Updated: Aug 29
In a recent post, I discussed my interest in hiking the Appalachian Trail. Since I first considered the idea I have listened to at least five different books and watched two movies on thru-hiking the Colorado Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Appalachian Trail. I have researched it for hours on-line and spoken to anyone who would discuss it with me. All that has led me to one undeniable realization. I really want to hike the AT.
The other thing I have learned in the process is that, it is entirely possible that I will not be able to complete the full 2100 miles trek from Georgia to Maine. After all, only about 20% of the people who start the hike make it to the end.
For me, there are three, actually four, things I worry about when I think of taking on such a huge challenge.
First, I am no fool. I understand the magnitude of the challenge of carrying a 40-pound backpack from Georgia to Maine over nearly 500,000 feet in elevation change. It is unquestionably a monumental task.
In my case, I have the added challenge of a visual impairment. That said, I have done a lot of hiking over the last several years, and other than the most technical stuff, I have had no issues. Having a hiking partner with good eyesight would be a huge help, which brings me to my second challenge.
Marilyn is not a fan of me doing it alone. Unfortunately, I have yet to find someone with six months of free time and a willingness to spend it schlepping through a mix of hot humid weather, cold rain, endless crappy meals, night after night of sleeping on the ground, and has, at least a tenuous grasp on reality. If you are up for it, please leave me a comment below. I can be flexible on the reality thing
Truthfully, I think the biggest issues, visually, that I would have, besides being able to recognize my fellow hikers, would be shopping for resupplies in local towns, or finding my way to a hostel or hotel during town visits every week or so. Fortunately, on the AT, one is rarely completely alone so there are plenty of people to ask for help. It is a great opportunity for me to learn how to say, “Can you help me?” That might be one of the hardest parts of the whole experience.
The thought of being away from my wife, my family, and friends for six months is probably the most daunting of the challenges to me. It not only feels selfish, which it is, but I am not sure it is worth the sacrifice.
Finally, snakes! I really don’t like snakes. Okay, I am no Bear Grylls.
Those are all good reasons, for me to say, “It’s just too much for me to take on,” but, that’s just not how I am wired. In fact, all of those hardships, with the possible exception of the snakes, make me want to take on the challenge even more.
So, I went to REI and bought a new backpack.
I will start my hike on the Appilcian Trail next year. Did I just put that in writing? What the hell was I thinking?
I do have one caveat. I do not plan to hike all 2100 miles. I just do not want to sacrifice so much time away from my family and friends. My plan is to end my hike in Harper’s Ferry, WV, a little more than 1,000 trail miles from Springer Mountain. Purist will say, “That’s not a thru-hike,” and it isn’t. I am completely okay with that. I think that whatever the trail can teach me, I am more than likely to learn that in the first 1,000 miles. Whatever lessons I will miss from the other half of the trail just are not worth missing so much at home. Besides, I think that three months and more than two million steps should be enough to “close all the rings” on my Apple Watch.
Harper's Ferry feels like a great destination for me. While it isn't exactly halfway, it is the closest town of significance near the mid-point. A little more than 200 miles before reaching Harper’s Ferry, the trail will take me within twenty miles of my alma mater, The Virginia Military Institute. During my four years at VMI, several times a day, I walked past the inscription of a quote by Stonewall Jackson, “You may be whatever you resolve to be.” The quote says “resolve to be” not “want to be.” There is a huge distinction between the two. It was resolve that got me through many of the tough days during my rat year there as well as many of the difficult times in my life. It will also be resolve that carries me to Harper’s Ferry, so it is a fitting place to visit on my trek.
One hundred and thirty miles farther down the trail, less than 100 trail miles from my destination, the AT passes within ten miles of Luray, VA which was one of my parent’s favorite places to play golf. Maybe I will carry a small portion of their remains. Would it be cruel if I left them in a sand trap? Don’t worry Mom, you already spent more than enough time in them, but Dad… No, no, I can’t do that. Just the thought of hiking along the Skyline Drive will bring back so many memories of my parents. I get emotional just thinking about it. Maybe that’s a better place for them, and just one more thing to keep me putting one foot in front of the other week after week.
I struggled with the decision to take this on. Time and time again I said to myself, I don’t know if I can make it. Maybe, I’ll just try to see if I can do it. No harm in giving up after all? Then I thought of one of my other all-time favorite quotes.
“Do or do not, there is no try.” - Yoda