The First 1000
It was only descending into Harpers Ferry, West Virginia that I decided I wanted to document my journey online. Having been living in the wilderness for nearly 2 months to this point, I want to be able to share my experiences with loved ones and those who are interested alike. Moving forward I will try to update the blog regularly, however I decided to write an abbreviated post to share some of the most notable highlights from the last 1023 miles. Thank you so much to everyone for all the kindness, support and love!
On April 24th, I departed Springer Mountain heading north on the Appalachian Trail. With only 14 days clean, a nearly 50 pound pack and rigid mountaineering boots, I had lots to learn about long distance backpacking. Having never spent longer than one week in the wilderness, I was extremely excited by the challenge of walking 2,173 miles to the summit of Mount Katahdin in Maine. Being from greater Boston, I often just replied to inquisitive day-hikers with the phrase, “I’m walking home.”
The first week in Georgia was a medley of different weather patterns. The first couple days were studded with heavy rain, however a sunny stretch shortly followed. Plagued by blisters, I decided to send my boots home after a mere 70 miles. While it was nearly impossible to escape the prolonged soreness, I found my soul, body and mind were growing stronger with every passing day.
North Carolina // Tennessee
What a relief to come across the 100 mile marker after a brutal climb to the summit of Albert Mountain. Just days before I had two blisters that got infected and needed to be removed with my Swiss Army. I had mailed home my boots in Hiawassee, GA and paid the ultimate price for hiking through a thunderstorm in my Chaco’s. While the sandals are decently supportive, I was relieved to buy new Brooks Cascadia trail runners in Franklin, NC at mile 110. Real soles and closed toes made all the difference, and even though I had to break them in, my open wounds stayed clean and sanitary.
Pushing North towards Fontana Dam, NC the gateway to Great Smoky National Park, beautiful vistas of the Appalachian range became a regular occurrence.
Heading North of Fontana Dam, rumors of potential snow began to fill the trail. The Smokies are known for their volatile weather, and sure enough we had more than our fair share. 98 mph winds on Clingmans Dome (highest point on the AT) followed by 5 inches of snow the following day! Needless to say, a warm meal in Asheville and sunny weather moving north was much appreciated!
Woods Hole Hostel
“If someone asked you to name all the things you love in life, how long would it take you to name yourself?”
The above quote is from the daily meditation board at Woods Hole Hostel, a local lodge and organic farm located approximately 10 miles south of Pearisburg, VA. Prior to stopping here, I had not had a day off since my hike commenced at Springer Mountain nearly one month prior. Tired, dirty and exhausted after hiking over 600 continuos miles, I was offered a unique opportunity: to work at the Hostel in exchange for a room, 3 meals a day and a small compensation. Graciously I accepted, knowing my body needed time to recover, and my wallet was getting thin.
What transpired in the 10 days I spent here transformed my hike entirely. Having been traveling in relative isolation for weeks, and lacking the funds to take relaxation time in trail towns, my life existed purely in the wilderness. While that was not altogether a bad thing, meeting the daily waves of hikers while working at the Hostel exposed me to the beautiful community of the Appalachian Trail. I was able to learn about the way others hike the trail, and gain vast amounts of insight from their stories. My daily routine consisted of 16 hour work days, where I would cook breakfast and dinner for 30, and fill the middle of the day with housekeeping, farm work and general chores. While it wasn’t 100% leisure, it felt good to have responsibilities and daily tasks besides caring solely for myself. Plus, I got to get back into a real kitchen, and since I was the chef there were vegan options fresh from the organic garden for every meal! Departing Woods Hole and heading onwards into Virginia, I was excited by the opportunity to savor my days on trail, and focus less on the actual distance I’m hiking.
550 miles, the second most miles of any state on trail. Full of beautiful vistas, low valleys, raging rivers and dry stretches, Virginia has a little bit of everything. While traversing modest forest can be monotonous at times, VA is home to some of the most iconic points of the entire AT.
While some hikers get what has been dubbed the “Virginia Blues,” this was about the time I really hit my stride. Having honed in on my daily diet, break and sleeping routine, I was finding 25 mile days to become regular and comfortable. The weather was brutally hot and humid, but with 5 AM starts and longer lunch breaks, the days flowed together nicely.
What I found with Virginia was an entirely different hike than my first month. One piece of advice I took from Woods Hole was to “trust the process.” As I begun to open up to new people and different situations, unique opportunities began presenting themselves in my hike. Coming into Daleville, VA in a raging thunderstorm, an amazing woman generously offered me a home cooked meal, a warm bed and a ride back to trail in the morning. Another gentleman by the trail name “Max Factor” welcomed me into his vacation condo in the Shenandoah Valley, and even bought me a new pair of shoes in exchange for a day of housekeeping. The more I kept my mind open to new experiences, the more these acts of kindness found their way into my journey.
Reflecting back on the first half of my hike, the journey has been intense. I have experienced some of the best and worst days of my life alike, but all the more important I have grown stronger with each passing day. Coming up on 3 months free from active addiction, I am proud of where I stand today in Harpers Ferry, WV, and am looking forward to what the future holds in the Mid-Atlantic region. Thank you again to everyone that has supported me to this point, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for you.
“Just keep moving, you’ll get there…” — Tao