Oh man, the idea of hiking the AT has been pulling at me more and more since turning 40. When it comes to my everyday life and career path I find myself asking, “What the hell am I doing?” I suppose I’m no different than most, but now I’m deciding to do something about it. I’ve committed to thru hike the AT starting March of 2015. I guess a lot of folk may say those words and truly never get there. Why am I different? Maybe I’m not but as long as I stay the path, stay focused, remind myself why I want this and most importantly keep myself active towards preparation for the hike, I believe I will start my journey and finish it……
After a recent and pretty interesting two day trip to Maine I thought to myself while driving home, “Now is the right time to start your blog!”…. As of now I have my tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad, some needed gear, head lamp and some other small purchases. I felt it was time to really test things out. I’m lucky enough to have a family owned log cabin up in Woodstock, Maine. What better way to put myself to the test than to spend a few nights there while camping outside in the tent.
For the most part, everything went as well as it could. Sleeping in the tent was a pretty quick adjustment. A bit of rain and some chilly temps didn’t bother me as much as I thought they might. Other than hearing some smallish animal or a deer, God I couldn’t tell, snooping around in the middle of the night I came out an outdoor sleeping master!!!
It was day three that showed me that you never can take the woods for granted. I got a late start on my hike. I only planned on doing a 5 mile loop in Grafton Notch State Park. No sweat, plenty of time to beat dusk. I figured I would do some of the GTL and cut back on Woodsum Spur Trail to get back to the lot… Here’s the problem, Woodsum doesn’t cut back. It keeps going up. By 4:30pm I realized I wasn’t heading home. Here I was standing on top of the mountain three and a half hours in and realizing the only way down was the way I came up. Good Times!!
What do you do when you know you have three hours of hiking ahead of you, in November, while its snowing (oh yeah I left that part out), leaves all over the ground and huge rocks you have no choice but to stealth down?? You hustle your ass off!!! I couldn’t think about turning an ankle, splitting my head open or freezing to death. I needed to get to the bottom of this damn mountain as fast as I could! I didn’t panic or think about my secluded surroundings (only saving grace knowing I can handle a night hike or two during my thru hike). I actually felt a rush of adrenalin when I went into survival mode. I had complete faith in myself, knowing I could get down to the road even with darkness quickly approaching….
Well darkness approached and then arrived. Oh and remember how I mentioned I purchased my headlamp for the AT? Well that was sitting back at the cabin. With pines all around me, cloud covered skies above and finally night making its appearance I felt like I was standing in a padded room without windows. That actually might have been nicer seeing that at least a padded room is warm. Thankfully due to not using my cell phone I had plenty of battery life and a half decent flashlight. Follow the blue blaze and I would be home free!!!
Here was one of the luckier things about this hike. The day before about a mile down the road I hiked Old Speck Mountain. I had zero phone reception hiking that mountain, but during the GTL hike I had perfectly fine phone reception. My father (paw Cody) was at the cabin and was expecting me back around 5:30 for dinner. Obviously I wasn’t going to make it. As calmly as I could I texted him that I got a bit off track but was making my way off the mountain. Don’t show the old man any panic!!! And honestly I wasn’t panicking. Just follow the blue blaze and you’ll be all good.
When you know you are on the right path there’s something actually really calming about hiking at night. I soon crossed a brook I remembered crossing early on towards the start of the hike. Yes!!! I’m close! Look at me! Survivor man has nothing on me!! I’m freeeeeeeeee…. Where did the trail go?? I quickly noticed what I was hiking on wasn’t really a trail anymore. It was actually just the woods. After backtracking I attempted a different route that resembled a trail. Problem was not only did the ground all start looking the same but I couldn’t find a blue blaze for the life of me. Before I knew it I was climbing over downed trees, pushing through heavy branches until I finally realized I had lost my sense of direction. You know what’s not soothing? If you guessed losing your sense of direction you win! Stay calm, stay calm, stay calm… Call Paw and tell him what’s going on and tell him stay calm, stay calm stay calm.
I decided to find my way back to the brook and follow it to the bottom. I knew I saw the brook very early into the hike so if I could stay on the brook it would at least lead me to the road. This is what I explained to Paw and dammit this is what I was going to do. After another half hour of walking through woods and mud, falling hard on my side and cursing out so loud that I probably scared every living animal within a five mile radius, I came to a small dirt access road that I crossed close to six hours earlier. I made my way down the road where I found the blue blaze entrance and walked out to my car. At 7 o’clock at night I stripped down as fast as I could to throw on dry clothes. I told Paw Cody that I was out and safe and getting back to the cabin as soon as possible…
I was fortunate enough to have a small dinner waiting for me when I returned. There was a happy father who, while I was working myself out of the woods was praying for my safety with rosary beads in hand and closing in on a decision to call search and rescue if I went 10 more minutes in the woods. He had the wood burning stove cooking. The sauna was ready, not one of those weak gym versions that are electric but an actual rock and fire burning sauna, happily cooking at 110 degrees to help me sweat the cold experience out of my pours. I made it out and had all this glory to return to…… yet I kept thinking to myself that these things will happen when out on the AT. It might be colder, rainier and more dismal and all I will have at the end of the hike is a tent, sleeping bag and some ramen noodles. Play the cards that are dealt….. See you in March Appalachian.
This being my first entry it’s a bit on the longer side. Some will be longer than others but I’m truly excited about sharing my journey with as many people as possible. Honestly I’m a city guy who the outdoors has been tugging at for a while. I’m happy to finally let it pull as much as it likes. I’ll be blogging a couple times a month keeping an update of my preparation and from there it will be all about the hike. Thanks to Ian and Andy the dusty camels for giving me this opportunity and thanks to all of you that will follow along as I go.
Jesse (trail name TBD)