When I was a kid I wanted to be a Boy Scout, like my big brother. Well, that and an astronaut. Yeah, I was that girl — you probably know the type: kinda dorky and uncoordinated, completely lacking any hint of feminine grace; the one who didn’t get the memo on how girls were “supposed” to act. Although to be honest, I have to credit my mother with never having sent that memo. Yeah, it was the late sixties and maybe the times they were-a changin’, but let’s be honest — the world still expected girls to stay in their place and act like…well, girls. Girls did NOT play baseball, football, or hockey; they played with Barbie, not G.I. Joe, and when they wanted to play camping, they were expected to stay in a little pup tent in the front yard and have tea parties with their dolls…not stage amphibious assaults on the beach and capture the neighbor’s hill with toy machine guns. Mom would just shrug her shoulders, and dad would shake his head…but the truth is I never once felt any kind of pressure or expectation to “just act right and be normal.” (Actually, I think mom was the prototype counter-cultural tomboy in her day, and today at 80 years old is still tougher than a lot of men I know…I like to think I didn’t fall too far from that tree.)
Well I couldn’t be a Boy Scout, of course. Mom did try her best and found me something that was at the time the next best thing a girl my age could hope for: she signed me up for Blue Birds. I think I lasted two weeks. Maybe. Maybe not even two weeks. I mean, we were sitting around some lady’s house, drinking lemonade and knitting. KNITTING. Seriously? I wanted to know when were we going to go camping and hiking…when were we going to learn how to paddle a canoe, or build a fire, or gee, I don’t know…just GO OUTSIDE?? Knitting?!?
Yeah, so I quit Blue Birds. I don’t think mom ever blamed me for that one.
But the point is, I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors, and in spite of the Blue Birds trying to subvert my interests into a rather ugly scarf (or was it supposed to be a placemat?), I’ve had a lot of fun adventures hiking, camping, and canoeing over the years.
You may have noticed that I didn’t mention any experience backpacking. Well actually, I did go backpacking once — for about five days at YMCA camp in fifth grade. I got to borrow my brother’s Real, Genuine Boy Scout backpack, and for one brief shining moment in my life, I was the leader of the pack — I was the one who knew how to make a fire, and set up a tent so that it didn’t fall down in the middle of the night, and I was the one who could read a map — thanks to my big brother, who I think probably pitied me a little after that whole Blue Bird thing. It was only five days through the woods and farm country of western Wisconsin, but for those five days I was the one who could hike all day and enjoy it. It’s not much, but it’s the only backpacking experience I have.
The Boy Scouts motto is “Be Prepared”, and when it came to planning this hike, boy was I going to be prepared! I’ve researched and studied and read everything about the AT I could get my hands on. I bought enough new stuff to equip a platoon of Marines…then learned what things actually worked (or rather, what worked best for me) and ended up replacing a lot of things and buying more. I can’t tell you how many types of hiking shoes I’ve experimented with over the last couple years.
But beyond just equipping myself with “stuff”, I was going to be the best damn prepared hiker on the AT! I was going to have my house in order, literally and figuratively; I was going to have myself in shape for hauling a 40+ pound backpack through the mountains, and I was going to be well practiced by having several shakedown hikes on the nearby Knobstone Trail (which, by the way, is actually a pretty good little AT facsimile….) I was going to have a number of mail drop boxes put together and organized perfectly so that my roommate wouldn’t have to do anything more than take them to the Post Office . And oh yeah — I was going to blog all of this whole experience, sharing what I’ve learned and showing all my wonderful preparations. I was going to be prepared!
Well I’m not. Not nearly.
I’m leaving TODAY, and although I can say that I’m packed (well with the exception of a couple small odds ‘n ends…like my first aid kit. Oh yeah, and money….), the fact is I feel horribly, sickeningly unprepared. I’m not nearly in the physical shape I wanted to be (something gross like 20lbs overweight), and I didn’t get the practice hikes in like I wanted to. My house is most definitely NOT in order, and my maildrop boxes have yet to be filled and organized (although the research on what to send, where, and by what date has been done.) For crying out loud, I just wrote my first post on this blog last night!
I’ve made a minor profession out of procrastination — if it can be done, I can be late doing it — but this really takes the cake.
But there’s no turning back now. Well, maybe there is; maybe a sensible person would indeed turn back now. But, well…yeah, no. I never said I was sensible. I said I was stubborn, remember?
Late tonight I will leave on a train from Indianapolis, heading for Washington, D.C. From there, I take another train up to Boston…where I will catch yet another train to take me up to Portland, Maine. There I will transfer to a bus that will take me to Bangor, where [yes] I transfer to another bus that will drive deep into Maine and drop me off in the little town of Medway. And at Medway, I will finally be picked up by a shuttle that will take me to the Appalachian Trail Lodge in Millinocket, where after two solid days of traveling, I am going to crash in an exhausted heap.
And mind you, I still won’t be even close to the trailhead. One thing about getting started on an AT thru-hike: this trail gives new meaning to the phrase “You Can’t Get There From Here.”
Early Saturday morning, I’ll be shuttled another hour or so into Baxter State Park and dropped off at the base of Katahdin. I’ll register with the friendly neighborhood ranger, and then set off to hike up what is said to be the most difficult five miles of the entire AT. When I get to the top, I’ll turn around and come back down the same way — thus beginning the first five miles of what I hope will be a 2,185 mile journey to Georgia.
So — I have a lot to get done, and need to stop rambling on here. I’m planning on keeping this blog updated throughout my hike; I have a nifty little WordPress app on my nifty little smartphone, and should be able to send updates whenever I have cell phone service (or whenever I’m in town with wi-fi.) I’ll be pecking away on one of those asinine little phone screens, so don’t expect this same high level of thoughtfully composed, quality writing. As I’ve said, I’m somewhat challenged when it comes to doing even big, important things in a timely manner, but I will try to keep this blog updated on a regular basis. I will try my very best. I make no promises and give no guarantees. Hell, I may not have anything interesting to say — I mean, you don’t really want to read “Got up, ate, walked, and then walked some more. Ate and slept; more tomorrow….” At the very least I’ll try to post a photo or two. But I hope I can bring you along on this trip of a lifetime so that you can enjoy it with me.
Please keep your hands and feet in the car until the ride has come to a complete stop.
Here we go, ready or not.