Category Archives: Appalachian Trail ’13

To the Edge of the Ledge. McAfee’s Knob (06/04/13)

McAfee’s Knob is said to be the most photographed point on the AT, and with good reason. It’s incredibly beautiful and breathtaking. A jutting point of rock from the cliff-side and a sheer drop into the valley below.

At the edge of the ledge

At the edge of the ledge

Buckeye, Atreyu and I decided that we wanted a sunset and a sunrise on McAfee’s Knob. This was an ambitious proposal the required a 16.3 mile day up and down 2 significant and 1 medium sized mountains/hills, a stop at Dragon’s Tooth (another amazing sight) and a small resupply and stop at the 4 Pines Hostel. All before sunset.

Somehow we managed it. It’s still one of the most incredible achievements in my mind.

Starting off at the Pickle Branch Shelter, we got an early start which was quite a feat in itself. Buckeye is a habitual late sleeper now that he’d gotten used to his hammock, but he was actually the first one up. We beat feet the 4 miles to Dragon’s Tooth with a few others in town and made it up the craggy torturous path to the summit. A clear, cloudless day greeted us – with views for miles.

It's a bit of a climb to get to the top of the tooth, but well worth it for the views.

It’s a bit of a climb to get to the top of the tooth, but well worth it for the views.

We stayed for almost an hour on top of the Tooth. Around 11am we decided it was time to get moving – and wouldn’t it be nice if we could have some real food for lunch? You’d better believe it! So let’s roll on down to the 4 Pines Hostel and go to the amazing gas station up the road for pizza! So we did.

One of the best things about hiking with Buckeye and Atreyu? They are never short of conversation or song. They are strong, fast hikers but they have fun everyday together. Sometimes they hook the little portable speaker up and play techno, or indie. Sometimes there are long involved conversations about women, philosophy or politics. But even when they disagree they respect each other – it’s a rare thing to find friends like these.

4 Pines is a converted 4 car garage run by Joe. He’s a hell of a guy – he took me in the previous year when I was freezing after Sandy and fed me fresh venison, gave me a pile of blankets and said “go nuts with the wood stove.” So when we made it to his place for lunch he took us down to the gas station. Pizza, slushies, chips, hot dogs, beer. The whole nine yards for lunch. We played a little cornhole (beanbag toss for all you Yankees) and seriously contemplated if we wanted to do another 10 miles. “We could stay here tonight and make it a short day tomorrow…”

The other great thing about Buckeye and Atreyu? They never shirk from a challenge. At 3:30 we finally got going. The terrain between 4 Pines and McAfee’s is ridgeline and rugged. You hug the tops and dip down into the saddles, gaining and losing 100 feet sections of altitude every 1/4 mile. You climb and scramble in places.

Man if they didn't have this sign here, I never would have known!

Man if they didn’t have this sign here, I never would have known!

We made it to the McAfee’s knob parking lot just before 7pm. The sun was starting to get lower in the sky – sunset was around 8:15 and we still had almost 3.5 miles to cover to the top. So we beat feet up the side of the mountain. The trail is well maintained, and a fairly easy climb until the last mile or so when you start going up steeply. We were on track and on pace.

the list

Until we found a cell phone.

Atreyu: “It’s gotta be the cute girls we passed on our way up, about 10 minutes ago!”

Buckeye: “Maybe. But they’re probably already back at the parking lot by now. We’re going up.”

Spice: “So… what are we doing? Sunset is so close!.”

At that moment, the phone rang. Atreyu answered it. “Yes we’ve got your phone! I’ll bring it down for you!.”

Buckeye + Spice: “You’re going to do what?”

Ateryu: “I’m going to take my pack off and run the phone down. You guys keep going, I’ll meet you at the top.”

Spice: “If you do that, we’ll take your pack with us. I’ll wear it on the front and double pack it.”

So off Atreyu bounded, down the path we’d just come up. Buckeye strapped Atreyu’s pack onto my chest. I’m sure I cut a ridiculous figure in that moment, hiking up the mountain side with two packs on. But if it meant that Atreyu could catch up with us faster, it was worth it. Atreyu managed to catch up with us a mile from the summit, which was good because I was DYING carrying two packs together.

And we made it. All the way to the top for sunset. The three of us almost were running by the time we got there, because we were so sure we were going to miss it. But we didn’t. We’d managed to push a 4 mile and hour pace or more by the time we’d gotten to the top. That’s a feat for any extended period of time. It was all worth it though.

Panorama view of Atreyu

Panorama view of Atreyu

I’ve heard people say that they don’t derive any pleasure from accomplishing miles or getting somewhere. That they don’t measure their achievements by getting to X place by Y time. That may be all well and good for them most of the time, but I’ve never been able to subscribe to that theory. Getting somewhere, achieving something in the face of adversity, pushing yourself to the limit and winning – there is something valuable about that to me. Getting to McAffe’s knob for sunset was such an achievement. We all felt it and we were all filled a beautiful glow that night.

Amusingly, the photos from sunset? Completely outclassed by the photos from the sunrise the next morning.

Crane Kick silliness

Crane Kick silliness

Endless Rain and The Breaking Point

When I read of new hikers who are coming to grips of the realities of the trail for the first time I think about how we have a tendency to build things up. Put things on a pedestal.

I once heard a story from Baltimore Jack. Of rain that lasted for forever. Grown men would wake up hearing the same sounds that had put them to sleep. The constant drumming of rain on the tin roof. It brought them to tears when they looked outside and saw the grey clouds and constant water cascading from the skies. He said it was one of the wettest springs on the AT – and he saw more people break from the rain than he’d ever seen before. People just gave up and went home.

I can understand that. I sympathize – there are few things worse then getting up for the fourth or fifth day in a row, putting on wet and cold socks with the utmost trepidation. “If I pull them on slowly, they’ll warm up a little more than if I pull them on quick and shock my feet.” Hearing the squelch of water as you shove your feet into your shoes. Packing your things up haphazardly – it doesn’t really matter anymore, everything is at least damp already. The rain jacket has as much moisture in it on the inside as it does the outside, why bother putting it on. You’ve stopped trying to avoid the puddles and small lakes that form on the AT because the whole trail has turned into a river.

You think you’ll never be dry again. I know how it feels. I’ve been there.

It’s odd because looking back now I recognize the same feelings of despair in that scenario of rain that I had with depression. Trapped. Drowning. Overwhelmed. Too tired to care anymore. How do you keep going when it’s like that.

I think some people are just built a little differently. No matter how depressed they get, how awful the situation gets they keep going. I’ve heard some call it “dogged determination.” People have called me stubborn. It’s been described as a coping mechanism, or protective trait. Some call it strength or mettle. But whatever you want to call it – these people just keep going.
They don’t lie down and die, and they don’t seem to ever quit. And when they do quit it’s because they are literally so run down, so ragged that they just don’t have the energy anymore.

I once read a psychology theory that postulated we can all endure only so much. Our capacity for suffering, for the negatives in our life are like a glass for water. It’s only so large. The more things we have going against us, the more water fills that glass. We can only handle so much before it all spills over. You can make your glass bigger by doing positive things, having good friends to share the load or have coping strategies. But there is always a finite amount you can take. Eventually you reach that.
The people who broke down and cried on the 5th day of rain had just reached their limit. Their glass was full. That was all.

What’s the take away from all of this? I’m not really sure honestly- lord knows I rambled on in this post, but I wonder if there really is an answer. On one hand, we’ve gout our dreams, and we want to pursue and accomplish them. But we should always be realistic of the moment, of the adversity facing us. So what should we do? I don’t know. It’s something you’ll have to make up your mind about yourself. I follow this simple advice.

Don’t ever quit until you’ve been completely and fully miserable for 48 hours. Then give it another 24 hours of staying someplace with a TV and Ac/Heat. If you’re still miserable – then you can quit. Because it’s not something you can fix with pizza, Chinese food and beer. And if you can’t fix it with those things, you may be well and truly screwed.

The air was so thick with water you weren't breathing it - but drinking it.

The air was so thick with water you weren’t breathing it – but drinking it.

Friends Keep Going

Sometimes you need a little extra push to make it.

Ron Haven was far from home, but wanted us to all know we were still in his thought.

Ron Haven was far from home, but wanted us to all know we were still in his thought.

There’s no shame in that. We all need a little help, sometimes more than a little. Help can come in all different forms, shapes and sizes. You may not even realize it’s help until far after the fact. But however it comes and finds you, it helps you to keep on going.

Ron Haven, of Franklin, NC Budget Inn fame gave a little help at the PA/NJ border. He’d given material help down in NC, shuttling us all around town to the grocery store and buffet in his mini bus from the motel. He told stories and gave advice, made us laugh and helped us to remember to be happy – that while this was difficult it wasn’t something that had to make you miserable.

So when I saw his business card slid into the visitors map at Delaware Water Gap’s Sunfish Pond, he reminded me that even people we met only briefly were still thinking of us, pulling for us to finish. We had never left his thoughts. We were his friends and he was happy for us.

Why do some people keep going when other get stuck in a rut or are unable to complete? The AT is full of this question – some people get off after 10, 20 or 40 miles. Others make it to 500 and leave. More still find themselves close to the end and remove themselves from the Trail. Few actually finish.

Sometimes it’s not a question of want or desire to complete something – there are things that can stop one from finishing far beyond your control. A girl I knew in TN/NC (actually we stayed in the Budget Inn together…) named Genie made it to Damascus and found she had stress fractures in her Tibia. She tried to rest it for two weeks and came back, only to have it fully fracture and took her off the Trail. She had done 1000 miles of the AT as a section in 2011 and was determined to finish. She’s going back out there again this year.

But for most, the decision to leave is a mental one. The reasons are as varied as the people who leave. Some are tired, angry, sick or just plain exhausted. Some built the journey up to something it wasn’t and now upon realizing the truth can’t handle it. Others found what they were looking for and decided that was enough.

The people who stay though, who keep going always have that nagging thought in the back of their head. “I’m here by choice. I could go home anytime.” What stops them from going home?

Some are just stubborn people.

Like everyone else out on the AT, Ron Haven had his quirks and stories. Stories were that he was a former wrestler turned businessman turned county commissioner. Perhaps he was just a guy who owned a motel and learned that the hikers needed help – and started helping. Maybe he really was Jack Black’s second cousin. His history didn’t really matter to us – what mattered was he was there. And like everyone I met onthe AT, Ron Haven made a bigger impact in the small amount of time I was near him then most people in my “real world” back home.

 

So keep going friends. When you feel as if the world is too much, the miles are weighing you down, just keep going. Left foot. Right foot.

 

Because any day out here is a better day then one in the office.

Busted Ankles and the Will to Finish

I talked about Damselfly awhile ago in and earlier post but left her story unfinished because it’s one that shows Damselfly’s other amazing characteristics: not just smart, funny and happy – but a drive to finish.

A drive to finish against all odds and any obstacles she faced.

When she was coming out of Hanover, NH Damselfly slipped on some lose pine needles, or perhaps a small rock. It doesn’t really matter what it was exactly that she slipped, it only matters when happened when she hit the ground.

She twisted her ankle. Badly. It swelled up. Bruised. Turned odd colors. It was probably more than a strain or a twist. It was at the very least – slightly broken.

Her ankle was busted. Her hike was probably over.

Damselfly was able to limp back to town, slowly with help from other hikers. She rested some, iced it a little and took anti-inflamatory medication. She waited. When I saw her she had fallen three days before hand, and her ankle was still swollen to the size of a grapefruit.

How big is that you ask? Well if you don’t have a grapefruit handy, go find yourself a softball. About that size. Perhaps wrap both hands around your ankle – that might be equivalent, but not quite. It was bad to look at too beyond the swelling – it was yellow and purple and blue – all those disgusting colors you get from bruises as they try valiantly to heal.

“Oh I’m going to hike out of here tomorrow I think” Said Damselfly, casually as if it was no big deal.

“On that? On the ankle that can’t support any weight, that you’re hobbling on and can’t carry a pack with?”

“Sure – I’m going to slackpack, no problem. It’ll help it to heal.” For those who don’t know, a slackpack is when you don’t carry your full pack and instead leave it with someone else who will pick you up at the end of the day.

You couldn’t tell Damselfly no. You couldn’t make her see reason that if she walked on her busted ankle, she might damage it forever. She might not be able to have it heal properly without surgery perhaps. She was determined she was going to get to Katahdin on her own power one way or another.

So she did. She hiked out of town and got a few miles and then had to get picked up because her ankle hurt too much. So she took another two days off. Then tried again. She got a few more miles out – then had to get picked up again. Her friend Splash stayed with her for a lot of it, making sure she got through safely. She was doing it. Slowly but surely.

It took her a lot longer than she wanted. She had to hitch a little to get there. She spent a little more money than she thought she would and had to sacrifice things along the way to get there. But she got there.

I saw Damselfly again in Monson, Maine, the last town stop before the 100 Mile Wilderness and Katahdin. She was doing some work for stay at the Lake Shore House, and the owner Rebecca was taking care of her (Stop there hikers! It’s the best place in town!) and trying to make sure she stayed off her ankle. I talked with her a little there. Her ankle wasn’t swollen as much, she could put weight on it again. She wasn’t anywhere near 100% – hell she probably wasn’t 60% – but she was leaving soon and was going to walk as much as she could to get to Katahdin. She was going to finish under her own power. Stubborn lady that she is, she knew she had to.

And she did. Damselfly summited Katahdin on October 15, 2013. She walked up there all by herself.

I talked with her a month or so later. It’s always good to talk to your hiker friends – you love them all so dearly. Family.

“You guys were my summit date…. you were my heart-group”

Long distance hikers get so invested in our trail. Our walk. We meet people who become family – better than family even. These are the people you choose to be with in a way that few others ever can understand. Sometimes things happen  that makes the people you care about suffer. They fall and bust an ankle, maybe they run out of money and have to go home. Perhaps they just get tired and can’t deal with it anymore. Whatever the reason, when they leave you, you cry a little for them – because they are gone.

When people ask me for stories about truly inspirational people that I’ve met on the trail, Damselfly’s story is the one I use most often.

“Who the hell is so stubborn that they finish a hike like that on a busted ankle, limping the whole way? Why would they put themselves through all that pain? Just to prove something?”

I always say “No. She wasn’t out to prove something, she wasn’t stubborn like you’re thinking. She was in love, and that love let her finish. She loved something so dearly that it hurt too badly to even think about getting off.”

And that is Damselfly. Intelligent. Witty. Happy. Bubbly. Beautiful. Stubborn.

In Love.

With the trail and all it’s people.

so happy

Damselfly snagged herself a fish with Limpin’ Eagle

The Madison Gulf Trail

There have been a moments so far where I have actively feared for my life. I was run off the road on a major highway when I was 20 by a man who wasn’t paying attention. In the 15 seconds that took, everything was instinctual because it happened so fast. I had no moments during the act to think about what was going on – only afterwards did I look back and reflect on almost dying.

The Madison Gulf Trail descent I did however, gave ample time to consider my death.

In the White Mountains, you spend the majority of your time far above tree line, exposed the whole time to the elements and the storms that routinely roll through.

But it is quite beautiful

Once you’re in the Presidential’s section, you’re exposed the whole way

Luckily there are Huts run by the Appalachian Mountain Club (here after referred to as AMC – or Appalachian Money Club) that allow thru-hikers to stop and rest at, dry out a little and sometimes, if you’re lucky, spend the night. By spend the night, I mean they take 2 hikers, let them sleep on the floor, do some sort of work for stay and require them to be out before any other guests are up. Or you can pay $124 to spend the night (prices vary by day of the week and whether your an AMC member, but it’s always over $100)

When we arrived at Maddison Spring Hut, Roadkill and I had been walking in the freezing rain, high wind and visibility out to 25 feet. It was 1:30 in the afternoon and we were already exhausted, Roadkill was near incoherent, hypothermic and we were both wet. We were able to get inside the hut, take our packs off and at least change out of our sopping wet clothes for a bit, but the inside of the hut was as cold as outside. At least we were out of the wind.

Two bowls of mushroom soup apiece and some coffee helped the situation, but we were still left with the weather issue. According to the forecast, hurricane force winds were predicted through the evening above treeline, with bad visibility, rain and lightning. Not weather you want to be above treeline for – and the descent from Madison was completely exposed for 2 miles, down the Osgood Path.

I looked at the maps that were available at the hut, and decided to ask the AMC employee there if there were any alternatives.

“Hey – I know it’s still kind of early, but what are the chances we can get a work for stay tonight at the hut here?”

“None- it’s too early and I can’t take you.”

“Not even if it’s a life threatening issue? I mean, we’re wet, frozen and she’s a bit hypothermic. You can’t make any exceptions?”

“Nope – best I can say is there is a campsite a mile away off the AT that you can stay at, it’s got trees.”

Now that would have been 45 minutes walk just for a campsite exposed to the cold and rain. The night before had been cold, the night before that had been frozen (as in frost on everything frozen) and if we were wet, that could be a death sentence.

“Ok then, if you won’t let us stay what’s the easiest way off the mountain? I know Osgood is exposed the whole way down… and if there is lightning and hurricane winds,  I don’t know how I feel about doing that all the way down. Do you have any suggestions?”

“Well you could go down the Madison Gulf Trail. It goes down to tree line really fast.”

“Have you hiked it before? Is it doable?”

“Sure I hike it all the time! Piece of cake.”

And right here was my first mistake. I took advice from someone who wasn’t a thru-hiker. I trusted someone who wasn’t actually hiking all day, and who I knew was probably spending most of his time smoking up. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s the same way I don’t trust day hikers measurements of miles or time.

“So all we have to do is take the Madison Gulf Trail and it’ll get us below treeline really quickly? And it’s not too bad difficulty wise?”

“Right!”

So we left Madison, putting on our wet clothes again, saving our dry stuff for the end of the day. According to the map, it was about 3 miles down the Madison Gulf Trail to reconnect with the AT. “No Problem!” I thought. “We can be in Gorham tonight if we want, it’s only 2:30!”

How wrong I was. My second mistake was not turning us around when we hit this

I should be dead

The first of many obstacles on the Madison Gulf Trail. For reference, the camera is being held level to where the horizon should be.

We couldn’t see more then 2 or 3 dozen feet. We slid and scrambled down wet boulders, the descent at more than 45 degrees, the rocks offering no purchase. There was no sign to warn us of this, the blue blazes were few and far between. It was hell.

But we did get to treeline quickly. I saw the tree come closer out of the fog and rain and thought “oh thank you God. Trees, all this stupidity is over now, no problem.”

It was the beginning of the real hell .

Once we were in the trees the trail got different. Not better – sometimes worse. The rocks and roots and trees were at an angle, everything was wet and there were more than a few times we weren’t sure whether we were still on the trail. We’d be teased by a blue blaze every so often, just as we were teased by flat trail every so often. Every 20 minutes or so, the trail would level out, we’d walk on normal dirt and I’d give a sigh of relief. The end was here, finally! No. Not at all. Just a tease.

Not even the worst

We did this for 4 hours. Hell. This isn’t even the worst part – I wasn’t able to get my camera out for the worst parts.

The worst was yet to come. The part that almost killed the two of us was yet to come.

We saw a nice flat spot – perfect to camp in even below us. We finally climbed down to it – YES! The end! Where does the trail go? Oh, here is a blue blaze down to our left. We followed it.

Right to a a 50 foot drop down a waterfall.

There is no way this is the trail, but there is a blaze here! How do we get down? We were standing on top of a cliff with a 50 foot drop, a waterfall and no visible way down.

There looked to be handholds in the middle, where a large house sized boulder jutted out of the face. There were trees on the right side, maybe the path was there. I took my pack off and decided to investigate. I was able to spider climb the 10 feet to a small depression just short of the edge, and it did indeed look as if this was the way to go.

“Ok Roadkill, I think you can butt slide down here slowly, get to this depression and then slide over to the right and get down. I’ll stay here, spread eagled to help you.”

She started to slide down, slowly, hands splayed on the rock trying for any bit of purchase. Then she started to slide faster and I saw her face – she had no control.

10 feet isn’t that far. Not really. She started sliding and I saw it in an instant – she’d go over the edge and fall 50 feet. Die.

My hand let go of it’s tiny hold in the rock. My arm shot out and somehow got between her back and her pack, and I grabbed her straps. She stopped inches from the edge. I saved her.

My heart started beating again.

She slid over and was able to get down to the trees on the right. I breathed again. Now it was my turn. I had to climb up and get my pack, and try and slide down the way she had. Without loosing control. Without someone to catch me.

I started butt sliding. I slid faster and lost control as well. I was going to go over. That would be the end of me. I somehow jammed my right foot into a crack and stopped my slide.

My left foot was over the edge.

Roadkill finally got to breathe again when I got down. This is what the drop looked like from the bottom.

I'm lucky to be alive

Roadkill should have been dead. I should have been dead. Neither of us would have been found for weeks. We would have been just another two names on the list of people who perished in the White Mountains

We finally got to the AT as darkness fell. I was exhausted. I was angry, tired, hungry. I was spent.

I sat down just past the Osgood bridge and cried.

I should be dead. Roadkill should be dead. We wouldn’t have been found for weeks probably. No one used this trail. We found out later at the AMC visitor center that this trail wasn’t meant for descents – it clearly said to ascend it only. Not to take heavy packs on it. Not to do it when wet, or in bad weather conditions, with wind or rain. Pretty much not to do it ever.

And we were sent down it by an AMC employee.

I’m lucky to be alive, and I was lucky to have saved the girl I was in love with life. We both should have been dead.

We made it to Gorham the next day. I spent most of the day either in the hotel room trying to stop shaking, or eating at the Chinese buffet.

It was as close to death as I’ve ever come. I have no desire to repeat it.

Journey to the Northern Limits

One thing I have a lot of from this trip is video. Moments that I was able to save. They tell only snippets of what happened, but sometimes when you string them together, they tell more of a story then you ever thought.

So this is an attempt at a story. Just like these writings are trying to tell a story. I hope you enjoy it

Talker and Slap Bets

I had a story about a hiker named Talker awhile ago. When we were in Lincoln, NH and Spoon and Chuckles’s family put a feed on for us (all organic, all local spaghetti dinner!) which was delicious. In the process, we heard lots of stories. One of them, was about slap bets Talker had lost.

People who haven’t hiked a long distance trail like the Appalachian Trail always talk about mileage, pack weight or weather. Those who have finished a long distance trail, they all talk about the people and the experiences they had with them. People make the journey.

These are trail people. They understand you, and you understand them. They get it – all of it. Sometimes it feels like they can read your mind. You live with them everyday and share everything.

Even on the bad days, a day with your trail family is magical.

Talker, Trail Days and Pop-Tarts

Talker always holds a special place in my heart.

Talker and Anime Hair

You never would guess that this is the face of someone who is incredibly intelligent and wise. It looks more like he stuck his finger into a light socket… You too can have this hair, after only 4 days of not showering!

I met him in passing just north of Erwin, TN while I was hanging out with Rob Bird, but I never actually talked to him until Kincora Hostel. He had been hiking with Johnny Thunder, Burgundee, Saga, Delorean, Skittles and Rambo. They are all pretty awesome people, but Talker is special.

Talker is a wonder person: intelligent, witty, mature and incredibly funny. But he does have a tendency to get involved with silly silly bets. Bets that no one has a chance of winning.

One of those took place in Damascus, at Trail Days.

Our medium of exchange was slap bets and ice cream novelty bets. You could bet on anything and we routinely did. Everything from how many nutri-grain bars one could eat (Saga got to 12 out of her 25 she thought she could do) to where you would end up that day.

At Trail Days, Talker tried the impossible.

A handful of Pop-Tarts

Somewhere near pop-tart 6. Photo Credit to Chuckles

Talker took a slap bet, thinking he could eat a 100 pop-tarts.

To be fair, he probably wasn’t in a sober state of mind when this bet was proposed, but he took it without a second thought. The bet was as follows: 100 poptarts before 10pm. He could get up at anytime and start eating, there would be a mix of flavors and they didn’t have to stay in his body for longer than it took to swallow them. He could purge himself anytime.

All this for the opportunity to slap Johnny Thunder.

Talker got up around 8am and decided to make an honest effort to start. He started with fruit flavored toaster pastries around 9am. He didn’t have any water to start, which was the beginning of his downfall.

“These feel like rocks in my stomach. Like a giant brick of awful”

After only 5 pop-tarts, I think Talker started to realize that this might be a bad idea. At 7 he decided it was time to pound some water.

“I need to drink like a gallon of water. Something. Because this is terrible”

At pop-tart 11 he decided he need to puke. He tried. He really did. But he just couldn’t.
“It feels like they are all glued together in there.”

He had consumed strawberry, blueberry, confetti cake and found that he couldn’t get rid of them. This didn’t bring any hope for finishing. He shrugged his shoulders however and decided to press on. Right on into a new box. Of Cinamon.

3 more pop-tarts, more water and another attempt to remove pop-tarts from his system yielded no results.  Pop-tart 14 seemed like a terrible idea to have tried to eat.

“If I stand on my head, maybe that’ll help with the puking right? Gravity will help…”

It’s worth a shot right? He got up against a tree, had two people hold his legs and tried to shove his fingers in so he could puke. No joy. No option but to keep going.

He opened a box of fudge pop-tarts.This was a mistake.

Talker somehow managed to eat 17 pop-tarts. We later figured out that if he had eaten all 100, he would have consumed something in the neighborhood of 22,000 calories, enough sugar to put himself into diabetic shock and acquire type 3 diabetes and probably would have been the most miserable human being on the face of the earth.

All this to slap Johnny Thunder

Talker with the Waterfall

Talker is eating pop-tarts again! At least it’s while looking at a waterfall, and not someone drunk passed out in a folding chair at Trail Days!

“I’ll never eat pop-tarts again”

5 months later, Talker was again eating pop-tarts in the Hundred Mile Wilderness. He had found the strength to eat those deliciously terrible toaster pastries again. I don’t envy him them.

Johnny Thunder redeemed his slap in a most wonderful way, but that’s a story for another day.

“I hate instant potatoes so much right now”

All hikers ever really talk about is food right? It’s top 5 for us (the others being poop, weather, miles and sex) and is without a doubt, the most important of those five. Napoleon is credited with saying that “An army moves on it’s stomach” and that holds just as much truth for hikers as it does for soldiers.

So how did Invictus come to the point where she hated eating instant mash? Pretty much the same way I came to hate eating chicken flavored pasta, pop-tarts, oatmeal, banana chips and several other things. We ate it everyday without fail.

Seriously. I’ll never eat oatmeal again in my life. Ever.

Nothing quite like attractive ladies and Loaded Baked

Rainbow still likes to eat the insta mash… but only just barely I think

Limited choices on the trail in a fact of life, and you can get tired of anything. Bison got tired of eating Mountain Houses by the end of the trail, and was more than willing to trade delicious chicken tetrazzini for mac and cheese! So when you’re surviving on mail drops, hiker boxes and goodwill in order to finish, you just get tired of eating.

Their families love them

Terp and Gourmet always had awesome mail drops… It made the rest of us a little jealous

Food is the most important thing in the world. Without it, you’re angry (hangry, it’s a thing – go look it up) and depressed, no energy and you can’t do a thing. That’s why it’s important to vary your food and find things you like to eat.

Hiking a long distance trail is probably the only time in your life that you can eat anything you want. So we take advantage of that: eat all the bacon you want, cake, pie, triple patty bacon cheeseburgers, everything off the Wendy’s dollar menu… you get what I mean.

So go eat! Everything and anything. Enjoy your food on the trail and keep it varied. Pack out a cake, some Admiral Crunch (I’ve decided the Captain needs a promotion) or even a couple of steaks. There is nothing more delicious than eating a steak you’ve cooked on the fire after hiking out of town.

Pro Tip: Carry spices with you. There is a reason I’m called Doc Spice and hint hint, it’s because I carried things like Montreal Steak seasoning all the time.

Food is wonderful. It still makes me happy.

On the Edhe Farm is still one of my favorite places

On the Edge Farm has delicious pies, made fresh that morning ready for you. Mixed-Berry Crisp is still my favorite there.

This pie? This pie was like heaven. It would have been good anywhere, but after hiking 10 miles to it? Heaven.

Honesty and Authenticity

One thing I’ve struggled with all my life is the truth. Telling it, living with it, accepting it. The truth is a scary thing, because it lays us bare to the world, exposes our good and bad for all to see.

When I went out on the Trail I had few rules – but without a doubt the biggest was “tell the truth to everyone.”

That seems like a simple thing doesn’t it? Telling the truth?

Not so simple when you’ve grown up in a family that plays “information wars” with every scrap and piece of information. Where you act as the go between for divorced parents, and have family that gaslight you, forcing you to constantly question your sanity. Not necessarily the healthiest place to grow up in – but grow up I did, and unfortunately I carried parts of that into adulthood.

I wouldn’t ever say I was pathological when it came to lies, but I most certainly used them when it was more convenient than the truth, easier to say then to explain the whole wide range of things involved.  So when I left for the Trail I made a promise to myself.

The whole unvarnished truth, for all to see and hear.

I did a fair job of it my first hike – I caught myself more than a few times slipping into bad habits but on the whole I kept it together. So when I went out the second time I made the same vow. I kept it too for a far larger portion than I thought possible. It was a big achievement for myself, telling the truth.

It had some unintended results though. People got to know me in ways I never expected, and several people got to know some secrets I don’t think I ever meant to let out. One person in particular learned everything about me.

What a pretty lady

Sometimes you find things on the trail. Other times you find people, and people find you.

When you mix honesty and love together you get interesting results. There wasn’t a thing I held back when asked, every single moment was given freely, though at times with trepidation; because who wants to be rejected for the things they have done, for the way they feel and act?

Maybe that’s why this breakup and betrayal hurt so bad at the end. Because I had opened up to someone I held close, and when they hurt me they knew everything. If she was a person bent on evil, those things she knows could destroy me in the most soul crushing ways – because being hurt by those you love truly does cut you down cruelly.

 

All of that aside though, I maintain the same vow now, on here as I did on the trail.

All that passes from my lips in the truth, as far as I can see it from my perspective. I won’t lie to you, I won’t evade and try and paint it in a better light. Explanation will be the facts and the feelings, as close to the real authentic moment as I can. I won’t be perfect with it, it’s impossible I think, but I’ll get as damn close as I can.

I owe it to you and I owe it to myself.