Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Planning for this long walk began during Thanksgiving break 2008. That’s when the idea ignited anyways. It first became a dream too long ago to remember how old I was. I would guess I was about 8 or 9 years old hiking in north Georgia with my dad. My dad had been taking me hiking and camping before I could even walk. Stone Mountain Park, Raven Cliff Falls, Fort Yargo, and Montreat are places of some of the first camping and hiking memories I have. Blood Mountain in north Georgia is where I discovered the Appalachian Trail. I remember starting up the trail to the summit of Blood Mountain and my dad talking with an older man hiking in the opposite direction. The man had a massive backpack slung over his shoulders, brown boots busting at the seams, and a widdled wooden hiking stick that looked more like a staff. His grey beard shook down below his neck as he talked with my dad about some trail he had been hiking for the past five months. He told my dad he had started in Maine and had been following the white blazes to where we were all standing now. The old man said he was almost finished; one or two more days away; about thirty miles. As we left the man to his white blazes and followed our own up Blood Mountain my dad told me briefly about these blazes and how they continued past the summit for miles and miles. That the trail we were walking on could be followed all the way to Maine! The details of the story are fuzzy and lost with time long ago, but I do remember looking down the trail as far as the next turn through the rhododendron, imagining what it’d be like to just keep walking and eventually making it to Maine. All the rivers I’d have to cross, mountains I’d have to climb, trees I’d sleep under and faces I’d meet. I remember I wanted to do that.

Like I said earlier, it wasn’t until many years later and a couple Thanksgivings ago when I saw the opportunity to make this imagination become realistic. I was talking with a my long-time best friend, Andy, at a friends’ house after a few drinks about how we were both considering our possibilities after leaving places we had been for the past several years. For me, I saw my time in Yellowstone coming to an end, to change jobs, lifestyle, and scenery. For Andy, it would be time to leave Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan, to graduate with masters, a new job, a career. Maybe with the help of some alcohol, the idea of hiking the Appalachian Trail with each after he finished at Michigan and I finished my winter season in Yellowstone started to roll. We could both start saving money. We would be giving ourselves plenty of time to plan. We would both be in a time of transition. I don’t think either one of knew at the time how serious the other one was about all this. I was serious. We may have made a drunken promise to each other that night that we’d hike the AT together 2010, but I guess I also made a promise to myself to do it as well. The idea seemed to fade with my friend. It only grew with me from that point on.

That following winter in Yellowstone, Mark Dixon, a former ski shop snow lodger, came to Old Faithful to visit his girlfriend and friends. He had recently finished walking the entire length of the Continental Divide Trail, the third of America’s greatest National Scenic Trails. After he gave a stunning presentation of his trek, full of gorgeous pictures, adventurous stories, and how he planned a good bit of it, I found out he had also walked the entire length of the PCT a few years before he had done the CDT. I talked with him about his PCT adventure in comparison to the CDT. By the time we had shared lunch together I felt like I had to hike the PCT instead of the AT. Actually I wanted to do both. Initially I didn’t consider the possibility of hiking both trails, maybe because I had never heard of anyone doing such a thing; not back to back in the same calendar year anyways. Guess most people would call me a dreamer, and I assume that’s what I was doing when I started thinking about trying to combine both trails into one long continuous hike. Could it be possible to do both without running into winter weather? How long would it take? Could I make and save enough money? I followed that lead, researched the possibilities and options and didn’t find a dead end. So then it began the preparation for hiking about 5000 miles from April to December.

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