Wow! It has been a full month since I’ve written anything for my “Lessons from the Trail” series. But I’m back today with some of the best stories from my time on the trail and some good application to my life today.
Today I will attempt to summarize several weeks of hiking on the trail in 800 words or less. During this time I got skunked, went to NYC, hitchhiked multiple times, saw a man kiss a frog, was visited by my family, and watched a friend go to the emergency room because of a moth. Things are always interesting when you live in the woods. Let’s start in Pawling, NY….
The good folks of Pawling have a park where they let thru-hikers spend the night. The pavilion was great and Almanac, Profile and I were spending the night there before slipping into NYC for some R&R. They had an outdoor shower but it wasn’t hooked up. We STUNK and needed to clean up before riding on a train. We found a water spigot on the back side of a building and took turns playing lookout while one of us ran behind the building to take a quick hiker bath.
The bath turned out to be pointless. At 2:15am I woke up and Profile was sitting up in his sleeping bag. I dozed back off and awoke to Profile grabbing his wife Almanac by the ankle and dragging her out of the pavilion. A skunk had been at her head and sprayed in all the commotion. I hobbled out of the pavilion. We were all retching from the horribly potent spray.
We gathered all our gear and headed for a 24 hour laundromat that was in town. FYI – Washing your clothes won’t get skunk smell off. Also FYI – When you have a big beard and wild fro, expect to get spotlighted by the cops at 4 in the morning. After getting lit up they waved me over to talk. I told them that I was a thru-hiker and about being skunked. Never ask a cop if you smell bad.
At 5:23 a.m. the train pulled in to the Appalachian Trail station, which consisted of an open air bench and a wooden platform. The commuter train filled as we got closer to NYC. For some reason no one was sitting near us 🙂
Grand Central station was mind-blowing for a guy who had spent 3+ months in the woods. The number of people was overwhelming and it felt like the city was closing in on me. We locked up our backpacks in lockers at the station and then headed out to see the city. We ate and visited the Today Show. Then we ate and tried to get tickets for Letterman. Then we ate and found Paragon, a big sports gear store. When people in the hiking section heard we were thru-hiking it turned into an impromptu Q&A session. Then we ate. Turning loose a bunch of hikers in a city with food on every corner is an incredible thing!
We stayed in the youth hostel at NYC. It was surprisingly pleasant and was an interesting place to meet people from all around the world. My parents had shipped my running shoes to Pawling so I could have something comfortable to wear in the city. This is when I learned that my body had changed. At that point I was running marathons and always bought my running shoes at least a full size larger to accommodate foot swelling on the long runs. My time on the trail had actually increased my foot size by 2 full sizes. My feet were crammed into my running shoes and they became excruciatingly painful at times.
We did all the NYC things for another day which included eating, visiting the Statue of Liberty, eating in SoHo, hitting some more sports stores looking for gear, eating, visiting Greenwich Village, eating, and catching a movie in Times Square. That day and a half in the city was more exhausting than a month on the trail.
The next morning we caught a train back out to Pawling and had one of the strangest events on the trail. After lunch in Pawling I took off ahead of A&P and planned to meet them on the road later. I made it 2.5 miles to the road crossing without breaking a sweat. I sat on the front porch of a local business watching for my friends. Almanac came darting up asking if the businesses were open because her husband needed to go to the hospital.
In that short section of trail a moth had dive bombed directly into his ear, down the ear canal and lodged right up against his eardrum. Profile came hiking up a few minutes later and was having a hard time staying upright. The beating of the moth wings on his eardrum were effecting his inner ear and his balance. They had tried to get the moth out with some forceps but it was completely out of view.
Almanac went out to try to flag down a car. The second car that came by was a state trooper. Almanac explained what happened and after the trooper stopped laughing he laid out the options for Profile. The trooper was only allowed to give rides in life and death situations, which this was not. He did tell us that the ambulances in that area were volunteer so there would be no charge for the ride. That sealed the deal and the trooper called for an ambulance. In a while a truck with a light showed up and two volunteers popped out to triage the situation. After they finished laughing they agreed that a hospital visit was needed. The ambulance arrived and after they stopped laughing they also agreed that a trip to the hospital was necessary. So, Profile was loaded on a gurney, strapped down, and taken on a 30 minute ambulance ride. I stayed on the front porch of the business with their dog Sarah.
Two hours later they returned in the ambulance. The doctor had gotten the moth out before the paperwork was even finished. The doctor had gathered the interns around for a good laugh and to teach them a simple trick. You don’t want to jab medical instruments near someone’s eardrum. So he simply had Profile lay on his side and filled his ear up with water. The moth came floating out. We all felt a little dumb after that. The doctor said he had learned that trick from an older doctor who had trained him. The ambulance guys were nice enough to give A&P a lift back out to trail even though they weren’t supposed to.
The next few days were rather calm after that. We barely missed the closing of a section of the trail that ran through an Indian reservation. They were going to close off the section of the trail that ran through their land over the July 4 holiday to protest some issues with the Federal government. The action was the buzz of the shelter journals, made local newspapers and even got a blurb in the New York Times. There were lots of weekend hikers and several thru-hikers in the area. This was the area where I met one of the guys I would finish the trail with. His trail name was Little Bear…because he carried a little bear that one of his children sent with him.
This was also the area where I first met Rich and Erin, the couple whom I would later move to New Hampshire to house sit for while they went off on their own AT adventure. Rich came and picked up A&P and me to celebrate July 4 at his father’s house in MA. Somehow we crammed 4 adults and a Belgian Malinous into a Jeep Wrangler, plus all our gear! Rich’s family was very nice and treated us like family. We crashed on the lawn in our tents and were treated to great food, a boat ride on the lake and some intense Uno games.
We got back on the trail on July 4 and on July 6 my parents and sister picked me up at a road crossing near Lee, MA. I had already banged out a 23 mile day of hiking and made it to the crossing with 20 minutes to spare. I had sat down by the AT sign at the road crossing to wait for them. When they arrived I used the sign to pull myself up and hobble over to give them hugs. The “hiker hobble” was an everyday part of life on the trail. In the mornings my feet would be so tender that it took five to ten minutes of walking around before they would stop hurting. When I sat down for a while after a long day of hiking I tended to stiffen up pretty quickly. All hikers were this way and it made for a funny site in the morning as hikers would hobble out of the shelter. My parents were afraid I was doing permanent damage to my body.
Over the next few days my parents helped A&P and I slackpack about 50 miles of trail to give our bodies a break. Slackpacking means we just carried the essentials for the day and left everything else with my parents. We could knock out 19 or 20 miles in a matter of hours without our packs. I was dedicated to walking every mile of the trail with no skips. My parents and sister would go out and tour while we hiked.
After a few days my family took off to do some other sight-seeing and I was back on the trail. I was now in a pair of low top hikers after wearing out my full-size leather hiking boots. (Interesting note, the boot manufacturer Solomon replaced those boots for free with a new pair since they had worn out during they 1 year warranty.) I hiked on an off with Little Bear. We would hike and talk and the hours would pass by. During one rest break at a shelter he picked up a little frog and gave it a smooch. I hadn’t laughed that hard in a long time.
Well, I have more than doubled the expected length of this post and I haven’t even gotten to any life lessons. I guess we don’t really need them on this post. Sometimes it is fun to look back on fun memories and share a good story. Life is a grand adventure! If you don’t pay attention you might miss all the good things in pursuit of what you think is better.