Tuesday, May 7, 2013

not just another AT journey

Walking on the Happy Side of Misery by J. R. "Model-T" Tate

Yes, I am hiking the entire Appalachian Trail once again... virtually that is, reading another chronicle of a thru-hiker on the AT… just call me an armchair hiker living vicariously.

It is a good time of year to read about hiking the AT, it is in early spring every year that thousands of hikers start out on the trail, hoping to go all the way, to get their name on that elusive list of through-hikers, the ones that hike the entire 2100+ miles from GA to Maine.

The recommendation for this book came with a grin, "Model-T writes a little differently." The first clue I had of this is when the author, J.R., former Marine, introduces his alter-ego, Model-T. The two have conversations with each other, which is probably good for the loneliness to be expected when walking alone in the woods for 6 months. But the writing is also colorful and eloquent - I tried to describe it to Buddy - it is like he had the thesaurus out and used it often, but in a good way. For example:

"Like lemmings rushing to the sea, thru-hikers scurry northward, following a tortuous, winding footpath for months, as if pulled along by an invisible, unfathomable force. They seem willing to endure immense hardship and pain to fulfill the near maniacal passion that drives them toward Katahdin. …Spirit-sapping wetness becomes the norm; stinking, sweaty, tattered clothing and body odor that brings to mind the smell of rotting swamp muck are accepted as commonplace. With numb fingers and pinched faces, the early birds chance the howling, arctic-like winds and drifting snows of the southern Appalachians, while the slowpokes dare Katahdin's icy wrath by trying winter's patience."

I have read many books by AT through hikers. There is a common thread in all of the journals/stories - hunger, thirst, exhaustion, feet, rain, vitamin-I (ibuprofen), food, blisters, b.o., hunger, the people met along the way, new friends, did I say hunger?

"This was but a fleeting convergence of lives, a brief melding of minds; yet, the bond of friendship firmly bridged the chasm of unfamiliarity." 

And of course I love this one:

"I threw him a friendly wave, which he didn’t return, but I didn’t really expect him to since we were in Yankee-land (people up here didn’t seem to go in for that sort of thing)." 

Each story has something different to add to the overall picture of the AT experience. Like the folks in Moreland Gap, mad about eminent domain taking over their land for the trail, strung invisible fishing line across the trail at eye level - with fish hooks attached! And the monks at Graymoor Monastery who take in hikers to stay overnight and an all-you-can eat meal. And the porcupines who apparently love salt, who will eat your sweaty boots left on the shelter floor.

"Here, tranquility lay like a soft shroud, soothing the mind and soul, easing pain and cares and restoring the human spirit like a lustral balm." 

Another thing that is common, these hearty folks don't just hike the trail one time and then check it off their Bucket List, they go back again and again. Like Model T who has hiked it 4 times now - misery loves company? Or more likely Walking on the Happy Side of Misery. Why do they do it? I have discovered many things about hiking the AT but I have yet to glean this from these trail stories I have read.

"the heavens seemed to press so close that the juncture between space and earth withered into a dark, dew-shrouded quilt" 

J.R./Model T has written a beautiful story, I felt like I was there on his journey, I felt the heat and rain and cringed with him when thinking about snakes. I could taste the cold sweet ice cream in a friendly trail town. I got misty-eyed when we reached the top of Katahdin and saw that familiar weather-beaten sign marking the end of our journey.

"The words of Thoreau, written after his failed attempt in 1846 to scale Katahdin, floated on the breeze like a poignant whisper: 'Only daring and insolent men, perchance, go there . . . ' " 

I love to read about the places I know and have been - starting out at Amicalola Falls and hiking up to Springer Mountain, encountering the Rangers on maneuvers in the woods, descending Blood Mountain and stopping at the hiking oasis that is the Walasi-Yi store where hikers can get mail and food and even a pack inspection and advice on what to leave behind.  So get on your hiking boots and travel along with Model-T! Happy hiking, y'all!

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