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!