Thursday, February 15, 2018

Hiking My Own Hike

Hiking My Own Hike

Yes, I know that phrase is so overused, but, for me, I now think of it as a useful phrase that has many meanings.  Sort of like the versatility of the word fuck, it has come to be used in several different situations.

But I'm not here to discuss how I've come to think of HYOH as a semi passive-aggressive, faux polite way to say "shut the fuck up", but to explain my desire to make my hike a personal journey.  

An Obsession is Born

Since around 2010 or so, my interest in the Appalachian Trail has grown into an obsession. I have even spent three years extremely immersed in the Trail Culture that surrounds the trail from north to south, when I was the manager at the A.T. Museum in Gardners, PA.  The more hikers I met of every style there are, the more I wanted to make my hike something unique.  I didn't want it to fit into the cookie cutter shape that certain hikes have become over the years.  I wanted something special.

One day, as I was daydreaming about the trail, an idea came to me that this hike could be a Quest.  Being a fantasy nerd, a Quest seemed the only proper way to complete a full traverse of the trail. But what would this Quest entail?  

I started feeding my obsession in 2011 by doing a nine day section hike from Harpers Ferry north into PA, the state of my birth.  I hiked about 90 miles that time, starting to learn how hard it was to hike several days in a row for decent mileages each day.  I learned that my feet would hurt when you hike like that.  I learned that when the weather is concerned, you take each day as given.  You soldier on, no matter what, because there are miles to go before you sleep.  As soon as I finished that hike, I was planning my next.

At the Halfway point in 2011. The obsession begins.

So, as the next several years went on, I would pick a part of the trail that I hadn't hiked yet, and go out for three or four days, or a week or so.  Adding to my measly total of unique miles until I had about 15% of the trail complete.  

LoGear and I doing a section in northern VA in 2012

Accepting the Quest

In 2016, after recovering from a back injury that had me not only cancelling hiking trips, but walking with a cane for several weeks, I saw a window in 2017 where we could get a very large chunk of the trail walked, if not the whole thing.  The Quest was becoming reality.  Once we picked a time and place to start, the more times I said it, the more real it became.

My wife, LoGear was up to the challenge and would come along.  We picked late April for our start, as we had some responsibilities to complete before the window opened.  We would hike north as far as we could.  As far as Pamola would let us. 

If you have read any of my other writings here, you would know that Pamola is an ancient storm god who lives in Katahdin, the greatest mountain.  He has the head of a moose, the body of a man and the wings and talons of an eagle.  Being a storm god, he has the ability to control the weather.  Especially on the mountain where a peak bears his name.  I had learned about Pamola while working at the Museum and became fascinated with him and his story.  


Before too long, my Quest had a name and along with the task of walking the whole trail, I had a very important additional task to fulfill the Quest, now named Pamola's Quest.

In my fantastical daydreaming, I had come to believe that Pamola had come to me and assigned me the Quest.  I would walk all of the trail, gathering the elements of the Talisman of the Storm.  A powerful amulet of Pamola's that had become scattered from Georgia to Maine many years ago.  I would find these elements as I hiked along.  Gathering them together and rebuilding the broken Talisman.  I would deliver the completed Talisman to the famed storm god on Pamola Peak on top of Katahdin.  There I would receive my reward for completing the Quest.  I'm still not sure what that reward will be.

The elements of the Talisman would be small things like pebbles and nuts. Feathers and bracelets and anything that revealed itself to me as an element of the amulet.  I would know when I found one most of the time.  The way it usually worked is I would notice something as I walked along.  A small shiny stone or a perfectly round nut.  A bracelet waiting for an owner or a feather laying in the middle of the trail.  I would usually pick it up, put it in my pocket and forget about it for a while.  Later, I would come upon it as I fished in my pocket for something and remember.  If it was still there, I would move it to my electronics bag or the pouch of the amulet itself.  A new element of the Talisman would be added. 

The Talisman at its beginning

So we started this Quest like the other thousands of wanna-bes who start their adventure in Georgia.  At the beginning, it had the potential to be a Thru Hike, but that was never my main goal, or very important to me.  If it ended up being a Thru Hike, than all the more special, but I had decided that I would not give the completion of my Quest a time limit other than the span of my life or walking ability.  If it took more than the standard year, than so be it.  I knew going in that the odds were certainly not in my favor, but I just needed to get out there and become a long distance hiker.  Outsiders, who are living life on the Trail, traveling by foot, as far as we could go.  

At the Arch.  4/25/17.  I'm really fat.

After hiking 251 miles, LoGear had come to the realization that my Quest had become less important to her than seeing her daughters and our dog.  She decided to get off trail after we left Erwin, TN in late May.  I continued on alone, but when I walked into Damascus, VA. I knew that Phase I of the Quest was coming to an end.  I needed a break.  I had let my mind convince me that I didn't want to spend the WHOLE summer just walking all day, every day.  I needed a diversion.  I needed something that wasn't walking all day, every day. I knew we would be back, but I wasn't sure when or where.

Alone on the trail for a while

Entering VA. 30 lbs lighter

End of Pamola's Quest Phase I

Doing Other Things - And Hiking

I got "off trail"  (no one quits, we just get "off trail")  and went home.  I planted my garden, kissed the cat, harvested my garlic, opened the pool and we went down to the beach for several days.  It was good getting back to the variety of things I do every summer, but before too long, we were talking about getting back to the trail.  

Ginger and LoGear in Cape May

In early July we headed back to the Trail. Not where we had gotten off, but close to where we might have been, had we kept walking.  We got back "on trail" at Rockfish Gap, and hiked through Shenandoah National Park.  It was an awesome hike.  We moved along good even though we had lost most of our trail legs and the weather was much more hot and humid in July than it had been in May.  We met new hikers and even saw a couple that we had started with down in GA.  But, this Phase (Phase IIa) was only eight days as now we had things to do at home before I could return once more.

Back "on trail" in Shenandoah

Shortly after getting home the first time, I found that our heat pump wasn't doing too well and I had the HVAC guys come in and look at it.  They put some dye into the system to check for a leak and were coming back soon to see what was up.  Also, during our first hiatus, I purchased some Tom Petty tickets, so we now had a date in Philly to see one of the greatest rockers of my young adulthood and I was still a huge fan.  Once I heard of Tom's passing, I knew that getting "off trail" was the totally right thing to do.  I had been wanting to see him for several years and am thankful that I got to see him during his last tour, even though we didn't know that was the case at the time.

Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker in Philly, July 29, 2017

After the concert, LoGear drove me up to Lehigh Gap in PA which was the northernmost part (excluding short hikes in NJ, NY and ME) that I had hiked in my Section Hiking days.  From there I continued north to finish PA, then NJ, NY and CT.  Getting to within four miles of the VT border in MA.  At the end of August, I headed home once again finishing Phase IIb of the Quest.  

Climbing up out of Lehigh Gap with Scrambles and Grouch, two hikers we had met in NC
who came walking up to me 5 minutes after I had restarted.

Phase III

When everyone is ramping up for Trail Days in Damascus, VA this May, I will be heading back to the Trail to finish the Quest in two more Phases.  Starting in Damascus I will hike north to Rockfish Gap to finish my 11th state.  After a short break, I will head back up to Williamstown, MA and will finish the final three states heading north.

Once I complete the AT, I still haven't completed my Quest.  The plan is to continue along the Knife's Edge to Pamola Peak, where I will present my completed Talisman to the god who sent me on this Quest.  If I am found worthy, I will continue down the Helon Taylor trail, down to Roaring Brook campground and from there, make my way to Millinocket and then home.  Or, maybe I'll just keep hiking.  I don't know.   

The Talisman of the Storm after Phase IIb

Present Day and The Quest So FAr

So here we are on day 296 of the Quest.  I ended up hiking 910 new miles of the Trail in 2017 and when my Quest evolved into something that was not a Thru Hike in early June, when my lack of mental fortitude allowed me to decide to get "off trail" for a time, I decided to include the 15% of Trail I had hiked from 2011 thru 2015 for a total of 1299 miles complete and around 990 to go.  I have collected several elements of the Talisman and I know that I only have a few more to find.  

I am perfectly happy with the way this hike, this Quest, has progressed.  Once I let go of the time constraint that a Thru Hike entails, a huge pressure lifted from my chest.  Some people become obsessed with being a Thru Hiker.  I'm not one of them.  I'm hiking MY own hike and I'm ok with that.  

I know this is a long read, so if you are still here, thanks for sticking around.  I have had a hell of a ride so far during this Quest and I am sure that once this Quest is complete, my Adventures will be far from over.  LoGear will still keep hiking new miles and I hope will one day become a 2000 miler in her own right, so it will be fun hiking with her and supporting her as she does the miles.  I have also already started planning my next Adventure which will be a traverse of the state of my birth, PA, on foot, using the multitude of trails that exist in my favorite state.

Stay tuned.  I guarantee it will be a wild ride.


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