the Appalachian Trail in 2003
that time of year again. All of the planning and preparation is
no longer in anticipation of a far off dream, but instead merges
into reality. Beginning in early spring thousands of ambitious hikers
will set off on the Appalachian Trail in search of something.
That "something" varies for everyone. For many it is simply
the challenge and experience of a thru-hike; others are looking
for freedom, a change, or even a new direction in life. Physical
and mental pain will be unbearable at times, and some remnants of
it may never be overcome. Most won't succeed by completing the entire
Appalachian Trail, but all who make the attempt will leave the Trail
leaner, wiser, and with memories that will last a lifetime.
after a long Minnesota winter, spring's approach is bittersweet for
us. I can't help but think back to last year (spring 2003) when my
husband Andy and I were getting ready for our own hike on the Appalachian
Trail. It's hard to say whether we planned too much or too little.
We only wish we had the chance to hike the Trail again and to put
what we've learned to good use. The passion behind the idea of a thru-hike
was our biggest preparation. We were living in the city, working 9-5
jobs, and things were pretty easy. We would shop, spend, give, entertain,
and vacation, but with all that we were able to do, there was still
a void left in place of what we were missing.
how did we free ourselves from the rat race? Once in a while when
we were bored, we'd sit around, looking at the atlas and imagine
all of the places we'd like to go, and think about how great it
would be to just hit the road for awhile. Go wherever our whims
take us - maybe somewhere warm, maybe to the middle of nowhere,
maybe to some big city or tourist trap. But what would we really
accomplish? How could we afford driving around day after day? When
would we know we were "finished," and what would we do
when we were done? One
night, looking at our USA atlas, we saw a little pink dotted line
running through state after state - the Appalachian Trail. We didn't
know much about it - well, nothing, really. But the more we thought
about it, the more it seemed to make sense. Every vacation we've
ever taken together has been to somewhere in the middle of the woods.
a year or so before our hike on the Appalachian Trail, we did some
research, and a bit of planning. We read a lot of online journals
from past hikers, bought the entire set of Appalachian Trail maps
from the ATC, and even made out a loose schedule, if only to comfort
ourselves in knowing that by hiking only 12 miles per day, we would
reach Mt. Katahdin before the park was closed for the winter. And
even if we only made it halfway, that's a hell of a lot of hiking.
We spent hours looking for the right gear, and shopping at our local
REI. Our final preparation was to sever all ties with the "real
world." We gave up our apartment, put our belongings in storage,
quit our jobs, opened a PO box, and bought two train tickets to
sitting on the bare wood floors of our apartment. All of our things
had been moved to the storage locker a couple hundred miles away,
and we were left in such a lonely, echoing place. All of our comforts
were gone, and all there was to replace them were about 15 cardboard
boxes and piles upon piles of Ziplocs, Ramen, and other assorted
and equally dull things strewn about. There were so many things
that we thought were necessities for the Trail; I remember barely
being able to lift my backpack onto my shoulders, and having twinges
of doubt welling up in my stomach. How in the world would we actually
be able to hike 2,173 miles with these loads, across mountains,
for God's sake? What had we done?
in all truth, the magnitude of it all never really set in (and still
hasn't.) Distance never seemed like much of a factor; we simply hiked,
day after day, mile after mile. It was what we did. There didn't really
seem to be much point in thinking too far ahead. There was only one
way to get there, one speed. My husband always seemed to be upbeat.
Sure he missed everyday things, like food, shelter, and TV, but he
also enjoyed almost every day of the hike. I, on the other hand, had
a hard time being alone with my thoughts, for hours at a time. Climbing
hills that never ended, soaking in rain that never stopped, imagining
our old life that seemed like something we would never know again.
I loved the Trail, and the idea of the Trail, but there were times
I actually hated being there. I sometimes have a hard time keeping
my emotions at bay and the Appalachian Trail was witness to every
variety I am able to conjure up.
I sit here now, spring is creeping in to Minnesota's northland.
Sun streams in the open windows, I hear the birds singing outside,
and the snow has disappeared from the city lots bringing the promise
of green. We're back to our "old lives" now, living under
a roof and four walls that always remain in one place. I'll be starting
a new job in just a few days. I am wondering how I will feel about
the daily routine of working, as opposed to life on the Trail where
you're never quite sure what will happen next. One year ago on this
date, we climbed Blood Mountain in Georgia, and reached Neel's Gap,
never even expecting that in six months we would actually complete
woods are calling now, and there are nearby trails to explore. The
Superior Hiking Trail Association told us over the phone the other
day that there's still about a foot of snow on their trail. It won't
a 2003 Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, is co-editor of the HikeMore