Appalachian Trail Solo Thru-Hike Odyssey – Chapter 2

After 3 1/2 weeks of hiking, I’m 343 miles into my 2,190-mile journey.

Next to raising a family, this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Mentally, I’m doing much better than anticipated. Only minor pangs of homesickness. Having social media like this, being able to talk to and even SEE my loved ones (via FaceTime), & meeting friendly people here helps enormously. Can’t imagine what it may have been like even 20 years ago.

But physically, oh jeez. Tonight I’m resting in a motel in Erwin, TN. But tomorrow I commence an elevation increase of 3,000-plus feet. And some of it will be straight up, not switchbacking. And I confront similar climbs every day, sometimes more than once.

Needless to say, this is exhausting for a 62-year-old man. Forget my marathoning, this form of masochism is far worse. And it’s virtually impossible to replenish the calories I burn, despite what I’m doing right now (being a glutton).

So why am I doing it? Honestly, I don’t think I have the answer yet. Maybe it’s like the soldier who struggles through boot camp. Once the abuse is finally over, there’s an overwhelming self-satisfaction. And there’s a bonding with others that doesn’t occur often in “regular” society.

But I think most significantly, out here, everything is more basic and tangible than in that other society. There’s satisfaction in knowing that you don’t need the same technological and even emotional “crutches.” None of us are totally free, despite kidding ourselves. But these solo, isolated struggles and joys in the wild come closer to feeling freedom than anything I can think of, at least in the 21st century.

Maybe it’s a bit like being a cowboy or whaler in a bygone era…other than this being a temporary life choice (mixed with not a little vanity).

Well, call this my attempt at a sort of metaphysical chapter. Next time I’ll try to bring it down to earth and discuss some of the people I’ve met and sights I’ve seen.

As always, thanks for following my crazy American odyssey.

Omoo

(Of the dozens of hikers I’ve met, only 4 or 5 have asked who my favorite author is when I give the reason for my trail name. And all but one were older than me. People don’t read anymore in this world of constant visual bombardment. O Herman, the indignity!)

Campsite at Low Gap. One of many Low Gaps, by the way.

Appalachian Trail Solo Thru-Hike Odyssey – Chapter 1

Note: I’m using my mother-in-law’s iPhone, not my usual PC keyboard, so I apologize for brevity and any clumsiness. This is no way to write.

Also apologize for not responding to other WordPress essays. Just too much happen in’ here.

***

I started May 2 and am now halfway through the Great Smoky Mountains. Just exceeded 200 miles. A lot of thru-hikers have evidently dropped out, due to the rigors, or a terrible spell of t-storms in Georgia. So I feel good I’ve stuck with it.

No hikers are observing COVID precautions. While I’m vaccinated, those others are taking a risk. But as they say, “Hike your own hike.”

I spent one overnight in Franklin, NC and am now on my second, in Cherokee, NC. (Most thru-hikers stay in kitschy Gatlinburg, but that carnival town’s not my style. Would rather give my business to the Cherokee Reservation than G-Burg mercantilists.) Otherwise, I’m in a tent or shelter in the woods.

Physical issues: toe and heel sores, but using moleskin & changing socks regularly, so no major blisters. Losing weight, which is concerning, since I’m scrawny as it is. Just dined delightedly on Indian taco w/ frybread and strawberry/rhubarb pie. Wearing compression socks to fight age-related varicose veins and “Disney rash.” Pretty common amongst us oldsters.

Looking down on Nantahala gorge

Mental issues: miss my family…and morning coffee, “Leave it to Beaver,” and a dozen other rituals of civilized living.


Mileage: averaging around 14 per day, which was my goal. These partial rest days detract from it, but are almost essential (caloric boosting, cleanup, bodily rest, etc.)

Best day: today, because trail was forgiving, went through hushed pine forests, and summited Clingman’s Dome (highest point east of Miss. River).

Worst day: yesterday. Constant steep ups and downs, trail a rock & root-littered trench.

People: mainly amazing. Met a Ridgerunner with prosthetic leg. Young overweight woman averaging only 7 or 8 miles a day, but headed solo for Maine. “Black Mountain Gang” from Asheville, NC: 3 bright, generous guys & 2 courageous gals in early 20s who pull each other along and give me renewed faith in the Millennial Generation. And others, incl. John & Jessica, who responded to my outstretched thumb, burned gas in Cherokee to locate my motel, & and gave me 2 much-appreciated beers.

Still don’t feel totally confident about “embracing” this strange lifestyle, and reaching Maine. But if I can nail the Virginia state line, that will be my watershed moment, my “litmus test.” We’ll see.

Thanks for following & supporting me and my cause AFSP! See earlier post.)

OMOO (my trail alias)

At Fontana Hilton Shelter. I’m smiling because I just had a rare hot shower.