Monday, December 13, 2010
This feels good. My fingers have minds of their own. They remember what to do. It's comforting.
Today marks four months since completing the Appalachian Trail. I only cried twice today; I call it progress. Crying is an odd concept - I am not sad or angry but satisfied and longing. My body is once again coated with a thin layer of healthy fat. Those "children strapped to the back of my legs" (as some NJ friends liked to call my calves) have regressed to mere toddlers. My face is not hollow and my feet are unmarked. The last of my hiking scars have faded. I want it all back. My body has become complacent yet my awareness of potential makes me feel on-edge. Why am I sitting in a pile of dirty laundry? I would rather be wearing them on the AT.
Four months have passed. I could have southbounded in this time. What do I have to show for my time away from the trail? An overwhelming desire for stabilization yet perpetual movement and an unsettled lifestyle. I want the 9-5, where I laugh with my new friends and go to happy hour after work. I want to entertain guests with a dinner party then crash on my couch over white chocolate raspberry ice cream and an episode of Dexter. My weekends should be open to exploring my new city of San Francisco; I should sleep in on Saturdays to cure my hangover. Doesn't it sound great? I think so. I am still searching for it - the lucky break in a down economy. Employers do not care about a Cornell degree or an AT thru-hike under my belt - they blindly need two years of experience for their entry-level positions. Doing your best has not been enough for the 45+ jobs I have applied for.
I am still hiking. Not the Appalachian Trail, of course. One step at a time. Know the end goal, but do not yellow blaze your way ahead. Love the trail angels that give you rides and housing; lend a supporting hand to those hiking alongside; do not let the nay-sayers bring you down. A woman begged for money on the street to buy me a hot cup of tea on Thursday - she saw something in me, and that's pretty cool.
I live in San Francisco now, staying afloat. I work 60+ hours per week and have yet to attend happy hour. I sleep in my camping gear on my bedroom floor and maintain a diet of cereal, chocolate milk, and pasta. I don't have much time for myself, let alone the handful of friends I am trying to establish. This is hard. I am tired. But then I walk out my front door and look at the sky - the sun and the stars are still the same. I think I'll be all right. Besides, there is another big adventure brewing for us. Fingers crossed this will pan out...
Saturday, November 13, 2010
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
7 am: Wake up on a leather couch in a strangers house. My neck is cramped. Sam, my CouchSurfing host, has gotten up and is in the shower. My cell phone rings, my friend Alisa. Nope, I cannot hang out today. No, do not go to Carrabba's tonight! I won't be working! Why? Didn't I tell you? I'm in San Francisco.
7:30 am: Dressing for the interview. I try on two different belts and two different shirts; I stick with the original large black belt with a silver buckle and my blue button-down. Not nervous.
9 am: Board the BART at Rockridge with intent to get off at 24th Mission. Finish my lemonade from breakfast. Anticipate a 30 minute ride and a 30 minute walk to the hospital.
9:20 am: The BART ride was quick and I am 1/4 done with the walk. I slow down; my shoes have leather soles and I do not want to wear them out. Florence! What a great weekend - leather markets, relics, and David. At an intersection I look to my right. Mountains! I see mountains! They HAVE mountains! I call my sister.
9:30 am: Arrive at the hospital. The interview is not until 10:30 - I should check out the area. Should I live next to the hospital? Why are there so many taquerias?
9:40 am: Evaluation - loud, cars, pee. Yes, need bathroom.
9:50 am: A bar. And it's open! And people are drinking. I'm business-casual carrying a padded notebook. Let's beeline for the bathroom.
9:55 am: My phone is not going to last the weekend. WOW I need to shave. How did I not notice that?
10:05 am: Walgreen's bathroom, let in by security. Shave shave shave AHHHH THREADS. Ask pharmacist for scissors. No threads how do I look why am I nervous this will be fun is that a crumb or a pimple?
10:15 am: Group interview - the other applicants are already sitting and waiting! Did I miss something? Knowledge bank - show up 10-15 minutes before interview, no more no less. They are wrong I am right. Hmmm I am the only one not from SF State. She's a freshman. Is 22 the new old? Did I miss something? No, I am right and they are...also right but less right for the job. Right? Right!
10:35 am: Still waiting. Is there lemon in my teeth? I brushed this morning. I have to pee again! WHERE AM I
12:30 pm: Carla? Biddie? I can't find my host's house so I figured I should call you. Yep, San Fran. Interview just finished! *dead line* *ring ring* Carla? Ah the downside of middle-of-nowhere Pennsylvania. Well, just don't move a centimeter while we talk! I thought you intentionally hung up on me because we haven't spoken in months...
11:30 pm: This rental car is hideously lime green. I hope the front door is unlocked. I want pizza. And animal crackers. And grapes. Work went well tonight! Best Monday yet at Carrabba's - take that you worthless, energy-draining, depression-instating alternate universe known as NJ suburbia! Ha!
11:32 pm: Cat hair all over this chair. Smells like pork in here EMAIL THERE'S AN EMAIL is that sweat? My hands are clammy. Anticipation, worry, jitters...and if the answer is no? That would be shameful and debilitYES HELL YEAH HELL YEAH HELL YEAH HELL YEAH HELL YEAH HELL YEAH HELL YEAH HELL YEAH HELL YEAH HELL YEAH pehgapoighapioghpaowiengpaowingpoawngpOWIEGNwpoiwnagpoinaewpgoINPEOINAWPOINipmaewogimag
I am moving to San Francisco in a few weeks. My internship at the San Francisco General Hospital's Emergency Department starts in mid-November. Now, to call those recruiters for a job...
Sunday, October 3, 2010
In 3rd grade, my teacher gave me a detention for staring out the window during class. That’s all I remember from the 3rd grade.
In college, I met this lawyer guy. I asked him if I should take time off before attending law school. I don’t remember much of anything I learned in college, but I remember the answer to this question: “Picture yourself in, let’s say, a contracts class in law school. Are you looking at the professor or are you staring out the window?”
I planned a trip to Europe the very next day.
When I graduated from college, I crammed 5 years of livin’ into 8 months of freedom. I knew that I wanted to go to law school, and I didn’t want to put it off, but I also didn’t want to spend 3 years and $100,000 to stare out the window.
So I took that advice to heart and dreamed like I was livin’ forever, and lived like I was dying tomorrow. I went to Europe. I led canoeing trips in the Everglades for delinquent kids. I danced at music festivals. I built homes for Hurricane Katrina victims and watched Barbara Streisand movies while couch surfing in Fairhope, Alabama. I dyed my hair purple. I lived out of my car. I hugged my dog.
And I didn’t stop there. How could I??? I had too many dreams!!! So I kept goin’ -- I traveled with my brother, with friends; hell, I traveled alone. I led a trail maintenance crew in Maine, I meditated in Sicily, I painted orange trees on an Italian organic farm and worked on a vineyard in the south of France. Shit I even slept on the floor of a cargo boat just so I could watch the sunset from Santorini.
And when law school orientation came around, I thought I was ready. Ready to be an adult. Ready to be serious. Ready to give back to a world that has given me so much joy.
And then I got to window dreamin’ again.
And I realized somethin’.
I DON’T HAVE TO CHOOSE. We don’t have to choose. I love the field of law, and I’m excited to have a career, but window dreamin’ is a part of who I am. And no matter how many times I, a teacher, or someone I know, tries to kick that from my system, it will always be a part of me.
And so I dreamed a new dream. And 3 years later I was standing on top of Katahdin.
Now that I’m back home, I’ve got commitments and responsibilities like everyone else---commitments towards my friends, family, job, and creditors---but I’m still me. I’m still the girl who painted orange trees and slept on the floor of a cargo boat. And while this may be a sign that I’m finally grown up, it doesn’t mean that I’m going to stop being me.
A month and a half after summiting “Big K”, I find myself on a plane headed to Florida on business. Starin’ out the window of aisle 18. Smiling. It’s time to dream a new dream.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Check back soon for a new installment and follow along with the adventures of a lawyer, an Ivy grad, and a city chick.
Sunday, September 12, 2010
It's 11:22 a.m. on September 12th. At 11:22 a.m. on August 12th, I was in the midst of an insane rock climb up Mt. Katahdin. I was hoisting, I was scraping, I was sweating, and I was emotionally confused. Ringleader and I summited on August 12th, but we were emotionally drained from the unprecedented stresses of family, tourists, and the end of a 5-month adventure. Many thru-hikers say their summit day is one of the best days of their life; it's logical, but I think August 11th served a little better.
We were on a tight schedule. Some of our last days on the trail were marathon days; August 11th was a 21 mile day, and I remember every moment. We woke up on the trail in our busted tent to the sound of TP's voice, "I thought it was you guys getting in after dark last night." TP! We love TP! Ringleader got a 30-second conversation with her at the end of our marathon days in Virginia, but I hadn't seen her since Hot Springs. For months we were anywhere from 10 days to 1 day behind her - and our last day, we finally saw one of our first friends on the AT. She looked good and (we could tell, although she probably would not admit it) she was extremely happy to see us one last time. It was great closure.
After an extended two-hour morning, we set off on our 21 mile day. We were finally leaving the 100-mile wilderness and were making our way for The Birches campground in Baxter State Park. We chatted. We soaked it all in. We crossed paths with a few south-bounders and flip-floppers (including a sweet older woman who was convinced Ringleader's name was Almost There...). Finally, after a painful amount of miles across roots, we came to the last shelter in the 100-mile wilderness. The shelter journal was out of paper, so we wrote on the back cover. Little did we know this would be the last shelter journal we would write in...
Two minutes later we stopped at the Abol Bridge convenience store. Kate downed orange soda, myself a large helping of Gatorade, and a bag of Cheetoh's Corn Puffs between us. The well pump was being fixed by a couple of old men (coffee in one hand, a wrench in the other). While we waited for the fresh water (our filter was broken), a family arrived. "Do you know our son? My brother? My boyfriend? Oh, we have to use his trail name - Felo!" Of course we knew Felo, a new thru-hiker friend we had met only 2-3 weeks before. We talked for 45 minutes with his family, who were planning on intersecting him at the Abol Bridge and then hike Katahdin with him the following day. In a way, meeting Felo's family gave us a wake-up call - these people, your loved ones, will come from great distances to support you because they are so proud of your accomplishment. Our mom and dad were on their way to Baxter for the same reason.
Over the next hour I gave a confessional. I grew antsy within my talk, anxious to get to camp and upset that the setting sun through the trees kept dancing shadows across my face. Felo passed us in that time, and Ringleader promised we would see him tonight. Finally, we left. It was 7 p.m. and getting dark. We began with a quick walk. We rock-hopped two streams (in any other year they would have been tough fords). We were getting jittery. Then, out of nowhere, a sign. 2 miles left! More signs, with positively minute numbers on each one! That's when we started running. Running running running through the woods, yelling, screaming, making all kinds of noises, monkey and ape noises, panting, heavy breathing. Our packs were still heavy on our emaciated bodies, so the running gradually became intermittent sprints. Once, Ringleader yelled, "We got this!" and she took off sprinting. But, her trekking pole got stuck in some roots as she took off and she left it behind! Hahaha. I picked it up and passed it back, but the next 15 minutes of running included a mixture of gut-hurting laughter and gasping for breath.
By the time we got to the next road, it was dark and our headlamps were on. We found the ranger's station at the campground, checked in as thru-hikers #114 and #115 for the year, and headed for The Birches. This was it. The final destination. We were greeted by big hugs from Snickers and Sonic. We cooked our last freeze-dried Backpacker's Pantry meal with extra Minute Rice, sat by a dying fire, and went to sleep.
Back in the kitchen, I washed my face to hold back tears of joy. One month ago I was running and laughing through the woods and today I was working for chump change. I was having a rough night, but this table reminded me to keep it in perspective. Today was my one-month anniversary. Mine! A cause for celebration amidst chaos. I'll always have that.
Sunday, September 5, 2010
A long, long time ago, I wrote about newfound freedom. It was great. It was glorious! I wanted it to last forever. Honestly, though, I was afraid that the freedom would end when returning to society. Society has conventions and your life has a routine - even though I left society for five months, it is easy to fall back into that previous lifestyle.
Well, I wanted none of that. I didn't know how the trip changed me, but I was not going to let five months go to waste. I decided that one change is this newfound freedom. Society may have its standards, but when have I ever been conventional? There is only one Brandon Imp in this world, so I might as well make the best of it.
The great thing about newfound freedom is that I can develop new patterns and attribute them to the freedom. Like being neat and organized - that is not necessarily a "freedom", but the new pattern is definitely being recognized as an active change under my newfound freedom. Flossing and using mouthwash fall under the same category.
My friends and family hold a closer place to my heart. Especially after losing Sunny, I realize that these people will not be around me forever. I like them all (a lot!), so I need to maximize my experiences with them. Even if it's a short talk over drinks, rock climbing at the gym, or falling asleep to Lord of the Rings, every moment is special. I will no longer be passive or develop anxiety over "having to see so and so."
I went into Philadelphia tonight to see my close friend Dom DiTanna perform at World Cafe Live. He hit the stage hard and was feeling the moment. While Dom and I lead very different lives, we are so happy to be friends. He says, "It's amazing that you hiked the AT and graduated from Cornell. Like, man! What the hell!" But I come back with, "Dom, I wish I had your confidence. I would kill to sing and play the guitar like you. You taught yourself photography and can work a crowd of people without breaking a sweat. I might have hiked the AT, but you kick ass on so many other levels!" Years ago Dom recognized his "anything goes" freedom and made the best of it. Here I am, 22 years old, and feel like I am tasting it for the first time!
So, with this freedom, I changed up my look. The mohawk? That stuck around for a bit. A new job has reduced it to a buzz cut, but I am not complaining. And today. Today! I got a tattoo. My best friend Kelly and I have been discussing it for a year, and I ran over the idea with Ringleader over our trip, so this has been a rational, thought-out decision. I love it. It is unique, definitive, and unobtrusive. Plus, Kelly got one as well. Even my parents gave a nod of approval (they strongly disliked the mohawk...).
Here's to all that is new and good! May this trend continue (and may I please write more blog entries!!!)
Friday, September 3, 2010
Every morning on the trail, Emily, Brandon, and I would look at the thru-hiker’s companion to get a sense of what our day would like. Would there be any good overlooks? Roads? Towns? Famous landmarks? Of course most days never went as planned, but the companion usually gave us some valuable piece of information --- some place, person, or thing to look forward to. It gave us something to think about, something to desire, and sometimes, it was that little piece of information that gave us the motivation to continue.
One day, during an uneventful breakfast, Emily and I asked Brandon to give us the news of the day. “The only thing in the next 25 miles is a water spigot coming out the side of a building on a dirt road,” he said.
25 miles and all I thought about was that water spigot:
It’s amazing what your brain can do on so little information.
“Ms., if you don’t have your documents ready please step aside.” I have them right here. Safe and sound in a Ziploc bag. “Have a seat until your number is called.” Have a seat, okay. Omg, why do my knees still hurt so bad. I think I need to see a doctor. Why are so many people at the DMV on a Wednesday morning? “E0115! E0115, please step up!” Oh shit, that’s me. “You are aware that you need to take a written test?” Eh???? What are all these road signs???? Is this a trick? Omg, I am going to be so late to work. Just guess. “You passed. Picture over there. Plates to the office on the right. You need a Chicago sticker to park your car, which is in the building across the street. NEXT!!” Huh, okay. Follow the crowd.
Okay, 11:30am. How did I just spend $300. What else do I need to do? Open a new bank account. Get a credit card. Pay rent. Pay cell phone bill. Pay student loan. Clean my AT backpack that is currently quarantined in a garbage bag on my back porch. Enroll in firm health insurance plan so I can go to the doctor. Eat. Eat what I dunno. I need sugar. How do I have 50 new emails before noon? I hope Brandon and Emily are doing okay with the transition home. I need to call Grandma. And I’m at the office, put the smile on, here we go….
Ok. Ok. You can do this, Kate. You just thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. Seriously. One step at a time. Step one: figure out what a responsive pleading is and file it…..
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Check back soon for a new installment and follow along with the adventures of a lawyer, an Ivy grad, and a city chick.
Friday, August 20, 2010
First off, we want to thank all of you for following our journey on the Appalachian Trail. Keeping a blog on the Internet was a new experience for each of us. Your support gave us the motivation to keep it going! Thank you!
So…where do we go from here?
We initially planned to end the blog with our summit of Mt. Katahdin. In the last few months, however, we’ve met or been emailed by many thru-hikers that have mentioned how lonely and difficult the transition home can be. For this reason (as well as requests from followers), the Traveling Circus has decided to continue the blog for the time being. While not as frequent, we intend to post both written entries (about our transition) and video entries (from the trail) in hopes of providing insight and entertainment.
Other points of interest:
1. The Documentary
The Documentary will enter its post-production phase later this year. We still intend to have a completed product by Summer 2011. In many ways, the story will reflect this blog. This film is about our experience, and each of us tell a different tale (…with many surprises and confessions!) However, having a camera with us at all times also gave us the opportunity to provide our audience with a deeper connection to the ‘daily routine’: camp life, fellow thru-hikers, trail magic, and mountaintop views.
The Traveling Circus, with periodic help from co-producer/editor Jason Furrer, filmed over 200 hours of footage while also averaging over 20 miles a day on the trail. This was no easy feat, but we pushed through in hopes of creating something that could inspire people of all ages for years to come. With the help of One Way Street Productions and our editing team, we believe the film will do just that.
For those of you interested in receiving updates about the progress of the documentary, please send us your email address at firstname.lastname@example.org (or click here) so that we can add you to our listserv. The listserv will be emailed periodically with news re film festival submissions, scheduled viewings, etc.
For those of you without a Facebook account, we apologize for not updating the picture page on our website! Monkey will be organizing the photos from the entire trip in the next few weeks. He plans to upload photo albums on our photo website for all to see. Our website will have slide shows of those albums as well.
For those of you with a Facebook account, our final albums of pictures have recently been added. Enjoy!
4. Separation of the Traveling Circus
There have been many assumptions made about the separation of the Traveling Circus, but alas, none of them will be addressed. In order for any one of us to speak “the truth,” we would have to invade the privacy of the other two --- something that none of us are willing to do. Hiking in a group (with 2 women & a guy / with 2 siblings & a friend / with 2 people that didn’t know each other & 1 that knew both / with a lawyer, an ivy grad, and a city chick) is something that has never been done. There was no book to follow, no one to seek advice from. Maybe it was a mistake, or maybe it was the best decision we ever made. What we do know is that we had some truly amazing experiences that will forever hold a place in our memories.
5. A Broad Thank You
Once again, thank you to everyone that helped the Traveling Circus get from Georgia to Maine. Thank you to every person that: (1) gave us a ride, (2) gave us a place to stay, (3) gave us food, (4) gave us a care package, (5) gave us advice, (6) gave us love and support, or most importantly, (7) made us smile and laugh. Our feet may have done the walking, but many times it was the support from people around us that kept us going. So, thank you!
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
There were many signs to indicate that our hike was coming to a close.
First, Ringleader broke her toe but continued hiking since we were "almost done." How she managed to hike the 250+ miles on a broken toe, while keeping up with Lightning, Snickers, and I, I cannot quite explain. Determination? Gritted teeth? Ibuprofen?
Later, Lightning separated from Ringleader and I. She chose to hike behind us and finished the trail on her own. With so little of the trail left, I suspect there was enough time to enjoy the solitary hike without feeling aftershock from group separation.
Finally, our gear began to fail. Within the last ten days of the trip, our shoes fell apart, the water filter virtually disintegrated, and the tent broke. Granted our shoes were near the end of their lifespan, Ringleader and I both noticed our shoes retained no tread and were useless on slippery rocks and roots. The water filter (grrr!!) met an awful end. The ceramic core (the part that purifies the water) looked uncharacteristically skinny one day when I was cleaning it; upon size inspection, it fell way below the "safe" standards. With only a few days left, we decided the cost of a new ceramic core was not worth the hassle - we would pump and push the water through this core until it could take the force no more! Then, that day, I lost the Brillo to clean the ceramic core. The core must be scrubbed frequently or else the water will not pump through - I resorted to using my fingernails for the remainder of the trip. The tent took its last straw in a hurricane of a thunderstorm - the tent began to leak and the zipper began unzipping. Every night we could zip less and less of the tent. One night, the entire bottom did not zip, so we barricaded ourselves inside with shoes and gear. Still, in the morning we found a large brown spider hiding in the tent and Ringleader suffered a large bite to the leg. On our final night at the Birches, we opted to sleep in the shelter because the tent did not zip at all. It was as if our gear was saying, "We know you are done, so leave us alone!!"
Although we experienced all of these signs (and believe me, we noticed them), there was only one I was looking for - the large wooden sign on Mt. Katahdin's Baxter Peak. Every other sign could only give a false hope that we were done. That one was the real deal.
We spent a few hours up on the peak. On the climb up and while lounging around the peak, I was waiting, and hoping, for a wave of emotions to hit me. I wanted to cry. I wanted to scream! I wanted to feel euphoric! All I felt was a chill. It ran up and down my spine for hours. You are done. You thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. You are done. What, please tell me, WHAT were you thinking? What are you thinking? Where are you going? - Down the mountain. That's where I am going. The minivan is what I am thinking of. The wild roller coaster is what I thought about.
And it was good. Thanks Ringleader and Lightning. I could not have done it without you! And to our parents, family, friends, thru-hikers, new acquaintances, and you all out in cyber space - you rock!
Oh, and my fifth Katahdin 5 was...making a Survivor application video. A kickin' one at that. Thank you for the suggestions - I still payed a tribute to Sunny and even gave a wave to you, Young One!
Until next time...
Monday, August 16, 2010
I’m in disbelief when I hear myself say, “I walked over 2,000 miles.” I’m beyond grateful that I was privileged enough to even attempt, let alone accomplish this unique experience of hiking across the United States along the Appalachian Trail. I’ve learned on many levels, more than I thought I could, about our country, others, and myself. I humbly hold this remarkable experience that will resonate throughout my lifetime.
There were many ups, and there were a number of downs. What’s life without both? But I never wanted to quit because of the hard terrain or the brutal weather -- those aspects weren’t cumbersome, but integral to the adventure. I have no regrets and there are few things that I might have changed. I’m appreciative of all the memories (good and bad) that I now take with me. Congratulations Kate and Brandon, we did it! Thank you Kate for inviting me to join you on this adventure. This trip rejuvenated my love for the outdoors and I look forward, with greater confidence than before, to the many challenges and adventures that lay ahead of me.
I am happy to announce that I completed the hike, and was accompanied by both my parents on the summit of Mt. Katahdin, 30 years after they hiked that same mountain. My father is in great shape and I had no doubts that he could climb the mountain. I can’t say the same for my mother because she has been inactive for five weeks since having toe surgery, but she wanted to tag along for as long as she could. After about a mile of trying to keep up with my dad and me, my mom felt tired and ill, so she stopped and decided to head back to the car. My dad and I, at her request, continued our ascent (on all fours) up the rocky mountain, leaving her with two cereal bars and a quart of water. We reached the top of the mountain and celebrated with the other thru-hikers who were culminated on the summit that day as well. After two hours of enjoying the views from atop the mountain, and just as we agreed to wrap it up to start back down the mountain, a man walked over and said, “Did you just complete your thru-hike?” I replied “yes.” He extended his hand for me to shake and as I shook his hand he said, “Congratulations! Your mother is just behind me and on her way up the mountain.” My dad and I, in SHOCK thought he was mistaking me for someone else, but we looked down the trail and there she was, making her way toward us! She told me that she didn’t want to miss out on the celebration, that she wanted to prove to herself that she could do it, and was able to do so by “hiking her own hike,” at her own pace. It was special to have my parents join me in the ending of this long journey.
Thank you to everyone who has lent me support throughout these past five months. Your kind and supportive comments on this blog truly kept me going. To those who sent food packages, they nourished me physically, but the love they came with was true sustenance:) I couldn’t have done this without everyone following along and cheering me on! I would like to give a special thanks to my family especially Mom, Dad, Jake, Elaine, Luke, Christie, Grammy, Grandpa, Aunt Clare, Uncle Mark, Uncle Andy, Aunt JoAnn, Jeff, Kristin, Aunt Amy, Uncle Lenny, and Anya!
Friday, August 13, 2010
"We got this, B! We got this! Katahdin!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
There are 9 miles between the AT's entry into Baxter State Park and The Birches (a campground for northbound thru-hikers at the bottom of Mt. Katahdin). I don't remember any of those miles. As soon as we set foot in the park, we saw Mt. Katahdin in the distance, and the emotions came flooding in. We made it. We did it. We are summiting Mt. Katahdin.
After spending a few hours next to a waterfall, Brandon and I put our packs on and ran to The Birches. Everything hurt, but it didn't matter. Katahdin!!! Katahdin!!! We got this!!! Katahdin!!!! We laughed, we cried, we ran. It was one of the best days of my life.
The next day, August 12th, Brandon and I summited Mt. Katahdin.
We began the hike with our parents, who drove all the way up from New Jersey to root us on. About 2 miles in, we left them to sprint up the mountain. The climb up Katahdin is only 5 miles, but it involves some serious rock climbing. It was hard to get back into that meditative hiking rhythm we had so enjoyed during the 100-mile wilderness leading up to Katahdin. There was just too much going on -- parents, boulders, and a mind-blowing number of tourists. It made us anxious. This is our day!
As we neared the summit, I tried to bring back the emotions from the day before but I felt nothing. I was tired, hungry, and annoyed with all the 'background' noise. When we got to the top, we pushed our way through 40 tourists ... and touched the sign together. Before we could finish our sighs of relief, the questions came: You came all the way from Georgia? How long did it take? How many miles do you do each day? What do you eat? What was your favorite part?
Normally I love answering these questions, but not on the summit. This is my day. Bran and I fled to a corner of the mountaintop, away from all the people and sat down. We didn't speak for a few minutes. We just sat and looked at the view. Then we looked at each other and smiled. We did it.
After we ate lunch, we went back over to the sign and began our festivities. We took pictures by the sign, we popped open champagne bottles, and we gave our congrats to fellow thru-hikers. And then we saw them.
I was in shock, I was in awe. This is no easy hike, and my 60-year-old, 110-lb mother was standing on top of Mt. Katahdin. Seeing her on top of that mountain, grinning from ear-to-ear, was again, one of the most memorable moments of my life. That's my mom.
After a brief celebration, and a few swigs of champagne, our parents began their descent down the mountain, and Brandon and I went back over to the sign. The crowds had begun to disperse, so the mountaintop was ours for the taking.
I looked out into the distance and recited my favorite poem, "The Road Not Taken," by Robert Frost. Then I sat down on a rock and listened to Brandon recite, "Oh, The Places You'll Go," by Dr. Seuss. It was so well done. I felt my emotions coming back to me. What an amazing person to share this experience with. When he finished I clapped and gave him a hug. We did it. Katahdin.
After Brandon completed his Katahdin 5, it was time for me to have my last experience on the summit. I grabbed my brother's ipod and found my song from Lady Gaga. Just Dance. I sent my ipod home 3 months ago, but for the first 2 months it was Lady Gaga that got me up those mountains. Now it was time to pay tribute. I turned up the sound, closed my eyes, and ... just ... danced. I was free. I was alive. I was happy. Katahdin.
As Bran and I scrambled down our last mountain together, we realized that a new problem was on the horizon. It was 7:15pm, our parents were no where near the bottom of the mountain, and our headlamps were in the van.
We got to the van around 8:30pm, threw our stuff in the back seat, grabbed the headlamps, and then began our sprint back up the mountain. There was no time to think about the fact that we were done with our thru-hike. We had to rescue our parents.
We charged back up the mountain, screaming for them, but heard nothing. When we finally found them, they were huddled together, wrapped in a garbage bag for warmth. It was one of the most hilarious things I've ever seen. Brandon and I tried to be sympathetic but they were laughing so we started laughing right along with them.
The hike back down was long but memorable. Bran and I told stories about our thru-hike to make the time go by. Every so often we'd look up at the stars.
We made it to the car by 11:30pm, safe and sound. When we got there, Bran and I looked at each other, smiled, and touched the car simultaneously. We made it. We summited Mt. Katahdin.
Saturday, August 7, 2010
The Appalachian Trail passes through numerous towns as it makes it way from Georgia to Maine. Most of them are small and outside of tourist America, but each town has its own unique appeal. When Bran and I set foot in Monson, Maine, our last trail town, we weren't expecting anything special. So long as we could sleep somewhere, we would be content. Little did we know it would be our favorite town on the entire Appalachian Trail....
Monson is a one-street town (literally) a few miles east of the AT. The town is bordered by a lake which you can see from almost any point in town. The town consists of a General Store, a post office, a gas station, the Lakeshore House, and a handful of antique stores. That's it.
The General Store sells one of everything -- hardware, food, antiques, candy -- you name it, they will have at least one in store. After stopping by to grab a quick snack, we walked over to the Lakeshore House.
"Hi there! How are you guys? What can we help you with!?" says a woman in front of the house. "We have rooms, food, beer, showers, a laundry mat..."
"We'll take one of each!" we said.
We ran up the stairs to our room, and before we could finish throwing our stuff down on the bed, the owner introduced herself: "Hi there! I'm Rebekah, and I know you hikers like deals so I have a proposition for you. Tonight is fish fry night and I need some more lemons. Any chance you two want to go for a road trip?"
Before she could even finish explaining the proposition, Brandon and I were in the car, cruisin' to the "big" grocery store 15 miles away. When we returned, Rebekah thanked us graciously and then comped us 2 beers and a free dinner.
While we were eating dinner at the Lakeshore Restaurant, we heard some locals talking about live bluegrass music at the General Store. Not sure how musicians would fit into the General Store, I decided to check it out.
I opened the door to the store and was overwhelmed. 15 musicians, with all kinds of instruments, were crammed into the aisles of the general store surrounded by 50 some bystanders. Everyone was singing and smiling and joyous. I stayed the entire night. I introduced myself to the musicians and thanked them for playing. Turns out the General Store has had live bluegrass music every Friday night for the last 12 years. Farmers, lawyers, engineers, and business owners come together to play music and sing. It was like being in New Orleans, small-town America style. It was fabulous.
What a great way to enter the 100-mile wilderness. Thanks Monson!
Two months ago I had a theory that went a little like this: The last two weeks of the hike will be an emotional roller coaster because we can see the end. Every day will be a new experience and filled with excitement. Therefore, the last two weeks will fly by. This means that we only have one and a half months left instead of two!
I held to that theory for a very long time - when the hike was rough, I would think of how little time I had left. I knew to cherish the moment and knew the trip would be over soon if I could just hold out.
Now, we have six days left. SIX DAYS!! The theory no longer stands strong since I am currently in that mysterious two week roller coaster. So far, I am doing fairly well. When I wake up in the morning and think of the number of days left, I get butterflies in my stomach. It's like I am climbing up that tall drop on the old wooden roller coasters - I am filled with excited, nervous energy. That AHHHH moment right before you ride down the hill will definitely be felt on top of Mt. Katahdin. If there is ever a point of the day I do not enjoy (ex. flying insects, tuna lunch, putting on wet clothes), I just say out loud "XXX days!" Believe me, it works.
The typical thoughts running through my head have surprisingly gone unchanged. I often think of Survivor (any of the twenty seasons), Ellen, my dog Sunny, and friends. Yesterday, I played Essence with myself for a few hours. To play Essence, you choose a friend and others ask you questions like, "If you were a fruit, what would you be?" After answering many questions like that, the others guess who you "are." Since I played by myself, I just labeled all of my friends with movies. Kate = Moulin Rouge. Dusi = Forrest Gump. Cindy = Singing in the Rain. After a few hours of contemplation, I finally came to myself. What movie would I be? It must be young, lively, adventurous, include laughs, and be more city-oriented. The answer was clear to me: Ferris Bueller's Day Off.
One and done. I will thru-hike the Appalachian Trail this year and never do it again. I applaud anyone who completes this challenge more than once (but simultaneously question their sanity.) One and done.
I like to know where I am and what lies ahead of me at every point in the day. Ringleader carries the Thru-Hiker Companion, a book that lists landmarks, mileage, and elevation, so I try to memorize what will be happening over the course of the day. Yesterday went like this: 2.3 miles to the river which I must ford, .4 miles to a road and we go up 200 feet, 3 miles to a blue blaze trail, then 3.3 miles to the highway to get to Monson...the elevation change is small but there may be hills that are not labeled. As I get to these various landmarks, I check them off the list in my head and feel accomplished.
I want to eat funnel cake and drink an icee. When I get home, I am making a strawberry daquiri.
I often get songs stuck in my head, most of which I prefer not to be in there. The songs traditionally come about because they are on my iPod (so I had it coming); however, even though I have hundreds of songs and artists to choose from, its the musicals that always get stuck. I only have two on my iPod, Chicago and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Sometimes I let the songs repeat. Once I get fed up, I go to my default "song get-ridder." I swear it works. "There aint no bugs on me, there aint no bugs on me. There may be bugs on some of your mugs, but there aint no bugs on me!" Ah, peace and quiet up there.
Wednesday, August 4, 2010
After journeying for so long with the Traveling Circus, the time has come for me to peel away from the group and finish the hike by myself. I am finally "hiking my own hike," and moving forward on my own. I look forward to what the next 10 days have in store for me. It feels good to be independent again! Mt. Khatadin here I come... Mom and Dad, I'm making my way towards Baxter and I'll see you there!
Monday, August 2, 2010
We are less than two weeks away from Katahdin, and our negative-NH mentality has been completely flipped upside down. We are happy, healthy, and looking forward to re-entering society. While hiking, I got to thinking about the best way to prepare myself for society. What do I do in society that I do not do on the Appalachian Trail? Well, a lot. A whole lot. But to keep it simple, lists. I love lists. I love being organized, whether the organization is in my head, on a bookshelf, or written on a piece of paper.
The first list I made in my head was based on my surroundings - easy and convenient. What has the Maine terrain offered that we have seen infrequently on the trail?
1. Wind. Above treeline in Maine, we are practically blown over! I was filmed being held up by the wind while wearing my pack - that's how strong the wind is up there.
2. The bouldering of Mahoosuc Notch. This notch (aka a valley) is one mile long on the AT and filled with boulders and ice caves. We have climbed over rocks before, but this was straight-up bouldering with a full pack. The one mile stretch took us two hours to get through - tough but fun!
I began making more and more lists. Most of them were trivial (favorite actors, best musical numbers, listing the 50 states) but some were constructive. One of them is the Katahdin 5 - the five things I want to do on the summit. Crying on top of, punching, and hugging the sign were givens, so they are not included.
THE KATAHDIN 5
2. Photo shoot the 8 rasa.
3. Recite "Oh The Places You'll Go!" by Dr. Seuss.
4. Shave a new mohawk.
Number 5 has not been established yet, so I am open to suggestions. I was considering "Watch other thru-hikers reach the summit," but 1. we might be the last of the day and 2. that is creepy.
The other four have to be worked on, but they are solidified.
1. Champagne - is it legal to have alcohol in Baxter State Park? I must look into this.
2. The photo shoot - Adbuhta, Sringara, Bhayanaka, Bibhatsa, Vira, Hasya, Karuna, Raudra - eight Sanskrit words that I learned in a theatre technique called RasaBoxes. They are kind of the "flavor" of emotions, so I plan on having a photo taken of each one on Katahdin. Later in life, no matter the mood I feel, I will have a photo to suit me.
3. Dr. Seuss - I began memorizing it in VA and haven't done much since. Must finish it and recite it!
4. Mohawk - because I love it.
Lists lists lists! Society, I'm coming back!
Our journey to Maine has been anything but perfect. There have been extreme highs and extreme lows, some moments I wish I could relive, and others I wish I could forget. But I'm not sure I would've done it any other way. I've said this before, and I'll say it again: people have all different reasons for doing a thru-hike. For me, it was not about 'leaving' society, or finding myself, or being alone, or accomplishing a physical challenge. I love society, I know who I am and what I want to do with my life, I like being around people, and I've never really had a passion for proving myself athletically. I came out here because I wanted to be shocked. I wanted something different. I wanted an experience that would help me see the world, and myself, in a new and totallydifferent way.
The first 2 months of this trip were probably some of the worst moments of my life. My body hated me and I hated my body. I was looking for external satisfaction from the thru-hiker community, from Emily and Brandon, from the trail -- and I wasn't finding it. I wanted to leave and work at a B&B in the Greek Islands.
But I stayed.
I stayed because I wanted to understand why so many people rave about thru-hiking. And I knew that I would never understand the power of a thru-hike unless I stuck it out to the end.
Maine. We are in Maine. We are 15 miles from the 2,000-mile marker. We are 10 days away from summiting Mt. Katahdin. I am 13 days away from moving to my favorite city in the world. I am 14 days away from starting my career as a lawyer. I am 25-yrs-old.
These days the trip is purely introspective for me. I don't need trail magic or music or social interaction or motels or ice cream to keep me going. I don't even need a mountaintop view. I just feel high on life all the time. I feel accomplished. I feel satisfied. I am at peace.
I now understand the power of a thru-hike.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
I felt like I was tapping into a family treasure as I crossed Franconia Ridge in the White Mountains of New Hampshire (my father's family has a long history of visiting this area, starting back in the 1970's). The views from on top of the ridge were astounding and when I reached the very top of Lafayette (one of the mountain peaks along the ridge line) I stood there frozen in awe and with my eyes tearing up I said outloud to myself "I am happy to have walked 1800 miles just to see these views." I really understand now why my grandparents and extended family hold the Appalachian Trail in such high regard.
The terrain in the White Mountains is hard because you walk straight up and straight down steep mountains (our hiking speed was cut in half!), but the pristine land was some of the most beautiful I have ever seen. If there is one place on the trail that I will definitely return to, it's the White Mountains. I just hope that when I return I can do long day hikes and not have to carry 35 lbs on my back. Hiking without all the weight on my back makes hiking more enjoyable.
I can't believe that we have already passed through the White Mountains- I have been looking forward to them for four months and it all passed by too quickly. We are currently hiking in the last state that the AT crosses- Maine. I have been to Maine once in my life, when I was 9 years old and I remember it as my favorite family camping trip. I can't believe that we are finally here!!! Unfortunately, Maine marks the end of our trip and it's hard for me to imagine what it will be like to be sitting in a lecture hall three weeks from now, surrounded by a concrete jungle. As much as I want to complete this adventure (and not have to fill a mileage quota everyday) I don't want it to end. Perhaps I need to find a different place to live than Chicago, somewhere that I have better access to nature and hiking. I hope my transition back home goes well and that I'm able to recall these beautiful views in my mind when I'm missing them.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010
This entry is about my experience in the White Mountains.
The Whites came close to being my favorite. Visually, they are stunning. Every mountain has a view and most have a few on the way up and down. Hiking in the Alpine Zone above treeline is so rewarding! The sweat and bruises endured on the way up are paid out by wonderful views found infrequently on the east coast.
But, the Whites have not been my favorite. The Whites brought about emotional turmoil and inconsiderate people.
Imagine a swing. It goes up and down and stabilizes in the middle. The middle is where I have been for most of the trip - stabilized. (This is not to say that I have not had super highs and super lows, they were just spread apart and controllable.) The Whites have been pushing me up and down; I swing so fast that the expressed emotions are either euphoric or horrifying. I couldn't control them and they, on top of people I have met in the park, have wrecked this part of the trip.
I will go into detail of two of these huge swings after explaining the people of the park (as they are part of the swings). Many of the people I have met in the Whites have been unkind and disappointing. Unfortunately for my case, only the excellent people will be reading this blog (the teenage crew from the huts, the couple from Garfield camp, the 2011 thru-hikers...). The disrespect I received from hut croo members and other vacationers stems from their lack of understanding of the AT, the path it takes, and the labor involved to get from GA to NH. Sure, the trail and huts may be a place for them to vacation with the family, but they are my home. I live there. I wouldn't walk into your house, throw a chair over, and stick out my tongue. Why? Common courtesy!
Deep breath. Calm down. I am getting flustered just thinking about it all.
Case 1: Franconia Ridge and Garfield
The morning started off perfect. I woke up on a bunk in a hostel, finished my Ben and Jerry's from the night before, and the sky was clear. Two Virginia friends we made on the trail, Christine and Adam (www.virginiatrailguide.com), were vacationing in the area, so we all went out for a filling pancake breakfast. Full of positive energy and good food, we hiked a few thousand feet up to get to Franconia Ridge. My expectations were high because EVERYBODY says this stretch is the best on the AT. We start along the ridge trail and there were...trees. And more trees. We took a side path to an overgrown view. HOW was this so great? I got pretty sad. Then, the trees cleared out, the wind picked up, and there were 360 degree views. For a ridge that takes 1.5 hours to get over, we spent 4. We took it all in, filmed it, and enjoyed it. The joy I was feeling was...inexpressible! For months we saw few views! We would climb mountains and there would be nothing at the top! But NOW THERE WAS. We had a perfect day for the ridge and even met some enthusiastic day hikers. The joy was contagious! Even the panting people were filled with glee!
Then we descended Lafayette, the terminus of the range. At the bottom I notice a croc was missing. End euphoria. Cue lingering disappointment. The climb was tough so I chose not to go back for it - it may have blown away anyway. Then we climbed and descended Garfield. Why. Why. Why. The descent was so vertical, so slick, so dangerous! The pace dropped to below one mile per hour. Disappointment escalated into hatred, shame, despair, and anger. My blood was boiling and I wanted to quit the Appalachian Trail. By the time Emily and I got to Garfield campsite, it was 2.7 more miles to our night's destination and it was 7 pm. Now, although we have never paid for a campsite along the entire AT, and even though the trail is maintained by volunteers, and even though all of the huts and shelters are owned by the non-profit AMC, there is a charge to camp at the site. $8 per person = $24 = .5 hotel room. The caretaker at the site, bless his heart, was doing his job. He told us we would not make it to the hut by dark and they only allow 2 hikers there per night. There is no stealth camping (camp on an unofficial site) between here and there, and his campsite was full.
However! We could go down into the woods off the site and camp! We went down in the woods, and then further, then I ran into a tree, then I fell down a drop, and finally arrive at a tiny clearing. Now I was scraped and bruised. Remember how fifteen minutes prior I was ready to quit? Well I was still off my rocker. I was emotionally distraught. I was exhausted! We went up to an overlook to cook dinner, hoping the nice view would cool us all down. A couple joined us on the rock. After talking and learning of their hiking background (she thru-hiked), we learned of the latest thru-hiker gossip - Pop Pop quit. Pop Pop! This man is elderly and determined. He made it 1800 miles, broke a trekking pole, had a few bad days, and quit while descending Garfield. The trail was getting too dangerous for him and he was satisfied with making it this far. Re-enter Brandon's slump. There are too few of us left! These mountains are not safe! Something is not right! We returned to our campsite and was soon followed by the caretaker - we owe $24. $24 for being nowhere near anybody and for not using the resources of the campsite. We tried to get out of the charge, but the caretaker favored his job over human compassion. Enter my dislike of the White Mountain people! I go to sleep angry.
Case 2: The Presidential Range and Lakes of the Clouds Hut
Again, a perfect morning. We were taken in out of the rain by strangers (thanks Seth and co.) and so I woke up in a bed. Our clothes were dry and we got out of the house by 7:30 a.m. We planned on a short 11 mile day to arrive early at Lakes of the Clouds hut, guaranteeing us spots for the night. The day was beautiful - weather and scenery. The hiking did not hurt as much as usual. I saw Mt. Washington looming in the distance all day and was excited to climb the landmark the next morning. Besides a hard fall Kate endured, we were good when we arrived at the hut in the early afternoon. Euphoric, actually.
We entered the hut and saw chaos. Everybody seemed to be screaming and stressed, yet this was "normal." Have I been in the woods that long? The first croo member we met, bless his heart, was doing his job - AMC says no thru-hikers could stay that night. HI NO. Sorry. This is our only hut experience. We are staying. The hutmaster gives the OK and we are sent to the dungeon. The dungeon is an emergency room kept open year-round. It holds six rotting bunks, smells of feces, and the walls ooze the blood of those who have died in the room. HELL NO. I have standards. This is below those standards. We did not want to risk being expelled from the hut (a storm was coming) so we stayed quiet about our discontent (complaining only to other hikers who came in, and some sympathetic guests.)
With a storm outside, all 115+ guests were in the dining hall, and we were asked to remain separate from the paying guests. I felt like a second class citizen. I was holding out though - our work for stay would be giving a talk on the AT and we would get a big meal afterwards. We sat around for the next few hours, unable to escape from the noise or relax. We watched as the guests gorged on hot food for over an hour. Finally, the Traveling Circus would talk. Excited to finally interact, we sat and gave a panel talk. Out of the 40 that decided to listen, about seven were engaged (yeah teenagers!) The blank faces, droopy eyes, and silence after jokes were disheartening. Then came dinner! We sat in the kitchen. For us, there was a slice of break, cold lasagna and veggies, soup, and chocolate cake. I ate as much soup and cake as I could, disappointed my promises of fresh, warm food was unfulfilled. While disappointment followed disappointment, the dungeon loomed in my thoughts. Little Brown, a thru-hiker we have known since Georgia, used his kind persona and 6'+ stature to persuade the hutmaster to let the Traveling Circus escape the dungeon and sleep in the dining room with the 25 teenage girls having a "slumber party." Whatever, screaming girls beats out the prisoners of war room.
Finally settling my nerves, I prepared for bed and checked my phone for reception. What luck! After 2 weeks of nothing, I had a single bar! First text was Mom: Call...Sunny. No. No! NO! Not good! Sunny is the family dog, is over 13, and knows my deepest secrets. When I am down, he pulls me up. Whispering in the back corner of the dining room, I talk with my dad. Sunny is dying. They are about to put him down. Choking back tears, I say goodbye to my dog. I tell him I love him. (My lord I am tearing up now!) Mom says he heard me and picked up his head. That a boy! Good puppy! Then I run out of the hut bawling. I cry and cry and cry. Others are outside laughing, and I am miserable. On an island of despair. Three more weeks and I could have hugged him goodbye. Instead, nada. I go to bed crying. Things haven't been the same since.
My emotions have swung this way and that so suddenly in these mountains. Please let this stop! I need three more weeks of strength! Get me out of this mess, legs!
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Thursday, July 15, 2010
Check back every Wednesday for a new installment and follow along with the adventures of a lawyer, an Ivy grad, and a city chick.
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
We haven't had a campfire for at least a month. I believe this is due to a number of factors: we are too tired at the end of the day, it was more exciting in the beginning, the days are longer, and the weather has warmed up quite a bit. I know that I personally don't like sweating the smell of campfire from my pores all day when I am hiking. Really, we just haven't needed a fire. However, for the past week, as soon as we get to camp we all go to work at getting a fire started. The bugs have come out in brutally full force (smoke helps keep them away)! The bugs are everywhere and there's just no way around them. While hiking at a pace of 3-miles/ hour we have flies swarming our heads and biting us all over. When we stop walking we get eaten alive by these incessant flies and the mosquitoes jump on board too. Kate and I spray ourselves with insect repellent but they find the spots that didn't get sprayed and go to town on those few square inches. Once Brandon's tent is set up, he jumps in and rarely comes back out (sometimes to eat dinner) so that he can avoid the bugs. All daylong we are just swatting at our bodies- I'm sure it would look quite comical to an outsider.
We have also been experiencing excruciatingly hot and humid weather, on and off, for about a month (mostly on). As soon as we start hiking early in the morning, I have beads of sweat all over my face and arms. After an hour of hiking the beads of sweat have turned into streams running down my face, arms, and legs. By midday my hair and clothes are so saturated that I look like I just jumped into a lake. We only shower and do laundry about once every 5-7 days, so as you can imagine we smell RANK- I don't know how it happens but our clothes end up smelling like a combination of bleach chemicals and mildew- it's so awful that sometimes I can't stand to walk down wind from Kate or Bran. From four months of not wearing deodorant the stench has really set in our skin and clothes (showers and laundry can only do so much for us at this point). I think that since I am restricted to one set of really smelly hiking clothes, recently during the day my mind has been drifting towards thoughts of my wardrobe, lotions, and perfumes; I fantasize about the option to shower daily, as well as the different salves and garments I can wear again when I return home.
Home! My goodness! That's less than a month away! What a shock it is to be sitting in the state of New Hampshire right now. I never thought I would actually make it out of the state of Virginia, but here I am, having walked here from Georgia, with only two states left to traverse. WOW! With so little time remaining, I think we've had a wake up call- this is going to end, and soon. I feel the pressure to soak up every last bit of this backwoods experience that I can... so I guess I should get off this computer!