Yesterday marked 110 days until my planned start date in Georgia. Yes, I’ve started counting. I have put reminders on my calendar every 10 days (Dec 12th will mark 100 days left). With the holidays coming up I hope at least the next 30 days will fly. January may drag a bit, but I think February will be crazy with last-minute preparations, finishing things up around the house and at work, and not being able to sleep due to anticipation.
First, thanks to Lewis and Juana for my first donation! You guys are great, even though you evidently don’t like my hair! If you haven’t donated, please consider going here and giving what you can to a good cause. Also be sure to pass it along to your friends so they can get the same vicarious thrills from my trip that you do!
So what am I looking forward to about the trail? Here’s a non-comprehensive, unordered list:
Growing an epic beard
The longest I’ve ever grown my facial hair was about a week. I had just gotten past the itchiness when I had to shave it for something-or-other. If enough money is raised, I will be starting with not only a shaved face, but also a shaved head! For an idea what growing my beard will look like, see the Youtube video below!
I have 2 weddings that I’ll be taking a few days away from the trail for next year, and I’ve already warned both of my friends about the impending intrusion of furriness. Luckily both brides thought it would be awesome. Perhaps I should also warn them about the potential size of my appetite? The first should be around Harpers Ferry and the second should be around VT/NH. Now let’s hope my suit fits after 1500 miles…
Get up. Eat. Walk. Eat. Walk some more. Eat. Go to sleep.
My name is Travis, and I’m an introvert. Apparently not everyone knows that about me. Recently I said something to my sister about being an introvert and she responded with a blunt, “No you aren’t.” It took me by surprise. Apparently she thought that since I had been relatively social in high school (i.e. had friends) that I was an extrovert. She even suggested that at some point in college I must have switched from being extroverted to being introverted.
Introverts aren’t the anti-social people that they are often portrayed as. Around the time I started dating Christy I came across a great article titled “Caring for your introvert”. It does a great job explaining that many introverts (I’d like to think myself included) can function well in social settings: they can give great presentations to large groups of people, can carry on a conversation with others, and crave human interactions once in a while. The distinction is that for introverts these kinds of activities are draining, and afterward we need some time alone to recharge. Since Christy read the article she has understood me much better, and now whenever we spend time with her friends or family she is great about giving me time afterward to recharge.
On my trip I’m looking forward to some time alone with my thoughts in the woods, to listen to the wind through the trees, and to let my mind wander. Will I get bored? I’m sure I will sometimes. I’ve never hiked 120 days in a row, but I imagine it gets a little monotonous (hence the “Virginia Blues”). Town visits and interactions with other hikers will break up the monotony, bringing me to the next thing I’m excited about…
Introverts also don’t need to be alone all of the time. I crave human interaction just as much as everyone else – I just don’t need it all the time. One of the great things about the Appalachian Trail is the opportunity to meet all kinds of new and interesting people who travel from all over the world to hike 2200 miles along the eastern seaboard. Of the three big long-distance trails in the US (the AT, the Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail) the AT is the most travelled, and so it offers more opportunities for interactions. At night sometimes I will set up camp by myself, but other times I will camp with people at shelters where we’ll have campfires and lively discussions, share food, and contemplate what the next day will bring.
It will be fun to be able to eat however much I want of whatever I want (e.g. wedding cake). I was able to do that when I was on the crew team in college because no matter what I ate, I would end up burning it off in practice. The typical hiker burns around 6000 calories per day, so the return of my gluttony will be not only welcome but necessary!
Watching the scenery change
In the south the mountains roll across the landscape covered in deciduous trees. Towns are several days apart and often I will be camping several miles from the nearest trace of civilization. It is easy to hitch a ride, and I’m sure at some point I will ride in the back of someone’s pickup truck. Waffle Houses and Huddle Houses will be common, and restaurants will serve sweet tea. Pennsylvania is where the most dramatic changes will begin to happen. Once I cross the Mason Dixon line, the mountains will become rockier. As I enter New England I’ll actually pass the lowest point on the trail (in New York) just a couple hundred feet above sea level. Further into New England the mountains will be covered with conifers, if at all. In some areas I will be camping less than a mile from civilization, and during the day I will have opportunities to stop off at restaurants less than a mile from the trail for lunch. I won’t be able to ride in the back of a pickup, Huddle Houses and Waffle Houses will become less common, and I’ll have to ask for sugar packets along with my tea.
Along with the trail scenery the people scenery will change too. About 30% of the hikers I meet in Ga will no longer be on the trail when I reach Tennessee. By Harpers Ferry, the psychological midway point on the trail, another 20% will have dropped off. Those who remain will be thinner, their packs will be lighter, and many of the men will be fluffy bearded versions of their former selves.
Sunrises and sunsets
Not sure that an explanation is needed, but I will say that I plan to camp somewhere that I can either see the sun set while I get ready for sleep or watch it rise as I wake up as often as possible.
Seeing a moose
No explanation necessary here either, except to say that I won’t get a chance to see any until New England. I’ve already seen black bears so I’m not as excited about them, although I expect I’ll see a few of them as well.
Completing a dream
I hiked a piece of the AT in high school with my Boy Scout troop. I can’t remember if at the time I realized how long the trail was or that it stretched continuously from Georgia all the way to Maine. I also don’t remember if I realized that the whole trail could be hiked end-to-end at one time. I do remember in college reading about a hiker who had hiked the whole trail over summer break. If it wasn’t a dream for me to do a thru-hike before then, after that it definitely was. That was over 10 years ago. I’m lucky that I’ll have a chance to accomplish one of my dreams.