Friday, July 24, 2009

All Good Things Have A Hand Signal

-Manchester, VT-

Aunt Joanna dropped us off with full bellies, fresh legs, and our eyes set on getting to Vermont in good time. We decided that after making the big push to to Warwick, there was now no need to rush. We didn't have anywhere to be and finishing earlier only meant that Rainman's time on the trail would be cut short. Finally, for the first time since getting hurt in the beginning of the trail, we were going to slow down.

And that mindset last about three days.

Give us some credit - we did three days with less than 16 miles a piece. One day we only did 11! I'm most impressed with Rainman, who for once, reined in his own fire for impressive miles. I fell into the same flame for some time, so enjoying the new scenery of the North was a nice change of pace. However, three days later, it came time to pick a date for the Xtravaganza.

With our father's wanting to join us for the trail and us not wanting to lose the main crew we have been hiking with or around for the past three months, we had no choice but to shift back into high gear and pull some big miles to get to VT in about two weeks. At first, the miles per day didn't seem too bad, but because we wanted to hang out with people rather than blow right past them for Rainman's last part of the trail, we sacrificed our mellow days and set ourselves up for a 100 mile push in four days. More on this later.

The night of our 11-mile day, we stayed at Native Landscapes and Gardens, a nice place right off the trail that had free showers, camping, and good location to a fantastic deli. It seemed like the perfect place on paper, and just like the paper-perfect Yankees, this place ended up blowing it long and hard in the end. I'm talking A-Rod in October-type blowing it.

On one side of the building was a two-lane highway and the other side was an active commuter railroad track. If this wasn't bad enough, the place was also patrolled by a rooster going through puberty. Put them all together, you've got whizzing truck traffic as your background, the occasional commuter rail busting through on the hour, and at 5:30am, the prepubescent rooster cracking out a shrill cock-a-doodle-doo. It was a cocktail of insomnia for us all, but it did make for a great story. To Native Landscapes - thanks for your generosity, but it may be a good move on your part to not allow camping, for both your sake and all future hikers.

The next notable stop was the Birdcage in Dalton, MA. My mom had told me about it during her "research" (stalking) of the trail, and other confirmed that the Birdcage was worth the visit. Rainman and I busted out a 28-miler to make it to his doorstep and he did not disappoint. We rolled in around 9:30 at night, not sure if this guy would even be awake, but sure enough he picked us up, washed our clothes, offered his shower, provided fresh clothes, a bed, and beer within the first five minutes we were in the door. This man - no, no - this MAN is the man and his name is Rob Bird.

Chugging down cigarettes and helping people out is what Rob does best and he does them better than anybody I know. He opens his house and says exactly what you want to hear, every time, without fail. We had only one big mountain to conquer before getting to Vermont and Rob slackpacked us over it. I got an itch for cream soda while I'm hiking and sure enough, there are cold ones waiting for us in his fridge. For a guy who has never set a foot on the trail, he sure knows hikers well, and god, I'm grateful for it. The Birdcage is one hell of a place.

We hiked a bit more to get to Bennington, VT and Mr. Rainman was set to join us. While 10 miles a day for next four days was a break for us, we knew it was not going to be easy for our fathers. However, slowly but surely, Mr. Rainman chugged out mile after mile and held his own for all four days. My father was only able to come out for two, but boy was it awesome to see.

Melville (my father's appointed trail name) isn't the backpacking type and while he prides himself on having a quick and long stride moving through airports and strutting around the block, it's a whole new ballgame when you add a backpack, some hills, and some weather. Thankfully, he had all three to deal with, and his underestimation to the trails difficulty became evident oh so quickly. The fresh spring in his step died out, the constant conversation silenced itself over time, and the beaming smile of excitement was replaced with the emotionless stare of exhaustion I know all too well. I couldn't help but laugh, only because I saw myself go through the same thing and see the "What the hell have I gotten myself into?" face. I can only imagine what my face must have looked like. Much worse, I guarantee you that.

However, even at the age of 61 and 63 respectively, Mr. Rainman and my father did very well for their first couple days on the trail and it was awesome having them out there. On top of that, Rainman's sister Hilary, who I've known since she was very little, came out for two days as well and rocked it. It was cool to combine our trail life with our off-trail life for those few days and was really a lot of fun. Thank you guys and good work!

We pulled into the parking lot outside Manchester to meet the Mama's, give smelly hugs, and get ready for the madness that would be the Xtravaganza.

Five words: The most epic event ever. It will never be repeated and shouldn't be out of fear that it won't compare. 63-hikers in one house, everyone helping making massive meals, movie marathons galore, cliff-jumping in a rock quarry, shuttling everyone to where they need to go, and laughing all the way. If you want more details than that, just ask. My fingers would fall off if I even tried to type it all out.

The worst part of all of this? Rainman is done. The dynamic duo of Rainman and Ahab must split and I'll be the first to admit that it sucks. No more squabbling over useless arguments, no more funny stories from our childhood, and worst of all, no more laughs on tap. He single-handedly kept me on the trail during the beginning of this trip, through pain and anguish, and he'll be the reason that I finish it. I said it before and I'll say it again: he's the best friend I'll ever have and he's the best man I know. Rainman - I can't thank you enough for everything, buddy. Our trips of the past were pretty good, but this takes the cake. I can't wait for the next one. Thanks for being there, kicking my ass when necessary, and keeping the good times coming. I just want to shout it from the rooftop - I love you, man. Booop!

Alright. No more whining.

It's time to be a champion.


Sunday, July 5, 2009

I Am Optimus Prime

-Warwick, NY-

A lot has happened since my last entry, so get ready for the lightning round of blog entries. You ready? Ready...go.

4-state challenge? Pssshhhttt....done and done. We knocked out those 42 miles no problem, starting at 1:30am and finishing at 9:30pm. We then illegally camped in a public park and were woken up by a guy named George, warning us that if we didn't pack up quick, the ranger was going to smack us with a $135 ticket. So, hopped out of our hammocks (well, it was more like fell out of our hammocks) and broke down camp as fast as our taut bodies could handle. We made a break for the pavilion with rain clouds over our shoulder, and then we met Traveler.

To call this man a legend of the AT would not do it justice. He is THE legend if you ask me. Baltimore Jack's seven runs of the AT are more than impressive and his willingness to share knowledge and lend a helping hand along the way has always been nice, but after spending a day with Traveler, even Jack's mortality is renewed. I talked with him (which means mostly listening) for close to eight hours that day. Turns out, Traveler started the 4-state challenge in the first place, and took an immediate liking to us when he learned that we did it.He was hiking south on the trail, but after we told him we just did the 4-state challenge and were doing a light day, he decided that he didn't want to hike in the rain and would join us for a Chinese buffet in the next town. So, he turned around and hiked five miles out of his way to have Chinese with us. This was only the beginning.

Five hours in a Chinese buffet, I left stuffed of General Tso's and passionate advice about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. With story after story and one heartfelt declaration after another, this man single-handedly changed my outlook on the trail in those five hours. It was hard to believe that such a man has done so much and has been so unselfish in life, but thank God that people like him are out there. Hopefully, its my goal to join his ranks, or at the very least, follow his lead. I've never been a very religious man, so now I simply ask myself: WWTD?

I could go on for hours about the man, but there is much more to be said. After sleeping maybe 11 hours in the past 48 hours, which included at 42-mile haul, we were both extremely sore and dead tired, so we passed out in the middle of the woods a mile from the Chinese food place. Well deserved I'd say.

Two days later was the unofficial half-way point at Pine Grove Furnace, a small store famous for one reason: the 1/2 gallon challenge. It is tradition that through hikers consume a half-gallon of ice cream when they reach Pine Grove to celebrate having an unstoppable appetite and the metabolism of a hummingbird. Rainman bet me that he could do it in 15 minutes, which I happily accepted, knowing full well that I would lose, but I wanted to see it done. I was hesitant to try it, but decided that if I could will myself through four state in one day, I could muscle down a 1/2 gallon of ice cream.

Who do you think was victorious? Who is the one asking this rhetorical question? The answers are the same. It took me about 50 minutes to polish it off, but 1.89 liters of chocolate ice cream got taken down by the Cap'm, while big-talkin' Rainman silently threw out his box of ice cream only halfway done. One point on the Alpha male count to Ahab, but still so so far from the lead.

So, laying there in a lactose comatose, a man named Highjack came by and asked us three questions. 1 - "You all thru-hikin'?" Yes, sir. 2 - "You all know my wife Rusty?" Yes, some of us have met her. 3 - "Well, it's supposed to storm pretty hard tonight. I don't think I have enough beds, but if you'd like, you can stay at my house up the road." Hmmm...I'm going to have to - yes, yes we will gladly take you up on that.

So Highjack put us up for not one, but two nights! Hot tub, Yuengling, Indiana Jones movies, comfy carpets, a roof, and a Brady the Sheepdog made this house an oasis of refuge for us all. So, when we were planning to leave into the rain after the first night, our pathetic looking faces worked again and he offered to slackpack us for the day (meaning he'd pick us up at the end of the day and bring us back to his house). He was even about to offer a third day of slackpacking, but his wife Rusty, who had recently returned home for there 38th wedding anniversary, quickly muzzled him before he could offer. Highjack - you are the man.

Some walking here, some talking there, picture, picture, walk walk walk, laugh, hop over rocks, stub my toe, yada yada yada and were in Duncannon. After having conquered the half-gallon challenge, the group proposed a second challenge of a half-gallon of orange juice. I love orange juice and the Vitamin C would make me the healthiest person ever, so I was excited to give it a shot. I downed it in under two minutes no problems, had myself a beer and burger to celebrate at the Doyle, and set out after a couple fun hours in town. Then came the nausea, the intense dry heaving, the vomiting, the returning to town, and the passing out in bed with water bottle in hand. Details are not required - it was miserable. After flushing my system with Florida's finest, I woke up the next morning feeling fine and grinded out 29 miles the next day to catch Rainman and set the rumors straight about what happened.

Hiking, hiking, sweating, talking, step step step, jump, music playing and we're in Port Clinton. I get invited to a member's only bar, I find out Michael Jackson, Farah Fawcett, and Ed McMahon are dead, we pick up our resupply (thanks parents!), we hike some more and we're in Palmerton. We stay in jail for the night, get Chinese food, meet up with some old friends, hike over some rocks, pick massive amounts of wild blueberries, hike some more and get to Delaware Water Gap.

In the DWG, some friends of ours that we started the trail with were celebrating Joker's 27th birthday, and since they slowed up and we were hauling ass, we all met up to have an epic bash in Stroudsberg. Lots of laughs, stories, and rocking out took place and too many funny stories to type. Joker had a spot in her room at the Quality Inn, so I took that spot and made a funny realization. I remembered that my father, when were driving back from my college graduation, made a stop in Stroudsberg and stayed at the very same Quality Inn. I knew my way around, enjoyed the awesome pool, watched Jaws, and prepared for a nice zero day at Dorney Park.

An amusement park seemed like a great way to spend the day, but I found out this logic had a minor flaw. Now, I was now used to moving three miles an hour through the woods under my own power and noticed on occasion that whenever we got rides into town and such, it felt remarkably fast. Many hikers can attest to this sensation. So, jacking up the speed to 75 mph and tacking on loopdie-loops, barrel-rolls, and banked turns, it all made for sensory overload. Thankfully, Fly-By and myself were battling the same queasy feeling all day, so I wasn't alone in this regard. We opted for more low-key options, like bumper cars, the lazy river, and the antique carousel, to keep us occupied in between the bigger rides like Steel Force and the Talon. I must say though, what an incredible day it was. Great friends and great times - can't ask for anything more. Thanks Bob and Beth (Joker's parents) for taking us! Thanks Rent-A-Wreck for the Dodge Stratus!

We hiked 24 miles the next day, 26 the day after that, and 20 more to get to Warwick, NY to make our second stop on the Rainman Aunt tour (sorry to the one in New Mexico - I'll get myself out there soon enough, I promise). The biggest shout out of them all has to go to Lauren and Joanna for taking us in on the front end and back end of this blog entry. I'll speak for myself - I've never been more comfortable in my life and the way you both went out of your way to make sure we were well-rested and taken care of was amazing. I can't say it enough - thank you thank you thank you!

Joanna even sat through Transformers last night, which earns amazing props. The movie also inspired me to change my trail name to Optimus Prime, so we'll see if it sticks.

Next stop - Mama Foxy's in VT!

Let's roll!

-Optimus Prime-