Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Why on Earth would you disappear into the woods for 6 months?!

Tommorrow, I hop a plane to Asheville, North Carolina to spend the weekend. A trip to some wilderness outfitters to get some last minute gear and advice is definitely in order. REI (www.rei.com), with one of many locations right inside Asheville, and Nanahala Outdoors Center ("NOC") in remote Wesser, NC are two great outfitters. The NOC is located just off the AT and has a special AT thru-hikers clinic scheduled for this Saturday, the 11th, which I will be attending. 

I'll probably do some light hiking and maybe a cold overnight in a new sleeping bag. 

Wish me luck!  :) 

Why on Earth would you disappear into the woods for 6 months?!

My dream to hike the Appalachian Trail is a very strange thing to conceptualize for most folks that I know here in Miami, Florida.  I don’t even know exactly where it started for me, having grown up in the land of beaches and eternal summer. 

Perhaps it was the many youthful summers I spent outside of Clarksville, Georgia at a small sleep-away camp named Camp Cherokee for Boys.  For eight summers, I spent four weeks at a time living in small log cabins with screens for windows, cloth for shutters, and a tin roof that would make the most glorious sound when it rained.  No electricity and no showers.  We bathed daily in the icy waters of Lake Burton, Georgia’s largest man-made lake, with its shores lined in red Georgia clay.  Camp Cherokee had been opened from Lake Burton’s creation in the 1920’s until my final year there in the 90’s.  It was during these summers that I hiked my first sections of the AT.  It was here that, like many young boys before me, I first fell in love with the woods. 

Or perhaps it was my life-long background with the Boy Scouts of America (“BSA”), where I am recognized as having earned the Arrow of Light and Eagle Scout awards.  In particular, Philmont Scout Ranch (philmontscoutranch.org) was the pinnacle wilderness experience.  Philmont sits outside of Cimmarron, New Mexico, adjacent to the colossal Ted Turner property, and is the largest of the BSA’s “high-adventure” camps with 137,000 acres of beautiful Rocky Mountain terrain with elevations ranging from 6,500 to 12,441 feet at the summit of Mount Baldy.  Over 950,000 scouts and leaders have experienced Philmont since its first camping season in 1939.  Hikes currently range between 50 and 100+ miles over 12 days.  My dad and I were lucky enough to go 2 years (the 2nd for a horseback trek or “cavalcade”), despite the lottery-style application process.  I was given my first internal frame pack for this trip.  I learned that “cotton kills”.  I learned about bear bags. All of our water was collected from the side of the trail.  I developed real wilderness orienteering skills.  This trip set the groundwork for all of the backcountry adventures I’ve attempted since. 
As graduation from college loomed close, I remember discussing the possibility of going on the Appalachian Trail with those who were close to me at the time, including my good buddy Dane (trailname: “Danger Raid”).  In hindsight, I don’t know why I said it, or for how long I had been thinking about it. I’m fairly certain I had absolutely no idea what I would have been getting myself into.  Luckily, I decided to stay in Long Island after graduating to surf Montauk, shortly returning to South Florida.  However, over the course of the past few summers, Dane and I have done some of the best section hiking we could get our hands on, including Mt. Washington and the Presidentials in New Hampshire (AT section), Mahoosuc Notch in Maine (AT section), and Thompson Peak in the Trinity Alps in northern California.  Dane was inspired to hike the entire 272 mile Long Trail in Vermont and live in and maintain a shelter for the Green Mountain Club.  I can definitely say that without Dane, I would never have tried this hike. 
I’m lucky to have friends and family that support me and all of my crazy adventures.  My dad has loaned me his satellite tracking beacon.  My mom will be doing all of my on-the-fly mail drops.  And various friends will be visiting me, or even hiking with me, on the trail.  I’m hoping that everyone will reach into their networks and try to send some trail magic in my direction. 

Unfortunately, there are people that don’t understand why I would “disappear into the woods for 6 months”.  Ok, let’s be fair.  I expect almost no one to understand what I’m doing.  But there are certain relationships will are unlikely to be waiting for me when I return for one reason or another.  To those people, I want you to know that I understand you are worried for my well-being and my future.  Thank you for your concern.  I hope that 6 months from now, your feelings will have changed and we can all celebrate my AT completion together. 

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