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Mi Casa Es Thru Casa

The hardest part about thru-hiking this trail isn’t going days without showering or eating mac ‘n cheese every night or carrying everything on my back.  The hardest part is sleeping in a different place every night.  It’s funny because I came out here to find a new home, a place with fresh air and community  where I might want to put roots down.  I’m still looking for that, but it means I have to go every night feeling homeless and unknown.  Well, not every night.  There have been people along the way who have offered me everything I need without asking anything in return.  They have invited me into their homes and called me family, they’ve offered me jobs, they’ve folded my underwear.  It’s truly amazing to discover that there are so many people in the world who just want to offer support and comfort.  Of course it’s important to watch out for the crazies; I’m not stupid.  But it’s also crucial never to underestimate a person’s potential for goodness, thru and through.

Chet West runs a hiker hostel called “One Step at a Time” in Lincoln, New Hampshire.  He’s a fire sign, an Aires.  He was a firefighter, as was his father before him.  He was until he got blown up by a camping stove. As he was pumping the fuel canister, friction built up inside and caused a spark that ignited the fuel.  He burnt his lungs to a crisp as he inhaled the fire.  Now he is in a wheelchair and can’t walk more than a few steps at a time while leaning against a wall.  He is also legally blind, so he can’t read or see people’s faces in detail.  That was nine years ago, in September of 2001.  The doctor’s had to decide whether or not to keep him on life-support, as the victims of the terrorist attack in New York City inundated the hospital.  He flatlined seven times and they revived him seven times, more than any other patient in the history of that hospital.

Chet West

After the accident he opened his home to hikers on the Appalachian Trail.  He provides bunks, showers, laundry, phone and bicycles for free.  All he asks is that people help him maintain the house by cleaning up things he can’t see, taking out the garbage, etc.  He is one of the most generous, peaceful and kind individuals I have ever met.  I must admit that I developed a bit of a crush on him, despite his disability.  The doctors were amazed that he survived, let alone that he recovered so much so quickly.  He still plans on walking again someday.  So far he has taken 36 unsupported steps.  Watching him walk the little that he can I have no doubt that he will walk again.  For now he gives everything he can to support people who make walking their six-month mission.  I know that as we walk we send our steps to him.

As I stepped into Dalton, Massachusetts I read a sign tacked to a message board that said: “Sobos, go to the Shell gas station and ask for Rob Bird.  Laundry, showers, beds!  Free!”  On the other side of the message board I read this:

My Welcome to Dalton, MA

Hmmmmm…what to do, what to do?  This is the state of our existence: Either we trust the sign that tells us there is a stranger who really wants to offer you free showers, laundry and beds, or we trust the other sign that says, “We eat people!”.  It’s really a matter of what you want to believe.  I believe that generosity is greater than cannibalism.

When I walked into the gas station I started to speak, but the attendant just nodded his head and picked up the phone.

“Hi.  Yeah, we got another one down here.  Okay, bye.”

Apparently, this guy is used to random people walking into the station looking for free amenities.  I waited no more than five minutes.  An older man rolled up to the station in a blue minivan, cigarette blazing in his hand.

“I heard you were coming.  Where is the other girl?”

Just as someone on the trail told me about Rob, someone told Rob about me and my friend Sissy.  Who needs a cell-phone with connections like these?

We drove up the road and picked up Sissy (and Mable-the-Dog), where she was just coming off the trail and into town.  He told us that he owns the Shell station, his second career after being a policeman in Dalton for thirty-five years.  We soon arrived at his house–known as “The Birdcage”–only a short distance from the station.  He showed us around the house and then he said, “If you have any laundry, I’ll take it.”  Shocked and amazed, Sissy and I handed this kind man our dirty laundry.  The next morning our laundry–thanks to Nancy–was arranged thusly:

folded everything, a la Nancy

After we showered he showed us the guest book for this year: A photo album with pictures of every single hiker that came through the house that year, with their name, address, and start date in the bottom, right-hand corner and a note of gratitude on a post-it beside the photo.  There must have been seventy people in that album.  He has nine other albums for every year he has been supporting hikers.  We sat around the kitchen table with him and his good-friend-since-first-grade, Nancy.  The two weren’t married; they had been through their share of marriages and funerals for a lifetime, as they put it.  But it felt like sitting with mom and dad nonetheless.  These two smoked like chimneys and emphasized that (in a raspy, years of chain-smoking voice), “Whether we liked it or not we were family”.

“If you ever need anything from here to Kent, you just call us up and we’ll come and get you!  Now, I mean it.  Don’t think I’m just saying that.  Don’t take no shit from nobody, darling, or you’re gonna have to answer to me.  Got it?”

This is the tough-love Massachusetts is best at.  I came to love Massachusetts after this, if for no other reason than you can scream “Fuck you!” at the top of your voice in a crowded bar and no one even turns their head.  They are full of love and a little rough around the edges.  A few hours later, Rob came out to the yard and snapped my photo.  After that, I was in the family photo album–no longer a stranger.

Rob Bird, Me, Nancy Lee Taylor

There have been so many others along the way.  An old woman named Rita invited me into her home for a piece of chocolate cake.

Rita makes a mean chocolate cake

Don drove me around for an hour looking for a gear shop.  Arla and Chris let us stay in their garage/game room for two nights.  Kim Post and her family took us on a road trip to Brattleboro, VT.  Brian drove us to the general store and gave us a handle of whiskey “for those chilly nights”.  Amy lent us her car for the day while she and a friend went to the movies.  Mike let us pick vegetables from his garden and then use his kitchen to cook dinner while sipping one of his finest wines.  The list goes on and on.  Even now, I write this blog from Cindy’s home in Great Barrington, while Sissy makes dinner and brings me cocktails.  I feel so fortunate to be given so much so freely.  It’s difficult because I know that tomorrow I will have to leave this beautiful home

Cindy's home in Great Barrington, MA

and get back on the trail not knowing where I will sleep tomorrow night or the next.  Coupled with the amazement at and gratitude for all the beautiful homes I’ve stayed in is a little bit of sadness at none of them being mine.  It’s sort of hard to thoroughly enjoy these luxuries knowing how impermanent they are.  But to me, everyday things like dinner and a bath is a luxury. It seems that when I deprive myself of things–good food, showers, a bed, a house–the experience of them becomes that much richer.  Rather than renouncing worldly things by retreating into the woods, I want worldly things now more than ever.  I think that when I get back to regular living I’m going to wax my legs, wear makeup everyday and become totally indulgent.  Whether this turns out to be true or not doesn’t matter.  Whatever I do, I will know that I am blessed just to have running water and electricity.  Well, enough staring at this big-screen, brand new Macintosh computer, I’m going to go eat a homemade dinner with vegetables from the garden and then take a hot jacuzzi with a vodka tonic and a cigarette.  🙂  Here’s to roughing it!  Cheers!

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The 14-State Weight Loss Plan!

     These days it seems as if every approach to diet and fitness is but a flash in the pan, a passing fad, a gimmick.  You may be searching for a clear solution to the complex problem of nutrition, but instead find a seemingly infinite amount of books and websites, each claiming to contain the secret to success.  How could anyone know where to begin?  Well, search no more!  Finally, a practical and easy solution for better nutrition, higher energy and increased muscle mass.  If this sounds like something you’ve been seeking, read on!

Before breakfast: Pack your clothes, bed and food into a sack,  40-lb maximum

For breakfast: Say a prayer to the stove gods that your stove will work and boil 2 cups water for oatmeal and coffee/tea.

9 a.m.–10 a.m.: Lift 40-lb bag (1 rep) onto back, walk 2 miles (at variable grade), lift 2 5-ounce hiking poles (500 reps), take 40-lbs off (1 rep), change out of sweaty warm clothes, drink a litre of water, lift 40-lb back onto back.

10 a.m.–12:30 p.m.: Carry 40-lbs 2.5 miles up a mountain not of your choice, throw bag down, eat 2 Clif bars, a handful of nuts and a few slices of cheese (with or without crackers).  Take break.  Look around.  Climb fire-tower if available.

1 p.m–4 p.m.: Lift 40-lbs onto back, drink another litre of water, walk/climb 6 miles, lift 5-ounce hiking poles (1500 reps), throw bag down, remove boots, ask self what you are doing with your life, sit down, look around, eat 1 Clif bar and some dark chocolate, stand up.

4:30 p.m.–7:30 p.m.: Lift 40-lbs onto back, consume 1 litre of water, walk 5-10 miles at fastest pace possible before the sun sets, lift 5-ounce hiking poles (2000–4000 reps), arrive at shelter or campsite, throw bag down, curse and/or sigh.

8:00 p.m–9:00 p.m.: prepare 2 cups of boiling water for mac ‘n cheese and hot chocolate.  Roll out bed.  Sleep.

Repeat for approximately 180 days through 14 states of the Union.

You’ll see results in no time by following this simple regimen.  For example, your breasts (if you have them) may become smaller (which may or may not be a good thing depending on your sex) while your knees will swell and become larger.  Although your feet may malfunction, the calf and thigh muscles will increase in strength.  So, although you may not be able to walk normally, you will look great sitting down.  In no time you will have six-pack abs, which should distract people from your hunch-back.  Workout video forthcoming; until then, enjoy some random pictures. 

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372.7 miles down, 1,806.4 miles to go

     So, I’m having a bit of writer’s block.  This post probably won’t be the poetic, literary piece I want it to be; although I’m planning on telling you about a very interesting person named “Insane Duane”, pending photos.  I think by this point my mind is no longer rambling to itself inside it’s dark cave, now it mostly just sings songs.  I’ve gotten used to waking up with the sun and just walking until the sun nearly disappears.  That’s my job right now: walking.  I am a walker–Walker New Mexican Stranger, you might say.  I thought this could be a clever trail name, but it is much too long. 

     People ask me my trail name before my real name.  Of course, they are one and the same, but this is unusual and many people do not approve.  I’ve met people self-named Doozy, Moonpie, Long-shanks, Ringleader, Big-Pace, Roadrunner and Google, just to name a few.  I say, “Hello, magical rainbow poop-stain, I’m Hope.”  And they say, “What a nice trail name.”  Actually, I always have to explain that it’s my real name, but since it’s kind of “traily” I’m sticking with it.  Then I say I am myself and feel very philosophical, but probably just come across as patronizing. 

     Anyway, so I’m not in Maine anymore.  We crossed the state line about a week ago.  Here is a (bad) pic:

Luckily there was a group of girl scouts at the state line to take our pic! Mable-the-dog is not included.

Maine and New Hampshire are beautiful!!!  I have to say, I’m going to miss the incredible views at the tops of some of these mountains.  The White Mountains extend through Maine and New Hampshire.  Mt. Washington is the tallest of the peaks at 6,288 ft.  It is so popular that there is a road and even an old cog train that goes up to the top! It was strange to climb that big mountain and then see a bunch of overweight, pale tourists crowding around the summit sign only to drive back down an hour later.  But that’s just me being arrogant. :/

At the top of Mt. Washington throwing my alien gang sign, which is probably a real gang sign I am unaware of.

Ye Olde cog train carrying people up the Mt.

Why we don't have cog trains anymore

  

     Hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire has been a totally different experience, mainly because of the huts.  There are a string of huts built by the Appalachian Mountain Club that cater to families and people visiting the White Mountains for a few days.  They are small bunkhouses with a kitchen, dining room and bunk rooms.  They range from $80–$120 per night, but us lowly thru-hikers aren’t expected to pay that kind of money–thank God!  We can do work-for-stay!   I worked in five huts along the way.  Typically a hut won’t accept work-for-stay if you arrive before 4 and/or if there are more than 2 thru-hikers already accepted.  If you are turned away you are sent to a different campsite a mile or more away at which you have to pay a fee.  It’s difficult to “stealth camp” because most of the trail is above tree-line, which means it’s rocky and windy and without water; some people mangage to do it anyway though.  Luckily, I timed my hikes so that I would arrive at the right hour and also practiced my desperate please-take-me-in-I’m-a-poor-girly-hiker look.  It was a great experience, not only because I got to eat as much food as I wanted and sleep on the dining room table, but the kids who worked at the huts were really great too.   Here are a few pictures of us at Carter Notch hut doing something called “shake-face”.  As it implies, you shake your face so that it gets all loose and take a picture.  Some of us are better at it than others.  🙂

Tanner (aka Ebeneezer) preparing for shake-face

Rodney: champion face-shaker. Yes, that is saliva.

Lauren (aka Wren) is a little too proper for shake face. Look at that hand!

Cory going in

I'm sorry, I thought this was a Pantene ProV shoot.

Carter and Madison were my two favorite huts.  I wonder if I will ever see any of these people again. 

The Madison Hut croo (from left): Harrison, Luke, Doug, me, Wren

Carter Notch croo (from left): me, Rodney, Mary Ann, Cory, Uli, Tanner

The Northbounders tell me that after the White Mountains the trail is a boring green tunnel.  I wonder if it’s true.  I think I will enjoy going into the towns.  I just hope I have enough time! It’s already almost September and I’m still in New Hampshire.  But the saying goes that I’ve done 20% of the trail and 80% of the work.  So, naturally I’ll be able to go more miles each day and hopefully make it to Georgia by the early part of December.  Oh no! I’m getting kicked off the library computer and I didn’t practice my please-let-me-stay-on-a-little-bit-longer face.  Gotta run!  A few more pics while I still can:

Lakes of the Clouds hut, below the summit of Mt. Washington

Me and Mable-the-Dog on the top of a mountain in Maine. I love this dog.

Mt. Washington from two days away

Bridge before Mt. Madison

Bog Bridge! My very favorite thing on the trail.

Spiderweb withstanding the wind and the rain.

A portion of the Presidential Range

Nothing beats perspective

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Peaks and Valleys: Always Trust the Animal

Things that excite me these days: The sound of highways, eating Pringles in a trailer, eating Snickers, eating ice-cream, hot-chocolate, summits, showers, and shaving my legs… oh! oh! and general stores!  I never expected to take such pleasure in these things.  Sometimes the best part of hiking the trail is “Going into Town”!  It’s strange to see these reversals in myself.  I left the city to get away from the sound of cars, constant noise and ringing bells; and yet, now I find these things bring a certain comfort.  It’s not more than a couple days, however, when I realize that I’m going crazy and I need to get back to the woods.

This is the nature of our lives, isn’t it?  We go up and down, up and down.  I’ve decided to take a photo of when I finally get to the top.  It makes all the dark valleys worth it.

Saddleback Moutain: My favorite so far. You can see Katahdin and Mt. Washington from the top!

Beamis Mountain

Beamis Mountain was a difficult 3 miles

The camera really doesn't do it justice

Approaching the summit of Saddleback

Rolling hills from whence I've come

I was talking with my new Women Friends! about this today.  It seems that many people yearn for a return to a more primitive lifestyle, yet most of us don’t want to be extreme isolationists.  Alexander Supertramp, the boy Krakauer wrote about in “Into the Wild”  comes to mind.  We’ve all felt that something today is unnatural.   We’ve all wondered what it would be like to totally escape civilization.  Because the way we are living is missing something.  We’re walled in.  The ingredients in our foods aren’t found in nature.  (And yet, why is it that I just looooove Kraft “Mac ‘n Cheese?)  We’ve moved too far away.  But when I truly reject it all, I crave society and everything that comes with it.  I crave the mere company of other people.  The sound of cars signals  food, warmth and safety.   I can only conclude that the things we are used to are a part of us no matter how much we would like to reject them.  We can reform the way we are living, but going to the extreme is ignorant of the reason civilization exists in the first place.  It’s what makes us human, whether we like it or not.  The truth is: It’s f***ing scary out there is the dark, dark woods.  I don’t know why, but Adam ate the apple and we are forever separated from total harmony with nature.  Maybe we can acknowledge the parts of our minds that are human and the parts that are not us–like a total rejection of nature– so that we can be without them.

There is a lot to see out there, like lots and lots of mushrooms! And I saw my second moose yesterday.  I didn’t get a picture of it though, cause we were bonding and I didn’t want to scare it. 🙂  But mushrooms are braver than moose.

almost as big as my head

overnight

yellow

bells

hathair

Did I mention?

I think these are called Animites. They look like candy. Makes me wanna just pop 'em in me mouth.

While we’re on the subject, there are also lots of these amazing tree fungi.  I thought is was “street art” or “trail art” at first.

And if you feel like a challenge there are also crazy fun ways to try and not slide down mountains! 🙂

Thank goodness for this ladder

And this rebar is really helpful too.

It's only 700 feet down.

And, believe it or not, there are some really great people.

The boys: Castor, Scruggs and Corney!

Had a delightful chat with these here Northbound boys by the stream.  It was good times.

They picked us up on the side of the road. Evergreen Construction is where it's at if you're in Maine and you need any work done:)

Would you pick up someone who looked like this?

Pick me up! Pleasepleaseplease!!!

Rejected!  Or just suffering from a stomach ache after eating a giant pickle and a blue sky soda.  Bad choice.

side-of-road stomach-ache

When we got to the hostel tonight there was a Native American man playing the flutes on the porch.  I snapped this pic secretly so as not to kill the mood.

"David": From Guatemala and the Yukon

He had lots of turquoise jewelry on and long black and grey hair.  This calmed my heart and we all sat and listened for a long time.  He told us about how he moved from Montreal to the Yukon, where he acted as head chef for the hunters.  He chopped up everything.  I’m sure this was only one of his many roles in life.  When he was going to bed he turned to me and said, “Remember, always trust the animal”.  I’m not sure what to make of it yet.  I think I’ll take it into the woods and think about it for the next three days, as I go up and down and up and down.

Saddleback mountain

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187.8 miles down, 1,991.3 miles left to go

The Bear Minimum

There is a moment of panic that arises sometime after breakfast, caused by the ever-new realization that you get to do it all over again.  No, you cannot go back to bed.  You have to put your bed into one of many bags.  By now you know where every bag goes and what it’s used for: A bag for the bag, a bag for the pad, a bag for food, stove-bag, pan-bag, trash-bag, water-bag, baggy-bag.  You won’t be returning to this breakfast nook ever again.  A new (temporary) nook awaits you ten to fifteen miles away!  It feels nice to know that everything I need is on my back, many bags in one big bag.  I wonder about human need.  What determines our needs?  What do we really need and what do we only think we need?

In Millinocket, the first trail town, I sent home twenty-three pounds of stuff I didn’t need: long underwear, hat, hoodie, shorts.  I had another shakedown a few days ago at Pleasant Pond Lean-To.  I shared a shelter with 2 bearded and beaming Northbounders (NOBOs); they are at the end of their journeys.  The packs they carried weighed twenty-five pounds and they encouraged me to try and shed as much weight as possible (not counting the weight I’ve already lost from hiking: 10 lbs).  So, much like I did at the AT Lodge with Ole Man Paul, we went through my pack.

NOBO #1: Get rid of those food bags.

NOBO #2: And that carabeaner

NOBO #1: You could detach the top part of your bag and send that home.

NOBO #2: Basically, you want to think radical

Ok, I can do that.  So when I hit the next town (Caratunk, population 177) I sent home a whole 2 lbs! It actually does make a difference when you’re hiking fifteen miles and climbing thousands of feet a day.  It’s funny, I spend all sorts of money to buy stuff it’s gonna take all sorts of money to send home.  This reminds me of the time I tried to check a futon bed as baggage at the airport for a two-week trip to NYC when I was 15.  Live and learn, right?  My bag now weighs thirty-three pounds (that includes about 3 days of food and a litre of water), which is pretty good I think.

After stopping in Caratunk (population 177) for some jalapeno poppers and a beer (and a soak in the hot-tub and a game of pool), we went on toward Stratton.  The people I’ve been hiking with are good people.  All guys so far, I’m praying some women will come along soon! 🙂

From Left: Ben (Pi), Me (in my awesome Joy Division T-shirt, Hot Wing (a trail name, obviously?), Risky Business, Homer

We had to take a little canoe across the Kennebec River.  It is the only part of the entire AT with a moving white blaze.

Notice the white blaze by my foot. It's the only blaze on the trail that moves!

iLife-jacket. High fashion for high tides.

The Pierce Pond Lean-To was amazing.  It is a little three-sided shelter on the lake.  We went swimming and I thought this might be the best summer ever.  There is a man down the path who runs a sporting camp named Tim Harrison. He will make you 12 pancakes, eggs, sausage, coffee and juice for 10 bucks.  We did that in the morning and headed south.

That was a half-order of pancakes.  Normally he makes 12.

After this it was over the Bigelow range.  These are the second highest peaks in Maine–the first being Katahdin, which ahem!, I climbed on the first day. 🙂

The Bigelows were amazing.  Starting off at 1,760 ft they rise to 4,090 feet after seven miles, then dip down to 3, 850 feet and back up to 4,145 feet then back down to 1,350 feet–all within twelve miles.  My knees were KILLING me.  When I got to the top of the first peak, there was a girl-scout troop at the top.  One of them took this picture.

This is the look of aching knees. And the winds were 50 mph up there that day!

When I passed the 2,000 mile mark (meaning I only had 2,000 more miles to go) I met “Pete from Maine”.  This is how he introduced himself: “Let’s shake hands, we just passed the 2,000 mile mark.  My name is Pete from Maine”.  So, in the middle of the Bigelow mountain range we had ourselves a little celebration.

2,000 miles since Georgia

I should have taken a picture of him.  He is about 5′ 6″, white hair and beard and bright, shocking blue eyes.  I need to make it a point to take more pictures of the people I meet up here.  There are so many good people.  One lady, she called herself Playboy, left us some “Trail Magic”.  Trail magic is an amazing thing. People who support hikers or have hiked themselves will leave treats for hikers.  Playboy left us a cooler full of sodas and a box of Snickers and hot-chocolate mix.  They were inside of little bags with hearts drawn on them.  So many people, including myself, were concerned about my safety out here, but honestly, I’ve never felt safer anywhere in the world.  Everyone I’ve met just wants to help me out in any way they can.  Don’t worry, I’ll still be cautious and wary of people, but so far those I’ve come across have proven themselves to be extraordinary.  It gives me faith in human nature.  This is what I need.  I think this is what we all need.

As I get rid of the things I can do without I come to know more and more what I am capable of.  And as I get rid of the extra weight I become capable of more and more.  I’ve come to need less as I realize I have to carry, or commit, to what I’m holding onto every moment.  And what I really need, which is to know (not just believe) people are good, doesn’t weigh a thing.  I found out today that my good friend, Ajeet Matharu, died yesterday in a car accident while in India.  Sitting at a picnic table in Stratton, ME, I cried without reservation.  A woman pulled up in her car and asked me if I was OK.  When I told her why I was crying she got out of the car and hugged me.  She held my hands and prayed with me.  And just magically, she had a white candle and a Native American sage smudge with her.  She gave these to me and told me to light the candle and sage and think about all the good qualities of my friend.  She told me that the love I learned with him will never die.  Then she got in her car and drove away.  I needed that more than anything.

So onward I go, back into the woods tomorrow morning.  I’ll be thinking about all of you, and about Ajeet.  Life is so precious.  We are so lucky to have today.

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Each Night the White Noisy Rushing Water

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)

Hiker: Hey

Me: Hi

H: Sobo?

Me: yup

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!”

It was cloudy and we couldn't see a thing. haha.

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 scared me at first.

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

3 litres.

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.

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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.

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