Someday, probably not any time in the near or semi-distant future, I am going to customize this blog. Oh yeah, it’s going to be so pretty and sleek. I’ll upload my packing lists! I’ll upload the questionnaire I give to potential travel buddies! I’ll hire someone to make me a sweet cartoon logo, I’ll have one of those fancy maps that shows all the places I’ve visited, and I’ll lovingly and painstakingly type out all my best travel adventure stories, like the one about getting menaced by wild dogs in Romania and the one about riding a pony into the middle of a yak herd in Mongolia and the one about going dogsledding above the Arctic Circle in Norway and the one about kayaking through the canals of Venice.
Someday, sweet blog, you will be gorgeous and perfect because I just spent $15.92 on the 2014 edition of Wordpress for Dummies, and by god, that money will not be wasted. But I’m on a bit of a time crunch, so for now this is going to be a pretty bare-bones blog about my current attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail.
Some background: Last year I decided I wanted to become more outdoorsy and start doing some backpacking trips. I grew up in Oregon and had done my fair share of day hikes and car camping, but I’d never actually put a pack on my back and walked in one general direction for several days in a row.
The first trip I took was summiting Kilimanjaro in August 2013 with four friends from New England. We spent seven days hiking and covered… well, not a lot of distance, to be honest, but there was some hardcore elevation gain! Since this was my first time doing a multi-day hiking trip, I totally hired a personal porter to carry my daypack. NO SHAME! (That’s a lie. I was actually pretty ashamed.) But, ugh, it was a really hard climb, and there’s no way I’d have made it without help. Even with assistance, I had to be split off from my friends on summit night. They reached Uhuru Peak sometime around 6:30am, and I didn’t roll in until after 9am. At least I didn’t have to wait in line to get my picture taken with the sign. Ha! I cling to the tiny victories.
I learned two valuable lessons from that trip: (1) I have a super slow hiking pace; (2) I automatically want to punch anybody who tells me, “You’re almost at the top! It’s so worth it! You can do it!!” Seriously. I just want to punch them right in the face.
Three weeks later, in mid-September 2013, I set off with a friend from the UK to hike the Camino Frances pilgrimage route. It took us 41 days to hike approximately 500 miles from St. Jean Pied de Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, and we coordinated our hiking pace to rendezvous with a mutual friend who joined us for the last 10 days. I totally carried my own pack on this trip (go me!) and walked 100% of the trail, but we slept at hostels, ate in restaurants, and stopped at least four times a day for coffee and/or wine. I didn’t even bother taking a sleeping bag.
Lessons learned from this trip: (1) Oh my god, I really am very slow, I can’t actually blame my speed on elevation because even at sea level I’m like an elderly diseased snail; (2) I do not actually like hiking with people, where by “with” I mean “directly adjacent to”; (3) I most definitely do not like having a hiking schedule that’s set in stone, with no ability to say, “You know, this place looks good. I know we planned to go another three kilometers today, but I’m not going any farther,”; (4) ponchos are awesome; and (5) leather hiking boots are very much NOT awesome. They are, in fact, a terrible terrible terrible idea. So much pain. So many tears. Such a terrible case of plantar fasciitis.
By the end of 2013 I’d spent a week doing a fully-supported hike in Africa and six weeks hiking from hostel to hostel in Europe. In 2014 I wanted to do a long hike that required me to carry a tent and a stove and several days of food. My original plan was to do the Bibbulmun Track in western Australia, but then my mother found out she’d need to have brain surgery in the spring, and holy shit, that is serious business, and I did not want to be on the other side of the world while she’s recovering in case something goes wrong.
I started looking into long-distance hikes in the U.S. and pretty quickly decided to try to do a big chunk of the Appalachian Trail. I spent about five minutes seriously considering doing the Pacific Crest Trail before remembering I don’t actually have any outdoor skills yet. Some people are fine with jumping right off the deep end, but not me, no way, that is how you die horribly in a totally preventable accident. For my very first wilderness trip (for various definitions of “wilderness”), I am going to stick with a crowded trail that’s got frequent bail-out points, no grizzly bears, and is famous for trail angels giving out free food to passing hikers. The AT seemed like the perfect choice for a beginner.
Initially, I was just going to hike as far as I could by mid-August, but now I’m thinking I’d like to try to do the whole thing. The key word here is “try”. I have read a lot of AT hiker blogs in preparation for this trip (because reading is much easier than, say, doing shakedown hikes) and there are few things sadder than a blog written by someone who starts off like this:
“HERE I GO! I AM OFF TO SPRINGER TOMORROW! NOTHING WILL STOP ME UNTIL I REACH MAINE!! MAINE OR BUST!! I AM A HARDCORE CHAMPION WHO WILL NOT BE STOPPED!! I AM DOING FIFTY MILES THE FIRST DAY AND SIXTY MILES THE SECOND DAY AND I WILL BE AT KATAHDIN IN THREE MONTHS BECAUSE NOBODY IS BETTER THAN ME!! WOOOOOOOO!!”
and ends like this:
“I have been hiking for three days now, and boy it is harder than I thought. I am going home tomorrow because hiking is terrible and camping is terrible and I hate everything.”
I have read so many blogs like that! I don’t want this to be a failure blog! I don’t want to shout about how I’m totally going to hike 2000+ miles and then quit after 700 miles because I’m a quitting loser who quits stuff and will never succeed at anything ever and will die alone in a box in the rain with no friends because nobody likes a loser who quits and also fails.
That’s just depressing.
Instead, my plan is to just take it day by day and see how it goes. That way, if I do quit after some number of miles I can be all, “Check me out! I just hiked a bunch of miles because I am amazing and you should probably be giving me a cookie right about now.” On the off chance I DON’T quit, and I DO manage to hike the entire trail this year, I will be even more amazing and deserve even more cookies. I will also manage to casually work that fact into every conversation I have for the rest of my life. I am going to be so irritating if I finish this trail, oh man, you have no idea.