Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Trail is...Mental

Written by: Brandon "Monkey" Imp

First of all, we would like to apologize for our recent lack of posts. While we did get into the NOC and Fontana Dam, there were no computers that would allow us to update the blog! Very frustrating. However, we took a zero in Gatlinburg, TN today and have a valid internet source. So, without further hesitation, a wild account of some very tough days:

For me, the past week was rough. It is week three on the trail and we just hit the 200 mile mark. I have been nurturing a busted heel but it is getting better - we think my shoes made the joint swell and then it subsequently calcified. Kind of like an extra small bone on the back of my heel - a bone spur. It's not fun, and not pretty, but the pain has lessened so I'm not complaining (anymore). We have all suffered scrapes and bruises and cuts and blisters. Lightning came down with a rash the other day and Ring Leader literally rammed her head into a tree. Looking back on it all, most of our physical maladies are pretty entertaining.

But what's bugged me the past few days has been mental. Preparing for the trail, the records always indicated that the trail is mostly a mental challenge rather than a physical challenge. I agree with the statement. It is not mentally draining by any means - it is the exact opposite. The minimal amount of thought you must put into the day blows every detail into a huge disproportion. I tend to plan out my snack and bathroom breaks just to have something to think about - "In 2.2 miles is a trail head for such and such, so that will be in an hour...I'm a little hungry now, so a snack will be great in an hour." And I will think like that...for an hour. Absolutely trivial.

About five days ago I made a big decision. The major mental problem I wanted to overcome during the hike was to successfully apply to medical school. After consulting with tons of people, advisors, and medical school admissions officers, I have decided to wait one more year before I apply to medical school. The school I enroll in will determine the course of my career life, and I do not want to mess up the application. Hiking the trail and being removed from society severely limited my access to information on the schools (like specialty programs, student life, rankings, etc) and my ability to apply without depending on others to send such and such forms to such and such an address. Plus, I am unemployed. Applying to 15-20 schools is not cheap.

So, about five days ago, I came to terms with this fact. Since I had very little else to think about (snack break?), my inadequacy was primarily all I thought about for the entire day. NOT good when you are busting your butt to get up a few mountains and a dozen miles.

There were two more recent days that were very challenging. Entering the Great Smoky Mountains from Fontana Dam, we planned to reach Gatlinburg in three days: 15 miles, 15 miles, and 10 miles. The first day was rain and the second day was rain/hail. Yes, we have a pack cover, a rain jacket, and rain pants. But when the rain is more like a fire hose blasting you for 8 hours straight, and the trail has magically transformed to a stream and/or mudslide, there is no way you will stay dry. On top of it all, high elevation leads to freezing temperatures and winds up to 60 mph. We hiked it. Miserably and fast. The challenge of such a situation is to keep your mental drive alive. It would be wonderful to stop, sit down, and let the misery pass (maybe walk into the house and turn on the heat?) Unfortunately, the option does not exist in the mountains, and the shelters are far apart. You must walk or you will die. The first day was the worst rain and for the last two hours I was in "survival mode." I thought of nothing except the word "walk." For two hours I did not look ahead or have a song on repeat in my head. I thought "walk." When I got to the shelter and unwound, I was exhausted. It was as if I just studied for three finals issued in a 24-hour time period. I was comatose. When I woke up the next day and saw it was still terrible (20% chance of rain is a lie in the mountains), it took a lot of mental energy and courage to slap on the wet clothes and do it all again.

When days like these happen on the trail, the thru-hikers try to reason with them. Many called the two days of rain a "test" - can you endure the isolation and wrath of the trail? If it was a test, I hung on by a thread. Fortunately for me, a thread is all I needed.

Hiking the Appalachian Trail is not an easy endeavor. We have been hit with a couple hard days and are still breathing. I know nice weather will come soon and the mountains will be behind us. Thank goodness, and thank goodness I love the challenge.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Irony of Trail Magic

Written by: Katherine "Ringleader" Imp

I didn't know much about the Appalachian Trail before coming out here. I didn't do a "test run", nor did I read any books. I just knew that there was something about the trail that attracts millions of people every year and I wanted to be in on that secret.

Now that I've been out here for a few weeks, it's really clear what one of those secrets is: trail magic.

Trail magic is essentially the term used when someone (either another hiker or someone from a nearby town) does something nice for you. Why? Just because. There's no hidden agenda and no cost to you ... it's trail magic.

In just a few short weeks we've received more trail magic than I can count:
- Free meals at Neels Gap
- Apples and Snickers from a guy on top of a mountain
- Free laundry
- Use of woman's personal lap top at Neels Gap
- Hitchhiking to and from Hiawassee, Franklin, Fontana Dam, Gatlinburg, etc.!
- Bananas and orange juice from a woman at Dicks Creek
- Hamburgers and Moonshine from a guy named Grits
- Homemade blackberry wine
- Hard-boiled eggs, cheese, granola bars from Spring Break couple

Trail magic is amazing, and I'm so grateful for it, but I can't help but think of the irony of it all: Why is a friendly deed considered magical? And why'd I have to come all the way out here to find it?

It's almost like the AT community is this alternative universe ... and not the real world. It's a place where everyone is welcomed and respected, regardless of where you came from or what brought you here. It's a place where people do kind things for one another and don't expect anything in return. It's a place where people share stories, swap advice, and laugh.

Sometimes the weather is awful. And the uphill inclines never seem to end. And let's face it, the privies (outdoor toilets) are disgusting. But when you look at the big picture, these negatives seem to fade away in the distance and the beauty of trail magic shines through.

The Appalachian Trail Community

Written by: Emily Ginger

The Appalachian Trail is a different experience for each person who hikes it. For the hikers who have held and hold the record for the fastest hike, it's a race. For those seeking enlightenment or a new life, it's a spiritual journey. For those who are looking to escape the stress and pressures of everyday society, it's like a vacation. For me the Appalachian Trail is an athletic performance like running a marathon or competing in an Ironman. I personally get excited by the athletic challenge that the Appalachian Trail offers me. So, to clarify, I am not here to compete or race with anyone I am merely here for the ride. However, being a competitive athlete my entire life I can't help but fall into the patterns I am familiar with when it comes to athleticism. Everyday when I wake up I have a quota of miles to meet before wrapping up my day, and everyday my goal is to hike those miles as fast and as hard as I can to improve my stamina and strength. I'm kind of like Forrest Gump when it comes to physical performance- just point me in the right direction and I go (hard) until I am told to stop. I go even faster when I have someone in front of me, it's just part of my nature. I enjoy going fast, that's why my trail name is "Lightning."

Though I am thoroughly enjoying my speed hiking by myself during the day, my favorite part of this hike is the close-knit community that I have encountered- a different and refreshing change of pace from Chicago. It seems that everyone knows everyone out here. There have been several occasions when I have approached someone and before I have the chance to introduce myself, they say "you're that girl from Chicago," or "oh, you're the one who flies down the trail." Nearly everyone I have met has been extremely friendly and hospitable, it's cool that I get to have "real" conversations with people I don't know (when you are the only people out there in the middle of nowhere, you share your thoughts and emotions with people you barely know). Not only are the fellow hikers friendly, but the people in the towns are extremely welcoming. Anyone from town who finds out I am a thru-hiker is eager to assist in whichever way they can whether it be a ride into town (to resupply on food), a free load of laundry, or a piece of fresh fruit. I am enjoying the people I meet and the friends I am making, I hope I can continue to see them out there on the trail.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Trail Update #1

Hi All! Thanks for following our blog. Hope you are enjoying our stories as much as we are enjoying our experience out here on the trail. Every so often we will be posting general updates. If you want to know more about our itinerary, equipment, documentary, or sponsors feel free to check out our Official Site for more information!

1. We have trail names!!!!!

Group Name = The Traveling Circus

Katherine Imp = Ringleader
Emily Ginger = Lightning
Brandon Imp = Monkey
2. We are currently in: Franklin, NC

Though we planned to start hiking on March 9, we were delayed by a day due to bad weather at Springer Mountain.  Thus Survivor Dave drove us up Springer Mountain's winding roads late in the day March 9.  We stayed at Springer Mtn Shelter that night, celebrated Brandon's birthday, and hit the trail March 10.

After Springer Mtn Shelter we hit:
- Hawk Mtn Shelter [7.8-mile day]
- Gooch Mtn Shelter [7.3]
- Woods Hole Shelter [11.9]
- Neels Gap [3.7]
- Low Gap Shelter [10.8]
Blue Mtn Shelter [7.2]
- Tray Mtn Shelter [7.8]
- Hiawassee, GA [11]
- Campsite [6.8]
- Standing Indian Shelter [9.8]
- Big Spring Shelter [14.4]
- Franklin, NC [9.1] ... 107.6 miles from Spring Mtn!

3. Want to send us something in the MAIL? Here's how:
*UPS and FedEx packages CANNOT be sent to Post Office
*Post Office Address (e.g.):

Katherine Imp
General Delivery
Franklin, NC  28734
Please Hold for Katherine Imp
Estimated Date of Arrival: 03/19/2010

Post Offices We Will Definitely Stop At:
Hot Springs, NC  28743 [04/01/2010]

Damascus, VA  24236 [04/12/2010]

Pearisburg, VA  24134 [04/24/2010]

Waynesboro, VA  22980 [05/10/2010]

Harper’s Ferry, WV  25425 [05/28/2010]

Duncannon, PA  17020 [06/04/2010]

Vernon, NJ  07462 [06/18/2010]

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The People We Meet

Written by: Brandon "Monkey" Imp


Where are we? Why is EVERY single person so nice?? We all know that New Jersey/New York has the stereotypes of fast-paced, rude, inconsiderate, and other negativity's. Granted, most people are NOT like that (it is not a spawning ground of evil); nevertheless, the stereotypes are generally true when dealing with strangers in NJ/NYC.

Down in Georgia? Nope. People go out of their way to assist you. Take for example the Hiawassee Inn attendant. Through the thick accent (imagine King of the Hill's Boomhauer) I understood that all of his approaches were kind and sincere. We were walking back to the room after a filling all-you-can-eat buffet meal when the attendant came up to us in the parking lot. Translated: "Hey you all need some laundry done? We have all these washers and driers. You can do it for free. Just bring it over to that door. I'll be inside." Earlier he offered extra towels, and later he told us that Ronnie (the owner) could bring a box of stuff for us to our next destination Franklin, NC. Some would say this is his job, but to me, it is an extension of southern hospitality. Think about it - most hotel/motel workers will help you out in any way, but generally stay behind their front desk. You go to them. Here at the Hiawassee Inn, this guy came out to meet us, came to our room, and offered various tips without being prompted.

He has not been the only one extending a helping hand. Every person we have encountered has been considerate and genuine. Yesterday, a lawyer of Hiawassee picked the group up on the side of the road, was a shuttle to the liquor store, and gave a little tour of the town. Then, he gave us his number so we could call for a ride BACK to the trail. In NJ, if I saw a backpacker on the side of the road, I would honk. And sure, friends and family give rides to and from places all the time up north. But do we provide round-trip service for strangers? Nope. Sorry, I would not risk picking up a shabby looking man on a Philadelphia on-ramp. It just would not happen up north.

A Chance To Breathe

Written by: Katherine Imp

I think the biggest fear people like me have about doing a trip like this is that the days will be too slow. Too dull. I'm a lawyer. I'm an entrepreneur. I'm addicted to triple-booking my time. Every day of my life needs a to-do list. And while some days are a little crazy, I'm generally pretty happy with this lifestyle.

First day I got out here I crashed. Hard. Yes the miles were hard. Yes I'm out of shape. Yes these mountains are kicking my ass. But it wasn't these factors that led to my demise. For the first time in years ... I had a chance to breathe. I had a chance to think. I had a chance to contemplate where I've been and where I'm going. And that was scarier than any rainstorm or uphill incline in the Georgia Mountains.

When you're out here in the mountains, there are no distractions. You can't use television, celebrity blogs, and fast food to hide your fears and forget about your problems. If you're sad or angry or happy or anxious ... you have to think about the reasons behind these emotions, whether you want to or not. And that can be really scary.

For 24 years I've been working towards one dream: to be a lawyer in Chicago. And now I'm here, and I have a chance to breathe, and I'm not sure where I want my life to go. Suddenly I feel lost, and sad, and unsure of my future. It's crazy what a little free time and fresh air can do to your head.

To say that the trail is dull would be a lie. For the first time in years I have time to reconnect with Brandon and Emily. I have time to see America in all its beauty. I have time to meet wonderful people from all over the globe. And most importantly, I have time to dream up new dreams. And that makes me more excited than ever to hike the Appalachian Trail.

Move over frat boys, the sorority sisters are moving in!!!

Written By: Emily Ginger

After day one on the trail my ankle gave me intolerable pain with every step. How could this be happening??? I spent $200 on a pair of hiking boots and they did nothing but injure me! When we finally rolled up to Neels Gap, 30.7 miles into the trail, we found a haven equipped with a hiker's hostel and a gear store. I walked into the gear store, sat down in the shoe department and said "can you help me fix my ankle?" They set me up with a new pair of shoes that alleviated the pain entirely, and I shipped my muddy boots home. I felt like I was given a new pair of feet. We stayed the night in Neels Gap where I got to know all the staff, they filled my head with tips and advice for how to load my pack and keep my body weight up. Everyone there was friendly especially Baltimore Jack, and their hospitality/ encouragement gave me a huge boost of confidence.

We trudged on from Neels Gap (in the rain) and when we arrived at our destination for the night, the shelter was full and we had no tents. I thought we would have to spend the night sleeping in the mud under the shelter, with all the mice. No way! There was a young man who had arrived at the same time as us and was assembling his 2- person tent. I invited myself to sleep in his tent with him for the night, and he obliged. Based on his reaction, I think it's rare for a woman in these parts to be so bold. I was thankful to have a dry and semi-warm place to rest my head for the night. Temperatures that night and the following two nights went below freezing- it was so cold!

The longer I am out here, the more apparent it becomes that the thru-hiking community is predominantly composed of men, many of whom neglect to show me respect and aknowledge that I exist. Some have implied that I shouldn't be out here, and that long distance hiking is a man's leisure activity. After three nights of tolerating these fraternity house attitudes, and enduring the skeptical glances, I decided to show the men why I am out here. On Wednesday morning everyone packed up and moved out to hike the ten miles to Dick's Creek Gap (where we had our box of food hidden). I waited until all the men had started hiking, and then I took off like lightning down the trail. Within five miles, I passed every single one of those men, and I left them eating my trail of dust. I was hoping to show them that I am just as physically and mentally capable as they are. I finished the ten miles in record time, so I sat around waiting and watching as all the men I had passed hours ago arrived. When the man who had been sending dirty looks in my direction arrived, he finally asked me "what's your name?" It worked! I put them all in their place and gained their respect as a fellow thru-hiker. Now they were interested in knowing who I am.

When the rest of our "Traveling Circus" arrived, Kate and I wandered into the woods to find our resupply box full of food. Much to my surprise, the box was still there- the bears somehow overlooked our stash and we lucked out! I took the box under my arm, and headed to the road crossing at Dick's Creek Gap, raised my thumb up in the air and we hitched a ride into town.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

My Story

Written by: Brandon Imp

This is the story of transition. Get from point A to point B in two worlds - simultaneously. Physically, I must get from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. In life, I must get from an academic-focused lifestyle to a career-oriented lifestyle. HOW DO I GO ABOUT THAT? How do I transition in the real world while being practically removed from it? Agh! The challenge!

This is my plan: be awesome. The traditional, American word "awesome." Figure out what needs to be accomplished and use all of my available resources to reach that goal. My resources include, but are not limited to: my mind, my body, my parents, my sister, Cornell University, my friends, time, my story, my smile, and my lack of an oral filter. The physical goal, walking over 2,000 miles, is straight forward. Eat, sleep, walk, repeat. The life goal, transitioning from academia to a career, is complex. I set myself up with potential employment for the fall. Hopefully, that will pan out. The year after is medical school (?). I need to apply right now to be considered fro 2011 enrollment. I will need all of the above resources to accomplish this task. Let's focus on one: my story.

For an initial background, check out our "About Us" page on the website (link on the right!) The rest. I have no idea how I got to be the way I am or where I am. I moved from Illinois after 4th grade to New Jersey. For almost four years, I had few close friends. I did not understand how to branch out. I was good in school, but nothing too special (in my opinion). Then, in 8th grade, I joined theatre. It was excellent and suddenly my friendship circle expanded in all directions. High school hit and I was enrolled in all honors courses. Why? I have no idea. It just happened. I realized the classes were not as difficult as the hype said they were. Looking back, friends say I got smart in 9th grade. Whatever, I will take it. High school continued: theatre, clubs, friends, craziness. I applied to colleges and was rejected from my top three schools. What was left was Cornell University and a few others. I applied to Cornell on a whim and against my parents wishes (honestly, I did not like the other Ivy's I had visited and figured I worked too hard to deny myself a chance at an ideal Ivy education). I visited Cornell, figured it was pretty sweet, and went. I fought with the school to fix my education the way I preferred - went against the norm by entering as a non-pre-medical Biology major, internally transferred colleges, did theatre for kicks, studied abroad, and graduated early. Cornell, as it should, beat the crap out of me during sophomore year. Life continued, and I switched tracks from research to medical. Life was on the upswing, I developed a life pan, and pieces gradually fit together. Then, I graduated and left society. Here I am.

But why the Appalachian Trail? What has directed my life of strong academia and suburban glory to the mountains? Honestly, the challenge. I cannot refuse a great challenge. I am not an athlete, I am not a hiker, and I am focused on my future. Hiking the Appalachian Trail directly conflicts with each of those. So, if I complete a thru-hike, I will be more well-rounded. Right? RIGHT?

We will see.

In the mean time, I will think about chocolate pudding.

Is That All You Got?

Written by: Katherine Imp

Only 20% of the people that attempt a thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail actually finish. Okay. I've been reading these stats for nearly 2 years, but let's face it, I'm a lawyer, so I immediately assume that I fall within that 20%. I'll crawl to Mt. Katahdin if I have to, but I'm going to finish.

Before the trip started, I just couldn't understand why so many people quit. Injuries and illnesses are legitimate reasons, and knock on wood, our injuries and illnesses throughout the next 5 months are not so serious as to take us out of the game. But injuries aside, what makes people quit?

Fast forward to yesterday. Yesterday we had our first 12-mile day. Our clothes were soaking wet from the minute we put them on because it's been raining NON-STOP since we got here. Our packs are too heavy--soaking wet, with 3L of water each and week's supply of food, weigh in around 40 lbs. None of us had time to train before the trip, and if that wasn't enough, 60% of that 12-mile hike was uphill.

As the day went on, the rain only got worse. The trail was a mud river. The rain came in from all different angles, and eventually turned into a full-blown lightening/hail storm. Due to the fact that the nearest town was not within hiking distance, and we were on a mountain ridge with lightening less than a mile away, the day ended with us sleeping in a shelter (3 walls and a roof) with 2 old dudes decked out in camouflage gear, a dog, and a lot of hungry mice.

If this trip started with sunshine and we hit a day like this for the first time in week would all be over by week 3.

But instead God decided to hit us with a curve ball from Day 1. And while our first 12-mile day was by no means easy, it's mine. And I did it. And I get to share that memory with Brandon, Emily, Jason, 2 old dudes, and a dog, for the rest of my life.

No Turning Back

Written by: Emily Ginger

Wow! I had just about the craziest departure I could have ever imagined. I left Chicago on a pretty bad foot. Although I have been anticipating and planning for my departure, there's always something that comes up for which I am unprepared.

The day before I left I was standing up in my best friend's wedding, and since I can't do my own hair (beyond brushing it) I was on my way to my hair appointment when I crashed the car I was driving into the barrier of the expressway--my car spun around in circles and the airbag inflated. As the car was spinning out of control all I could think was "I'm going to wake up in a hospital bed." Miraculously I emerged from the totaled car with nothing more than a few bruises and the scariest experience of y life.

Needing to be there for my friend on her wedding day, I had no time to process my "near death" experience. Still shaken up I perseverd through the wedding and made the best of the day. The following morning (my departure day) my father wouldn't even speak to me or look in my direction because it was his car that I had totaled. Stress from my father's anger with me, and all the loose ends I left for myself to tie up before leaving town, resulted in an entire day of tears. I thought about delaying my flight but I pushed myself to make ends meet and catch my flight to Jersey.

Whew! I made it--the worst was over. Little did I know that I would spend 2 days in Jersey running around getting no more than 4 hours of sleep each night. We left Jersey at 2:40am on Monday night and I stayed up through the night in a delirious state of mind to assist Jay in staying awake as he drove us to North Carolina. I can't remember ever being so tired in my life. We finally arrived in Franklin, NC where we parked the car and met up with "Survivor Dave," who shuttles hikers around the Southern end of the Appalachian Trail.

We were in the car with Survivor Dave for 2 hours as he drove us to our starting point on Springer Mountain in Georgia. Survivor Dave was a plethora of information, answering any and all of our questions and settling any fears that we had left before being "out there." We also still had a resupply box with us in the car on our way up the mountain. We didn't want to ship it since the cost would have easily been $60 (week's worth of food for 4 people). So we decided to drop the box in the woods about 67 miles into the trail, and cover it with plastic, leaves, and sticks. It didn't occur to me that we were just leaving a luxurious feast for bears to find and enjoy. We won't know the fate of that box for another few days. I'm praying it's still there.

As we approached Spring Mountain on a bumpy, slippery, dirt road, while blasting Survivor Dave's mix of 80's hard classic rock, it hit me--I'm here, and I can't turn back. I have planned for this for 2 years and tried to mentally prepare myself as best as I could but it's nothing like when you are actually there--no turning back!!!! Survivor Dave dropped us off and pointed us in the right direction. We hiked .9 miles up to the top of Spring Mountain where we planned to pitch our tents, but just as we had staked out an area to set up camp, we felt a drop of rain and fled to the nearby shelter. It started raining as soon as we got to the top of Springer Mountain, and it hasn't stopped raining since.

After 4 days of hiking in the rain and wearing cold, wet gear we've checked into a cabin to dry out clothes and gear...looking forward to finding out whether or not our "resupply" box of food is still there or if the bears went to town on it.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Ten Minutes

Written by: Katherine Imp

In 10 minutes I will be driving to Georgia with Brandon, Emily, and Jason. So here goes my stream of consciousness:

Two years ago I had this idea to make a film and hike the Appalachian Trail. It seemed simple enough. Buy a camera, wander around the woods with it, and walk generally in the northward direction.

As of this week, we have approximately ten sponsors interested in providing food and gear for our trip. We have permits and waivers and a partnership agreement with One Way Street Productions. We have a blog and website and news articles. We have all of our food for the next 3 months organized in rows in the basement of my parent’s house. We did a photo shoot in street clothes and gear clothes.

We did pre-trip interviews with bright lights and wireless mics. We’ve told everyone we’ve ever met about this trip via facebook and blogspot and business cards and phone calls.
I think this is going to be the biggest adventure of my life.

Here we go…….