Walking to Virginia

November 30, 2007

I’ve often referenced my time on the Appalachian Trail (AT) and the profound influence my romp in the woods has had on my life. I have not told you about many specific instances during the three months. Let me do so now.

If you are hiking north you begin the AT at the southern terminus on Springer Mountain in Georgia. After a week of walking you cross into North Carolina and soon find yourself in the Great Smoky Mountains. At times you straddle the state line with Tennessee– especially along the ridges where you can feel the land drop away on both sides of the trail. Heading further north you come upon a section of the AT fondly known by long-ditance hikers as the Tennessee Turnpike because of its easy grade and relative lack of highs and lows. Here’s where our adventure begins.

Four characters in this play:

  • Zippy : Bostonian and lover of life. He carries every bit of his trash for hundreds of miles before letting it go in a ritual of removal.
  • Ishmael: Grabbed his alias from the book by Daniel Quinn. Traveling the full length of the trail with his girlfriend Grinder, gnawer of teeth.
  • Dharma Bum a.k.a. Bunny Luv: Recent college graduate, nibbler of tiny carrots, talker of arrogant nonsense.
  • Me a.k.a. Moonlight: Orange beard grower and reluctant elder statesman of this motley collection.

The challenge: To walk 33 miles from Tennessee into Virginia just in time for breakfast at a diner in Damascus.

We depart at 4:00p.m. figuring a 2 m.p.h. speed with dinner break will deliver us to scrambled eggs heavens the next morning. We are giddy about this trip within a trip–renegades pushing the limits of our endurance just because we can. I doubt any of us would be making this trek without the fraternal support of the others. Night hikes over a great distance are best when conversation can eat away the hours and stave off the moving shadows.

We are lucky that a full moon shines down upon us and we can turn off head lamps in sections of the trail with few overhanging trees. I talk to Zippy about the fulfillment of dreams and we stop in mid-conversation as the warning snorts of frightened deer ring out from the dark underbrush. Ishamael and Bunny Luv hang back lost in their own ramblings unaware of the close-by beasts. Reaching a shelter we cook midnight meals of rice and pasta, disturbing the slumbers of other hikers sunk in their sleeping bags for the night.

Twenty-nine miles into the trip we reach the sign that lets us know we have made it to Virginia. Creatures for miles wonder at the strange hooting and hollering emanting from the delirious figures with lights on their heads. Pictures are taken, hands slapped and the celebrations begin. One drawback. We still have four more miles to hike into town and we don’t know the time.

These last miles are the toughest and understandably so. Our legs flop in front of us, shoulders sag from a weight too long carried. Our talking minimizes and headlights beam foreward looking for the last bend of the perpetual night. At last we trudge out of the woods and instead of the hero’s welcome find a deserted town sleeping peacefully. The relief we feel in encountering civilization is met with the realization that a small burg has nothing to offer the needy traveler arriving in the dead of night. It is 3:30a.m.–in our excitement we have walked too fast. We are tired and hungry. My legs are so chapped and I hobble down main street.

But we are not unprepared. We have provisions in our backpacks and once the disappointment of no breakfast sinks in we do what long distance hikers do. Find a flat spot near the river, pitch a tent and sleep the sleep of the contented.

From left to right: Ishmael, Zippy, Bunny Luv. Time: Approx. 1:30a.m.

The Interlude

November 28, 2007

I’ve been so good.  Faithfully writing words, stringing along sentences on this here weblog and then…just like that no posts for almost two weeks.  What has been keeping me away from this platform?  I cannot identify anything remarkably different from ten days ago and now.  I’m still in school and G is pregnant albeit the skin on the belly is more taut.  Holidays can certainly bring one away from the normal routine and I did travel for the Thanksgiving feast.  Hmmm…

Perhaps I just needed a break.  A respite from the digging around for words, responding to kind comments and then the reciprocal comment on another’s blog.  Not that I mind the generous conventions of the thoughtful blogger, it’s just that my interests always shift and while I may be into reading many blog posts one week, I may read none the next.  I am consistently inconsistent.  Except when I’m not.

A couple discoveries I’ve made since my last post (Forgive my use of the list format) :

  • I started a Facebook account many months ago and promptly forgot about it. (I never did open up a MySpace) Recently many people I know (co-workers, friends, acquaintences) all have FB accounts and I have been sucked into the void of social networking.  I now talk to co-workers I barely know about their new tattoo or some other such tidbit that has been shared in the FB arena.  Strange intersections of friendship when the online and physical personas come crashing into one another.  The main perk I’ve found from FB is an application that allows you to play Scrabble with your friends.  Just what I needed to while away the hours.
  • I can get pretty emotional when it comes to college football.  Yes, sadly its true.  When the Virginia Tech football players emerge on the field my heart jumps and this surge of pride quickens my pulse.  I cannot fathom why I identify so strongly with something that has so little to do with my day-to-day existence.  Maybe a need to merge with something bigger than me.  I could only laugh a few weeks back when VT lost in the final seconds and I could not sleep for hours.  Truly pathetic.
  • Mowing the lawn is much more efficient than raking up the leaves.  Rather than spending half the day squeezing the tree debris into plastic bags, I mulch the leaves up with the mower and lessen the amount that needs to be bagged.  Time saved but I cannot listen to audiobooks as easily.  A tradeoff and the back is thankful.
  • The washing machine needs to be vented.  What, you say?  When the water rushes out of the machine and through the hose there needs to be some way for air to get in and allow the torrent to effectively move.  Good old displacement at work.  Our vent is clogged.  I go onto the roof with a metal snake and use all fifteen feet to try and clear the way.  All efforts to this point have been unsuccessful.  The machine drains too quickly for the choked airflow resulting in a backwash that drenches the garage floor.  But my homeownerly knowledge has increased and I’m trying hard to convince myself that this is a good thing.  Even better would be a washing machine that fulfills its promise without my intervention.

So ends the interlude between posts.  We shall see what tomorrow brings.

Carry to the Med

November 16, 2007

A few years before my extended hike on the Appalachian Trail I happened upon a different hiking trail in southern France. Called the GR-10 (I know, romantic) this footpath stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea covering the length of the Pyrenees Mountains. Leading up to my hike I had been staying with a family in a small town near Toulouse. One night I met a British gentleman who told me about his dream to hike for a week each year and eventually finish walking the GR-10. He was about halfway through. I spent the rest of the night picking his brain about the specifics of life on that trail and by the next morning had hatched a plan. I would make my way south until I found the trail, take a left and walk towards the Mediterranean. Here are some of the things I either carried or wish I had carried on this foray into the French Wilderness:

Carried

  • Heavy wrinkled corduroy pants that weighed me down and kept me warm on cool fall mornings
  • A belief that I had enough stamina and good luck to navigate and last until I touched my toes into blue water
  • The essentials of backpack, tent and sleeping bag–my holy trinity of backwoods essentials
  • A trust in the spontaneity of life that put me on the trail

Wish I had carried

  • More socks for those poor toes that suffered the fire-burn of neglect
  • Another disposable camera–one does not cut it when every day is glorious
  • Gifts for the kind souls that forgave my butchering of the French language and helped me along my way
  • Everyone I knew to share in the reality of being wide awake within a dream

More Scribblings here.

Are you ready to own a home?

November 15, 2007

Last Christmas we discovered a crack in the basin of the bathroom sink and when I had my uncle over to help put in a new sink he discovered a gap between the shower and the wall. (I must admit that I had some suspicions about the water tightness of the shower but conveniently overlooked the signs). He’s a carpenter and knows about these things so he suggested that I crawl underneath the house and take a look around. The next day I donned some dirty clothes and with flashlight in hand ducked under pipes and crawled to the far part of the house underneath the shower. From a photographer’s standpoint the stalagmites of black and white mold cascading down from the wet wood held a certain appeal. But as a holder of the house with said fungal formations I was none too pleased. I don’t know what words I used to describe the subterranean scene to my wife but I do remember her forlorn look of disbelief. How could the house we have owned for less than a year already have the makings of a money pit?

I didn’t inherit a handyman gene but had fun dismantling the shower with hammer and fury. Some of the wood underneath the floor had been soaked through for so long that it flaked away like paper. My wife and I shared a laugh about how lucky we were not to have descended four feet through the floor while mid-hairwash. I still don’t know how the home inspector overlooked this peach of a problem. If you’re ever in southeast Virginia and buying a house I’ve got a name for you to avoid. Really I’m not bitter, just perturbed. I’m sure there must be a difference.

When trying to decide what to do with the mess of a bathroom I invited my brother-in-law over to take a look and give his assessment. In our exchange he filled me with confidence that this was a project I could tackle and eventually complete. It’s been almost a year and the bathroom is still not usable. Not to suggest that I have done nothing because I have banged some nails, screwed some screws and mistakenly hammered through the now deceased toilet. With my dad some walls have come tumbling down. A plumber installed most of the shower. Really there is not much more to be done and yet the job is not complete.

And here comes the realization: I have utterly no interest in home repair. I do it without passion. Mindlessly I’ll spend hours on a project that improves some aspect of the interior. I have signed up for the homeowner job to get away from apartment living and the consequence is that I will always have a project to start. When the bathroom is ready again for flushing and bathing my attention will be called to the stove that needs replacing or the drain that refuses its only function. Through all of these home repairs I need to keep convincing myself that the upkeep is my responsibility. I imagine that one day it will be an offshoot of who I am.

Granted when there is a novel to pen the appeal factor of driving nails definitely increases. NaNo WC: 4225 (I haven’t given up!)

Informational writing

November 10, 2007

I wrote a little over 2500 words yesterday.  Unfortunately they were for a school paper comparing two models of information seeking behavior.  I would have to be extremely creative to find a way to infuse those words into the NaNo project.  “Jim returned home after a tiring day at the office and sat down to write about Zipf’s Principle of Least Effort.  Here’s what he wrote [Copy and Paste]…”  I’m imagining this interlude would prove to be quite boring.  Unless you are a fan of Zipf.  Its quite possible he has a small but cultish following in the information researcher community.

A couple of things I discovered about my writing habits yesterday:

  1. It takes me a long time to process and then compose.  I started the paper around 9:30a.m. and did not submit until close to 11:p.m.
  2. Procrastination is my favorite dancing partner.  Yours too?  I will actively seek out chores that I have been avoiding for weeks when an assignment needs to be completed.  Yesterday I raked half of the backyard, washed clothes and attempted repair of a leaky hose.  I’m sure G would like me to work on another degree after I complete this one.
  3. When I finally manage to squeeze a few words out of my fingers the sentences are almost as good as finished.  I looked over my work after I wrote the last line of the paper and only needed to make a few minor changes.  Some may think this a blessing though the load is heavy to bear when creator, editor and critic all share the same space. 
  4. The internal struggle must be won to get this body and mind into creative work mode.  When the world is so vastly interesting I can always find something new that entertains.  Without a deadline writing becomes a secondary concern.

And yet I return again and again to the written word feeling the need to share and celebrate the vastness of life from my individual perspective.  Does self-expression need to be so hard?  I believe in my case faulty comparisons and perfectionism undermine my creative flow.  And I have been known to lounge excessively. 

I believe its time for a picture.  Last weekend and a few flowers still hanging on.

Committing myself to the task of one million words this month as part of a Novel march has sparked a couple of thoughts into this meager mind. Pushing myself to return again and again to words that I must pull out of the air with the skill of a back-alley magician has left me with the feeling of joyful nausea. Marveling at sentences that write themselves I also ride the roller-coaster down with plot twists that rip away at the academic decency of my analytical mind. Perhaps this is a good thing, I’m not sure.

I do know that I enjoy the moments when the critic falls silent for an instant and I can celebrate playful and silly word flow. Strangely enough I have penned about 95 percent of my NaNo project while on the information desk at the library. (Please don’t tell). Granted this time has only produced a little over two thousand words but in one week that’s not too bad for the downtime at work. Even if I don’t catch up to the billion word goal by the end of this month I could quite possibly get a novel written in the cracks of time that are always present at a public service desk.

You may be wondering about the title of this post and if I have deliberately ignored or typically forgotten my point. I have not. I found this bloom on my porch this last weekend.

Letting go of the Trail

November 5, 2007


Monday nights I’m in class online and often there is a downtime moment and I think to check out Writer’s Island to see about the week’s writing prompt. I just looked about twenty minutes ago and I thought, “Interesting, but I’m feeling pretty lazy at the moment.” Returning to class by way of a click on the browser tab I soon found boredom and hopped onto this here blog. I’d already decided not to do a WI post though wanted to put up something so I searched through a couple of photos and it hit me: *ton of bricks* I cannot forget about the Appalachian Trail!

Here’s the evidence:

  1. Numerous references throughout my blogging career most notably here, here and here. I counted at least two more.
  2. In both of my classes right now I am bringing in elements of my time spent on the trail. In one class I am exploring the information seeking behavior I engaged in leading up to my long-distance hike. In another I am creating a two minute digital story about (can you guess?) the life-changing events that occurred while I was on the blah-blah. These are some of the pictures from said earth-shattering occurrence.

Okay enough of the list. I have found the truly unforgettable in my life and (being serious here) do believe that it had a profound effect on this life. But sometimes my re-visiting of this time period makes me feel like a one-trick pony. And so here is my offering to the gods of the not-soon-to-be-forgotten: do with it what you will.

(I’m thinking some of this post has to do with NaNo and my propensity to use highly autobiographical content and then do a slight fictionalization. In this case it is a trip I took to Europe some years back-the AT hike of that time period. My word count increases as I exorcise the past.)

I must admit: I do look pretty content in the pictures.