“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is a quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’” – Mary Anne Radmacher
November tends to be a tough month for me, between the dwindling daylight, the approaching holidays and teaching students whose angst seems exaggerated by the changing conditions as well. As I looked at my calendar, I realized that I do not have many remaining free weekends before the start of 2023, and I was about 155 miles short of my original goal of 400 AT miles this year. I revised that number down to a more manageable 300 midyear, but I still wanted to go for more, so I planned out a hike for the first weekend in November, sent the plans over to Ken and we were all set to go. The plan was to stay near Sherwood Road Friday night after work, get a ride from Mike early Saturday morning to Woodrow Road and hike northbound back to the truck. As we started the hike on a warm Saturday morning, a light drizzle was coming down and Ken suggested we book it to Lisa’s Hostel, a 24 mile distance. I agreed, and talked about naming this post 24/7 since we’d do about that mileage. Unfortunately for us, I cannot do simple math. Somehow in the mess of “real life” we both forgot that I planned a 36 mile hike for the weekend, and not a 31 mile hike and this realization came after we had hobbled into Lisa’s with blisters on our feet. Our only solace getting us through the last few miles in the dark had been that Sunday would be an easy few hours but nope, we had 12 left to get back to the truck. The hike began in the forest with some lolling undulating terrain before we hit 5 hills after about 20 miles. After the last descent, we were in Cumberland Valley and had a lot of flat miles through open farmland to get back to the truck. Here’s Ken’s take:
Alright, we survived that. What were three highlights from this trip?
Accomplishing 24 miles of backpacking in one day with some elevation gain and being able to mentally stick it out is a major highlight for me. Staying in Lisa’s hostel in Boiling Springs was another highlight. She and Sean were so welcoming and we got to feel part of the trail community. Plus I really liked meeting those two other hikers there. I mean we were on her property, her private residence staying in her shed and it reiterates how much the Appalachian Trail is a community of people in and around the actual trail. I think the last thing was that we accomplished this together. We were struggling and exhausted Saturday night. Our feet were in so much pain, we were hiking in the dark struggling to find the blazes, and yet we remained friendly with each other even though we both cursed at rocks and roots as we stumped our blistered toes.
What are three lowlights then
I had a hard time after the sun went down. We booked it up over the last hill and I didn’t anticipate how hard it would be to descend in the dark. It was really hard to see the blazes on the trees and I didn’t want to get lost and have to walk any further. The last two miles of Sunday were also really hard for me. Around mile 33 or 34 I just didn’t even want to talk much, I just wanted to be finished and get off my feet. Once we did get to the truck, I was relieved it was over, but also sad that our trip had ended, the weekend was almost over and we had rushed so much to cover miles that we hadn’t fully enjoyed ourselves. These trips are a great way to have quality time, but it was hard to do that when we had to book it with aching feet.
We didn’t get their trail names, but we met two young men at Lisa’s. One had hiked from Springer Mountain and would keep going until weather stopped him. His friend met him in Shenandoah for what was supposed to be a few nights, but has been with him since. The guy who had started in Springer Mountain had been a teacher and quit, and as we were leaving and talking about having to get back to prep for the week he said “I almost forgot Sunday is a thing for people. Like the day of the week is a whole thing. You just forget that out on the trail for so long.” Would you ever want to be out there so long that you could forget that Sunday is a thing?
I think time on the trail is really important for me. After every trip I appreciate the small things even more, like hot showers, warm food, my couch and not having to be on my feet for 12 hours. But that appreciation wears off quickly. I like that we are breaking the trail up into sections. I am better able to handle crises and challenges at work, and it’s even made me more comfortable with strangers and maybe even myself. The people we’ve met on the trail don’t fit the everyday mold and in a way we don’t either. There is a simplicity about only having to worry about a few things like the bare necessities to stay alive that is invigorating. But I do like going back and forth because getting back out there is always uncomfortable at first and gives my system a good shock.
We should have gotten a picture of the one guys sneakers. He had bought them a month ago from Walmart and the sock part of the one shoe had separated from the sole. The miles aside, the agony of walking on sore feet plagued both of us. At one point I watched as we tried walking on the hard trail, that hurt, then we switched to the grass and that hurt. Even on flat ground, we could not escape the pain. Back to REI for new shoes?
That other guy was hiking in Brooks. I want to try that next. What did he say? For every pound in your pack it’s a pound on your body, but for every ounce in your shoe it’s like 10 times that on your body? Something like that. I think our boots are too heavy.
Mike told us about a kid on the trail who had a huge bag of Swedish Fish, then we saw a kid hiking the trail eating Swedish Fish and finally when we did get into Boiling Springs, I bought a bag for low blood sugars. So, what do you think of Swedish Fish?
They are a different type of sweet. It’s a better type of sweet, not regular like overly sweet Skittles. You can eat more of them. It’s like how people should be – sweet but not saccharine.
Since Swedish Fish would be a ridiculous spirit guide, this trip was bridges because we walked over so many bridges in 36 miles. How do you bridge trail life into everyday life?
You just realize that the unexpected is going to happen when you’re backpacking. The water reservoir might leak (which happened), the sleeping pad might not inflate (which happened) or your girlfriend might not be able to add (which happened), but doing this has helped me remain calm when these things happen. I am more relaxed when things don’t go my way, or how I thought they’d go because it’s always a hell of a lot easier than what I’ve encountered out on the trail. Backpacking has also helped me value quality time. Turning off our phones, getting away from emails and accepting uncertainties out there has helped me do so in my everyday life. Thinking about our past trips during a work trip will help me slow down a bit to be able to focus on what’s around me and manage that which can be managed.
Just to set the record straight, on our first “date” which wasn’t even a date I told you that I was planning to hike the AT and then a few weeks later you invited me camping at Harpers Ferry and said we could hike some of it. When I told you we would have to do out-and-backs you suggested that we buy all the stuff and go backpacking instead. Why did you do that?
I have always liked to be challenged and this seemed like a really good one. The out-and-back just seemed boring but backpacking felt like a true adventure. It was almost like my subconscious was telling me to try this. I used to satisfy my desire for adventure, mainly partying and going out, but I was never really satisfied. I would always want to go to the next place, but after a little bit of time at one location I would just want to go to the next one. It’s like the quote I like “You cannot change destination overnight but you can change direction” by Jim Rohn. Small changes of attitude, routine and surrounding yourself with good people. What we are doing now is a much healthier way to get into an adventure.
This was our 11th trip, which is your lucky number, but maybe not so much of a lucky hike. Why 11?
Well K is the 11th letter in the alphabet so I think there is some important energy there at work. It’s the only number in the day that’s able to repeat itself 4 times. Call it superstition, looking up the significance of 11:11 it says that it’s good luck and that wealth and health is headed your way and some other positivity. Every time I see that time I send out a wish for health, wealth and success to the people I am close to.
We are now 19 miles short of 300 total trail miles. Should we take our last remaining free weekend of 2022 to knock it out?
I want to do it, but I also want to go to a tropical island.