Smell The Roses

It’s been 10 days since I took a zero day in Wind Gap, PA. I’ve now crossed into New Jersey, completed it, and done the same with NY. That equates to around 175 miles. We’ve slowed down a bit, but still making good time. 

I see now why New Jersey is called “The Garden State.” Even though the red headed step child that is the Jersey Shore tries to bring the state to a new low every year…this side of New Jersey is quite beautiful. It was a welcome change of pace from PA. Although the rocks didn’t stop at the PA/NJ beautiful, they subsided enough for us to be able to look up and enjoy the changing landscape. 

Then came New York. As told by former hicker trash friends…”New York is no joke.” Indeed it is not. The constant elevation changes, rock scrambling, poor water sources and 90+ degree weather have all made NY my toughest task to date. This being said, NY has also been just as enjoyable. The climbing has been a welcome obstacle. I find that the more I am tested, the more I enjoy myself. 

A few days ago I received a Facebook message from an old high school friend. Emily was a year younger than I, and we were never close friends, but we seemed to run in the same circle at the time. She and her boyfriend live in Peekskill, NY…just a few miles from the AT and Bear Mountain. She generously offered to bring pizza and drinks to myself and the crew I’d been hiking with. 

  
Emily and I spent a few hours catching up on the last years 10 years of our lives. It was nice to spend time with someone who grew up on the same streets I did. She’s now an ultra runner and a bad ass chick…not that she wasn’t before, I just didn’t know her well enough then. In the rain, Emily and I hiked up a steep ass climb after crossing over the Hudson River. Her generosity and friendship is a reiteration of the constant support I’ve received from total strangers, friends and family during this journey. Magic, indeed. 

Now, having hiked just 5 miles this morning, I’m sitting at a deli in Stormville, NY. I just left my watch in the sun for 30 minutes. The temperature reading when I picked it back up showed 118 degrees. This means I will be lounging under the shade of a tree (where the temp reads a balmy 94), whilst sipping an ice cold lite lager and waiting for the sun to retreat back to the hell from which it spawns. We’ll hike later. 

To make means worse, Bernard has contracted, what we think to be, Poison Oak. This has caused some nasty sores in places that are hard to keep dry, clean and without abrasion. At this point, there’s nothing on any thru-hikers body that is dry, clean or without abrasion, at any point in the day. So, the whole hiking game has slowed down significantly. 

It’s kind of funny that, even before the point of sweltering heat, pointless ups and downs, and plant allergies, we’d already discussed slowing our pace. Bernard and I have both been feeling like we’ll blink and this journey will be over. The next rose we come across, we’ll stop and smell. 

Katahdin is within striking distance and all I want to do is continue to savor this once in a lifetime experience.

Cheers for now,The Law

Advertisements

Wet Rocks: Hell on Trail

Not my most optimistic title for an entry, but it’s the damn truth. I’ve now walked 215 miles through Pennsylvania, home of the slogan “where boots go to die.” The reason for said phraseology, is the hellish number of rocks. Let’s say I’ve taken roughly 500 thousand steps in 215 miles…I’ve probably stepped on at least 400,000 rocks…each one exacting the relative pain of a young teenager hitting the soul of your foot with a hammer. Another fun anecdote, it’s rained nearly every day. I’ve thrown a lot of math at you, so let me break it down…

(Wet rocks + rubber outsoles)*3 mph = fuck this. 

Our first day across the Mason Dixon Line, we happened upon a former hiker doing trail magic at a road crossing. This Marine had actually attempted a thru-hike this year, but had to get off trail due to some serious trouble with PTSD and depression. 

On this journey, I’ve met many former military men and women who’ve served overseas, and who’ve been in active combat. Each one coming to the trail to find solace and renewed hope in mankind, and themselves. It’s tough to see someone in pain, and know that there’s nothing I can do to help…but hopefully I was able to cheer up this particular one, on that particular day. It seems we, as a country, need to do more to help the soldiers who bring home the wounds of our governments mistakes. Before I build my soap box and climb atop, I’d like to move on. 

A momentous occasion happened the next day. I crossed the official halfway point…and also consumed a half gallon of ice cream in 40 minutes a. I’m not a glutton, it’s a challenge steeped in legacy and tradition…and I’ve become a glutton. Food is [mostly] all that I think about now. Anyway, it was awesome to be in a new state, and closer to my destination than I was to my starting point. 

The next day was a scorcher. We’d end up walking 23 miles, but not without losing pounds of sweat and wishing for some kind of magic. Just before the end of the day, the magic happened. The trail crossed a residential road and followed it for a ways. Upon seeing a house, my first thought was “If I knock and ask politely, will they let me take a shit in their toilet?” No knocking necessary as the owner, Robert, was outside and quick to invite us to fill up with water and come inside. We did, I shit, then we drank a few beers. Magic. 

We headed on to Duncannon, PA the next day. The Doyle Hotel is a 100 year old building that may fall at any minute. The bar downstairs is home to a very well made hamburger, and the rooms upstairs are home to crackheads and more bugs than I’ve seen on the trail. Seriously though…bed bugs. Staying there was ill advised, but it’s an iconic piece of the AT community, and was worth every dollar and bite.

A few days later, I posted my second 30+ mile day. Which was then followed by a few mid-teen mile days. One of those days was ended with an unexpected and fucking radical event. 

We planned to stealth camp (aka camp illegally) at a privately owned Astronomical Park. Upon arrival, the care taker Ron was mowing the grass. Bilbo, being the giant space nerd he is, quickly engaged Ron about different space stuffs. Turns out that Ron and five of his club friends were going to be planet gazing and taking photos that night. Ron asked us if we’d like to camp with them and “see some cool shit.” 

We, of course, happily agreed. The night was actually perfectly timed. Bilbo had been talking of using his binoculars to star gaze, whilst I had also been yammering about getting star photos. Ron then proceeded to show us said “cool shit.” He took us in to a couple different observatory rooms and lined up Venus, Saturn and Jupiter with the giant telescopes. He then showed us globular clusters and a few other star formations I cannot recall. It was indeed cool shit. 

 

Ron showing Bilbo some cool shit

 
When I first started writing this entry, all I could remember about PA was the stabbing pain of slippery rocks (see paragraph 1). Then I went back and read my notes. I found that nearly each of the past 11 days had some sort of awesomeness to it. Hiking this trail is a whirlwind of amazing things and fucked up things…and I’m excited to be able to spend more days in the storm. 

Introspection and the crew

I woke up in Luray feeling refreshed and ready to hit the trail. I walkedout of my room and there was Raiden walking out of a room adjacent to mine. He proclaimed “holy shit its the law!” Then the rest of my crew filed out of the room in slow procession. Sheila ran over to me, dancing around and whining; followed by Bernard, Papa Oats and Bilbo. Our hiking crew being back together was a sigh of great relief for me, as I was coming off of the most depressing stretch I’d had on trail. 

That day had much talk of the poor weather, not so fond memories of the Shenandoah’s and plans of making Harpers Ferry by July 1st. It’s tough to say why exactly it was this crew that I had stuck with the longest; but we all just clicked for some reason. Pushing each other forward like a team training for a big game. This camaraderie was something I’d been missing since my some 12 years of playing competitive sports. 

As I mentioned, the week before we all found each other again was the worst for me mentally. With every step I questioned my motivations for finishing the trail. With every panting breath I questioned my purpose in life. It wasn’t until Bernard and I hit the trail again that day that I realized why I had been so down on myself. I had lost my sense of purpose in life. 

From age 6 to 18, I’d been an above average athlete. Baseball. Tennis. Football. Basketball. I was generally the most skilled player on any given field or court. Until I hit high school, at which point I still garnered high respect from each competitor, teammate and coach. It sounds conceited to say now, but it is the way of competitive sport. Believe you’re the best to become the best. 

Well, I wasn’t the best, or the biggest, or the strongest. Other than in my own high school bubble, I went completely unnoticed. There were no recruiters (other than some small D-3 inquiries) and there were no fans. Just me. Time for college as just one thing, a student. This wasn’t an issue, as I had always found academia to be fairly unchallenging. So, now without sport, there was nothing else to challenge me. No teammates, no competition. Just me. 

It feels silly to say that I’ve been grasping on to this notion of being an athlete for this long. I don’t think I even consciously tried to, or understood that was happening; at least not until this past week. I’d worked so hard at my passion for sport that I’d pushed everything else out. There was no room for any other passion or discipline to flourish.

The past 1024 miles have opened my eyes to this fact. I never let go of the idea of being an athlete. I never reinvented myself. Now, that notion is gone, and I am striving to find and master the things that I love most deeply. The things that will ultimately define me as a man in my life’s work. It is frighteningly exciting. 

There’s no telling what I will conclude while walking the rest of the some 1126 miles of this trail. I am sure that, now that I’ve deciphered the reason for spinning my wheels for nearly a decade, I can plant my tires on solid ground and drive forward into my future; uninhibited by my past and open to the road that lies ahead. Sometimes the hardest part isn’t letting go but rather, learning to start over.

With all of that introspection out of the way, I can tell you what’s been happening on the trail…outside of my head. The last 120 miles have flown by. We arise early, and finish early. 25 miles is now an easily attainable task before sunset. We all hike at different paces, except for Barnard, Sheila and I. When coming across new people on the trail, we are the passers, not the passees. Generally averaging around three miles per hour.

Last week we encountered a Blue Maccaw named McLeod. He and his owners love to day hike, and are also planning a thru-hike one day…so long as they can find a way to keep McLeod warm at night. Maccaw Jackets…new business idea. Brilliant. 

 

McLeod and Bilbo

 
We were also fed a free meal from the Stonybrook Farm at the Blackburn AT Center. The group that runs the farm is a cult-like “religious” group of which the name escapes me. They were all very generous and accommodating, just gave me the willies. That night Bernard, Sheila and I hiked out of the Balckburn center at 830pm. We hiked 12.5 miles through the darkness to arrive in Harpers Ferry at 2am on July 2nd. This was my first real night hike. The Cool weather, bright full moon and overly fragrant flora made for a beautiful hike.

Although the hike was grand, arriving in town at 2am proved to be a poor choice. Harpers Ferry is a historic site and camping on historic sites is prohibited. So, of course, we cowboy camped on the porch of a civil war era Confectionary. We picked this site because it was flat, dry, and there were American flag banners hanging on the railings. Thus giving us a little bit of cover from Rangers/Cops should they be in the area. We arose with the sun, having had the worst three hours of sleep either of us will probably ever have. There was one plus though, no tickets or handcuffs. 

 

The Confectionary, where we may or may not have slept

 
That morning we reunited with the gang and rounded up to go into DC for the Fourth of July. Bilbo is from Arlington and graciously offered to let all five of us dirty hickers stay with him and his family for the weekend. Mattox family, if you’re reading this, thank you again for your generosity. I felt at home and had an amazing, relaxing weekend. 

Now, after a few too many drinks, and a USWNT World Cup Victory last night…I sit on porcelain throne, awaiting our ride back to the trail. Three days off has been rejuvenating, but I’ve become restless thinking of what left the trail has to offer. If you’re looking for pictures, I’ve posted a good bit of them on my Facebook page, find them there. For now, I leave you with this quote. 

“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks”

– John Muir

May the forest be with you.

The Law