Sharing the Trail

I hiked my first 20 mile day yesterday! 20.7 to be exact, up and down and up and down and up. Aside from general and completely expected foot soreness, I’m feeling surprisingly solid today. Ibuprofen (or as hikers say “Vitamin I”) and yoga stretching before bed certainly helped. My longest hike with a full pack while training was about 13 miles, and the concept of doing 20 once, let alone after a week averaging 15 miles a day, seemed staggering. 

The choice to pull a 20 was largely based on my desire to hitch into Erwin, TN early today to resupply, shower, do laundry, and gorge myself. That said, it was empowering to put my new hiker body muscles to work and power past my previous boundaries. Often drenched in sweat, frequently panting, always putting one foot in front of the other. 

Crossing over Big Bald on my 20 miler. Not pictured: gigantic wind gusts completely capable of knocking you over.
Taking a break, overlooking the Nolichucky River before heading into Erwin, TN

 One of the most enriching parts of the trek has been swapping stories with my fellow hikers. In particular: what brought us to the trail. For some people, it’s a trip they’ve been planning or years. For others like me, some life event has acted as a catalyst to want to spend half a year in the woods. Some are looking to “find”, others to “leave behind”. In many cases, people are in a state of transition. For all of us,  a crucial mental switch has been flipped to make this mammoth endeavor seem both appealing and achievable. 

I thought it would be fun for you, dear readers, to get to know some of the hikers with whom I’ve been sharing the trail. I’ll start off with a handful that I’ve been with since the early going. My Tramily, if you will. In alphabetic order of trail names*:

Corn Chip, because the man loves his corn chips. Mid 50’s. Corn Chip is a freshly retired network engineer from Baton Rouge, LA who also volunteers his time as an EMT. He’s been thinking about tackling the AT since he was in Boy Scouts, and he decided there is no reason to wait any longer. Corn Chip is a fairly reserved guy and it has been a pleasure watching him come out of his shell week by week. His discovery of listening to music while hiking (Hank Williams, especially) has led to a boost in overall momentum and a tendency to frolic down hills with wild abandon. 

Joules, as in the unit of energy (very appropriate). Early 20’s. An exceedingly bright, charismatic, and warm guy from Yorktown, VA. He’s a hit amongst several different bubbles of hikers. Joules recently finished a community college program and worked as a pharmacy tech, and he’s figuring out what his next professional and personal steps are. His explanation of lichen’s symbiotic life processes changed me. It’s hard for me to imagine having my shit together enough to execute, let alone plan this hike at his age. Joules and I have been hanging since day one. 

Pace, named for his steady, consistent hiking speed.  You might hike ahead of him but there’s a good chance he’ll be leap frogging past you when you’re gassed out after a strenuous climb. Another gent in his early 20’s looking for direction in life after completing community college. We haven’t deep dove into our personal lives with one another, but I appreciate the comfortable silence we tend to hike in. We’ve fallen out of sync with each other in recent weeks (as far as I can tell he’s a day or two behind me), but I hope to see him in town soon. 

Small Step, based on her hiking philosophy of taking small powerful steps rather than lunging forward (I now often repeat the mantra of “small steps, small steps, small steps” on steep ascents). Mid 20’s from Philadelphia, probably the most experienced hiker of the crew. She operates a small business called Gingerly Press, creating handset letter pressed materials using antique equipment. Small Step crowdfunded her AT trip on Kickstarter! Her project The Printed Walk involves creating a print for every 100 mile stretch of the trail, 22 prints in total. Utterly awesome. As a freelance artist, I’m inspired by her entrepreneurial spirit, depth of knowledge, and artistic drive. Find out more about her project at HERE

Tall Boy, because snagging a beer is his top priority upon hitting town. Plus he’s 6’4”. I suggested the name. Mid 30’s from Rochester, NY where my dad grew up! Tall Boy found himself on a lucrative but ultimately unsatisfying career path managing construction projects, so he quit his job, sold nearly all of his possessions, and hit the trail. He did the thing that so many people dream of doing, committing 110%. He has a sincere sense of…I don’t know, “chivalry” I suppose, which is really refreshing. Tall Boy is a perfect example of someone who I naturally gravitate to as a friend match, but would have never otherwise met based on life circumstances. 

Wash Bear, because he often splashes himself with water at streams like a bear. Late 20’s. Wash Bear has a PhD in biochemistry and recently moved to New Mexico with his wife for her job (she’s also a chemist). Try not to learn about science hiking with him, I dare you! I enjoy discovering the different ways our brains process information. He’s one of the few married people I’ve met on the trail (lots of fellow divorcees, more on that in a later post I’m sure). We can talk for hours at a time, at least 30% of which is me giving him shit. For example, I have to remind him that regardless of his trail name he’s not actually a “bear” and at least 98% of gays would agree.

From left: Washbear, Joules, Small Step, Pace, Tall Boy, Corn Chip, me (Spur)
Small Step, Tall Boy, Joules, and me on the observation deck at Clingman’s Dome.

That’ll do it for now! Heading off to enjoy my evening in town. For the record, here is what’s happening as I write this post:

A couple hours after Taco Bell lunch. Dreams do come true.

*For anyone who missed my initial post, most hikers take on a trail name. Some people come with one already in mind, but most are given a name along the way by a fellow hiker based on their personality, activities, diet, worldview, anything really. The names range from having symbolic meaning to being completely random or silly for the sake of silliness. My trail name is Spur, inspired  by the heel spur in my left foot and the garbage year of divorce proceedings that spurred me toward the AT. 

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