Monthly Archives: November 2018

#3 Relationships

I was still 5 years from my planned retirement. I dared to think about it. What would I do? There were 5 things that came to mind. The trail was one of the items on the list. Four of them could wait, The trail could not! It had fervently become meaningful and necessary. Who knows what the next five years would bring. I gave myself two years to get ready.

Retire isn’t a word I like or accept. It is something you do to end the day.  Terminating a long  working career is a moment to celebrate for sure, but retirement  isn’t an end but a beginning. The joy of celebration may last a few weeks.  The opportunity exists for  new and exciting personal growth.  For me the six months on the trail will require all the lessons learned and effort put forth during my entire working career. It has the potential to be as rewarding and satisfying as well.

I prefer to use the words renew, redevelop, reconsider, and rethink. Renewal of  dreams, passion,and focus. Rethink and develop the gifts I have. Reconsider how best I can put them to use. One word stands apart and above all these words. Relationships.

It doesn’t take retirement to redefine my relationships, but that just happens to be where I am in life. There is no way to avoid making this adjustment. As for my coworkers who have played an important part in who I am, I’ll try to maintain our friendship and support. Even now new friendships at work have started since my announcement of the hike.  Hopefully  some of  these will grow and mature. As the date grows nearer, I have started to view this as an opportunity to reconcile old neglected or broken relationships while adding new like-minded ones along the way. The Trail, like retirement, isn’t just the beginning of a new journey. It’s a reset. A chance to grow with a renewed vision full of possibilities to give purpose and meaning to the days ahead. Thinking like that retirement doesn’t sound so bad!

Over 4,000 people are supposed to attempt this hike in 2019. I will only meet a small portion of them. Add to that the section and weekend hikers, people met in towns and hostels. The chance to interact and develop bonds will be plentiful. These short but intense relationships have the potential to exceed others developed over longer periods of time. There is also those back home. Family and friends are essential to the success of such a lengthy time away from home. In times of loneliness or low morale, they can instill confidence,  determination, a renewed spirit. Hopefully by sharing the experience, they in turn can be challenged or inspired to try something they thought too difficult to attempt. It might not be hiking but purely a personal goal. Encouraging and energizing each other.  Growing the relationship.

This leads to one last point about relationship.  My attitude and relationship to the hike. What seems like a sole endeavor or personal achievement is exactly the opposite. To do this by myself, for myself, and then take sole credit for the achievement would be empty and false. Yet to be part of a team gives purpose. A purpose that makes the effort worthwhile. I have been helped by many people to get to this point and give thanks for their blessings. Happiness is elusive when we focus on ourselves. To be part of something bigger rewards everyone involved. I hope to continue growing all these relationships, not only on my hike but throughout my retirement.

“I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.”

Henry David Thoreau

#4 The Adventure

Originally these were just a scribbling of notes and ideas to develop into an essay. Maybe I was just lazy but they mostly  just came out this way.

Stepping off into the woods

now, no turning back

striding steadily

toward sunset and sleep

Waking up with anticipation

of sights and sounds

as yet unknown

A cloudy day

with winds and rain

or a rising sun

against a deep blue sky

A bear, a bird, a deer or snake

a rushing stream

a mountains majestic view

Witness to

an ever changing scene

with more depth

and understanding

more wonderment and awe

A cast of characters

parade in and out

some for a day, others weeks

a few for life

Individuals

each with different motives

coalesced

by  the shared experience

of an arduous journey

Towns discovered along the way

some small and others smaller

promising respite

from the constant marching

Food, rest, and fellowship,

restores a weary traveler

The trek continues

when the morning light appears

stepping off into the woods

no turning back

My 5 Reasons to Hike the Trail

#5 Challenge

notes:

Uphills and downhills, steep and long

In pouring rain and blowing wind,

a daily search for water,sleep and calories

sweat and dirt,  damp. wet clothes,

aching muscles seek the end of day

Quickly pitch the tent and filter water

prepare and eat the daily special

Time for bed and needed rest

Then plan to do the same tomorrow

only farther up the road

The challenge is on the one hand simple yet difficult to execute. Each and every day requires food water and shelter. What is the weather? Be prepared for anything. Take care of my body. If I’m tired stop and rest. Know my limits. If it hurts don’t be stubborn. Take care of it. When feeling good keep walking. Make miles if the sun is shinning! Remember to  appreciate the struggle and marvel in the beauty of creation.

Besides the challenge of hiking up and down for miles every day,  Hunger, Thirst and Sleep are the biggest concerns . Failure to satisfy any one of these can lead to a miserable hike or even much worse.  The challenge is always present. Determination, attitude ,and effort are the deciding factor. This mental aspect next to injury is the greatest  indicator of future success. Trying to remain positive despite mental and physical fatigue is tough. Staying committed to the goal requires a deep understanding of what I hope to gain from all this planning and effort. Despite aches and pains, deprivation of comfort and at times basic physical needs, there is something to be gained,  a strengthened body, a relaxed mind, and a richer spirit.

End of Last Gear Test

Waking up in the early morning darkness I heard Frank in his tent organizing gear. Today would take us 7 or 8 miles to Hot Springs and the end of my planned test hikes. The threat of bad weather passed with the storm, leaving potentially the best hiking conditions I’ve yet experienced. I lingered comfortably in my bag contemplating all I’d learned and experienced. Switching on my lamp I looked around the tent. All my equipment was right here.I was comfortable and pleased with my choices. My pack,tent, everything had served me well instilling confidence. My Zpacks duo tent especially , despite several storms performed perfectly. It will be my home for many nights. Inside I feel comfortable and protected from the outside elements.

Frank was out of his tent so I too began preparations. First light was beginning as each of us independently ate and disassembled camp. Frank was ready first and headed north on he trail. I filtered the last of the water and followed maybe 15 minutes later. It was still cold despite a bright sky but the sun hadn’t made an appearance over the surrounding hills. Warmer temps were still a couple of hours away. Today’s hike started with a slow downhill warmup. Frank waited for me at a parking lot at Garenflo Gap just before a 500 ft. climb. There would be several views of surrounding hills that mirrored our climb. Sometimes  that can be discouraging as you can see whats left to climb. Other times the same view can be encouraging. It depends on your mental and physical state at the time. Personally I’m always amazed that I can do it at all. The large trees and steep mountainsides command respect especially when one considers the scale and vastness of nature with that of a single man.

The sun followed us up the hill the cold forgotten. Sweat now ran down my forehead  burning my eyes. I stopped to wipe it away and thought of removing one of my two shirts I started with in the morning. I didn’t for now.  When the trail took a turn to the right the effect was like day into night. Stepping into total shade with a stiff breeze blowing head on the temperature dropped 5 degrees instantly, I was exhilarated yet happy to still be layered. I love those moments! Except for a few small ups and downs it was downhill to Hot Springs. 1300 feet down.

Normally I pick up the pace downhill but today my knee hurt again. It’s something I’ll have to deal with and seems to be related to pack weight. I changed my gait and attempted to shift the weight to my shoulders. With only two miles to go I kept moving. Descending toward Hot Springs I could see buildings from up high. Stopping for a second I heard a chainsaw and some cars. It’s always exciting to approach a town with expectations of food and rest. The two of us spilled  out of the woods at Laughing Heart Hostel, a place I may stop for the night on my way back home next year. We unloaded the packs in the truck and had lunch at the Smoky Mountain Diner. I had a bleu cheese bacon burger, large fries and sweet tea.A perfect ending to this leg of the adventure.img_30871

 

Last Gear Test

Max Patch to Hot Springs

Part 2

The rain chased by the wind was gone by morning. Only puffs of clouds remained,  each one traveling fast towards Max Patch. img_3081The sun hidden behind a ridge brightened the morning sky with the promise of a better day. For the moment the cold remained so I decided to heat my morning granola using the pot to warm my hands. I ate standing while soaking in the surroundings. I shivered at the thought of those who may have slept the night on top of Max Patch. I was thankful to be where I was and excited about the day. The others awoke and we talked while alternately preparing breakfast and shoving items in our packs. All of us except the lone hiker who hadn’t yet shown any signs of life. Eventually he exited his bag and joined the conversation alleviating my concerns for his health.

Frank and I leisurely approached the morning but hadn’t intended a late start. It was 10:30. We all said our goodbyes. The other three-headed south and Frank and I went north toward Walnut Mountain.  The late start caused some issues later that day and forced us to make a decision to set up a quick camp just before a storm arrived. The problem we faced was lack of water. Our planned stopping point was a little past the water source. We were ahead of two hikers that would also want two of the three sites that were listed as unofficial tent sites in our guidebook. We decided to claim our spots before getting water. The unofficial sites turned out to be no sites at all. Thinking maybe this wasn’t the actual spot we headed further down the trail. There was nothing flat enough to pitch a tent. Eventually, going far enough that neither of us were going back for the water we had passed up.

Coming upon an old dirt road and darkness approaching not to mention rain in the forecast we decided to camp for the night. The problem was our guide listed no water in the area.  Frank was dry and I had about a cup of water remaining. We had passed up the last water source about a half of a mile back uphill. I went in search of water down the dirt road which was really not dirt but grass. Walking downhill I stumbled upon an old log cabin on its last legs. There was a little stream curving around the foot of a steep embankment. I hurriedly filled my 2 liters and headed back. Frank had also found a source in the other direction.Talk about a gift from God! I felt a few sprinkles so went about getting my tent set up. Then immediately ate a couple of summer sausage sandwiches and cheese crackers  followed  by some dried blueberries for dessert. img_3116We filtered our water and I took a long slug or two before heading into the tent for the night. There was a pretty severe storm that night with wind , rain, and evidently rumbling thunder and lightning flashing in the sky. I say evidently because somehow I slept through it. Frank had to tell me about it the next day. I must have been really tired! I did wake up at some point to gusting winds which came like distant waves. The shaking leaves grew louder and louder with the approaching wind until it passed over us continuing on for miles. This happened over and over again for at least an hour. The half-moon was bright.  The clouds blown far away. I went outside and marveled at the power and beauty of nature. Shadows from the moon and leaves danced around making the moonlit earth appear as if it too was moving. A sudden chill made me realize the temperature had dropped, back in the tent and covered by the warm bag I drifted back to sleep.

To be continued.

Last Gear Test

Max Patch to Hot Springs NC.  part 1

  First of all I’d like to thank Frank Harrison for partnering with me to do this hike.He has a wealth of experience having completed the AT in 1990. It was enormously beneficial to talk with him about his hike. The thought process and resulting decisions each day can have an effect on the psyche of the hiker and ultimately the success of the hike. Thanks to you Frank!

Ok, so gear testing was secondary as most items I’ll be taking have already been decided. A few things will have to be replaced and every piece evaluated and weighed. I’d like to shed 3 to 5 lbs. of pack weight. A complete list will follow at a later date. The main reason for the hike was my desire to see firsthand the beauty of a sunrise or sunset on Max Patch. Google it and look at the images. Let me know if you agree it is a special place.img_31061

We were dropped off a quarter-mile from the summit. Conditions were not promising. At 4600 ft. temperatures were in the  low 40’s , windy and light rain. Clouds obscured any views. Heading up to the crest the wind picked up blowing the rain sideways. There would be no sunset that night and remaining on the top of Max Patch in those conditions would not be smart nor much fun.  Max Patch would have to wait until another day. Without discussion we continued northbound on the trail descending quickly eventually protected from the wind by a ridge to our left. The rain seemed tolerable even comfortable without the gusting wind. Eventually one couldn’t be sure if it was raining or just dripping off the trees .  A word about not getting to camp at  Max Patch. I was disappointed but quickly realized the situation. You get to experience what the trail gives you. There is no fast pass or editing software to give you what you want when you want it. Nature’s  beauty , power and awesomeness is experienced only on its terms and timeline. I could have come back another day but then what might I have missed further down the trail.

img_3074Eventually we arrived at Roaring Fork Shelter. It was around 4:30. The shelter itself had been hit with driving rains earlier. Water puddled inside yet we found enough dry floor for both our sleeping pads and unpacked for the night. A tarp was left folded in the corner and Frank suggested hanging it across the front of the shelter to keep out the anticipated wind and cold we expected that night. Around supper time a Father and daughter arrived claiming two more spaces. We talked and ate for an hour until the cold forced us into sleeping bags to stay warm. I read from my kindle and fell asleep probably before 8:30. I was awakened sometime before midnight by a voice and steps approaching in the dark. Another hiker had reached the shelter after an all day and part of the night battle with the elements. His pack, sleeping bag, and all clothes were wet. The four of us slid right and left creating a space in the middle and he threw his wet sleeping bag down and climbed in pulling the bag over his head. The temps dropped to 37 degrees. My body was warm but I awakened frequently because my feet were cold and my sleeping pad deflated leaving little insulation between me and the cold boards of the floor. Despite the conditions , for the most part I slept comfortably. Upon awakening at some point I heard the wet hiker coughing and groaning. I could tell he was shivering. Obviously he was unprepared for the weather and conditions. Fearing hypothermia I asked if he was all right. He responded yes and sat up and talked coherently with me for a minute or two. Satisfied no emergency existed I drifted back to sleep. To be continued…