5.21.2012

A journey down memory road :: Appalachian Trail excons

Inspired by the GIRL WHO TRAVELS post, I've been doing a lot of reminiscing about past adventures.  One of my hardest & favorite teachers used to say "I learn from other people's mistakes so that I don't have to make them myself."


That quote has served me well many many times as I strive to do just that.  HOWEVER, when it comes to traveling, sometimes the most memorable events are the mistakes/accidents!  Throughout the next month, I'm going to share some of my "favorite" travel memories.  Flooded bathroom in Moscow? check!  Geriatric excursions in the Alps?  check!  Crouching under boulder during hailstorm in Wyoming?  check!

My first tale... looks like this (in my memory):
scene from O Brother Where Art Thou

When Farmer Jake and I started dating, we were both really active in our outdoor interests (as opposed to now when our gear collects dust).  He had been section hiking the AT (Appalachian Trail) for a few years and had made it from Georgia to North Carolina.  I had fallen in love with back packing, but had only really explored the Adirondacks and was anxious to jump on the AT bandwagon.

After a few months of dating, we loaded up our gear (after I was revolutionized and retaught by this book)

Jake had just returned from an intense 5-week backpacking course with NOLS and I was a bit awe-struck by his expertise.  I would (and will) follow this man ANYWHERE.  However, now I do so with a bit more insight and a bit less perpetually-pleasant-nature despite the circumstances (which reminds me, I'll have to tell you about our first real date... that left me black & blue for weeks).

You see, Jake was a marathon runner.  Without effort, he is always in shape.  Without training, he ran an ultra marathon (70 miles).  He hasn't run for at least 2 years, but I'll bet you my retirement account (joke's on you!) that he could up and run a marathon right NOW.  Freak?  Yup!

So, hiking the AT with this guy was naively ambitious of me.  Hiking North Carolina's trail was naively hard core of me.  It looks something like this:  switchback, switchback, switchback VIEW of mountain range, switchback, switchback, switchback, VIEW of valley, REPEAT.  FEEL THE BURN!

Try as he might, Jake could NOT keep down with my pace (as opposed to keeping up, get it?).  Ever the loner, I encouraged him to walk ahead for large chunks of the day.  Actually, I just wanted to sweat and curse in peace and not keep up the "chipper, ever glamorous Julie routine".

It WAS a beautiful hike.  Beds of pine needles, crisp streams, backpacker camaraderie with the others on the trail, gourmet meals (Jake actually RISES BREAD in his pack while hiking!  My mind was blown.  It's why I married him.).  So many good memories.

One NOT SO GOOD MEMORY relates to the "Oh brother" picture.  I kid you not, that's almost EXACTLY how this memory looks in my brain.  I'm sure time has embellished it a tad, but not much, I promise you.

One afternoon, as I was enjoying a particularly shaded & level stretch of the trail, I was in my groove.  My pack seemed lighter and my pace seemed quick.  I was thinking, "I haven't seen Jake for a long time, surely he'll be waiting just around the bend".  Bend after bend, he wasn't there.  I began to feel a little frantic, thoughts constantly returning to 
In this book (an excellent, quick read!), Bryson tells a horrible story about 2 women hikers who were murdered on the trail.  Try as I might, I could NOT get that story out of my head.  

Determined to catch-up with Jake and gently (we were still in "new relationship" mode) admonish him for leaving me for so long, I continued to hike.  Along one particularly lonely stretch, I heard strange noises.  

From behind I heard the sound of RUNNING.  I turned to see TWO MEN IN JUMPSUITS running down the trail.  And I'm not talking about two REI clad hikers, no, I'm talking about 2 middle aged, unhealthily thin, nonbackpack wearing men....wearing JUMPSUITS (did I mention that?).  

"Was there a prison break?" was my first thought.  My second was "HOLY CRAP THESE GUYS ARE GOING TO NOTICE THAT I'M ALONE.  PLAY IT COOL".  I let them pass, thankfully, they barely noted my presence.  Clutching my Nalgene bottle like a deadly nightstick, I continued to hike in the same direction as they went, what choice did I have?  

Worried that they were crouching, prepared for attack around each corner, I about jumped in to Jake's lap when we met up not much later.  From then on, he was only around to be out of sight for 5 minute increments!

All in all, it was a wonderful trip.  However, the memory of those two men haunts me on every solo hike I go on!  I wish I knew the story behind that encounter... or perhaps it's better I don't!

YOUNG and eager to start our adventure!  Notice how my pack looks SO much bigger :)  Truth be told, I was carrying our clothes and double sleeping quilt.  Jake had all the heavy gear and food (sucker!).

4 comments:

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  2. My wife embellishes a little bit. I did train more extensively in the snow and rain for six months before that race. I ran back to back 20+ miles on weekends. I still limped the last ten miles and paid for it for weeks later still. I would not run a marathon without training. I may try to walk and jog that far in a day but not actually run it competitively. A friend is running this race in a few weeks with a crew and I will be thinking of him all day.

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  3. How have i never heard this story?! That must have been terrifying!

    Jake - you ran 70 miles in one day... that kind of makes you a freak of nature;)

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  4. This is hysterical. I can totally picture it! (Of course, not hysterical at the time). And I love Bill Bryson, especially a Walk in the Woods!

    I can't wrap my head around ultrarunning... amazing. I'm still coming after a marathon in the next 18 months. But I think that's as far as I'll go for now.

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