What I learned on the Appalachian Trail: Lesson 1 – The Need for Hope & Adventure

This is my first post in a series of what I learned on the trail.  This not only includes new lessons, or new information, but a sharpening of focus on maybe what I already knew but have been ignoring.  As you will  read in a moment, this first post is in the later category. It will certainly be my most political one.

On any adventure like hiking the Appalachian Trail (mountain climbing, bicycle touring, backpacking, long distance motorcycle trips) which takes you out of the “rat race,” into a more elemental existence over an extended period of time, you have access to this type of experience.  Call it an epiphany.

So I had an epiphany about something which I think I already knew, which came into focus on this trip.  It was about addictions in general,  and specifically substance abuse. There is plenty of substance abuse on the trail, but it is oddly more visible because of the bubble. The bubble is the group of people that you find yourself traveling with, running into here and there, as you hike.   On any given day you may pass them,  or they may pass you, but from time to time you run across each other.  Also other hikers, or entries in shelter logs, will keep you informed.

As our society becomes more frantic, more anxious, we are at risk for becoming overwhelmed on many levels. What is making us more anxious? Technology is a major contributor, but other factors are economic, political, and even existential as we look for meaning in the midst of our present times.  We are easily overwhelmed, and over stimulated, and  often resort to numbing ourselves with food (we are an obese nation and the rest of the world is right there with us), nicotine, social media, sports, and those little magic boxes we call “smart phones,” which make us dumb.  Then there is of course prescriptions drugs, and illicit drugs.  It occurred to me on the trail that illicit drug use is no longer the realm of some fringe minority, but is now widely accepted.

I have heard this in my classroom from college students, and I saw it on the trail.  This doesn’t mean that most Americans are using drugs, or most college students, or most backpackers on the AT.  However, it does mean that drug use is no longer necessarily  deviant, and is certainly more tolerated. We are becoming used to it, our nation has an insatiable appetite for illegal. Exhibit one is the current opioid  crisis.

When hiking on the AT we spent 8 – 9 hours a day backpacking.  For that entire time, and most of the rest of the time, we were in the moment.  Jon Kabat-Zinn wrote a book entitled “Wherever You Go, There You Are.”  Which is true.  But, increasingly the trick is to be able to recognize and appreciate it rather than trying to escape it.  Why is that?  Because many of us, myself included at times, are not happy with where we are at the moment.  We want to be someplace else.  Someplace besides bullshit jobs, meaningless meetings, long commutes, or just struggling to live day by day. Struggling to pay the bills, and struggling to find some meaning in all of it.  We are becoming tired of being commodities, and cogs in an exploitative economic system with a government system that is viewed as ineffective, and often corrupt.

So what is missing from our lives?  Maybe it is adventure.  Or maybe the idea that things can change, things can get better.  Maybe it is the idea that we, as individuals as well as collectively, can evolve rather than devolve. That democracy can work.  Good will be rewarded and evil will be punished.  Maybe not all the time, but enough to where we think the playing field is fairly level.  That we can achieve some modicum of stability in our lives. All those things have been a part of the American experience which gave us a reason to get up in the morning.  Is that still the case?  Well, the jury is till out on all that.

Maybe the reason that illegal drug use is up is that increasingly more and more of us don’t have a reason to get up in the morning. We don’t have adventures.  We are becoming entangled in an existence where we seem to have little agency.  Drugs are a way to blunt the brutality of that assault on our humanity.

Along with this series on lessons learned I will also be making more post with pictures on the adventure that my wife Jenifer and I had together on the AT.

The picture below is just for fun.  I have never seen a Harley in a grocery store before.  This picture was taken in Blairesville, Georgia which was close to the place we stayed before and after our hike.

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Harley On Aisle 4
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Tales of the Trail

We are off the trail now, as planned, and relaxing at Misty Mountain Inn & Cottages in Blairsville, Georgia. Cabin 4.

We came of the trail at Woody Gap.

We now have this:

Yesterday we had this:

We don’t appreciate what we have, nor do we appreciate the power and magesty of nature which we think we have conquered. But that is a delusion. It was before us, and will be after us. This infrastructure we have created is as fragile, and temporary, as a spider’s web, a butterfly’s cocoon, and a Robin’s nest.

I will soon begin a series of post entitled “What I Learned on the Trail.” Not what I learned with complete certainty, but glimpses and hints. I’m not even sure what it is I really learned. Maybe just some kind of awareness? Language struggles to convey reality. Language, and this blog post, are just facades as to what really is.

Brasstown Bald: Highest Mountain in Georgia

We decided to do some sightseeing before tomorrow so we visited the highest point, the highest mountain, in Georgia from where you can see four states.

Brasstown Bald. Real name is Enotah in Cherokee before the land was stolen under Andrew Jackson who ignored a Supreme Court ruling setting aside the removal. Then came the Trail of Tears.

Now it has an asphalt walking trail or you can ride up in a van. White people and semi-bored tourist.

Jenifer learns to embrace the suck.

Hiking Trail to the Top

Observation Tower

We went on this side trail aways, but not far. We were told that further in it gets hard, rated difficult, with a rock scramble.

We saw patches of black bear fur on this trail plus two rude hikers. One a Brit or some other close UK relative. You know the kind that resents other people invading their special place?

Arkaqua: A Difficult Side Trail

Dancing Bear Cabin at Misty Mountain Resort

At the Dancing Bear cabin where we will stay tonight, at Misty Mountain Resort, as well as next Friday and Saturday night. The 🐻 motif is prominent.

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Early this afternoon we are going to hike up Brassbald Mountain. That post for later.

Tommorow morning we start the real hike. We are taking a shuttle from here to Amicalola State Park. An hour and 20 minute ride. Then we hike back for six days, and get get picked up at Neels Gap which is a 15 minute drive from here.

So, we will be on the trail for six days. Final gear check today.

Some rain expected this week. We are carrying pack covers, ponchos, and Gossamer Gear ultralight trekking umbrellas. No metal parts. Also wearing stuff that dries quick – no cotton.

Appalachian Trail Abventure: Almost there…

In Tennessee now, and will be in Georgia before long at Misty Mountain Resort. Will start hiking the AT on the approach trail to Springer Mountain on Sunday.

We had a few minor sit backs.

At the very last minute our dog sitter plans fell through. Minutes before we were leaving.

Jenifer’s niece, Emily, came through. First issue.

So a bit after 8 p.m. we packed up:

and left:

Next, in Pedukah Kentucky, at 3 a.m., Expedia reservations were messed up and it was about an hour until we got that fixed.

More later!

Ugly Hiking the Appalachian Trail

We are getting ready to section hike the Appalachian Trail. We will leave May 4th and come back May 13th. First time. I plan on going back next year by myself and doing four to eight weeks. God willing I will continue until I finish.

I am lucky that I have the summers off but unfortunately my wife does not. More than likely all my future hikes will be solo.

I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to post stories about our hike on this website, or provide a link to a Tumblr blog. Tumblr is super easy on a phone. Or maybe nothing.

I’ve been reading and watching videos about hiking the AT as well as the PCT Trail for about 2 years now. I’ve done some local hiking, and I managed to get some gear that should see us through on this walk – and see me through on subsequent hikes although I’ll make some changes. Everybody does.

I think everybody hikes these long trails ugly. They’re difficult, and you don’t know what you’re going to run into when you start. You have to plan for weeks, months, on speculation Without Really knowing what you’re really going to need and what’s just going to be getting in the way and deadweight. For example, I decided to take trekking umbrellas, in addition to ponchos as backup, for rain protection. My theory is that it’ll be easier to hike in the rain with the umbrella. These Trucking umbrellas are more popular on the PCT because a lot of the hiking there is done in the sun. Very little hiking is in the sun on the AT. We’ll see. There’s a lot of serendipity and no small amount of chaos, on even the best planned journey.

Long-distance backpacking is the ultimate in minimalism. Almost everybody packs things they think they can’t live without only to discard them later. On the Appalachian Trail people sometimes leave hundreds of dollars worth of gear behind in hiker boxes because they realize they didn’t need it after all. I’m in the process of trying to get rid of all the excess baggage in my life. I wonder what I’ll leave behind?

The beauty is of course in the landscape, but also within the inner landscape which gathers clarity on such activites. The inner you that is suppressed with all the hubbub and nonsense we deal with in our modern world. It comes out of the shadows when you’re less distracted, and you’re less concerned with the triviality that we’re bombarded with day by day. One which is social media. Also the inner struggle that happens when you make the decision if you’re going to continue or come off the trail. I want to stay on the trail to the end. Such treks truly are The Road Less Traveled.