Saturday, December 27, 2014

Outsider II - Another way to look at it

Previously, I have written about being an "Outsider".  Basically spending more time in the "out of doors" than inside.  Not too many people can say they are Outsiders.

The other day, I started thinking about another way of being an "outsider" and how wearing that moniker can influence your behavior and others around you.

Back in the Coast Guard, being the smallest of the Armed Forces, there were many times when I found myself being somewhat of an outsider.  Spending a few weeks as one of only a couple of Coasties on a Navy Base going to some training would hit it home every day.  It wasn't a bad thing.  Sort of like being the underdog.  And I always find myself rooting for the underdog.  It made us feel special, but sometimes it could be a drag.

When I had risen in the ranks, I found that it really didn't matter if I was the underdog.  My Anchors and Stars made people sit up and listen to what I had to say and I saw it as an affirmation of my accomplishments and experience.  It didn't matter if I was the outsider,  my input was welcome.

Flash forward to today.  I am experiencing another bout of being a little bit of an outsider, but my position is opening doors that I can easily enter and offer my new experience and knowledge.  But first some descriptions of the different people who hike the Trail.

In the world of the Appalachian Trail, there are a number of players.  First, you have your regular Day Hiker.  Someone who has set foot on the trail for a nice little out and back or maybe moving off the white blazes to do a pleasant loop that brings them back to their car after a nice, refreshing visit to the outdoors.  With an estimated three million people setting foot on the trail each year, the Day Hiker is most likely the most numerous.  

Next, you have your Weekender.  Someone who carries enough gear to get themselves to a shelter or campsite within a days hike of their starting point, to spend the weekend in the woods.  They are usually a good source of food on Sunday, when they need to hike back to their car, have realized that they packed way too much food and want to lighten their load.  

The next player is the Section Hiker.  This hiker is usually still solidly connected to the "real" world with a job, spouse and kids.  They get to the trail when they can, for as long as they can and they count the number of unique miles they have hiked, adding them together to one day hopefully finish the trail and earn their 2000 miler patch.  The Section Hiker comes in many flavors.  A weekender can be a Section Hiker, if he is hiking new territory each weekend.  A Section Hiker can be out for a few days, a week or two or even a month or more.  I all depends on how long they can leave that "real" world and travel the trail.  The last version have also been called LASHers, which stands for Long Ass Section Hiker.  

The next subgroup of hiker is the Avid Hiker.  This person can fall into a number of categories as they hiker the trail.  They are usually a Section Hiker and are keeping track of their unique miles, but they also get on the trail wherever and whenever they can, no matter if they have hiked that portion before or not.  Sometimes, they hike the same portion of trail many times, because they might maintain that area or it is close to home and when they need some time on the trail, this section is easy and quick to get to.  I place myself in this group (for now).

Lastly, we have the Thru Hiker.  Someone who most likely started their hike down in Georgia on Springer Mountain and plan to hike all the way to Maine and Mount Katahdin.  These are called Northbounders or NOBO.  This is the most popular (read crowded) way to hike.  We also have our Southbounders or SOBOs.  They start at Katahdin, usually in late May or early June and head south to Georgia.  We also have our Flop-Floppers who, for various reasons, start one way and end up going the other way.  The most common reason is that time has gotten away from the hiker and they start to fret that they will get to Katahdin too late to climb it, so they head up that way and then head south to chase the fall.  There are many other flavors of Thru Hikers, so let's just say that to be one, your intention should be to hike the whole trail in one long journey.  Some say, one season (which technically isn't possible, if by season, you mean Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter) or in one calendar year or 12 months.  The debate on the specifics can go on for the length of a Thru Hike, which is an average of six months.  

Thru Hiker Attemptees make up about one tenth of one percent (.001) of total users of the trail.  So you can say that Thrus are either very rare, or very special.  The number of successful Thru Hikers are even smaller with an estimate of about 25 to 30% of all attemptees, making it the whole way.  Because of this rarity, I have been known to refer to Thru Hikers as the Rock Stars of the Trail.  To successfully hike the whole trail is an awesome feat and that is why I one day want to make my own attempt.  

You will hear stories of "entitlement" or "Thruleetism" out on the trail and I have witnessed some snobbery from time to time, but for the most part, I have really great experiences meeting the Hikers who have made it to the Halfway point of the trail in PA where I work as the manager of the Appalachian Trail Museum.  

So, I will finally get to the point of this long post.  As the manager of the AT Museum, I get to meet a lot of movers and shakers in the AT world.  A large number of them are successful Thru Hikers.  Not being one, (yet) is what makes me feel the outsider.  I feel sometimes, while talking to these sages of the trail, that I don't quite have the "Trail Cred" that I should have to hold the position that I do.  I don't let it bother me (much) and it doesn't effect my job performance (at all), since my job means I get on the trail all the time and fill my needs of trail time, where I can get sweaty and smelly for small lengths of time, whether the miles I walk are new or ones I have hiked before, I just need to be out there.  

When it really comes down to it, we are all just Hikers.  I really don't need to put a descriptor in front of that word.  We are all brothers and sisters of the trail, doing our thing and hopefully having fun doing it.  I really doesn't matter if you are out there for three hours, three days or three months.  

For now, I'm still strongly attached to the "Real" world with family responsibilities and this job, but we are hoping (Lisa, AKA LoGear and myself) to one day head to the Trail head, wherever it may be, with our gear on our backs, and embark on an adventure of our lifetimes; to Thru Hike the AT.  Until that time comes, I will happily be an Avid Hiker, slowly adding to my miles when I can, but getting out on that trail (and others) whenever I can, to feel the dirt on my hands and the welcome soreness of a day spent hiking.   

Keep on hiking and keep having fun...


TL;DR: I feel I need "Trail Cred" to not be an "Outsider" in my current world.

Saturday, December 20, 2014


I have been thinking of writing a little review of the book/movie Wild, so here goes.  

My wife, Lisa, bought me the book a couple years ago and I started reading it right away.  A few chapters in, I had to put it down and walk away from it for a while.  Cheryl was just kinda pissing me off with the way she was.  

So after quite a few months, I decided to pick it up again and give it a chance to see where it would go and I was satisfied with the way it went after that.  I guess I just had to get over her flaws and see how her hike went.  

A few days ago, Lisa and I went to see the movie on a rainy weekday.  Once we found the right theater, we sat down during the previews and watched.  

I actually liked the movie.  It was true enough to the book and Reece was realistic enough to me as a hiker.  

What I liked:  She carried a real heavy pack, not a pack that was made to look full, but was actually full of light padding.  (This I heard from Cheryl herself in an article, as she acted as a consultant for the movie).  

The bumps and bruises captured the reality of long distance hiking with heavy gear.  It hurts.  

A little bit of the camaraderie that comes naturally and quickly between hikers on the trail.  

What I didn't like:  The focused a little too much on the creeps of the trail (yes, they are out there and her rendition of the assholes seemed true enough), but I would have liked to see more of the relationships she developed with the hikers during her hike.  Maybe less drama, but that is always a special part of a hike.  

I was dreading the horse scenes.  They did it OK and the pain was much shorter in the movie then when I read the detailed accounting of that poor beasts demise in the book.

So, all in all, we enjoyed ourselves.  I love watching hiker movies almost as much as I like being out on the trail myself.  It lets me escape to the woods without the soreness of a long day's hike to contend with.

The movie is entertainment.  Not a "how-to" for solo female hikers.  I'm sure all of us could have learned a few "what not to dos" and it is always prudent for everyone to keep their creep radar on standby at all times.  I encounter a lot of solo hikers out there (both male and female).  Sometimes I'm one myself.  I never fear for their safety as most develop a good sense of themselves and know when a situation can go wrong and react accordingly.  As I said, the creeps are out there (they can be found everywhere), but the good far outnumber them on the trail.   

So if you want to escape for a couple hours, go see Wild.  If you are a hiker or dream of becoming one some day, sitting down and watching this movie would be a lot of fun.