold diving in Monterey Bay, he swears that we can dive in a wetsuit instead of a clunky dry suit.

Coming back on the Trail was the right thing for me right now. I needed to give some space for things like this to come together. I had done all the outreach and coordinating that I could and refreshing my Gmail account was just making me crazy. I took one of the lessons that I learned on the Trail, applied it and it worked. Give things time. Slow down a bit. That’s big for me. I tend to plow through problems and it usually just ends up frustrating me to no end. Giving things a little space feels good. I’m still going to push like hell but I think I’m learning when to back away a bit to let things fall into place if they are going to.

We are getting up super early tomorrow to attack the southbound ascent up the Priest and deliver a new trail journal to the shelter. I’ll take good notes for you on some of the best confessions and I might have a few of my own. We want to do as much as we can before the sun starts to bake us again and then we plan to stealth camp on Cole Mountain Bald. We will have to hike our water up there but the sunsets are supposed to be amazing from the treeless summit. I’m a sucker for a great sunset and the last time I was up there we were socked in a cold rain.

Beautiful Summer in Shenandoah

It was so interesting to hike Shenandoah in a new season today. When I was here in May, it was cold and rainy and completely empty of any other hikers or campers. It was peaceful in a way but I definitely prefer the full speed summer version of this beautiful section of the Trail. The park rangers have also done an amazing job of clearing all the downed trees and keeping the path in pristine shape. There are a lot more section hikers out and everyone is being great about social distancing and masks.

We hiked 21 miles over really easy terrain and took a short break for lunch at a nice view point. It felt great to get back into the familiar rhythm of long distance hiking. My legs and back are sore again as my body gets used to holding the pack weight. It’s worth the price though for the peaceful hours of quiet walking in the woods. I think that is really what does it for me. All the work that goes into hiking really comes down to those hours alone with my footsteps. There was a great breeze in the morning and I was surrounded by the sounds of the trees swaying and the birds singing.

We finished up the hike at a Rock Fish Gap and got a ride into Waynesboro to stay at Stanimals. Boogie and Scoobie were thrilled to get a shower and do their laundry. They are getting really excited about finishing their thru hike and we talked a lot about how important it is to stay active after the finish line. Honestly, I think it might take more planning to manage what happens after the Trail than when you are doing it.

We have a big day planned for tomorrow to set us up for the 3,000 foot climb southbound up Priest Mountain. I remember coming down it in April and being thankful that I wasn’t climbing it in the opposite direction. Well, here I am. We want to tackle that first thing in the morning be for it gets too hot. We also bought a new blank trail journal to hike up there. We heard that the old one was full of and this shelter’s journal is the best one on the Trail so we want to give the hikers some more space to share their funny confessions.

Problems I Can Solve

So I’ve been off the Trail for a few weeks and I’m going through what everyone else has been experiencing since March. I’m surrounded by problems I can’t solve. It’s been a shock to come from the opposite experience on the Trail. Food, water and rest were my challenges that I had to face and I managed them with pride and ease.

I’ve been trying to keep myself as busy as possible. I’m selling bikes, cleaning out drawers and closets and trying to find ways to keep moving forward in a world that seems so out of control. I have finished my course work for my dive instructor certification but the hard part is finding a school that will be operating in the next two months. I’ve contacted course directors in Hawaii, Mexico, California, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand. I’ve scoured just about every Caribbean island. It’s the same everywhere I talk to. No one can see even the near future with so many new infections and shut downs. While I still want to try to get this certification done it doesn’t even seem right to keep pursuing it in the middle of all of this sadness.

The crew is back!

I decided that the bee thing is for me to get back on the Trail for a few days. So, here I am. Back on the AT in Virginia to re-hike the Shenandoah and Blue Ridge sections with Boogie and Scoobie. They are in their last 300 miles and were happy for me to tag along for some more happy miles. Plus, I packed in some cold Cokes with me! We met at Black Rock Gap and they are doing great. They have been hiking the last two weeks alone and today was their first time back together. It was a blast to hear their rapid fire stories from the last few weeks. So many fun things happen out here and I missed the silly banter and even the terrible hiker food.

Boogie

We have a fun few days planned and it will be good to hike the Shenandoah legit this time. When I came through in May it was closed and we literally ran through the park in four days dodging rangers. As it turned out, the rangers were not that concerned with thru hikers and tolerated us being out here. It’s strange that we are in an even more dangerous stage of the virus but things are back up and running full speed. I still feel a lot safer out here than in Atlanta and being outside is already pulling me out of the funk I was in the last few days. For the time being, I am back to problems I can solve and it feels good.

I know the trick is to learn to be comfortable with the things we can’t fix. I spent a lot of time working on that in my thru hike and I learned a lot of good things that I can apply. The next few days will be a good chance to reinforce those good habits that I learned on the Trail and bring them home. I need to make careful choices about how much news I consume, spend as much time as possible outside and connect with Bryan. The birds are where I left them and the trees are as solid as ever. This is a place of strength and happiness and I’m thankful I can spend more time here right now.

You Just Owe Me One Thing

Carbon Man and Heisenberg

When I did Trail magic for Carbon Man and Heisenberg, I told them that I just wanted one thing in return – a summit photo. I got a happy ding on my iPhone this afternoon and these fine gentlemen were grinning back at me from the place. That wooden sign on the top of Katahdin is a powerful image and I was so happy they were finally there. This father and son team always appeared to love hiking together and I admired their easy relationship. They laughed with me at all the Trail misery that we endured together and we encouraged each other to the finish. That is what Trail buddies are for.

Seeing their summit photo was a strong pull back to the Trail and so I bought a fresh pair of Altras for my return to Virginia next week. I am going to meet Boogie and Scooby for a few days of hiking as they finish their flip flop SOBO towards Bland, Virginia. There are better places to finish the AT for sure but that is where they got off for COVID-19 so that is where they are headed back to. I am looking forward to my brief return to the quiet and peaceful Trail. Plus, I can try my best Lieutenant Dangle impression of new boot goofin’. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xmNfUUFAclw

The stress of being back in the middle of the virus is wearing on me. I’m refreshing my news apps way too much and it is hard every time I leave the house. The tension in the stores and on the streets is so intense. Every decision seems like life and death. It makes our Trail troubles seem so silly. I’ll take mosquitoes and Pennsylvania over this any day. I am managing though. I’m getting things organized, bikes sold and studying for my PADI dive instructor exam. I even think I’ve found an instructor that can conduct the course for me in September in Monterey, California. Fingers crossed. In the meantime, I am cooking a lot of good food with Bryan. We made homemade pizza from our Julia Child baking cookbook. It was delicious and therapeutic!

Less Stuff

The Crime Scene

Ten years ago, I turned 40. About a year before my birthday, Bryan asked me what I wanted and I jokingly said that I wanted to buy a new BMW in Munich and then spend the next two weeks riding my bike through Europe while he crewed for me in our new car. He booked the trip and it turned out to been one of the most joyful times of my life. It wasn’t about the new car (but that was nice for sure) – it was spending all that time with Bryan in beautiful places and getting that great riding in. It was decadent for sure but I believe in milestone birthday events. The funniest part about the whole trip was that the first thing that we had to do with the new car was drive it into an elevator to park it in the hotel parking garage. I had to squeeze my perfect new car into this tight space and it was nerve racking! What a fun trip.

Autoaufzug

Today is the tenth anniversary of my 40th and I am still basking in the glow of the present I gave to my self – the Appalachian Trail. But there might be some other presents too, right? I woke up this morning so excited about what I just knew was waiting for me out front. My new jet black Toyota Tacoma 4 x 4 extended cab with manual transmission, camper top, bike rack and sunroof. I rushed from the bedroom to the front windows and was what I saw was heartbreaking. I ran back to get Bryan and he was just as surprised as I was. The space in front of the house was empty. How could this happen on my birthday? I knew that auto theft was on the rise in Decatur. Someone nicked my new ride. I grabbed the phone to call the police but Bryan said he had already contacted them and they were investigating. I hope I turns up soon.

My new truck

I’m being silly. No new truck for me but I don’t know a man alive that doesn’t dream about a new Toyota Tacoma. Before the Trail, I probably would have bought one for myself but I have a different perspective right now. I just spent the last four months with all of my belongings on my back and was as happy as I could be. I think that is one of the most powerful lessons for me about the Trail. Less stuff. I came home with an itch to shed some things that I’ve been hanging on to for years. I have quite the bike collection from my days racing triathlons and its time to let this stuff go. I’ve got some great fast gear up on Ebay if your interested. I think I was hanging onto a lot of this because they were memories of a happy time in my life. I was training, racing and traveling to some amazing places with wonderful people. I experienced the same on the Trail and it gave me the space to let some of the stuff go. I have the memories forever but some of the physical objects can go now. It feels good and trust me – I’m hanging onto the really cool bikes.

So, instead of tooling around in my new truck, I spent a great day with my friends. Betty and Ernie came over and we had fun hanging out on the porch. They brought lunch and a midnight cake from Alon’s for Low Branch. That old dude turned 50 today. Yikes. Bryan and I went on a run and then did our new COVID-19 friendly workout in the back shed. I wrapped up the day catching up outside with The Baxters. Our favorite next door neighbors. We’ve known and loved them since our first day in Decatur in 2004. It was a perfect day.

Glamorous

I’m not proud of this but one of my favorite songs on my Apple Pride Party radio station is Glamorous by Fergie. Yes, Fergalicious Fergie. The lyrics are a silly fantasy about flying first class, drinking champagne, chaperones and limousines. It’s exactly how I feel my first week off the Trail.

https://youtu.be/q0SyUgw98tE

I’m sleeping under a down comforter with three pillows. The air conditioning is cranked low and I make freshly ground drip coffee in a Chemex. I bought beautiful hand painted coffee mugs today in a fancy gift shop. And best of all – I scored a bottle of Hildon this afternoon. If you don’t know about Hildon then I am sorry for you. It’s the best water in the world and a favorite of Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor – the Queen of the United Kingdom and fifteen Commonwealth realms (thank you Wikipedia). I dreamt of Hildon on the Trail. It is lightly sparkling and heavy on minerals – delicious. Just ask Hildon. Their website demurely describes their product as a “quiet appreciation of nature’s untouched simplicity.” Humble much?

This is indeed glamorous living. I was also accused of bourgeoisie living on the Trail by my hiking buddies because I had an inflatable sleeping pad and carried sugar for my coffee. These were extravagant indulgences that proved I was platinum blazing. The worst insult a thru hiker can muster. The Trail means suffering and pain. The summit had to be earned – not bought.

Night Night

So I bought a little of the Trail. Sue me. I’ve worked hard and if there was a little luxury to be had on the Trail then I wanted a piece of it. in Daleville, I insisted on staying in a name brand hotel that was miles away from the flop house hiker inn right on Trail. Mallwalker was not happy about it but the sheets were amazing.

Chemex

At the same time, I am also trying to hold onto the best of the hard work on the Trail – walking. Before my thru hike I wouldn’t have thought to walk to a gift shop three miles away in the blazing Atlanta afternoon. It was really pleasant. I didn’t carry a pack and it was a great way to run an errand. What do I care? The sweaty clothes go right in the washing machine. Now we are talking glamorous. Fergie should have listed her washing machine in that list of luxury. It costs a little extra but as Fergie puts it “if you ain’t got no money take yo’ broke ass home.”

Home

I woke up early and had a nice cup of coffee in my tent. It was kind of chilly up at Standing Indian and I loved snuggling up in my sleeping bag one more time. Neil, Ben and I went on a great run up to the Trail and along a beautiful ridge line looking over the Nantahala forest valley. The birds were out in force and so were the wasps! I kicked a wasp nest early in the run and they were not kind to my right leg. It stung but you can’t really avoid these guys that live in holes all along the Trail. Funny – I hiked over 2,000 miles without a wasp encounter and then wham!

Neil, Low Branch and Ben

It was Ben’s birthday today and he turned 43. Neil’s birthday was yesterday and he turned 44. I turn 50 on Saturday and feel more like 25. The hike was wonderful for my body and mind and I want to hang on to that feeling for sure. The birthday dudes stopped for pictures of the valley and I told them a million and one Trail stories. I hope they didn’t get sick of hearing about it because I can’t stop talking about it.

Nantahala forest in summer

I had originally planned to wait until tomorrow to head home but I started thinking about how I was only two hours from Bryan and Chuck and wanted to be home. I felt ready. The slow drive down was what I needed but I miss my family and my home. It was a calm drive back into the city and I felt proud about what I have accomplished. Poor Chuck is confused. I think the reunion for him yesterday was hard. He was happy to see me but just stared at me for the longest time. We have a lot to catch up on.

The Trail will always be with me and I can use that experience as a positive force as I move forward. I got what I wanted out of it – to reset and feel stronger. It really was a life changing experience. I am looking forward to figuring out my next step for dive instructor training. I had originally planned, paid for and booked a trip to train in the Philippines in September but I’ve come back to a different world. It might still work out but I am looking at some more realistic alternatives in the meantime.

I’m also committed to keep blogging. It really helps to journal my thoughts and avoid slipping back to where I was before. I can feel the pull. My mind seems to want to fall back into the same slot it was before I left but I keep telling myself that I’m different now. The Trail created new positive paths and I am going to stick with them. Follow those white blazes. They never steered me wrong.

Retracing My Steps

My drive from Glasgow, VA to Standing Indian, North Carolina was really interesting. Highway 81 hugs the Appalachian Trail all through Virginia and so I was able to retrace my steps through all of those towns that seemed like huge milestones to me heading north. Franklin, Erwin, Hot Springs, Marion, Damascus. These spots brought back so many good memories. It was cold and rainy back then and it was great to see everything decked out in its summer green.

Looking Down into Franklin

Standing Indian is where Chuck got his Trail name. I zeroed with those fun traveling nurses in Franklin before the coronavirus crisis set in. I stopped at Franklin for a few minutes before heading to meet Neil at the campground. This slow trip back has been a great way to spend some time processing the thru hike. It was just too big to me to just rush back home.

Neil

Today was Neil’s 44th birthday and it was fun to hang out with him to celebrate. We built a big fire and had Outdoor Herbivore meals together. They got hooked on these too and their children are loving the dehydrated dessert cobblers for breakfast. We spent most of the afternoon relaxing by the cold stream as the kids went tubing past. I had planned to spend another night but I am feeling the pull of home. I’m only two hours from Bryan and Chuck and I don’t think I can wait another day.

That Was a Long Way

Jitter and Low Branch

I said goodbye to Jitter this morning after we had a short hike out of our campsite back to the road. I got back to the car and was feeling a pretty heavy heart. Each day is pulling me farther away from the Trail and I can feel it in my body. I’m so glad I decided to do this gradually. The shock of a plane ride home would have been a real blow.

Stanimals in Glasgow

This drive home also makes me realize how far this Trail is. I drove another seven hours today through New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland and West Virginia and then headed to my favorite place that I stayed – Stanimals in Glasgow, Virginia. I needed just one more fix of their particular style of hospitality and it is a great place to get my laundry done and hang out with Charlie.

My going to town shirt

Charlie hiked the Trail last year and he has some great stories. He was one of those hikers that took as much time as they wanted on Trail and ended up finishing in October with a flip flop. He skipped ahead to bag Katahdin before they closed and then went back and finished on Mt, Greylock in Massachusetts. I love hearing about his adventures. He took a bunch of zeros and spent a tons of time in all the Trail towns meeting all the fun locals. Next time that is going to be my style.

Downtown Glasgow

Charlie is also one of those hikers that refused to leave the Trail. When he got off, he found this gig managing Stanimals in Glasgow and he is perfect for it. He is fastidious to a fault and he keeps the inn in perfect shape. At the same time, he creates a warm atmosphere. He left a note on the door for me to make myself at home and I sure did. I did laundry, cut my hair and plopped on the couch and binge watched The Politician on NetFlix. He even made me some homemade blueberry bread as we snacked on that before bedtime. I ran to the store and bought tuna packets and rice sides for my next two days with Neil. He is at Standing Indian campground in North Carolina this week and I am headed there this morning to be there for his birthday and to get a few days of hiking and camping in.

Charlie

Magical New Jersey

The New Jersey section of the Trail was some of my favorite. For starters, it isn’t Pennsylvania and the path along the border of New York takes you through the most beautiful farming and wetland areas in the state. I drove down from New Hampshire this morning to give some magic to Jitter and her new tramily. She is hiking with Red Dot from Houston, Silver Fox from Atlanta and Van Go from Upper Peninsula Wisconsin. I met them at a campsite a few miles down the Trail at mile 1317 with sub sandwiches, cokes and apples. Dessert was Oreo double stuffs. I promise I will stop eating like this tomorrow but hey – I hiked a whole three miles to get here so I deserve it. All kidding aside – it’s great not to be hungry all the time and I feel like I am really healing well and my energy is coming back strong. I felt pretty empty for most of Maine but not anymore.

This trail magic business is a blast. I love giving back what I received and it’s fun to shop for the goodies that I know they will love. The favorite hiker foods are well known but what everyone talks about the most is fresh fruit. One of Jitter’s friends Red Dot waxed eloquently tonight about fresh pineapple that some trail angels brought out to them last week. It is such a nice break from the processed junk that we normally rely on to get us through.

Jitter Bug and Low Branch

It is also great to be back on the Trail for a little bit. After all of the driving today, it was so relaxing to get back to the blazes and the quiet of the campground. A strong storm moved through right before I got on Trail and there is a cool breeze coming up over the small ridgeline that we are sleeping on tonight. I am far enough away not to hear traffic and I will sleep really well out here. Hiker midnight comes early and it’s my favorite time of the day when we crawl into our tents around 8:00 and spend some quiet time.

Rainbow in Gorham, NH

I am going to hike out with these folks tomorrow morning and then head down to the Shenandoah area to see if I can catch any NOBOs that started in late May. I’ve heard there are a few groups out there and I’d love to meet them and encourage them along to the finish. It’s funny how much everyone wants to see my finish photo. I’m not even offering to show it to them but they ask to see it and also want me to text them a copy. We share the same dream and I think seeing it makes them feel like it could happen to them. I hope it helps and I don’t get sick of bragging about our perfect weather conditions on our summit day.

Rattle River Lodge in Gorham

You know – getting stuck out on the Trail is a thing. I’ve met so many hikers that ended up finishing and then never really leaving it. They end up working at one of the Trail businesses or staring their own. Some just stay out here and do magic and hike until they need to go off Trail to make some money. It sounded crazy to me at first but I get it now. The friendly faces and constant sense of adventure are powerful forces. I don’t want to give them up either. It’s happy and quiet out here. The people that you hang out with are on an emotional and physical journey that I want to be a part of. I admire each of them for what they are doing. We come from so many different backgrounds but we share the misery and joys of long distance hiking like brothers and sisters at a remote extreme summer camp. It’s a camp filled with crazy adults that run around the woods all day hiking, swimming in ponds and telling rattlesnake stories. Sign me up for that again any day.