Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Pamola's Quest - The Pushes (1 - 3)

The Pushes of the Quest

Here is a general summary of the first three of nine Pushes I completed in Phase I. A Push is the part of the trail between major resupplies.  A new Push starts when you head out with your pack heavy and the trail most likely a climb out of a gap or town.  

Push 1: The Push to Neels Gap and Walasi-Yi Hostel

During this first Push, our spirits were high along with our excitement of starting the Quest.  The Push was 31.4 miles and it took us four days.  

Day 1 - 5.2 AT miles (9.7 total) - Long Creek Falls camp
Day 2 - 9.2 miles - Devils Kitchen camp
Day 3 - 9.8 miles - Lance Creek camp
Day 4 - 7.2 miles - Neels Gap - Walasi-Yi Hostel

Sunrise at the Len Foote Hike Inn on Day 1

The Quest started out on a pretty nice day.  After an awesome breakfast at the Len Foote Hike Inn, we headed out on the Inn trail that led to the Approach Trail, which led to Springer Mountain.  Our excitement to start the journey moved us along at a pleasant pace.  One of the guests, Debbie, hiked along with us to the summit.  We arrived at the summit and marked the true start of the Quest.

The first day, we kept moving along from each of the potential camping spots I had picked from the guide and my research.  We wanted to start slow and not risk any overuse injuries.  We eventually camped at a established spot near Long Creek Falls.  The falls were wonderful and added a nice cooling background noise to our camp.  We later heard an interesting story about the Cherokee cutting off the head of a European explorer and throwing it from the top of the falls to prevent any more of the white devils from traveling beyond that point. 

Long Creek Falls.  We camped near here on Day 1

On this first Push, I had a bit of Matrix Withdrawal.  Our Sprint phones didn't get a lot of signal out in that part of GA, so we were basically disconnected for long stretches of time.  We had to get used to not being able to reach out to our kids whenever we wanted to.  We finally had some good signal at Woody Gap and I just sat at the picnic table for quite a while, checking email and texting the kids.  I needed a Matrix fix.  As we continued on through our other Pushes, I became used to being disconnected from the Matrix, but I sure did enjoy those times when I would come out of airplane mode and see bars.

As we took it easy, doing easy 9 mile days, we started seeing other hikers, but for the first two nights, we camped alone. On day three we stopped at the Gooch Mountain Shelter for breakfast and met a few other hikers that we would see for a while.  One interesting "hiker" was a clearly very homeless guy who had a cat with him.  His name was 90 because when he started his pack weighed 90 lbs.  We never saw him (or his cool cat) after that morning.

Devil's Kitchen Campsite - Day 2

90's companion, Ben

Day two was our first taste of rainy weather.  It was also the day we found out that the wind loves to shoot through the gaps up in those mountains.  We had planned to have lunch at Cooper Gap and the rain and wind were fierce.  We had to set up my tarp, just so we could be somewhat dry during lunch.  

A wet lunch at Coopers Gap - Day 2

Foggy morning north of Gooch Gap on Day 3

On day four, we were still a little behind the shelter stayers, so we were up and out early for a short day into Neels Gap to finish the Push.  We arrived early and got the first two bunks in the hostel.  We had to do some shower/hand wash and used the wind driving through the gap to dry our clothes using our bear bag line as a clothesline.  

One of our few views on this Push. Big Cedar Mountain.

Blood Mountain Shelter

Drying clothes at Neels Gap
As the Hostel filled up, we started to learn the names of the other hikers we had seen out on the trail.  There was Maggie, Eileen, Kristina, Brad, Barb (who we met the night before at camp), Kasey, Emily, Sterling, Dave and Soul Keeper.  The women had us guys outnumbered in the Hostel.  It was good to see that.  

We resupplied at Mountain Crossings, ate some pizza and prepared to start our next Push in the morning.  

Push 2: The Push to Dicks Creek Gap and Top of Georgia Hostel

There was a heavy rain the night before staring this Push and we were happy to spend the night indoors.  A very drippy, foggy morning greeted us as we headed out to start this next Push.  We would start to bump our mileage up a bit as we started to get used to the daily grind.  This Push would be 37.9 miles and would again take us four days.

The famous Boot Tree at Mountain Crossings (Neels Gap)
Day 5 - 11.5 miles - Low Gap Shelter
Day 6 - 11.1 miles - Rocky Mountain camp
Day 7 - 11.7 miles - Deep Gap Shelter
Day 8 - 3.6 miles - Dicks Creek Gap - Top of Georgia Hostel

On this Push, we started trying out camping near the shelters.  We also had an awesome camp up on the top of a mountain.  That was, until the wind started whipping across the mountain top a few hours after sunset.  

On the first night, we mentioned that today was our 29th anniversary. When one of the hikers, Jose, heard this he offered us a Yuengling that he had packed in.  I broke out the small bottle of Ouzo I had brought along, that Shauni had given us.  We shared all around enjoying the well wishes heaped upon us.  

The second day was a pretty challenging one for me.  We headed out into a rain filled day, which actually turned into two distinct days.  As we headed up Blue Mountain, I got quite soaked, even through my rain jacket.  We stopped at the shelter at the top of the mountain and the wind was relentless.  I tried to keep warm as we ate lunch, but had to get moving again to generate some heat.  

As we headed down the mountain, the rain stopped and the sun came out, but the time we got down to Unicoi Gap, my clothes were nearly dry and I was much warmer.  I sat in the sun at the gap and dried out my wet stuff.  There was a hiker hanging out there, Smiley, who had some water and a case of beer.  I enjoyed a nice semi-warm beer.  It was perfect.  

That night we slept on the top of Rocky Mountain with Brad, Eileen and Maggie. We didn't hike the same speed as them, but we were starting to go the same daily distance.  Trail names were starting to be generated.  Brad was most likely becoming Honeybuns, Eileen, Cheesie and Maggie, Nymeria.  I had also been given a name to add to my long list of trail names.  Half-Crocked.  This referenced my cut up Crocs that I was wearing in camp.  


LoGear, Cheesie, Honey Buns and Nymeria

Calm sunset on Rocky Mountain before the wind arrived.

On the third night, we staged ourselves only a short distance from the the gap that would end this Push.  I had some good conversation with a family that came into the shelter area for the night. 

The next morning we headed out for the short walk to the Gap.  We arrived at Dicks Creek Gap early and the Hostel van whisked us away the .5 mile to the Hostel.  We got the last two beds in the main area as some weather was forecasted to arrive and everyone was scampering to get under cover.  We checked in, showered, and handed over our nasty clothes to be laundered.  We put on our scrubs and took the van into town for some town food and resupply.

We all ended up at a Mexican Restaurant and sat with some other hikers. Cool Breeze treated us all.  It was a wonderful gesture.  We would continue to see Cool Breeze along the way, but always in town, never on the trail. It was fun anticipating the next time we would see him.  

The Hostel was pretty awesome and was very crowded that night.  Barb (Now Life), came in along with another hiker Bruno (Later, Osprey-G) a nice older Italian guy who was fun to talk to.  We enjoyed some good conversation with all the other hikers and were ready to start our next Push.  We would be done with Georgia in only a few miles.  

Push 3: The Push to Winding Stair Gap and Franklin, NC

This Push was another four days covering 40.2 miles.  During this Push, we finished Georgia, endured some more weather and met a poor coon hound that I called Lucy.

Day 9 - 11.8 miles - Muskrat Creek Shelter
Day 10 - 12.5 miles - Carter Gap Shelter
Day 11 - 12.1 miles - Rock Gap Shelter
Day 12 - 3.8 miles - Winding Stair Gap - Franklin, NC

A lot of the hikers were going to hang out at the Hostel and wait out the forecasted weather, but we had a state to finish and headed out on time to climb out of the gap.  We were almost at the border before we felt the first rain drops and they never got worse than a sprinkle until just before getting to the shelter.  

Evidence of last year's wildfires, north of Dicks Creek Gap
Nine miles into the first day's hike we crossed the border into North Carolina.  LoGear, Life and I hung out there for a while and then continued on.  LoGear decided to sleep in the shelter.  Nicole and her husky, Leo were also there and LoGear didn't mind snuggling up with Leo at night.  I didn't have my sleeping pad, so I started learning the procedure of putting up my tarp and hammock in the rain.  It works quite well to put up the tarp first, then work under it to do the rest, staying mostly dry.

One state down, many more to go.

EarthTone, Life and LoGear entering North Carolina
On day two, after a day of mostly walking in the drippy forest, we arrived at the shelter for the night.  LoGear had been pretty far ahead of me and when I came into camp, I see an old coonhound sitting outside the shelter with LoGear's rain jacket on her.  The dog had radio collars on and appeared a bit unhappy.  LoGear fussed over her all evening, sharing her food bag and worrying about her being abandoned.  They even called the vet that was listed on the dog's collar, but the didn't really seem to give a shit.  I had read about these dogs in several trail journals and I have developed a theory that the owners know exactly where their dog is and just leave them there knowing the hikers will feed her.  It saves on the cost of dog food.

After a cold night, I had a great time getting my food bad down as the knot around the stick had pretty much froze to the stick. As we hiked along the next day, I came upon LoGear standing and looking out over a view.  She was crying.  Totally upset about the lonely (or smart) coonhound we had left behind at the shelter.  I had started to call the dog Lucy in my mind and named that day's journal entry Tears for Lucy.  I even created a little song in my head as I hiked along, but it soon faded from my memory after the day was done.  
Tears for Lucy

Our third day of the Push got us close to our next day's destination again. We were now trying to plan our Pushes to have a nearo day on the last day before resupply.  It would get us into town or wherever early enough to get all of our chores done (laundry, shower, resupply) and also give us some time to rest a bit.  Doing these nearos let us go for a pretty long time before finally taking a zero day.   

On that day, we reached the 100 mile mark of the hike and marked it by climbing up Albert Mountain and taking a long lunch under the fire tower.  It was a very challenging climb, but the view made it totally worth it.  

Almost there. Climbing up Albert Mountain

100 miles done (well, 99.8 for this year)

We had rain at the end of the day again and after setting up on the hillside near the shelter, I just ended up eating a cold supper in my hammock.  It was just easier to do that with the slope, rain and being tired.  The camp had quite a few hikers show up, so I just slept with my food bag that night.  There were a lot of people and a couple of dogs, so I wasn't worried about any bears coming into camp.  

Our last short day of this Push took us to Winding Stair Gap. There were a few of us hanging out there and after about 45 minutes, Ron Haven pulls up with his tourist bus and takes us into Franklin, NC for free.  Of course we had already planned to stay at his Budget Inn and got a pretty decent room where we could rest, launder our clothes and get clean again.  

We went out and had a nice lunch, then headed to the Lazy Hiker Brewery for a couple of beers, then to the local Ingles to resupply.  Back at the room we relaxed and got everything ready for the next day.  We were still not ready for a zero yet. 

Very good beer here

One sad note at the end of this Push was learning that Life had to get off trail.  She had a family emergency and needed to get back to Northern VA.  We started missing her and her super amount of energy immediately.  

Coming up next: The Push to Fontana Dam and then the Smokys and beyond.

EarthTone and LoGear

Monday, June 26, 2017

Pamola's Quest

The Quest

Those of you who have been following LoGear and I on our Adventures, know that we have taken on a Quest.  The Quest for Pamola it is called and this is what it is about.

Pamola is a storm god who lives in Katahdin.  He came to me and offered this Quest.  He challenged me to walk the whole of the Appalachian Trail.  When I have done that, I'm to come to Pamola Peak on Mount Katahdin and present the Talisman of the Storm to him.  If I am found worthy, I will be granted a boon.  

The Quest is as simple as that.  Walk almost 2200 miles, finish the trek, then continue on across the Knife's Edge to Pamola Peak.  The idea is simple, but the trek is not an easy feat, as Phase I has shown us.  

The Challenge Becomes Hard

When we took on this Quest, we decided to start down at the southern end and see how far north we could get during this season of hiking.  We hoped that maybe we would be able to continue along the trail from one end to the other in one try, but we were not obsessed with getting the Quest complete in one long stage.  

We found out that total dedication to this one task becomes hard after a while.  Even though our bodies were doing pretty well, our minds started to pick at us.  Whispering sweet temptations into our brains of other things that we could be doing.  

For LoGear, the temptation was to get back and see her girls.  She started missing them more than ever and just wanted to see them and talk to them in person.  It started to wear on her until the time when we stopped for lunch and I asked her if she wanted to go home and her answer was yes.  We contacted Miss Janet and like the angel she is, we were whisked off the trail to the nearest bus station and LoGear headed home.

My shelter register entry on Day 35

I decided to continue on. At least for a while.  At first I thought I would be able to go on for a long way.  I thought that it would be easier if I only had myself to worry about and not have to worry about my girls at home, handling all the day to day stuff which continues to happen, even if we aren't there.  I also thought it would be easier to hike solo, checking only with myself if I wanted to continue on, or set up camp right where I was.  I had gone out alone several times in the past.  I felt free at first, but my mind is weak.

After a few days, I started to really miss seeing LoGear up ahead of me.  Never too far away. Always nearby.  A loneliness started to creep in and then started to whisper in my brain.  I decided that maybe I would make it to Damascus and declare Phase I of the Quest complete.  I would go home and spend some time doing something besides walking all day, every day.  I had a strong feeling that, before too long, we would be back on the trail again.  

My day 40 entry at the last shelter before Damascus.  

So, I made my way back to Maryland after finishing the lower three states in their entirety.  I have spent some quality time opening my pool, tending my small garden, walking my dog in the nearby woods, visiting the beach, watching TV, playing on my computer and doing other things that I couldn't when my only task of the day was to walk for several hours each day.

But I was right about the Trail not being finished with us yet this year.  Before very long, the whisper in my brain started telling me, it was time to get back on trail.  It started telling LoGear the same thing.  

The Talisman of the Storm

As the details of the Quest were slowly revealed to me in my dreams and imaginings, I learned that I would have a task to complete during this Quest.  I would be gathering items that would come together and create a Talisman.  It is to be called the Talisman of the Storm.  

I started with a few things I had at home.  I small rawhide pouch I had made.  A glass ladybug that was given to me when I finished up at the A.T. Museum.  A small pebble that I picked up in the woods near our house that would be exchanged with a small pebble from Springer that would start the building of the Talisman.  I also had a 20 sided die that would come along as part of the Talisman.

The way it would work would be as such.  Items would present themselves to me to be included as part of the Talisman.  I would know when the right item was presented.  At least I hoped I would know.  

As each item was added, the Talisman would grow stronger, more powerful.  When it reached its full power, it would be a mighty item. 

As we started our Quest and came upon Springer Mountain, I started looking for the right piece for the Talisman.  All I knew is that the piece would sparkle some.  I found a nice pebble that was full of mica, making it sparkle in the sun a bit and knew it was the correct, first piece.  I placed the stone I had brought with me near the first blaze and took this first piece with me.  

On day 10 or so, we had entered North Carolina and another mica filled stone presented itself to me and was added to the Talisman.  

On day 18, when we were headed into the Smoky Mountains, we came across a pair of boots filled with pebbles in honor of a man who never got the chance to hike the whole trail.  We added one of these to the Talisman.

On Day 20, LoGear found a small arrowhead shaped stone and it was added to represent TN.  The next day, I added a small piece of quartz from the resting area at Clingman's Dome, the highest point of the Trail.

When LoGear left the trail, she handed me her small bracelet that I had made her to match one I wore.  I put it on my wrist, thinking that this little piece of her would continue on along the trail with me.  As I walked along alone, I realized that this bracelet was now a piece of the Talisman.  I also came to the realization that "I" was the Talisman, not just the pouch and its contents.  All that I wore and carried with me was becoming a part of the Talisman of the Storm.  It was an amazing feeling.  

The building of the Talisman had begun.  The other day as we were walking along the beach in West Cape May, famous for its Cape May Diamonds, I spotted a nice small, polished one and it too was added to the Talisman to represent our Intermission.

The Talisman continues to grow and become more powerful.  I don't know if I will be able to control the weather with this Talisman, but I will continue to create it as our Quest continues.  

The Quest Evolves

When I decided to get off trail for awhile, I realized that this Quest will most likely not be completed in one long trek.  I always had a strong feeling that that was the stronger possibility, but I didn't dwell on that very much until the reality of it became clear.  From the start I thought of the Quest of nothing more than a series of sections (what I am calling Pushes) from one resupply to the next.  I would plan each Push a day or two before it started and never worried about what came after that.  When the Push was almost complete, I would start planning the next.  It started to become a fun exercise.

When I decided to get off trail, I realized that these first three states (9 Pushes) were going to be Phase I of the Quest.  I also realized that the quest had evolved.  My task is to complete the trail.  Pamola never said I had to do it from Georgia to Maine in that order and all in one trek.  He just said I had to walk the whole trail.  

With Phase I complete, I was free to plan the next Phase any way I wanted. I realized that I could incorporate the 300 plus miles I have already hiked on the Trail over the last six years into the Quest.  I could take my time off and come back wherever and whenever I wanted, to continue the task of walking the whole trail.  This is how I am going to continue the Quest.  

In ten days, we will head back to the Trail. Not where we got off (since that is two different places), but at a point of our choosing.  We are going to complete a Push that is the Shenandoah National Park (Push #14).  We are going to drive to the northern end and get a shuttle down to Rockfish Gap.  We will then hike back to the truck, which is the spot that LoGear and I stopped back in 2012.  We are skipping the four Pushes of VA that we would have covered in this time if we would have continued on and stayed on schedule. Hopefully we will see some of our Tramily that were hiking around us down south.  They most likely will be further along, but you never know.  Once we reach Front Royal, we will take another couple of weeks worth of zeros, then pick up in PA at Lehigh Gap and continue north from there for a few more weeks.  That is where I stopped on one of my earlier hikes.  We will skip the miles that I have already hiked in VA, WV, MD and PA.  We will continue up into the north for a couple more weeks.  These two hikes will be called Phase II.

So the Quest continues...

LoGear looks out into the foggy view

The Pushes of the Quest

In my next post I will present a general summary of the Nine Pushes I completed in Phase I. A Push is the part of the trail between major resupplies.  A new Push starts when you head out with your pack heavy and the trail most likely a climb out of a gap or town. 

EarthTone and LoGear

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Trail Intermission Thoughts

Taking a Trail Intermission

I have been home now for about ten days or so.  We have already started talking about getting back out there to hike some more.  We no longer need to go out for the long duration.  A week or two here and there until we decide to go back to work will suffice for now.  It is hard to stay "off trail".  

Relaxing in the backyard in the hammock

Once you get back to the Matrix and do the things you have been missing, your mind keeps going back to the Trail.  You wonder how your Tramily is doing.  Where they are on the Trail.  How their hike is going and why you aren't out there sharing the experience yourself.  

As the memory of the pain subsides, the urge to get back out there gets stronger and stronger until you start making firm plans to get back "on trail".  That's what we are doing now. 

We most likely will get back on at Rockfish Gap and head North through Shenandoah.  I also have an alternate plan that I cooked up several years ago to do some hiking south followed by an Aqua Blaze back north in a nice little loop that could be a great adventure if properly planned.  We haven't decided yet, but should be back out on the trail in early July.  Hopefully we will see some of our friends who will by then be ready to finish Virginia.  

As I continue to plan, I thought I would discuss some of the topics I have been thinking about a lot since I got off trail.  

Total Immersion into the Hiker Culture

I thought that over the last four years or so, that I had been fully immersed in the A.T. Culture. What I found out after being on the Trail for a while, is that I was nowhere near as immersed as I thought. During that time, I could do other things. I would spend lots of time dealing with, being on or planning for the Trail, but I still had time to do other things like work on my garden, do things with the kids and dog, play on my computer, watch TV, etc.

I realized true immersion was waking up on the trail, packing up and spending the whole day either walking or getting ready to walk to that day's destination. Eat, sleep, shit, repeat. That was it. There is very little time to do anything else. Your whole day is spent being truly immersed in the Trail and its Culture.

Being totally committed to walking all day, every day was part of what made it easier for me to get off trail and head home for a break. I would get up and walk for several hours only to realize that I'm only halfway done with the day's miles and I have to do this all over again until I can take a nice comfortable seat in my hammock. It would niggle at my mind as I walked along. It would make me resent the "work" I had now found myself doing. I was becoming that person who doesn't like his job and is constantly checking the clock all day long, counting how many more hours until he could go home. I didn't like what the hike had become. I would forego breaks, because if I stop walking and take a break, then it is now that much longer until the work day would be over.

I know now that doing the hike that way, was not the right way to do it. I should have taken the breaks. I shouldn't have started obsessing about getting the miles in each day. I shouldn't have let it become that unliked "job". I have a saying out there. "If you are only out here hiking your miles, then you are only out here hiking your miles." I now really think it is important to not worry about the miles. Take the time to smell the roses, enjoy the view, just sit down (or lay down) and take a break from the day's work. Hopefully this is one lesson that I will take to heart and alter my behavior the next time I get out there long term.

Wild Roses

Total immersion is being out there on the trail for days on end. Partial immersion is great, but you really learn what true immersion is when you are out there for a long time.

Sit here and enjoy the view

The clean smelling Muggles don't understand. They know that a shower, running water and a home cooked meal await them when they are done with their day's hike. The rest of us will wake up on the trail, pack up and walk, until that day's destination is reached.

(sorry I used the word immersion so many times)

Lessons Learned Every Day

Although the hike started out pretty much just as I expected, (pain, exhaustion, exhilaration, joy),  I quickly realized that each day was showing me new things and teaching me valuable lessons. 

I wish I had kept track of all of the lessons that the Trail and Mother Nature kept teaching me.  I thought about writing down these lessons each day, but never actually did it.  

I was happy each time I realized that I had been taught a new lesson.  I would make a mental note to take heed or risk the consequences.  

Here are some of the lessons I learned on the trail.  This list is nowhere near all inclusive, since I didn't write them down, I have already forgotten a lot and will most likely relearn them again one day.

1. Bacon bits pretty much can go on anything.  Put them in your mashed potatoes, your peanut butter and jelly tortilla or anything else you eat.  

PBJ and bacon

2. I really have a lot to learn about identifying the plants and birds that are out there.  I loved seeing new flowers or hearing a new call, but I wish I had some sage naturalist with me who would have told me what that plant or bird was.  

3. Sometimes you have to shorten the day and get out of your wet clothes and into your dry down.  Just do it.  Your body will thank you.

4. Having all of your socks wet is not a good way to manage your feet.

5. Your feet are your most important body part. Take care of them.

6. The People are the Trail.

7. Mashed potatoes are really easy to make when you are tired and hangry.  

8. An organized pack with a place for everything and everything in its place is a great way to go.  

9. Altering where you put things as your experience grows, is important to do.  I was constantly changing where I put things as I learned how to be more efficient.

10. Practicing patience is really hard sometimes.

11. Being an Outsider can be an uncomfortable experience sometimes. 

12. Sometimes wearing two pairs of socks is great, other times means you will have two very wet socks at the end of the day.  

13. Socks take a long time to dry.

14. Keeping your ass clean(ish) is very important when the rest of you is pretty dirty.

15. My hammock seat is the most comfortable seat in camp.  

The list goes on and on.  I loved learning new things every day and expect to continue to do so every time I go out.  

Dealing with the weather

I have another saying that I use all the time both on trail and off.  "I take each day as given".  I also used to say "There is no good or bad weather.  It is just the planet doing its thing." I still strive to take each day as given, be it beautiful, rainy, windy or any other kind of day the Mother gives us, but I now know that some types of weather make me a little happier that other types.  

My weather nemesis has always been wind.  I don't like how it steals your heat leaving you shivering and unhappy.  When you throw some rain into the mix, the conditions can actually become dangerous.  

I found that when the weather is dry, not too hot or cold and at least partly sunny, than I could hike faster and was a little more happy.  When the rain fell, especially if it was heavy and occurred when we were walking, it would beat me down some.  I really tried to embrace the suck and keep my morale high, but I learned that after about four straight days, it starts to wear on me.  The suck would win and I would loosen my embrace and start to resent it.

Trying to stay dry during lunch on day two

I still will affirm to take each day as given. I now just a little more or less happy depending on exactly what that day is giving me.  

As always, your gear choices should help you to deal with the elements.  My cheap Frog Toggs jacket did its job, but after a while it would start letting water through, but still keep the wind at bay.  No breathable jacket will keep you dry forever.  They all get compromised eventually.  I took this as it was and just dealt with it. 

As the summer advances, heat, humidity and thunderstorms becomes your new conditions to deal with.  It is just the planet doing its thing.  

Other Things

We are now headed to Philly for Father's Day then will spend a few days down in Cape May hanging out at the beach and doing touristy things.  After that, the planning will be firmed up and before we know it, we will be walking down that Trail, with packs on our backs. Doing what we love.  Hiking the Trail.  

A beautiful sunrise at Icewater Spring Shelter in the Smokys

EarthTone and LoGear

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Post-Trail Thoughts - 1

The Outsider Badge

This morning I lost my Outsider Badge.  The Outsider Badge is something I made up that you earn after you have been living outside for a time.  It means you spend the majority (or all of) your time in the out-of-doors.  No artificial climate control (except possibly fire). No four walls (unless they are a tent or some such).  Subject to the whims of weather and temperature.  Someone living outside.

I didn't "lose" it in the physical sense (although I did make little plastic badges to represent this achievement)  If you don't maintain your Outsideness, your badge is revoked until you can earn it again.  For the past five nights, I have slept indoors and this is what it takes for you to lose your badge.  You can always earn it back again, but you must once again live outside to do that.

One of the many reasons I had for embarking on my Quest for Pamola was to be an Outsider for a time.  I was able to do that and I really enjoyed being an Outsider.  I do wish I had been able to earn the advanced Tiers of the Badge, but that didn't happen. Not this time anyway.  

When I first conceived of the badge, the criteria to earn and keep it was pretty simple and easy.  As I spent time as an Outsider, I tightened up the guidelines as my experience grew.  Here are the rules and guidelines for the Outsider Badge.  

To earn the Badge's Tier I level (Fledgling), you have to have been living outside for two weeks.  Staying indoors from time to time is inevitable for a long hike, so you could not have had more than three nights indoors during this time.  If you exceed this criteria, your earning is delayed however many days you went beyond the three.  

We earned our Outsider Badges (Fledgling) on May 10th.  That was day 15 and we had only stayed indoors at Neels Gap, The Top of Georgia Hostel and in Franklin.  

To earn the Tier II level (Journeyman), you must have been living outside for two months total with no more than 12 nights indoors during that time.  Once again, any nights beyond that 12, would delay your advancement by the number of extra days.  We were on track to earn this level on June 21st, the first day of Summer, or in my calendar, Mid-Summer's Day.  (It is also widely know as Hike Naked day, but that is another subject for another post)  The fact remains, that we won't be advancing to that level on that day, as I am once again sleeping indoors.  

The last level, Tier III (Master) would have been earned after four months of being an Outsider.  With no more than 24 nights indoors.  Someday, I hope to earn that level.  

You keep the Badge as long as you remain living outdoors.  If you get off trail and start sleeping indoors, after a time, you will move back through the levels until you lose the Badge altogether.  Here are the criteria for losing your levels/badge.

If you are a Master, then after five days indoors, you would move back to a Journeyman, then another five days later a Fledgling and after another five days, you would lose the badge.  Each five days lowers you until you are no longer a wearer of the Badge.  

Since I was only a Fledgling, last night was my fifth night in a row that I slept indoors, so that is that.  I hope to earn it again some day, as I really enjoy being outside.  I am "at home" there.

Here is the Outsider Oath I made up to go with the Badge:

The Oath of the Outsider

I am an Outsider
I live my life in Nature
Four walls can't surround me
The forest canopy is my roof
I take each day as given
A fire is my warmth
The wind cools my body
All I need, I carry on my back
The outside is my home 
I am an Outsider

Weight Loss

Another of my reasons for this Quest was to lose weight.  Since I have retired (and actually it had started before that), my weight has slowly crept up, from the low 200s to up around 240 or so.  That was my weight on day one of the hike.  With my back problems and a general laziness that I developed, I couldn't seem to lose any weight.  Snacking was also a contributing factor.  Since I knew most men lose a lot of weight when they go out on a long distance hike, I thought that I could lose some poundage.  All I had to do was walk all day for several days and the weight will fall off like magic.  I even wrote an article about it on The Trek.  

I am very happy with how this worked.  As the days and weeks went on, we could easily tell that I was losing lots of weight.  I certainly had a lot that I needed to lose, so I was happy that the pounds were going away.  The sporadic scales you encounter along the way would each tell a different story.  I had no idea how accurate they were, so I would use them, but reserve my joy until I was able to step on the same scale I had the day we left on our Quest, the one in our bathroom at home.  

When I did get back home and the next morning I stood on the scale, I was indeed happy with what I saw.  I had lost about 31 lbs.  Not the 40 I had thought, but no little number.  I had basically lost the weight of my pack.   

Now, the challenge will be keeping the weight off (and maybe losing a few more lbs). I seem to have this constant hunger now that I remember from when I was actively dieting back in the day.  I need to embrace that hunger feeling and not give in to it.  I have a feeling it won't be easy.  One thing is, with my lighter body, I feel a bit more energetic and my need to walk everyday is as strong as ever.  I'm just not walking 15, 16 miles a day.  I will need to keep going back to the Gym as much as possible, walking the dog several times a day and walking to places instead of driving if I can.  

So, I achieved my goal on this note, but will have to be diligent on keeping the weight off and staying active, limiting my snacking (and beer drinking) and walking as much as possible.  Wish me luck. 

Long Distance Treker Achievement

The last thing I will talk about today on my Post-Trail Thoughts is another Achievement I made up called the Long Distance Treker Achievement (LDT).  It too has multiple levels, but once you have earned a level, it is yours forever.  

Before this Quest/Hike, I have only hiked about 100 miles at the most at one time.  I wanted to do way more than that and the LDT is a good way to measure how far you can go at one time.  

You first earn the Achievement after hiking about 100 miles and have resupplied a couple of times.  It has to feel right.  It's all part of the experience of a long hike.  Going along your route, resupplying your food and other consumables and walking lots of miles.  You will know when the achievement has been earned.  Offering some fat and oil to Pamola will also help you along.  If you do that, the next morning's weather will let you know how the Storm God thinks about your achievement.  So, that's level 1 LDT.

Level 2 is earned after 200 miles.  That is the level LoGear and I earned.  Level 3 is at 500 miles.  I was less than 40 miles away from this one.  Level 4 is 1000 miles.  Maybe one day, I will get there, but I'm ok with my Level 2 achievement.  

The final level, Level 5 is earned after 2000 miles.  It would be quite an achievement to be a Level 5 LDT, let me tell you.  Those that have the physical and mental ability to do this trail from end to end are the earners of this Level of the Achievement.  The Rock Stars of the trail, so to speak.

What's Next

That's all I have for today.  In the coming weeks, I hope to talk about the different Sections of our Quest (Phase I).  That's all a long hike ever is, one section after another until you are "done".  That is how I approached this hike.  I would only plan the next section's hike.  Where we could stay, where the next resupply was...

Also, I want to talk about the wonderful filthy animals I met out there on the trail.  I tried to get all of their names, but I'm sure I missed many.  The people are the trail and I want to share with you those who made our hike special.  

Stay tuned as I process my thoughts and feelings and hopefully transform them into something you would want to read about.  Once again, wish me luck.

EarthTone and LoGear