Saturday, April 25, 2009

I Eat Hills For Breakfast...And Lunch.

-Erwin, TN-

And like that, we're at mile 340. Cha-chow!

The first day out of Hot Springs was light - only 11 miles to the first shelter. We enjoyed good fire, good whiskey, and a meteor shower that morning. I had caught wind from previous thru-hikers Johnny Thunder, Chaco Taco, and others that the 200+ miles out of Hot Springs was some of the best hiking there is on the trail. It was time to take it slow, enjoy the weather (for once), and appreciate the hike rather than pulling out long miles.

Sadly, that didn't last long.

We cleared 70 miles in four days, but don't think I didn't appreciate the good views. The sun cooked the clouds that had been following us since day one and we've been basking in sunshine since we left Hot Springs. Hiking in shorts has been fantastic and has given me optimal time to show off my fancy white knee brace. (For those Moby Dick fans out there, Ahab actually had a leg made of a sperm whale's jaw bone, making my white knee brace all the more accurate to my character. Yes, I am that good. And yes, I am that much of a nerd.)

So with good weather came the desire to enjoy it and we did so with long days, and as a result, long miles. Some new blisters popped up (ba-dum ting!) but nothing major. Knee held up with all the ups and downs, and I've actually though of weening myself off of Vitamin I in the coming weeks (gasp!). But not yet (whew).

While we flew through the past 70 miles, some awesome things happened. The best of which came when we met Hercules and Fall.

After leaving Hot Springs, Rainman and I marvelled at the fact that we haven't killed each other yet. We have our daily arguments and marriage-like scuffles everyday, but no blood has been shed (which, if there was, would be mine). Rather than push our friendship to the brink, we thought it'd be best to split up for the day and hike by ourselves and just meet at a landmark up the line. So, that first morning, he left a bit earlier than I did and I enjoyed rocking out down the trail while I belted "Simple Man" at the top of my lungs.

I round the bend at the bottom of the hill and see Rainman sitting atop his pack reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (which I recommended to him but now regret doing so - Rainman has now taken on an ability to perry and manipulate arguments with a Phadreus-like grace, making it impossible to reason with him. For example, I ask him repeatedly to move over in the tent so that he does not roll into me during the night. Simple request. Five minutes later, he's telling me that my perspective or interpretation of my tent space is just as true as his perspective of the space, so therefore my claim of encroachment is simply my interpretation and understanding of the situation, which is just as viable as his own opposite claim. Therefore, we are both right and wrong at the same time, so I have no reason to complain. Fuck you Phadreus.)

Anyways, Rainman points me to a sign telling us about some Trail Magic down the road. I'm expecting the usual burgers and beers routine in exchange for good stories, but we walk up to the most gorgeous country house I've ever seen with Hercules waiting at the door. "Welcome home," he tells us and welcomes us inside where he sits us down at the dining room table, hands me a drink menu (I had Golden Delicious Apple Cider) with the weather on the back. I ask my friends if this is for real and then just chuckle and shake there heads, silently telling my to just wait for what's next.

What came next was a Belgian Waffle with a muffin quiche, a bowl of Beef Stew, and a Brownie Sundae with fudge, nuts, and a cherry on top. All homemade and all incredibly delcious. All I could do was laugh out loud at this scene that was both ridiculously absurd and incredbily generous. They made their pitch for Christ and finding your inner truths along the trail (I kept my Judaism to myself at this point and instead told them that my father was an ordained minister for the UCC. That's what earned me a second waffle. Thanks Pops.) and sent us on our way with full stomachs. The only bad part was carrying all that extra weight to the next shelter.

With good terrain, good weather, and good legs, we got put on our packs and hauled 17 miles two days ago and 20 miles yesterday, bringing us into town to a nice hostel and catching us up with a good friend of ours. Now, we're settling our stomachs before all-you-can-eat pizza (the second-best five words a hiker can hear, right behind all-you-can-eat chinese) and then we'll relax the rest of the day. Hike out a bit tonight and then plan our next coming week - sounds pretty good if you ask me.

Truly, this trip has been remarkable thus far. Never have I gotten lost in my own head for so long, and while it is a struggle to get used to at first, time has slowed down. You can decide things in hours and not seconds and ask yourself the big questions. You find the melody in your own breathing going up and down hills or in the squeaks of your pack. The stupidest things make you smile and moments that annoyed you before simply bead off of you like water on wax. I've tried doing writing exercises in my head, one of which is describing the hike in two word phrases. Here are a few I've come up with.

-Eerily Inspiring- This was when we had very heavy fog, where the lack of a view seemed just as beautiful as if we had one.
-Remarkably Peaceful- You wouldn't think that something so diffcult and painful could be peaceful, but I assure you it is.
-Painful Reminder- Oh, it hurts so good.
-So Simple-It's just walking, but oh, it's so much more than that.

You don't need to be out here for five months to get it. Hell, a lot of it came in the first week. If you're thinking about it, do it. Cut out as much comfort as you can (electronics is a good start) and spend a couple nights outside. You'll thank yourself, and then you can thank me. (You're welcome)

There are plenty more stories, but you'll just have to wait for when I'm in person. I've gotten better at keeping them brief, but who am I kidding, they will probably still be boring.

It's pizza time! Thanks for the vibes and keep 'em coming! It's working!

Much love,


Monday, April 20, 2009

Ever Read My Little Puppy?

-Hot Springs, NC-

I just got back from soaking my ragged stack of bones at the Hot Springs Spa and for the first time in a while, I feel good.

When I last left you off, I was getting out of Hiawassee, GA trying to mend my knee and after two days on the trail, the pain came back worse than ever. I thought my trip was finished. Game over. Do not pass go. Do not collect 200 dollars.

However, hobbling to the next shelter, I was pissed off that my trail may be over, frustrated that I got this industry in the first place, and angry that I'd have to have my brother pick me up off the trail after less than two weeks on. So in this fit of rage, I told Rainman (that's Dan) that instead of setting up camp for the night at 1pm, I wanted to push on and get off the trail as soon as possible. We checked the map - 1.1 miles down the AT and 5 more miles on a cut-off to get to the highway. At my pace, I could be in Franklin (the nearest town) that night and be able to sleep in a real bed. Then, my belief in a higher power was restored.

Walking the one mile to the cut-off, I had no pain. Not a wink. It was like I was never injured in the first place. It didn't make any sense. After 800mg of Vitamin I (Ibuprofen), it would certainly help out a bit, but not numb it completely. I thought the pain would come back during the one mile approach, but nothing came back. I continued on the AT for 4.5 more miles - still no pain. Then, Rainman and I enjoyed some Trail Magic in the form of free beef stew, chili, beer, burgers, sausage, biscuits, and a warm breakfast in Deep Gap, I made my way on a cutoff trail to Franklin and got myself into a motel bed for cheap - still, with no pain.

I don't know what to tell you. But the knee is working and since then, there is some pain here and there, but nothing two Vitamin I and some Bengay can't handle. Needless to say, I'm happy about it.

So all the problems I had are now solved. Blisters? Got new boots and no more problems. Knee? Vitamin I and Bengay - done and done. My torn up side? Ordered a new ULA pack off a reccomendation from a man named Pirate (we became good friends) and the thing rides like a dream.

Funny story about Pirate - I had just picked up Moby Dick at the Franklin book store (need to do some research on my character, you know) and a discussion about good books broke out on our shuttle (which is a washed-up mini school bus - hilarious). Anyway, we start talking about the classics we should/want to read, from Vonnegut and Melville, to Michaelangelo and Homer. Suddenly, Pirate chirps into the conversation with the line, "You ever read My Little Puppy? It's only 8 pages and has plenty of pictures - great book." with a straight face and everything. And from a man with a bushy peppered beard and a weathered face, it was comedic genius. That's Pirate in a nutshell.

Back to the knee - one fact I noticed about my knee was the correlation between my nagging knee pain and my Chevy hat. I realized that the miracle cure happened when I wasn't wearing the Chevy hat, and that was the first time I had not worn it. I thought about the flurry of crap I had to deal with in the first two weeks and it all came while wearing that hat. So, I did the most logical thing I could think of.

I burned it.

I burned that fuckin' hat and watched it burn with all the future injuries that would have come along with it. And since then, I have no new injuries to speak of.

To wrap it up, we cleared the Smokies in 5 days, saw 3 bears, trudged through Narnia when we had freezing temperatures, pulled two 20+ mile days, met some crazy people, did a work for stay at the Standing Bear Farm, drank tons of beers, slept on Max's Patch and had the craziest sunset ever, got some more Trail Magic, got to hike 20 miles without my backpack, dipped my body in a 105 degree mineral bath, and now I'm gonna hitchhike to a party and enjoy some free pig roasted by a man named Rock Hound.

Hell yeah.

All you need to know is life is good, the trail is great, and I've already got less than 2000 miles left to go.

Keep sending those good vibes!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Ups and Downs, Highs and Lows, Physically and Mentally

-Hiawassee, GA-

Sup party peoples. One week down and I'm still breathing. Barely.

It's been a fun but challenging first week here on the AT. Plenty of injuries while my body gets broken in to the trail, sleepless nights, and tough days of hiking, but Foxy and I are still rocking and rollin' over the hills of the Chattahootchie (sp?). However, we don't go by those names anymore.

Foxy is now Rainman because our first 4 days on the trail were between drizzle and downpour. His philosophy is that if you can't beat the rain, join it and your spirits will be higher. It's worked for him so far.

My trail name is Ahab. I got it on my second day hiking when a tweaked my knee somehow and was forced to keep my left knee straight on the downhills for the remainder of the day's hike. With my ass peg-legging down each little decline, I made the smartass comment that I felt like Captain Ahab struggling around. It stuck.

A number of other injuries have followed the knee. There are the obvious blisters which are working themselves out and I pulled my hip flexor the first day - no biggies here. The knee has been a bitch and has put me up for today (which is why I'm able to write this) to give it time to heal. The nastiest wound has been how my right side has been shred by the hip belt. I was wearing the pack too low, and the advertised "Waffle Construction" of my pack soon became a cheese grater for my waistline. It's left a serious gash has impressed many a fellow hiker, but that's about all the fun it's given me. Rainman and I are putting our First Aid training to the test keeping it clean and protected and it's already on the mend.

So while I've come down with some bumps so far, I am hopeful that my knee will heal with this day off (and most of tomorrow too), my side will not become infected, my blisters will callous over, my spirits will strength, my sleep will make it through the night, and that I get on top of being dehydrated all the time. Other than that, I'm a happy camper.

Truly, this trip has been epic so far. Great people, great sights, and a great change of pace. Hike for 6-8 hours a day and relax for the night. It's genius! While it has been tough at parts, both physically and mentally, to keep going and to stay focused, the people along the trail and the times you all share has been worth it. When you're grueling through miles day after day with these people, you get close pretty fast. It's brings together an interesting modge-podge of people that bring something new to the table every day. For example: There is one guy Gorgonzola (who I simply refer to as Bluech) who was a martini bar owner but looks like he could be the bouncer. FeatherFoot - a retired engineer for ITT, a goverment military weapons systems manufactuer. Ewok - a former soldier, physiologist, philosophy buff with a beard you could make a nest out of. Snarl - a wrestler from South Carolina. Joker - a world traveler looking for the next challenge. LeeBo - an adventurer who has biked (like peddle-peddle, not vroom-vroom) the circumference of the US...twice. And that's just a few.

The people along the trail have been great to us. Already had my first trail angel - a woman named Pat who pulled out of her Suburban with a shopping bag filled with cookies and water. There's the guys at our Inn who have been amazingly generous. However, if there is one person who tops the list, it's George. George works the Blood Mountain Cabins in Neels Gap and this guy should have a halo above his head. Let's count the acts of saint-hood this guy gave us in about 15 minutes of interaction:
#1 "Hey George, do you sell beer?"
"Nope, but here, have this. (He hands us a six-pack) Sometimes people leave it in the cabins. You can have it"
#2 "Hey George, we left some laundry out front. Do you know..."
"Yup, I already put it in for ya. Should be ready for the dryer pretty soon."
"Oh thanks! How much we owe ya?"
"Oh it's free.
#3 "How much for this Duraflame log?"
"Oh, I'll just add it to you tab" (Which we later found out was George-code for free)
#4 "Oh man, we forgot to pay for the wood we took"
"How much you take? One bundle? Ahhh, don't worry about it." (Only after I threw cash at him would he take it)

George - you're the man.

However, if there has been one guy that has made this trip so far - it's Foxy. He's carried my bum, peg-legging, complaining ass and has really stuck by me to help me all through it. With help with injuries, added motivation, support, advice, reason, and general a settling attitude, he's kept me level and prepared to give each day my best shot. He even chose to stay put with me in Hiawassee when he could have hiked on with a group of friends and made a big party bash this weekend. He's put up with a lot from me and I can't thank him enough for it. If he wasn't my best friend before, he sure as hell is now.

That's all from me for now folks. Sends some good vibes, specifically healing ones, and wish us luck for the next week. Hopefully we'll make it into Bryson City a week from now.

Hoo rah!