Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Tentacles of the "Other World"

Baltimore Jack was once asked what he did in the "Real World" and his answer was, "I Hike".  For him (and for me, too) the Trail (no matter which one it is) is my "Real World"  I have started referring to that world of cities and concrete and highways as the "Other World".  I hike in the "Real World" and when I'm not hiking and I get pulled back to that world of cities and concrete and highways, I'm pulled back to the "Other World" (OW).

Now that we have that terminology covered, I'm here to talk about that shady huge octopus that has at least a dozen tentacles that are continuously waving back and forth, searching for a part of me to grab and pull me back to the Other World.  There are so many things that can do that and when you are on a long distance hike, those tentacles are everywhere.  

Just off of the top of my head I can think of things that will demand our return to the OW.  First there would be the family emergency.  Both Lisa's and my Fathers aren't getting any younger, so, (god forbid) something happens, we will be coming back.

Then there are the major household casualties/emergencies.  Something major breaks that Brandi (Home Base) can't handle and we will have to come back to take care of it.  In the last few months, we have replaced our hot water heater, washer and dryer, so we are hoping that the rest of our major appliances will last the six months we plan on being away, but you can never be completely prepared.  

I am diligently trying to teach Ms Home Base all the little things that she will need to be able to handle as the head of the household, but when I start to make a mental list, it grows to outlandish lengths.  I will need to start writing stuff down.  Bills that need the old fashioned check and snail mail payment, grass cutting, dog and cat care, grocery shopping, dish washing, laundry, trash day, etc.  I get a little anxious just thinking about it.  

I don't know if our life in the OW will ever settle down enough to enable us to spend time in the RW tentacle free.  As long as we have people and things that can possibly draw us back, the potential will be there.  We aren't selling the house or getting rid or our cars or anything major like that.  We will have to maintain our life there, even while we have left it for a time.  

I'm guilty of letting the OW suck me back in.  When I retired, Lisa and I headed down to Georgia to hike for three weeks from Amicalola to Fontana, but when Lisa twisted her ankle as we were coming down off of Springer, I immediately gave up the plan.  I decided that I didn't want my bride limping through Georgia in pain.  I decided to get us back to our truck and then go from there.  I know now that that was a major fail on my part.  First of all, I really didn't ask Lisa if that was what she wanted to do.  I fell into the "protect my baby" mode and just wanted to make it ok for her, giving up on the plan to hike around 175 miles.  What we should have done was rest for a couple days at a Hostel and then decide what to do.  There was no hurry.  I regret that I did that.  My baby is a lot tougher than I give her credit for.  A lot tougher.  So lesson learned and score 1 for the tentacle.  

My Ultimate Goal for this hike is to become an Outsider and have an Adventure.  Completing a Thru Hike is a secondary goal.  If it happens, fine, but I'm not going to obsess about it (too much).  The Journey is the Destination.  As I said before, getting to Katahdin will not be the end of my hiking.  Just another memorable mile post along the way.  I will hike until I can no longer walk.  

So have at it tentacles.  I will avoid you if I can, but I like to think I'm flexible enough to be able to be pulled back for a  time and then to return to the Real World, when I can and hiking on.


Monday, July 25, 2016

Social Media, Journaling and Hiking the Trail

Since I started seriously hiking the trail, I have always enjoyed sharing my journeys with the world.  I’m sure only my family and a few friends actually read my shit, but I really write it for me.  I like to be able to go back and read what I wrote and have it bring back memories and good feelings from my adventures.  Sometimes, it also brings back the pain and that is a good thing.  It’s good to remember the pain. 

I have used various methods of logging my hikes.  Trail Journals (TJ) is one where I have recorded all of my hikes, both on the A.T. and elsewhere.  The website has good and bad attributes.  It is really good at keeping track of your miles and your stops. Where you sleep and pictures you take and a few other good things, but you must fill out the entry form correctly and string them together properly.  The bad is that it is a little hard to navigate using a phone with spotty signal out in the bush.  Many times I have abandoned posting from the trail and just took good notes.  When I returned home to my computer, I would update the journal.  I have seen long distance hikers use the app throughout their hike.  Updating from the mountain tops and staying fairly close to real time.  I will try this during our long hike, but make no promises.

I also have maintained a blog using the blogspot (blogger) website. (This Blog, right here)  The site has an easier interface both at home and on the go and has a better layout than the TJ site.  What I have learned is I can create something here with pictures and links and then copy its html over to a TJ entry and it will look the same.  Pictures and links and all.

So this blog has all of my hikes on it too with additional content about the weird and special things I think about, then write about in this world.  This is sort of my Central Information Center, my Home Base.

Facebook has also come in handy where it is really easy to post a quick update with a little bit of signal.  You can even post pictures if the signal is strong enough.  This is the old go-to if I’m feeling lazy, but still want to update.  I have created this Like Page, Adventures of EarthTone and Logear to also track our journey.  We will see how it works out.

There is another site, not unlike TJ, called  It could do a lot of things and had a great app for your phone, but it was spartan looking and the app disappeared from Google Play.  (I heard that the author of the app died and when the license ran out, the app was removed).  I have an account on postholer, but I don’t plan on using it any time soon.

There are multitude of other sites to use.  Snapchat, Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter and Wordpress to name a few.

Regardless of which site(s) I choose to use, I will always have my handy dandy lo-tech notebook where I record the particulars of the day and can refer back to when it is time to write the journal entry, which will be written into my phone in the Google Keep app.  From there I will be able to cut and paste to whichever app or site I want. 

The big question is, will I be able to maintain my journaling while we are hiking?  I have seen it happen countless times.  The hiker starts out updating every day, then it falls off to a couple times a week.  Before too long, the hiker is updating about once every week or two, before they throw in the towel and admit that after hiking for 10 to 12 hours, getting water, eating dinner and any other chore that needs to be done, writing a journal entry loses to sleep.

If that happens, so be it.  I will have my notes and eventually, I will be able to tell my story.



Friday, July 15, 2016

What is a Thru Hike?

It is said a lot in our Hiking Culture, that a Thru Hike is just a six month vacation.  In the most basic sense, this is true, but as I think about it, it is also so much more and sometimes not a vacation at all.

Let's explore some definitions of the word:
1. an extended period of recreation, especially one spent away from home or in traveling.  
2. a period of time that a person spends away from home, school, or business usually in order to relax or travel
3. the number of days or hours per year for which an employer agrees to pay workers while they are not working 
4. a ​period of ​time to ​relax or ​travel for ​pleasure ​instead of doing ​your ​usual ​work or ​school ​activities

Looking at these definitions, the words recreation, relax, pay and pleasure stand out.  Although all of these things are experienced during a Thru Hike (except pay, unless you are real lucky), there are so many other words that come to mind during a long distance hike in the outdoors, such as pain, wetness, hunger, stink, blisters, work, hardship and pain

With the given that a basic Thru Hike is leaving a job or school and spending all of your time hiking all day, for days, weeks and months on end, to achieve a goal of completing a trail in one long undertaking, I would like to explore some of the other possibilities of what a Thru Hike can be.  

Work:  Some hikers say that hiking the trail is like work.  They get up each day, strap on their pack and walk.  That's it.  Menial, arduous, mind numbing and a lot of the time painful.  You may get a day off every once in a while, but if you want to "complete the project", you need to get up each day, strap on your pack and make some miles.  The flaw here is usually this is work without pay, so maybe a better term would be "volunteer".

Deployment: I rolled this one around in my head as I contemplated this article and after a while, pretty much dismissed it, but for some, it can be looked at as just another deployment, especially from the home front.  The differences are, in the military, a deployment is an Order to go here, do this, for this long.  A hiker can approach their hike as a deployment, but in the back of their minds, there is always the option of bringing your deployment to an end at a time of your own choosing.  Not possible in the military world.  

When the first Warrior Hikers, Sean Gobin and Mark Silvers made plans to hike the A.T. after their deployments in Afghanistan to raise money for wounded veterans and made public their plans on a well know A.T. bulletin board named White Blaze, they were told that their detailed schedule, with stops at local VFWs and a firm time frame looked more like a Mission than a Thru Hike.  Well, they ignored the naysayers and accomplished their Mission, pretty much on time and raised a good amount of funds to buy specially equipped vehicles for disabled veterans.  

The Warrior Hike has grown into a "Walk off the War" program now called Warrior Expeditions, where combat veterans can apply to hike (or bike, or canoe) and be sponsored by the Warrior Hike with gear, and other help to get them out on the trail (or path or water) to walk off the demons that plague them or to just experience nature and the healing it offers.

Pilgrimage: For some, the trial of walking the trail has an almost religious sense to it.  To move along the trail from one end to another becomes their pilgrimage.  There are also some who will preach along the way, but most, just show their good intentions with their actions.  The faith that they have in a higher being, gives them the strength to continue along, through the pain and hardship, until they reach their destination in glory.  

Homeless Unemployed Hiker Adventure:  A pretty simple concept.  Quitting (or ending, or suspending) your job and hitting the trail.  Using your saved funds (hopefully you have saved some funds) to keep you going as you work your way up the trail.  Your home is your tent or shelter or hammock.  You live each day to its fullest, with no other obligations other than doing your miles, eating what food you have and continuing along on your hike. Total and complete freedom.

There are a few other types that I won't go into, as they pretty much explain themselves.  The Hiker for (insert your favorite charity here), The GoFundMe Hiker and the "I'm really not doing a Thru Hike, but I will move along the trail and party my ass off until I run out of money" Hiker.  

So in summary, a Thru Hike (or any long distance hike) can be a vacation.  It can be work or a pilgrimage.  It can be nothing more than a walkabout of homelessness and unemployment, but it will always be something special, to yourself and to others who know.  An Adventure of a Lifetime. 

I don't think we fit into any one category mentioned above.  We can approach it as work (and my pension is money coming in, which is good) and our pilgrimage that I call the Quest of Pamola will give us the motivation we need, but for the most part we will just be homeless, smelly hikers, having the adventure of our lifetimes and hopefully finding something each day to bring us joy and happiness, even as our pains work against us. Are we up to the challenge?  I surely hope so.  


Friday, July 8, 2016

Making the Commitment - Taking the Plunge

They say there is never the perfect time to do a Thru Hike. That serendipitous confluence of happenstance and preparedness that tell you, Now Is The Time. You must make the decision to "just do it" to steal a phrase. If you don't "cease the day", you will possibly regret it. Or you just won't do it. Since I Need to do it. The time is at hand.

It won't be easy. Adjustments will have to be made in every sector of our lives, but now... is... the... time... But that is the challenge that I seek. To get out of my comfort zone in areas that I haven't had to go out of for I don't remember how long. Financial... Mental... Physical... I'm ready to ask the question and see what the answer is.

It's time to shit or get off the pot. They say that there is never the "right" time to attempt a Thru Hike. Each time I think of doing a Thru Hike, about a dozen reasons why now isn't the best time enter my head. So as many advisors say, "you have to just do it", it is time for us to just do it.

The Mission: To traverse the length of the trail, having adventure, challenge and fun along the way. To be a Long Distance Hiker (LDH)

So in what has become almost a prerequisite to starting a hike according to "The Good Badger", Zach Davis, of Appalachian Trials fame, here are my "lists":

“I am thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail because…”
(I amended to) Why I want to Hike the AT:
1. To be an Outsider for a time.
2. To join the "club" of 2000 milers.
3. To experience extreme challenge.
4. To rediscover my wild spirit.
5. To commune with the Mother and her environment.
6. To live simply for a time.
7. To immerse myself in the Hiking Culture.
8. Sorry to copy JFD, but I too feel that I am meant to hike the whole trail. One way or another, I feel a need to do every mile.
9. To spend quality time with my bride.
10. To have an adventure.

What's not important to me: (a list I thought of all by myself)
1. Being called a Thru Hiker and expecting special treatment.
I don't let the term Thru Hiker hold any power over me. It is defined in so many different ways, that it has lost a lot of meaning. I choose to not use it to describe myself. Here are some terms I am thinking about: Just starting out I will be a THA (Thru Hiker Attemptee). This lasts until you enter Virginia. At Damascus, I will become a Long Distance Hiker. Not until I have started the down hill slope of the mileage chart will I even consider being called a Thru Hiker.
2. Being a purist in any way.
If I want to take the other trail out of a shelter area, so be it. If I want to Aqua Blaze, I will. Blue Blazing? Maybe. Yellow Blazing? Most likely not, but I have learned in hiking that you never say never. This is an adventure, I don't want to constrain it by trying to be a purist. That's too much like the "other" world.
3. Worrying about making miles.
4. Worrying about not "finishing".

5. Earning that special "2000 Miler" certificate by strictly following their rules.  I can always make a "HYOH" certificate on my handy dandy computer.  It's just a piece of paper.

When I successfully thru-hike the Appalachian Trail I will…”
...have a feeling of accomplishment.
...start looking for my next adventure.
...continue to be a part of the A.T. Culture in many different ways.

If I give up on the Appalachian Trail I will…” dead, because the trail will be with me for the rest of my life. I'll never "give up on" the trail as long as I draw breath.

I made a Blog Post back in 2014 that I called That List of Failure.  I know Zach meant that third list to be used as a motivational tool to help a hiker find the strength to keep going, but I couldn't stop feeling that it was just a lot of mental brow beating.  My list became a positive thing because, as you can see above, completing the Thru Hike isn't my be-all-end-all goal.  The adventure is the goal.  Here is my list from that post.  It still rings true two years later.

 ...most likely try again.
 ...know that the trail will always be there... waiting for me... to come back.
 ...realize that being ON the trail is the place to be.  Why rush the journey?
 ...believe that a goal not yet achieved, is still a challenge to be taken. 
 ...still have a bucket list item to strive for.
 ...still love the trail with yearning.  Wanting to be hiking on it, experiencing the world of the AT, always.
 ...not be afraid to adjust my goals and work my way towards them at a life enjoying pace.
 ...not think of myself as a failure.
 ...learn a lot about myself that I didn't know.
 ...know that I did so much more than those who never leave their front door.

Remember: The journey is the destination.


Saturday, July 2, 2016

The Quest of Pamola

If I haven't already pulled the trigger of announcing a long distance hike, making it official, I am pretty much locked and loaded.  Lisa and I have discussed the possible plan of heading down to Georgia and getting back to Springer, to then hike North, towards the place where Pamola resides.  

In my current line of work, I get the question all time of "have you hiked the whole trail?" from a lot of our visitors.  I immediately point out that I have done a decent portion of the trail, but next year, my bride and I will set our sites north on an adventure in walking.  Each time I say it, it feels more real to me.  It builds my excitement, my need, to get on the trail, become an outsider and hike north into the mists.  

Being immersed in the Trail Culture and hiking whenever I can squeeze in the time, I have a decent idea of what to expect.  I also expect to experience a lot of things I haven't yet and might not have thought of.  That's what adventures are.  A voyage into the unknown.  

So, as the idea becomes more real, things resembling obstacles keep throwing themselves in front of us.  We deal with each challenge as it comes and think that this might jeopardize our plan, but we fight on, taking care of the problem and for now, continuing on.

First, there is the "wedding".  Daughter number one is tying the knot in October.  Once that financial ruining, er, glorious event happens, we can set our sights towards Georgia, and Springer and "The Hike".  

Another recent situation was my back going out more than it ever has before.  With a months long recovery that signals to me that my body isn't getting any younger.  I got to see what I have left in the tank.  I have to get out there before my back says "unuh,  you done."  

Some more recent perceived barriers (omens) are some equipment failure issues at the house.  Not long ago the washer gave up the ghost.  Last week, the dryer decided it was its turn.  Yesterday, the computer's power supply started giving off a very smokey smell and won't power up the unit anymore.  It seems as if Pamola is already challenging me.  Already scoffing at my audacity of assuming I would be allowed to start this Quest.  The Quest of Pamola.  

But attempt the Quest we will.

Brandi, (daughter number two), will be our home base support team leader.  Her team of one will tend to the house and its furry occupants.  Ensuring the lights stay on and the trains run on time.  She is predicting we will be home in a month at most.  She may be right, but who knows.

I'm not obsessed with the job title of Thru Hiker.  If we go all the way, great, but I really don't care if we make it all the way in that calendar year.  I have already realized that I will be hiking the trial until I can no longer walk.  If I do go and finish the trail in one season, I still won't be done.  I won't be finished hiking. 

So, if I find myself pulled back to the "other" world during the hike, that's ok.  I will do what I have to do and get back to the trail when I can.  I'm a hiker until the end.

You might be wondering about this Quest of Pamola.  What is this "Pamola"?  

Pamola is an indigenous god, (sometimes labeled a demon), who can control the weather.  Actually a storm god.  He has the head of a moose, the feet and wings of an eagle and the body of a man.  He resides in Katahdin.  You must appease him if you think you can summit that greatest mountain.  The ones who feared/worshiped him, thought it taboo to enter his domain.  The mountain...

To appease Pamola you must sacrifice "fat and oil".  I plan on making that sacrifice using bacon and olive oil.  Seems like that will work.  Add a little to the fire.  Say a few words and you might found worthy.

If we make it to Pamola's domain, and if we are found worthy, we will summit in glory and celebrate the event.  But it will only be an event.  Not the first, not the last, just one point in time, where we were found worthy.