Monday, August 29, 2011
Saturday, August 20, 2011
The night I called it a day.
I'm done, not completed, but finished. I'll be hiking north no more. With 220 miles to Katahdin, in the town of Rangeley, Maine, I've decided to get off the trail.
I'm tired, physically and emotionally spent. If there was something riding on it, I could hike on, but as it stands I can't face hiking into the woods tomorrow. I'm two weeks from the last blaze, happy to be getting off while I still think of the trail fondly and without any serious injuries.
I trip more often than I fall, and recently, I've fallen a lot. My balance, never something to envy, has deserted me. Over the last couple of weeks I've fallen almost every day. Usually with no serious damage, but they add up. I feel I've done ten rounds with a mountain and lost on points.
In the shower, without my glasses, I can't tell the dirt on my toe nails from the blood underneath them. There's a crack in the nail on my big toe that looks like a bullet hole in plate glass.
I'm still standing, but walking is tricky.
Twice recently my hiking friends have had to watch me sit at the side of the trail and freak out. Railing against the mountain, screaming at the trail, it's not been pretty. They've been great, but I'm not asking them to do it again.
No one thing brought about the decision to stop, but with my time off work coming to an end I've been asking myself "Is this where you want to be?", "Is this what you want to be doing?". And a week or so ago those answers started coming back "No.".
I've done scary things, reversed down an Italian motorway, bungie jumped in eastern Europe, the first time I asked a girl to dance. They all pale in comparison to crossing Bald Pate mountain.
Clambering over sheet rock, traversing a slope, the water runoff enough to soak me and render my glasses useless. Cloud so thick that you can't see the trail markers, cairns on this stretch, 20 feet away. Both hands and both feet, very slowly, begin to slip.
I recovered my balance, completed the climb and got over the mountain, but I will never forget the terror I felt trying to find purchase on the rock. Simple, complete, fear. I was shaken, and between the climb and the decent, down what now closely resembled a slick muddy waterfall, it took a lot out of me.
That was a few days ago, my last day on the trail, on the other hand, gave me a send off to be proud of. The weather finally broke and we had some sun to dry out the trail. In nice weather Maine is lovely, with lakes making more commonplace than in the rest of the green tunnel. I swam in one of the lakes, and across another I saw a bull moose with massive antlers.
It was a good day to hike, and a good day to finish.
I'm happy to be getting off. I set out to hike a serious distance, and see some of the America I usually fly over. Having hiked to a little shy of 1900 miles, breakfasted, drank stumbled and hitched in 14 states, I've met those goals.
The people I've met were the reason to be here, and the reason to be sad I'm leaving.
From my fellow hikers, to the young woman yesterday, who ignored society's paranoias to pick up three rain soaked, hairy hitchers (Who must have looked rejects from an axe-murderer convention), and drove out of her way to drop us in town, I've been constantly awed by the kindness and generosity of the people I've met.
In the last couple of weeks I've needed and gotten a lot of support. I don't like naming people on the internet (A strange affectation in the post-Facebook age, I know.) so I'll just say that they know who they are and I wouldn't have gotten this without them.
What now? First challenge is to get out of small town Maine, then it's Boston, New York, Dublin, Edinburgh, and other locales to be named later. If you live in any of those places, be ready for a chat, a nice cup of tea, and maybe even a pint.
I look forward to again feeling the cities breathe beneath my feet.
I'm proud of what I've done, and know I was lucky to have the opportunity to have done it. It's been one hell of an adventure and I hope I'll soon be ready for my next one.
As ever, thanks for listening and talk soon.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
So, first off, I'm alive. It's been long enough since I posted that I should clear that up.
Since last we spoke I've crossed Connecticut, Vermont, Massachusetts and most of New Hampshire. (I'll not embarrass myself or the state by naming the one I couldn't remember when trying to write this. After a while it's kind of a blur.)
It's been a good but uneven time. I was hiking on my own for a while. Covering good ground, but it became a chore.
The came a point where I stopped caring where I was or what I was going to see. It was a drudge to go to town, or to look for water or whatever was the next obstacle in going north. I serously considered quitting.
Since then things have gotten a lot better, I've caught up with some friends and we're hiking together.
Hiking as a group, particularly a supported group, makes life a lot easier. We're supported in the sense that one guy's wife has a truck with her and has been slackpacking us. I'm not saying there are no more bad days, but doing less and having someone to rant at certainly helps.
I think it's fair to say she's saved my hike. We're back on our own tomorrow, she has to go home. We're in better shape than we were and ready (I hope) to meet what the trail brings.
New Hampshire is hell. The White Mountains are beautiful, but the trail is awful.
Unlike the rest of the trail, where the AT is the reason the maintenance clubs exist, this trail is maintained by the AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club).
They run the only shelters and campsites on the trail that charge Through-Hikers to camp.
They seem invested in making the trail harder than it needs to be, no switchbacks when they can run us down a cliff, no blazes for miles, and a tendency to run you over every obstacle available.
I've no insider information, but I feel there's a connection between the fact that the AMC make a lot of money by having exclusive rights to legally camp/stay above the tree line, and that all AT access to the mountain is harder than it needs to be and very badly signposted.
I like hiking, but the AMC make it hard work.
As I mentioned, the people change as you walk north, so do the animals.
In Georgia everything is skittish, by Jersey that's changed.
The Chipmunks look back asking, 'Can I help you?'. Squirrels have a look saying 'You wear this in my house?'. And the bears, previously elusive become commonplace and inquisitive, they seem to be asking 'Does he have anything good? Should we gut him?'. But inquisitive nonetheless.
Strangely when you cross into New York there are no more bears.
I think they're gone to get married.
During my extended radio silence I've received a bunch of texts, mails, tweets and other missives containing encouragement. Each was kind, supportive, and helpful, it is an honor and a pleasure to be the focus of so much goodwill. Thank you.
By tomorrow there will be under 300 miles to go, by the day after that I'll be in Maine.
The concept of the end being 'in sight' will become painfully literal in a couple of weeks when I'll be able to see Katahdin. It happens a week or so before you get there.
With the end so close I spend a lot of time thinking about 'Home', but with no apartment, and family and job on different continents, what does that mean?
A while ago I stopped thinking of home as a place, or more precisely, thinking of it as a small place.
Home is the first world, urban, good flight and internet connectivity, friends who greet me when I land and miss me when I leave.
My location is by no means irrelevant, but constant proximity with everyone I love is impossibile so I learn to live with the travel and love my time with my people.
It's a compromise, but a rewarding one.
An insanely lucky combination of employer, hobby and constant connectivity makes me a citizen of the world in a way even statesmen and celebrities would have struggled to be less than a lifetime ago.
Affordable commercial air travel is a post war invention, the multinational corporation is equally modern, the web was 20 years old this week, and the infantile nature of tweets, blogs, or the smartphones are even more petrifying.
(That might be the first time 'infantile' has been used to refer to the age rather than the content of twitter.)
My world is a new world, and there are times when I feel like an old man in it.
Soon I will loose easy access to my trail friends and step back into the world. It'll be good to be back, but I think the trail might be added to the places I call home.
Thanks for reading.
Love you all.