Category Archives: Post AT ’13
This was on Reddit today. It really moved me.
Love is such a powerful and beautiful thing. You’ll do all kinds of things for the person you love – and when they love you back they do the same.
I don’t know if I believe in the idea of “one true love” – it’s a hard thing to really accept, given just how many people there are in the world… but I do believe in True Love.
I’ve felt love. It was wonderful. It was beautiful. It was painful. It was heartbreaking when it was over.
But what I learned from all of that, from loving someone so much that I gave things up I wanted dearly, changed my hike for them and then tried my hardest to better for them, was that it’s worth it. Love is worth all the pain and suffering that can come from it. Because even if you only have it for a moment, it’s a special thing.
You don’t have that love just through yourself. You have it together with another person. So if you have someone out there you love – run to them! Get on a plane, a bus, a train. Jump in your car and drive all night. Make that effort to be with them. They’re worth it.
Sometimes, a grand romantic gesture is just what the world needs.
Sometimes you just need to be with that person you love – no matter what the cost.
A friend once told me that she learned to love again thanks to the AT. I did as well. It’s something I’ll always cherish that, and the person who taught me to love again.
What are you doing still reading this? Go! Run to your love. Or at least call them!
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
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.
The other night an old friend of mine called me up and demanded I drag myself out of the hole I’m living in and come to her place for dinner. She’s known me for years, dated me once upon a time, and is one of those people who knows everything about me. During my Soouthbound AT Hike she drove 4 hours to come see me in PA. Changed her schedule for me, bought me all the lunch I could eat and then tossed in some groceries too.
One hell of a lady
When AT Thru Hikers get home we usually have a hard time reconnecting, reintegrating. We are detached from the people we knew before at home, because we’ve done something so different from anything most of them have ever experienced that it can become hard to relate. We isolate ourselves often, because the people we’ve come back to just don’t get it, are so focused on their little slice of the world that we don’t understand anymore. Think of it like this – why would a hiker who has lived the last 6 months out of a 60 liter pack care about buying more stuff. The new car, that expensive pair of shoes, the big screen tv – we don’t really care about these things anymore.
The closest thing I’ve come across to long distance hikers and those like them are returning vets. They get it. (No, I’m not comparing the trials both have faced as alike – the isolation is the same though)
So when it was demanded that I leave my house to hang out with her, and a few other people I went. It’s good sometimes to leave your comfort and go be uncomfortable – especially when you know it’ll do you some good.
Sometime during the evening we got on the topic of girlfriends, love interests and partners. Like with any other group of friends, we like to know what the others are all into – “But is the sex good?” is a generally accepted question in my circle of friends. When one of the guys said he hadn’t asked the girl he’d been pining over for a bit out, I kinda lost it a little.
“If I can drag myself out of my depression and the hole I’m living in, to come out and see you, eat tacos, get lotto tickets and snag depression ice cream cones, you can ask a girl out!”
Later when I’d gotten home I realized something – it was the first night since I’d been back where I didn’t feel the sharp knife of loss when I was with people. I wasn’t thinking “Man, I wish Roadkill was here, she would have loved that joke.” Instead I was just thinking of me.
Beyond that though, I wasn’t longing for my trail friends and family when I was with other people. I was okay with where I was in that moment, fully there and not with half of my head in the mountains somewhere.
Hikers become so close to their tramily (trail + family) – we share everything with the people we’re with. There are perhaps 3 people in the “real” world who know everything about me, but with my trail family, they know everything. You hike long enough with someone, you tell everything and learn all. Keeping a secret while hiking with someone is to me, impossible.
The people who become your tramily are people you like – who you chose to be with and stay around. They get you, and you get them. You don’t always agree – hell sometimes you bicker all day long, but they are yours. And you are theirs. It’s strong bond of love, and when you don’t have them anymore you long for them to be there. It’s a tragedy that we’re all so far apart usually.
Even when I was in my relationship on the trail, in love with a wonderful girl, I still missed my tramily. I wasn’t with them a lot when I was with her, because she had a different hiking speed, and a different desire of things to see and do. I had made a decision that she was important to me, and as a result I missed time with my tramily. I don’t regret that, even with the way things ended up with her, but I do miss the times with the tramily.
When people ask me what the best part of the Appalachian Trail was, I say without hesitation – “The people I met and the friends I made who became my family.”
Have you ever awoken from a dream so powerful that you can still smell the forest? You can still feel the touch of the wind on your face? The warmth from the lover next to you?
I feel like everyday has been a dream recently, and I’m going to wake up anytime now, only to find that what I thought I was dreaming was reality, and the reality I thought I’d lived was just the dream.
I mention this only because the dreams I’ve had when I’m not out in the wild have been the strongest things. I can smell the pine forests, so crisp and clean on the air. The cool clean feeling of spring water as it trickles down your throat, cooling your mouth and belly. The snap and rush of streams and rivers as the flow past, power that leaves you behind. The taste of the woman I loved on my lips as she parts from a kiss.
When you wake up from something so strong, so real and you find yourself back in the reality of shopping malls, cars, frantic paces and people with no idea of the beauty around them, you can’t help but wonder.
Why am I here? What is the reason? Why did I chose to return here when all I want is out there?
When you hike long distances, going months on end in the woods you want nothing more than to go to a town. You dreams of nothing but TV, hotel rooms, greasy terrible food and air conditioning. The modern conveniences that America takes for granted on a daily basis. When you get those things, you love them, never want to let them go. You gorge on Chinese food, drink coca-cola until your stomach hurts. You watch the worst kinds of trashy TV, because it isn’t what you’re doing, has no basis in the reality you live in. You sleep in rooms that don’t let you hear the outside world.
And when you’re done with a day or two of that, you return to the woods and it’s majestic beauty. You wonder why you left town – it has all the good fun things that you want! You don’t remember months ago when you were trapped in that world of computers and tvs, flashing lights and advertising. When you yearned for nothing more then an open road, a direction that didn’t lead to suburbia or cubicles.
Sometimes we miss things right in front of us, while we look ahead to our yearnings. I know I’ve missed important things that stood right in clear view, important things that led to terrible consequences because I didn’t notice them. But even the little things you miss; the sunset, the drop of water falling from a branch and catching the light, a secret smile between lovers, are so very important.
Open your eyes. Look around and go explore a little. Find the secret spots that are just around the corner, the ones that let you know the world is full of hope and love. Power and beauty.
I think that is part of what life is – finding those moments, making those memories that last forever. Because they are all you can carry with you in the end. They don’t weigh a thing, but are also the biggest burden for a soul to have.
And they are all yours.
Today is a day of giving thanks. Of remembrance and reflection.
I am incredibly lucky that I got a second chance to do this. Most people never take the first step on such a journey, one that would divorce them from the comforts of home, the connectivity of the modern world and the pain of 2,000 miles.
But I got a second chance. For that I am eternally grateful.
This year also held new beginnings for me.
I fell in love. I gave my heart to another person fully. I lost that person in the end and found out what heartbreak really is about. How awful it feels to be betrayed by someone you cared for more than anything. I learned that “love sick” is a real thing and it hurts.
I learned about what I want from life, what I want for myself in the coming years and more importantly, how hard it might be to achieve that.
I discovered people who cared for me without ever asking anything in return. Who understood every word, thought and feeling. People who could read my mind, because they too were thinking of the same things.
I found people who gave without ever asking for anything in return. Who supported dreams that were also theirs, even if they weren’t physically present.
I found all kinds of amazing human kindness. It was beautiful. And I am so thankful for it.
On Thanksgiving we look back and are supposed to remember the things we are thankful for. The important things from the year. But we should do that all the time. Say thank you more often. And mean it.
So thank you. As Mr. Rogers would say – thank you for being you. Thank you for taking the time to read these stories, the thoughts I have. For letting me share a little part of myself with you. For sharing back. Thank you for your support.
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.
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.
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.
This pie? This pie was like heaven. It would have been good anywhere, but after hiking 10 miles to it? Heaven.
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.
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.
I went from sleeping in a hammock or a shelter every night (the hammock was always preferable – so comfortable) to being in a bed.
I wasn’t happy with that.
The novelty of the bed lasted for a week or two. It really did. Hell the novelty of Everything lasted for a week or two. And then it didn’t.
So where does that leave you, if you’re not even comfortable in your own bed anymore? Obviously I can’t hang my hammock up in a basement (yet) but I can sleep on the floor and get some of that shelter feeling back.
So I did. I got better sleep on the floor then I did in the bed. My back felt better, I was more rested and I fell asleep faster. I’ve become accustomed to the “hardship” the average person avoids.
It’s odd how little space you need after hiking. You’ve lived your life out of a 60L pack, keeping it to a weight you are comfortable with because you’re carrying it on your back. You come home and you’ve got all this SPACE! Even something as “small” as a 9×9 room is gigantic to you.
How much space do we actually need as people? I’m currently living with my mother and step dad, in a suburban monstrosity. A 4 bedroom + separate downstairs apartment monstrosity. I had hosted a bunch of hikers here during late June, while my folks were out of town, so that the hikers could see DC, and never ran out of space. A dozen hikers.
Hell just the basement could fit a dozen people with room to spare. I’m living the life right now. And I am in no way happy with that.
I truly think we do better with less. What we lack in choice with less is made up for in ingenuity and happiness. Society it seems places a great value on “stuff” – all the things that show we are successful. For me, the most successful I’ve ever been was when I had everything I needed to survive on my back and under 40lbs. Being able at the end of the day to let it all explode into my tiny little space was the most rewarding thing.
Admire the ladies beachwear sandals there for a minute too. Because you love how awesome they look, and how comfortable they are.
As E.T. would say – do less with more.
“When this is all over, you’re going to go home and mope. You’ll miss it. Then you’ll open up a new savings account and start putting money in for the next adventure. Because that’s what you’ll feel like you need. A new adventure on another trail.”
When I heard this last year, I didn’t believe it. Why would I want to put myself through more pain and agony. I was already exhausted, tired and starting to worry about the money and I was only 450 miles into my Southbound Appalachian Trail hike. Why would I want to do this again?
I found out why. I learned why I loved the Trail – the people, the places, freedom and solitude but also the camaraderie and love from everyone.
Backpackers are an odd breed. We go out for days, weeks or months at a time, carry our whole lives on our back and survive with just ourselves. It’s the most selfish thing you can do in a way – look out for just yourself. But it’s also the most freeing.
It’s an addiction really. That pull back to the mountains or the flat lands. To the dirt under your feet and the sky above your head with your only true care being what you’ll eat next and if it’ll rain.
So this is a start. A new savings account for a new adventure. What will that next adventure be, when will it happen? I’m not sure yet. It could be the Pacific Crest Trail, it could be a canoe down the Shenandoah River. Whatever it is though, it’ll be mine.
It all starts with the $5.36 in my new savings account.