2013 AT Hike Prep.

Signing in

Well I suppose it’s time to let the adventure begin. A good former teaching buddy, Scotty Brooks, took a day off from his position as media specialist at Phenix City Intermediate School to drive Linda and me up to North Georgia today. Lisa drove herself up and met us in Dahlonega, where we’re staying the night. After a trip to Amicolola Falls State Park, where I signed in as official AT thru hiker number 590, we spent the duration of the afternoon walking around the tourist town, winding up at the Back Porch Oyster House for an evening meal.

On the square several vendors were setting up tents in preparation for an Appalachian Trail Fest, which begins tomorrow. I received a favorable weather forecast from a young man who was preparing an exhibit. After I informed the fellow that I was beginning a thru hike tomorrow, he stated that he had begun his thru hike four years ago on March 25. I felt that meeting Catfish, an AT 2000 miler, just might be a good omen. He wished me well as I walked on to catch up with Linda and Scotty who had headed into a chocolate shop.

Overall, the day has gone well. I’m packed, well rested, well fed, and quiet frankly, ready to begin walking north. Several times throughout the afternoon I thought that I’d really rather have gone ahead and started today. I need to be patient, however. There will be plenty of time for hiking over the next few weeks. Tonight it was important to enjoy special time with family and a good friend.

I thought about Don many times today. Brent called to wish me well. He loved his dad dearly, just as Don loved him. Many people sent text messages; others commented on Facebook; some called. I appreciated all those who reached out to offer support and prayers. I will need them every day as I make my way north.

So it’s late and I need to sleep. Morning awaits as do the 2185 miles of the Appalachian Trail.


Categories: 2013 AT Hike Prep. | 2 Comments

Shakedown Hike, Day 2

A Rocky Section of the Pine Mountain Trail

A Rocky Section of the Pine Mountain Trail

IMG_0019[1]Right after I posted my journal entry last night, I decided to do some reading. What I didn’t seem to remember was that I never really enjoy reading in a tent. In fact, I don’t much care for reading at all when I’m on the trail. On almost every hike I’ve taken, I’ve brought along a book to read. And I am yet to read one. On one section hike on the AT I even carried a copy of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to read for about the tenth time. Alas, I never got past chapter one even though Huck Finn has always been one of my favorite novels. So what I learned from last night is that I will not be taking along a book, other than the AT Guide, when I begin my trek north next month.

So what did I do in my tent in the middle of the woods without companionship last night? I debated whether to watch some you tube videos; however, since I also worried about my phone not maintaining its charge for two days, I determined that was not a good idea. Therefore, at a little before 9:00 PM I decided to call it a night and try to get a good night’s rest. As I remember, I quickly fell asleep and slept very well until I awoke some time later, or so I thought. When I checked my watch it was 9:20. In other words, I had gotten a very restful nap. Unfortunately it was the only sleep I was to get until I last checked my watch at 12:40 AM. I must have eventually fallen asleep because the next time I checked it was almost 5:00. As I lay awake wanting desperately for daylight to arrive so that I could again begin hiking, a light rain began to fall. This actually excited me since I had wanted to determine how well I had seam sealed my tent under true trail conditions. Even though it only drizzled for about an hour, all was well. Everything inside appeared to be dry as I packed up a little after 6:00.

Knowing that there was an area about two miles into today’s hike with a picnic table under a pavilion, I decided to forgo cooking any breakfast until I arrived there. Breaking camp went well and I was on my way in just over an hour. Despite a now wet tent, the ULA Circuit still felt comfortable as I traversed the .2 miles back to the main trail.

When I arrived at the area with the pavilion, I set up my stove and made a cup of tea. I also considered cooking up some oatmeal but opted for an energy bar instead. Before leaving camp I had eaten three of the chocolate cookies I had baked. Due to a chilly sustained wind, lighting the super fly proved to be challenging. In fact, I don’t think the weak, tasteless tea was really worth the effort. It was also about this time that I remember, just like not liking to read while backpacking, that I really don’t like trying to cook either. So at about 9:00 on Saturday, February 16, under cold windy conditions just off the Pine Mountain Trail in West Central Georgia, I made the decision to begin the Appalachian Trail thru hike stoveless. I know there are those who are already questioning this decision; however, if I change my mind I can buy one alone the way.

After finishing my tea, I headed on up the trail. Although very cold and windy, the sun was out and I was dressed in just enough clothing to hike comfortably. Needing water, I also made a decision that I’ve often made when section hiking the AT. If there is a spigot nearby, there’s no need to retrieve water from a stream and have to treat it. Knowing that the Trading Post at a nearby campground was within a couple of miles, I sipped on the one bottle of water I had remaining until I arrived there. After filling the bottles from a sink behind the counter, I also chatted briefly with the proprietor, whose name I failed to get, before leaving. I rested for a few minutes at another picnic table in front of the store, ate some more cookies, and briefly entertained the idea of practicing yogi-ing some real breakfast from a couple grilling what smelled like sausage nearby. Needing to get on my way, I decided to wait until I arrive on the AT before I try my hand at that tradition.

The hike today continued to go well. I met numerous day hikers as I strolled along. One couple walked with an unleashed, yet extremely well behaved, dog. A young female runner startled me as she passed, reporting back over her shoulder, “I didn’t think I was that quiet,” after I gasped a “you scared me,” when she went by. For a few seconds I kind of wished I had had on running clothes and could have joined her. Her effortless movements briefly increased the weight of my pack. There would be other days to run. Today I was hiking.

A little later I stopped for another break, again where I found a bench on the trail. It came complete with a medal plate noting the Eagle Scout project for which it had been completed. As I rested and ate a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on a tortilla, a young military gentleman stopped to ask directions. Proclaiming that his map was not substantial enough, I shared mine with him and offered help. He thanked me as he strode into the distance with camo daypack on his back.

As I approached the end of today’s hike I saw in the distance three young men sitting atop a rock outcrop. Getting closer I recognized one as the son of one of my good running buddies. Bailey, at only 15, has become quite the runner and outdoorsman over the past few years. He even joined a group of my buddies on a 6 mile run to celebrate my 60th birthday in 2011. Out for an overnight camping trip with his younger brother, Bennett, and a friend, Bailey exhibited that youthful zest for adventure as he told me where they would be camping tonight. Before hiking on—in my best fatherly voice—I reminded them to stay warm since the temperature was going down to the 20’s tonight.

The last day hiker I encountered, before arriving back at my vehicle, was another young man that I’m pretty sure was in the service. He wore an orange University of Tennessee T-shirt and shorts even though it was still cold on this sunny early afternoon. Stepping aside for me to pass, he called me sir three times in about fifteen seconds when I told him he didn’t have to do that. He reminded me of just how fortunate we are to have such polite, thoughtful young folks in our midst today. I thanked him in turn.

When I totaled up today’s miles, it only came to 11.6. I had originally planned to walk farther, but still it had all in all been a good overnight shakedown hike. Other than deciding to leave the stove behind, I also make a couple of other significant decisions regarding gear that I think will go a long way to making my attempt at a thru hike become a reality. There will be many nights on the AT when I will hike to a shelter and set up camp for the night. There will also be days when I will hike to a town where there is a shower and a hot meal awaiting. Today was one of those. It had been a good two days on the Pine Mountain Trail, just as I’m sure there will be many beginning next month as I make my way northward on the Appalachian Trail.

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Overnight Adventure

IMG_0021[1]Ok, it’s only 7:30 and I’m in a tent in the middle of the woods, miles from nowhere, as Cat Stevens used to say. There’s no one else around, but I’m comfortable, that is as comfortable as one can be in a tent in the middle of the woods. Unlike on The Appalachian Trail, there’s no one else around. I did see a group about a couple of miles back at a campsite. They had very nice tents. They looked heavy, however. The tents, I mean. Kind of luxury camping it seemed.

So as I compose this piece from my tent in the dark I’m realizing just how journaling will be on the trail. Hold on just a minute while I try to get comfortable. I’m leaning on my right elbow for the moment. That seems to be the best position. Did I mention that it’s really dark outside. Oh well, it’s only about 12 hours until sunrise.

So this is my shakedown overnight hike to check out my gear for my upcoming attempt at a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail. The day began well. I checked in at the FDR State Park Headquarters to secure my overnight camping permit a little before 1:00. After filling out the registration and.briefly chatting with the very helpful female ranger, I headed down the rock steps behind the building to begin walking east on the Pine Mountain Trail. For today’s hike I decided to hike up the trail to where the PMT connects to the Sawtooth Trail, which is part of the Big Poplar Loop Trail. I hiked for 8.4 miles to this campsite which is really quite nice. There’s a fire ring and some good blow downs to sit on.

After setting up my tent I cooked a Knorr side but must admit that I also had an Arby’s French dip sandwich which I brought with me. Hey, they were two for $5, so I ate one at the restaurant and saved the other for supper. I also brought along some chocolate cookies that I baked last night. After eating I made a couple of phone calls, and that’s about it. I did stop at Jenkins Creek to get some water just before camp and used my Aqua iMira for the first time.

Well, I think I’m going to read for a while and then turn in. Tomorrow I’m going to hike another 13.5 before heading home. I think I hear something walking around, but it’s probably just my imagination. At least I know it’s not a bear. A dog (I guess it’s a dog) is barking in the distance and I can vaguely hear traffic far away at times. Think I’ll read now and then call it a night. Looking forward to many nights like this when I get to the Appalachian Trail.

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Waiting and Hiking

Running Buddy Kevin Taking a Break

Running Buddy Kevin Taking a Break

As my day of departure gets closer, I find it increasingly difficult not to think about the trail with some degree of obsession. Between continuing to read gear reviews (despite having secured all that I plan to begin with), reading journals of past hikers, and training by hiking or running almost every day, I find little time for anything else. I feel as if I could begin tomorrow even though I realize that waiting until my scheduled departure date is still more practical. So that is what I continue to do…..wait.

But then is there really anything wrong with waiting? Aren’t we somewhat conditioned by society to expect to wait on a regular basis? At 61 years of age I shouldn’t be wishing away my days to reach the day I plan to begin my northward walk. After all, it will arrive eventually. Then within a matter of less than six months, hopefully, the adventure will culminate with a final day of exhilaration. So in the meantime I hope I’ll continue to appreciate the opportunity to prepare.

This past Saturday I hiked the Long Leaf Trail on Pine Mountain with my good running buddy, Kevin.. Taking a few breaks to rest and talk with friends and other hikers, we covered the 6.9 miles in about three and one-half hours. On Saturday mornings of the past I would run long, beginning downtown, with a group of buddies. More recently the Saturday runs have gradually shortened. But now as I continue to transition from the runner to the hiker, I’m finding myself more often in the woods than in the park.

As Kevin and I neared the end of the hike, we encountered three of those running buddies who were out for a trail run as they prepared for the upcoming Pinhoti 50K. It was good to pause and chat a few minutes with Troy, John C., and Torrey. These were three of our teammates when we participated in the Run for the Heroes Run Across Georgia a couple of years ago. I especially appreciated John’s mantra as he navigated the trails, “Stay vertical.” That’s something I hope to do as I hike the AT.

We also saw Alton Hogan, the hiker from Florida, who has been training on the PMT in preparation for his thru hike. Alton said he is going to leave whenever he foresees “three consecutive days of good weather.” I like his approach. It would be nice to see him again on the AT; however, with his start date being over a month before mine, that doesn’t seem very likely. Still Alton assured me that he would be checking my journal for updates. We again wished each other well as he headed up the rock steps toward the FDR park office to secure his camping spot for the night.

As always it was good to see and visit with others as I hiked today. Being able to meet new people and share our experiences is something that I look forward to with enthusiasm as I continue to await the day I sign in as a thru hiker and begin my journey on the Appalachian Trail.

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A Good Training Day

Taking a Break at Cascade Falls

Taking a Break at Cascade Falls

I read somewhere that many of those who have good intentions of updating a hiking journal daily eventually stop doing so. The reason…fatigue at the end of a long hiking day. So as I sit here in the comfort of my home, after a rather hard day of training, I’m wondering how I’ll feel after a similar day on the AT. Sure, I’m tired, but I’ve also had a hot shower and a nutritional meal, not to mention time to relax. After a day of hiking, most likely I’ll often be in a tent or shelter, will not have had a shower, and will have consumed my usual dinner of a Knorr side with meat from a pouch added. I’ll probably add a few other items; however, I’ll most asuredly always be tired when I begin to write.

Today was another day that I did two workouts. Shortly after a light breakfast with coffee, I left my home for a jaunt over to the neighborhood park, Cooper Creek. My run today totalled 8 miles, two more than I had originally intended. The two extra were at an easier pace with a friend I hadn’t seen in a while. After returning home, I got the hiking gear ready, loaded up the Explorer, and headed up to the Pine Mountain Trail at Roosevelt State Park. Before leaving town I again detoured by a nearby McDonald’s for lunch. I decided to purchase three burgers, one to eat as I drove, another to eat when I arrived at the east end of the trail near Warm Springs, GA, and a third to eat at some time during the hike. I also carried with me today a couple of energy bars and several mini snickers. Not wanting to stop and treat water, I took two 20 ounce bottles as well as a 32 ounce Gatorade.

For today’s hike I selected the 6.7 mile Wolfden Loop, starting at the eastern terminus of the trail. I opted to travel on the PMT at the beginning of the hike and finish the white blazed part of the loop last. The second mile of this loop challenges at times with several water crossings. Since it had rained substantially yesterday, there was more water to negotiate than there had been the last time I hiked this section of trail. When I arrived at Cascade Falls, just before the two mile mark, I stopped to drop my pack and take a few pictures. Having received a couple of emails while hiking, I decided to respond to both before resuming the walk. I also sent a pic to Alton, my good buddy who always emails me, “I hate you,” when he knows I’m hiking. I’m genuinely sorry that he’s still teaching rather than hiking with me, so I recently responded to said comment with, “Dont hate me; Join me.” He will on a weekend hike some time real soon.

Despite having tired legs, the hike went well today. I took one more break just before five miles and finished that last burger. Even though I snacked and drank almost continuously, I still felt hungry and thirsty after the hike’s completion. There is no way to over-emphasize the importance of caloric intake and water consumption when hiking the AT. I’ll have to use extreme caution to ensure that I don’t allow dehydration to become an issue.

As I neared the end of today’s walk, I spotted a solitary hiker with a dog approaching in the distance. I paused to chat for a several minutes with Kevin, a day hiker who said he had logged over 11,000 miles of hiking. He hikes daily on the PMT and stated that he had covered every square foot of trail numerous times. A former runner before knee issues, he too stated that he had at times had aspirations to attempt a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail. Kevin said he hoped to maybe give it a try after his retirement. We wished each other well as I turned to head toward the parking lot at the TV tower and my SUV. All in all, it was a good training day. Yes, I’m tired, but fatigue is a state that I’ll have to learn to embrace as I make my way north on the Appalachian Trail.

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Running and Hiking

Brooks Cascadia Trail Runners.

Brooks Cascadia Trail Runners.

Today was a good training day. After a light breakfast and the morning newspaper, I decided to go for a run. As the run progressed I felt stronger with each mile covered, finishing a 6 mile run with a 7:53 final mile. That’s the fastest mile I’ve run in a while. For these almost 62 year old legs, I was extremely satisfied.

After cooling down a bit I felt like some sort of celebration was in order, so I loaded up the pack with all my gear inside, except the tent, and headed up to the Pine Mountain Trail. Before leaving town, however, I decided to stop at a nearby Subway to take advantage of their February footlong special. I ate half of the sub there and took the other with me for a second lunch on the trail. Since I have been known to carry a coke at times when hiking, I thought today was also the perfect day to take along a 20 oz soda which somewhat made up for the weight of the tent.

For today’s hike I selected the easy to moderate 7.8 Big Poplar Loop. I began the trail south from the nearby Mollyhugger parking lot. A slightly overcast cool early afternoon afforded a perfect day for a walk through the Georgia woods. I averaged right at 20 minutes a mile early with short breaks for snacks and water. I wanted to work on drinking more water to ensure that my hydration levels were good.

The afternoon progressed quickly as I ambled along the winding path. With a little less than two miles to go, I determined that it was time for a longer break to finish that other half of the sub. So when I came to the last campsite on the loop, Beech Bottom, I meandered down the side trail to an open area with a fire ring. Just as I was putting back on my pack, I spotted another hiker coming into view on the trail. As I approached the solitary sojourner, we both remarked that we did not expect to see anyone else on the trail today.

A. H. explained after a few minutes of casual hiker talk that he was getting ready for a thru hike of the AT. When I told him that I was as well, the talk turned to the trail, gear, and a few other topics. He had already spent one night in the woods on this prep hike and planned to camp for two more on this trip. From Jacksonville. Florida, A. H. had been making occasional visits up to the Pine Mountain Trail to get in some practice hikes. I hope that the little information I shared with him about the AT will prove helpful as he begins his thru later this month.

After wishing him well, I quickly negotiated the final 1.8 miles, arriving at my SUV a few minutes after four. Even though I felt somewhat tired, overall I had run and hiked well. The drive home enabled me to access just where my fitness level is right now. So far all is going well. It had been a good day for training indeed! Only a little over 6 weeks until I begin my trek on the Appalachian Trail.

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A Good Day to Hike

Thru Hiker Junior from Maine and Don's Brother at Bascom Lodge on Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts, 2004

Thru Hiker Junior from Maine and Don’s Brother at Bascom Lodge on Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts, 2004

FDR Statue at Dowdell's Knob

FDR Statue at Dowdell’s Knob

I hiked today. Just finished 14.8 miles on the Pine Mt. Trail . I’m tired. I’ve changed into dry clothes, put on my new camp shoes, and had a snack. As I sit here on the tailgate of my Explorer, I’m thinking how I’ll feel at the end of a day on the AT. I’m also amazed at how well auto correct works on this iPhone. So If you’re reading this you will know that I successfully wrote, copied, and pasted this entry.

Today was a day that I wanted to check our a few things. I’ve been debating whether or not to carry rain pants. So when I began my hike this morning I decided to try out some Frogg Toggs. With the temps in the high 30’s and a chilly wind, I walked for almost ten miles before I shed them for running shorts. Surprisingly I liked them. They breathed well and were only damp around the waist.

The hike today consisted of the 7.8 mile Big Poplar Loop plus a 3.5 mile each way out and back to Dowdell’s Knob. Terrain was easy to moderate with more easy; however, there were still some areas that reminded me of the AT. At one point there were so many rocks that I thought I had momentarily been transported to Pennsylvania. I also noticed how important it is to concentrate late in the day. On three occasions I slightly tripped just because I hadn’t raised my feet to avoid a rock.

Again like many other weekday hikes up here, I saw no other people for the entire hike. I know that will never be the case on the Appalachian Trail. It got a little lonely at times. I rarely hike with music, so it was just me and my thoughts for over six hours. That can be good and bad. Would’ve been nice to share them with someone. I didn’t even see any wildlife, not even a squirrel.

I thought a lot about my upcoming AT venture and about other hikes on the trail. At one point I remembered something that happened at Bascom Lodge on Mt. Greylock in Massachusetts. A thru hiker from Maine, who Alton and I had met a few days earlier, showed up in the late afternoon. We had gotten ahead of Junior because he had taken a zero day back in CT. After we persuaded him to join us for a salmon meal as our guest, he hoisted his pack to make the next shelter even though it was almost dark. Junior could smell the end. He was ready to be finished. Even when we offered to pay for his bunk he declined, stating that he needed to make more miles before sundown.

As I sit here with sunset approaching, I wonder how I’ll feel if I get that close to completion. So today was a good day to hike…..not too cold, just cold enough to be comfortable. It would be a good night for a campfire on the AT. For me, it’s a half hour drive back to a warm home, a hot shower, hearty meal, and a comfortable bed. There will be time enough for camping once I arrive on the Appalachian Trail.

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Where Do I Sleep?

Shelter along the AT

Shelter along the AT

Part of a backpacking experience in the great outdoors centers around camp life. After a long day of plodding through the wilderness (or hiking on the Appalachian Trail), the weary hiker arrives at a possibly pre-determined destination to set up camp for the night. He may choose to wile away the hours in the company of other pilgrims in an AT shelter or lean-to, or he may prefer the isolation of a remote tent site off the trail. Or perhaps he may decide to combine the two and set up his tent near a shelter. Whatever the camp preference for sleeping, all who backpack must find a place for rest when evening arrives.

Shelters or lean-tos (depending on which state you’re hiking in) are usually three-sided, wooden structures that may sleep anywhere from 6 to 18 or more. Some date back to the early years of the trail while others have been erected in the past decade. Even though shelters do not provide any of the amenities of a hostel or lodge, some can be quite comfortable. While some are only the three walls and a floor, others may come equipped with picnic tables and occasionally a bench on which to relax. Some have privies; others don’t. A few even have wooden bunks which allow the earliest to arrive, refuge off the floor. Some shelters were constructed with two levels and a few are made of stone.

If the exhausted hiker decides that he prefers the privacy of his own tent, then he is also charged with the task of finding the appropriate level spot, preferably located away from any dead branches hanging precariously overhead. The tent, of course, must be set up as well, which also means that it must be taken down the next morning. For most this is of little concern; however, for the novice hiker, set-up and take-down can require a considerable amount of time, at least in the early stages of the journey. Rather than tents, some hikers may prefer hammocks or mere tarps. Some even sleep in bivy sacks these days.

Then when the opportunity arises, there is that other means of overnight accommodations…..the hostel or more to my liking, the motel. Even though I love to hike, I’m not that enthusiastic about sleeping in the woods every night. Realizing, however, that there will be on occasion three or more consecutive nights that I won’t have any other choice, I’m trying to make good decisions regarding which sleeping bag and what tent to include as part of my gear. Still, if I’m within a few miles of a room with a shower, laundry, and restaurants nearby, I’ll always opt for a night in town over another night on the trail.

As the hike continues I’m sure I’ll get more accustomed to camping and just might eventually prefer a night in a shelter over a night at a Best Western. Then again, I might eventually prefer a Lipton side over a burger, fries, a soft drink or a milk shake. It’s not likely that either will happen while I’m hiking the Appalachian Trail, but I’m going to try to keep an open mind and entertain all my options. After all, a rested hiker is a hiker more apt to keep moving on. And moving on is what I hope to do.

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Where Do We Eat?

Breakfast at the Toymaker's Cafe in Falls Village, CT with my hiking buddy, Alton

Breakfast at the Toymaker’s Cafe in Falls Village, CT with my hiking buddy, Alton

Over the ten plus years that I’ve section hiked the Appalachian Trail, I’ve learned quite a bit about trail food. As stated earlier in this journal, on that first hike in New Hampshire, none of my hiking buddies nor I even carried a stove. In fact, it was not until the first section hike in Georgia from Springer to Neel’s Gap that I used one. Not wanting to make any more purchases than were necessary, I decided for that first trail cooking experience, I would make my own stove. Well actually, my buddy Fitts made it with me, or for me, depending how much credit I get for watching. The crudely constructed alcohol stove, made from a soft drink can and directions found on the internet, not only served me well on that short 31 mile Georgia stretch, but also sufficed for the Connecticut-Massachusetts section Alton and I would tackle the next spring.

Over the years I eventually changed to a canister fuel type stove, but neither really has made eating on the trail any more enjoyable. For my 2013 attempt at a thru hike, I’m still trying to decide whether or not I’ll even carry a stove. I probably will, but how much use it will get is yet to be determined. You see, I don’t much care for trail food, which leads me to what could prove to be a discourse on “eating well while hiking the trail.”

When my first Thru-Hiker’s Handbook arrived in the mail, I immediately scoured the pages, noting all those that had an M on them. That M, of course, stands for places along the way where a real meal may be found. One hiking motto that I faithfully follow is “never pass a restaurant, reasonably close to the trail, without having a meal.” Before each of my section hikes, I’ve planned somewhat based on the availability of a meal. While hiking that CT/MA section, Alton and I were able to enjoy a restaurant meal almost every day. And another good thing about town food is that after you finish a meal, you can purchase another to take back to the trail with you.

I’ve even been known to hitch into towns for specific eating establishments. On our hike of Vermont, I hitched a ride into Bennington for take-out, knowing that there was a Friendly’s there. In New York I hit every deli listed in the handbook. In New Jersey our first two days were arranged so that we could stop at a steakhouse just a few yards from the trail in Culver’s Gap. And by hiking south one day and doing another section north the next, Alton and I actually had breakfast three consecutive days at the same McDonald’s in Front Royal, VA. I know there will be times when there is no restaurant nearby, and that cooking on the trail is part of the experience. Still I won’t pass up an opportunity to dine in when it presents itself. Plus with my senior citizen discount, I might wind up only spending a few hundred dollars more by eating town food rather than trail food.

Obviously each hiker will have his or her own individual preferences as far as food is concerned. Many will begin the hike, stoves in tow, looking forward to cooking their ramen noodles and Knorr or Lipton sides. I probably will as well, yet I do know that as I head northward, I’ll need all the good nutrition I can get. For this hiker, there’s nothing better than beginning or ending a day on the Appalachian Trail than with a great meal, unless it’s doing both.

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Last Times

Rachel and Her Friend, Amber

Rachel and Her Friend, Amber

Sam's First Year of Baseball and Rachel

Sam’s First Year of Baseball and Rachel

Catch in the Backyard

Catch in the Backyard

Last week I took my mom to buy a new stove. The stove she had cooked on since, in her words, “before your daddy died,” had served her well. It had offered up many a Thanksgiving dinner over the years, so it almost seemed appropriate that the oven would cease working on turkey day. In all likelihood, it will be the last stove that she will ever need. Still, like buying an appliance or a baseball glove, we never know when we are doing something for the last time, that is unless we’re old or facing death.

When my son was only three or four years old, we began playing catch in the backyard. Many an afternoon, through his days of T-ball and later Little League, we would toss a baseball back and forth until dusk. He went through a phase where he wanted me to throw high flies and then another where he preferred grounders that he could scoop up and fire to a first baseman dad. I don’t know when we last played catch, but we did. It probably was toward the end of his last season of organized ball, but I don’t know exactly on what day.

My daughter loved to swing on an old metal play set, also in our backyard. We have photographs and videos, as well, of me standing behind, pushing her into the air. The pigtails of a six year old fluttered in the breeze on a chilly winter day. Even in the cold, she still enjoyed this time to spend with her dad. These carefree, innocent days of childhood were fleeting even as they transpired. I don’t know when I last swung her, but I did. On one of those days of winter, or perhaps in springtime, we walked back into our home after an hour of happiness that would never be shared the same again.

In March of 2013, I hope to stand at the base of the plaque on Springer Mountain, which designates the southern terminus of the Appalachian Trail. A little over five months later, in late August, I hope to be posing for a final photograph at the marker that sits atop Katahdin. Both events, if they do come to pass, also in all likelihood, will be for one final time. Throughout the spring and summer, as my mother cooks on her last stove, her son will be travelling north, working hard to complete a thru hike of the Appalachian Trail, both for the first and last time.

As I walk from Georgia to Maine, I expect to meet many other travelers. Some of those may become friends with whom I’ll later exchange a Christmas card or perhaps call to wish a happy birthday. Others I’ll see for a last time somewhere along the way. We won’t know it at the moment. We may not even remember where it occurred. All we will realize, and come to appreciate even more keenly over the years, is that we walked together, fellow pilgrims toward a destination and a dream. As Ulysses says in Tennyson’s poem, “I am a part of all that I have met.” Each of us will become a part of the other, when we initially exchange greetings, and also when we say our goodbyes, for what very well may be a last time. Life has so much to offer, and so does a journey along the Appalachian Trail.

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