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Sometimes you just need to march to the beat of a different drummer – something other than the tired soundtrack pounding in your head. It could be a little up-tempo mojo music will help your giddy up.  Other times distracting yourself from pain or rain may be necessary to preserve sanity itself.

The remedy for fashionable hikers this season, appears to be accessorizing with ear buds.   All colors of the rainbow are acceptable so long as they’re plugged into your favorite personal bowling alone device.

None of this is any surprise since most of us have evolved into smart device-dependent cyborgs these days.  Heads bowed like digital monks, we follow our screens wherever they lead us.  This prayerful posture may be the only typically urban behavior useful to hikers.  

Keeping your eyes on the prize (the trail) is not a virtue.  It’s a necessity!  On the trail, evil roots and rocks lurk in the muck and shadows hoping to ambush passing innocents stumbling by.  The most points are awarded for full face plants, broken bones and sprains. Bruises and strawberries gain far fewer.  Don’t fall for looking around and marveling at the scenery.  It pays hikers to bow so not to scrape.   (Groan.)

Some purists don’t believe in electronics on the trail.  Their view is that the natural soundtrack of the forest is the most authentic experience of all, and everything that anyone needs.  I agree with that sometimes, but not always.  HYOH, right? Not going to argue this one.

Occupying one’s mind is important since there’s a lot of down time spent waiting – alone in a shelter for severe weather to pass, for laundry, the post office, hitching a ride or just reading oneself to sleep.  We haven’t even discussed the big “L” – loneliness.

Variety is the spice of life.  The hikers I interviewed this summer talked about needing a wide range of music, pod casts, audio books as well as books to read.  Light-weight tablets such as the Kindle were popular.  TED Talks and NPR’s This American Life were mentioned most often as favorites.  

Juice!  The little electronic critters are efficient, but they eat power like hikers consume pancakes.  A wide range of axillary battery options exist ranging in price from about $100 to $20.  “Mo” is the operative concept.  Mo power equals mo money and mo weight.  A couple of hikers up-graded at Harpers Ferry, so pick your poison.

What to bring?  There’s the old double duty maxim.  Smartphones are definitely the digital equivalent to Swiss Army knives.  Most hikers said they used their phones for everything – calls, photos, music and reading.  Others preferred to husband their phone batteries and bring iPods and Kindles which individually are far more energy efficient at their singular functions.  For example, in temperate weather a Kindle battery lasts five weeks.  If you’re reading, a phone lasts a few short hours at best.  At any rate, a phone, iPod and a Kindle together weigh less than a decent size book and take up less space.

As for me, I’m schlepping an iPod nano and a Kindle in addition to my iPhone.  I will fill the nano with a variety of music for moods ranging from the need to jack up the amperage in difficult terrain to quiet music for relaxation and sleep time white noise.  I’m also including a variety of iTunes U lectures, pod casts and a particular favorite of mine – vintage radio dramas from http://www.radiospirits.com. “The Shadow knows!”  “Tired of that everyday grind?  We bring you ‘Escape!”  I also love the smell of “Gunsmoke!”

The AT Class of ’14 has an on-going music discussion on our Facebook page.  Folks are sharing a lot of great ideas and good music ideas there.

The story of a thru hike can be told in music.  When this year’s hikers blog something that reminds me of a song, it goes on a special AT playlist.  

Some topics are obvious – any song that names an AT state, rain, “Rocky Top,” or is by John Denver.  Then there are songs like “Hitching a Ride” and folk songs like “500 Miles.”  The old graves and churches remind me of country gospel.  For dark humor, there’s Queen’s “Another one bites the dust.”  Hanna Montana’s “Climb” is uplifting.  So far the playlist has 202 songs lasting12 hours.  Here’s hoping that helps carry me into the “Appalachian Spring” through “Shenandoah” on my way to “Almost heaven, West Virginia.”

I know of two hikers who ditched their iPod Shuffles for lack of capacity.  Music can get stale, but new material is easy to get.  There are useful apps that subscribe to free RSS feeds that automatically update your subscriptions with fresh stuff.  I have two.  One is ‘RSSRadio;’ the other is ‘Podcasts.’  TED Talks and vintage radio dramas come via the former and history lectures from the latter.

People love choice.  Of all the advice the Class of ’13 shared with me, the capacity to carry tunes and good books was high on their list.  Since I don’t know that many songs by heart and I love to read, I’m going to bring a little help fortified by a high capacity auxiliary battery.

The next post will cover what folks shared about photography on the Appalachian Trail.

Marching to different drummers on the Appalachian Trail

3 thoughts on “Marching to different drummers on the Appalachian Trail

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