Friday, October 4, 2013

Onwards and a Bit About this Blog

It’s been a full lunar cycle since my little stroll came to a close. The one along the Appalachian Trail--the trail that eats its young...and old. My feet are still sore. Still and sore. Too sore, still, to walk barefooted on anything harder than a padded wrestling mat. I wrestle with this daily, now forced to wear thick, squishy shoes everywhere I head except for bed, where the only thing I sport is a strap-on dildo, but never mind that. I’ve even been left with no choice but to don a cheap pair of foamy flip-flops when in the shower, brief though those rinses may be.

Most this is normal.


What’s not normal for me is to be back in a much crazier world--society, we call it; Denver, specifically--after walking for five-plus months through the serene scene that is the Appalachian Mountains. I feel like an impostor in this default world, a tourist here, lying to myself. I’m trying to cope--not adapt--but it is an unfair fight, for I am alienated and outnumbered. The truth is I’m not endowed with the necessary coping mechanisms to accept American society for what it is, or what it’s becoming: unbecoming. And so, as it tends to, my fight-or-flight response has veered back toward flight. Still no more.

There’s a race of men that don’t fit in,
A race that can’t stay still;
So they break the hearts of kith and kin,
And they roam the world at will...
~Robert Service

Since I know no hearts to break, I’ve already obtained a one-way airline ticket to upstate NY. It was to there I wired the necessary funds for a new/used motorbike--sight unseen--upon which I plan to ride across the country the remainder of this month and into the next one, conditions cooperating. A decompression party. Naturally, I’ll go out of my way and stop to pay homage to the AT when I cross it, since it left me feeling crossed many times. (Spit? Piss? Crap? Drain my engine’s oil?) My friend Ruth and I have also made reservations for a round-trip flight to Central America. I wasn’t allowed to book a one-way international ticket--the bastards--but I may very well only use half the scheduled flights, before walking and hopping trains north. Or south. Patagonia?

In any case, old habits die hard and the adventure lingers. The beat don’t stop; the feet don’t stop. A continual disappearing act, I am bored by sameness. Routine is the death of the soul! This behavior’s all a bit impetuous perhaps, but re-entry, as we thru-hikers (we naturalized citizens) know it, is especially tough on me. The Return to Civilization!, the second sequel, starring the wanderer. (To the wanderer travel is a homecoming, an itch that must be scratched.) I am a nowhere man and while I may be nowhere near the trail, I’m still on it. Homesick for somewhere I’ve never been, I miss being elsewhere, always.

I miss being elsewhere, always. The travelers credo. Longing to be long gone. Destination isolation.

“I haven’t been everywhere,” said Susuan Sontag, “but it’s on my list.”

“There was nowhere to go but everywhere,” wrote Kerouac.

“Without end,” wrote Funnybone!

~~~~~~~~~~

A Bit About this Blog…

1: It is entirely waterproof.
2: May be unsuitable for some (or all) viewers. Enter at your own risk.
3: Dont take anything I say seriously; I dont. (I am merely nearly sincerely.) Mileage may differ, timing may differ, I may differ.
4: Except in the instance above Funnybone! never refers to himself in the third person.
5: This is not a tale of personal growth, except when I mention my boner.

Also, because we all despise salespeople, there are no sales pitches or ads here.

Elsewhere, because this site’s host (Blogger) publishes all posts in chronological order, the newest, latest posts (i.e., this very one and Maine) appear on this web log first, before my initial journal entries (introduction; pre-trip; Georgia genesis) do. This basically means that my journal appears in reverse order, which is not most people’s preferred way of reading an account, since--spoiler alert!--we know what happens before we know what happened. This assumes, of course, that there are any readers willing victims other than myself.

I’d originally thought of back-dating all entries in a reverse-chronological order to overcome this little hassle, so the story reads from the first entries to the last, as it should. But because this is the Internet, it’s just as easy to click ‘Newer Posts’ on the bottom left of each page, after starting the reading from DAY 1, and so I’ve left Blogger’s default setting as it is.

Perhaps a much easier way to read each entry in order is via the drop-down menu, plainly visible on the right-hand side of this site (sorry blind readers, but Blogger doesn’t offer their services in Braille just yet). Thankfully this drop-down menu begins with the first day of the hike on the top of the list and works its way downward in simple fashion. I have since removed most pre-hike entries, for they added nothing to the narrative. And although I nearly believe in nothing--a part-time nihilist--it is perhaps best to have something to think or write. For if nothing else, it helps to keep one occupied.

My spud-boy plates and newly expired registration
Please note that this is a Kardashian-free website and I will not accept their family name into this blog. If you are a Kardashian, I am truly sorry. I also no longer publish reader comments(1), because I don’t generally like what people have to say, particularly unkind folk, of whom the world knows no shortage. I apologize to any kind readers (if any) who might consider this a major inconvenience, but I assure you: it’s nothing like the major inconvenience that the trail is.

And so, if, for whatever reason, this journal inspires anyone to grab his or her backpack and head out to hike the Appalachian Trail, I suggest rereading it in detail.


"Foot"note 1: If you would like to get a hold of me, to express, for example, your outrage, I'm afraid you will have to do so by smoke signal. 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Some (almost accurate) Stats

Start date: March 25
Finish date: Sep 4
Number of days: 164
Average mileage per day: 13.3
Number of zero days: as many as it took (12)
Average mileage per day, minus zeroes(1): 14.4
Odds of completing AT without zero days: zero
Importance of calendar during hike: none whatsoever
Mileage covered running: 3 miles (due to mosquitoes or lightning/hail)
Longest mileage day: 39 miles (Day 32)
Shortest mileage day: 3 miles (Day 112) (I did six or seven 4-mile days)
Days without seeing anyone else: 2
Mosquitoes killed: 12,987, all female
Favorite trail town: Hot Springs, NC
Least favorite town: Hiawassee, GA
Honorable mentions: Damascus, VA; Boiling Springs, PA; Hanover, NH; Rangeley, ME
Dishonorable mentions: Pearisburg, VA; Duncannon, PA
Weight before hike: 161lbs
Weight after hike: 161lbs(2)
Height before hike: 6’ 1”
Height after hike: 6’ (the spine realigns with time)
Average estimated load carried throughout: 24lbs, food/H2O included (=15% of my mass, though there were brief periods when I carried just 6% of my mass)
Calories ingested: never enough
Honey Buns ingested: a sickening amount
Cavities created: five or more
Money $pent (incl: ALL [newly purchased] gear, travel to & from, mail, food, donations given, hotels, etc): $2,455 (=$15/day)(3)
Hiking poles broken or worn beyond repair: 2
Pairs of shoes worn: 8
Total cost of shoes: $98
Number of blisters: 5 (entirely due to rain)
Increase in foot/shoe size: none whatsoever
Wish I carried but didnt: a cheapo poncho
Wish I didnt carry but did: my backpack and all the shit in it
Real regrets: none whatsoever
Epiphanies incurred: 0
Books read: 12 (A practicing insomniac, I spent evenings writing, reading and above all, thinking)
Words in this journal: far too many
“Eco-terrorist misdeeds acted out: Im not at mercy to say
Obstacles in path: the path is the obstacle

"Foot"note 1: Minus zeroes?!

"Fat"note 2: Though I didn't lose any weight, I grew thinner and more sinewy throughout, shedding fat for muscle. For a while I had lost weight, only to gain it all back in the last two weeks, thanks to the extra food I carried and the zero days in Millinocket.

"Funds"note 3: DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME, KIDS! I am one of the cheeeeepest bass-turds uh-round, as friends and enemies will attest. I used Ruth's flight miles for the travel; already owned almost all my gear (purchased primarily from thrift stores); ate mostly oatmeal and rice and other cheap grains; raided hiker boxes often; wore cheap shoes and recycled socks; and generally avoided hotels and hostels. My dumbest expenditures?...The Half-Gallon Challenge; the guidebook (no, really); Eat, Pray, Love; and one erroneous maildrop.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The AT: Before & After


BEFORE (Ugly)
AFTER (Uglier) (This is you on drugs the AT.)

References

The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.

This quote has been attributed to Mark Twain (yet appears nowhere in his writing), and I suppose I’d hold it near and dear to my heart but for one thing: why is it we’re always looking for an advantage over others? The advantage sought should be over our former selves.

And so it is, with this last point in mind, I now refer to references referred to...

Throughout this trip and throughout this recording of this trip I have made repeated references to prominent authors and other notable human beings. These are the folks whose work and inner workings I examine closely, the folks whose thoughts and ideas and ideals have patterned much of my life. I’ve listed them here mostly for future personal reference, in the event my mind goes missing sooner than anticipated and I find myself in need of something captivating to read--or in the case of video links, something enjoyable to watch. To a lesser extent I have also listed them for your potential enlightenment. I must, however, sound a warning: read them at your own peril. They could change your life! Or they might simply alter or augment your present line of thinking, which could be good enough.

If, on the other hand, they do nothing for you, or you choose not to read them, well then, that’s your decision--unenlightened and uneducated though it may be.

I’ve attempted to list these sources in order of personal importance and/or personal enjoyment, but I find them all to hold at least some merit. I haven’t included publisher or date published since that crap really doesn’t matter.

~~~~~~~~~~

The Internet (slogan: Bringing the Worst Out of Humanity). Citing the Internet is perhaps disingenuous in that it is the sources within I should mention, but that takes much time, work and space. I suppose I can whittle it down some by specifying Google. For its many evils* Google is an absolute godsend. It is the Global Brain--where we go to access information. (*Evils? Sure, why not?! Google impairs memory. But just as well. Life leads to death and in death, what is there to remember?)

Abbey, Edward. The alpha to my omega. All works but primarily Desert Solitaire. This is sacred shit so read it thoroughly and frequently. Take notes, dog-ear pages, underline, highlight, then reread as necessary. No other book has had an effect on my life like this one; I am fortunate to own a signed copy. (Signed by me, that is.)

OMG! He still reads PAPER!
Thoreau, Henry David. Walden. But you already knew this. Can be difficult to decipher for we plebeians. See footnote below.

Carlin, George. Preface in Brain Droppings, posted in the entry below. Like Carlin, I am a personal optimist but a considerable (and somewhat inconsiderate) skeptic of humanity. See also various videos of his online (e.g., Save the Planet).

London, Jack. The Call of the Wild. Within each of us a primordial beast lays in wait.

Twain, Mark. Roughing It and others. All Twain should be required reading in school (and life is school), as far as I be concerned.

Ryback, Eric. The High Adventure of Eric Ryback. Besides War and Peace and a few other children’s tomes, this was the first book my ADD brain ever read cover to cover. It would alter my dreams, and my reality.

Krakauer, Jon. Into the Wild. Another book that skewed my life’s trajectory. The movie’s actually pretty good too, nearly all things considered.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Any and all. Fried Rich is hard, hard reading, but all too important. Even Hitler was inspired by the guy, so he can’t be that bad.

Ruess, Everett. Journals, et al. In 1934, at age 20, Ruess vanished while hiking through Utah’s desert. He was soon presumed dead and is now almost assuredly so. Thankfully, his writing lives on.

Mowat, Farley. Never Cry Wolf. An under appreciated author, except maybe in his homeland.

McManus, Patrick. A Fine and Pleasant Misery and others. One of the funniest writers I’ve ever read, period.

Fletcher, Colin. The Man Who Walked Through Time, The Complete Walker and others. Fletcher was another huge inspiration to my pimply adolescent mind, and he wasn’t all that huge.

Proenneke, Dick. One Man’s Wilderness. Upon retirement at 51, Proenneke migrated to a then-remote part of Alaska, infringed upon his very own Leave No Trace ethic by erecting a log cabin (with non-motorized hand tools), and lived there for three decades, alone and completely content. A simple man, a simple read, simply inspiring.

Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac. A true “nature book” (Gack!), but there are countless pearls of wisdom within. Perhaps best “read” via audio.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. Nature. Akin to his neighbor Thoreau, Waldo wrote heavy-handedly; one must really want to read his work (or be forced to in college). Still, I deem it vital.

Bryson, Bill. A Walk in the Woods. Bryson may be a weak “thru-hiker,” but he’s a strong writer. I suggest reading everything you can of his; it won’t enlighten, but it’ll have you laugh out loud. And, with the exception of orgasm, laughing is life’s best part.

Miller, David. AWOL’s AT Guidebook. Really the only AT guidebook worth getting. I passed my copy onto a thru-hike hopeful, but you didn’t read that here.

Matthiessen, Peter. The Snow Leopard. Not exactly a top-ten book of mine (terse, dated, dry and altogether too “Hey, look, another well-to-do American who’s traveled to impoverished places and found enlightenment”), but so well-constructed it’s tough to discredit.

Austin, Mary. The Land of Little Rain. A cute little book written in 1903 and still in print.

Louv, Richard. The Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. The title says it all. We children of the world are fucked, no thanks to our parents.

L’Amour, Louis. Various works. All mindless reading, which, trust me, is a good thing during a thru-hike.

Kaczynski, John ‘Ted.’ Manifesto (titled ‘Industrial Society and its Future’). No, seriously.

Regarding this last reference, I suspect I could draw some flack by citing Kaczynski (aka The Unibomber), but I shall never apologize for doing so. Here are the headings within his Manifesto...

        The psychology of modern leftism
        Feelings of inferiority
        Oversocialization
        The power process
        Surrogate activities
        Autonomy
        Sources of social problems
        Disruption of the power process in modern society
        How some people adjust
        The motives of scientists
        The nature of freedom
        Some principles of history
        Industrial-technological society cannot be reformed
        Restriction of freedom is unavoidable in industrial society
        The ‘bad’ parts of technology cannot be separated from the ‘good’ parts
        Technology is a more powerful social force than the aspiration for freedom
        Simpler social problems have proved intractable
        Revolution is easier than reform
        Control of human behavior
        Human race at a crossroads
        Human suffering
        The future
        Strategy
        Two kinds of technology
        The danger of leftism
       

All serious subject matter, I’m afraid. But it may be the shit we should take seriously.

~~~~~~~~~~

I fear I may have forgotten some here (i.e., Muir, Whitman, Dillard), since I am absent-minded, careless and disorganized. Actually, make that unorganized; disorganized suggests some semblance of order.

I further fear I cannot refer to most the other shit I read (or tried to read) during this hike, not without a criminal conscience. This is especially the case with various online Appalachian Trail journals, though there is one that stands out amongst them: Then the Hail Came, written by George Steffanos during his thru-hike back in 1983.

Ultimately, we’re fortunate we’re free to read what we want. (Most us hominids, anyway.) But truth be told, I envy the animals, who’ve got even better things to do.

"Foot"note: it is clear the effect that Thoreau, Abbey and others have had on humankind has been naught. The all-mighty dollar--"growth"--squashes all in its path.
 

George Carlin: Preface to Brain Droppings

A quick note: When I first read the following it was the first time I'd ever thought, 'Jeez, that's EXACTLY how I feel. Maybe there is someone out there I can relate to!' As Patton said--that other George--"If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking." I print this not to infringe upon or break any copyright law--those are mere bonuses--but for educational purposes only.

From the preface of Brain Droppings (1997)

For a long time, my stand-up material has drawn from three sources. The first is the English language: words, phrases, sayings, and the way we speak. The second source, as with most comedians, has been what I think of as the “little world,” those things we all experience every day: driving, food, pets, relationships, and idle thoughts. The third area is what I call the “big world”: war, politics, race, death, and social issues. Without having actually measured, I would say this book reflects that balance very closely.

The first two areas will speak for themselves, but concerning the “big world,” let me say a few things.

I'm happy to tell you there is very little in this world that I believe in. Listening to the comedians who comment on political, social, and cultural issues, I notice most of their material reflects an underlying belief that somehow things were better once and with just a little effort we could set them right again. They're looking for solutions, and rooting for particular results, and I think that necessarily limits the tone and substance of what they say. They're talented and funny people, but they're nothing more than cheerleaders attached to a specific, wished-for outcome.

I don't feel so confined. I frankly don't give a fuck how it all turns out in this country - or anywhere else, for that matter. I think the human game was up a long time ago (when the high priests and traders took over), and now we're just playing out the string. And that is, of course, precisely what I find so amusing; the slow circling of the drain by a once promising species, and the sappy, ever-more-desperate belief in this country that there is actually some sort of “American Dream,” which has merely been misplaced.

The decay and disintegration of this culture is astonishingly amusing if you are emotionally detached from it. I have always viewed it from a safe distance, knowing I don't belong; it doesn't include me, and it never has. No matter how you care to define it, I do not identify with the local group. Planet, species, race, nation, state, religion, party, union, club, association, neighborhood improvement committee, I have no interest in any of it. I love and treasure individuals as I meet them, I loathe and despise the groups they identify with and belong to.

So, if you read something in this book that sounds like advocacy of a particular political point of view, please reject the notion. My interest in “issues” is merely to point out how bad we're doing, not to suggest a way we might do better. Don't confuse me with those who cling to hope. I enjoy describing how things are, I have no interest in how they “ought to be.” And I certainly have no interest in fixing them. I sincerely believe if you think there's a solution, you're part of the problem. My motto: Fuck Hope!

P.S. Let you wonder, personally, I am a joyful individual with a long, happy marriage and a close and loving family. My career has turned out better than I ever dreamed, and it continues to expand. I am a personal optimist but a skeptic about all else. What may sound to some like anger is really nothing more than sympathetic contempt. I view my species with a combination of wonder and pity, and I root for its destruction. And please don't confuse my point of view with cynicism; the real cynics are the ones who tell you everything's gonna be all right.

P.P.S. By the way, if by some chance, you folks do manage to straighten things out and make everything better, I still don't wish to be included.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

A Limp in the Woods (Day 164)

An Appalachian Trail Tale
Day 164: KATAHDIN = 5 miles, then back down
Miles to date: 2,186

Nein mehr weiß lodert

Done. Relieved of my duties. But first, the part prior...

~~~~~~~~~~

I have served my term in Millinocket. Today is the day. I am released, and I am relieved. I’d wished to wipe clean this most onerous of journeys the day before yesterday, for it was Labor Day and it seemed rightly suitable to finish an Appalachian Trail thru-hike on such a day(1). But then the weather won, as it would again yesterday--as it forever does. And then again, who gives a shit about any such official designation when the calendar itself is completely arbitrary?! Every day on the AT is Labor Day. Capital L, capital D.

Capitalizing on an early start--‘twas damn near dark-early when the encephalon cells began to clank and clash--I was easily able to secure a ride from town back to Baxter State Park, a distance of about twenty-eight miles. Easily able, because I shelled out for the shuttle that the AT Lodge offered, in their ten-seater beater. I asked the van driver if he’d mind driving there in reverse, so instead of me having to pay, he’d owe me the money, but he didn’t take the suggestion seriously. Oh, well, for a fair enough sum, I was back where I belonged: anywhere but in Millinocket. Another day and I would’ve paid for prison admission. Three hots and a cot. Shawshank Preemption.

Back at the Birches Campsite, tantalizingly close to this toll road’s long-targeted exit ramp, I’d meet up with a German thru-hiker named Restless Cowboy. Male, thin-ish, grin-ish, thirty-ish. The two of us decided, with nary an utterance, to tackle the mountain collectively. We weren’t a big collection but we did just that, pausing persistently to lasso our breath, only to take in yet another breath-taking view whilst doing so. Respiration, perspiration, inspiration. Pant, pour, roar. Even by AT standards the mountain was a beast. Katahdin the killer. Labor day #164. As it had been with countless other peaks to its south side, one doesn’t “hike” it. No, walking would never work. The “hiker” is forced to clamber steeply upward, employing other bodily parts than just the feet to continue forth, to continue north. Only when in close proximity to the summit do things begin to mellow, and the hiker can safely return to his or her feet.

We stopped and slurped some liquid at yet another majestic mountaintop leak, Thoreau Spring, before continuing forth. No filtering or chemical doctoring required, naturally. “Only a mile to go,” I joked to my latest and last hiking partner. “Two thousand one hundred and eighty five down!” Our feet hovered a foot or two off the ground; it was the first time I hadn’t felt them in months. “Now was a good time, wasn’t it?” smiled Restless Cowboy, his English somewhere on par with my German. “It was,” I replied. “It always was, now and then.”

And then, there were no more white blazes in sight. Nein mehr weiß lodert!


At the broad, seductive summit multitudes of mountaineers loitered and reconnoitered. It was rush hour and very much a rush. Just as it had been with the uncontrolled exuberance back during the first few weeks of this odyssey, the exhilaration here was palpable. The views were endlessly tremendous, a panorama addict’s paradise, while the wind howled and enlivened the experience. A true summit. Fueled by the gusts, a fleet of pretty serious-looking clouds came and went as though behind schedule, but it was a relatively diplomatic day otherwise, given the peak’s proud history of hellish hardship. Most everyone was on his or her feet, but a few sat firmly on their backsides seeking shelter, set to stay a while. No one was going to die on this day, not here, not now.

The planning hadn’t been mastered as I had hoped it would a trio of days ago--for that so-called perfect peak day, a day above and beyond reproach (but mainly above). I’d long since learned that the path and the conditions enveloping it are the ones in control, not those of us passing through. You hike the trail on its terms. We trivial little beings are merely visitors, blessed beyond belief, striving to survive its worst, while awaiting its best. Individually, collectively. The AT always wins, of course, for it is indifferent(2). And hikers aren’t just the visiting team; we’re also the underdog. But every so often the underdog prevails, as we dozen or so thru-hikers at the top had. We didn’t win by completing the AT; we won by having the opportunity to step foot on it. The celebration persisted. A moment of catharsis struck. I barked wildly.

Restless Cowboy looked my way, as we hunkered down behind some knee-high, lichen-coated boulders and divvied up the last of our remaining snacks. We were waiting for some of the horde to abort, so that we could get some decent pictures alongside the deteriorating, defaced summit sign, without the droves milling about behind it. We both felt that when summits are shared by so many they tend to carry less significance.

“This was sweetly bitter, yah?” he asked, smiling. Restless is clearly a smiley type. Quiet and contemplative (still waters run deep, even in Germany apparently), but seemingly always smiling. I hadn’t known him but for a few hours and already I liked him. Although our paths had crossed as far back as Virginia, we never really had the chance to speak. I wished we had, but at the time he had his brother with him (who returned to Germany due to visa constraints) and I was with Backstreet and bunch.

“The snack?” I returned. Weird, I thought, this doesn’t taste bitter at all. We were gnawing on cheese and crackers…neither bitter, nor sweet.

“No, I mean finishing this trail.”

“Oh, for sure” I answered, “it is sweetly bitter,” failing to correct his English. And although the Appalachian Trail is a hard trail to love, I meant what I said: it was bittersweet. When my soul was in the lost-and-found, the path always helped me find it. Always.

I went on. “Ya know, it’s funny, but for the longest time I wanted nothing more than to be off the goddamn trail, but now that it’s time, I almost hate having to leave.”

“And do you have to?”

“Nah, not really. But I’m ready. Besides, there could be no better place to leave, high up here.”

“Ending on a high note,” Restless smiled. “I believe in happy endings.”

“All’s well that ends well,” I added, cheesily. I was simply too tired for any kind of emotional valediction.

The crowd would eventually disperse and when there were just the two of us remaining we took our customary summit shots. Neither of us cared to pose much--it felt somewhat strange to stand there and act cheesy, saying cheese. Sweetly bitter, indeed. It had been a long journey, full of tough times, and strange and wonderful occurrences, and strangers-cum-friends. Restless summed it up nicely, in an unexpected twang of slang, when he said, “this hike was a trip.” We then turned our backs on the mountain and began heading down. It was good timing, since another storm was beginning to brew.

Long live the AT!

The End. Without End.
"Fool's"note 1: I should've started this parade on Fool's Day.

"Foot"note 2: If there's anything the trail--and indeed Mother Earth--teaches you when you're out that much closer to it, it's its indifference toward us. Along with these three 'its' in a row, I share this indifference. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A Limp in the Woods...or not (Day 163)

An Appalachian Trail Tale
Day 163: Millinocket Zero Day (The Sequel) = 0 miles
Miles to date: 2,181

I’m skipping today’s journal entry, not because I spent the day skipping, but because I didn’t spend it walking.

Cue dancing banana:
PS: Nowhere else in this journal does the following sentence appear, not even here.