A long distance hiking trail that starts at the peak of Springer Mountain in Georgia, and ends at the peak of Mount Katahdin in Maine.
The experience of hiking eight hours a day immersed in my own thoughts is overwhelming. I’m not sure where to start writing. There are two major topics I want to write about: trail tips and personal observations. My personal observations might not be of interest to many of you. Some of them might be specific to my own life experiences but I encourage you to spend time on the trail contemplating your own life—experiences, issues, and memories. It is the life of the old time philosophers who just spent the day in contemplation. Modern life is so full of distractions and so we seldom do this. I made a promise to myself—no earbuds on the trail!
Personal observations: What to do with your memories? One thing that has been heavy on my mind is my memories, especially of those who are no longer with us. Reliving these memories have led me to cry sometimes and to laugh sometimes as I travel down the trail. I never felt my own mortality—even now. My career led me to work in several conflict areas voluntarily, to jump out of airplanes for fun, to walk down Hotel St in Honolulu at four in the morning. Never gave much thought to my mortality. What is heavy on my mind is what happens to the memories of those close to me when I pass? Who will remember what my brother was like in high school, if I am gone. Is that a strange thing to worry about? I feel like the keeper of so many memories-my mother, my brother, my sister, my high school sweetheart... who knew them like me? These are thoughts that may surface as you walk the trail immersed in thought.
Things to do while walking down the trail: are you getting bored walking long trail miles that look too similar? If you are like me, you are watching the trail and looking down a lot to be sure you don’t trip over some sneaky rock or root. It might break up the monotony to learn some of the native plants. Some of them are wee gems and you need to be alert to catch sight of them. So the photo here is of the Wild Violet (Viola Odorata). Wild violets are predominately purple but you will see yellow and white also. The flowers and the leaves are edible and high in vitamin C. So pretty to dress up a salad or garnish on a plate. At home, they are probably common in your lawn. Sadly, many internet resources label them as a “weed” to be eradicated.
One of the conflict areas where I worked was Liberia-a country largely modeled after the USA. Rural areas suffer from a lack of clean water. As hikers we know how much work it is to collect our liter bottles of water—but imagine that you have to provide water for all uses for your extended family, elders, littles, the disabled and all. This arduous task usually falls to the women of the family.
So I am supporting this project in Liberia. I know the groups involved and have met them personally in Liberia. Please read about the project for its interest when you have time. Donating is appreciated but not required. None of the funds go to my hike. Only to help the project get on its feet with an ultimate goal of self-suffficiency.
Today I am on my second zero at the Aquone Lodge, having come off the trail at Burningtown Gap mile 123.8 because of impending cold weather. With a mix of rain and snow and high gusts of wind— it seemed the prudent thing to do. This is straight up deep winter in the mid-teens for temps and most of us are packed for three-seasons. I can do cold weather with my gear but too many days out in the wet conditions makes staying warm difficult.
I have been trying my best to stay off of social media on the trail with the exception of posting a photo to my FB story about once a day to stay in touch. I am very pleased with the new lightweight inexpensive keyboard that I purchased to pair with my IPhone. This has made it feasible to update my trail journal while at hostels off the trail.
On the trail is where I do all my contemplation and when you walk all day without distractions like podcasts, audiobooks, social media, etc.—thinking is your main activity. Living inside your own head and being aware of your thoughts takes more discipline than you might think. It is very much like meditation only with walking added. The struggle of the trail tends to push negative thoughts and emotions out of the way as you concentrate on staying upright with your pack and hiking poles.
Something that I thought a lot about in recent miles on the trail is my ability to listen to others. While I am aware of active listening and have been to various management course; this is an area that bears further development. My passion for certain topics and my sincere desire to help others with my expertise in those topics makes me vulnerable to jumping into a discussion and adding too much to the conversation. So on the trail I have thought about this a lot and hope to try harder when I come across other hikers. In my next post, I want to talk about functional fitness and low carb high fat fueling on the trail. Maybe it is best to write about my ideas here rather than talking so much. One of the hardest things for me to remember is that no matter how much you want to help others—you can help those who don’t want your help! So more listening and more writing for those who are interested.
Ass for actual on the trail stuff—let me explain the photo. Trail magic is this amazing thing that members of the trail community do for those of us out here on the trail. We call them “trail angels” and we are truly blessed by their generosity both in time and kindness . At Rock Gap, a former thru hiker “Circus” and several of his friends brought us many goodies and cooked hamburgers and hot dogs on a grill! They had to carry all the food, the grill, coolers and all sorts of things up the trail to us. Then they even brought tents and spent the night with us. One of us had to return to Franklin to pick up gear and then even drove her to town the next day. The trail community is really a karma-based community. It reminds me so much of my mother who used to say, “ you never miss anything you give away; it comes back to you double.” On the trail, we say “the Trail provides” and we have found that to be true. We share food, gear and support and somehow it all works out.
Signing off for now. In case you are interested, go over to my GoFundMe where I am raising funds for a project to filter water in Liberia. We hikers know how hard it is to carry all your water everyday! It’s a daily reality for many families in rural Liberia. Even if you don’t donate I would be so pleased to have you just read about the project for its interest. GoFundMe.com/cleanwaterforliberia
Pleased to announce that I passed the 100 mile mark a few days ago. Then I headed into the trail town of Franklin, NC. This is a little like walking home as our mountain home in WNC is only one hour’s drive away.
One of the thoughts that occurred to me on the trail was the contemplation of transformation. Many hikers find the thru hike to be transformative. I’m sure that physically that will be true. Also , you will certainly acclimate to much tougher external conditions.
For me, it seems different. Instead of feeling a process of transformation, I feel that the culture and environment of the trail has simply made it possible to be the self I have always been. The trail culture is accepting of your external differences. We are creating direct bonds of interdependence that our small towns and rural communities used to have. We share food, clothing and advice freely -helping each other to succeed. We are working on dropping the chains of competivieness and picking up the habits of collaboration.
Hey All, My plan is to begin my Appalachian Trail Flip Flop Thru-Hike at the end of April. This adventure is risky from the get go. I'm 60 years old and never really hiked before. I've sunken money and time into researching the best gear, I could possibly get on my budget. This is a retirement gift to myself.
Right now I am waiting on a package at the Top of Georgia Hostel in Hiawassee. I was planning to just get out of the rain and take a zero day here and dry off. That first night indoors and a shower makes you feel so good! The next day I catch up on email business and rest up, have a hot meal. If you are in GA or NC--the best restaurant is the Ingles grocery store. Be sure to get a rewards card at the first one you come across-- you will save bucks. One of my favorite features of TOG is that the bunkhouse has a full kitchen and I can cook real food! TOG does a shuttle to the nearby trail town of Hiawassee and I love to just stock up on some real food that I can cook myself.
Walking down the trail gives one a lot of time to reflect; something we seem to have lost in our daily lives. The bright spot over my shoulder in the photo reminds me that I carry my mother's spirit with me everywhere I go. She was an adventurous spirit and an inspiration for all she touched. There are a couple of stories I remember from my childhood that are really resonating with me. There is a good reason why we read "The Little Engine that Could" to our young pups. I have been saying "I think I can, I think I can" all along the trail! the other instructive nursery tale that comes to mind over and over is "The Tortoise and the Hare." My favorite trail maxim is that-- you can do anything if you take enough breaks!"
I just learned that the package I am waiting for is never coming because I sent it to the wrong address. Sad face and it's late for me to start out on the trail. So I will shuttle into town again and get my coconut oil fuel there.
I look forward to your comments and thanks for all your support.
I've made it to the 50 mile mark (even a little more) and stepped off for a zero day at Unicoi Gap. The support of the trail community is amazing near these trail towns. In the parking lot, I asked a nice couple looking at maps in their car for the correct direction to hitch to Helen, GA where I planned to take my break. Turns out they were veteran hikers--the driver was Mother Nature. A kind 76-year old lady who is still section hiking strong. She and her husband carried me into Helen and we drove around to several places to find room at the inn, so to speak. Turns out Helen is a jumping place on a Saturday and their was a car show in town. Finally, we found a spot at the Quality Inn and I crashed out.
The trail truly does provide. When I stepped off the trail at Woody Gap at mile 20.5 last week--I got a ride there in the parking lot! That time I zeroed at Barefoot Hills Hostel.
Trail thoughts: Solitude is not the same as being alone. On the trail I am relearning true solitude. My commitment is to embrace the silence without and listen to my own thoughts only. I'm frequently alone back home, but there are distractions-internet, podcasts, music, books... however, on the trail I'm not using earbuds at all. You may pass me talking to myself! There are so many things to just think about. Freud invented the "talking cure" but for many I think this is the "walking cure!"
It's been a bit since I have posted. The holiday Season has been crazy, and unfortunately, planning has kind of been put on the back burner. It seems every time I get my focus off of our hike, someone sends me a message telling me how our story is encouraging them, or I am asked to elaborate on our plans and why we are doing this and it makes me start thinking and planning again.
I left off of my Giant series from our church, but this last entry on that subject is incredibly important and a good reminder right now. When I first started researching the AT, I was seeing how much money people were pouring into the "right gear". It had to be this, because it was more lightweight, or it had to be the newest, hottest item or there was no way you would make it on a thru hike. The same applies for how much people were stressing being in shape, and the proper training, etc. This was really stressing me out even though I knew without a doubt that this was something that I was being called to do. How silly was I to forget one of my favorite bible metaphors where it talks about how God feeds the birds of the air and he cares so much more about us, so therefore wouldn't he provide and care for us and give us what we needed. When you look back on some of the most remarkable heroes and prophets in the bible, NOONE expected them to do anything extraordinary, especially themselves; yet God equipped them with what they needed to accomplish His will for them.
Having spent some time focusing on this, it finally dawned on me that we didn't have to have the latest, greatest gear. There are people that have been hiking the AT for decades and some, like Grandma Gatewood, carried nothing but a sack over their shoulder and they completed it. Yes, we may carry more weight and some of the stuff we have may not be as shiny and new as others, but I am going to let the nay sayers say what they want. All that matters to me is that we are able to accomplish this and be as comfortable and safe as possible. In the story of David and Goliath, when Saul finally agreed to let David go fight, he insisted that David put the armor on that the rest of the soldiers had.
Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them. "I cannot go in these", he said to Saul, "because I am not used to them." So he took them off. Then he took his staff in his hand, chose 5 smooth stones from the stream, put them in the pouch of his shepherd's bag and, with his sling in his hand, approached the Philistine 1 Samuel 17:38-40
David was used to the weapons and clothing he wore. He would not have been able to defeat Goliath had he used what everyone else was telling him he needed to. He trusted God to guide him and provide him with what he needed. In the same sense, I am trusting that whatever God provides us with we will be able to defeat our giant with it. David also trusted God with the abilities God had given him, which i touched on in my last post. God has been conditioning us for years without us even realizing it. Yes, I may be overweight and not in the best shape physically, but this is part of my giant, and I trust him to give me the strength, stamina, energy, and support systems I need to be able to conquer it. I am also trusting him for health and safety from injuries that would potentially put a stop to our journey.
Some may say, well, that's all well and good, but why not start with smaller, personal giants and defeat them slowly and then work your way up to the big one. In the words of my pastor "You've always been told to start small and work your way to bigger things. NO!!! Start with the biggest giant and defeat it and the rest will flee!!!"
Giants are meant to be defeated, and with defeating my giant, there will come a reward. My prayer is that that reward will be sharing our story and helping to inspire others to victory.