I was driving home from Cheesequake State Park, sipping on a weak coffee, and dictating into my IPhone, ideas for my next blog post. In came the invasive thought. Why do I write about this stuff?
It started because I wanted my daughters to know their dad. I didn’t really know my parents. I spent most of my life away from them. I never asked them about themselves before they were gone. But it’s more than that now.
I do like attention sometimes. I was the kid who brought the frog home to show mommy and like the pat on the head. Praise. I liked it. My mom told me I was smart. I believed her. I underachieved because I knew I’d be ok. I was smart. I became Captain of the Safety Patrol in 6th Grade. I liked it.
So, if I’m really honest, part of me likes that my friends are impressed. It makes me feel good. The thing is, that is not AT ALL what keeps me hiking. I HAVE to finish Section Hiking the Appalachian Trail. I have to. I will not be ok if I don’t. I do this for me. This is who I am and always have been. I need to do things that are difficult.
The thing is:
What I do is not exceptional. It’s just pretty good for someone my age. But not exceptional. I don’t need anyone’s praise to keep at this. I think that I want you to know something. That we can do stuff we really don’t think we can do, and that it’s NEVER too late. That’s a teacher thing. A coach thing. We can’t stop trying to influence others.
I have a friend, Karma, who inspired me so much with her Thru Hike of the Appalachian Trail, that it made me think that maybe I could do this hiking thing. Pack up a bunch of stuff and go off in the woods overnight.
I had no idea that I could do this, but Karma made me believe that I could. I wanted to be a badass hiker like her. I’m not there yet. She’s off to the PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) in August for 3 weeks. A really difficult section. High altitude. Ice and snow. Real mountains. She invited me to go along. I couldn’t believe it. Me. That means she was either sure I wouldn’t go or that she thought I could do it without killing myself. I prefer to believe the latter. That makes me on the way to being badass. I like that. Thanks for that Karma.
I began collecting the necessary equipment. I practiced camping in established campgrounds near by. I tried out different shoes and boots. I walked. I decided how far was reasonable for a 66 year old man to walk in a day. I came up with 10 miles. I did all this stuff for about a month. I got the Guthook’s App for the Appalachian Trail. (It has almost everything on it that you need to know) I learned how to purify water. I picked the state of Maryland and I hiked it. 40 miles in 4 days. IT WAS LIFE CHANGING.
Years ago, when I went to South Africa and spent a week in a game reserve, I had the same sort of experience. Life Changing. I like being on foot, IN THE FOOD CHAIN! I was high for two weeks after that. My cells seem to be rearranged since I left for Maryland last October. I feel different.
I am REALLY enjoying my life. I needed to be mentally challenged. I needed a goal. I needed to accomplish something. I feel like I’m coaching again. Planning all week and playing the game on Friday night, then starting all over on Monday and repeating the process. Over and over.
I even like the pain. I like to hike 15 miles, hate it for at least a third of the time, and love it when it is over. Then, get up the next morning, pack up, and do it all over again. I love it. I love EXHAUSTING myself. Burning up all the stress induced adrenaline in my system. I get dead tired and totally serene. It’s the BEST.
Then I decided I didn’t EVER want to get Lyme’s Disease EVER again. I don’t trust any bug repellant. That is why I hike in the winter. The chance of one of those little buggers getting me is much lower. I feel safer below freezing. Scared at night of the bears, but not scared during the day of the ticks. It is WAY more likely that Lyme’s Disease will get you than that a bear will eat you. A large percentage of AT hikers get Lyme’s Disease. Bear attacks are REALLY, REALLY rare.
So I collected winter camping equipment. Hiking in the cold is great. Sleeping in the cold takes planning. It can be dangerous. I educated myself.
I was out overnight in 10 degrees. I have a Mountain Hardwear Hyperlamina 0 degree sleeping bag. Never believe the temperature ratings on your gear. It is a VERY personal thing, staying warm. EVERYONE is different. That 10 degree night, by 4am I was beginning to get cold. That was after having hot soup at least three times, inside my tent. I actually think I may carry a thermus next winter, even though they are really heavy. Hot drinks all night would make a difference. And, by the way, I practiced sleeping out in the winter at our cabin in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania, before I went out on the Trail. I could always go in to the cabin and warm up, if I needed to. By the time I went up on the Trail, and remember it is UP, I was ready. Nervous, but ready. (I’ve found it to be 3 or 4 degrees F colder up there, and there is more wind.)
Also, my sleeping bag is synthetic. I feel safer in a synthetic bag. Down, even the treated down, will not keep you as warm as a synthetic bag, if it gets wet. Wet happens a lot on the AT, and wet and cold can kill you.
There are great YouTube videos on all this stuff.
I don’t kid myself. I practice any new, potentially dangerouse experience, OFF the Trail before I go ON the Trail. I practice until I feel safe.
What I am trying to say here is that YOU CAN DO THIS. Almost anyone can. Just know your limitations. I try not to get too cold, too hot, or too tired. Any one of those conditions will make me STUPID. Stupid is how I will get hurt. There is no stretch of the AT that I can’t do. I’m sure of that. But if I get stupid, I will get hurt. Stupid is what makes the Trail dangerous. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Practice and prepare.
Get the right footwear. Try a bunch of types out. REI will let you return anything you don’t like. Just take the stuff back. L.L. Bean will also do this. Don’t buy your stuff at Walmart. I do buy some things on Ebay when I am sure it’s right for me. Stuff I have already tested.
I like myself more when I do this stuff. I am a recovering alcoholic. 20 years sober, but I still have a bad self-esteem sitting on the back burner waiting for me to forget who I am. I don’t drink under any and all conditions. One drink and I will hate myself again. Maybe not immediately, but eventually. One drink and my beautiful daughters won’t trust me again. THAT would kill me. Not the drinking. The self hatred. When we alcoholics drink, we don’t care about anyone else. The world is all about us. THAT is why an alcoholic must get sober for him or her self. They don’t care about anyone else’s opinion. They don’t care about anyone else.
How did I get back on this subject? It is always on my mind. I must never forget who I was, so I can stay who I am.
Hiking pushes the back burner a little farther away from me.
I will hike until I finish the Appalachian Trail, and then I will either start over or go try another trail. I will do this until I can’t do this anymore. I figure I may have 15 more years. That’s the plan.
Back to the point. You can do this. When I write or post on FB, I am trying to tell you that YOU CAN DO THIS! I’m a retired teacher. Like I said, it is my purpose in life to do stuff, and to tell you that you can do the same stuff if you want to.
I have found my “thing.” At age 65, I found another “thing.” Really didn’t think I would. It gives me my life meaning and purpose. It makes me like myself more so I am better able to like others. Then I can be of service to others. That is the REAL benefit of all this hiking.
I can feel good about myself and be useful on this planet. In the solution, not in the problem.
I ALWAYS pick up some trash when I am out there. Always. I care about the planet. That’s different, too. I “LEAVE NO TRACE.” You can look that one up.
Maybe this could be your “thing” too.
That is why I post this stuff.
Now I need an “Up.”