The Trail
All I have to do is walk; no work until Thanksgiving and checking a block off the bucket list. The questions I’ve gotten the most of are why, what are you going to eat, and where are you going to sleep? Oh, and are you bringing a weapon to fight off the bears, hobos, and ninjas that are abundant along the trail? Okay, okay, they never mentioned ninjas… So, here are my whys and hows. Don’t mind my innocent naivety. Blissful ignorance and faking it has gotten me this far in life, what’s another 2200 miles?
My crazed look after my first 314 mile Vol State finish. I was “slightly” unprepared. That 20 page horror story can be read on this blog, too.
For some background, the Appalachian Trail goes from Springer Mountain, Georgia, to Mount Katahdin, Maine. The trail goes through 14 states and the official mileage for 2017 is 2189 miles, if you follow all of the white blazes and do not leave the trail. Good thing I’ve never been known to get lost or take a wrong turn.

Being the “accomplished” distance runner that I am (said with quite a bit of snark), I’ve survived two 314 milers across TN in the peak of summer, a 241 mile journey to Key West, and a failed 314 mile attempt at mile 153. So, this is just a few multiples of those, right? No problem…of course, those courses were all on roads with bountiful amounts of air conditioning, convenience stores, and the occasional hotel. Yes, I just referred to Vol State has having lots of air conditioning. It’s all relative, right?

Which brings me my next point, I frequently refer to the already fried brain cells that make each journey seem just slightly more sensible. I’m consistently amazed at what the body will adapt to when it realizes the mind is too stupid to quit. Every little bit helps. Fortunately for my confidence, only once was I actually prepared for those runs. I say that not as a badge of pride or honor, but as an acknowledgement that little more than relentless forward progress has gotten this newbie across more finish lines than I deserve.

Anyways, back to the AT. The majority of hikers (see, not even a run, just a “hike”; how bad can it be?) start at Springer Mountain in the South during the spring and go north (NOBO). That route has a lot of hiker support, especially in the beginning, both on and off the trail, and sets them up to finish at Katahdin during the summer or early fall. That’s important because Katahdin doesn’t usually open  until about the end of May and closes early Oct (I think?) due to snow and the elements.

Late starters like me have the option of starting in the south and then jumping on a plane, train, or automobile from the halfway point to Katahdin while it’s still open and hiking back south (referred to as a flip-flop hike, and there are many variations) OR starting at Katahdin and going straight south (SOBO). For purity’s sake, I’ve chosen SOBO. Generally, it’s not the ideal route for newbies as the start is a bit of a gauntlet, whereas the NOBO hikers are seasoned and have their trail legs by the time they arrive there. For a SOBO, you get to start your hike by going up Katahdin, one of the highest points on the trail, and immediately afterwards embark into the 100 mile wilderness.

Traditionally, there is very little aid or resupply available during the 100 mile wilderness, although there are now some options available to have one of the trail services do a food drop for you during that part as opposed to having to carry potentially 10 days worth of food (~20 lbs?,  on top of your gear). I probably won’t decide whether I’m using that until the night before I start hiking. Should I survive the 100 mile wilderness though, that will be a nice confidence booster to start with. There has already been a record number of SOBOs this year, but I expect quite a bit of solitude, especially compared to a NOBO.

Enough rambling, why am I doing this? The short version–because I can. But, that’s not why you came here, is it?

It’s difficult to put into words, and I can’t point to any one thing specifically. So, here’s the long attempt at an answer.

Life is tough. Relationships, careers, and expectations often have a way of disappointing when measuring the effort versus the reward. When I measure my life against traditional norms, I have been successful. I’m 32 with a master’s degree. My car is paid off. I own (most of) my own home and am looking for my next ex-wife (kidding – I’m more hopeless romantic than cynic). I’m firmly entrenched in the rat race and feel professionally prepared to take that next step in my career.

Yet, after four years in education, I find myself with more doubts than affirmations and along with that next step I will have significantly less time to pursue the crazy shit I enjoy. I don’t want to be old, grey, and full of regrets about what I didn’t do. The only time is now because, honestly, I do a lot of stupid shit, and who knows if I’ll make old and grey? I’m at a crossroads in my career and have the benefit of no other strings or obligations, besides my two poor dogs that will be left behind (to receive an abundance of treats from my generous parents, sister, and brother-in-law that will be caring for them). I don’t want to be conventional and unhappy; I want to take the road less traveled by and see all that the world has to offer. I don’t know that I’ll ever again have this opportunity to disappear from reality.

As for the experience itself, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping for some type of epiphany about what to do with the next stage of my life. Do I continue on the path I’m currently on or do I make a change? Small or radical? Time and distance have a way of clarifying what is good, bad, or even relevant. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t privileged with my friends and family, opportunities, and material comforts, but I’m always at battle with an inner voice of discontent, sometimes more than others, and often times probably just the result of my own fears and insecurities.

Some of the most satisfying moments of my life have been finishing ultra distances. I cannot adequately describe the lows, doubts, and often pain, that I have pushed through to reach those pinnacle moments. Yet, those same feelings bring along a heightened sense of life, awareness, and sometimes joy, that I’ve been mostly unable to replicate in the other parts of my life. Typing it, I feel like I’m talking about an adrenaline junky and, maybe in some ways, I am. There’s a longing to be satisfied.

On a different note, I’ve been going back to church somewhat consistently the last few years. I still have a lot of questions and doubts. What’s real? What does it all mean for me? Require of me? I was hoping the solitude would allow me the time and thought to work on my relationship with God.

Worst case, if I have no major earth-shattering epiphanies or fail to discern the meaning of life (42?), I will still have journeyed along 2189 absolutely gorgeous miles of the U.S. east coast. Seems like a pretty good floor.

Now to answer the hows, as best as I can… like Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan ’til they get punched in the mouth.”

I’ll be carrying a pack with a base of weight of ~11 pounds before food and water. I’m sure this will get tweaked over the next couple days and over the course of the trail as I need less items to ease my rookie mind.

I will have a solo tent with a sleeping pad and bag, and can add layers of clothing if I find myself colder than desired. I will be hiking primarily in long pants and a thin long sleeve shirt, all of which has been treated in permethrin, as my biggest fear on the trail is not the big bears but the tiny ticks. I assume I will occasionally use shelters along the way, too, if they aren’t too crowded and/or overrun with mice.

As for food, I’ll be starting out with lots of bars, oatmeal, beans, and rice. I kept thinking up these elaborate resupply boxes that I would assemble and have mailed to me…but that is just not my style. Too much work to pack and then stressing about timing it right for pick-up. I’ll resupply largely at towns along the trail and expect to eat a lot of energy and granola bars as well as Knorr sides, tuna, and all you can eat buffets. Speaking of, I’ve got some pounds to burn as I’ve just let go of any semblence of respectable eating and am at my heaviest weight ever going into this thing (160, about 20ish pounds over peak running weight). I should be ready for a 100 mile race when I get back, I hope (as I’m already signed up for Ancient Oaks in Titusville)! And I plan to drink a lot of water, mostly filtered through my Sawyer water filter.

As for the bears, hobos, and ninjas, I’m not too concerned. You always have to exercise a bit of caution as you never know when a ninja may strike, but I’m not bringing a gun or large knife to fight them off. I will practice being aware of where I’m walking and try to responsibly handle my food so the bears don’t try to eat it and/or me. I’m more concerned about rodents that might try to help themselves to my food.

Besides these things, it’s going to be a lot of steady walking and some shuffling just to work different muscles. My most optimistic hopes have me finishing around 3-3.5 months, but I’m just going to enjoy the journey.

Whatever happens, I want to know that I lived. (And I’ll give credit to One Republic for perfect lyrics).


Hope when you take that jump
You don’t feel the fall
Hope when the water rises
You built a wall
Hope when the crowd screams out
It’s screaming your name
Hope if everybody runs
You choose to stay

Hope that you fall in love
And it hurts so bad
The only way you can know
You give it all you have
And I hope that you don’t suffer
But take the pain…
Hope when the moment comes
You’ll say

I…I did it all
I…I did it all
I owned every second that this world could give
I saw so many places
The things that I did
Yeah, with every broken bone
I swear I lived

Hope that you spend your days
But they all add up
And when that sun goes down
Hope you raise your cup
Oh, oh
I wish that I could witness
All your joy and all your pain
But until my moment comes
I’ll say

I…I did it all
I…I did it all
I owned every second that this world could give
I saw so many places
The things that I did
Yeah, with every broken bone
I swear I lived

Oh whoa oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh whoa oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh whoa oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh
With every broken bone
I swear I lived
With every broken bone
I swear I

I…I did it all
I…I did it all
I owned every second that this world could give
I saw so many places
The things that I did
Yeah, with every broken bone
I swear I lived

Oh whoa oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh whoa oh oh oh oh oh oh
I swear I lived
Oh whoa oh oh oh oh oh oh
Oh oh oh oh

About Scott

Writer. Teacher. Learner. Keen on process and individual improvement. And running really, really far.

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