Getting Back on the Trail Mentally

Every time I go for a run, I’m nervous. Every time I stumble on an uneven patch of sidewalk, I have a mild panic attack. If I miss a step going down a flight of stairs, my heart catches in my throat.

I’m afraid of losing my footing and getting hurt in a way that keeps me off of the trail. There’s no denying that the only thing I’m worried about when it comes to getting back on the trail, is my ankle taking me off again. I’m not worried to be hiking in a team again. I’m not concerned with the pace we need to set and keep. I’m stuck on what could happen before the trail even begins.

On that note, I’m afraid that I’m walking around with an automatic kill switch in my foot. I’ve gone from being confident about knowing the limits of my body and joints to second guessing what kind of beating they can take. I can’t pretend that I haven’t considered that I may never hike the whole trail in one shot. For me that would be crushing. I know it’s not the end of the world, but it would mean compromising on something that I’ve wanted for over half of my life.

Lucky for me, these fears are not unique to myself.

I’ve been reading through the trials and tribulations of other hikers who did not finish the trail because of injury, emotional toil, or financial/time constraints. These have helped me come to grips with my apprehensions. Knowing that my fears are not only shared, but very common among unsuccessful Thru-Hikers made the process of accepting my own limitations easier.

For what it’s worth, I don’t believe failure to be the end of any adventure. If you haven’t failed, you haven’t tried something worth trying. Even those hikers who have completed the full length of the AT did not do it perfectly without any setbacks.

 

I’ve come to accept that while I still have these fears about potential injury, or anxiety about how my hiking future may pan out, I still love to hike. As long as I enjoy it, there’s no reason to stop. Even when you’re not on the trail, it has a way of testing you. Do you really want to do this again? Do you want to risk it all over again? Whatever your answer, you just learned something about yourself and what you want.

I know for me, my answer will always be 100% YES.

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Well This is Embarrassing

It has been almost 4 months since my last post, and for that I am sorry. As in the past, here is a recap of what I’ve been up to since then:

  • Found gainful employment as a delivery driver
  • Found and moved into an apartment
  • Bought a couch
  • Set up a fitness routine to keep me from becoming totally out of shape after hiking on the AT
  • Started plotting my next trip on the trail

These things have taken up a lot of my time (see 4 month hiatus). Hopefully anyone who was reading my blog regularly is not too upset with me, and maybe we can still be friends.

Returning to the Trail

As mentioned, I will be going back on the trail. My hope is that you will be distracted by this and ignore my long absence. I’ve been doing a lot of gear research as well as reading up on other people’s experiences on the trail past the 350 mile mark where I had to leave. I will be starting from the beginning at Amicalola Falls. I will also be switching cell phone carriers so that I can actually post from the trail without going into town and dumping all of my money into hotels.

I will also be under a significant time constraint. My girlfriend and I will be hiking together and she is currently a student at the local university. It is also my hope that starting in Spring, I will be a student again, or maybe next fall. That leaves us with roughly 90 days of hiking and a few days on either end for travel. Yes, I am aware of how daunting that task will be, but I am confident that with enough preparation and practice hiking along chunks of the trail, we’ll be able to handle it.

As of right now, we’re both saving up money for this adventure, as well as reaching out to sponsorship programs with different companies. Right now, we’re less worried about the miles we’d need to cover, and more worried about covering our costs while away from home. Those costs are things like rent, student loans (for me), and utilities. That is first and foremost on our list of things that need to be funded before we leave.

The ATBC

For anyone who has read the other ATBC commandments, you might notice that I haven’t posted the last 5. My apologies on that front. I’ll be getting back into the swing of posting now that the crazy schedule of life has calmed down to a well oiled machine. My plan was to revise it and throw it all together into an eBook before the end of the year, but I might take this opportunity to go through more of the trail and make more observations for a more complete guide. I never heard of too much research being bad for a project, so why not?

Anyway

As of right now, we’re both hopeful and eager for the future. If anyone would like to support our adventure (although it is by no means necessary [but greatly appreciated]) we have an IndieGoGo campaign set up. There’s plenty of perks for donating and we’ll be adding more as time goes on. My favorite is the Christmas card one. You can find the campaign here.

Until my next post (which will be within the week, I promise), hike your own hike, don’t be a jerk, and be the change you want to see in the trail.

The Fifth Commandment: Pay Your Debts

While in town, it’s important to keep track of your expenses, that’s just a fact. Knowing how much you spent at each place you ate, how much your hotel room costs, how much you paid for the shuttle into town, and how much you will pay the shuttle to go back.

There are a lot of different places money can go while staying in town, and it is entirely possible you will find yourself either without money, or without access to it in some form or another during your 3 to 6 month jaunt in the woods.

Not every town has an ATM, and not everywhere takes cards. That’s the nature of the beast you will be trying to tackle financially.

That financial beast looks oddly like Cookie Monster. http://i.imgur.com/fDIcPsZ.jpg

When these times hit, be they few or many, it is probably a good idea to remember who steps in to help you out. It’s good to know who you very well may owe the continuation of your hike to in order to 1. know who might call upon you for a favor later, and 2. know who you need to pay back as soon as you are capable.

I had plenty of financial hiccups while I was on the trail: banks saying I should be one place and not another; TD Bank being one of the most sparsely scattered banks known to mankind; bogus damage charges; frequent town stays. All of these things resulted in me not only going through money quickly, but also owing money to hikers around me, specifically Sweet Meat.

I was/am in the incredibly fortunate circumstance of being in the all but legally binding contract of best-friendship with Sweet. He knows I’m not going to run off with his kindness and never pay him back, and I know that he’s not going to hunt me down and beat me with a lead pipe because I can’t pay him back immediately.

Who would even use the lead pipe when there are so many other options? http://www.josegaspar.net/geocaching/GetAClue/ClueWeapons.htm

Not everyone can be so lucky, though. There are some situations where you’ll be at a bar with a group of hikers you’ve been hiking with for a few days, and someone says they’ll cover the tab to simplify things for everyone when it comes to splitting up a 4 hour bar session.

I’ll make this very clear: you should plan on returning the favor somehow, even if they say there’s no need.

Why do this? If they say you don’t need to pay them back isn’t that a free pass to not worry about all of the free food/rooms/rides you’re getting?

There is a cosmic force at work on the trail. I will not claim to have any idea how it works or where it comes from, but way back in Helen, GA, Reverend put it best when he said “The trail provides.”

The trail provides angels for hikers. The trail provides other amazing hikers that will help you out even if they don’t know you. The trail sometimes even provides magical pop-tarts that appear when you just realize you forgot to eat breakfast and you would give anything for a bite of something that tastes like strawberries of questionable origins.

To be perfectly honest, all Pop-tarts are of questionable origin. http://www.quicklabel.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/10/Strawberry_Pop_Tarts-300×300.jpg

The trail does indeed provide, but only because other people feed into it. When you are given something by the trail, you don’t immediately have to give something in return, but you should return the favor when you can. I try to return the favor to the source of the original gift whenever possible, but when that isn’t an option, paying forward to another hiker in need is the next best thing.

This isn’t just about paying debts to other hikers; this is about paying debts to the trail.

Back in the scenario where you know who provided for you and you can pay them back, you should do so if for no other reason than it’s the right thing to do. Another good reason is you don’t want to be known as “that guy” who always mooches off of other hikers.

By paying other hikers back for their kindness, you help generate a sense of community and togetherness that goes a long way towards fully enjoying the trail.

I’m going to start a diagram showing how the 10 Commandments of the ATBC are all linked. Why not?

Until my next post, hike your own hike, don’t be a dick, and be the change you want to see in the trail.

The Fourth Commandment: Don’t Push Your Luck*

When it comes to getting trail magic, most hikers have no problem cutting themselves off before they become a pain. Someone offers you some help, start small and accept what you get. Never ask for more than you would be willing to give. This is where some hikers get a little ahead of themselves and stop thinking about what they’re getting from someone.

My first encounter with trail magic while hiking, was on my way to Woody Gap. We had no idea what we had come across. It was in a parking lot and hikers were swarmed around a pile of something off to one side. Someone moved and we saw a pile of snack foods, miniature liquor bottles, and some cigarettes: vices and pick-me-ups for all kinds of hikers.

While we were poking through, we each grabbed a snack or two and a tiny bottle of Fireball whiskey. We lounged and took a load off while we planned for the end of the day. As we adopted fat lazy hiker postures, I another hiker hanging on much longer than most. In all honesty, he was there before us, and stayed on after we left almost an hour later. He moved in on the pile with every new group of hikers, and came away with more goodies.

This went unnoticed by the people who set up the pile as long as we were there, and not wanting to get anyone in trouble, we made no mention of it. Every time a new wave came through, the providers politely reminded everyone that the food was for everyone on the trail and not to take too much. This was a case of a hiker taking advantage of the kindness of some trail angels at the expense of future hikers.

Any time a hiker takes advantage of trail magic, it is at the expense of other hikers. If someone offers something out of kindness and they get taken advantage of, they are that much more likely to not offer it again. The same can (and should) be applied to hiker box etiquette. If there is a finite amount of resources, taking more than you put in or need is just plain rude.

The number of times I was given something for free, I knew that if I pushed that kindness, someone else was infinitely less likely to receive the same kindness later on. On a more personal note, I didn’t want these people who were helping me to think I was greedy and ungrateful. I understand trying to get the most out of the help you get, but trying to squeeze more than you were offered out makes you, and by association everyone hiking near you, look bad.

The second half of this commandment is more of a continuation of the Second Commandment. Don’t escalate the kindness yourself; allow the giver to escalate it for you. You get a free drink from the bartender? Don’t push for a free tab, but the bartender gives mixed drinks he or she does really well on the house, accept it.

You may have noticed that most of the commandments stack or play off of each other in some way. They all go hand in hand with enjoying town and the trail while at the same time. Again, someone will disagree with my opinion, but that’s part of the magic of the trail. You get to decide how you hike. Hike your own hike and follow your own compass. If you compass leads you here and along the rules of the ATBC, then so be it.

I’ll try to post more frequently in the coming days/weeks; sorry about the long delays.

Until next time, be the change you want to see in the trail.


* In the final revised set of commandments, this will likely be merged with the C2.

 

“Trail Justice”

This post has a bad word or two in it: Heads up.


 

In my time off, I’ve been seeing a lot of hiker interaction on the internet–mostly through Facebook pages. Something I see a lot of is conflict. Hikers have run ins either relating to trash, food theft, and overall jerkiness. The threads about any of these issues follows a pretty standard flow:

This is a truncated version of what usually happens. Someone is annoyed and then someone feeds the post. It quickly turns into a mob of people looking for the wrongdoer to exact what is referred to as “trail justice.”

In the most recent incident, someone left cans with the intention of having someone else pick them up and pack out their garbage. Was this person wrong? Absolutely. What the incident eventually reported? Of course. How long did it take for the trash from the original post to be reported? Almost 2 hours. How long have the conversations about how to further deal with the issue been going on? About 14 hours.

The conversation has evolved from chasing down the hiker to punishing him for the rest of his time on the trail. Different posters had different ideas about how to do that. One suggested he do cleanup on a major hiker get together. Another suggested “cheerfully stick every single one of those cans up his ass followed by the ‘Leave No Trace’ Literature.”

In and amongst these comments were hikers talking about how they have never left a single piece of trash on the trail, and that they were the best example of what it is to be a hiker. I’m not kidding, they all but whipped out resumes to compare how good they were at following Leave No Trace.

This is still going on 16 hours after the original post and 14 hours after the incident was reported and taken care of. My point is that the point was made and the mob kept going and coming up with new punishments for the hiker in the future.

I’m aware that most of the people saying stuff on these posts are just blowing off steam, and they mean nothing by their threats or suggestions of physical punishment. But I’ve also seen things from the internet manifest themselves into terminally idiotic reality.

Having seen this happen over, and over, and over again, I responded and this is my response to anyone who wants to exact “trail justice.”

This is in response to the MANY posts on MANY pages I’ve seen referencing problems with hikers along the trail. My thoughts have always been take care of yourself and report something if you think it NEEDS to be reported.

I find talk about “trail justice” to be at first childish and then all together frightening. It starts as someone saying they’re going to teach someone a lesson, usually with physical violence, and that’s just stupid. It quickly escalates when a half-dozen or so other people jump on and pledge themselves to the harm of another.

Rarely, have I seen a group so willing to mob together to send a message that often could be sent with a Facebook message or a comment on a trail journals account.

To the extent that I’ve seen it progress of these AT Facebook pages, it goes beyond shaming.

The Internet makes big talkers of us all, but this kind of talk is dangerous. If a single person is hurt by one of the mob posts, everyone who participated and did nothing is complicit in that harm. Collecting information to track someone down to exact “trail justice” is just as much an affront to the culture of the trail as the original offense.

If I’m wrong and this is how it works and everyone is okay with it, then this is not a community that I want to be a part of.

The community I mentioned at the end was concerning the online hiker community. If it keeps up, I don’t want any part of it and my advice for anyone else is to avoid it as well. It should be a community of people looking to aid other hikers, but now it’s become something much less wholesome: a hate machine.

I’m not suggesting censoring the pages. I’m saying change the attitudes hikers bring to them.

A philosophy often attributed to Gandhi is,  “Be the change you want to see in the world.” While he never said those exact words, the point is sort of the same and can be applied to the trail.

Be the change you want to see in the trail.

Harmony House Recipes!

So I’ve been meaning to start putting a few of these up here and here we go.

 

Today’s recipe is something for people who like a little bit of spice on the trail but don’t want to carry heavy hot sauces.

The dish has 8 ingredients: White Onions, Jalapeño Dices, Sliced Celery, Mushrooms, Ramen Noodle Soup, Broccoli, Minced Garlic, and Bell Peppers.

To begin, I add a few tiny pieces of jalapeño dices. It may not seem like much at all, but when they are dehydrated, all of the spices get concentrated down to those little bits. Even with everything else added in, the jalapeño will still give you a punch in the taste buds.

Just a light smattering of flavor

Just a light smattering of flavor

Next, I added enough of the onions to cover the bottom of the cup.

Maybe a little deeper than just the bottom of the cup

Maybe a little deeper than just the bottom of the cup

Now add the same amount of peppers as the jalapeños…

Somewhat for flavor, somewhat for color variety

and the same amount of garlic…

At this point in the mixing process, your mouth should be watering

and dump about half a cup of dried mushrooms.

Dried mushroomy goodness

Dried mushroomy goodness

To finish it off, I filled in a little bit of the empty space with broccoli.

VEGETABLES

Now fill the cup up with boiling water and let it sit for about 5 minutes. While that’s sitting, set up the ramen as normally, but hold the flavor packet, and here’s why:

So far in the meal, EVERYTHING is vegetarian, potentially vegan (I’m not sure about the current status of the ramen noodles). If everything is kept in boiling/very hot water for a few minutes, all of the flavors make quite the broth on their own. You can add the flavor packet if you want, but I don’t think it’s necessary.

These are for those cheating vegetarians.

*whispers* CHEEAATERRS *whispers*

Once everything has soaked adequately, mix it together. It should look something like…

THIS

THIS

All in all, the ingredients weigh about 6 ounces TOTAL.  Now, if you were to take the full package sizes of all of the ingredients, it’s about 22 ounces. Keep in mind, using less than a full ounce from all of the ingredients besides the ramen, that means you could have this meal MANY times before you run out of food.

Remember when I mentioned that you could mix and match your ingredients to make new things every day? If you don’t, I said it here. You could get a bunch of different ingredients and add them to different recipes in order to maximize your weight to food ratio.

So yeah, give it a shot! All of the ingredients (except for the ramen) can be bought here.

Also, I was mentioned in someone’s trail journal today! Check out the entry, and give the rest of the journal a look here!