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.

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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.

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.

Shall we walk on?

October 29, 2007

These are a couple more contributions to Phoctober which is sadly coming to a close. Walk along these paths, revel in the autumn colors and see what awaits at the trail’s end!

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Mountains of Virginny

October 12, 2007

My spelling could be a bit off but phonetically you might find the state of Virginia pronounced in the areas these photos were taken.  I never ran into that person but they may be out there.  Possibly.  Anyway these were taken either on or near the Appalachian Trail this past May when winter blasts can still blow through on the unsuspecting hiker.

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Well he could be looking to the heavens for guidance but actually John was flinging a banana peel into the wind and watching it come back to him at high speeds boomerang style.

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The Cascades and my sneaks.

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More photos can be found over at Moon Topples.

Gifts of the Trail Angels

September 18, 2007

A few years back I spent three months hiking on the Appalachian Trail.  I knew that I would be spending most of my time walking on a footpath, taking breaks to eat and rest, doing whatever needed to be done to make my way north.  What took me by surprise however were the people that populate the mountain trails and smaller towns.  I soon came to realize that this epic hike would not fall only upon my shoulders because I relied upon them for safe passage.  They were the shopkeepers that had food I could buy for supplies.  They volunteered to keep the trail passable, cutting away fallen trees and moving sections that had been washed away.  Here I was thinking that I was doing all of the work and yet there were so many hidden hands that made my existence possible.

Within the ranks of these generous folks were a blessed few that took the giving to a whole new realm.  We hikers affectionately called them Trail Angels.  My first encounter with an Angel resulted in a crisp apple on a cool spring morning.  Sometimes I came across a cooler in the woods, stocked full of strawberries and sugar, peanut butter sandwiches and cold sodas.  A nice note attached that welcomed us to the feast.

I needed to hitchhike into town to replenish my stock and never failed to find that kind person that would bring me into town.  On one occasion a minivan stopped and the woman who got out opened up her side door and along with the two youngsters strapped into there seats we made our way to first the grocery store, post office and then laundromat.  Finding out how long my clothes would take to wash she picked me back up an hour or so later and dropped me off back at the trailhead.  Amazement does not adequately describe my state of being.

I’m not sure how so many good folks became clustered along the length of the Appalachian Trail.  I lost count of all of the singular instances where someone went out of their way to give me a helping hand.  I do know that we long distance hikers are a needy group (did someone say buffet?) and quite possibly the universe matches that need with an overflowing generosity.  Years removed and I am still in awe of the gifts given by the Trail Angels.

There are more gifts to be found on Writer’s Island.

City or Country?

June 2, 2007

My life is here in the suburban realm of Virginia Beach yet I often imagine moving to the western part of the state and enjoying the space of country living.  I don’t like the traffic here but I can visit any number of vegetarian restaurants.  In a smaller town I’ll never see gridlock but most likely the diner around the corner will mainly offer beef, chicken and fried foods.  Yes I’m over-generalizing though I do think there is a hint of truth in these assumptions.

More people amassed in one area allows for a greater expression of the human experience.  Here in the city I can attend the religious services of many different faiths and partake in activities that would be hard to find in a more rural setting.  I have access to organic produce, yoga classes and high speed internet.  There are many more jobs in my field and the pay is greater.  But I do know what I am missing….

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This picture is from Mcaphee Knob near Roanoke Virginia.  Yes there is a lot to be missed when you decide to congregate around large groups of people.  That space outside can help to create a bit of space inside that mind that gets so wound up in the modern routine.  When the pace slows down a new perspective is afforded.

In 2002 I spent three months hiking on the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Pennsylvania.  I won’t go into too much detail here (Wonderful!) though I would like to share a memory that captures that city/country divide.

One morning I woke up to a blanketing mist that soaked my tent with dew and widened my eyes to the quiet trees hidden in shrouds of white.  I’d been hiking in Virginia for about a month and looking forward to Harper’s Ferry a few days walk ahead.  The morning fog seemed to hush all of the inhabitants of the forest and I marveled at the silence that leapt from my surroundings into my heart.  What serenity!  After a time I fished out my little AM/FM radio, put in my earphones and flipped through the fuzziness to see what the outside world could offer this peaceful jaunt.  I’d noticed the day before that I could pick up a few radio stations from Washington D.C. and this morning I again found a clear signal.

“We have a back-up on the beltway around the state line and you can expect an hour delay going into the city.”

I stopped.  The smile upon my face could not be withheld and I stared in amazement at my surroundings as the announcer spoke of this alternate reality.  In this moment I could not be touched by the grinding gears of humanity always working towards that next thing.  I had no one beeping from behind or slowing my progress down the path. 

In the same instant I knew that eventually I would rejoin the masses and find my way to a car that would sit behind other cars during a morning commute.  My appreciation of that moment in the misty mountains of Virginia was heightened by my knowing that I had been in that car before and I would return.  This precious time allowed for the reflection then and my ponderings now about the choice: city or country?

Perhaps a bit of both sprinkled throughout a lifetime to allow for a fresh inter-mixing of varied flavors.