Loneliness of the long-distance hiker

For the past few months I’ve been preparing for my upcoming hike on the AT and have been concentrating on my kit, toughening up my feet and wearing in my boots.  Ive also been fattening myself up in preparation for the expected weight loss, though I suspect that is more because I am a greedy hog than any conscious effort on my part.  However, one thing that is difficult to prepare for is the loneliness that is necessarily going to be part of my experience at some time or another.

That said, I have had some experience of this in recent weeks, without having been particularly conscious of it.  It is only now, sitting here typing another post, that I’ve become aware of my wife’s brilliant strategy to assist in my preparations. Continue reading Loneliness of the long-distance hiker

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Not so wild life

I was sitting on my porch yesterday afternoon, in the late sunshine, reading yet another Appalachian Trail book. I was engrossed as the light faded and, using my Kindle app on the iPad, I was hardly aware that I was gradually plunging into darkness, as the iPad is so well backlit.

You may recall that my only encounters with wildlife thus far have been with some wild boar on the Little Manatee River trail and a rubber snake in a gated community. As a consequence, I’m hardly the grizzled veteran for whom wild animals hold no fear. Indeed, I am to long distance hiking what Katy Perry is to deep sea drilling. That said, I feel relatively comfortable facing most animate objects in the coming months, so it is somewhat jarring to report another brush with reality.

As I say, the sun had entirely gone and I was quietly minding my own business when a frog had the temerity to jump straight out of the gloom onto my hand. In the dark, this is more than a little unnerving and I confess to jumping like a 10 year old girl and, very possibly, starting to emit a squeal that I quickly caught in my throat. Of course, it passed in an instant and I laughed at myself, yet I’ve had to recall something that I read recently, that the fear of something is not a valid reason for not doing something. That is a wild paraphrase, but I’m sure you get my drift.

Of course, I’m as frightened of frogs as I am of rubber snakes, yet I know that it is the sudden movement that I need to get used to. With nearly 2,200 miles to cover, there will doubtless be many moments of unexpected movement, so I guess these tiny false alarms are all part of the process.

Roll on my first bear encounter. Then I’ll really have reason to jump.

Why am I doing this?

Now that the hike is drawing closer, (less than  5 weeks away) I thought I’d try to give you an idea of why I’ve chosen to be uncomfortable, exhausted, hungry and smelly for about six months.  It has to be said at the outset that I am a man of home comforts.  Frankly, give me my remote control, my sofa, my TV and my wife providing me with endless snacks and I’m pretty much good to go.  Why, you may ask, would somebody willingly give that up for 6 months of lonely, hard work and discomfort?

When put in those terms, the answer is not immediately apparent, even to me, but I’d like to share a couple of moments that conspired to put me on, and keep me on, this path. Continue reading Why am I doing this?

Animal Crackers

This blog post contains an admission that speaks to my woeful lack of experience of “the wild.”

Last week, I continued to wear in my new boots, with a 6 mile trek around my neighborhood.  There is a very pretty gravel track that goes by a lake and I really enjoy the walk.  Just as I joined the path, I noticed a snake about 30 feet away, in a different direction to the path I was taking.  It was coiled and not moving, so I pulled out my phone, took a quick snap, then zoomed in on the snap and posted it on Facebook.  I asked my friends if they knew what the snake was and, after a number of unsure responses, with a rat snake, a garden

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snake and a damifino (whatever that is) snake as options, I started thinking back to the moment I saw it and I think the clue should have been that it didn’t move – at all.  As a consequence, and to my eternal shame and blushing embarrassment, I believe it was the well known snakius rubberis, routinely purchased for a buck at Dollaris Generali.

Yes, that gruesome looking beast, coiled and ready to spring, was probably no more than a mass of rubber, painted for effect and no more likely to spring at me than the Statue of Liberty.  Exactly why it was in the path I have no idea, though I suspect it was there for precisely the effect it had; it was put there for some mug to come along and I happened to be the mug who saw it and fell for it.

This doesn’t bode well for my upcoming trip, as I’ll likely mis-identify all sorts of animals on the trail.  So, when I tell you that I’ve seen a mountain lion, read cat.  When I report a bear sighting, read raccoon and any talk of moose should be downgraded to Bambi immediately.

This is indeed a step into the unknown; I just hadn’t realized that identifying live from inanimate objects was going to be yet another issue to watch out for.

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