Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Appalachian Trail: Unknown Territory Video Blog - part 12

The twelfth installment of the Unknown Territory Video Blog.

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

One Month in the Making

Written by: Brandon "Monkey" Imp


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...

On we went. We began speed walking with little hops in our steps. Then, we heard it. Cars. Trucks. Automobiles. The terminus of the 100-mile wilderness. We ran, ecstatic. We ran out to the street and kept going to the bridge. Now, more than ever, we could see the end. Katahdin stood before us grand and menacing. 5 minutes we stood there looking at the mountain before we realized that time was escaping us. On we walked.

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.

With water filled and the day getting late, Ringleader and I entered Baxter State Park. I cannot say we were hiking. I would say we were strolling. 2,170-some miles we walked with barely a second of flat, pleasant ground, yet at the end of it all, we were walking on flat ground. The grade was not noticeable, and there were no rocks or roots. I was able to look up when I walked without fear of tripping! What I saw was remarkable. A rapid river, fresh air, lively trees and shrubs and flowers, rodents running, and the back of my sister's pack. It looked good for having traveled the entire east coast.

A few miles in, we took another break to document our last thoughts on film. Ringleader spoke first, so I went down to the river. There was a large rock slab jutting into the middle of the river, creating a thin but roaring waterfall. For the next hour, I inhabited the rock. I finished memorizing, "Oh, The Places You'll Go!", performing it a few times to an invisible audience. I basked in the sun and felt the warm fuzzies inside of me. When it was time to return for my confessional, I considered taking a picture of the rock. "No," I thought. "This one's for me."

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.

That was one month ago yesterday. Now, I work as a server at Carrabba's Italian Grille, biding my time until I can acquire a full-time career. Waiting tables is not the most flattering job; it requires precision and presentation when, in reality, most things the customer cares about (i.e. food) is out of your hands. Last night, one of my first out of training, was busy and every table seemed to be making their order difficult. Altering meals provides more opportunities for the kitchen to prepare the meal incorrectly, and it happened at almost every table. I felt my managers getting frustrated with me, and I did my best to remain calm. Then, the table came in. A couple, possibly mid-twenties but it was hard to tell. They frequented Carrabba's, although this was my first time with them. Her meal came out before the salads then taken back, was altered, and then made the wrong dish entirely. I felt terrible that I couldn't do such a simple task right. He found a pasta strand in his broccoli, and they took half of their meals home. Throughout it all, though, they never showed a sign of being upset. They laughed and were cheery. They sat patiently. Why? It was their one-year anniversary. Nothing would ruin this night for them.

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

The Freedom: Take 2

Written by: Brandon "Monkey" Imp

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

The Water Spigot

Written by: Katherine 'Ringleader' Imp

There was this one day on the trail that I’ll never forget. It was the day of the water spigot.

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:

Yes!!!! I don’t have to pump water!!!!! I wonder what kind of building it’s attached to? That’s weird that a spigot would be coming out of a random building. Maybe it’s high enough off the ground that I can bathe under it? Unless the building is a place of business…that may not be appropriate. Haha. Why would there be a business on a random dirt road? I bet it’s just some abandoned building. Or maybe it was put there for hikers. Hmm….

Hopefully it’s nice enough near the spigot that we can take a snack break there. We should make some electrolyte drink since we don’t have to use that damn pump. Why is there a spigot coming out of a building? I think I’ll fill up my camelback with the full 3 liters so I don’t have to pump water later. I miss running water. So glad I don’t have to pump. I'm definitely going to bathe.

It’s amazing what your brain can do on so little information.


Fast forward to yesterday:

“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….

“Hey Kate, can you file those responsive pleadings ASAP?” --- “Kate, can you swing by my office in a few minutes. I’d like you to help me answer some discovery.” --- “Kate, how was the trail???” --- “Kate, I’ve got a deposition in Florida tomorrow and I need 2nd coverage. Are you available?” --- “You took the bar exam in February…wait, where have you been for the last 5 months?” --- “Kate, I just sent you a spread sheet with the cases you’ve been assigned. You should request a dismissal or file a motion for summary judgment for the cases with an October trial setting.” --- “Weren’t you just in Africa or something?”

SENSORY OVERLOAD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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…..


If someone were to ask me: how's your transition going? I'm not sure how I would respond. I think it's too early to tell. I haven't had time to process the adjustment. I moved to a new city and started working at a new job 3 days after summiting Mt. Katahdin. I still wake up in the morning feeling sore. I see white paint in the city streets and think about following it. I hear myself talking in conversation and wonder if I'm speaking in a socially appropriate manner. I look out the window of my office at Lake Michigan and my thoughts immediately turn to the beautiful lakes of Maine. I see running water...and think of the water spigot...attached to a building...on a dirt road.

The trail is now a part of me. And I feel it wherever I go, and whatever I do. It's odd, and somewhat lonely, but I'm just taking one step at a time. After such an intense experience, I think that's all you really can do. There are only really a few things I know for certain: (1) Brandon, Emily, and I just completed one of the most amazing experiences of our lives, (2) we made it home safe and sound, and (3) ... I'm really happy.