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.
Reading “A Walk In The Woods” by Bill Bryson was my, and I suspect many people’s, initial introduction to the existence of the Trail, yet it certainly didn’t make me think that I was actually going to do it. If I had a bucket list, the Trail would have immediately gone in at #1, yet it was such a remote possibility that it didn’t really matter. It was a bit like wishing for world peace – “a consumation devoutly to be wished.” That said, reading that book opened my eyes to other books about the AT and I devoured as many as I could. Some of these have been excellent, but several have been disappointing, only maintaining my personal interest because of the subject, not because of the literary merit, or even the story. I became accustomed to the various highlights of the trip, with each hiker having his, or her, own memorable moments, though the various accounts of approaching Katahdin in Maine made a Northbound hike the only sensible option as far as I’m concerned.
My favourite book thus far has been by a woman, Julie Urbanski. It is called “Between A Rock And A White Blaze” and I think it defined the struggle more how I imagine it is going to be. She also revealed a lot about herself on the trip and how she interacted with both the Trail and the cast of characters that one inevitably meets.
Another book that tracked my progress to this moment was by an old school friend, Colin Bowles. He writes fiction under the name of Colin Faloner, though he used his old name for this piece of soul-baring on a walk of the Camino de Santiago, a 500 mile pilgrimage in northern Spain, a walk he shared with his co-writer, Elizabeth Best. For a while, I toyed with doing this walk as an AT substitute until, after reading a few more books, I realized that that a substitute would be all it was. I knew that, even if I’d done the Camino, I’d still want to do the AT.
Funnily enough, a very gentle prod came in the past six months or so, with a calm, undramatic, though compelling, podcast from Scott Akridge, of http://www.atbackpacking.com. You can get the podcasts directly from Scott’s site or from itunes. Scott did daily updates on his section hikes and I really bought into the calmness, the quiet and the awesome adventure. He has also been very helpful in the planning of this adventure and I’m extremely grateful for his patience at the dumb questions that this clueless Brit asked him.
Ultimately, we all come to things for a multitude of reasons and from a variety of directions. I’ve read, I’ve listened and I’ve researched this subject and I’m as ready mentally as I am physically and I have pretty much all of my equipment to sustain me. I just happen to have come upon this opportunity at the right time for me. Five or ten years ago, it would not have been viable, as it may not be in five or ten years time. Given the Walk in the Woods theme, with bears as potential characters, as Goldilocks once said, this is “just right” for me.