Sometimes dark clouds do have a silver lining.
Yesterday fog smothered Shenandoah National Park. Mist and light rain took our trail maintenance project of moving ginormous rocks off the docket. That might have meant a long climb for a short slide given the wasted driving time.
But instead, Eureka! It turned into a gift of time to hike. Knowing a number of thru-hikers I’ve been following were in the park, I took a three-and-a-half hour southbound stroll on the hiker superhighway in hopes I might make a connection. No luck, but it was a great 14-mile hike. It also reinforced the need to keep upping my level of fitness.
I did stumble upon a ghost hiker though. You couldn’t have made this guy up – except Coleridge already did. His gaunt, frightening looks actually startled me as he materialized silently out of the fog. When I finally realized he was there, my first thought was that he was a lost crew member from the Flying Dutchman.
He looked more than spooky, featuring beady, burned-out eyes that peered out from the dark depths of his edgy anorexic cheek bones.
He was definitely a thru-hiker sporting the traditional grubby, sun-faded uniform. His standout fashion item was a badly distressed Nantucket red pair of hiking pants that were richly accented by crusty salt stains. Drying socks and shirts decorated his pack.
This tall and thin, cleanly shaven, gray-haired apparition really did look like death warmed over.
As a purely defensive move, I said, “Hi! How’s it going? Silence. “You okay?” In return he frowned, “Yes, thank you.” End of conversation.
We each kept walking in opposite directions. I didn’t see him on the return leg.
Was checking the weather in hopes for a dry night for the ’13 through hikers I’m following. What I found was alarming. The only place in the world it’s raining is on the Appalachian Trail. Sorry hikers. No doubt about it. The thing is haunted and this photo proves it. Perhaps you guys could find a sacrifice to the trail gods?
I’ve been doing a lot of homework over the past couple of months.
It all started with reading Lost by Cheryl Stayed. That excellent read reminded me of what I’ve been missing by being away from hiking for so long. I followed that with David Miller‘s AWOL on the Appalachian Trail. It seemed like a very straight forward account of just how mentally and physically challenging a 2,000+ mile hike is. My only criticism is that I thought it may have glossed over the far north end of the trail.
Following “AWOL,” I motored over the the ATC HQ in Harper’s Ferry. I spent more than an hour in conversation with a very helpful gentleman who patiently answered my zillion questions. I joined up, bought some books and maps. Among the books were the two Barefoot Sister books. They are marvelous adventure stories that pictured the trail from the viewpoint of a couple of precocious 20-somethings. I think I have a reasonable idea of what the experience will be like.
I’m now focusing on gear since almost all of mine is worn out or obsolete. Trail Tested by professional hiker Justin Lichter was very insightful. They only thing he really didn’t cover is personal hygiene and doing the dishes. It was very good for boning up on modern gear. The fabrics are magic!
How to Hike the A.T. by Michelle Ray also was a very good refresher that is AT-specific. She left nothing out and I sent her a note of thanks. Of all things, my greatest challenge is going to be weather. The wild temperature swings and rain will be challenging. It seems, according to the journals, that they really wear some people down quickly.
I’ve made four trips to REI to check out gear and to talk to helpful folks. I also bought my first pair of boots for this hike. It’s never too early to break them in. They’re Salomons – the same as my last pair. After trying on about a dozen pairs, they’re the only ones that fit. I’ve walked about 20 miles in them near where I live. So far, so good.
I’ve also been reading the trail journals and watching the vest array of YouTube videos. I’m paying careful attention to the journals and how people are managing or not the various challenges and issues that come their way. Some of the writers are very authentic. I especially loved one story from a guy who found some bear spray in a shelter then candidly related the story of how he managed to douse himself with it by accident. Not everyone would be that honest with himself or his readers.
Now starting to plan the shakedown hikes. I joined the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club to both learn more and to invest in the AT itself. I’m hoping to make this a life-long relationship.
Also joined “White Blaze” and have begun to read the class of ’14 forum. Will engage with them soon. I noted one sixty-year-old woman who’s starting in Feb. That’s also my tentative plan. Once I get the Medicare application done and the taxes filed, I’ll be ready to go. If there’s extra snow, I’ll just buy snow shoes. We’ll see how it goes.