Thursday, April 3, 2014

Why I'm Hiking the Appalachian Trail

So why am I hiking the Appalachian Trail next year? Well, one reason is already apparent, as I want to hike to help raise money for a good cause. Naturally, it would be an opportunity to do something really worth writing about, so that is a good reason as well. And of course, the challenge of it all has an appeal, as does the idea of doing something that relatively few people have done.

And of course, one of the biggest reasons I am doing it is so I can take on some of my bad habits and live a healthier, more enriched life. By committing to this hike, I intend to once and for all kick some of the self-destructive behaviors that I've developed over the years, and get myself into better shape. Of course, given my size in general (even when not grossly obese), I'm almost going to have to rely upon bad habits on the trail. Seriously, given my height and and body size, I'll have to pretty much inhale calories while on the trail just to keep from falling apart*.  I'm aware that the good habits, while in some cases helpful for the actual hiking, won't necessarily be a complete solution. However, I'm hoping to have time developing those good habits so come the end of the hike, I will have experience with them and can get back to them. My thinking here isn't one year out, it's much more long term than that.

Of course, if health was the sole reason to do this, I wouldn't be doing this. There are plenty of other ways to get healthy that involve easy access to air conditioning after the workout and not having to learn the best way to dig catholes**. There are less physical rewards for attempting this. By setting this goal and seeing it through, perhaps I can learn a little bit about persistence. Granted, I'm almost 33 years old, I'm pretty much who I am going to be. I'll always have a bit of a lazy side, but I've seen the other side as well. It's the side that got me through those awful days in the cornfields of detassling, through long nights of writing papers that were due the next day in college, and kept me going late at night to get just one more bug fixed for the release of a new site. It's also the side that got me through to the end of the Cade's Cove loop hike, even though my feet were angry as hell at me walking that in poorly chosen footwear. It got me up and down Blood Mountain and up those 600 stairs at Amicalola. It's what has kept me going after falls on the trail, and what keeps me going even though I know a fall will come again. To test my stubborn side, the one that refuses to give up even when there are valid arguments to give up, is something I'd like to do.

But it's not all about my mental toughness, or my physical health. There is the natural aspect. You see, as much as I bitch and moan as I go up the hill or grit my teeth and hope for the best as I slowly descend it, I really would be doing that then pretty much anything else. Even when it was a 105 degree heat index and I'm walking up yet another tree covered hill in central Wisconsin, I would still rather be there than sitting in my apartment doing nothing of consequence on the internet, or sitting in a cubicle filling out the latest TPS report***. About the only thing I enjoy as much as hiking is watching movies, and even some of those I'd rather be having a miserable day hiking than watching them, no matter how good the popcorn or air conditioned (or heated) the theater***. Even plain non-descript hikes through local Midwestern forest preserves have their moments of natural beauty and tranquility. True, the Appalachian Trail, due to its proximity to heavily populated areas and its popularity, can often be rather crowded. Assuming we stick with a traditional NOBO hike starting from Georgia, we're going to have a lot of company for a while. But even then, I imagine there are plenty of chances for reveling in the wonders of nature.

Sure, the Continental Divide Trail, the Pacific Crest Trail, or the North Country Trail might be less crowded, and provide what could be considered more "wild" experiences. But the communal nature of the Appalachian Trail also holds appeal. This might be a bit surprising to some of you, as you know I don't tend to be the most "social" person. However, I do like to be open to new experiences, and to be thrown into situations that aren't necessarily within my comfort zone. I'm looking forward to spending times both in the rugged wilderness of the Smokies, the Greens, the Whites, and the Bigelows. But I'm also looking forward to the experiences of Hot Springs, NC, Damascus, VA, and other trail towns such as Duncannon, PA and Harper's Ferry, WV.

I don't go into this all starry eyed and delusional. I'm not expecting some revelatory experience, although I'm certainly open to one if it comes along. I don't imagine it will be all fun and games, I know there will be pain and foul odors and mosquitoes and sweat and good god, is that me that smells like that? There will be times when it won't be fun at all. Of course, if it's never fun, then there is no reason to do it. I don't expect it to always be a slog. And even the bad experiences can later become good fodder for stories.

Or hell, maybe I'm just doing it for the food and beer along the way. I've always wanted to walk 1000 miles to eat a 1/2 gallon of ice cream in one sitting, after all.

*Long distance hiking is one of the few activities where high calorie snack cakes are defensible choices, due to their high calorie to weight ratio.
** It means exactly what you think it means.
***Pretty sure I'd endure another night like the one at the Grand Canyon rather than watch After Earth again.

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