Beard Length: Leo in The Revenant
Showers Taken: 28
Beers Drank: ??
Bears Spotted: 16
Zero Days: 8
One of the great parts about entering a familiar part of the trail, is seeing some friendly face. Growing up and going to college in New England has scattered a network of companions all throughout this region that are pretty amazing, care about me for some reason, and have stellar strength of their olfactory receptors to allow my nasty hiker stench in their vehicles. I have been truly moved by how many of my incredible friends have gone above and beyond, far out of their way to see me in the past two weeks. Now it really does feel like I’m walking home.
It all started crossing into New Jersey the day before the Fourth. One of my great friends from college Sierra who is working on her PhD. at Rutgers University drove to the Delaware Water Gap to pick me up for the holiday. And I blame her and all her wicked smaht friends and their epic 4th of July party for the reason I can no longer have an accurate beer count in my “Important Statistics” section.
One of my favorite parts of the party came from a conversation about my diet with two of her friends. There’s an interesting dynamic that occurs when you’re the only dirty, smelly, hippy who’s lived in the woods for the past 3 months in a room full of Ph.D. and MD students. After explaining the importance of eating tons and tons of calories that are lightweight and packable, I mentioned that I had eaten a lot of goldfish lately.
A surprised look immediately came across their face and they said, “Goldfish? Where do you get them?” I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the question so I casually replied, “Oh, well just at the store.” Her face became more perplexed and she said, “Wow! Do how do you cook them?” It was at that moment I finally realized she thought that I was eating real goldfish. I must really look like a true savage.
Even better than the party though, was that she took me to the beach the next day. And not the dirty, crowded, fake-tan infested Jersey Shore portrayed by the media; it was a secret beach with hardly anyone their. And for about an hour I felt pure bliss, swimming through the waves on a beautiful July day. All my life I’d known that the two places I could always count on for comfort were the mountains and the ocean. Often times on the trail, especially on the hot days, I’ve dreamed of the ocean. Maybe it’s one of the “grass is always greener” type of situations.
I had a phenomenal time with Sierra, but I had this peculiar feeling in my gut by the end. In fact, it was borderline anxiety, which I attribute to being too far away from the trail for too long. How long does it take to form a routine? What constitutes making something your “normal” life? Even if there are specific timelines and data to answer these questions, what I can definitively tell you is that once immersed into the Appalachian Trail it has an irresistible hold on you. I like to believe that it’s because of the simplicity and freedom that captivates the soul. Although as a human who grew up in a developed country, I miss certain comforts, part of me wishes I could hike the trail forever.
That night, I stealth camped at Sunfish Pond with no one else even remotely close to me. As day faded into night and the sounds of the woods came to life, I was once again reminded why I love this so much.
New Jersey was a pleasant surprise for me. In my head, I pictured it to be a state to just, “get through”. Open ridge walks and rolling hills kept the terrain interesting which was a welcome change from the hell that was Pennsylvania.
What did suck about NJ, was the bugs. Mosquitos, gnats, and black flies unleashed a constant and unbearable assault. Thankfully, I had an unlikely trail angel in one of the times I needed it most. Back at the start of the trail I had posted the link to my blog in the NH48 FaceBook group. One of the people who reached out to me was a woman named Arielle who told me to let her know if I needed anything while coming through New Jersey. Well, I was in New Jersey and I really needed bug spray. I knew it was a shot in the dark but I reached out to her anyway. A few hours later, I was meeting Arielle on the top of the auto road of Sunrise Mountain. This woman whom I had never met came out at 8:30 PM on a Friday night to bring me a bag full of snacks, Gatorade, and bug spray. People truly are amazing.
New York was similar to New Jersey in the sense that it was full of mind-numbingly rolling hills that are not tall, but relentless on weary legs. It is also another state where beautiful vistas began to reemerge after a section of the trail that left me craving mountaintop views.
I got to spend one day with my MCAT study buddy Teresa Samson who’s boyfriend Mike was the one who stealthily left my the PBR’s on McAfee Knob back in Virginia. Crazy how time flies by. In the midst of a New York heat wave we got to have Chinese food, ice cream, and Mexican all in a span of a few hours.
And the day after one of my friends, Nancy from the Antarctica Marathon in 2016 came to hike for the day. It was these little breaks and touches back to my “real world” that have broken the pattern of loneliness and monotony that inevitably strikes from time to time. One of the other struggles of New York was how dry it was. Given all the heat and lack of rain, many of the normal streams and water sources had dissipated into thin air. Myself and every other thru hiker have been beyond grateful for all the trail angels in the New York section of the trail that had left dozens of water jugs at all of the road crossings. It was really life saving.
Connecticut was another state I wasn’t particularly excited about. There was actually only one thing that I was really looking forward to about hiking through and that was meeting up with Jo Marczyk. Some of my favorite races and hiking moments have come with her, so it was a pleasure to share a weekend on the AT with her and Prancer.
What would have otherwise been a rather forgettable section of trail became one of my favorite weekends of the whole trail. We found a perfect campsite by the Housatonic River and enjoyed a few beers that we packed out and caught up on life. Prancer was the real legend of the trail for the weekend. His endless amount of energy contributed to him easily hiking 10 more miles than we did. There was no doubt that he earned his burger at the end of the hike. I’m truly lucky to have some pretty amazing people in my life that take time out of their busy schedules to come out and spend some time on the trail with me.
Why bother leaving the house? That is the title of one of the TED talks by polar explorer, and my hero, Ben Saunders. In an age where technology is seemingly limitless and adventure beyond prior imagination can be ‘experienced’ through virtual reality, what is the point of exerting the effort to do such things in the real world. To paraphrase Mr. Saunders, although you ascertain a few particular details of what something might be like from reading or looking at pictures or high definition videos for virtual reality, you’ll never actually know what it was like.
For example, I had a magical night about a week ago, stealth camping atop Black Mountain in New York. Before pitching my tent, I stood on a ledge overlooking the Hudson River while the blue sky swirled into a mixed palette of pink and orange. As the summer heat faltered with the light of day, owls began to hoot, and a doe and fawn walked gingerly in the brush behind me. All around the site I had chosen to camp were blueberry bushes. I spent an hour carefully plucking the wild berries one by one, saving them for a delicious after dinner treat. When the last bit of light was finally vanquished from the sky, looking far to the East I could see the unmistakable glow of New York City. Three months ago, on a clear spring day from the top of Blood Mountain, I looked out to see the outline of Atlanta. And now, on this warm summer night, I thought to myself, “I walked here.” Feeling quite content, I removed the fly from my tent and laid down with an unimpeded view of a tremendous starlit sky. Within five minutes, the most majestic shooting star I had ever seen streaked across the sky so quick that I could have convinced myself it was my imagination. But it wasn’t, so I made a wish for a friend who needed it. While I closed my eyes and drifted to sleep, I counted the airplanes that danced around the stars and felt comfort in the gentle warm summer breeze sweeping over my face.
I can paint this picture for you, but you will never know what it actually felt like to be there. And that is why I would encourage you to have an adventure of any shape or size, so you can have a magical moment that truly belongs to you, and only you. So please do bother to leave the house.
Being in New England now has made me realize that this journey in fact does have a finite ending. This emphasizes a belief I came to early on of walking in the moment. Instead of focusing on or worrying about the future, take the present moment and appreciate that you have it. Recently, I was reminded of how precious and fragile life is. And although these reminders are sometimes sad, they continually enforce the importance of being thankful for each and everyday.
As always, thank you for following along with my journey. All of your support means so much to me. Thank you to Jim Gagne for his continued support and packages. And also huge props to John McNeil who sent me one of the greatest packages of all time! Love you buddy.
Great Barrington, MA
July 16, 2018