Say hullo to King

One of the things I’d really like to sort out prior to this trip is my trail name, which seems, from my reading, to be such an important item on the trail that it would be foolish to leave it until the last minute.  God forbid that I leave it until I’m actually on my way, as I could find myself at the mercies of my fellow hikers, who may bestow such gems as “Midnight Pooper” or “Snoring Bear” on me for my tendencies in either direction.

As a consequence, and without irony, I need to explain why I feel the need to introduce myself as “King.”  This isn’t about self-aggrandizement, nor about ego in any way, though it has something from my wife, from my profession and from my original country, so it may be more appropriate than it may first seem.

The first, and most important reason, is that it is my wife, Diane’s, choice.  She is the one who has cleared the decks for me to have this adventure, she is my biggest supporter and will be stocking me up with food via mail drops and the occasional visit.  She has always wanted to give me the name since I told her how I got it originally.

Back in 2009, when I was setting up my insurance agency here in Florida, I had passed the requisite exams for P&C business (homeowners, auto etc), but I had a bit of time to kill prior to starting my agency.  Consequently, I thought I’d use that time to get my life and health licenses, just in case I decided to develop them.

I attended classes in Florida and, as a rather mature student, I didn’t actually speak to any of the other students until our instructor, a self-named “Southern Cracker”, called David, asked me a question.  Giving the answer, I was aware of a sudden shift in the room as everybody turned to me, clearly the only Brit in the room.  “You sound like the King,” he shouted.  He didn’t seem to mind that the Brits hadn’t actually had a king for over half a century, nor that my accent couldn’t conceivably be called king-like.  Fellow Brits will tell you that the Southend accent is a long way down the scale when it comes to comparisons of accents in the UK.  Nonetheless, I was King for the rest of the course and even referred to as such by my fellow students.

So, King it is, though I’m aware that I’ll likely have to explain it every time I meet somebody on the trail if I’m not to be regarded as an arrogant Brit which, of course, I probably am.

Are we there yet?

My lovely sister-in-law, Suzy, asked me recently how far I’d be walking, so I tried to give her some context.  Knowing that she has driven several times from New York down to her folks’ home in Orlando, a distance of about 1100 miles, I said “it is basically the drive from Brooklyn to Orlando and back again, but up and down mountains instead of I95.”

I’m not sure who was more awed by this context, Suzy or me.  I knew it was 2185 miles and I knew it was over mountains (I even recall vaguely that we peak over 100 mountains in New Hampshire alone).  However, having made the drive from New York to Orlando a few times myself, I realized that I had articulated the trip to myself for the first time in terms that were accessible to me.  This is a long way, by any standards, and I am suddenly more in awe of those who have completed this multi-Marathon and I must say that it gave me pause for 5 minutes.

From reading many books on the subject, my sense is that most people only have a vague idea of the distance when they begin the trail.  They obviously know the mileage as a number, while also knowing that it should take about 5 to 7 months, but they can’t truly see it for what it is – a massive undertaking from a physical, emotional and mental perspective all at the same time.  I’m sure, as I take those first, hesitant steps, I’ll be taking in my surroundings, breathing in the smell, indeed, the taste, of the woods and mountains and experiencing everything in a way that can only be done by taking those first steps.  Reading all the books in the world, hiking 10 miles locally at a time, cycling 30 miles, none of this is going to actually help me with those first, tremulous paces as I step out, alone, into a whole new world that is beyond my current thinking.

How cool is that?

Equipment and too many choices

I’ve already bought quite a bit of equipment for my March trip, as I own literally nothing that would pass as useful on the trail.  Given that I also know absolutely nothing about hiking either, I found my way to a nearby shop that seemed to have the type of stuff that I will need.  However, after swiftly setting me up with boots, which are Asolo Fugitive GTX boots, the proprietor gave me the best advice he could by telling me that, while he had everything I would need on the hike, I’d be best served by doing my own research and finding out what would suit me.
With no reference point from past experience, I wondered how I was going to follow this excellent advice.  Nonetheless, I threw myself into the project and started by Googling “best hiking gear.”  After finding a bunch of dud sites, I found www.outdoorgearlab.com, which seemed to give me a bunch of items with comparisons and best buys, editors picks etc.  I’m not terribly sure how unbiased these reviews are and what part advertising may play in the final outcome, but it all seemed fairly solid to my untrained eye.  There were video reviews of many of the items and I tried to think what would be important to me and thus was able to use my own filter system (common sense) to find what should work. Continue reading Equipment and too many choices

Enthusiasms

I’ve been plagued by enthusiasms all my life.

I was going to learn to play the piano, I was going to have a book published, I was going to learn Japanese and I was going to really improve at golf. There are some who have noticed my penchant for collecting wives as something along the lines of an enthusiasm, though voices in that direction have stilled since they met my current wife.

The piano playing is mediocre, at best, the first 27,000 words of my novel form less than a light pamphlet, while my Japanese simply allows me to sit in the back of a cab in Tokyo and request the driver to return me to my hotel, not exactly the Gettysburg Address. To be fair, I do say it so perfectly that the driver does a quick double-take in the mirror and starts to berate me furiously while I just raise my shoulders and look bemused. The less said about my golf, the better.

The point of this is that, throughout my life, I’ve started things and rarely actually carried them through and, at this gestation period of my great adventure, I’ve been reflecting upon that rather trickily self-aware truth.

I really don’t want this hike to be an enthusiasm that flickers briefly, though brightly, then fades away. One obviously materialistic reason is that I’ve spent, or will spend, about $2500 on new kit and clothes that has pretty much no other purpose than to help me to achieve my goal. However, the Appalachian Trail is a dream that was always an unlikely goal but, with circumstances aligning, has suddenly catapulted itself into the forefront of my life. The fact that my wonderful wife is my biggest supporter in the endeavor is another terrific blessing. The trail is staring me in the face like an insolent challenge and I really don’t want to get out of the way. It is deliciously real, tantalizingly attainable and so imminent I can almost imagine those first few steps.

I want everybody to feel how I feel right now, if only once in their lives. I’m excited, a little scared and very ready for this.

No, this isn’t an enthusiasm, it is my time to follow through on a dream.

First contact with wildlife

Now that the blog is up and running, I thought I’d better actually do a short hike to start to wear in my new boots.  Everything is new, never having hiked before, so I’m a little like a new boy at school.  Hopefully, I’ve chosen well, though the early evidence isn’t entirely encouraging.

I looked around my local area and, recognizing that Florida lacks a anything ressembling a hill, I set my modests sights at Little Manatee River Loop, which winds through the forest for just over 6 miles.  I took a small backpack, plenty of water and some nuts and cranberries to tide me over for a couple of hours.  It was only in the lates 50’s, early 60’s, so very comfortable. Continue reading First contact with wildlife

My great adventure

Thanks for checking out this site.  It is intended to track the preparation, execution and culmination of the greatest adventure I will likely ever have in my life.  It is something I’ve yearned to do for about 20 years and, now that the first step is just over two months away, I am buying gear, exercising, reading and, hopefully, writing something that will be a record of the trip.

Even though I’m British, I’d heard vaguely of the Appalachian Trail, yet Bill Bryson’s “Walk in the Woods” was the first book I’d read on the subject.  That really sparked my initial interest, but it was moving to America in 2005 that really brought it into focus and my Kindle now has about 20 other books, some good, some awful, that cover the same subject. Continue reading My great adventure