See what I did there, “post”mortem. Tee hee…I crack myself up. It is hard to believe that I have been home for a couple of months already. Seems like my thru-hike attempt happened eons ago, and it wasn’t really all that long ago that I was on the trail. It has been hard being back. I spent several years thinking about the thru hike, and probably close to one full year planning the hike only to call it quits 38 days and 288 miles into it. And unfortunately, that was nothing in the scheme of things. Zippo. There is a reason less than 20% complete a thru attempt. It is hard. For me, I did not even get to some of the hurdles I would have to cross, mostly the mental hurdles that were to come. I am following a few people that I met on the trail and they have mentioned some mental hurdles that are challenging them at the moment.
I read somewhere that there are three stages to a thru hike of the magnitude of the AT. The first is physical. You have to get your trail legs and your body has to adjust to the daily grind of hiking. There is a certain amount of physical pain you must endure to get through this phase. The second is mental. Once your body has adjusted, it is now time for the mind to start giving you a hard time. At this stage you are 30 to 45 days into it, and you are doing the same exact thing each day. I had some of this difficulty, but there would have been more to come. It is very easy to question what you are doing when things are tough and wonder why on earth you are still out on the trail. Especially when back to back to back days are the simply a green tunnel through the woods or when climb after climb affords you a fogged in view. The third apparently is spiritual. If you can push through to the third stage apparently that is when things become very different. It is no longer a chore, or difficult, but it becomes enlightening. Beats me. I could not even get past the first phase.
This past week I found a video blogger (vlogger) whose videos I have been enjoying. Especially the videos through Hot Springs, or more specifically the ground I covered. It was really cool to see something and remember my time at that location. Leslie was getting a kick out of the videos in general and then found out what I meant when we watched the Hot Springs video and she could see where she had been just a couple of months ago. This guy is a riot and I find that he and I think rather similar thoughts on the trail. I would encourage you to check out his videos, but I do want to mention that he is a colorful character and that is your language and other activity warning. So if you are easily offended, you may wish to take a pass. He is not measured in his videos. He is straight up what you see is what you get.
Been considering my options moving forward. Do I want to attempt another thru? Do sections? Do only the pieces that sound really, really cool? Maybe skip it altogether and do the Ice Age Trail or head out West and do the Colorado Trail or PCT or JMT?
I am not ready to let the AT go, so I will be going back to it. Oddly enough the one thing I really liked about the AT was the people. Some of the other options (trails) are much more remote. Right now I am thinking I will start in Harper’s Ferry this time, the emotional half way point of the trail (the real half way point is just north of Harper’s Ferry, but HF is where the Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters is located so it is considered the “halfway” point). I really was looking forward to the Northern half of the AT and since I did not even get to the Virginia state line, I figure I have a better chance of seeing some of what I want to see if I start at the half way point and work my way north.
During the hike I made reference to how hard it was to be away from Leslie and home for so long, and I considered that if I went back I would probably only do 45 – 60 days or so at a time. I think this would be Leslie’s preference as well. It is hard for her to get out to the trail to visit. However, the thing that is difficult about doing 45-60 day sections is that you are just getting into hiking shape after 30 days or so, so once you are pretty much ready to really start hitting the miles you are done for the year. LASH (long ass section hiking) is a very challenging way to complete the trail. The concept of the thru still is grabbing me, even though I would hate to redo those first 300 miles again. I think what I would like to do is start off from HF, hike north with the goal of Katahdin, if I am up to it, and then decide from there. If we were to then decide that we were up for the thru, then I would likely do what I was originally thinking and flip to Springer and hike north for a finish at Harper’s Ferry. Once at Katahdin, I would be in shape enough that the first 288 miles that took 38 days this year, would only take me about 16 to 19 days, maybe less. For all the complaining I did about Georgia’s mountains and the uphills, NC and TN taught me that GA was cake.
Doing it that way I would probably delay my start until mid-May. That would give me a little extra time after tax season to get the achilles ready for battle. That would mean a finish likely after October 1st, if completing a thru, but hiking back to Harper’s Ferry the elevation that last month would be a lot lower than if I were to head south and end with the Smokies and GA. From a weather standpoint that would be preferable.
Looking back on my writings, blogging and instant messages, May 9th was the first day I mentioned my achilles bothering me. It so happened that that day was the day we crossed into NC and decided due to the wind to not camp at Bly Gap, but instead to push on. The next two miles were straight uphill. To that point in time and in fact for me, that uphill was by far the worst on the trail that I experienced. That was the day I mentioned my achilles and they only got worse from there. I do not know if I had stayed at Bly Gap and rested until the next morning if that up would have caused the same issues for me. I knew at the time of the decision that I was tired and should have camped at Bly Gap, but I did not want to camp in that wind, I did not want to let Crooner go on without me and I figured pushing my body was what it was all about. Who knows.
Anyway the experience of the hike was very valuable. It may have turned out that that was my shake down hike. I do know that I was a bit cocky going into it. I knew it would be tough, but I had experience so I would be fine. Well, it was tougher than anything I have done to date and it kicked my ass. So tail between my legs I came home.
There are several things I would do different. 1) I would use my old external frame pack. Unless I can figure out how to lower my pack weight by 10 pounds, the external frame is the way to go. 2)I would not carry as much food, nor would I buy it all in advance again. That turned out to be a costly mistake, instead of a cost savings. 3)I would take more pictures and video. I did not really take any video and I only did two Facebook live segments. I would take more video and do more FB live. 4)I would be more diligent about training ahead of time. When you get old hiking yourself into shape might be an issue. As it was in my case with my achilles. 5)There are some other minor gear issues that I would resolve, but overall I was happy with most of my choices. And some were perfect, such as buying the ZPacks Duplex tent. Best tent I have ever owned.
Leslie and I are going to be going camping in a couple of weeks and I am going to take my GoPro along and try to put it through its paces. This will likely mean I will be starting a YouTube account and posting some video to it. I’ll post the links here once I get it figured out. If I go back to the AT I want to be better prepared with the electronics so that I can post more pictures and videos. I doubt I can match the humor of Dann’s video’s above, but maybe through some practice it won’t feel so stiff and forced to me as I do it.
Anyway, thanks for reading and there will be more to come. I know I promised pics from the trail, and to be honest I have not really looked at them too much yet. I’ll get there. As far as next summer goes, there are a lot of moving pieces that would need to fall into place. As we did this year, Leslie and I will discuss it and then I will discuss it with my Dad and brother as well. Leaving for a long period of time impacts a lot of people.
So for those of you that joined me for sections of this year’s hike, Crooner, Croc & Debra, Ben & Stephanie Ann, The Women of the White Blaze, or those of you who talked about it, John Hajicek, Clark King, or anyone else I might have failed to mention…start thinking about next year. Considering a May 15th(ish) date in Harper’s Ferry. Be an honor to walk with any of you again, be it a few days or many many miles. The people make the journey.