It’s a fact that fewer than 500 people have reported completing a southbound trip on the Appalachian Trail. This is since 1936 when people first started walking from Maine to Georgia, or from Georgia to Maine, since that’s the way most people go. I knew this statistic before I decided to try to e one of those rare southbounders–or SOBOs–but for some reason the fact did not apply to me: Wonderful Me, Great Me, Above-average Me. I conceived of myself as a superhero. Wonderwoman! Everyone else was just a pussy. Ten days, 114.5 miles and 3 million trees later I don’t know: Am I a superhero, or just another pussy?
Starting from the North and heading south is a terrible idea. I meet people coming north, some of whom started in Georgia. It’s a brief interaction:
(full stride, hiking poles clicking)
H: Ha! Good luck. (eyes roll)
One guy I met after learning I am a sobo replied, “You’re crazy.” Well, I’ve heard that before, mainly from the men in my life. Three days into the 100-mile wilderness I woke up in my tent and said the same thing to myself; “I must be crazy to do this”.
The first day I climbed Katahdin (elevation 5,672 ft). There were handlebars bolted into some of the rocks to help us up difficult parts. It was certainly challenging. But I was well-nourished at the time: not yet made feeble by the 100-mile wilderness that followed. I felt like a real champion after that. “Psh, I just climbed Katahdin, bitches! Day 1! Uh! I got this. Yeah!”
The people I traveled with the first few days made it all the more exciting. First, Mr. Brit Sullivan, who first presents himself as an attractive, 41 year-old hick from Alabama. I had to share a shelter in the state park with him the first night. In front of everyone at the hostel he says to me, “I’m not a threat. I’ve got 3 ex-wives and I ain’t tryin’ to impregnate anyone.” Uh, oooookkkkk. Well, shucks, I just came out here to get impregnated. Damn, guess I’ll have to find another shelter. But as I learned, this is just the way of Brit Sullivan, or Jack Brit Sullivan as it appears on his 8 published works of fiction, 3 of which are in the Library of Congress.
He is lude, witty and endearing. At the shelter after the hike he said in his thick Alabama accent, “Darlin’, I’m gonna go change over here because I have a small penis and I don’t want you to think less of me.” What is a girl supposed to say to this? As a single girl traveling alone in the wilderness I asked another guy I had befriended if he wanted to move his stuff over to our shelter. Precautions had to be taken. Around the fire late that night with a totally straight face he related a story of how he had toyed with a sales clerk at REI on the subject of the platypus, a water system similar to a Camelback.
B: So, I’ve heard a lot about this Vagipus system. Does it really work?
Clerk: Oh ya, it’s very convenient.
B: Does the Vagipus ever leak?
C: No, never.
B: Does the Vagipus keep you satisfied
C: (refusing to correct him or say the word Vagipus) Oh, yes it can hold up
B: I’ve always been fond of Vagipusses.
I learned a lot about men the following 3 days: 1) They talk about sex constantly, 2) They hike too fast, 3) Their balls chafe and it’s painful. Two of the guys couldn’t walk on the second day because of the chafing. I picked up some Bag Balm for them at the general store. After that I was called “Mama Balm”.
Not knowing whether or not I am single, one of the guys asked, “So, Hope, what’s your boyfriend like?”
“He’s great. He’s really good to me.”
“Well he better be, cause if he’s not he’s got 4 rednecks comin’ fer him.”
How nice to feel so embraced, so protected. That didn’t last long. The next morning they were gone. The other thing I learned about men is: most of them aren’t interested in women without the possibility of sex. They hiked too fast for me anyway. I felt like I was back in ‘Nam, racing head down through the jungle. The only problem was, Brit told me not to buy too much food before we went into the 100-mile wilderness cause he had packed too much. Now, I’m in the 100-mile wilderness six days without an opportunity to resupply. Thank goodness for the charity of others.
Jo-Mary made me eggs and hash on her Whisperlite stove. And Patty gave me a bag of freeze dried lasagna and some Powerbars. Other than that it was lentils and quinoa. I never want to see those two things again.
The Appalachian Trail in Maine is not a trail at all: It’s a fucking obstacle course. There are no straight lines. There is no flat land. It’s all roots and rocks, lots of roots and rocks and seventy degree angles. It’s impossible to look up for even a moment, lest you trip and break your face open. Climbing White Cap Mountain was the most intense. We ascended and descended 1100-feet in 1.5 miles. It was hands and feet the whole way, like a gecko or like Spiderman.
Me: I hate this. I hate this. I hate this. I wanna soy latte. I want peanut butter crackers from a vending machine. I wanna go to a movie theater. I wanna lay in the grass. I want a soda. I hate this. Where is the next shelter? Any minute now. Any minute. Is that is? No. Damn! It must have been 3 miles now. I think that last sign said 3 miles. I must have hiked 3 miles by now. I want to take a shower. I want to watch The Office, The Daily Show, The Colbert Report.
This is mostly what has gone through my mind the last 10 days.
I thought of quitting a lot. I thought of how nice it would be to work in a coffee shop in New York City again, how nice it would be to be clean and safe a fed, listening to Rock & Roll and feeling cool.
But I’m not gonna quit, at least not right now. I don’t believe in torturing myself for my pride or ego or the way I appear to others. So if I really must quit I will.
But I made it through the hardest part of the A.T. There are 166 miles left of Maine and 161 miles in New Hampshire. That’s 327 miles more of roots and rocks and hard climbs. After that its 1,848 miles of smooth cruising. I want to see America. I want my feet to inch their way across what we’ve fought so long and so hard for. I want to see the small towns and big people who I’m part of. I want to know exactly what is it I am.