What the AT is all about…

I want to talk about the AT a little bit and what I learned from it. As you know now, hiking the AT gives one lots of time to think about many deep questions. One of which has been; Why is the AT so significant to so many people? The AT changes those who complete the long journey in many different ways.

While talking to other hikers, I have noticed a common thread of conversation emerge. In the beginning of the hike, everyone talked about food and gear. Everyday, all day long, those were the most common topics. It was fascinating to see how people were equipping themselves for the long journey ahead. The creative meals were also fun to talk about. However, these topics are rarely brought up as of now. Everyone is content with their choice of gear that they are carrying. As for food, there is really no more way of spicing things up. We eat anything and everything and that’s all there is to it.

The new common thread of conversation that I have noticed emerge the last couple months is, People. We are always talking about funny stories revolving around hikers. All of us look forward to every morning and every evening because that is when we get a chance to hang out and spend time with each other while cooking and eating. Those moments of conversation when hanging out at the campsites mean the world to us. There is a sense of camaraderie and genuine interest in sharing each other’s company. I see it as a unique sub-culture/community. What is interesting is that people of all ages and from all walks of life can simply sit down and share a few laughs. Age, gender, financial status means nothing to us. Those are all social barriers that have come down.

Many of us wore masks before coming out on the trail. I’m talking about masks that hid our true selves. We wore those masks in fear of what others may think if they found out what we were truly struggling with. The masks that many of us wore when living our lives outside of the AT tended to hide our struggles, disappointments, and fears. We tend to put forth a front of constant happiness and joy in hopes of being liked. Many of us feared rejection from those around us if we let them know of our present issues. Many of us thought that “If I’m not always happy, then others will think something is really wrong with me.”

On the AT, we learned to take those lousy masks off. We all have rough days whether it’s due to significant foot pain, plowing through miles of rough terrain (mud or rocks), getting all our stuff completely drenched in rain, getting eaten alive by mosquitoes, or simply feeling mentally/physically drained. The neat thing about the AT family is that it’s letting other’s know of your current struggles that helps greatly with issues of the day. Keeping it all internalized does you no good. The other hikers totally get what you are going through. However, we do not live and dwell in negativity. That does no one any good. People that are simply open about their joys and struggles have a very unique bond that I like to call “Family”. The family totally gets you and helps bring one out of that state of misery.

The AT family is what makes the Appalachian Trail so special. Initially I thought it was all about nature, but it really is not about the mountains, the views, or the trees. It’s people that make the AT so special. Many hikers have never had a real family at home. They never had a real solid network of friends at home. The AT has given them a taste of this and this is why many of them are dreading Katahdin. They fear the loneliness that awaits them back at home once this adventure is over. They fear the life of false identity that they have created among their peers. They fear putting on that old mask that has been off for so long. I am telling these hikers that it is an excellent opportunity for them to share with the world what it truly means to be happy in life. Happiness is found in living for others. A life surrounded by a genuine group of family and friends is worth living.

But there is much more that can be said about the life lessons that the AT teaches. Everyone learns something different about themselves and others out here. The AT is not a vacation destination. This is a trail that hammers on its victims relentlessly until the end product is better than the initial one.

New snake species discovered! I shall call it: Spidermanium Eduardium

Snakes eat mice so snakes are awesome!

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Coolest mushroom I've seen on the trail

Coolest mushroom I’ve seen on the trail

Sunset at FlagStaff Lake

Sunset at FlagStaff Lake

One of Maine's many ponds

One of Maine’s many ponds

Bigalow Mountain Range

Bigalow Mountain Range

Best wishes, God bless!

Spider

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Katahdin

Katahdin

Katahdin


The 100 hundred mile wilderness. Many of those that hear of it become slightly intimidated. It seems to be a place that is distant, vast, wild and dangerous. There is a cloud of mystery that surrounds this section of trail. It is intriguing how much us thru-hikers talked about it as we approached it in the past weeks. This was the final exam for all of us before summiting Katahdin, the last mountain. Hiking through the wilderness we discovered that there was nothing too difficult about it. It consisted of more of the same terrain that we had been hiking on: rocks, tons of roots and plenty of nasty black mud. Us guys hike this distance all the time between resupplies. Go into a town, resupply, hike 80-100 miles and get into the next town. That was basically my life for the past 6 months.

I fondly remember our conversations in the wilderness. It mainly consisted of food. The closer we zeroed in on Katahdin, the more we talked about all the different types of food everyone would eat once finished. I had this image burgers on my mind the last 2 days. BBQ pulled pork burger, cheese burgers with extra cheese… The promise of town food kept driving me onwards towards the finish.

Myself, Bear Juice, Blink

Myself, Bear Juice, Blink

Robin Hood and Cartwheel

Robin Hood and Cartwheel

It happened so that I was hiking with the Kallin Family, Bear Juice and Blink. There was no better company than those folks on my last stretch of trail. Loads of positive energy. Last time I saw the Kallins was several months ago in NJ. They took 2 weeks off and then caught up to me in the wilderness. I know what you are thinking, “The kids took 2 weeks off and still caught up to you?!” Well, my rebuttal is this, “I know, I suck.”

The second to last night I was climbing up the last small mountain: Rainbow ledges where everyone planned to camp. This is a small mountain with a beautiful view of Katahdin in the distance.

Katahdin view from Rainbow Ledges

Katahdin view from Rainbow Ledges


I was totally smoked by the end of the day. 23 mile day and I was rationing food like crazy. I destroyed my 15 lb food bag the first 4 days and so payed the cost on days 5-6. Anyways, when I got to the summit Blink yelled out “Spiderman! Berries! They’re everywhere!!!” Sure enough berries as far as the eye could see. I have never seen these kind of berries before. “What are they?” I asked. Blink: “I have no idea but they taste amazing!” Well, I did what anyone else with common sense would do; drop my backpack, plop down next to a bush and start eating handfuls of these mysteriously delicious berries. A thought did cross my mind, what if they are poisonous? To which I answered, “Who cares! At least I’ll die a happy man.” haha It’s funny what hunger will do to a man.
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After what seemed like ages, Blink and I forced ourselves to stop eating and set up camp. A couple hikers told us later on that those were Huckleberries and totally safe to eat. I have no idea why they are not sold in grocery stores. They taste many times better than blueberries.
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The next day we hiked into Baxter State park. We registered as Thru-hikers and set up camp in an area specifically designated for us hikers. It was so much fun hanging out with everyone on the last night. We built a fire (the first one in months) and sat around sharing funny stories late into the night. It was funny talking about the trail: funny moments, scary ones, embarrassing stories…

After a few hours of sleep everyone was out of camp and hiking up the mountain by 5am. We were told that there was a rainstorm moving in that afternoon so everyone was hustling up the mountain. I kicked it into overdrive because of this:

Incoming rainstorm

Incoming rainstorm


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The rainstorm was moving in on me so I flew up the 5 mile climb in 2 hours 10 min. But, I didn’t make it in time. Freezing cold wind/rain hit me as I got close to the summit. And then I saw it, the legendary sign! The sign was probably the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen! I’ve only seen pictures of it and now I finally got a chance to physically touch it!
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People asked if I cried when I saw the sign. Nope. Way too cold to cry. I was completely soaked by freezing rain and was trembling pretty bad from the cold- totally worth it!
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I simply can’t convey my thoughts and feelings very well about my finish on paper. Laughter/happiness/smiles/hugs, all of these things were experienced on Katahdin.

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I am glad I hiked the AT. It has made me a better man physically, mentally and spiritually. This was a walk-about that I needed in order to grow and improve on many different levels. Would I ever do it again? Nope. Once is enough. This endeavor was life changing in a positive way. I’ve recieved much from people and my experiences on the Appalachian Trail and am now ready to give back to others. Many thanks to all those that supported me, sent me letters of encouragement and care packages. I am truly blessed to have so many wonderful friends and family in my life.

me

Before

Before

After

After (with my little cousin)

Chuck Norris hiked the whole AT without ever taking one step!

Chuck Norris hiked the whole AT without ever taking one step!

August 31 – Head in the Clouds

August 31 – Head in the Clouds

Hello everyone, I’m driving home right now but would like to re-blog the Kallin Family’s summit posting. It was a privilege to have summited with them.

A Family Adventure of the 2,185 mile hike from Georgia to Maine - 2014

We woke up early and hit the trail by five thirty to try to beat the forecasted weather expected to roll in later in the day. Most of the other thru-hikers had a similar approach and were on the trail between five and five-thirty. But even Spider-Man, the fastest of us up the mountain (in about two hours and ten minutes), ended up with his head in the clouds.

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Maine-ly Done With the AT

Hey guys this is Sergey reporting in for Spiderman. For those that do not know me, I am his youngest brother and typically go by Surge (yes like the soda from the 1990s). I  have been teaching Spiderman, since the day he was born, the skills necessary to become the man he is today. I was asked by Spiderman to update the blog, do to his inability to gain access to a computer. To get you in the loop, Spiderman is probably alive and doing well. Last we heard of him, he was fighting off an angry pack of gorillas that have been raiding the campsites. And if that wasn’t enough, the gorillas have been placing the occasional banana peel on the trail for an unexpected hiker to slip on.

Spiderman was given a deadline to reach Mount Katahdin by the end of the month. He has less than 200 miles to go so a pace of about 17 miles per day will allow him to complete the journey before then. Spiderman did say that the hiking is getting old and he is looking for alternative methods of completing the trail.

Just a quick hiking lesson, Blazing is a term used by hikers to describe the method they choose to hike along a trail.

  • White blazing is when a hiker travels the trail by foot and follows the white blazes.
  • Yellow blazing is when the hiker takes a ride in a vehicle along the trail.
  • Blue blazing is when a hiker  travels along a river parallel to the trail.
  • Pink blazing is when a guy hikes after a girl (which is apparently pretty common). Most of the time the girl does not know or is trying to get away.
  • Banana Blazing is when a guy or girl pursues another hiker.

Spiderman decided to go moose blazing. He captured a moose, harnessed it up, and is riding it all the way to Katahdin. With this he joins the ranks of the historical elites.

Definitely not photoshopped.

Definitely not photoshopped.

Stay tuned for Spiderman’s update before he conquers Katahdin which has been in his sights from the beginning.

In New Hampshire finally!

Last time I posted, I was just entering Vermont. The beginning of the Vermont trail was absolutely miserable because of the mud.
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There was a sign at the Massachusetts/Vermont border line that said “Entering Vermont Wilderness area. There is little to no trail maintenance in order to allow nature to dominate the area.” I was kind of confused about the “dominance” idea, but it seemed good on paper. However, seeing the trail first hand, I quickly changed my mind. Trail maintenance is VERY important. Without anyone taking care of the trail, the mud got out of hand. No one wants to walk through that thick black goo because its straight up gross. Walking around the edges unfortunately creates more erosion. Leaving the trail unattended creates a huge footprint that is not good for nature or those of us walking the trail.
The good thing is that this wilderness area only lasted for about 50 miles. After that, the trail went through different areas belonging to local hiking clubs. These guys did an excellent job keeping the trail clean. Vermont is simply beautiful! Loads of excellent views and lots of pine groves.
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I really enjoyed Vermont because of all the hikers that I came across. The coolest thing on the trail is when you are walking along and then stumble across someone that you haven’t seen in many months.

Red and Canadia

Red and Canadia

This is a pic I took couple weeks ago. Last time I saw Canadia was on that super cold night in the Smokies (when the T-Rex was chasing me). It’s hard to describe the excitement that one gets after seeing a familiar face from ages ago.

Grasshopper, Runnaway, Money Maker and me

Grasshopper, Runnaway, Money Maker, and me

Last time I saw Grasshopper and her husband Runnaway was in Virginia! We got reunited in Vermont. Grasshopper loves telling everyone a particular story about me. One day in Virginia, Runnaway and I were hiking together with Grasshopper right behind us. We were hiking and chit-chatting about casual topics like Cold Fusion, world peace, and quantum physics. Then, after a while I told Runnaway that it was great hiking and talking with him. “I’m going to take off now, see you down the trail!” And I did just that, put my legs into overdrive and powered up the mountain. Grasshopper started laughing and told her man, “I too want to take off, but my legs are stuck in first gear!”
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One cool thing about Vermont is wild raspberries everywhere! It is so hard to force myself to keep hiking past these huge patches of berries. I could sit there all day and eat them by the handfuls but that wouldn’t get me any closer to Katahdin.
Last week, I was right outside of a town and was completely out of food. I decided to dig one last time through my food bag and found this:
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a half eaten snickers at the bottom of my food bag… WIN!!! It’s totally the small things out here that make the difference between a great day and a rough one.

Blink, Tony, Money Maker

Blink, Tony, Money Maker

Right now, I am hanging out at Tony’s home waiting for my care package to come in. It should be in tomorrow. But guess what, Tony used to be the group publisher for Climbing Magazine! Crazy awesome! Locals in Hanover, NH are super nice and take in hikers all the time. They love listening to our stories and simply enjoy meeting people from all walks of life.

Most current selfie

Most current selfie

The White Mountains are only 50 miles away. Stay tuned for loads of epic views.
Spider

3 more states to go!!!

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Vermont! Wohoo!!! I can’t believe that there is only 3 states left. Roughly 500 miles of the greatest terrain up ahead. This adventure is nearing it’s end slowly and I’m excited about closing this chapter in my life and opening up a new one after this. Right now I’m hanging out at Green Mountain House Hostel in Manchester, VT. This is by far the best hostel I’ve ever been to. The atmosphere here is very relaxed and positive. It has been rated #1 every year since it’s opening in 2008.

Green Mountain House Hostel

Green Mountain House Hostel

MA/CT border
Connecticut was easy and fun. Then I got to Massachusetts. This is definitely one of the more memorable states I’ve been too. As soon as we crossed into Mass, the terrain automatically changed within a mile. I’m talking about coniferous forest. The smell of wonderful pine is everywhere! There is nothing like walking all day long through amazing pine forests.
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Massachusetts  Ridgeline

Massachusetts Ridgeline

After a couple days in Mass things turned for the worse. You remember when I was complaining about mosquitoes in NY? Well this was 10 times worse. No joke. They destroyed me. I will never forget a section of trail near the town of Great Barrington. They were so bad there that I had to speed walk/run through many swampy sections for hours with no breaks! At one point I glanced over my shoulder and saw this huge cloud of mosquitoes chasing me down the trail like zombies or something. It was crazy! The locals told me it was the worst mosquito year they ever had. Every time I stopped to eat or filter water, body armor was required.

Body armor: Pants, rain coat, head net, and bug spray

Body armor: Pants, rain coat, head net, and bug spray

I honestly thought those bugs would drive me insane. When hiking through the previous state of Connecticut, I averaged 10 mosquito bites a day. This number tripled in Massachusetts. But the good thing about those horrible bugs was they kept me moving quickly through the state.

Mass is full of these huge lakes but for some reason they call them ponds. Their definition of ponds is definitely skewed. My rules are simple. If you can wakeboard in it, its a lake.

Knee-Deep Pond

Knee-Deep Pond

I eventually made it to Dalton, Mass and had and amazing time hanging out with Tom Levardi and other hikers. Tom has been there since the very beginning. He provided me and Politician with a place to sleep in his house, showers, breakfast and dinner… simply an awesome trail angel.

Tom Levardi

Tom Levardi

Politician

Politician


When at Tom’s house, 2 hikers came by with stories about stalkers. Yep, you heard right, stalkers. There is a guy from Scotland, Dean, that somehow ran into a girl named Joy at a restaurant. She fell in love with him immediately and became obsessed with Dean. The guy got scared and ran away down the trail. She tried to get in contact with him by posting these index cards everywhere. I’m talking about cards in shelters, on trees, on logs, everywhere… over a 50 mile section of AT.
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He got a restraining order on her lol!

Then Mr. Blisters showed up and told us of how he tried to run away from a hiker who got to attached to him. Blisters is a South Bounder (SOBO). A guy named Zeek hiking with him SOBO. At first all things were well until Zeek started using Blister’s stove and wearing his crocs around camp. Blisters tried telling him that it was weird and stuff but Zeek doesn’t get basic social ques. Blisters hiked a 32 mile day through the Whites and Zeek kept up!!! Blisters even snuck out of camp one morning at 2 am and hiked a 40 mile day. He lost Zeek for 3 days but the guy caught up and ridiculed Blister for abandoning him! haha! Mr. Blisters was like “Dude, your a full grown man. I didn’t abandon you! I tried to ditch you because you are driving me crazy!” But the guy didn’t seem to care and hiked with Blisters for another week until a miracle happened; Zeek got diarrhea that lasted one week. Blisters is now free of his ball and chain! haha too funny!!!

Some hikers are too unsecure about themselves and their surroundings. When they find a strong hiker who is confident, they tend to get attached for security.

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Largest oak tree on east coast

Largest oak tree on east coast

Vermont is a muddy mess but that is not too much of an issue. The temps are way cooler and I only got bit by 2 mosquitoes in 4 days. That’s unbelievable! I’m really enjoying the hike and am super stoked about the White Mountains coming up.

You guys will be the first to know if there are anymore weird stalkers on the trail. Have no fear, they don’t stalk me because the beard is too intimidating. True story.

Spidy

Still in Connecticut…

me face

You may be wondering why I’m still in this state when I should be in Massachusetts by now. Have no fear, there is a perfectly good explanation for that. But before I give my excuses, let me tell you about New York.
For some reason the people of New York decided to build the trail next to swamps. As you may well know, swamps are a place where all kinds of horrible critters live. I’m talking about man-eating turtles, poisonous butterflies, flying snakes, Sasquatch, and terrifying blood sucking mosquitoes.

NY Swamps

NY Swamps


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The mosquitoes drove me crazy in NY. I don’t know how my friend Sara Rockclimbing(that’s her last name in my cell) does it. These guys bite me everywhere. They always get me through my shirt too. Any place that my shirt is tight across my body is always vulnerable: shoulder region, my back when the pack is off, and my rock hard six pack. NY really tested my sanity but luckily I survived.
Nearing the end of NY I came across Stick-Man. He hiked the trail couple years ago. It was fun hanging out with him and enjoying his stories, words of wisdom, and trail advice. He, like many other former thru hikers, had the same general advice: slow down and enjoy the journey. It’s the journey, not the destination that matters.
Stick-Man had a funny bear encounter during his hike. One morning he had to use the bathroom and there were no privies in the area so he did what we all do, go in the woods. He was squatting under a tree and doing his business when he randomly looked up above him. There, in the tree, was a bear looking down at him! HAHA! Seriously, true story. His first thought was, “Get the camera!” So he pulled up his pants, ran got the camera and took a sweet pic of a bear still hanging out in the tree. Too funny!

The Lemon Squeeze

The Lemon Squeeze


Even though NY was full of harrowing dangers, it had some sweet terrain that we had to get through.

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The sign at the border was nothing glamorous so only Chuck got in on this one.

So… back to my excuse regarding Connecticut. I am blaming my longer than planned stay in CT on Michelle.

The perpetrator for all my fun: Michelle

The perpetrator for all my fun: Michelle

I was walking from Kent towards the trail head when she pulled up and offered to give me a ride. While talking to her I found out she was going bouldering with her friend Tara aka (Star). Of course I simply had to invite myself on the fun and those two were more than welcoming. We had loads of fun on the rocks.

Star

Star

bouldering

After all that climbing we got hungry so it was off to Star’s house. She is a chef and served us up some delicious pasta and fried chicken.

Right now I am 7 miles outside of Massachusetts and will be there in a couple hours. CT was loads of fun and it will be dearly missed. Here are some more random pics I took:

Hopscotch!

Hopscotch!

A legit privy

A legit privy

Me slowly roasting in 90+ degree temps (NY)

Me slowly roasting in 90+ degree temps (NY)

Umm, as for the care packages and where to send them, I don’t even know! Call El Tigre. I’ll put all that responsibility on him. He can handle it, that’s why they call him…

I miss everyone at home and hope to be back sooner than later.
Spider Man