Monthly Archives: January 2012

Perspective

This week I’ve been thinking about the way we perceive things. As an introvert I think I’ve always been somewhat internally focused. I generally have a good grasp on what I’m thinking, how I’m feeling, and how things external to me are affecting the way I behave. That doesn’t mean I’m necessarily great about controlling how I respond to those things, but I usually recognize them. Over the last month I’ve noticed a shift in my behavior that you, as readers of my blog, may have already detected. You might have noticed that the frequency of my blog entries increased for a while in December and then decreased again in January. In fact, here is the list of dates on which I published new posts, along with the days since last post. October is a bit of a blip because I posted every day on my training hike so I omitted all but the first day (Oct 7). Note the decrease in days-since-last-post from late November through December 2011 and then the increase again in January 2012:

Jun 11, 2011 – first post
Sep 15, 2011 – too many
Sep 17, 2011 – 2
Oct 07, 2011 – 20
Oct 13, 2011 – 6
Oct 14, 2011 – 1
Nov 04, 2011 – 21
Nov 19, 2011 – 15
Nov 27, 2011 – 8
Dec 03, 2011 – 6
Dec 15, 2011 – 12
Dec 18, 2011 – 3
Dec 19, 2011 – 1
Jan 09, 2011 – 21
Jan 26, 2011 – 27

What was going on? November and December are holiday periods, aren’t they? Shouldn’t I have been posting less during the stressful holiday shopping season?

Actually, what is going on was caused by the holidays but the effect actually worked in reverse. I used up most of my vacation time at work early in 2011, so in November and December I was out of time off. Instead, as happens every year, everyone else at work went on vacation. As a result there was less going on at work and so I had more time to think about my upcoming adventure. More time to think translates to more frequent blog posts. Obviously since the holidays ended my blog posts have become less frequent, coinciding with the increase in work. In fact because last week I was sick and this week I took some time off to accompany my wife on a personal trip, my workload now is at the highest point it has been in months!

My point is that it is interesting how our perspectives change so easily. In December I couldn’t wait to get on the trail. I spent half the day at work thinking about it, and when I got home I thought about it some more. Now that I’m busy again at work I still think about it often, but I don’t have time to dwell on it. If I did I could accidentally miss my next meeting or fall behind on another assignment (I’m behind enough as it is!). Even though I have about half as much time until I’m on the trail (54 days from now versus 100 around the beginning of December), the adventure seems further away. I haven’t obsessed about my pack weight in weeks. Although we’ve been dehydrating meals for Christy to send to me on the trail, it feels more like either a chore or a hobby we have adopted rather than preparation for a 5-6 month long trek.

A few months ago I told Christy that it hadn’t quite clicked in my head yet that I was going to be hiking the AT. When I played soccer in high school or rowed in college there was always a point at which my brain “flipped the switch,” when I went from being just another student to being an athlete. I realized that the athletic season was on and that my behaviors had to change accordingly – more effectively using my free time to get work done. I told her that at some point I figured I would reach the same point with this hike – that it would become so imminent that my brain would flip the switch and move to thru-hiker mode, at which point I would lose concentration and she would be forced to deal with me sleeping on the floor in my sleeping bag, testing recipes on my backpacking stove, and carrying weights around the house on my back. I’m pretty sure I had reached that point in December. I find it intriguing how a busy period at work, some days off with a bad cold, and a 4 day road trip can flip the switch back again.

Why do our brains work this way? Wouldn’t it be more evolutionarily advantageous for us to perceive the world around us as it really is instead of through the perception-altering prism of how busy we are? When something is only 50 days away, shouldn’t it feel more imminent than it did when it was 100 days away? More importantly, am I going to adequately perceive what is in front of me when I set foot on the approach trail on March 21? If I’m lucky enough to finish the entire trail will I comprehend what I accomplished? And finally, once I return, how quickly will the experience fade? Once I’m back at work with a thousand things to keep track of and a million more to get done will I simply flip the switch in my brain again and allow a once-in-a-lifetime adventure to become just another memory jumbled together with high school, sports, my first job, family vacations, and everything else that has already passed by?

We’ll find out soon enough. Until then we have more meals to dehydrate, boxes to pack, and exercises to do. Not to mention I have work in the morning.

Categories: Preparations | 1 Comment

You’re gonna do what?!?!?

No, this is not a scene out of Top Gun (although if I’ve piqued your interest, catch it here – the quote comes at about 9:50). Instead I want to pontificate on the similarity of reactions among people who I tell that I’m going to hike from Georgia to Maine. Really this isn’t unique to me – thru-hikers of all stripes get similar reactions. I’ve been lucky that all of the reactions I’ve received have been a great blend of curiousity and excitement on my behalf. However below I have created an exaggerated sample dialogue to illustrate the most common reactions. Note that “Co-worker” below could really be anybody, I just seem to have this conversation at work a lot lately as the news ripples through the company so I decided to make it a co-worker.

Me: “We should find someone else to work on X, Y, and Z after mid-March because I won’t be here”
Co-worker: “Where are you going to be?”
Me: “I’m taking a leave of absence to hike the Appalachian Trail”
Co-worker: “Really? That’s awesome! How long are you going to be gone?”
Me: “About 5-6 months.”
Co-worker: “Holy &*$%! That’s awesome! I’ve always wanted to do something like that! So your wife’s going with you?”
Me: “Nope, she thought about it for a while, and then realized she would be happy for about the first 3 hours and miserable the rest of the way. Instead she’ll watch the dog and cat and play a critical role by sending me re-supplies.”
Co-worker: “Ha! You’re going to be divorced by the end!”
Me: “Nah, she’s a planner at heart, so she’ll enjoy it.”
Co-worker: “Ummmm… ok. So why are you doing it?”
Me: “It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and now is the right time for me to do it. It’s funny how sometimes things align just right to make something possible.”
Co-worker: “And they’re going to save your job while you’re gone?”
Me: “It’s not guaranteed, but I like to think I do good work and that they’ll want me back. If they don’t, I have a marketable skillset. And either way, I’m not going to let my job stop me from accomplishing a dream.”
Co-worker: “I guess that makes sense. So which are you taking, a gun or a knife?What with all those crazies out there, not to mention the bears.”
Me: “I don’t carry a gun here and its safer in the woods, so why would I carry one there?”
Co-worker: “Cuz its in the middle of nowhere, aren’t you worried about some Deliverance type $&*% going down?”
Me: “Not really. You only hear about the bad things that happen in the woods because its rare. If you heard about all the stuff that goes on around here you’d be thinking in the reverse.”
Co-worker: “I guess, but what about bears?”
Me: “They’re more afraid of me than I am of them. I’ve seen lots of bears, they always run away. As long as you don’t do something stupid like slather yourself with peanut butter you’ll be fine.”
Co-worker: “So how are you going to hunt your food without a gun?”
Me: “I’m not going to hunt my food. Although it would be pretty cool, that would slow me down. Plus if all of the 1000 or so thru-hikers every year did that there wouldn’t be any animals left. Instead my wife will send me some and I’ll buy the rest in towns along the way. There’s a town on or near the trail every few days, so I only need to carry about 5 days’ worth of food at a time.”
Co-worker: “You’re going to stink.”
Me: “Yup, sometimes, but there are towns every 5 days or so – just often enough to get a shower, do some laundry, and resupply.”
Co-worker: “You’re going to come back emaciated!”
Me: “Probably, somewhat. Hopefully I’ll be smart enough about my nutrition that it isn’t too serious. Still, an average hiker burns about 5000-6000 calories per day, and even eating really large meals plus snacking throughout the day I think I can only eat about 3500-4000, so when I hit a town I’ll have to eat some extra to make up the deficit.”
Co-worker: “So you’re going to do it alone?”
Me: “I’ll be leaving alone, but about 1000 people start hiking north every year, so its not like I’ll be by myself for months on end.”
Co-worker: “Aren’t you going to miss X, Y, and Z?”
Me: “For a time, yes. But when I’m working I miss being outside, so….”

Of course not all of my conversations sound like this. As I said, I’ve exaggerated here. Most of the time only 2 or 3 of these questions/concerns come up at a time, and people are generally more excited for me and curious about the adventure than anything else. I’m glad to answer their questions, and all of them still bring a smile to my face. Still, its probably no wonder you see so few people backpacking when these are the types of things people associate with it. Perhaps I’ve got some work to do educating people once I return. New career path? Probably not, I don’t see how I could make it profitable. New source of weekend hobbies/activities? Definitely a good chance.

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Gaining momentum

The trip is definitely gaining momentum! As of Wednesday I will have exactly 10 weeks left before I start. For some reason 70 days sounds shorter than 10 weeks. 1680 hours also sounds shorter than 70 days. Odd. Also odd? The word “odd”.

We’ve started dehydrating food in earnest. I’ve been so successful at brainwashing Christy into being excited about my adventure that she asked for – and was very excited to get – Backpack Gourmet for Christmas! So far we’ve made some Black Bean Salsa that I’ll use at lunchtime to spread on some pita bread or something similar. We also made some bean curry, and last night I finished a batch of chili. Great flavorful foods that will only take me a few minutes to prepare! Way better than Lipton noodles!

I figure it would be great to get about 3-5 dinners in each maildrop. In town it will be easy enough to pick up some cheese and bread for lunch, and Christy will also add some 2.5oz meat packages (tuna, salmon, chicken) which I can use to spice up lunch. She’ll also send some energy bars to eat as snacks while I’m hiking. I love those things because not only do they taste great, they’re packed full of almost 400 calories each! I’m trying to decide if I want instant coffee in the mornings – I’m leaning toward yes at least for the first few weeks when it is cold out. An easy way to kick yourself off the trail is to not keep good hygiene, so she’ll also add some hand sanitizer and dried out baby wipes. That way I can clean up before meals (hand sanitizer) and before bed (baby wipes, just add water). Other miscellaneous items? Pages of the AT data book for the upcoming section, bandaids, tape, Aqua Mira water treatment drops, and maybe a cookie or two 🙂

Another thing that is gaining momentum? Donations! Apparently I am the top fundraiser for Delta Society right now on First Giving! Big thank you’s to everyone who has donated so far! However I’ve only raised a tenth of what is needed by the end of February in order to have me shave my head, so make sure you’re passing the word along!

Categories: Preparations | 3 Comments

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