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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