1. You get to live an all you can eat, deep fried life
The thing about hiking 20 miles a day is that its hard to eat as much as your body is putting out. This leaves you with the opportunity to eat like a chubby kid that just busted out of fat camp. Suspend any notion of cutting calories for rules that collect them most efficiently. Practices in town are focused around but are not limited to: eating a whole pizza in a sitting and wanting more, eating real butter fingers (read: ‘stick of butter’, go for a finger swipe right to the mouth), nearly closing down numerous Chinese buffets. On trail you can eat candy like last night was halloween, brag about how fatty your lunch was, put oil/butter in everything from coffee to peanut butter itself, and forget what it was like to have leftovers after a meal. Your greatest chance of getting to Maine is sustaining a stasis of gluttony.
Have you heard the good word? Leaving a trace sucks and is for suckers. No poo hole inspections, I promise.
2. Trail Magic
If you learn nothing else about hiker culture remember Trail Magic. Every year hundreds of angelic ambassadors to the trail spend their afternoons and evenings supporting thru-hikers in the best possible way. Spaced at different road crossings and behind unsuspecting corners are a group of friendly folks who barrage smelly souls with cupcakes, candies and beverages. These spontaneous spurts of generosity can do wonders for hiker spirits and share with travelers the local culture and people that live along the AT corridor. It’s a little too easy for some of us to run through these beautiful states without making any contact with the people whom stroll by along the way. Trail magic makes hikers run to locals and strangers. Unfortunately random acts of kindness feel as uncommon as ever. Trail magic can reign in every hiker’s memory as a relentlessly selfless act from a stranger, and rekindle a faith in the altruism of the human species. I can’t think of a better affirmation of the positive potential of the human spirit.
3. The Chance to Practice Leave no trace
Have you heard the good word? Leaving a trace sucks and is for suckers. What better way to soapbox about stewardship, conservation, and to help folks from leaving a trace than getting in the trenches? After 3 seasons as a Wilderness Ranger it’s hard to take the ranger mustache off, but I’ll be more pal than police. No poo hole inspections, I promise.
4. Get to know the Country
What better way to see this country then to walk through the thing? Hiking forces you to engage local culture and thoughtfully immerse yourself every place from Georgia to Maine. America sprouted from the abundance of land, resources, and inspirational aesthetic beauty. The mountains, streams and trees of the Appalachians are part of our national identity that nurtured a strong country. I’ve never been to Pennsylvania but I’m looking forward to weeks of the landscape in towns not named Philadelphia, learning about our shared history through the great teacher that is the land itself.
5. Playing with Toys
Every hiker comes to the trail with a unique and personal selection of equipment. To some it’s a culmination of utility and preparedness, to me its shiny new technologies from amazing companies. I’ve been working in a gear shop selling all these beautiful patagoochie jackets and Petzl Headlamps. I finally get to play with my pretty toys and talk to every stranger who wears or uses anything I’ve been pushing to the great people of Chapel Hill. Ultralviolet water filters, duall suspension backpacks, silnylon everywear the Sun shines, Biolite stoves, Nemo tents and crazy spoon sleeping bags; all in brighter colors than ever.
What keeps you going up steep mountains in pain, laughing in the rain, and is ultralight? FRIENDSHIP
6. Trail folk are the best folk
I think one of the parts that keeps people from getting close is their inability to share and see each other’s hardships. We all have complicated pasts that bring their own sets of real life issues that can keep people feeling isolated. The trail takes your past away and puts real life problems in front of everyone’s face. When it rains we all get wet, when mosquitos do more volume than the Red Cross, it sucks for everyone, when dinner number 2 still leaves you hungry we all feel the hunger, and when it snows in May we all freeze our asses off. It’s impossible to hide hardship which gives us the opportunity to turn to each other when independent, strong, people might just try to weather a storm solo. Strangers quickly become friends, and more quickly rely on the wonderful support system that can keep you on the trail the day you knew you were going to quit. What keeps you going up steep mountains in pain, laughing in the rain, and is ultralight? FRIENDSHIP
7. The Names
Finally a physical culture exists where people get to go by fake names (and it’s not on the internet). Trail names are either given to you on trail or by your friends soon after you start hiking. They are a great way to break the ice of a new interaction and bring strangers close quickly. Any awkwardness, intimidation, or trepidation of meeting new people is gone once someone introduces themselves as JellyBelly. I’ve had the personal pleasure of going by Kobe, Smokey the Bear, Ranger Reynolds, and finally Flugelhorn. For the sake of more examples I’d love to give shout outs to Gribbly Bear, Daystar, Pants-on –Fire, Lighthouse, Tater Tot, MuffinMan, Prancer aka PacMan, Hollywood, Ryo, CAPSLOCK, Postman and HipNeck.
8. Good Bye Ranger Steve, Hello FlugelHorn
I wouldn’t give up anything for the time I have spent and will spend as a Wilderness Ranger, but I am really looking forward to a long trip meeting people as a peer and not a uniform. Turns out people don’t like being told what to do in the woods, and from the second people see a uniformed Ranger that’s all they are ready for. From the other side, as a user I look forward to taking advantage of the multiple section of trail I’ve personally spent hundreds of man hours whittling away a trail corridor with crosscut saws, axes, and the intimidating Hazel hoe.
9. A walking tour of America’s best invention: the Public Land System
Twenty-Fourteen marks the 50th anniversary of the passing of the Wilderness Act. That law made it possible for congress to protect chunks of land from any kind of development, permanent structures, and motorized or mechanized use. The Wilderness Preservation system has grown to almost 110 million acres of America and over 600 different areas. The Appalachian Trail goes through 26 Wilderness areas managed by the Forest Service and the Park Service, with many other preserved lands with similar styles of wilderness management. On this blog and during my hike I’m going to be profiling each area and soaking up the beauty of preservation from Blood Mountain to Baxter.
10. It Just Sounds So Hard
There is something about doing something that is so daunting and scary. The kind of stuff that people have no problem telling you on the spot that they would ‘never do anything like that’. The stuff that scares the shit out of your mom and you on the inside. Something that is very different in your dream than reality and changes your viewpoint for the rest of your life more than you’ll ever know. As with any unknowable adventure, I feel the twinge of butterflies, the courage of bullheadedness and the excitement that defining moments of a life well spent are made of.