I’m posting descriptions of my past favorite trip – the Appalachian Trail.
I am getting back on the correct email numbering with 7.5. I was bit aggressive with my last number #7 and skipped #6.
I am in the Front Royal Library at the end of Shenandoah National Park (w/ limited time so forgive the typos). I only have 50 miles left as well, so this chapter is quickly coming to a close. Hikers usually do not refer to things in miles – we speak in terms of “days.” 50 miles equals 2.5 days or two big days of hiking. Folks are either several days ahead on the trail or several days behind. I lose track of time and the day of the week. I forgot that it was Monday and Memorial Day existed! I could not obtain my maildrop. This is just one small example of how my perspective has changed a bit on the trail. Einstein was right – time is relative even at speeds significantly less than the speed of light.
Walking through the ridges of VA made me think of many Revolutionary War and Civil War heroes. We pass many haunts of those historical heroes. It also makes me appreciate how geography impacts history – especially when I appreciate the scenery one step at a time. Wool Civil War uniforms must have been hot! These thoughts make me appreciate gore-tex, dried food, and hip belts that much more. I am also thankful that no one is shooting at me. I think that would remove most of the fun from hiking.
I saw my first bear (outside of a zoo) in Shenandoah NP. I was hiking around dusk, and I saw a very large rear end (sir mix a lot would have been proud) about 25 feet in front of me on the trail. I watched him a while, and he proceeded to sit on the trail. I still needed to log a few more miles, so I made some noise. You can scare black bears by making loud noises, especially metallic ones. The bear must have been confused because instead of running off the trail in fear, he started walking toward me! Fortunately when I raised my voice an octave or two, he realized the error of his ways, and he ran away quaking in fear. Maybe I am exagerating the bear’s emotional state, but he did run away. I can safely say that my heart skipped a beat or two.
One hiker tradition is visiting All You Can Eat establishments (AYCE). We burn 4000-6000 calories a day, so we have large appetites. It is good to budget large amounts of time at AYCE restaurants, and bring a book or good friends. Also, go light on the beverages because they diminish your appetite. I was at one Country Homestyle Restaurant in Catabwa, VA that reminded me of Bullocks in Durham, NC. They sat the hiker party of appox 20 in the middle of a large hall. We overheard a little boy at a nearby table tell his Mom that “they smell like trash.” It may have been an apt description, but I prefer to call it Eau de hiker.
It is entertaining to be a bit of a spectacle in town. Hikers usually look lean, tan, and a bit grungy. They sport large beards (fortunately just the males on this one), carry hiking poles, wear bandanas on their head (at least I do), and have large packs. It just fun to be aware that folks say, “look at him” or “are you hiking the trail.”
I think that anyone who has become too cynical with the world should hike the trail. I am floored by the simple acts of kindness or “trail magic” that “trail angels” provide. I will not bore you with my trail magic examples, but they all involve total strangers who have helped me – opened the doors of their homes, driven me significantly out their way, and fed me. They help just for the simple reason that I was hiking the trail and could use a little assistance. Hiking the trail has reminded me that there are many good people in this world. It also inspires me to help others (hikers and otherwise) as well.
The trail has also helped me appreciate the rush that technology brings. Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect and domestic czar during the end of WWII, wrote a book while in solitary confinement in Britain. In it he described that after 7 or 8 years, the authorities permitted Speer to vacuum a common room. Speer described that as one of the happiest moments of his life. He felt rush of technology for the first time in many years.
On a very small scale, that is how I feel when I check the internet or walk into Walmart. Plus, I am reminded that folks like Regis Philbin exist. That escaped my conscious memory until I visited Walmart. I am suddenly given all these consumer choices, and it can be intoxicating. I am sure John Kenneth Galbraith would have something to say about this New Industrial State. Hiking makes me appreciate these contrasts – and relish both the outdoors and the technology around us.
I can also identify with astronauts trying to escape Earth’s gravity when I leave town or a pleasant place. The gravity of the great lodge in Shenandoah NP was strong. It took a lot to resist the temptation of just reading another hour in their great hall.
I have only 50 miles, and I will relish every step.
Life is good.